Saturday, February 23, 2008

Helping Adoptive Parents Understand the Role of Families of Origin: From the Viewpoint of Another Mother Who Lost her Child to Adoption

~by Suz Bednarz

How could I, me, a mother who lost a child to adoption in 1986, possibly help adoptive parents understand the role of families of origin?

Didn’t my role end the minute my child was taken from me and given to them?

Harsh question but until a few years back that is what I was lead to believe. Clearly, I struggled with this blog topic. The more I thought about it the more I struggled. I then began to think not about the topic but about why I was struggling with it.

I have come to one very painful conclusion.

The reason I feel I cannot help adoptive parents understand the role of the family of origin is because I have been made to feel, most of my daughters life, I had no role. Correction. I had one role and one purpose and that was to provide a baby to an infertile couple. In that context, I was not a family of origin (in fact I never even heard that word 20 years ago), I wasn’t even acknowledged as a mother -- I was an incubator. I, me, the cute curvy redhead honor student, president of student government, did not exist. I was dehumanized. I had no voice. I did not matter. She mattered. Her adoptive parents mattered. My parents mattered. The Catholic Church mattered. My family’s reputation mattered. The agency and the fee they would fetch for the sale of my child mattered.

I did not.

I had no role outside of supplier to the demand. It should be no surprise that I struggle now to find that voice and as a result define my role.

To understand this and why I use what could potentially be viewed as harsh words, one must understand and reflect upon adoption as it occurred in 1986. Not only did I lose my daughter twenty-two years ago but I lost her to a known baby broker (and by known I say the fact was known to others but not to me) against my will. While my daughter was born years past the Baby Scoop Era (BSE), my experience was not unlike that of many of my BSE sisters.

I was sent away to a maternity home. I was not provided with any legal representation. I was not told my rights. I was alone, abandoned, intimidated and coerced into surrendering my child. My parents signed a promissory note (obligating them to pay the agency for any services they rendered to me prior to surrender). When I told the agency a few weeks prior to my daughters birth that I wanted to keep her, I was reminded of the promissory note and informed that if I did not give them my child I, and my parents, would be sued. I was reminded how I was young, without a place to live and a job, and that my child was better off without me. I was reminded of the pain I would cause the family that was anxiously awaiting my daughter.

My role? Produce a child for someone else, be quiet about it and go away.

As I matured and educated myself (and underwent extensive therapy for PTSD), I began to realize I did have value to my child – incredible value in fact. I realized the value of the mother – child bond. I spoke to adoptees and learned the importance of genetic mirroring, medical history and more.

I realized that while I made an infertile couple extremely happy, I had also caused damage to my child and myself. Whereas I once viewed myself as nothing more than a breeder, I began to realize my value. No longer was my role to service an adoptive parent. My role now was to be my child’s mother - something I should have done many years prior. My role was to find her, to assure her she was always wanted and to welcome her with open arms into our family – should she want to be there. My role was to stand up for myself, for her and mothers and children like us. My role is to be there for my child and to never ever allow myself to be intimidated into leaving her again – even if it is she that is doing the intimidating. My role is to do whatever I can to ease the pain of my daughter’s primal wound, a wound I caused, however unknowingly.

In contemplating the blog topic at hand along with my own experience, I feel as though it is not my job or my “role” to help adoptive parents understand the role of the family of origin. That task should be undertaken by the agency, the adoptive parents, and society as a whole.

More importantly, there should be no question as to the role of the family of origin. If a prospective or current adoptive parent questions the value or role of the family of origin, I would have to question if they should even be adopting. You are not adopting a doll. A child is not a blank slate. The child comes from somewhere, was born to someone.

The child HAS a mother and a family before you even adopt them. Respect the family of origin and you respect the child. Refuse to acknowledge the family of origin? Why bother adopting? The child will likely never feel completely connected to you for you are only acknowledging a part of them and not their entire being.

I don’t mean to sound harsh but my role is to be the best mother I can to my child – even in light of present circumstances – years after the fact. My role is not to make the lives of adoptive parents easier or better.

I already did that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Have a Heart - Support Ethica's "Operation Identity"

In honor of Valentine's Day, PEAR is asking the adoptive family community to support and assist in Ethica's Operation Identity: Cooperating to Protect the Identity of Vietnamese Orphans. Identifying information is extremely important to adopted persons, it is important to all persons. As adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, it is our duty to preserve and protect our child's identity. It is our duty to make sure that the choices we make in adopting a child, choosing a program, and choosing an agency, do not negatively impact our future children. As a gift of love to our children, we need to stand up for what is right, not what is quick or what is easy.

Please take a few moments to read the following (from Ethica's website), then visit the website to read a further detailed report. Contact your agency, or any agency you know that works in Vietnam and encourage them to participate in this program.

Happy Valentine's Day,

Gina Pollock
Interim President

"Operation Identity is a project designed to encourage the accurate identification of Vietnamese orphans and to prevent skyrocketing abandonment rates from impacting the future of adoptions from Vietnam.

The Problem:
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi is reporting that 85% of all adoptions being filed at this time are for "abandoned" children. The Embassy believes that many of these abandonment cases are staged.

Ethica believes that other factors could be influencing the trend, and there is no clear evidence on why the trend is occurring.

The Effects:
There are two serious effects of this trend. Children are being deprived of their identifying information, and the high rate of abandonment in a country without a history of it could be a factor in whether adoption from Vietnam will continue.

The Initiative:
Operation Identity is designed to bring transparency to this situation, and to promote change that will protect the identifying information of children and future adoptions from Vietnam.

Agencies currently operating in Vietnam will be asked to confidentially provide statistics of the rate of abandonments for time periods before the closure of Vietnamese adoptions in 2002 and for the current time period; and from province to province. The database will go live next week.

Each agency working in Vietnam will be encouraged to speak with their overseas representatives, orphanage staff and provincial officials to discuss the need for children to have identifying information and the problems that high numbers of abandonments can cause.

The Desired Outcome:
Through cooperative reporting and concerted effort, the abandonment rate will start to decline.


1. Why do you need statistics?

Statistics are important to establish when the trend changed, and whether or not the changes are geographically limited to particular areas. Statistics also point to where efforts at change need to be targeted.

2. What is causing this trend?

We don't know. The Embassy believes there could be intentional erasure of identities to thwart investigations or to cover illegal activity. But there are other possibilities--the decision could be coming from local officials or orphanages who do not understand the importance of identifying information or who are looking for a simpler way to process cases.

3. Are you investigating agencies?

No! Ethica is not an investigative authority. The statistics reported on our site will not be linked to any particular agency or provider. The Embassy already has the agency by agency statistics--there is thus no need for us to collect statistics in order to "investigate" or harm any agency.

4. Why would abandonment rates impact future adoptions?

Officials become concerned when they cannot trace children's histories. A sudden rise in abandonments can signal that identities are being intentionally erased, perhaps to cover unethical activities or to stop successful investigations. When the U.S. government cannot conduct effective investigations into children's backgrounds, it can be difficult or impossible to determine which children are really "orphans" and concerns rise that visas could be given to trafficked or abducted children. This could lead to a decision to halt adoptions from that country until better practices emerge which provide transparency to the process.

5. What can I do to help?

Adoptive parents and supporters of adoption and adopted children can encourage agencies to cooperate in publishing statistics and take steps to change this practice. Agencies can participate and cooperate with others in finding ways to stop this disturbing trend."

Read a detailed discussion of this issue by visiting Ethica's website:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Helping Adoptive Parents Understand the Role of Families of Origin: From the Viewpoint of a Mother who lost a child to adoption

~ by Mirah Riben

The United Nations has determined that the difference between a good and bad life for a child is a mother with a sense of empowerment.

Adopting a child today is far different than it was a generation or two ago when it was felt best to keep the entire process secretive.

Adopting today requires accepting the reality that the child you have adopted has two sets of parents. It means being able to deal with your child's feelings of rejection and abandonment, not just expecting him or her to accept that he was "chosen" and is "special" for having been adopted, which can lead to feelings of indebtedness and gratitude.

Adopting today may mean on-going contact with the family of the child you are raising. Adoptions today either start out open or may become open when a mother or father initiates a search or they are searched for. This will undoubtedly mean a bumpy ride as your child's family of origin will likely be very different from yours and have different styles of communicating and different cultural values, even if they are American.

Your child's family are your child's family not your friends. True open adoption welcomes and embraces an ongoing relationship between the child and his family, not between the two sets of parents. The tightrope you walk, not an envious one, is that even your most well-meaning friendship could appear to be solicitous. Well-meaning comments like "I understand" can be taken very badly from someone who knows you have not walked a mile in their shoes.

Unlike the popular portrayal of adoption by the media and movies such as the purely fictional Juno, adoption is not a win-win. It is a win-lose. The family of origin has lost a child. Many mothers do not think of adoption as a gift or a sacrifice. For them it is a loss and nothing else. No matter how much the "decision" may appear to have been their "choice" it was a choice made as a last resort, quite likely as your choice to adopt was also made only after other methods of parenting were unattainable for many of you.

One way to show your respect is to always refer to them as the mother, father, grandparents etc of the child you are raising, as in their hearts that is their reality. They neither need nor want any prefix. They are not "first" mothers, "original", "birth" mothers, or "tummy mommies". They are simply your child's mother and father. Children are remarkable at not being confused as to who their "mom(s)" and "dad(s)" are!

If you are caring and loving parents you need not fear the old adage that blood is thicker. They will be psychologically bonded to those who care for their needs on a daily basis, even as their natural family members may play important roles in their lives as well. The psychological bond may be tested and strained, especially in teen years, but if it is a strong bond, it will withstand that strain.

The bond with your child is strengthened by the respect you show for their family members, as children, once they've taken a science class, are keenly aware that they share genes with these people and even the slightest look or disparaging remark on your part will strike them very deeply as an attack on them and add to their fear of not having been wanted by their family of origins and possibly not being wanted by you.

The best way to keep smooth relations with them is to keep all promises of openness, or even seek more. The most contentions adoptions are those in which promises were made and not kept. If you are having difficulties, seek a professional mediator.

Often, mothers in open adoptions will be the ones to back off visitation, leaving adoptive parents confused and disappointed. There could be many pragmatic reasons for this such as: distance or new obligations - school, job, new boyfriend, husband or child. Often, however, it is because watching others do what they are unable to, is too painful.

Brenda Romanchik of Adoption Insight reports (CUB ALL email list 3/25/06 with permission), "[B]irthmoms in open adoptions actually experience more grief symptoms than less. But they also grieve in a much more healthy way than our predecessors. We don't bottle it up and shove it under the rug to deal with at reunion. The contact we have forces us to confront our loss. We don't do open adoption because it hurts less; we do it because it is what is best for our kids."

Adoption involves a great deal of loss and hurt. Your child is suffering from that loss as are the members of her family. While an adoptee as he grows may at time be angry at one set of parents and then another, you will, rightly or wrongly, often be seen as the big bad meany who tore his that family apart. No explanation of his family's financial situation or their age will make any sense to a child, or quite frankly to a broken hearted mother. The less you try to defend your position, the better. The less you try to show gratitude the better, because you are grateful for their loss when all one ever needs to is sorry for another's loss.

Adoption is a difficult path. It is said that the truth will set you free, but is also painful. The best thing you can do is to help her accept the reality of her life situation with all of its thorns and all of its joys. We all know that children learn what they live. Let them learn honesty, openness, respect, and grit from you.


Marcy Axness, Painful Lessons, Loving Bonds: The Heart of Open Adoption

Jim Gritter, Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption


Open Adoption & Family Services of Oregon and Washington's groundbreaking 2002-2003 client survey project, "Emotional Intelligence in Children of Open Adoption" found the following:

* 80 percent of adoptive parents and their child's mothers reported ongoing visits between the mother and child at least once a year seven to eighteen years after placement.

* As the amount of contact (through visits, phone calls and letters) between mothers [or fathers] and adoptive families increases, so does overall adoption satisfaction as reported by all triad members.

* Ninety-one percent of adoptive parents and their child's mothers reported high levels of healthy collaboration.

* Ninety-four percent of the adopted children are at or above national averages for emotional intelligence. Fifty-three percent of these children are considered highly above average.

* Children who perceive strong levels of collaboration between their adoptive parents and birthparents score higher on emotional intelligence tests.