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.


One woman's adoption story.

Hey everybody,

This video is really thought provoking, touching and provocative. She challenges a lot of stereotypes about birth parents. She talks about choosing what was best for her son and that the adoptive family's home was the best place for her son. What do you think about that? I sometimes pause at the "good, better, best" comparison because everyone's opinion of what's best is different. The positive stereotypes of what we think about with adoption should also be challenged. Two parents with a big house and a dog doesn't always mean best.

She also pointed out the fallacy that birth parents don't want their babies and how she did not feel that way. Lots of birth parents wish their circumstances were different and maybe would choose to parents if many things (age, housing status, financial stability, etc.) were different.

Let us know if you had a similar interaction with someone interested in your adoption story.

You may not be in the same place in life as this mom, able to publicly share your story, on youtube, with family, or to anyone yet…but this is a safe space for you to do so anytime.


Birth Mother Expenses

In most states, the payment of expenses to a birth mother making an adoption plan is a common practice.  

We began to hear of more and more local birth moms who chose to be matched out of state because of the possibilities of paid expenses.  These moms would sometimes not be able to have a counselor, or appropriate representation in the case and we wanted Maryland to be on the same level as other states so that moms are pushed away from local adoptive parents!

More and more agencies and states are paying for the housing, food, clothing, etc. of birth mothers in the midst of an adoption plan. Well in Maryland, this was illegal up until very recently. Maryland is one of
only three states
that restrict payment of adoption-related expenses for birth parents to only
medical and legal costs. 


090-0530140135-i_m-just-a-bill_l
 

 We were so happy to discover that the bill had been approved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Maryland General Assembly and now we're awaiting the Governor's signature!


I was very fortunate to be able to testify about my opinions and experiences on this bill in front of the judicial committee of the Maryland House of Delegates. House Bill 563 was a collaboration of Delegate DuMais and adoption agencies, birth parents, and adoptive parents.


Here is a video of our testimony starting at 5:35 (Maryland House Judicial Committee Testimony Video)


Here is my written testimony submitted to the Maryland House and Senate Judicial Committees!

When posed with
the question of whether receiving financial assistance would be helpful to the
expecting mothers I serve, the answer is undoubtedly, yes.   Every expecting birth parent that crosses my
path struggles in some way.  Most of my
clients are either unemployed or working only part-time and in positions that
cause them to struggle even while employed. 
Many clients are living with family or with extended family, or renting
rooms in a household.  Some are living in
homeless shelters and recently, within the cold winter months, even the shelter
programs are full with many month long waiting lists.  Finding housing and food assistance for my
clients has always been a struggle with the limited resources in the area.  They often feel the stress of burdening a
family member they are living with or living in an uncomfortable environment
while pregnant.   Some mothers are only
allowed to live with family because they are pregnant but have to leave soon
after delivery and feel the anxiety of the approaching deadline daily.  Many have come to know that finding a job
while visibly pregnant is almost impossible in this area.  There are also those who are employed, but
must hide the fact that they are pregnant, if possible, to avoid termination.  These women and their families have a clear
and basic need for financial assistance.

 

To some,
purchasing maternity clothing may not be a necessity, and a mother may even
agree when faced with the decision to purchase food and pay rent, but to any
woman who has been pregnant, the need becomes clear.  Many clients could benefit from properly
fitting maternity clothing as pregnant women expand in clothing size and shoe
size.  I’ve come across clients who wear
the same ill fitting clothing, coats that no longer close and shirts and pants
that are uncomfortable to wear because as stated earlier, sheltering and feeding
herself and her family comes first.

AdoptionPlan

In addition to the
women who struggle the most visibly there are expectant moms that cross my path
who could benefit from the assistance that a little extra income could
provide.  Clients who are able to
maintain employment often still need all the help they can get.  Many are struggling to pay rent and all the
other necessities of life and would welcome assistance with open arms.   Regarding the mothers who are currently
working, some do not take one day off from work during their pregnancy for fear
of losing their jobs.  Other mothers
leave the hospital and return to work the day after delivery, against the
medical advice of the physician, because they simply cannot miss a day of work
and risk unemployment.   If pregnant women are instructed to stop
working by a physician, this bill would allow for those moms to stop working
and tend to their physical needs, something that is often not possible for
them.  For the moms that do stop working,
they are in great need of help paying bills. 
If these women were able to receive even just a small amount of financial
assistance to assist in paying rent or obtaining food or purchasing maternity
items, they would possibly be able to relax and gain a bit more peace of mind
during the pregnancy.  As stressful as it
is to carry an unplanned pregnancy and be in the process of making an adoption
plan, any relief of that stress would be greatly beneficial.

We would love to hear about your story and whether adoption expenses were helpful or would have been helpful during your adoption planning time.

Comment, Subscirbe and Share!


Support During Decision Time

So… I just finished watching Oxygen’s “I’m having their baby.”  It’s a new TV show that follows two expecting women/couples in their adoption plan and journey, delivery and placement.  It was amazing to see the journey from start to second start and a little peek into “life after placement.” 

The time of re-deciding in the hospital for many moms can be very difficult.  No matter what you made up in your mind, you were still thinking about the future and now, the future is here!  This baby is in the room, or down the hall in the nursery, and you have to decide what in the world you’re going to do.  The reasons you gave yourself pre-delivery are still there but now there’s a cloud called “discharge day” hanging over your head and you have to make a decision within a day or two.  Now, for some women and couples, their feelings don’t change much at all during this time b/c the circumstances of life right now make it impossible to bring a baby home.  For others, the time to think and feel the love and emotions still allows for you to maintain your decision to place your child.

As an adoption counselor, I help women and couples make sure they are not being rushed, not being forced or coerced, and thinking clearly and realistically about the decision made, no matter what the end result.  Not every birth mother has had that.  Some spend time in the hospital alone, some have family angry at them the entire time, and some are even pressured by hospital staff or made to feel like they are doing something wrong by any and everybody who knows.  Support from family, friends, your counselor or even simply the hospital social worker is vital at this time. 

Even in the cases of open adoptions, many people involved take a big sigh of relief after the delivery is over and the revocation period has ended and move along trying to make sense of the rest of their lives as if “whew…well now that’s over!”  I see birth parents back away from me and from the support we offer after a few months into their adoption journey, which… is understandable.  We have to readjust.  If you’ve just spent 9 or maybe just 3 months (if you found out late!) thinking, wondering, worrying, praying, hoping, all about this baby and the adoption plan, after delivery it’s, “Now what?”  Now it’s time for the second “beginning” not the end.  It's time to readjust your life to either life without the baby or figuring out how you're going to make this work.  For those birth parents who chose to place, this is really just the start.

Placemcementent day of your child with the adoptive family is the first day of the rest of all of your lives.

  • Remember your reasons for considering this plan in the first place, and consider what life will be like after placement.
  • Request an interim care provider if you have even a smidgen of undecided feelings.  Even private adoptions can figure out a way for you to have temporary care before the child is placed with the adoptive family.
  • Talk to family and friends before you leave the hospital.  Family and friends sometimes help you step back and see things in a different light.  They may even provide support you never knew was available.
  • Remember that you have rights in the hospital and don't be afraid to take advantage of them.
  • Meet with your counselor the week after you deliver (and more if you can).  So many birth parents back away at this time but your counselor is there to help.

 

What are some things you wish you knew or want to know about hospital and those first weeks after placement?


What to Expect From an Open Adoption

Open adoption has many benefits…

 

It is in complete opposition to closed adoption’s secrecy, shame, mystery and fantasy. It brings all adults in the child’s life together to build a relationship in the child’s interest.  It helps children normalize the fact of their adoption because it’s not this big secret that’s too horrible to discuss.  Still, there are challenges because it involves human beings who may have conflicting needs and may idealize relationships that take intention, work and honest commitment to resolve issues that may come up. It’s so vastly superior to closed adoption and past practices that it’s worth the effort, especially from the child’s perspective. We typically set up an open adoption with a schedule of updates that are transmitted from the AF to the BF and one-two get together’s a year.


A few practical tips:

Photo

Time of year permitting, meet outside in a beautiful park, then playground, then community or city area that is photogenic. Children are much happier running around outside and adults are usually calmer too. Take lots of pictures that document these important events that can be shown to children over the years. You may want to keep an album of the picture and write about the visit.


YEARS 1-3

In the first few visits, the baby’s progress and development can be easy relaxed focus for everyone involved. Babies will naturally turn to those who are taking care of them. This process of attaching is extremely important for the baby’s future health and well being. It can be painful though for a parent to see the baby turn to her adoptive mother for comfort. This will continue for years. Children don’t fully understand birth and adoption until they are approximately 8 years old and they are cognitively aware: I was born to one family and adopted by another. This dialectic will be central for the life of the adoptee. The first year, babies are generally happy to be held by anyone. As they begin to distinguish the adults in their lives from others, they become anxious around strangers. This can be hard for birth parents to see. During a get together with two year old twins who had been placed at one year, as the children ran to their new parents for food and comfort, Jane said aloud: I know this is really good that they are so attached to their new parents. It’s really painful that they don’t seem to recognize or remember me. But I want them to feel safe and secure with their new family.

 

YEARS 3-8

photo

Children grow and change. Children will benefit from knowing who they are seeing. We are going to see your birth mother, Sarah. Also, birth parents may have children who they will be introducing. We are going to the park with your brother Sam who lives with his adoptive parents. Children are remarkably adept at sorting out who is who in their lives and they will take their cues from you. Your respectful, friendly and matter of fact introductions and discussion will reassure them that all is right in their worlds.

For some birth parents, these are the years that the meetings can become more challenging. The child’s life is unfolding and a history is developing that does not include them. One adopted child got into the habit of talking about the events of the past year when she got together with her birth mother as if to bring her up to the present time and fill her in.

 

YEARS 8-12  

Many  children begin to get busy with weekend sports and other school and neighborhood activities. During this time they fully understand adoption. It can be somewhat embarrassing to them because it’s a difference and children at this age want to be just like everyone else. Also, adults are beginning to bore them as they start to seek out their peers. A meeting once or twice a year with a relative is not necessarily something they are anxious to do. Some children though will be very curious and excited about the meeting. One child pointed out to her birth mother while they were eating: are you being extra nice to me because I am your birth child? Children may also be rude and impatient and the adoptive parent will be mortified. Birth parents may want to minimize their expectations.

 

TEEN AND BEYOND

Photo

While it may be harder to schedule meetings during these years, the child is moving into adulthood when they can begin to have direct contact with their birthparents and develop their own relationship, without their adoptive parents, as all children develop independent relationships.

The major benefit of open adoption is the culmination of all the meetings: the regular and normal nature of these get together’s will be a stable platform of experience for the child to build on. They will not have to move past idealizing & fantasizing about their birth parents because they have real people to relate to. The young adult and her birth parents have the opportunity to build on their knowledge of each other and develop their own unique time and experience together.

Birth parents may expect to feel anxious and happy as they lead up to the get together and sad and disappointed when it’s over. That’s typical of many important events we look forward to. Participating in a support group with others who are going through life with this very momentous decision and its aftermath can be very helpful and relieve some of the mixed feelings.