Family You Don’t Get to Pick

christoper-communion-close-upThe past few days I’ve been corresponding (sometimes through the comments section, other times privately) with a couple of birth/first mothers who say they want to understand the implications of reunification from an adoptive parent’s perspective. One of them asked me (I’m paraphrasing here): “Why WOULDN”T you want birth family members at milestones like birthdays, graduations, and weddings? Don’t you invite aunts and uncles and extended family members?” (Yes, but no one confuses them with the parents!)

Each triad is so different it is difficult, if not impossible, to make blanket statements about how adoptive families should — or should not — navigate these situations. The saddest cases, of course, are those adoptive families that would like more information and/or contact, and have no way of getting it. On the other end of the spectrum are adoptive families who lie awake nights, contemplating a move to the other side of the country so birth/first family members don’t kidnap the children while they sleep. Most families, I suspect, fall somewhere in the middle.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was greatly encouraged by Patricia Dischler’s book Because I Loved You, in the way she described open adoption dynamics. It is reassuring to know that there ARE birth/first families who genuinely support the efforts of adoptive parents, and have no wish to supplant them. Frankly, I’d like to hear more stories like those … Stories of successful birth/adoptive family integration. (If you have such a story, I invite you to post it here, either in the comments or as a guest post or link.)

I have one friend, who is both a birth mother and an adoptee, who has the gift of a truly integrated extended family.  However, I can also point to six other triads I know personally, that have not been able to manage this for a variety of reasons, from lack of information about birth parents, to unwillingess of birth parent to have contact, to addiction or mental/emotional stability issues making it impossible to sustain contact.  

The prevalence of open adoptions is making it increasingly common for adoptive and first/birth families to sustain contact from the outset. As foster parents, we had weekly agency visits with the birth family of our children for the first year and a half — always a very intense situation, and one I would have given my right arm to avoid altogether. (I penned a little ditty about one of these visits here… in a post called “The Family You Don’t Get to Pick.”) Agency days were invariably the days when all hell broke loose, with wall smearing and food throwing and general surliness and craziness all around. It took 3-4 days just to recover, then we got to do it all over again.

Six years have passed. The kids no longer see their birth parents, and see their older siblings about once a month. And yet, clearly the memories are still very much present. Chris especially is missing his mother and siblings, which is a normal part of foster-adoption, the grieving. And as any mother knows, the only thing worse than enduring a loss yourself … is to watch your child go through it. You fill up the love banks as often as you can. You let him talk. You find ways to make him laugh, or play, or enjoy himself. Sooner or later, the sun comes out again. But part of you stays braced, just waiting for the next storm.

Today at “Heart, Mind, and Strength,” Greg and Lisa Popcak (who last year adopted a little girl from China) spoke with a mother whose six-year-old son was acting out in school (I caught only the last half of the conversation). Turns out they had been forcibly removed from their home, and the father had been forced to go to another state to find work. “Of COURSE he’s going to act out … His little world has been turned upside down!” exclaimed Lisa. They recommended a book called The Positive Child, which I plan to check out …

One of the greatest challenges of (foster) adoptive parenting is knowing how to handle the “ghosts” … and sometimes, the family you don’t get to pick.

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Mandatory Release vs. Mutual Consent: New Report from NCA

Today I received a link to this recent report from the National Council for Adoption, refuting the findings of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute with regard to open records, in particular the notion that adult adopted persons should have automatic access to the identities of their birthparents. This is a difficult — and hotly debated — issue.  

I’ve touched upon the subject here and elsewhere in the past, and have no desire to rehash the arguments at this time (those who are unfamiliar with the arguments in favor of mandatory open records will find them summarized nicely in this report).  However, there was one point in the NCA report that I thought warranted special mention. In their response to the first “social argument” for mandatory open records, NCA observes:

“Contrary to the picture painted by EBDAI’s misrepresentation of data, the vast majority of birthparents (and adopted persons) support the release of identifying information to the children they placed for adoption based on the principles of mutual consent, not mandatory openness. In support of their argument that “the vast majority of birthparents … support the release of [identifying] information to the children they release for adoption,” the authors of For the Record state, “A 1991 study found that a substantial majority of birthmothers (88.5%) supported access by adult adopted persons to identifying information on their birthparents.”

The study cited is Sadchev’s Achieving Openness in Adoption…, and it does indeed state that 88.5% of the birthmothers surveyed supported the release of identifying information to adult adopted persons. However, the study also found that 75% of birthmothers who supported the release of identifying information prescribed “consent of the birthmother as [a] condition for permitting adoptees access to this information.”

In other words, three out of four birthmothers support the release not mandatory release, but by mutual consent. Furthermore, Sadchev finds, 77.9% of birthmothers, 88.8% of adoptive parents, and 75.5% of adopted persons would prefer sealed records or release by mutual consent to mandatory openness. (NCA report, pg 5)

To date only 10 states have mandatory open records, with 40 states having varying degrees of “openness” with regard to adoption records — some granting non-identifying medical information (some requiring a court order). If you would like to find out the rules in your state, click here. (I’m not sure how current this list is … If you know of something more current, please let me know.)

I’m going to be away from the computer for the next few days, so if your comments do not immediately post, please be patient. And as always, “calm and constructive” get a much better hearing than “snarky and insulting.”  If you want to rant, do it on your own blog. Thanks!