Adoption Adventures

Follow Cory and Rebecca on their quest to adopt!

We’re Fine

It’s National Adoption Month, which means an uptick in articles and stories published in the news and online about all sorts of adoption. International, domestic, foster care, and private infant adoption are highlighted more in November than other months of the year. My favorite stories include National Adoption Day photo galleries of children formerly in foster care legally joining their “forever families.”

In addition to the happy stories, there also seem to be more and more focused on loss, written by birth parents and adoptees. There are also tales of adult adoptees from closed adoptions finding and being reunited with their birth parents after years of searching. I absolutely support these folks’ right to publicize their experiences with adoption, but believe that these only tell half the story. By promoting primarily the stories of those who have had less-than-stellar experiences with adoption, the stereotypes of the troubled adoptee, broken birth parent, evil adoptive parents, and manipulative adoption agency are what take root and become the norm. (To be fair, there are also stories that focus solely on happy adoptive parents with newborns or toddlers. Ignoring birth parents or adoptees is also problematic.)

The other adoptive parents/prospective parents-to-be that I’ve met who have not had a personal connection to adoption often expect their children to feel broken because of the stories they have heard. I’ve witnessed some speak ill of their children’s birth mothers who may feel like they need to step away from their open adoption from time to time. They’ve been led to believe that by doing so, the mother is dooming their child to a lifetime of “what ifs” and sadness. Thankfully, our child will have a mom who shares the adoptee connection with her or him, as well as an extended family who has a greater understanding of adoption because we’ve been there before. We will be honest with our child from the start, and since our adoption will most likely be open, she or he will know their birth family to the degree that the family wants to be known.

doing-just-fineAs I’ve written here before, I was adopted at two months old through a closed adoption. I’ve never felt abandoned, unloved, or “given up” by my birth family, nor uncomfortable in my adoptive family. The people who raised me are my “real” parents. My brother, who is my parents’ biological son, is my “real” sibling. I didn’t grow up believing that anything was missing from my life.

Acknowledging this does not denigrate birth families in the least. Although I know very little about her, I have great respect for my birth mother for making a choice that was undoubtedly difficult for her, and wonderful for me. I believe my story is exactly what birth parents want for their children when they make adoption plans.

There are many other adoptees like me, but we typically don’t feel the need to put our stories out there. Let’s face it: “We’re fine” doesn’t make for exciting headlines. But maybe it’s time for those of us who are OK to make time to tell our stories, too.

 

 

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Looking for the 1%

thorne-moxie-scaled500

Not this kind of Moxie (although having some of this type wouldn’t hurt)

 

It takes a woman with a special kind of moxie to choose adoption these days. Across the US, around 1% of women experiencing unplanned pregnancies make and carry out adoption plans. Forty years ago, it was closer to 20%. There are several reasons for the drop in numbers–some of which you may know and others that may be surprises.

Although the expansion of safe and legal abortion services in the ’70s caused the number of women “choosing”* adoption to drop initially, the current low number is just as much or more due to single women opting to parent. Fewer teens are becoming pregnant these days and never-married women in their 20s experiencing unplanned pregnancies are more likely than their grandmothers were to take on the joys and challenges of single motherhood.

Beyond more women choosing to parent, adoption has too many negative connotations for many women to consider. Unfortunately, adoption has become politicized over the years as the “loving alternative” to abortion. (You’ve seen those bumper stickers, right?) The assumption is that only a woman who is morally opposed to abortion would choose adoption. I see that as a false dichotomy. The same woman at different points in her life and in different situations may make different choices when faced with unplanned pregnancies. A woman who chooses adoption at age 16 may choose abortion at 22 and parenting at 30. A vocal pro-choice activist may choose adoption, while a clinic protestor may choose abortion. (Yes, this happens.) At any rate, it’s not too hard to see how a pro-choice woman going into a conservative adoption agency may not feel like she belongs.

Women choosing adoption today often don’t get the support that they deserve. At best, friends and family may be confused about a woman’s choice to make an adoption plan. Given the 1% statistic, fewer people know someone who has chosen adoption than parenting or abortion. Some folks claim that the woman who chooses adoption is selfish or shirking her responsibilities as a parent. In reality, adoption takes an immense amount of planning–all of which is done with her future child’s wellbeing in mind. Carrying a pregnancy to term is a very visible act so unless she takes a sudden “trip to Europe” before she starts showing, people in her community are going to know that a woman is pregnant, and they’re going to wonder what happened when they see her a year later with no baby. The woman choosing adoption has to be tough enough to put up with the comments, insults, sideways glances, and potential family struggles that come with it.

I'm not quite sure what this means, but at least it looks more positive than many folks' impression of adoption

I’m not quite sure what this means, but at least it looks more positive than many folks’ impression of adoption

Unless they’ve had a recent, personal experience with adoption, most Americans have a very outdated understanding of the process. They often think a birth parent “gives up” her baby and never sees her/him again, as it was in the ’50s. They think that adoptees are damaged or not truly accepted by the families that adopt them. These days, with 95% or more of infant adoptions being open to some degree, the woman can choose to have an ongoing relationship with her child and the family she chose for her/him. Rather than losing a family member, she and the parent(s) she chooses are creating an extended family together. Studies have shown that children are not confused by this kind of family structure, and adoptees are no more likely to be emotionally scarred than any other people.

So that gets us back to that teeny percentage. A family like ours that has wanted to adopt from the start (rather than winding up here due to infertility) may seem crazy. Why gamble on a woman from that relatively tiny group choosing us out of all the families hoping to adopt? Why do we support contraceptive access, abortion rights, and single moms when doing so means fewer babies being made available for adoption? Well, we think today’s open adoption is a strong pro-choice option for everyone involved, even if it means we’ve already waited longer than my own parents did when they adopted me. We feel good knowing that today, the 1% of women choosing adoption are doing just that–freely choosing it. They know that abortion is an option (if they find out they’re pregnant early enough), they live in a country where single parenthood is far more normalized than ever before, and they are empowered to choose the family for and relationship with their child through open adoption. What could be cooler than helping a woman carry out her adoption plan, and growing our family at the same time? We’re confident someone out who shares our values will choose us, and you can bet she’s got lots of moxie.

 

*Though not always the case, adoption prior to the 1970s was often not a free choice for the woman involved. Many young women who found themselves pregnant were sent away by family members to maternity homes where they were pressured into adoptions they didn’t want. The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler tells the stories of several such women.

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Just the facts, Ma’am

On the list of things that cheese me off, people and resources purporting to espouse “facts” that are, at best, poorly researched and, at worst, downright lies, rank right up at the top. When those resources are targeted toward people who are especially vulnerable and looking for reliable information to make life-changing decisions, it’s even worse. This is one of the reasons that so-called “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” (CPCs) are so nefarious.

CPCs have physical locations throughout the US, and they also run websites. The pickle is, those websites are often affiliated with otherwise legitimate adoption websites. This can end up creating all sorts of confusion. It lends credibility to CPCs to be associated with trusted organizations, and that connection can lead potemalarkeyntial birthmothers to take CPC lies as truth. It helps perpetuate the all-too-common myth that folks who support adoption must be anti-choice. (The funny part there is that “choice” is the important part of “pro-choice.” That means that someone who is pro-choice supports a woman’s right to make the choice she feels is best for herself and her family–and for some women that choice is adoption.) Not to mention, it makes it very difficult for potential adoptive parents to find adoption agencies with pro-choice sensibilities.

There’s a particular website that claims to be the “#1 Registry of Adoptive Parent Profiles” that advertises widely. They seem to do a good job of getting the word out about the families who pay them a decent bit of money to be marketed to potential birthmothers. They have a very small amount of profiles of families living in our state, so if we were to pay them to promote us, I think that it would greatly increase the number of people who see our adoption page. In addition to the profiles, they have information pages on a variety of topics ranging from prenatal care to talking with friends and family about adoption. Unfortunately, this includes a page about abortion.

I’m not going to link to the site, but here’s one of the sections from the page on abortion. This list of “risks” is similar to those found in most CPC literature:

Abortion Risks:
As with any procedure, there are risks involved in getting an abortion. As mentioned earlier, in order to make an informed decision, you must understand what you’re agreeing to. When it comes to the risks of abortion, there are both physical and psychological risks to consider. Here is just a small sampling:

  • Death
  • Infection and Inflammation
  • Lacerations and Perforations
  • Higher Risk of Breast, Cervical, and Ovarian Cancer
  • Complications in Later Pregnancies: Pre-Term Labor and Ectopic Pregnancy
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Post-Abortion Syndrome
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Feelings of Loss, Guilt, Shame, and Depression

They start off strong, with “Death” being at the very top of the list of abortion risks. (Suffice it to say, there are no footnotes on their site.) In truth, a woman in the United States is far more likely to die from complications in childbirth than from a legal abortion. This article on the NIH website from 2012 shows that “The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.” This doesn’t show that childbirth is exceptionally dangerous in our country; just that legal abortion is very safe as far as medical procedures go.

An increased risk of breast and other cancers is also a common myth that anti-abortion organizations and individuals tout. In the most extensive study ever on this theoretical link, the medical records of 1.5 million women in Denmark were researched. There was no connection found between induced abortion and a higher risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society cites this study, and several others, on its website before concluding that “the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

The assertion about PTSD, depression, and negative mental health impacts similarly doesn’t survive scrutiny. The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion released a report in 2008 that took into account all published literature on the subject since 1989. They found several things. One is that the majority of research done on mental health and abortion was (and most likely still is) methodologically flawed. However, “The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.” Additionally, “the prevalence of mental health problems observed among women in the United States who had a single, legal, first-trimester abortion for non- therapeutic reasons was consistent with normative rates of comparable mental health problems in the general population of women in the United States.” (Eighty-nine percent of abortions occur in the first trimester.) This study and others noted that the stigma that we as a society place on abortion, and the lack of support for women who choose abortion, can lead to negative post-abortion feelings.

awesome_scienceI won’t go through all of the points, but are you noticing a pattern here? The Guttmacher Institute has a nice fact sheet from February 2014 with even more science-based information on abortion in the United States.

Needless to say, we will not be using this company’s services. We believe that big, life decisions (and even tiny, daily decisions) are best made when a person has all of the facts and is able to weigh her or his options. However much working with a company like this one may increase our chances of adopting, it’s not worth it if they’re lying to potential birthmothers in order to coerce them into a continuing a pregnancy. We want to be matched with a birthmom who thinks adoption is fantastic and right for her, based on nothing more than her own feelings and the truth.

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Adoptees seeking adoption. A very small club?

Bookworms

We have been reading (and re-reading, in some cases) books recommended by our adoption agency to prepare us for adoption in general, and specifically open adoption. I think our agency does really well with their training and support, and obviously an information/resource hound like myself is impressed by a required reading list! Currently, I’m re-reading Children of Open Adoption and Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother. (The latter boasts a recommendation from Jamie Lee Curtis on the cover, so that has to win some bonus points, right?)

Not surprisingly, neither book includes perspectives of adult adoptees from closed adoptions who are now seeking to adopt in a country where open adoption is the norm for private, infant adoption. That scenario wording is too cumbersome even for a proper acronym! Coming from this perspective, I find some of what is in these books (and similar blogs, articles, etc.) to be unrelatable at best, and challenging-to-a-tad-enraging at worst.

Grieve, dammit!

A close approximation of our “fantasy child”: pale-to-transparent skin, prone to stress vomiting, allergic to a wide variety of things. Just add darker hair and a pair of glasses.

In order to be effective adoptive parents and to accept adoption realities and issues, adoptive parents must first come to terms with infertility. … Infertility is a loss–it is  loss of the imaginary or fantasy child (the child the couple imagines would have been born to them). -Children of Open Adoption

Adoption involves saying good-bye to dreams, hopes, and real people. One woman says good-bye to her baby. Another woman says good-bye to her dream of giving birth. -Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother

When I read this one recent evening, I turned to Cory and let him know that we’ll need to make time to grieve our “fantasy child” that we cannot have due to our supposed infertility. He agreed to pencil that in. (In all fairness, we did once make a list of attributes that a biological child of ours would likely have, and the result was a slightly modified Wendell Borton. We are not grieving his loss.)

Lots of people come to adoption because of infertility challenges or medical issues that aren’t compatible with healthy pregnancies. That’s what led my own parents to adoption–and I’m selfishly glad that it did! People who find themselves in this situation should certainly be given the time and support to grieve in whatever they see fit. But infertility is not the only reason people choose adoption. The blanket assumption that only a person or couple physically incapable of bearing a biological child would adopt isn’t flattering to anyone. It’s also a false assumption in many cases.

For our part, we think adoption is pretty swell. Neither of us feel as if we need to pass our DNA along in order to expand our family, and we have no concerns about loving an adopted child any differently than we would a biological one. As an adoptee, I look forward to being able to share the adoption experience with our own child one day. We’re also both very pro-choice and appreciate the opportunity to support a woman in the adoption plan that she believes is best for her and her family. Adoption has always been our Plan A, and there are probably more people out there in our situation than you may think.

Funny–I don’t feel damaged

The adopted individual lives with a multitude of questions. … The secrecy inherent in traditional adoption practice provides no answers to these questions. What results is endless wondering with no available answers. Many adopted children become troubled (yes, some even become emotionally disturbed) as they try to cope with these unknowns.  -Children of Open Adoption

There are lots of advantages to open adoption. The child’s birth family needn’t be left wondering if they made a good decision, the adoptive family can be appraised of their child’s biological family’s medical updates in a timely fashion, the child can have questions answered directly by their birth parents, and so on. I’m partial to discussion about open adoption that focuses on the many positive aspects, rather than those that denigrate closed adoption. Oftentimes, the latter is achieved through attempting to show how emotionally damaged the children of closed adoption are.

Here’s the thing: I’m no more emotionally disturbed than the next person. (You’ll just have to trust me on that one.) I know a good number of other folks who were adopted as infants through closed adoption and the times adoption-related problems seem to arise are when adoptive parents aren’t honest with their children. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that if you wait until her 18th birthday to tell a child that she was adopted, she may develop some trust issues. Likewise, if a white couple raises an Asian child and refuses to talk with him about race or insists that he is also white, he may develop identity issues. I just don’t buy that a child raised in a loving home that openly talks about adoption in a positive light is destined to be emotionally scarred simply because they don’t have all the answers about their biological family–in large part because of my and my adopted friends’ experiences.

Similarly, not all birthmothers lead a life of emotional instability post-adoption. The stigma they endure from a society happy to both put birthmothers on a pedestal and somehow simultaneously denigrate them for “giving their babies away” seems unfathomable to me. Again, it seems to come down to honesty about their lived experiences and the ability to be open among family and friends that would make the difference between a positive and negative adoption experience. I haven’t checked out their full site, but the vlogs by this group of birthmoms about “redefining the stereotype” are a step in the right direction on this front. It’s awesome to see empowered birthmothers who are encouraging other women in their struggles, and showing them that despite popular assumptions, they can go on to live full lives after an adoption.

It can be challenging to strike a balance between supporting open adoption and trying to combat misinformation about adoptees of closed adoption–especially when we sought out and are signed on with an open adoption agency.  But I’m confident that if we were with a closed adoption agency, I’d be working just as hard to combat the stereotypes about children of open adoption or birthmothers there.

 

 

 

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