Not So Permanent & Irrevocable After All

A little over a year ago, the daughter I had not seen since just a few months before her second birthday was in my arms again. You can catch up on that BY CLICKING HERE ON THIS HYPERLINK.

I never would have imagined we’d be where we are now. Without going into too many details, I’ll just say that the same rights a parent has to their minor child have been returned to myself and my husband via a permanent order of custody.

I spent last week reading IKL the story of my pregnancy, her birth, & relinquishment by way of the book I wrote covering it, Whispers of Grace.  How surreal to read the book I wrote about her, written just before we had contact with her, while she was sitting next to me, living with me, her bedroom just across the hall. I made it through almost the whole thing without shedding a tear. But there is no way to read aloud about what it’s like to permanently and irrevocably surrender your rights to your newborn TO that once newborn who is now beside you without shedding some tears. Her arms flew around me fast and she said, “It’s okay. I’m here now.”

How did I get this lucky? Why does my luck have to come at the expense of her leaving her friends, her culture, her home? How does she handle all of this with such grace?

I don’t know. I just know that I love her. It doesn’t feel like she’s been gone all these years. At the same time it’s so obvious she has and that hole where those years are can never be given back. We can only move forward. One day at a time.

 

Advertisements

Legally Enforceable Open Adoption Contracts in the United States

*Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be substituted for legal advice. I highly suggest any expectant mother who is considering adoption to retain her own legal representation who understands adoption law in the state that the adoption will be finalized as well as the state she lives in. This is my interpretation of the laws and my opinion based on my own research and the stories I’ve heard from others who have open adoption contracts that are supposed to be legally enforceable.*

Legally enforceable open adoptions are a fairly new thing. There are lots of questions about them from adoptive parents, expectant parents, and birth parents. These “legally enforceable” post-adoption contracts can vary widely from state to state. When an expectant mother hears that she resides in a state that has legally enforceable open adoptions usually she has a sense of security in believing that the adoptive parents of her child will not be able to “trick” or “fool” her into relinquishing her child to them by making promises they don’t intend to keep. She may also feel that if the adoptive parents change their mind about the type of contact they want, she is legally protected. On the surface this is what it appears to be. I’d also assume that adoption agencies, attorneys that represent the prospective adoptive parents, and facilitators would not go into great detail about how exactly the law would work. I’d like to take the time to do that here.

I heard one story of a first mom who lived in a state that had legally enforceable post-adoption contracts. This was just a fact. When she asked about it she was told, “Yes, our state has legally enforceable open adoptions.” However, she had no legal representation of her own and found out, after her open adoption was closed and she sought relief, that the law in her state required the open adoption contract to be entered with the final decree of adoption. Because she wasn’t part of the court hearing for finalization, she had no idea if this had happened. Because she had no legal representation, representing HER ALONE, she was unaware that the law was written this way. She did have a post-adoption contract that had been worked on between her, the agency, their attorney, and the prospective adoptive parents, it just wasn’t legally enforceable in her state because it never went before the court.

I heard another story about a mom who DID have her post-adoption contract entered correctly making it “legally binding.” When visits never happened and communication was cut off as soon as her child was relinquished, she pursued the legal channels put in place to enforce the contract. She put up a lot of money in attorney and court fees to be told, by the judge, that she relinquished all parental rights and if the adoptive parents didn’t feel it was in the best interest of their child to have visits then that was their right. The judge then rewrote the post-adoption contract, taking away all direct contact or communication with her child, and only enforced a yearly update.

There was another mother who lived in a “legally enforceable” state where visits and all communication had stopped after three years. When she sought to enforce her agreement she learned two things. 1) She didn’t have anything near the financial resources to even begin the process (as most first parents don’t) and 2) she couldn’t even start the process if she wanted to because she didn’t know where the adoptive parents now resided since their communication drop coincided with a move to a different state in which they didn’t disclose.

It’s important to remember that post-adoption contracts are a very new area of law and there aren’t a lot of cases to set precedent yet. Really it’s up to the judges or mediators involved to determine the outcome of a contested contract, if the first parent can come up with enough money to begin the process. It’s also important to remember that post-adoption contracts are not the same as “custody” or “visitation” agreements you’d see in traditional family law that involves two parents that are not together. You do not retain any parental rights once you have relinquished a child for adoption. They have been terminated. No amount of legally enforceable open adoption laws can change that. No amount of legislation to make more open adoptions stay open can change that. You will not be fighting in court for your “right” to visit your child. You will be fighting to have a contract enforced. This is contract law mixed with adoption law (like I said, new territory). Almost always, a judge has the right to alter the contract, change things using his best judgment, or void it altogether. So, while “legally enforceable,” they are also “legally voidable.” Since there are no parental rights intact, an adoptive parent could argue that they feel a continued open adoption would not be in the best interest of their child. They could argue they simply feel that the constant “hello” and “goodbye” is not something they feel their child is emotionally prepared for. They’d probably get contact stopped, or greatly reduced, just based on that alone. Their child, their call. If there has been an ongoing relationship between the child and the first parents for a number of years it may not be so easy as a relationship has been established and the courts may find it detrimental to sever that relationship altogether. However, it would have to be a well-established relationship with frequent visits and a solid relationship. A relationship like this is most likely facilitated by adoptive parents who are very open-minded, educated, and “get it.” Those adoptive parents who choose to facilitate an open adoption at that level are probably not likely to break an open adoption contract to begin with.

The majority of adoptive parents aren’t “evil” people who set out to break a first mom’s heart, but rather are ill-advised, ill-prepared, or uneducated. They also don’t care to change these things about themselves and only see adoption in the light they choose to.  The most vulnerable first moms/expectant moms, the ones most at risk of an adoption closing, are the ones in the first 5 years into their journey as a first parent. Relationships aren’t well-established yet.

Many states will require mediation before going to court to seek relief of a violation of your open adoption contract. This means that you (and any other party on the contract, such as a first father), and the adoptive parents will be required to sit through a series of “negotiation,” so to speak. A mediator will play “referee.” You will try to come to an understanding and agreement outside of the courts. Sometimes you’ll be required to pay a fee to the courts for the mediation – which is usually split evenly between both parties. Each state has its own individual laws, but usually after a series of about 3 sessions if no agreement can be settled on it will go to the courts and a judge will decide.

What are the consequences for adoptive parents who violate an open adoption contract? No state says an adoption can be reversed or nullified if the post-adoption agreement is not followed. This means that you cannot challenge an adoption because the “legally enforceable” post-adoption contract has been violated. I can find no codes that specifically state any consequences, punitive or otherwise, for adoptive parents that have been ordered, by a judge, to resume the post-adoption contract as it was entered.

28 states currently have “legally enforceable open adoption contracts.” Many of those are only for in-family adoptions and relate only to grandparents.

For a review of each state’s post-adoption contract laws please CLICK HERE.

If you take the time to read some of these laws, you will see that all of them allow for a judge to use his discretion when it comes to enforcement or challenging the original contract.

There are many things to consider when considering adoption for your child. Regardless of your state’s laws any number of things can arise. Even in states with legally enforceable open adoption laws, the jury is still out, so to speak. There are so many things that have not even been addressed. For instance, what if your child is re-homed? While rare, in domestic infant adoption cases, it can happen. Will your legally enforceable contract be upheld in a court of law if your child is put up for adoption by the original adopting parents? Most likely, not. If you are relying on a legally enforceable open adoption as the terms of being able to go through with relinquishment are you prepared to fight the adoptive parents if they violate the contract? Do you have the financial means to do so?

In review, as stated in the disclaimer, I advise any expectant mother who is thinking of an adoption plan to seek independent representation.  This advice is not limited to post-adoption contracts, but for everything surrounding the legalities of adoption. Don’t rely solely on an adoption agency, attorney representing the prospective adoptive parents, a facilitator, or charitable organization to fully inform you. This is something you must actively seek to do on your own.

Sibling Grief In Adoption

“I never know what to say when someone asks me how many brothers or sisters I have.”

This came out of my 12-year-old’s mouth while I was driving the other day. There was no warning for a statement such as this. No conversation that I can think of that brought it on. We were listening to the radio and she just blurted it out. It caught me off guard and I wasn’t really sure what to say. I have tried my best not to shroud in secrecy that her father and I relinquished the daughter that came before her. I would never want to give any of my children the impression that IKL is someone we should be ashamed of or someone who should be kept secret. To do so would deny her and denying her would be to deny our love for her. Regardless of this, for a child growing up with a sister who has been lost to adoption, challenges unique to these “parented children” are most definitely present. She is not ashamed of her sister and would love for nothing more than to have some sort of relationship with her. She used to be very vocal about how she has four siblings, not three. It seems that, over time, the reactions she has garnered from people have made her more aware that she has lost something. She is now uncomfortable disclosing to people that she has another sister, out there in the world, that she doesn’t know. She is uncomfortable with the fact that she doesn’t know her and this is, most likely, what is bothering her the most.

It is in moments like this that I freeze. Mom is supposed to have all the answers and yet I stumbled along not knowing exactly what was best to say. Instead of offering her a solution I sympathized with her. I stated, “I know how you feel, honey. Sometimes when people ask me how many kids I have I don’t know what to say either.” Her reply emphasized her guilt. If she did not include IKL in the “sibling count” then it made her feel horrible to dismiss someone so important in her life, her sister. If she did include her the questions came – some of them she could not answer and it reminded her that she had suffered a loss in her life, a tremendous loss. She was clearly looking to me for advice and stalling was not good enough. She wanted answers from me.

“You know that you don’t have to tell people how many siblings you have if they aren’t someone important in your life, right? You can say ‘I’d rather not discuss my sisters and brothers.’ and that is okay.” This was not a good enough answer for her. She said, “Well, like on worksheets at school when sometimes they ask you how many siblings you have or when you have to write about your family or family tree. That stuff. I feel like I’m lying if I don’t include her and I feel like I’m lying if I do.” And there it is. The catalyst for her dilemma. It is a legal lie to say that she has another sister, an emotional one to say she doesn’t. Where does the middle ground exist? It really doesn’t. She continued, “You know because I’m like really close to G and D and M but I’m not so close to IKL.” It was with this statement that my heart wanted to break into a million pieces. “Not so close” wasn’t sufficient enough to describe the lack of relationship between A and IKL. There was no relationship. She didn’t know her at all. Yes, A has written her letters, but the communication has been one-sided. IKL has never spoken to A. In A’s mind, however, it wasn’t safe to admit this. She needed to say they were “not so close.”

I had no answers for her. I told her that she should do what her heart told her to do and screw everyone else. Yes, that’s what I told her. If it made her feel uncomfortable to have to explain that she had a sister that was relinquished, then don’t tell them. If it made her feel bad to deny her sister, then do tell them. Still she was unsatisfied. Both of those options left her feeling bad. I told her how sorry I was because that was all I could do. One last statement and the conversation was done. “I just wish I never had a sister that was adopted out and that she just lived with us and we were normal.” My heart broke some more.

When going over options and deciding whether we should “choose” adoption, our other children were taken into consideration. The experts were telling us that we needed to consider the financial and emotional strain a new baby would place on the kids we already had. Another mouth to feed and care for would take away from them and they may suffer for it. I never imagined that the heartache adoption would wreak in my children’s lives would be so much worse than going without material things for a little while or having one more person to share mom with. My 12-year-old’s psychologist, in her first report, wrote that A told a story about a frog. The frog’s sister had been given up for adoption and the frog worried about this sister all the time.  She noted, “Underlying anxiety issues in regards to biological sister relinquished for adoption” How could this possibly be? I was told that my children would be better off. How could the ONLY child who has not one memory of the daughter I gave up be suffering so much? This was not supposed to be, yet it was and it is. There is nothing I can do to make it better. I am powerless. I cannot force a relationship and I cannot take back the years that were lost. I don’t have a time machine. I can only try to help her through her grief while I am still navigating mine.

I know that some of you may be thinking that she is picking up on things I have said or done. To that I say, “Are you stupid?” Why in the world would I project my feelings onto her? IKL is talked about as something positive in our household and nothing else. A has come to feel this pain on her own accord, because something is missing in her life. Already having one older sister she knows that bond that sisters share, which adds to this. She is constantly thinking about the “what could have been.”

Should I have never told my children about IKL or the adoption at all? Then they wouldn’t have known or felt any of this grief. No, they wouldn’t have. Not at all growing up. Except when they did find out, and they would have, it may have been more destructive and devastating for ALL of my kids, IKL included. I refuse to keep her a secret. She deserves more than that. And I refuse to lie to my children. Even if it is a lie by omission. These lies will have to be addressed one day and I do not want to go down that rabbit hole.

Sibling grief in adoption loss is very real. Parented children, born prior to placement as well as after, are affected by it. There are no books about it, no expert advice. There isn’t even a children’s book in existence that deals with the loss of a sibling to adoption. There are literally no tools to help parented children navigate adoption. What I’m learning is that they do face a lot of the same challenges that us adults face. The only difference is they had no say so in it at all. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Like adoptees who sometimes feel like their lives are not in their own control, parented children can sometimes feel the same way.

It can hit you like a ton of bricks, the realization that your choices have caused your children psychological issues. Some will say, “Well, we’re going to have an open adoption so my children will always know their brother/sister and won’t have these problems.” I just laugh. I was going to have an open adoption, too. Go ahead and make your plans and hopefully they will work out. But when they don’t, you’ll be left picking up the pieces.

Initial Findings – Adoptee Survey

About halfway through a survey I like to give a glimpse into how the results are forming. This allows everyone to get a little excited and also helps to gather more participants which usually yields more well-rounded results. It seems I am having a more difficult time with getting participants for this survey than I did for my birthmother survey. This could be for any number of reasons but let me speculate. First, I am not an adoptee and am not privy to belonging to adoptee groups. Therefore, word of mouth is slower. Second, dare I ask the question? Are adoptees just innately ingrained to be silent and not stir the boat? Surely this doesn’t apply to all of them as we saw with #flipthescript. I can’t help but wonder, though. Especially after reading some of the answers.

I tried very hard to make a well-rounded survey with as many options as possible for answers. I’ve had some great suggestions in the comments but I cannot change the choices midway through. I want to thank everyone who did give suggestions and apologize for not thinking of those choices sooner. I promise to make the next one better. So, without further ado, here are some initial results.

QUALIFIERS AND GENERAL INFORMATION

I made all questions (except the one open-ended question at the end) mandatory so that I didn’t end up with mixed results or people who only completed some of the survey. So far there are 169 participants and fully completed surveys.

The majority of participants were born between the years 1960 and 1989 with the decade of the 60’s winning out slightly.

Most people who responded were not of more than one race but about 16% were. Some, sadly, did not know if they were or not.

Most people were also the same race as their adoptive parents with 20% not being of the same race. And, again, some did not know.

Of the people who were adopted by parents of a different race than they were, about one-third answered that it had never been an issue for them. That leaves two-thirds with issues ranging from slight to severe because of it.

Of adoptees that were of a different race than the parents who raised them, about 68% said that their heritage and culture was not taught to them within their adoptive family and they were not exposed to others that shared that same culture and heritage.

The majority of participants were adopted at birth or within the first year with the majority having been adopted at birth or within the first month after birth.

Thankfully, most adoptees said they learned the identifying information about their birth parents after the age of 18. However, that leaves about one-fourth not knowing and does not take into consideration how long after age 18 they had to wait for identifying information.

The majority responded that they have always known they were adopted (great!) but about one-fourth of all participants did not find out they were adopted until age 5 or older with some not discovering until after age 35.

Of those who did not know, since birth, that they were adopted, the majority say their adoptive parents revealed it to them.

In regards to how adoption was talked about in their homes, growing up, all answers were almost equal in the number of responses showing a wide variety of degrees of positive and open or negative and closed. However, 43% of participants said it was not talked about, at all, in their homes.

Over half of the participants said their birth parents were never talked about. The rest of the choices, about varying ways the birth parents were talked about (positive or negative) and how often were pretty even in choices.

IN REGARDS TO REUNION

Approximately 61% of all participants are in reunion with some member of their birth family.

The rest are not in reunion yet or were in reunion but are not anymore.

Of those in reunion, most say it is going at least “good.” Only 2 participants said it was going horrible and they were about to end it.

For those NOT in reunion, 78% are passively or actively searching.

For those who have searched and found birth parents, the majority say that one or both birth parents eventually (or right away) welcomed the relationship. Approximately three-quarters.

For those who have searched and found birth parents, 19% say they were a secret to some or most of the birth family.

EMOTIONAL HEALTH IN REGARDS TO ADOPTION

The majority of people do not consider themselves either lucky or blessed to be adopted. They have no feelings either way. An equal amount of people feel blessed, lucky, unlucky or cursed to have been adopted.

Over three-quarters of the participants admitted to fantasizing a lot or some about their birth parents.

Almost 87% of participants admitted to have some kind of emotional or psychological issues directly related to adoption. Some minor, some severe. The majority being somewhere in the middle.

Almost three-quarters admitted to having thought about suicide or attempting suicide, the majority (by a slight lead) having only thought about it once or twice, one-quarter having seriously thought about it, and 18% having actually attempted it. Compare this to the statistics in the United States of under 1% of the general population attempts suicide.(1)(2)

Of those adoptees who were told their birth parents loved them so much that they gave them up for adoption, more than three-quarters are conflicted about this.

Most adoptees are in a support group of one form or another (awesome).

Over three-quarters of participants don’t feel they are in control over their own lives sometimes or a lot.

ADOPTION REFORM

Over half are involved in reform movements.

Almost all feel that all records should be unsealed and given to adoptees with no names redacted.

Over 80% feel birth certificates should not be changed.

THEIR OWN VOICES, THEIR OWN WORDS

I will share with you a few of the voices of adoptees. I asked if there was anything else they’d like to say. I have not edited anything including spelling or grammar.

“I am frustrated by the lack of understanding by the general public. If you read the comments on any fluff adoption piece, it is FULL of incorrect thinking and idioms. Why don’t people want to think critically of adoption? They say what they’ve been taught to say, but I’m so sick of it.”

“My adoptive parents always told me that both my birth parents made the hardest choice they will ever make by giving me up – they always respected that and made sure I did as well. I am in full search mode, have a possible…recently took dna and paid the “fees” to the local agency in order to confirm the possibles or start over. Whatever my birth parents situation at time of my birth I will always give them respect knowing she carried me for nine months yet felt for whatever reason she couldn’t raise me and entrusted the agency to find me a wonderful family – which, they did.”

“As an adoptee from the Baby Scoop Era, born in the late 60s, I was “taken in” by a family that wanted the novelty and attention of having another baby in the house and to look good in the eyes of their Catholic church for rescuing a homeless bastard. I was the only adopted kid in the home and the mother was a basket case. The father thought I might help her out of her psychosis. I think many of us were used as pawns like this, tools to help fix other major issues going on in the households, and since there were so many of us and it was easy to get one, why not. Because when you think about it, why else would some strange family want to take in another family’s reject baby? They had to have massive issues or avoidance behaviors themselves to even consider it. Raising a stranger’s baby and pretending it’s yours? That is totally fucked up when you truly think about it.”

“All adoptees are not the same. We should not be treated as if we were all the same. There are some adoptees who have extreme mental disorders and some who have PTSD and others with mild depression, etc. Some adoptees are stable and seemingly unaffected by their adoptions. Adoptees comprise people of all ages and all nationalities and both sexes. There is no one person out of this group who can be the poster child/adult for our group. What we all do need is our basic human rights returned to us. The govt., Federal or State and lawyers or social workers should not be making laws and/or life choices for us. If there must be laws, then let representatives from our group be involved in making these laws. Expect for some of us to fight for our rights – just as there were some African Americans who fought for their civil rights back in the 60’s. We will over come. Some day.”

“Lies and deceit have no place in the world of adoption. Secrecy is wrong. We exist and are people and should be treated with the equality afforded to everyone else who was not adopted. We are given a different life but it is not necessarily better, We are not lucky, we are generally not angry just weary of not being heard.”

“Being in reunion, and knowing the circumstances that led to my adoption, I can see that I am likely off with my life as it played out (birthdad was an addict and was abusive towards birthmom). But it hurts to know that I grew up apart from my birthmom’s family and my brother. I am so glad to know them now, but I mourn 40 years of separation and of feeling slightly our of place in my adoptive family. Adoption is much more complicated than most people want to believe.”

“Both adotive parents and adoptees should have to have some sort of therapy during their chil rearing and growing up years. I feel that I could have used that as well as my adoptive parents. You’re not really given the tools to raise a child that is not genetically yours and that may have issues that come along with adoption trauma.”

“If you didn’t allow Adoptive parents to rename (First name) the child (if they already have a name) I think that would bring a sense of worth of their own identity. No need to rename the child as if the past didn’t excist. I kept my name, and I’ve always been grateful for that.”

Want your voice included? Please consider participating in my adoptee survey which can be found here: Adoptee Survey

(1) http://www.emorycaresforyou.emory.edu/resources/suicidestatistics.html

(2) http://www.emorycaresforyou.emory.edu/resources/suicidestatistics.html