Thanks, Mom! Thoughts on Open Adoption

valentines 2011I recently came across a lovely essay by Kathryn Lynn Harris, written in 2013, called “Dear Moms of Adopted Children.”  It’s heartfelt, and vulnerable, and brimming with truth. Go ahead and read it … I’ll wait.

In the comments, one birth mother was clearly in a lot of pain (“Hurt people hurt people,” the saying goes). She felt that Kathryn had not adequately acknowledged the struggle of birth moms, and to her credit Kathryn responded with kindness. I was less sympathetic, to be honest — clearly Kathryn had been writing for adoptive parents, not birthmothers.  Everyone needs a safe place to speak their truth … and I felt this person was stomping on sacred ground.

Those who have experienced relationship-based pain or trauma need a safe place to heal. Adoptive parents are supposed to become that safe place for their children … and yet we, too, need a safe place to process our experiences without apology, without criticism, without self-censorship. Some of us find that place is online, where we can meet kindred spirits who have walked this rocky road themselves, becoming beacons of hope for those caught in the brambles. So when that safe haven is intruded upon, it’s hard not to take it personally, or to withdraw. I know whereof I speak.

Do we need to honor birth parents? Absolutely. I am thankful for my children’s first mother, who gave them life. I am also thankful that she appreciates us. She has  expressed numerous times how thankful she is that her children are with us. She has respected our boundaries. When they turn 18, no doubt our kids will want to see her, and I will support them in this. I trust that we both have their best interests at heart, and that we will both always have a connection to them.

Do I think all adoptive families should have an open relationship with birth family from infancy to adulthood? No. Each adoption involves a unique set of personalities and circumstances, and requires careful discernment on the part of the parents (and the court, in some cases) to decide what is best. Open adoption is very popular, but it’s not always practical or even desirable, especially in foster-adoption cases.

Sadly, open adoption can set up an expectation on the part of biological parents that, for a variety of reasons, may not be sustainable over the long term. No one has a crystal ball, and life happens. Just as birth mothers sometimes change their minds, and decide to parent — breaking the prospective parents hearts in the process — so adoptive parents may at some point need accommodation because of new information (their child’s counselor advising against further contact, for example) or changed circumstances (a job change requiring relocation).

My children’s birthmother has gifted us with empathy, when it would have been very easy for her to be angry and resentful. Every time I encounter those touched by adoption who are stuck in grief, angry and inflexible, I thank God that I, too, have seen that this is not always the way it has to be. Happy Mother’s Day, to my children’s other mother.


Miracle Monday: A Daughter’s Story of Life


The other day “Mighty Mom” sent me this link to a moving story about a mother who chose life for her daughter, despite having every medical reason not to do so!

Thanks, Sarah, for being willing to share your story.  Your mom sounds like an amazing woman.

(At the author’s request, this story may not be reproduced without her permission. But please do follow the link and read it … you’ll be glad you did!)

The Right to Motherhood: Faith & Family Live!

This morning Danielle Bean was leading a spirited discussion: The Right to Motherhood: Faith & Family Live!

The discussion is about Nadya Suleman, the single California mother who recently gave birth to octuplets, and has six additional children — all born through IVF. And none growing up with a father. (The “donor” recently married someone else.) Nadya is saying she plans to be off welfare as soon as she finishes school …

When asked the reason she had six embryos implanted in her womb (producing eight children), she gushed about “always wanting a large family.” While this woman’s desire to preserve the life of the embryos created through the assisted reproductive technology is commendable, the whole story is a study in disordered thinking that has become so endemic in our society… Most notably, the belief that parenthood is an individual “right” rather than a joint responsibility shared by the mother and father who bring a child into the world. 

Several individuals at F&F called for the woman to relinquish the children for adoption, so that they might have a mother and a father. In truth, this may be the best option for the sake of the children — at least some of whom, by virtue of the circumstances of their birth, will continue to have special needs.

However, this strikes me as one of those situation for which even the “best option” is less than satisfactory. How much better if someone (her parents, perhaps) had given this woman a “reality check” before she went back to that clinic! 

I can’t help but wonder … Does she plan to stop at 14?

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Sneak Preview: An Adoption Story


NOTE: I am making edits on an article on Catholic Exchange, which I hope will run next week. In the meantime, I thought it prudent to offer a bit more information on my own background, as well as clarify my position on some aspects of the “front end” of adoption.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to direct my regular readers to an important resource for women in crisis pregnancies and those considering open adoption, a book entitled “Because I Loved You,” which I have reviewed at the end of this article. I would like to thank Patricia Dischler and others who have taken time to help me “fill in the gaps” concerning some aspects of adoption with which I do not have relevant firsthand experience.

The first time it happened, it came from nowhere, and struck without warning. In the middle of my son’s honors assembly, I heard a name I had tried hard to forget: it belonged to a fourth-grader whose name was the same as that of my youngest sister’s second child.

Two of my sisters experienced crisis pregnancies as teenagers. The first time, my parents threw my sister out of the house. Soon thereafter she married an abusive man who was not the father of her child — and never let either my sister or her daughter forget it. In time my sister escaped, but only after a prolonged legal battle in which she nearly lost her daughter to her abuser (in NJ, he had the right to sue for custody though he wasn’t K’s father).

The second time one of their teenage daughters became pregnant, my parents rallied around her, promising to help her raise her child. Two years later, when it happened again to the same daughter, the three of them chose a Christian couple who would provide a good home for the baby boy, and who agreed to open adoption.

For the most part, I watched all this unfold from the sidelines. I was thirty and unmarried, focused on my career and living hundreds of miles away. I offered to raise my sister’s child, but it was decided the other couple was a better choice. They were married, had more financial resources, and were “Christian” (as opposed to Catholic, as I am).

But it was not to be. The bio father (we’ll call him “Gary”) fought to keep the child … and won. The adoptive parents’ petition was denied, my sister’s parental rights were terminated … and Gary swore she would never see her child again. My sister’s son would never want to see her – Gary would see to that.

When I heard that Gary was contesting the adoption, I had tried to warn my family that it might not turn out as they had hoped. After all, the family court system was bound to favor a biological parent over an adoptive one. Mom disagreed adamantly – Gary had a criminal record, was abusive, and had so frightened my parents that they were in the process of moving to another state. He had recently married, but his wife was killed in an accident in the middle of the hearing. His grief made him even more determined to punish my family, whom he blamed for his current situation.

Mom had been confident: “No judge will choose him over the parents your sister has picked for her child.”

She was confident. She was also wrong.

I’ve often wondered if, had my family approached the situation a bit differently, if I might have a relationship with my nephew today. Certainly it is “in the best interests of the child” to know his mother and her family – and yet, once my family had set themselves firmly in opposition to him, and their adversary’s rights prevailed … they lost everything. Yes, he could have chosen the higher road – and at some point down the line, I hope he will do so out of love for his son. But I’m not counting on it.

Nine years later, I still avoid looking at that little face in my parents’ “rogue’s gallery” of grandchildren’s photographs in their living room. Hurts too much. And when I hear his name called at a school assembly, though I know it’s not the same child – I still wince. Continue reading