blue october everybody owns a scar

Everybody Owns a Scar: Trials in an Open Foster Adoption

Lynn Sollitto tells of the difficulties that arose for her when a desire to remain open to her daughters’ first mother collided with the imperative to protect her children from unsafe and unpredictable situations — either which could lead to physical and/or emotional trauma.

Foster Adoption / Infant Adoption

In 2008, my husband and I adopted Paige through foster care after I assisted her birth mother, Ruth, in labor. A year later, Paige’s older sister Payton joined our family.

We had a connection to the girls’ birth family and were open to have an open adoption. This would consist of online pictures and updates through Facebook. Direct contact would be addressed later, when the girls were older and understood more, and Ruth could claim a history of sobriety.

We made the requirements for contact clear: Ruth needed to stay clean, out of jail, and gainfully employed. Essentially, she needed to live the life that would have enabled her to keep her children.

This never came.

blue october everybody owns a scar

Tough Decision

Ruth had seemed to be on a positive track, attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and becoming friends with people in the program. She had a place to live and a strong support system.

But it was all a tenuous lie which snapped when she could no longer control her drug abuse. We understood it was a difficult time and she was human. We could have worked with her relapse; we just wanted her to be honest.

So in winter of 2011, I did one of the most difficult things I’d ever had to do: I cut Ruth out of my life.

I loved this woman deeply and always hoped she’d pull it together. I didn’t just want her to go through the motions of life, but live it. Smart and funny, she was a joy to be around when she was sober. When high, she was incoherent and prone to outbursts of anger.

After this necessary step in our adoption journey, I grieved the loss of a woman whom I loved in a way no one understood, not even myself.

Blue October

I had recently fallen in love with a band called Blue October. Lead singer, Justin wrote the band’s lyrics. Their album, Foiled for the Last Time, included many angry, sad songs about mental illness and the negative consequences of addiction.

Setting up a jigsaw puzzle in my office, I listened to that album over and over again. Each song reminded me of Ruth in some way — the words, the song’s tone, the growl of Justin’s voice, his intense sadness and overwhelming anger.

As I sat alone listening to the music, I sorted through the puzzle pieces, a perfect metaphor for my feelings, trying to make sense of 1000-piece puzzle along with what had happened to the open adoption with Ruth I so desperately wanted to have.

Hidden Track

One night, too lazy, too emotionally exhausted to get up and turn off the CD player when the last song ended, much to my surprise, after a few minutes of silence, another song came on. There was a hidden track; I’d never left the the CD playing long enough to hear it before.

Justin’s voice was seeped in sadness, haunted as he sang the words. And as I listened to the song, I was blinded by tears.

Because the track was hidden, there were no lyrics listed in the CD case. So I painstakingly penned those words to read, so I could really comprehend them. As I read the words over I found snippets of how I felt, how I believed Ruth felt, and how the events of the recent years affected us.

I lost a piece of me in you…
But remember that I cared quite a lot

I did lose a piece of myself in Ruth. I held her hand during Paige’s birth, dried her tears after her visits with Payton, encouraged her by attending support groups. Now she was gone and I was alone with the fear that she’d be six feet under the next I saw her.

You see but lately I’ve been on my own
You see that’s a first for me
This is only me, yeah there’s only me
And I realize for once it’s just me…
I’m gonna feel a peace in me…
I’m gonna make this cloud above me
Disappear, be gone

Vicious Cycle

I prayed Ruth would realize it was only Ruth who could pull herself out of hell. I desperately wanted her to feel peace, heal and be happy. It was all I ever wanted for her.

So wide, so long, so sad I want to be strong
Don’t try to take her from me
I’ve already spent my life living half undone

Hearing these lyrics, I dissolved into a hot mess. Ruth’s daughters were taken from her because she was living her life undone. In a vicious cycle of addiction and loss, she was even more undone because they were gone. And the way she chose to numb her pain and forget her loss was to continue being undone.

Eventually, I realized I couldn’t let myself be undone with worry and sadness for the life she chose to live.

It was time to move on.

Ruth was never far from my mind — how could she be when Paige looked at me through Ruth’s eyes, when Payton smiled with Ruth’s smile. A couple times Ruth and I touched base but then she’d fall off the wagon and I would wonder if she was lying in a ditch somewhere.

Reconnection

For over two years, we weren’t in touch. Then I reached out to her on a late summer day — Paige’s birthday.

Ruth reached back. She was sober, had a job, an apartment, and her GED. My dream had come true: She was living.

We became friends on Facebook again, kept in touch through texts, met up for coffee every once in awhile, and even attended a musical together.

This past spring, almost two years, since Ruth and I reconnected, my husband and saw Blue October perform live. When my husband gave me their new album for Christmas, I expected the same angst-ridden, gravelly voice to assault me from the speaker. Instead, the music was upbeat, his voice gentle, and an appreciation for the little things, even the challenges.

Most of the concert’s music was from the new album. Justin’s music had changed, he had changed, and on the stage in that small club, I could feel his peace.

We Want It

Ruth’s life had changed, she had changed, and over the last couple of years, I’d felt her peace. She had told me she’d never go back to drugs, never live that life again.

One of the most moving songs Justin sang at the concert, called I Want It, says:

‘Cause we are who we are and we’ll be who we’ll be
Live for the moment and the mystery of everybody owns a scar
To show us how we got this far
‘Cause we are who we are and we’ll be who we’ll be
Don’t ever think you’ll take away the fight in me

We all have scars, some of our own doing and others the result of things of which we had no control. They may be reminders of our painful pasts but they are also reminders of who we are now.

But these scars don’t define us, they don’t define Ruth.

And I don’t believe they will ever take away the fight in her.

foster parent & birth parent

Lynn Sollitto lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and three children. She has been featured twice on Carrie Goldman’s Portrait of an Adoption: 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days and has been a guest contributor for Transfiguring Adoption. Lynn blogs at BittersweetAdventures.com and can also be found on Twitter @LynnSollitto or reached at lksollitto@gmail.com. Names may be changed to protect privacy.

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9 thoughts on “Everybody Owns a Scar: Trials in an Open Foster Adoption”

  1. I don’t care what your reasoning is. You are a bad adoptive mother. You have separated a mother from her children because of your unrealistic standards of the real mother. Who cares if she used drugs her children still would have done better with her then you. You didn’t save those girls you prevented them from having one of the most important bonds with their mother because of your selfishness. Adoption is gross, adoptive parents like yourself play “good guy” because it is easy to make a mother in a bad situation appear worse then she is and you use her circumstance to promote yourselg. It easy to look good next to a mother who has made mistakes isn’t it? Your pathetic and I hope that those girls see the ugly truth in you someday and go back to their REAL mom. Oh and is, I am adopted too

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your feelings about my post. I appreciate adoptee perspective because it helps me consider all possible emotions may daughters feel/may feel.

      In a post-adoption class, the instructor opened with, “All adoption begins with loss.” It is the most accurate description of adoption I’ve ever heard, and I repeat it often. I get the impression you’ve been hurt by your adoption and the separation from your birth family. I don’t know the details of your adoption but I want to take a moment to say I am truly sorry for your loss. Adoptees are the most affected by adoption, but have no say in the matter, which must compound their sadness and anger.

      Regarding my post: As bluepoint mentioned below, sometimes it’s about making the least bad decision simply because there are no ideal choices. Hubby and I did what we thought was in the best interest of the girls. Was it? Only time will tell. But for now, in the present, we’re so happy the girls can go back to having a relationship with their other real mom, which I believe is the best choice now that it’s safe.

  2. Kyla, no one has the right to argue you out of your own experience and perspective. But there’s a but here –do you really think that an active addict is likely to be able to put her children first? Sometimes adoption is the least bad option for a child. Sometimes postponing contact is a sad necessity.

    I know from experience that you’re right, it’s easy to play “good guy” as an adoptive parent, especially when the other parents are in a tough spot or have made mistakes. Society enables this perspective and it’s very tempting to put on that crown. But even being a “bad adoptive parent” doesn’t mean that the original parent is able to do right by their child.

    My childrens’ birthmother told me later that when one of our children was born, she was too high and disconnected to really notice or care she had another baby. She did nothing to care for her, actively opposed her family members who were willing to step up, and left town within the month. She told our girls as adults that she wanted nothing to do with them and wished they didn’t spend time with the rest of their birthfamily. She neglected and berated her children whom she did have more time with, and basically expected them to parent and support her. She is not an evil person, and she is still trying hard to get a handle on life, but over 35 years, she has not been a competent parent to any of her eight children.

    Like Lynn, I needed to let go of my fantasy of the storybook open adoption I had imagined, and accept our reality. It’s up to my daughters now to choose if they want to keep reaching out. They know they have my full support whatever they decide, and they have birth siblings and other relatives they touch base with to talk about how to be loving and emotionally safe. I am so sad when I hear about people who feel they have to wait till their adoptive parents die before they can reconnect.

    What does concerns me about Lynn’s story is that it’s so centered on her own emotions. I can imagine that having a prior relationship with Ruth would make her feelings more personal and intense, but I believe it’s really not about us as adoptive parents. We made adult choices to create our children’s situation. The kids had no say in it, and they are the ones who have to integrate the consequences into their lives. I think it’s the parents’ job to provide as much openness as safety allows, and as much open-hearted listening as we can muster, and then get out of the way. The relationships our children want to build with all their family members are going to be up to them.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story Lynn. I think it is a powerful story and well written. And I appreciate the thoughtful discussion that follows the post.

    I do take note of the comment about concern that the story centered on Lynn’s emotions. My reaction is that all people in the adoption triad are allowed to have emotions and the fact that this particular story included a foster or adoptive mother talking about her emotions is completely acceptable. All people in the triad are humans with emotions and just because Lynn is not the adopted child or the birth mother, it does not exclude her from a rightful position to have emotions and want to write and release an article from her perspective.

  4. I agree, though I’m that commenter. We all have a right to our emotions. I do think that as adoptive parents in these conundrums, we don’t necessarily have the right to act on them.

    There are lots of open adoption situations where it would be emotionally and logistically easier for us as adoptive parents to avoid or curtail contact. It’s challenging, or at least it has been for me, to feel the emotions, acknowledge them, and then go ahead anyway and try to do what’s best for our kids. For me it worked best not to air my own feelings and insecurities in public, especially when my children were young and I had more power over their relationships with birthfamily. I may have over generalized my own experience.

    One of my adult daughters has recently located her birthfather and is getting ready to contact him. I find I have lots of feelings even now. When she checks in for advice I have to discipline myself to be a sounding board and not a participant. She’s got plenty of her own emotions to sort through without having to deal with mine.

  5. Lynn, I keep forgetting to say “out loud” that I think it’s wonderful that you and Ruth have reconnected. That took courage on both your parts. I am wishing you and Paige and Payton and Ruth every blessing as you move forward.

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