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Wrong Way Adoption: The Back Story (Part 2)

In Part 1, Clemencia Deleon began to tell about her wrong way adoption, a kinship placement that was supposed to be open. Despite expectations and agreements, it remained unknown to her son that the woman he lived with but didn’t call “mom” was, in fact, his biological mom.

That was an untenable situation. One way or another, a living lie will resolve — with intention or without it. And there will be fallout.

Here’s how things unfolded for Clemencia, her son Kobe, and his parents — her half-brother and his wife.

People in kinship adoptions need a map, too. Or they may go the wrong way.

Back Story of My Family

I am the youngest of 5 children — 4 of them half-siblings who are way older. The sister who helped raise me is 18 years older than I am, and the brother who adopted my son is about 12 years older than I am. Coming from a really tight-knit “family is everything” Hispanic family meant that everyone would have a hand in helping with the baby.

When I was a child, my eldest brother committed a serious crime that brought significant emotional distress into our home. My mother emotionally checked out, as his trial consumed her life. My older siblings watched over and connected with me, and my sister did a lot of the hands-on care when I was a baby and toddler. She had kids of her own, not much younger than I was, so I blended in with her little family.

As I grew older, I became more rebellious, to the point where my mother contemplated sending me away. This is when my brother and his wife (the ones who would later adopt my son) stepped in to help discipline and guide me. If I wanted to go out with friends, I had to ask them. If I got in trouble at school, they were the ones who set the guidelines for my punishment. When I was sneaking away in cars with boys to go to parties, my brother and his wife were the ones chasing me down and pulling me out of the car.

Immature, Pregnant, Devastated, and Numb

It is worth mentioning that by the time I became pregnant I was already living in a constant state of survival mode. I was molested as a child by a trusted family member and my family was not the most emotionally- aware group of people. We suffered from a lifestyle of lying, avoiding emotions, and using external stimuli to cope with life.

When I was 17, my boyfriend of two years was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. While he was going through chemotherapy, I went behind his back and had sex with another guy at school and became pregnant with my son. The guilt and shame I felt as a result is indescribable. It hurt even more when my boyfriend, sick and with only a few months left to live, forgave me. Within 5 months he was dead (for which I undeservedly blamed myself) and 4 months later I gave birth.

My son’s birth was enveloped by emotional chaos that accompanies such traumatic experiences. I was young and immature already, and the recent loss of someone I cared about deeply, and the circumstances around my becoming pregnant — all of this left me devastated and numb. How does a young mother-to-be cope with such a situation, especially when she has never been taught how to examine or express her feelings? And how does she learn to be a mother when everyone lacks confidence in her ability to do so or is too busy with their own lives to teach her?

My mother (who also has an adoption story, although she did not know of it at the time) is the one who suggested adoption around the time of my boyfriend’s death. She mentioned how my brother and his wife had struggled for years to conceive, they are married and more stable also they have well-paying jobs. All the things my 18-year-old self was lacking at the time. I gave birth grieving, nervous about the unknown and with a numb indifference.

The seed was planted, and I began to consider pursuing adoption. I continued about my impulsive life with a baby going from strip club waitress job to no job to staying for days at a friend’s house to back at my mom’s house. So much chaos within that I never sat still long enough to really focus and zero in on what the hell was going on.

Breaking Point

When my son was a few months old, I had an emotional storm that resulted in me moving in with my brother and his wife. I was drying my son off after a bath when my mother and sister came and pushed me out of the way because he was crying as I dried him. Instead of teaching me how to mother, they literally moved me out of the way. My feelings were hurt and I was not able to process and vocalize how this event affected me, so instead my expression was crying and yelling at them how all they do is push me out of the way and take over.

This explosive outburst may have been a bit surprising, as I had not expressed many emotions since I had given birth. No grieving, no joy — just survival and numb indifference. When the dam burst and with emotions flowing, I hastily called my brother and his wife to pick me up so that my son and I could live with them. They showed up promptly the next day and we went back to their home to live.

They offered to assist with raising Kobe while I went to school and worked. The military was an option, as I was trying to figure out life, I spoke to a recruiter for the Navy. After the conversation I thought this is where my future was headed and made the choice to enlist. Enlistment came with signing custodial rights over so that I could attend basic training. The emotional state I was in during this time was not the best for making decisions, especially ones that would affect the rest of my life and the life of my son, yet in that state I impulsively made the decision to go ahead with the adoption.

Two Requests

Not too long after, I signed an official adoption contract that was drawn up by a lawyer my sister-in-law knew from a kinship adoption in her own family. We had a conversation about it being an open adoption and I had two requests.

The first was that my son would know who I was, and the second thing I asked if they would keep his last name the same as mine, leaving the choice up to him to change it when he wanted to.

The lack of counsel left me unaware and unprepared for the disappointment I would feel later when they changed his last name and never told him that he was adopted.

The Navy never happened. Less than a month after relinquishing my rights I had quit my job at a discount retailer, dropped out of pharmacy tech classes, met a boy back home and moved back into the room I had once shared with my son at my mom’s house.

This is how my open adoption came to be. Or what was supposed to be an open adoption.

The Web, the Zoo, and Silence

Over the years Kobe and I grew closer as we spent many weekends together with our family eating meals or celebrating special days. When he was 2 years old, I had my daughter. We were living an hour away and would occasionally visit Kobe and his parents, or vice versa.

As Kobe started school, I also started to attend night classes at the local junior college. There I began to learn about early brain development and child development stages from theorists like Piaget and Freud. Not too long into my education, I presented a question to his parents about when and how they planned on telling him about the adoption. In hindsight, I remember sensing fear in their bodies when I brought up the questions. I never thought they would be afraid to tell him, and I was honestly confused as to why they were putting it off. Basic adoption education would have easily shown us that the type of path we’d taken — secrecy and lack of communication — would likely lead to fear and confusion.

Their response was that he was too young (5 years old) to understand something so complex, so I suggested some children’s books on adoption, a puppet show, even drawing pictures. I honestly do not remember the end of that conversation other than nothing was said or done. 

Kobe was already 5 or 6 years old and still didn’t know about him being biracial or about me being his birth mother. The web grew larger, as he was completely unaware the little girl he always played with was his sister. Not only was it him that I was keeping a secret from, now it was also the small child I was raising and influencing — my daughter, and his sister. This all started to become too much for me to handle emotionally — keeping this secret and living in the dark, too afraid to speak my true words and express who I really was.

About four years after having this conversation with my brother and his wife, Kobe began to ask if he was adopted. When he first asked, he was met with a joke about how he was from the zoo, and the second time he asked was met with complete silence. These two incidents changed the course of our relationships.

Cats NEVER Stay in Bags

Hearing Kobe ask if he was adopted, and hearing his questions met with avoidance, created emotions I could no longer contain. The following events are what happened soon after he began to ask.

  • Via message, I asked how they planned on telling him and was given no response. Nothing.
  • I made the decision that if I was around the next time Kobe asked if he was adopted, I was going to tell him the truth.
  • Close family members were against me telling Kobe the truth. Many of them believed that I would cause him more harm than good. One family member even said, “He is already happy. Why would you ruin it by telling him?”
  • Me being his “real” mom was brought up one night at a dinner with my family. Kobe was playing with some kids who were not family members, but knew he was adopted. Yikes! How big had our web become? During the game, Kobe referenced my brother’s wife as his mother. One of the children pointed to me and asked Kobe, “Isn’t she your mom?” Instead of denying it or ignoring what was going on, I had less than a few seconds to answer. My answer was me admitting that I was his birth mom.
  • The fallout from my revelation was not pleasant. There was much anger, yelling, crying and chaos… and Kobe was quickly rushed out of the house and taken away.
  • This separated me from my family as they cut me out of his life.
    • They removed me from the school lunch guest list.
    • They blocked communication between him and me.
    • They told me I was no longer allowed to come to their house.

That was two years ago when Kobe was 10. He is now 12.

The Emotional Toll

The deepest wound I suffered was the relinquishment of my baby boy and this was something that I was not able to admit to myself for an awfully long time. The pain of being in my son’s life as some undefined family member led to a deep numbing reaction, which at the time allowed me to cope. The numbing had me stuck in a pattern of emotions, thoughts and behaviors that were chaotic and destructive.

During my last emotional breakdown, I remember laying on the bed with a face swollen from crying, nose stopped up, and a tear-soaked pillow. At that moment, I had a thought: Something must change. Something within me must change or I am going to continue to destroy myself and hurt the people who love me the most.

Today I am I a place of healing my wounded soul, finding compassion for myself as an adult and the child I once was. Also finding compassion for the ones who were raising me to the best of their abilities and their own life situations that created their own unique reality’s and perspectives.

Even if that means that I must play the long game, preparing myself emotionally to receive my son in whatever state he comes to me in. As well as prepare for a possible reality that he may never come to me, either way I am learning and preparing to walk in the light and practice emotional awareness.

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.

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

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3 Responses

  1. There’s this stereotypes about first mothers being wrecks and unfit to parent, hence why it’s good that the adoptee was placed in their forever home and how the adoptive parents are saviors for all involved. I want to thank Clemencia for candidly sharing her story because she shows that it’s not that black-and-white of a situation and even the best of intentions can lead to pain if guided by fear.

    I’m so sorry for that your family cut you out for speaking the truth and, that in doing so, it meant the loss of contact with your son. It’s clear that there is some unaddressed grief your half-brother and his wife are fearful of facing, especially when it comes to your son. That said, I’m glad you are choosing not to hide and to continue lying, even if others don’t agree with you. I think the path you are taking is a healthy one. And I hope one day that your son reaches out to you. In the meantime, thank you for adding the much needed gray and dispelling some myths about first moms.

  2. Clemencia, I hope that you and your son, as well as the rest of your family, can find some peace and be able to rebuild relationships over time.

  3. Thank you for being willing to share your story Clemencia. My heart broke a million times as I listened to the second part of your story. I can understand the deep wounds that motivate such actions in adoptive parents but those actions create long term damage that they cannot escape. Ignoring or trying to sweep things under the rug is like ignoring a small debt. Over time it collects interest & late fees & when the emotional debt comes due it will be a crushing burden to bear for them & for your son. Your new approach is amazing, though, and I wish for you continued joy & peace in your journey.

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