Friday, July 26, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Relative Adoption

Pro:  Keeping a child within their biological family

I listed this first because I believe that this is the biggest pro of relative adoption (also known as "kinship adoption").  Roots, family and kin are so important to adopted children.  It is a child's right to be with their kin if it is possible. 

Knowing where you come from should never be underestimated nor should a child's knowledge that the family he was born into wanted them to stay part of the family.  Many adoptees believe that there is no good reason for adoption even amongst relatives, but I disagree.  Adoption, as it is currently practiced, is the best form of permanence currently available for children.   I didn't say I liked the way it was practiced, but its permanence is something I do like. 

Con:  Visitation and contact is not guaranteed

Just because a child is being raised by an aunt and uncle or a grandmother, there is no guarantee that there will be any form of contact.  Once the adoption is finalized, visitation and contact is completely decided by the relative adoptive parent(s).  Check with an attorney in your state to see if open adoption agreements are honored by the law.  In most states, they are not.

Pro:  Adoptive parents get to make decisions about child's welfare

The pro side of not being forced into visitation and contact with certain family members who are dysfunctional is that the Court will not force you.  Under the law, you are seen as the biological parents once the adoption is finalized.  If drunk grandpa won't stop saying inappropriate things to the child, like any parent, you can decide drunk grandpa won't be around the child any longer.  Adoption allows parents to act like parents without the worry that they will be hauled into court for every decision they make (like in divorce court).

Con:  Family roles change or become confusing

This is one area that my family underestimated.  We were warned by the social worker about this, but you never really know how this will play out until the adoption is finalized.  There are dual roles in relative adoption.  You could be aunt and mom.  You could be dad and grandpa.  You could be uncle and brother.  People worry that it is confusing for the child, but I have found that not to be true so far in our family.  It's more confusing for the adults who get their roles confused. Am I grandma or great grandma? Am I really mom or should I tell the child I am her aunt as well?  In our family, we have been honest as questions are brought up by our daughter. So far she has taken it all in stride.\

Pro:  Name change

This is true in any adoption -- not just relative adoption. The adoptive parent(s) may keep the child's original name or can change the child's name if this is a decision that the parents believe is in the child's best interest.  Many adult adoptees see their name being changed as a con and will, as adults, legally change their name back to their original name. 

Con:  an amended birth certificate

An amended birth certificate will be issued with the adoptive parent(s) names and the original birth certificate with biological parents names will be sealed by the state.  A majority of states will not allow the adoptee a copy of his/her original birth certificate. This is true for step-parent adoptions too. I urge all adoptive parents to get involved in adoptee rights and change these horrendous, discriminatory laws.

Pro:  The amended birth certificate allows for privacy and will allow the child to go through school without the curious public asking questions about the child's name. 

Pro and Con:  Family relationships change forever.  

I believe in our case, that we protected our daughter from a life of dysfunction, neglect and pain.  She gets to be a happy kid, with her biological kin and know she is loved.  Whenever i think about the con of losing her mother (our family member), although completely unexpected, I have to say it was worth the price.  It's sad and we didn't know we would be losing her at the time the adoption was finalized, but it is the way it is.  This may not be true for every relative adoption.  Maybe you will lose more than one family member.  Maybe your entire family will turn on you for doing what you believe is right. 

If you are raising your sister's child, there will likely be resentment by your sister.  Your mother may consider your child to be your sister's child.  Your father may favor your sister's subsequent kids.  Family dynamics are unique in each family and will be played out in a unique way post-adoption.  Just be prepared for the these types of situations ahead of time and get a good family therapist if you need help.

We all walk a different path and can only come to our own conclusions about family, but understand that family relationships will be changed forever after a relative adoption-- for the good and the bad.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Please stop glamorizing adoption!

I cannot turn on my t.v. or go to the movies without an adoption theme running through the story-line.  What is the obsession with adoption in this country?

I purposely watched Switched At Birth last night as I tuned out for most of this season and watched Smash and now that Smash was cancelled, I'm back to Switched at Birth.  I love the way the writers can capture what it is like living with people you are not blood related to.   It doesn't mention adoption but it really captures the essence of what adoptees feel.  It shows the difficulties inherent in switching children in families.  It does not glamorize adoption per se.

But back to my rant . . . . .I'm Having Their Baby?  The title is so disgusting to me that I can't bare to even watch it one time.  No, honey -- you are not having their baby . . you are having your baby.  If you want to hand the baby over to strangers, then it is your right; however, let's not try to white wash reality -- you are not a "birth mother" until you sign the relinquishment papers, and even then the term birth mother really annoys me.  You are actually a mother. Plain and simple.  You just chose not to parent.

I know that my opinion is probably not P.C. but that is how I see it.  You are a mother if you give birth.  Even if you never hold that child, you are a mother.  Even if you deny being a mother because you want to erase that time period from your mind, you are still a mother.   Even if your child's birth certificate does not list your name and instead lists the adoptive parents -- you are still a mother.

But why glamorize this truly sad start to a child's life?  It is not glamorous to be an orphan.  It is not glamorous to feel "saved" by people who, hopefully, but many times do not, love you and raise you well. It is not glamorous to find out as an adult you are treated like a second class citizen under the law.  It is not glamorous when friends and strangers cannot understand why you are not deleriously happy about their questions and comments about how lucky you are and asking where your "real mother" went.

If I weren't such an open book by nature, I think I might give myself a do-over and NEVER tell another soul I was adopted.  Not one kid in middle school who could use it against me and not one adult who could project their own ideas about adoption onto me.  I can totally understand why adopted kids don't want to talk about it.  I completly get it because it's like opening the door to a bombardment of questions.

Just sharing with people that I was undergoing dna testing, the questions hit me like a ton of bricks.  I instantly felt defensive, although I try not to come across that way, as my hope is to educate.  But really, why do I have to explain why my dna is important?  Why do I have to explain why I want to know who my father is like you do?

The fact that adoption is glamorized in the media is one of the biggest reasons I think people want to know about the adopted life.  Because it is so interesting.  I admit, my life is interesting, but in a weird way like I'm a fish in a fishbowl and everybody is staring down into the bowl trying to figure out why fish don't enjoy fish bowls.

Yes, in a way, I've brought this on myself because I write about adoption.  But trust me -- this was not a life plan by any stretch of the imagination.  I have fought against it.  I have told God no!  I will not continue to do this.  I quit.  As soon as I quit, somebody asks me to write something for a blog, a book or asks me to join a committee.  So I am now cooperating with God instead of fighting him, but one thing that I just can't take while I'm here trying to change laws, discuss myths and write honestly, is this glamorizing of adoption.

So please, just knock it off.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

How does your mother feel about you searching?

One of the extra fun bonuses about being adopted (and especially for those of us who speak out about it), is that other people (mostly non-adopted) believe they have the right to ask silly questions such as "how does your mother feel about you searching"? (referring to my adoptive mother).

Within some of these questions are hidden meanings such as "you should feel guilty" or "how could you be disloyal to your mother like that?" among other messages that give me a headache to even contemplate.

So today I will answer this question once and for all . . . . .

I have no idea.

She has never directly told me how she feels about it.

She has said this:

"It hurt me when your birth mother did not ask me about your childhood"

It took her seven years post-reunion, for my mother to admit this to me.  This is a touchy, sensitive topic between my mother and me.  It was so difficult for me to tell my mother when I found my birth mother, that my husband actually broke the news to her, because I could not.  Why?

The loyalty/guilt factor becomes so overwhelming during the search.  In hindsight, I can easily say I had every right to search, but during the actual search, I was still unable to completely own that it was my right to know where I came from and that my mom's feelings were her responsibility -- not mine.  I felt I was doing something wrong against my mother -- like, my searching somehow meant I didn't love her enough.  That in some way she was inadequate as a mother because I needed to find my first mother.  That somehow this was a personal attack on her motherhood and who she was as a woman.

I sense the non-adopted believe these assumptions as well.

"There must have been something wrong in that family if she needed to search".

"That adoption must not have gone very well".

These are false assumptions.  I can tell you my adoption went very well. I had a wonderful childhood.  Did we have problems?  Yes, absolutely.  The problem was not the adoption per se.  The problem was the "secrets" surrounding my adoption and my lack of understanding as a child about where I came from. There was not open communication within my adoptive family (like many families) about our feelings.  I have since tried to cure myself of this, and can freely say I am in touch with my own feelings (some days I wish I could turn them off!) but I can't say my other family members are at this same place.

When people ask questions to adoptees about somebody else's feelings (their mother's), it is just one more way to take away power from the adopted person.  Trust me, most adoptees felt powerless at some point in their lives --at a minimum because they had no say in what happened to them as children  -- and then after they've pulled themselves up by their boot straps, taken risks, spent money and faced their fears, why are they then expected to explain somebody else's feelings about this monumental thing they just did?

The proper question is this. . . .

How do you (adoptee) feel about searching?

How do I currently feel about searching?  I feel frustrated, annoyed, angry, sick and tired, and in disbelief that people still think it's o.k. to hide my personal information from me.

How did I feel before I embarked on the search for my birth mother?


F (Fantasy)
E (Expectations)
A (Appearing
R (Real)

I have talked to many adoptees who have already written the book before they even started their search.
They fear that their birth mother didn't love them because she hasn't found them yet.  They fear that there is some horrible secret that is better left buried.  They don't believe they can actually handle the truth.  They don't believe they are entitled to the truth.  They have bought into the myths that something must be wrong with the family they grew up in if they search.  And something must be wrong with them for not being satisfied with the family who raised them. 

My adoptive mother bought into these same myths when during my search she said,

"Your birth mother must not want to know you if she hasn't searched for you."

Her assumption turned out to be untrue.  I have explained to her that when my name changed, that information was sealed from my birth mother as well.  My adoptive mother's fear that my birth mom would show up on her doorstep was  unfounded.

However, her fear that I would one day want to know the woman who bore me did come true. 

How does she feel about that?

You'll have to ask her.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Adoption is a legal solution to a spiritual problem

I wrote a poem called "Adoption is" and wanted to expand the poem with a blog.

Today I will focus on how adoption  can be viewed as a legal solution to a problem that, in my opinion, is spiritual in nature.

I am not enough

This is one of many thoughts that a pregnant woman has when she is considering relinquishing her child for adoption.  It is the central theme in my own relinquishment and in my daughter's relinquishment.  If either of our mother's believed they were enough, then adoption would have never entered the scene.  Believing we are not enough is a spiritual sickness.  It's a way of not loving ourselves. It's a society sickness when people tell a pregnant woman that she is not enough because she does not have enough a) money b) maturity c) support or d) love to raise her own child.

I am not going to argue the point that there are many things necessary to raise a child and that in some situations a woman may not be have the proper tools to parent, but it is my belief that the sickness of "I am not enough" is behind all the other obvious fears of lack behind relinquishing.  If women believed they were enough and their families believed it and society backed up that belief with proper support, then adoption would be a much rarer occurrence.

Give up your child and you can have a "fresh start"

More spiritual sickness falls under the belief that handing your newborn over to others will somehow magically wipe your slate clean.  And the slate of the child's.  The child will never look back again and you, as the woman, surrendering will never have regret over not being a mom to your child while you pursue your "dream" career and of course, travel and meet Mr. Right without the cumbersome baggage of a kid.

It would be a different world if all women everywhere supported other women having babies to keep and raise their own children.  Instead, there is a spiritual sickness within adoption agencies placing advertisements for vulnerable women to relinquish their newborns by promoting the lies of "open adoption" and "a fresh start".
It would be a different world if people understood immediately adoptees' need for their true history, without judgment, condemnation and laws that stop a minority segment of society from knowing and understanding themselves.  We all deserve our true history and I can tell you from personal experience, the slate was not wiped clean when adoption changed my name, my location, and my personal data.  I'm sure my mother could attest to the same thing.  Her slate was not wiped clean when she remembered my black hair every Christmas and the regret of never holding me in her arms.

My rights are paramount over your rights

You can never legislate feelings, blood, biology or love.  But adoption tries to do this by ending all legal rights of a child to his original family.  The heavy hand of the law ends all legal relationships with the original family, including inheritance.  Why?  It doesn't seem necessary to me.  It seems kind of like hitting a fly with a hammer when a fly swatter would do.  But we Americans have our rights and our rights include ownership of a child.  Our rights include changing the child's name.  Our rights include making sure nobody else can come waltzing into our homes and take our property.  Adoption is the hammer when legal custody would do.

Legal custody is not perfect, but it does not change a child's name.  It does not alter history.  It does not amend birth certificates.  It is legal non-fiction.  It tells the story without fictionalizing it like adoption does.


If each one of us valued the other person's original identity, heritage, name, and blood and we backed up those beliefs with fair laws, and legal proceedings that did not steal another's birth right, the world would be a better place and I suspect adoption would become a much rarer occurrence.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Big Lie: Birth Parent Confidentiality

photo credit:

Myth:  Birth Parents were (are) legally promised confidentiality.  A friend of mine who is on the board of the Adoptee Rights Coalition has collected many Birth Parent Surrenders (some from long ago and some more recent) and in none of them is there a "promise" of confidentiality (or anonymity) to the birth parent from her child.  There may be a clause that prevents the birth parent from contacting the adoptive family.  But the gist of the Birth Parent Surrender has legal terminology that is clear that the parent is no longer the parent under the eyes of the law.  Period.  No promises are made other than she no longer has any responsibility or rights for said child.   I have a copy of  the legal surrender that my daughter's birth parent signed. It only takes away rights and does not give her any form of anonymity, confidentiality (other than what is expected in attorney/client privilege) or promises of privacy.

Myth:  Birth parents will not relinquish their child for adoption if they believe they can later be found.

The reality is that very few birth parents do not want to know who their children are, where their children are, if they are safe, alive and if they were well cared for in the adoptive family.  There are some; however, and the law gives a minority of original mothers an opportunity in some states to submit a Contact Preference Form. (Note: The contact preference form is about reunion.  Birth certificate access is a civil rights issue.)

However,  if a birth parent does not want contact, then the laws that protect all of us from harassment and stalking also protect birth parents.  I have yet to hear of a case of stalking or harassment by an adoptee, but I suppose it could happen in rare cases.  The law allows the same remedies to birth parents as they do to Joe Schmoe down the street who has is dealing with an over-eager person trying to make unwanted contact.  Again, reunion is a whole different ball of wax than using the "confidentiality" argument as a way to keep adoptees from having a copy of their original birth certificates (discrimination).

Open adoption is not the same as open records.  There is a reason the majority of birth parents want an open adoption -- so they can see for themselves how their child is fairing.  The decades of closed adoption caused, many times, severe trauma to birth mothers without any knowledge or information about their child.  Children grew up without any (or much at all) knowledge of where they came from and sometimes were not even told they were adopted.  Adoption records can be opened by Court Order and no promises were made to birth mother that adoption records were sealed forever.  There was never an expectation under the law that adoption records were sealed for life.  Judges can open them any time and have done so. 

Unfortunately, the prevailing myth of the "hiding birth mother" is alive and well and a way to keep the status quo of discrimination of adoptees in the states still sealing original birth certificates from their rightful owners.

Original birth certificates for all (not just the non-adoptee majority)

Every single person born in the United States has an original birth certificate.  I have one too.  But the only way that original birth certificates are actually sealed (from the adoptee and others) is AFTER adoption finalization. This could be 6 months after birth or 6 years or never, depending on when or if an adoption takes place. Meaning, if a woman surrenders her child, that child MAY NOT be adopted.  That child could be raised in foster care.  That child could go under the Legal Custody of a relative.  That child could remain orphaned for life but be under guardianship.

In all of the preceding examples, except in adoption, the Original Birth Certificate REMAINS as it is and unsealed.  In adoption ONLY (including step-parent adoption), the original birth certificate is sealed and an AMENDED birth certificate is put it its place removing the birth mother's name and substituting the adoptive parent(s). name(s).  In the majority of states in the U.S. (not true in other countries), adoptees' birth certificates are then sealed away from them by the state.   In adoptee-speak, this is referred to as a legal myth

But wait! What about all those birth parents who signed away their rights but their child was not adopted?   The birth certificate is not sealed or amended.  What about their confidentiality/anonymity/privacy?  They have none because there never was any to begin with.

The original intent of the process of amending adoptees' birth certificates was to protect the child and family from the prying eyes of the public.  In other words, it was never to protect the birth parent. The current three-tiered law in Ohio, denying 1964-1996 adoptees their OBCs was drafted by an adoptive parent, who later regretted his own role in the current law.  This adoptive parent's daughter, Betsie Norris, is the force behind the current legislation to restore adoptees' rights to their OBCs. She has dedicated her career and life to undoing the law her father initiated which violated the rights of his own daughter and those of other adoptees in Ohio. (read about Betsie here).

 I have written previously about Ohio H.B. 61 and S.B. 23 (which is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Go here for an update) This is the first time in decades that the Ohio Catholic Conference and Ohio Right to Life has backed an adoptee rights bill in Ohio. In the past, they fought it due to myths outlined in a previous blog.  Finally, this time, there was enough testimony from experts, adoptees and birth parents to convince two of our greatest opponents that these myths have no basis in fact. 

We adoptees in Ohio are all holding our collective breaths waiting for this bill to become law so that the adopted people affected (adoptees born between 1964-1996), will finally have the same rights as the adoptees born in other years and the non-adopted. A day when they will finally be able to have a copy of what is rightfully theirs:  their original birth certificate.

This is not about reunion  Reunion has everything and nothing to do with original birth certificates.  Mention adoptee rights and there is always a response asking about reunion.  An original birth certificate may be the only piece of paper that an adoptee has ever held in his/her hand that lists her own birth name.  If that adoptee then chooses to use that piece of information to search and reunite, that is between the adoptee and the birth parent.  Adopted people and their mothers are adults and can decide if they want to meet or not.

But let's be clear:  original birth certificate access is NOT about reunion.  It is about equal rights for all.  Many adoptees have used other means to seek reunion, but still want their OBC.  Many adoptees do not want a reunion, but they still want their OBC.   Each adopted person has a right to their own birth record, their own name and their own genealogy and to use their Original Birth Certificate in any way they see fit.

 “A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event — the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth.”
 –6th Circuit Court, Doe v. Sundquist

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