I was supposed to participate on a panel at the American Adoption Congress 2016 conference in Denver in late March: Mitigating and Managing Collateral Damage: Impact of Adoption on the First Family.
My friend Suz spearheaded it and I was initially excited by the opportunity. I’ve presented a few times at AAC Conferences and found it very rewarding. I was also looking forwarding to meeting Suz, her husband Rich, and many others for the first time in real life.
I take my commitments seriously and can’t remember ever pulling out of one so important. Thus, it was with heavy heart that I did. I had worries about being a positive contributor to the effort, which I’ll elaborate on, but had made peace with that, and in the end it came down to being overwhelmed with too much going on during the time leading up to the conference. It just didn’t feel right to make the trip.
Thankfully, Suz recruited an excellent replacement (Susie of Finding Christoper), and reported that the panel drew a full house, with lots of audience interaction. I’m thrilled at the result! I would have liked to have heard it.
So what was my big deal? I absolutely agree that there is collateral damage as a result of adoption: to the mother and her child, obviously, but also to the first family (including the grandparents, the mother’s siblings, i.e. aunts and uncles, and other immediate family members. Then, there’s the mother’s future relationships, especially with boyfriends, husbands, in-laws, later children.
It’s taken me a whole month to pull these thoughts together.
How does having relinquished a child for adoption impact all of those?
I can only speak from my own experience.
I was sent away from my home in Hawaii to Los Angeles. Away from my support system of friends. My immediate future put in the hands of an adoption attorney and the woman with whom I was placed to live out my pregnancy. I felt trapped and hopeless.
My relationship with my parents got worse. They were ashamed of me for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Not like I expected them to be thrilled by the situation, but I resented them for their lack of compassion and support. It was, after all, their first grandchild.
My siblings and extended family didn’t know. Many of my friends (those who didn’t live nearby) didn’t know. I was told to keep it secret from those who didn’t. My parents insisted that while I was sequestered in Los Angeles, I send letters to those friends to their house and they would mail them from there, as if that’s where I was.
After my son’s birth, I was scolded for any feelings of grief or loss that I felt. When I developed extreme stomach pains and no cause could be found, I was told I was imagining it. I was told to buck up. Get over it and move on.
When I couldn’t get over it, I felt as if I were defective. As if I were the only woman in the world who had gone through this. I was alone. Because I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I had no outlet. So my means of “moving on” was to rebel.
I rejected every accepted way of life. I found love in all the wrong places. Hooked up with men who couldn’t commit, who were as screwed up as I was. I rejected every man who could have offered me a stable future. Instead, I was attracted to losers. That was what I felt I deserved. Not to have true love, anyone who could commit to me, or to have more children.
Ah. the more children thing. I thought that’s what I wanted, but clearly I felt undeserving. That having given up my first child (even though that was not my plan, my decision), I would be a bad mother. Why else would I have sought out situations where that would never happen?
Eventually, even when I met the man who would become my husband (almost 35 years ago!), it took me a long time to trust. I was certain he would change his mind, reject me, leave me. When we married, he had a teenaged son with problems. My inability to deal with that cemented my feelings of ‘bad mother.” I expected that my husband would choose his son over me at any minute and want a divorce.
My self image sucked for well more than 20 years after I had surrendered my son. Even though I found ways to make myself feel “worthy,” including being excellent in my chosen craft (writing and graphic design), successful in business, and forming meaningful relationships, I still suffered emotionally.
We reunited almost 26 years after his birth. There was the euphoric beginning, and then issues on both of our parts, the trauma of being separated, my guilt and remorse, his anger at having been placed with abusive parents, both of us regretting the loss. I learned that he had given up two children of his own, after his first marriage failed. My parents held back, did not accept our reunion immediately. In fact, I had to force their hand to finally meet him and get to know him. Although they all tried for a while, the connection didn’t stick.
So, how to mitigate and/or manage those impacts?
The more I thought about this, the more stubborn I became in my belief that they could not be. If adoption agencies/advisors/attorneys/social workers, etc. were honest, told potential birth mothers what they would likely have to deal with, would woman would go ahead with adoption? Some perhaps, but I suspect most wouldn’t. Hence, they would lose a client, a child to place for the big bucks. Deal over.
If anyone had told me: how screwed up I would be after relinquishing my child, how screwed up he might be, that it would be difficult to find each other, how even if we ever met again it would be such a long and intense journey, that we would both have difficulties forming and keeping relationships, that I would forever have shame and regret, that he would find it hard to forgive me, that my family might still reject him, that he might repeat history by relinquishing two children for adoption. Would I have still let the adoption go through? I don’t believe I had a choice. But maybe I would have searched harder for another option. Maybe I would have run away with my baby and found a way to make it work, for better or for worse.
Hence, I believe that the only way to eliminate those impacts would be for mothers to keep and raise their child.
That said, I will admit there are things adoption professionals might do. Tell the truth about the impacts. Provide realistic counseling prior to relinquishment — not brainwashing about how it’s the best thing for the mother and child, but how hard it’s likely to be for both. Ongoing counseling to check in with the mother and what’s going on for her after. Encourage journaling about her feelings. And yes, open adoption records, so she can find her child or he/she can find her once they are of age. End the secrecy, within families, and in the real world.
The impacts of adoption are real and life-long. I applaud those who are seeking answers to mitigate those impacts for mothers who truly don’t want to parent or have no other option. But I continue to believe that the separation of mother and child is never for the best. I will always support family preservation, whatever it takes.
I have lived through the consequences of adoption. It is not good for anyone, except for the couples who (although I’m sorry you can’t have children any other way) who benefit from this depraved industry of selling children. I hope that someday it will refocus on providing homes for children that truly need one, rather than providing parents with the children they think they must have and are entitled to.