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birth mother story of kinship adoption gone wrong

Kinship Adoptions Need Openness, Too: A Birth Mom’s Story

Clemencia Deleon reached out to me several months ago, grateful to have found place to talk about adoption that is neither all “rainbows & unicorns” nor “fire & brimstone.” I told her that in this space we allow for the complexity of living in adoption from all stations of the constellation, and I invited her to tell her story as a birth mother in a kinship adoption.

Kinship adoption is rather unexplored territory for me, so I was thrilled that Clemencia offered her thoughts about the kinship adoption of her son, Kobe, gone wrong. Her two-part tale of pitfalls and regret is instructive to us all.

Please welcome Clemencia Deleon.

openness in kinship adoption

An Oozing Wound

You really shouldn’t ignore deep wounds. Physical ones get green and puss-filled, and so do emotional ones, in their own way. If you ignore them, an infection starts to set in. At some point it will start to leak and smell.

My soul smelled of guilt, shame, inferiority, and I oozed with low self-esteem and self-worth issues. This infection affected every single relationship I was connected to. It took me several years of chaos and a few emotional breakdowns to come to terms with the fact that I was deeply hurting.

I suffered such wounds way before I placed my son with family members, not knowing the lack of acknowledgement and healing would come back to hurt us all.

Twelve years ago I placed my 4 month-old son, Kobe, with my half-brother and his wife, who had both played a role in raising me. I had reason to trust them, and I was not supposed to be kept a secret, but for many years the fact that he was adopted and that I was his birth mother was kept hidden from him.

Ignorance Is Definitely Not Bliss

The way we went about adoption was definitely the least informed route possible. Nobody in the circle sought counseling or direction for the journey we were all about to take. Our ignorance at the beginning of this journey set the stage for certain events to take place that would forever change my life in some really good ways — although they seemed the opposite of good at the time.

These were the features of our kinship adoption process:

  • No adoption research.
  • Utilizing a lawyer that was not adoption specific.
  • No pre- or post-adoption counseling.
  • Complete lack of awareness of our individual rights as potential adoptive parents and as a potential birth mom.
  • I moved in with potential adoptive parents a month before the adoption took place.
  • Verbal agreement on having an open adoption, instead of having a written agreement to clarify our expectations.
  • No real discussion on what an open adoption looked like for us.

This adoption did not go through an agency, nor did I speak to anyone like a counselor or therapist about the realities of what happens during and after an adoption.

Grave Consequences in our Kinship Adoption

As there are real and potentially grave consequences to pursuing any endeavor without having proper information and wise counsel, the following are a few of the consequences experienced by our adoption constellation — my immediate and extended family, along with family friends:

Lack of Communication

  • After the papers were signed, there was no mention of the adoption.
  • No discussion about me being his birth mother or him being adopted, even though I was intimately involved with him in an undefined role for the majority of his life. 
  • No talks about how any of us were feeling as we lived life together.


  • No mention of the adoption was made for years, as my brother and his wife were not ready or open to talk about the adoption, even though it was never supposed to be a secret. [Editor’s note: see the section on sorites in Why Do We Still Suck at Adoption Telling?]
  • Everyone in the constellation knew about the adoption except for the adoptee. 

My Emotional Turmoil

I felt…

  • Confused
    • As to why would they go back on their word.
    • How do I act with my son?
      • How much affection do I show?
      • What kind of affection am I allowed to show?
  • Angry
    • Because they violated our agreement.
    • Because I was ignored when I gave suggestions on how they could possibly tell him that he was adopted (even when he was supposed to know from the beginning).
  • Frustrated
    • That I had become an invisible person.
    • That they were not taking the necessary steps so that he could know who I was.
    • Because I felt alone, I was the only one advocating that he know who I was.
  • Guilty
    • For being angry.
      • How can I be angry, when I “gave him up”?
    • For wanting him to know who I am.
  • Devalued 
    • From not being heard.
    • From not being  seen.
  • Afraid 
    • To speak on anything about our adoption situation.
    • That they would cut me out of his life for any mistake I could possibly make.
    • That they would never tell him that he was adopted.
  • Happy
    •  That I was able to experience life so close to him.
    •  That he was able to be intimately involved with the daughter I had two years after I relinquished rights (even though he did not know she was his sister).
    • That he was still part of my family.
  • Grateful
    •  For being very involved in his life and getting to experience his person.
  • Pressure
    • To maintain silence .
    • To conform to the lie of omission that we raised him in.

Things Went from Bad to Worse

Our family seemed like a normal one to those who looked on from the outside, but we worked diligently to avoid the reality of the adoption situation. Any time the topic came up, there was a palpable discomfort and awkwardness in the air, but we all acted like there was nothing at all to discuss… until Kobe started to ask whether or not he was adopted.

Kinship adoptions are complex and understanding the dynamics of the adoption requires an understanding of the family history. In the next segment in this series, I’ll explain how our family dynamics produced an environment of secrecy and insecurity, and how the secrecy all came tumbling down one night. The secrecy was not all that came tumbling down — so did my ability to have a relationship with my son.

Even though clarity and truth are loving values to cultivate, they don’t always result in happy endings. Clarity and truth, however, allowed me to begin to recognize the festering wound I’d carried deep inside and illuminated a path to healing. For this, I am grateful.

But first I had to address and heal the dysfunction and secrecy we’d been living in for so long.

Clemencia Deleon

Clemencia Deleon is passionate about child and brain development, emotional intelligence, and treatment of traumatic life experiences. Her experience as a birth mother involved in a kinship adoption has given her a beautiful perspective on the importance of self-worth and the value of clarity in communication. She is dedicated to helping others know their value and the importance of having a clear understanding of their emotions. Follow her @EQClem on Instagram and Clemencia Deleon on LinkedIn.

Along These Lines

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Her first book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Her second book, Standing Room Only: How to Be THAT Yoga Teacher is now available in paperback, and her third book, Adoption Unfiltered, is now available through your favorite bookseller!

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

7 Responses

  1. Secrecy exacts a terrible price for all involved, How painful for you and your son. You make some excellent points about the need for proper counseling, legal advice, and clear boundaries. Thank you for sharing.

  2. This was a great post, thank you for sharing your experience Clemencia! I am anxiously awaiting Part 2. I am an adoptive mother through kinship adoption. My son has always known he was adopted and has always known who is birth mother is. She and I have a very strong relationship which has been such a blessing. That said, you definitely mentioned many of the same issues that we struggled with in the beginning. We couldn’t find any agencies (in Colorado, USA) that would work with us because the adoption was kinship. The process is different (or at least it was 10+ years ago) because it wasn’t treated as a willing placement. Instead it was treated as abandonment of the child. How insulting to prospective birth parents that choose to place their child with a family member instead of a family chosen from an agency!! Without an agency we only had a lawyer to help us manage the legal aspect of the adoption and we had to seek counseling on our own. The adoption counseling we found was not helpful at best and traumatizing at worst. As a result we ended up working through all of the myriad of emotions as a birth and adoptive parent team which wasn’t always easy. There definitely needs to be more support for kinship adoptions!!

    1. That sounds frustrating, figuring out a way through all the emotions without help or support from people who might have been able to help. I’m glad you and your son’s birth mom have maintained a close relationship in spite of the lack of guidance.

    2. Jill,

      The fact that an agency considered it to be “abandonment” is disheartening the same for your counseling process. Despite all the bumps in the road, it brings me joy hearing that you and the birthmother have a strong relationship. It is really cool to hear you refer to you and the birth mom as a team, I wish to someday do the same.

      Thank you for reading

  3. My cousin has a kinship adoption – she adopted her grandson because her daughter was in the midst of crisis and couldn’t be relied up to care for him properly. I think there was pressure and some bad feeling and I’m not totally sure how they handle the details now that his birth mother is out of crisis and seems to be thriving (and has another son). But my cousin’s personal life has always been rather chaotic. It probably seems fairly normal to them.

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