Does Time Heal All Wounds?

 

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Adele threw up three times during the car ride to her first visit with her child and their adoptive family.

She felt sick and irritable, snapping at her social worker, who was driving the car, and listening to angry music on her headphones while she stared out the window.

It turned out that the lead-up to that first visit was the hardest part of the whole thing. When they got there, saw Adele’s daughter and her adoptive family, and started talking and playing, Adele’s queasy stomach and bad mood faded. But when they left after a few hours, her anxiety was replaced with sadness. She spent the ride home thinking about how different things would have been had she chosen to parent her daughter.

The following year, Adele had butterflies in her stomach on the way to the visit, but she didn’t get sick. She chatted with her social worker and left her headphones at home. The visit itself was as lovely as the first, although the sadness returned when Adele got back in the car afterward.

Adoption is always painful, but the emotional crisis itself does pass. Often, a birth parent’s first visit with their child and their child’s adoptive family is extremely emotional. The pain of the separation is still very raw, and the hurt – and even regret – might seem unbearable.

Time doesn’t “heal” the pain of adoption any more than it “heals” the pain of the death of a loved one, but it does change the pain. The first year after an adoption placement can feel like an emotional thunderstorm, but as time goes on, the storm ends, the clouds start to part, and the sun starts to peek out from behind them. It might not turn into a beautiful, sunny day, but it can slowly become calm. It can become peaceful.

Adele told her social worker after both her first and second visits with her daughter that she felt very sad but also extremely glad she’d gotten the chance to spend time with her and see how happy and healthy she was.  Today, several years after placement, she still feels anxious before her visits and sad afterward, but she loves those visits and she never gets sick before them. Time might not have healed her wounds, but it has taken away the sting.

What do you think? Does time heal all wounds? How have your emotions about your placement changed over time?

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Here’s Why We Use the Term “Birth Parent”

Here's Why

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Are you a birth parent, a first parent, or a natural parent?

Most adoption professionals refer to biological parents as “birth parents,” but not everyone agrees that it’s the best term to use.

“Positive Adoption Language”

The term “birth mother” comes from the Positive Adoption Language (PAL) framework developed in 1979. Previously, biological mothers had been referred to as “natural mothers” or “real mothers” which many felt was disrespectful since it implied that adoptive parents were “unnatural” or not “real” parents. PAL also encouraged the use of terms like “place for adoption” rather than “give up for adoption.” The idea was to use language reflecting respect for the feelings and decisions of all parties throughout the adoption process.

“Honest Adoption Language”

Almost fifteen years later, a researcher developed the Honest Adoption Language (HAL) framework, which is generally used by people who believe that adoption is rarely healthy for biological parents or adoptees. They prefer the term “natural” parent because they see adoption as indeed being “unnatural,” and they also use terms like “surrender for adoption,” “lost to adoption,” and “separated by adoption” because they believe that adoption is never a biological parent’s choice, but rather something that they have been coerced to do.

Many of the people who use the HAL framework are those who experienced adoption during the Baby Scoop Era of the 1940s to 1970s, so it makes sense for them to use language that reflects their losses; that was a time during which many women were indeed forced to be separated from their biological children against their will. There are also many unethical adoption organizations today that pressure people to choose adoption for their babies, and HAL works well for people who feel victimized by these adoption professionals.

Which is Correct?

Both HAL and PAL users sometimes use the term “first mother,” but it’s not quite as popular as the other terms, and some adoptive mothers do not like the idea of being “second mothers.” Here at Adoptions Together, we prefer the PAL framework and the term “birth parent” over the others because we believe that adoption, while difficult, can be a healthy choice for biological parents who feel it is right for them. We are very careful to educate our clients about all of their options and to support them even if they do not choose adoption, so we feel confident using language that reflects adoption as having been their choice. We also think that a parent who adopts is just as “natural” and “real” as a parent whose children are biologically related to them.

But more importantly, what do you think about this terminology? Do you consider yourself a birth parent, a first parent, or a natural parent to the child you placed? Tell us in the comments section.

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Guest Post: “It Just Seems Fair”

It Just Seems

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A couple of weeks ago we shared birth mom Ellen’s words about birth parents on TV, and today we are re-posting her thoughts about adoptees having access to their original birth certificates, which we wrote about on Tuesday. She also discusses her feelings about the difficult questions that adoptees may ask their birth and adoptive parents as they get older.

As a birthmother, adoptees knowing their given names (at birth) seems to me to be a civil rights issue. Everyone else in the U.S.A. knows their names – why not them? My son happens to know his birth name and it just seems fair that he does.

You also talked about the difficult questions adoptive parents may face when their children get a little older. My feeling is – just tell the truth. Some information can’t be shared, but the basic information, like hair color, health information, size of birth families may mean a whole lot to a person. It may bring up more questions, but that’s part of the job.

I know I have a lot of opinions, but I’ve had many years to think about these things. Being a birthmother means waking up every day without your child. That leaves time to think and feel. Thanks for taking the time to have this blog. Keep writing! So will I.

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When Adoptee Rights Clash with Birth Parent Rights

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When a child is placed for adoption, their original birth certificate – the one that names their birth parents and that identifies them by the name their birth parents gave them – is “sealed,” or made private. In most states, the sealed certificate cannot easily be reopened.

Many people whose lives have been touched by adoption support the relatively recent movement to give adoptees access to their original birth certificates so that they can see their original name and the names of their birth parents. Sixteen states, including Maryland, now open or partially open adoption records to adoptees once they reach a certain age (in Maryland this age is 21). Many adoptees have used the information to search for their birth families.

“My Birth Certificate, My Rights”

People who support the unsealing of records believe that:

  • Everyone deserves to have access to their own information
  • Keeping original birth certificates sealed perpetuates shame about adoption
  • It is healthy for adoptees to know where they came from
  • Adoptees need to know who their birth parents are so they can access important medical information
  • Adoptees and birth parents should be able to communicate with one another if they want to

“My Adoption Plan, My Rights”

On the other hand, people who do not support the movement for unsealing records argue that not all birth parents want their children to have identifying information about them and that giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates violates these birth parents’ right to confidentiality. Historically, adoption professionals have promised birth parents that their identifying information would never be shared. Plus, it is important for birth parents to have some control over who knows about their decision given that adoption is often shrouded in secrecy. So the question becomes…

Whose Rights Come First?

We at Adoptions Together have generally supported the opening of adoption records because we have seen adoptees use the information to make connections with their birth parents that improve their well-being and the well-being of their birth parents. However, we are also very strong proponents of birth parents’ rights, so the idea of giving adoptees access to information that a birth parent may have specifically wanted to keep private doesn’t sit very well with us either, especially given that each birth parent has their own reasons for choosing whether or not to remain involved in their child’s life.

What do you think? Do adoptees have the right to their original birth certificates and to communicate with their birth parents based on that information? Do birth parents have a right to privacy from their biological children if they want it? What would you do if you find out that your child had seen their original birth certificate and now wanted to communicate with you? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

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Why We Love Post-Placement Contact Agreements

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We love post-placement contact agreements so much that we think they should be part of every state’s adoption laws – keep reading to find out why!

What Is A Post-Placement Contact Agreement?

A post-placement contact agreement is a plan for how birth parents and adoptive parents will keep in touch with one another until their child turns 18. The agreement might include exchanging letters and pictures, getting together every year, or some variation of the two – or both.

Birth and adoptive families often talk about openness before placement happens, but having a physical contract makes the plan clear to everyone and gives each party concrete steps they can take to benefit from their adoptive relationship. It sets the stage for openness right from the get-go, which is great because a child’s connection to their birth family is an important part of their identity, and because birth parents who have ongoing contact with their children generally have a smoother healing process after placement than those with closed adoptions.

What’s the Law Got to Do With It?

We are glad that post-placement contact agreements are legally enforceable in Maryland and Virginia and believe that other states should include them in their adoption laws as well. Making the agreement a legal document underscores the importance of openness and also reminds birth parents, adoptive parents, and agencies how important it is to keep the promises they’ve made to one another. Making contact agreements part of every single adoption would also make cases where the reality of an adoption doesn’t match the birth parent’s expectations much rarer.

How do you feel about your post-placement contact agreement? Has your experience matched your expectations? Do you think these agreements should be legally required and enforceable?

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Guest Post: Birth Parents Don’t Want a “You’re So Courageous and Giving” Parade

Birth Parents Don't Want

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A birth mom named Ellen sent us this response a few years ago to a blog post about birth parents on TV. We wanted to share her words again since they relate to Tuesday’s post on the same topic.

I happened to see a commercial for this show [with an adoption plot] and as a birthparent my response was “Oh there we are – hiding in the bushes, ready to pounce and be crazy.” Besides knowing it is a stereotype (why would adoption searches be so popular if everyone was out there threatening each other?) I also think it is sad. The piece I think professionals and society in general miss is this: birthparents don’t want a “you’re so courageous and giving parade” when we place our children for adoption.

The circumstances that bring us to these decisions are often traumatic and paralyzing. The grief, depression and ongoing sadness is such an opposite of the world’s views: either you were so loving, courageous or there is some deeply crazy thing about you. Many adoptive parents, friends, acquaintances, professionals have some of these extreme views. Some don’t. The fact is: there are no societal rituals/acknowledgement of losing a child in this particular way. Birthparents aren’t the only ones. Other people have terrible circumstances in their lives for which people are afraid or ignore them. Many birthparents I know are expected to go back to work right away “because their child is now safe and secure in a family,” to take care of other children who may be in the family, go out with friends because “that’s all over with now” and continue with life as usual. Obviously, this post led me to report some of the “insider knowledge” that all birthparents know but often feel there’s no use in saying. I think it’s useful because a birthparent may read this and it may be one of the only places they see that it’s OK to be exactly who they are after placement – the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not pretty or fun – it’s messy.

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The Four Birth Parents You See on TV

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Ah, television.

The Adoptions Together staff have done their fair share of binging on Netflix shows or staying up late at night to watch bad reality TV. But we’ve also done our fair share of cringing when we see adoption portrayed in the shows and movies we watch. Why, in a country where adoption has changed so much over the past fifty years, does the media have such a hard time wrapping its head around the idea of modern adoption? One blogger perfectly summed up media portrayals of birth parents by dividing them into four stereotypes: “the Juno,” the bad mother, the martyr, and the “baby stealer.”

1) “The Juno,” she explains, is based on “the blockbuster movie that shaped a generation’s opinion of birthmothers as people who make an adoption plan, walk away, don’t look back, and conclude ‘I think he was always hers.’” Sure, there are some birth mothers who do not feel a bond with their baby or grieve after placement, and that’s okay – but it’s rare. Very, very few birth moms can simply walk away after placing their baby and not need time to heal. Oversimplifying the emotions that usually come with birth parenthood is dangerous for women and men who are considering adoption and is unfair to those who have struggled with their adoption decision.

2) She also talks about the stereotype of birth parents as bad parents, “incapable of caring for and wholly unworthy of raising her children.” Movies like The Blind Side and Black or White show birth parents as substance abusers who don’t love or care about their children and don’t deserve to raise them. First of all, to say that all birth parents struggle with drug or alcohol abuse is blatantly incorrect. Second of all, the fact that a birth parent has struggled with substance abuse does not mean that they do not love their children. Even in cases where a child has to be removed from their birth parent’s care, it’s important to remember that each individual birth parent has their own complex set of struggles and emotions. Why judge someone whose life we know nothing about?

3) Then there is the martyr stereotype, where birth moms are portrayed as being “self-sacrificing heroes,” like on the MTV show 16 and Pregnant. The psychologist who hosts the show, Dr. Drew, praises women who choose adoption, calling them “so incredibly mature” and “selfless.” He’s not wrong – adoption can be a mature and selfless choice. However, parenting can also be mature and brave. Every person’s situation is different – in fact, every individual pregnancy is different – and there is no reason to advocate one decision over the other.

4) Finally comes the “baby stealer” stereotype. You might have seen the season of the show Glee where the cheerleader who placed her baby for adoption vowed to “get her back.” This stereotype is particularly harmful because most adoptions today are open, and promoting the idea that birth moms who have contact with their children will scheme to take their babies away from their adoptive families hurts the progress we’ve made in educating adoptive families and the general public about the benefits of open adoption. It also paints a picture of birth parents choosing adoption without thinking at all about their decision and then freaking out after they’ve made it. In reality, most birth parents think long and hard about their adoption decision; many agonize over it, and change their minds multiple times before choosing this option.

It’s easier, we suppose, for TV stations and movie producers to approach the topic of adoption when they can fit everything there is to know about birth parents into one of these neat little categories. Understanding birth parents as real people, with good and bad qualities just like everyone else, is more difficult than simply assuming their decisions to be easy, selfish, selfless, or just poorly thought out. By sensationalizing adoption stories and oversimplifying the lives of birth parents, the media doesn’t have to really consider the complexity or difficulty of adoption or try to understand the deep emotions that accompany it.

What do you think about how adoption is portrayed on TV and in the movies? Did these portrayals affect your decision or how you felt afterward? Tell us in the comments section below!

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Why We Support National Adoption Laws

nationalOne of our pet peeves in the world of adoption is that adoption laws are different in every state.

This means that while some states have great laws that are fair to everyone involved in the adoption process, others have laws that are not very birthparent-friendly. For example, we are glad that in Maryland, where most of our adoptions happen, birth parents have 30 days to change their mind after signing paperwork. We believe it’s important for birth parents to have that time to fully make up their mind about what’s best for them and their baby. In more than ten states, however, birth parents have no revocation period during which they can change their mind after they relinquish their parental rights.

Not only is this unfair to women who give birth in those states, but it also causes problems even in states with better laws. We have seen many situations in which an adoption organization or attorney based in a state with no revocation period convinces a birth mother here in Maryland to agree to use the adoption laws from their (the adoption organization’s or attorney’s) state – even though doing so is not in the birth mother’s best interest. For example, an organization from New Jersey, where adoption relinquishment paperwork is 100% final, might find a birth mother from here in Maryland and ask her to sign paperwork saying she’ll go ahead with the adoption under New Jersey law instead. If she agrees, she’ll be signing away her right to change her mind, even though she lives in a state with a 30-day revocation period!

What’s the solution? We think adoption laws should be national, rather than determined by each individual state, and that they should include a reasonable period of time during which a birth parent can change their mind about the adoption. Birth parents in every state have the right to laws that protect them, and adoption organizations shouldn’t be able to cheat the system.

What do you think about national vs. state adoption laws? Do you agree that all states should be following the same rules?

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Guest Post: Feeling Good About My Decision

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Talisa is a birth mother who placed through Adoptions Together many years ago and wrote several posts about her experience. This one is about feeling good about your adoption decision and sharing those feelings with others. You can read Talisa’s other guest posts here, here, and here.

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve written for the blog! I want to share something that one of my co-workers said to me today, and I was happy to hear it. I’m a supervisor in the childcare department in a Fitness Club in Silver Spring, and this morning when I had walked in, one of the managers that I work with, who I’m very close to, told me how wonderful I was doing and how well I work with the children and my co-workers! I was so happy to hear that, but that’s not it!

He came into my office around lunch time to talk to me about adoption, and I was shocked that he would ask me. Because he is the type that wouldn’t talk about something like that with me. So while we were talking, he was saying that he never thought that adoption could be such a beautiful thing. I asked him why, and he said that he couldn’t picture himself giving up a child even if he knew that’s what his fiancé wanted. I was telling him that everyone has their own opinion, but it’s not a bad thing, it’s quite wonderful!

Then he said his fiancé is thinking about adopting a baby when they get married, and I told him that it is wonderful that they will be making someone happy and that person will be making them happy. Then, he asked me about my adoption plan, and I had told him and he was like that it’s not so bad. I told that when he sees that child for the first time, he will be in love and that the person who is doing the adoption will know that she has found the perfect family for her little one and that makes her happy too.

He was happy to hear that coming from me, and he said that he definitely wanted to do it now. I was happy to hear that he felt that way. Then he told me that my daughter was lucky to have a mom like me because I made the right decision for her, and I continue to be part of her life and he couldn’t believe how well I take everything. I was very excited to hear that. I just wanted to know if anyone ever had one of those days where someone just makes you feel good about the really important decision you made.

Respond to Talisa’s question in the comments section below!

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Guest Post: “With All the Love I Can”

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A couple of years ago we shared Keisha’s story. Recently we came upon her first blog post for us and it was so lovely that we decided to post her thoughtful words again.

I came upon your blog and believe me I was quite hesitant as to whether I was going to write anything about my situation. As you know I am a birthmother and am currently going through the process of putting my child up for adoption. It is one of the most challenging and hard decisions that I have had to make in my life, and luckily my child’s birthfather is helping me with this decision. For the both of us, it has been an up and down rollercoaster, filled with so many emotions. But as much as it hurts, I know that this is going to be the best decision for my child. 

When you have children, your job as a parent is to provide for them, do what’s best for them, love, care, and nurture them. But what happens when you know that even though the baby is here, that you cannot do all the tasks that are needed for the upbringing of your child? As a birthmother, it breaks my heart that at this time, I cannot do everything for my child, and I know that I have to be selfless. This is probably the biggest sacrifice I will ever make in my life, but I know its right. I also know that God and Time will allow me to see my child again, and that this family will provide love and care and all the things my child needs. I got to spend time holding my child and sending her out with all the love I can and a huge piece of my heart, and I know that that means something. The hardest part of giving your child up is waking up every morning and knowing they aren’t there and you will spend a big portion of that day worrying and wondering, and knowing that you can only be together in dreams at night. You cling to the pictures that you have and “what if” questions litter your mind. Despite all of this, you know that they are in a good environment and that your child has double the love that many go without, the love from the birth parents and the adoptive parents.

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