Asking for Openness in Your Child’s Adoption: Part II

three doors in a a row - red, yellow, green - all doors open

image c/o publishingguru.blogspot.com

Last Thursday we posted about the importance of reaching out to your adoption agency to ask for annual meetings or updates, and we stressed that the door is always open for contact, no matter how long it’s been. We let you know that even if you did not make a written contact agreement as part of your child’s adoption plan, you still have the right to ask for openness, and that any ethical agency will do its best to get you at least a letter or picture update from your child’s adoptive family.

So, let’s say you’ve contacted your adoption agency, or you’ve written a letter or e-mail to your child and their family. Now what? Waiting for a response after you’ve reached out can be difficult. Sometimes it takes an adoptive family a couple of weeks or a month to get back to a birth parent, and in some cases, it takes years. In the meantime, it is important that you take care of yourself so that you do not become consumed by feelings of helplessness or anxiety. Try to remember that there are many reasons why it might take a family some time to respond to a request for contact, and that many of those reasons have nothing at all to do with you; families can get very busy, and they all go through rough patches. We have worked with several families who, because of what was going on in their lives, were initially unresponsive to birth parents’ requests for contact, but who turned out to be very open minded about keeping in touch. It might also help to remember that after your child turns 18 or 21, you will be able to reach out to them directly (these ages correspond to the laws in DC and Maryland, respectively). This might seem like a long way away, but sometimes it helps just to know that this option will be available no matter what happens.

Also remember that this is uncharted territory for adoptive parents, too, and if you haven’t been in touch before now, then they, just like you, are new to this. They, too, are probably nervous; they, too, are likely to be concerned about making a good impression. And in the same way it might have taken you months or years to work up the courage to write them a note, they might need time to get their bearings and become comfortable with the idea of being in touch with you. That doesn’t mean it will never happen! A little bit of patience and understanding on your end might just go a long way for your future relationship. The fact is that adoption is a lifelong process for everyone, including adoptive parents, and in order for communication to happen, you will all need to be patient with one another.

Are you a birth parent currently waiting to hear back from your child’s adoptive family? Have you gone through this process in the past? Tell us about your experiences!


Asking for Openness in Your Child’s Adoption

open doorimage c/o vickicaruana.blogspot.com

Ever found yourself in an “After you!” “No, after you!” situation, where both people are trying to be polite, and the result is that no one gets to walk through the door? We see the same thing happen with birth parents and adoptive families when it comes to their annual updates or meetings! Many birth parents don’t ask about scheduling updates or meetings because they don’t want to be seen as pushy, and at the same time, a lot of adoptive parents aren’t sure if their child’s birth parents even want an update or meeting, so, not wanting to pressure anyone, they stay silent. As both parties waffle as to whether they should be the first to do something, time goes by and sometimes feelings get hurt.

The solution? Remember that it’s always okay to ask for your annual meeting or update! At Adoptions Together, we rely on birth parents to let us know when they are ready for an update or meeting, so don’t wait for us to contact you – give us a call! We’re always happy to hear from you. This applies not only to birth mothers but to birth fathers as well; a birth father can get updates and have meetings with his child and his child’s adoptive family whether or not he is in a relationship with his child’s birth mother and regardless of whether she has contact with their child. For all birth parents, even if we haven’t heard from you for a long time – even if you’ve never had a meeting or update – the door is always open. It takes some birth parents years to become emotionally ready to make contact with their child, and that’s okay.

If you placed your child through a different agency or through a lawyer or facilitator and you want to get in touch with your child and their adoptive family, call or e-mail the person who was your primary contact during the adoption process. Even if you do not have a written agreement, you have every right to ask for openness, and any ethical agency will do their best to get you, at the very least, a letter or picture update from your child’s adoptive family.

We know that asking for updates and scheduling meetings can be scary, especially the first time you do it. You may be worried that your child’s adoptive family will say no, or you might feel apprehensive about starting a relationship that will bring up a lot of different emotions for you. We can talk with you about those feelings, give you information about what your updates or meetings might be like, and walk you through the process. Opening this door can be a wonderful experience for you and for your child and their adoptive family – someone just has to be the first to walk through it.


“Adoption Saved My Life”

adoption saved

image c/o www,shutterstock.com

When browsing birth parent blogs last week, we were touched to read Courtney’s April post at I’ll Love You For Always where she explained her conviction that “adoption saved my life.” She describes how seven months prior she had been so depressed that she “could scarcely get up to make my oldest something to eat” and how the path she was on was “dangerously close to costing me everything. Even my life.” The process of adoption, she explains, gave her hope. Through the love and compassion of her baby’s adoptive family and a few other people, she came to know herself to be a person “worthy of happiness and success,” whereas if she had not made the adoption plan, she doubts whether she would even be alive today.

Courtney’s story got us thinking about the many women we’ve worked with who were at a rough place in life when they became pregnant and for whom that pregnancy was an incentive for change. Whether they chose parenting or adoption, the desire to be the best parent or birth parent possible motivated them to work hard to make changes that improved their lives. For some of our clients who chose adoption, the desire to maintain a relationship with their child and their child’s adoptive family and to be a positive presence in their child’s life helped drive their efforts to overcome major struggles. Often, those struggles were financial; in her post, for example, Courtney describes how before she placed her baby, she was living in a hotel room with her two children with nothing but vouchers with which to clothe them. We have heard from many birth mothers that adoption played a large role in their ability to become (or remain) financially stable. It is wonderful to read on Courtney’s blog that she is now leasing an apartment and doing better both financially and emotionally.

Read Courtney’s story and let us know what you think! We’d also love to hear from you about how adoption affected your life.


Adoption “Facilitators”

Anyone who has done even just a little bit of research on adoption knows that the Internet abounds with advertisements aimed at birth parents and adoptive families. Almost all of these ads market the services of what we call “facilitators.” Facilitators are neither service providers nor attorneys; you can think of them as “match makers.” They work with families who want to find a baby to adopt. Because their priority is to secure a baby for their clients, if you choose to do an adoption plan with a facilitator, it is extremely important that you know your rights, since they will not provide you with counseling or legal assistance before, during, or after the adoption.

know your rights

image c/o www2.qut.edu.au

If you are considering adoption, you have the right to:

Learn about all of your options without feeling pressured to choose adoption. At Adoptions Together, we believe that birth parents should receive counseling about all of their options, such as keeping the child in the family, and should continue to receive emotional support after the adoption. If you do not know whether or not the organization with whom you are working is a facilitator, you can figure this out by asking whether they plan to have you meet with a licensed social worker. You have the right to meet with a counselor in person before making any decision.

Choose the adoptive family and how much contact you want to have with your baby after the adoption. You may not get everything you want – for example, it’s very rare for an adoptive family to agree to visit the birth parents every single month – but neither should the adoptive family’s wishes be the sole consideration in determining how open the adoption will be.

Make an adoption plan if you choose to do so regardless of your or your baby’s health, age, or ethnicity.  Some facilitators refuse to work with birth parents of certain ages or races or birth parents who have specific health issues or histories. Similarly, if your baby is born with any type of medical condition, some facilitators will no longer be willing to work with you.

Be provided with your own attorney to represent your rights. Although you may have the option to waive your right to an attorney, we advise you not to do so if you are working with a facilitator, since their legal obligation is to the adoptive family rather than to you. The facilitator or adoptive parents should pay the fees for you to have your own attorney.

Wait at least 24 hours after your delivery to sign the paperwork. Almost every state prohibits birth parents from signing an adoption consent before their baby is born. Some states require a certain number of hours to pass after delivery before paperwork can be signed (in DC, for example, no consent can be signed until 72 hours after delivery). Even in states where there is no minimum wait period (such as Maryland and Virginia), ethical practitioners will wait at least 24 hours to give you time to rest and recuperate.

Spend as much or as little time with the baby in the hospital as you wish. You are your baby’s legal parent until the revocation period ends, which means that you have the absolute right to spend as much or as little time with your baby as you wish. You also have the right to make any and all medical decisions regarding the baby, even if the adoptive family is involved or present at or after your delivery.

Revoke your consent to the adoption within a certain number of days if you change your mind. The “revocation period,” or amount of time you have to change your mind after you have signed the adoption paperwork, depends on the state. Birth parents in Maryland have thirty days to change their minds, and birth parents in DC and Virginia have ten days. Some facilitators may urge you to waive your rights in your state and follow a different state’s revocation law. Before you do so, make sure you know exactly what the difference will be; some states have very short revocation periods, and others have no revocation period at all, which means that if you are following those states’ laws you will not be able to change your mind after signing. If you are not comfortable with waiving your rights in your home state, you have every right to refuse to do so.

If you are working with an adoption facilitator and you feel pressured or uncomfortable about how things are going, we urge you to reach out to an adoption agency so that you can get some counseling as you decide how to proceed. Licensed non-profit adoption agencies are staffed by social workers, counselors, and attorneys who can offer you support both before and after you make an adoption plan. They are licensed by the state to make adoption placements, so another way to figure out whether you are working with a facilitator is to ask whether they are licensed or accredited in the state in which you live, and if they are not, to ask in what states they are licensed or accredited. Again, if you think you are working with a facilitator and something just doesn’t feel right about it, reach out to us here at Adoptions Together. We can provide counseling for you if you live in Maryland, DC, or Virginia, and if you live elsewhere, you can still give us a call and we will gladly help you find a licensed agency in your state.

For those of you who made an adoption plan in the past, did you work with a facilitator or with an agency or attorney? What was your experience like?


Hurtful Comments about Adoption

If Mother’s Day was a happy day for you, we hope you rejoiced; and if it was a sad and difficult day, know that you were not alone. We hope your Birthmother’s Day was peaceful and contemplative, and that if you were grieving, you found a safe place to do so and were able to find a little bit of solace in a friend, a family member, a place, or just in your thoughts.

 power of words
image c/o intelligentink.co.nz

Last Thursday’s post was our first post in almost a year, so we were eager to see if anyone would comment. Someone did, but their response wasn’t what we’d expected; instead, it was an unkind comment expressing the idea that birth mothers are selfish. Reading it and feeling shocked and disappointed that someone would post something so cruel on a birth mother blog the night before Mother’s Day got me thinking about the many hurtful things, both purposeful and inadvertent, that people say to birth parents.

Previous to my work here at Adoptions Together, I had a job in the reproductive health field. I learned that many people have no qualms about hurling extremely insulting words at women who choose to terminate pregnancies rather than carry them to term. When I joined the Adoptions Together team, I was surprised by how many people seemed to have similarly harsh reactions to women choosing to make an adoption plan. If so many people opposed abortion, why did many of those same people criticize adoption for women who decided not to end their pregnancies?

Puzzled, I did a Google search for “hurtful comments about adoption.” The search yielded a lot of results, but every single one linked to an article about the inappropriate things people say to adoptive families and their children. Nothing popped up about the awful things birth parents often hear, from offhand comments about “giving away” babies to ignorant declarations that adoption hurts children. You’ve probably heard some pretty awful things since becoming a birth parent. Who knew that so many people would feel they had the right to judge your adoption decision?!

Recently, Jill over at The Happiest Sad wrote about the emotions that birth parents often feel when people misunderstand their experiences or judge their decisions. She said that at first, when people mischaracterized her decision to choose adoption, it felt “personal and offensive…the catalyst for many a crying fit” but bothered her less as time passed. Whether or not that’s true for you, whether you’ve heard hurtful words about adoption in a conversation with a stranger or from your own family members, whether hearing those words made you angry or made you want to cry, or both – I hope you can remember that your feelings about your decision matter more than any other individual’s feelings about it.

And positive reflections and conversations can come out of other people’s judgments. Hey, after I saw that person’s comment, I wrote this blog post, didn’t I? It’s wonderful when birth parents feel empowered to educate others about adoption, and by sharing your experiences, you have the power to shift someone’s perspective. It’s also important, though, to pick and choose those moments carefully. Educating other people can be exhausting, and it is not your responsibility to shoulder that burden all of the time. If it makes you feel stronger to speak up and let someone else know that you are a birth parent and that their comments are wrong or offensive, do it! But if you just don’t feel like putting yourself out there at that particular time, that choice is okay, too. Wait until they’re gone and vent to someone you trust or to your journal or blog. (Eating a lot of your favorite junk food can also help…or so I’m told).

If you feel comfortable, we’d love to hear about how you’ve responded to people’s criticisms and misinformation about adoption. What do you do when someone who doesn’t know any better says something ignorant? What about someone who does know better? Have you learned from other birth parents or family members about ways to respond to negative comments? And, just as importantly, what positive experiences have you had talking with other people about adoption?


About the Blog

Adoptions Together social workers regularly offer unbiased counseling to parents who are considering or have chosen adoption. We know that it can be difficult for birth parents to find support in the days, weeks, and years after choosing adoption, so we created our birth parent blog in 2007 as a space for birth parents to learn from and support one another by connecting and sharing experiences.

We recently revamped the blog and would love your input as we move forward! Please e-mail Jessica at jlaigle@adoptionstogether.org if you would like to contribute or make a suggestion.


Welcome & Happy Mother’s Day

Last year in celebration of Mother’s Day and Birth Mother’s Day we asked adoptive families how they honor their children’s birth parents on these special days. A common sentiment was that birth mothers should be celebrated all the time, not just on one day of the year! Families seemed to agree that the best way to honor their children’s birth mothers was by talking about them “all the time,” and that, as one family put it, “While we will most certainly think about the women who are such a huge part of who our children are on Birth Parent’s Day, we try to remember that there are 364 additional days in the year!”

 At Adoptions Together, we agree with these families that birth parents deserve our appreciation every day. If you’ve visited this blog before, you may have noticed that it looks a little bit different, and that’s because we’ve decided to revamp it and really make it a priority as a way of supporting you, the birth mothers we care about. It can be difficult for birth parents to find support in the days, weeks, and years after choosing adoption, so providing content that is helpful and interesting to you is part of how we’d like to show our appreciation for you today and every day.

Tell us: What would you like to see on this blog? How can we appreciate you?


“UNSEALED BIRTH RECORDS GIVE ADOPTEES PEEK AT PAST”: News from The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Maura Duffy spent a day in Chicago last September with her mother: A walk along Lake Michigan, shared meals, a boat tour highlighting Second City architecture.

But this was no typical mother-daughter outing. It was the first time the two women had ever met.

Since a handful of states, including Illinois, have unsealed birth certificates, thousands of adoptees have claimed them and learned about their beginnings. The 35-year-old Duffy, adopted at birth, is among 8,800 Illinois residents since 2010 to do so.

Over the years many things have been told to birth mothers about their privacy regarding an adoption. I think most people understand the reasons why records were sealed for so long whether you agreed with the reasons or not. It's exciting to hear of so many people requesting the newly opened information. There will be a lot of questions answered, along with bittersweet revelations into the back story of adoptions for years.


Lessons on Adoption from the Supreme Court

From Adoptions Together's Blog:  Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director/General Counsel, Adoptions Together, Inc. Click here for original post.

The Supreme Court decision released recently interpreting the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is too complex to synthesize in just a few paragraphs. (For the full opinion see, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-399_8mj8.pdf). It’s hard to see who the winners are in this case, too. Certainly, the child who is at the center of this controversy has already suffered and will continue to do so. When she was 2 years old, she was removed from her adoptive parents and placed with her biological father whom she had never met. Now, she will almost certainly be removed from her father and returned to her adoptive family, facing yet another loss that cannot possibly be understood by any 3 ½ year old.

Based on the facts recounted by the Court, it’s easy to sympathize with all of the adults involved in this case as well. The child’s mother, facing the disintegration of her relationship with her unborn child’s father, turned to adoption as the best option to give her baby a good life. By all accounts, the adoptive parents acted responsibly and worked with professionals to ensure that the adoption was completed properly, including a good faith, albeit flawed, attempt to comply with the requirements of ICWA. And the child’s father seems equally motivated by a genuine desire to raise his child.

Faced with a choice rivaling that of King Solomon, the Supreme Court in a closely divided opinion overturned the decisions of the South Carolina courts, holding that their reliance on ICWA was incorrect. In justifying this result, the Court greatly eroded the applicability of ICWA in voluntary infant adoption cases. Simply put, the Court ruled that ICWA applied only to the break-up of an existing custodial relationship between an Indian child and his Indian parent. Given that the father of this child had never held custody of the child before the state court’s decision to follow ICWA, the court determined that ICWA did not apply.

The opinion raises many questions that still need to be answered. For example, in determining that the father did not have custody of the child, the court relied on statutes in South Carolina and Oklahoma that give a presumption of custody to an unmarried mother. Many states’ laws are silent about presumptions of child custody when parents are unmarried. Other states have laws that presume both parents are equally entitled to custody of a child. Would the result in this case be different had the father resided in a state where the law favored joint custody?

Further, the majority seems bothered by the minimal blood connection of this child to her Indian heritage. In the first sentence of the decision, Justice Alito writes, “This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee,” and subsequently makes 3 more references to the 3/256 blood line. Would the case have been decided differently if the child were 50% Cherokee? Did the Court make its far-reaching decision limiting the applicability of ICWA because it believed the connection of the child to her Indian heritage was too tenuous?

Another question is whether this case signals the weakening of long-settled case law about the rights of biological parents to raise their children. In a series of Supreme Court decisions from the early 1980’s, the Court recognized that the interest of parents in raising their children is precious, and that there must be a significant State interest at stake before a court may interfere with such a cherished bond. Justice Sotomayor, writing for the dissent, and Justice Breyer, in a separate opinion that while supporting the result reached by the majority questioned its analysis, both challenged the breadth of the majority opinion. For example, should ICWA apply in a case where a father was obstructed from involvement with his child because he was falsely told the pregnancy ended in miscarriage or abortion?

And, what should a Court do when faced with deciding the fate of a child whose adoption is contested? It’s easy to spout rhetoric about the best interest of the child in cases like this, but what does that really mean? Can any judge truly predict whether it is better for a child to be raised by an adoptive family who will love, cherish and provide the child with stability and resources that are lacking in many birth parents’ lives or whether the child will thrive and grow stronger in his biological family where he will likely have more challenges and thus more opportunities to learn the importance of perseverance and overcoming obstacles?

Hopefully, these questions and others will be addressed by courts across the country in the years to come. Yet, there is one clear lesson to take home from this complicated and difficult case. Let there be no doubt… adoption is complicated. All parents, biological and adoptive, need to be fully informed about their rights and responsibilities when making an adoption plan. Qualified caring professionals need to help all parties reach agreement in planning an adoption. When disputes arise and agreement is not possible, all of the adults who care about the child must be willing to put the child’s interests above their own desires.

How do we do this? We, adoption agencies and professionals, prospective adoptive parents and parents who are contemplating placing a child for adoption, must take the time to carefully consider what we will do in contested adoption situations before they occur. We must decide, as individuals and organizations, the point at which we will bow out of a contested case and spare an innocent child the risk of additional grief and loss that will result from another forced disrupted placement. Adoption agencies and professionals must make these decisions within the context of the codes of ethics and legal regulations that govern our practice. And, we need to raise these issues with parents and prospective parents who seek our help. Waiting to consider these questions when our judgment is clouded by the joy of holding a baby in our arms or with the pain of relinquishment will only cause further harm to the children we seek to protect.

As adopted children move toward adulthood, most seek to learn more about their biological families and many chose to establish ongoing relationship with the birth relatives. In deciding which contested adoption situations require aggressive advocacy and which are best served by compromise and concession, we must recognize that someday we will likely have to explain to an adult adoptee how he came to be part of his adoptive family. The actions we take today when our children are young may well look quite different in 20 years when we explain them to an adopted adult who is seeking to create a meaningful relationship with his biological family.


Keisha’s Story

guest post

From guest blogger Keisha four years after placing her daughter for adoption.

Ever since 2009, when my daughter Jaqueline Nicole was born, my fiancée and I receive pictures on her birthday and for the holidays. Every year, my holiday pictures come like clockwork on my birthday, December 22. This year, as I eagerly awaited my picture birthday gift, it did not come. I waited by that mailbox and nothing. In my mind, I started to think, what if Jackie’s parents forgot? What am I going to do? All these feelings flooded me and sent my whole “I’m okay” façade crashing and shattering to the ground.

There is no elaborate story as to why James and I made an adoption plan for our daughter. We were young, James had children already and I had buried my first child due to medical complications with me that caused Jordan to be born prematurely. I didn’t even know I was pregnant until it was too late. When I found out I was pregnant with Jackie, it was the same set of circumstances, excessive bleeding and incompetent cervix was what I was told and déjà vu was happening all over again. Selfish acts led me to this situation yet again and not fully recovered from my post-partum with Jordan, I knew I couldn’t take care of Jackie, nor would I subject her to living with a broken mother who was depressed, clueless and ashamed. So James and I made the decision to give her a fighting chance because we knew that it wasn’t with us. I had to be selfless, that is what I repeated to myself and to James. I loved my daughter, but began to build the wall of separation to help me deal. My grandma was really the only one I told about the adoption at that time. I couldn’t disappoint my parents again, and James felt the same, so this was our burden. We picked out an awesome set of parents for Jackie, and we lived for our pictures and letters. We saw she was smart, she loved pancakes, she was lively and fun, just like us. She looks like me and she acts like James. A perfect mirror image born of so many flaws and mistakes. She was my piece of heaven, even though she was far away.

So on that December day, when those pictures didn’t come, I was angry. I played it that I was angry that my pictures didn’t come, but God and I knew better. I was angry and filled with regret. I was filled with what ifs, especially since a month after Jackie was born, James and I found jobs, mine a management position. Life took an upwards turn and a year and a half later, Joshua, my son was born. I was blessed to be able to stay with him and raise him and see every single breath he took. He was thriving and smart, just like his big sis and I was sitting here wondering did I cheat myself. Did James and I cheat ourselves? Did we cheat our parents, who love Joshua so much, from loving Jackie? What had I done? I was doing well, got into my bible, started to restore my relationship with God, but late pictures dashed a year and a half worth of rebuilding and self restoration. That is when I realized, my foundation was not sturdy, God was making me rebuild on my truth, not the truth I tried to portray.

I am flawed and my heart is broken everyday because I miss my Jackie. They changed her name and I knew it would happen, but I felt it erased me, my essence, James’ essence. I am angry because we allowed ourselves to be so selfish, because all of my kids were conceived while on birth control, but that didn’t give us license to do what we wanted, we were not married, thus not covered under God’s hedge of care and protection. I was sad because all the moments I spend with my Joshua, I missed with Jackie. I am ashamed. I had to face all of this. I had told so many people I was okay and they commended me for my strength but I was crumbling daily inside. God literally ripped out the old foundation so that He could build in me a new one.

So here is how I feel today. I miss my daughter and sometimes I cry, but I rejoice because her parents let her know who we are. They share with her our letters and pics. Though her name may be changed, she can look in the mirror everyday and see her mother in her eyes, her bone structure all her facial features. She can feel her father when she laughs, when she eats those pancakes he loves so much or when she shows such care and love toward her friends and family because her father has such a big heart. She sees and feels the best of us every day and not because we placed her with an adopting family, but because God placed her where He knew she would flourish. When I feel low, I talk to God and He sends His love to her through my tears and she knows she is loved by many, not by none. Though James and I feel sad, she is happy and thriving and healthy. One day God will allow her to come and ask us questions, but until that day, He sustains her through the wonderful parents He ordained her to be with. Our children are not our own. They are gifts from God. Sometimes when selfishness clouds our vision, our children pay and are delayed and sometimes not able to thrive because we suffocate them with our decisions, mistakes and regrets. But God unclouded our vision, He turned our selfishness into good for His daughter. He knew where and how to best take care of her and I am thankful we were obedient. We may not have gone about it the right way, because Jackie did not deserve to be our secret, but God still was and is able to continue to care for and be with our daughter without our mess. I am thankful that now James and I are able to really get it together and start living the life that God planned for us and when we see our daughter again, whenever He sees fit, she will see the awesome people God created us to be, not the broken people we made ourselves.

After I allowed myself to feel all that I had repressed, sure as rain, those pictures came. I allowed myself to cry, my tears of missing her, some sad tears, but mostly happy tears because I saw in every picture she was smiling a joyous smile and I knew she was not just happy but filled with joy!

My hope for every birth father and mother is that they won’t beat themselves up. That they will allow their feelings to be felt, so that God can move and heal them. Then He can lead them on the path to their purpose so that on that day they are reunited with their child, whether for a minute, hour, or day, their child will know and see everything good in them reflected in their parents because of God. I am allowing myself to be healed, James is as well. No more façades, no more self medicating with vices, no more. Just healing, so we can be better and reflect the goodness in our daughter’s eyes.