I Can See the Horizon 

Sleep found me easily and peacefully. I usually suffer from insomnia and will lay awake for hours praying that slumber will come upon me. A peace I’d never known before washed over me as all of my children were under my roof in the same place at the same time. The people I value and love the most in this world. The ONLY people whose opinions about me I care about. I felt complete and whole.

But sad. Sad for what could have been. Sad for the upcoming goodbye. Sad from what my choice had taken from all of my kids without their permission. There had always been a feeling that someone was missing and while she was here that feeling was gone. But it would soon be back. Nevertheless I tried to revel in how lucky I was to even have this moment, this time, at all.

I have three daughters and two sons. Of all of my children, she is the most like me in every way. It’s almost scary how similar we are. Many times people would comment “its like looking at you when you were her age!” Or “She’s JUST like you at that age!”

And she is.

She’s tenacious, she has no filter, she looks like me, she sounds like me, she has the same mannerisms as me. Admittedly she does have my husband’s nose.

Driving to Taco Bell one day we said the exact same thing at the exact same time with the exact same inflection. That happens within families all the time. Families that you share DNA with. “That’s never happened to me before,” she said with surprise. And it kept happening. My sisters and I are always speaking in stereo. It made me think how sad it would be to go through life without ever hearing someone who sounded like you.

And she’s just like her sisters. When a neighbor started up his motorcycle too closely they all screamed, shook, and started crying. All three of them. All at the same time. DNA is some powerful stuff.

But she’s herself too. It was lovely to hear her talk about the things she loves, the places she’s seen, the people in her life she cares about and how they’ve impacted her.

And still there was this thing hanging in the air. All the shared memories we had that she didn’t. My family is big on talking about “Remember when this happened…” and then proceeding to tell a funny or shocking story. So while she was like us in every way, and fit in perfectly, there was always the elephant in the room that reminded us that she had been gone.

So many mixed emotions. So much to untangle.

My husband was smitten. He reminded me of a new father doting over his infant daughter. Except we had already doted on her when she was born. I can read this man better than anyone and the looks on his face said, “I’m in love with this beautiful creature.” As he should be. She’s pretty amazing if I do say so myself.

And here is where I decided that this blog has served its purpose. For now, anyway.

When I was hurting it was here. When I needed to vent it was here. When I was scared, anxious, worried, happy, hopeful, suffering, it was here. You were here. Some of you lifted me with your thoughts and others pissed me off. And that’s okay. Because sometimes I just needed a good fight and you engaged me.

I know this journey is ever evolving and I’m not completely abandoning this space. There may be a time in the future where I need it regularly again. But this journey is no longer just my own. Now that our lives have come together again, and she is again a part of mine, our stories are intertwined and it’s not up to me what to share.

I have let adoption consume my life. That’s not an entirely bad thing. I’ve found sisterhood and courage in this community. I’ve found courage to stand up, stand out, and help make changes. I will always be an activist. Always. But I’m also a mother and wife. I can’t spread myself too thin so I’ve decided to focus my energy on certain endeavors that will allow me to balance things more equally. I lost my grandfather, who helped raise me, and a beloved pet who was my emotional support animal, this year. The wheels of time don’t stop turning for me to sit behind a computer.

So while I’ve already bowed out of this blogging thing pretty much, I thought I’d leave you all with a happy update. I’ll pop in once in a while. But it’s time to take back my life and focus on where I can really make a change, enjoy my family, and still remain a functional member of society.

 

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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.

Short & Sweet

It’s been some time since I’ve updated here at Musings of a Birthmom. This will be a short, sweet, personal update to explain my absence – for anyone who should care.

My husband had back surgery about 3 weeks ago and his recovery was more than anticipated. He’s required a heavy level of care-giving that made multi-tasking nearly impossible to do. I had to prioritize and, as much as I love you all, this blog took a backseat for a few weeks. I do apologize. I had finals to take, kids to care for, housework to catch up on, and a husband who needed me. I also had, admittedly, writers block. I simply couldn’t think of anything to write but, at the same time, thought of millions of things to write about. It was quite the conundrum. I’m also hesitant to post personal updates about myself because doing so also reveals personal information about my daughter that she’d probably rather not have shared, even if no one knows who she is. I decided to go with a happy medium.

I was so looking forward to a face to face reunion with her this summer. I was also scared to death. I thought she’d be sorely disappointed in me, the real me…that maybe I wouldn’t live up to what she had thought about me in her mind. I was terrified that she’d take one look at our meager lower-middle class surroundings and think, “dodged that bullet.” I was scared of a lot of things, some irrational, some not. The most horrifying thing I could think of was to begin to have a full-blown panic attack the moment I saw her. “Hey! I’m your mom! I’m also nuts and can’t breathe because I’m so scared and I may faint on you in a minute. But I’m really a super cool person if you can get past the oddities that are my mental health.” For reasons that are really no one’s fault, we won’t be meeting for the “first” time. I was disappointed, hurt, relieved, and hopeful. Very confusing place to be. But I’m okay now. And I’ll be okay. Crap, we’ll ALL be okay. Since I seem to reproduce introverts prone to social anxiety, and am one myself, I often wonder if we’ll ever meet. Ha ha! But we’ll be okay.

I promise I have some exciting blog posts to read coming up soon. There are some things that need to be exposed and I am finally in a place where I think I can put my thoughts together and do so. Thanks for those who’ve hung in there with me and, of course, thank you to everyone who reads, and takes to heart or puts into action, the message I am conveying. It is truly appreciated. Together we will change the world….or, at least, this little corner of the Internet. I’d hate to be too overzealous and have a panic attack.

 

To The Mothers; Hope and Peace on Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to you. Yes, you. For nine months you grew a tiny human being inside of you, but it’s so much more than that. You nurtured your child every time you made the decision to forego that glass of wine and to eat healthy foods. You protected your child – at every doctor’s appointment to make sure things were okay, for every decision you made that put your comfort level below the health and well-being of your child. For nine months you talked to your child, felt your child move, sang to your child, maybe you even slept in a recliner because by the ninth month of pregnancy a bed was just too uncomfortable.

Happy Mother’s Day to you. To the mothers who prayed to the porcelain god those first few months, and even some beyond that; to the mothers who endured sticks and pricks and unpleasant internal exams; to the mothers who adored the life growing inside of them, who got upset when their babies would hiccup, from within them, and there was nothing more they could do to comfort them, when their kicks became frantic, except to talk and sway; to the mothers who had a glow and the mothers who had acne; to the mothers whose bodies will never look the same in a bikini because of the stripes that were born from the stretching of their skin or the c-section scar they wear like a badge, that are proof they carried a child and are a mother; to the mothers whose bodies endured hours of labor, the labor of love, to bring their child forth into this world; to the mothers who endured the grueling task of pushing, when they thought they had nothing left in them, with their only inspiration the promise of meeting the one they had loved for nine months; to the mothers who lay on an operating table, with all trust placed into a doctor, to get their child here safely; to the mothers who heard that first cry, and felt that instant connection and knew what unconditional love truly was because of one moment; to the mothers who were the first to hold their child and the ones who couldn’t, no matter how much their arms ached for their baby; to the mothers who had hopes, dreams, and wishes that, for whatever reason, were stolen from them like a thief in the night; to the mothers who are overlooked and sometimes put down and called “less than” because they could not parent their child – biology is, in fact, exactly what makes one a mother.

This Mother’s Day I bring you a message of hope and peace. “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul,” said the great Emily Dickinson. As long as there is a breath in our lungs, there is hope. No matter how dire, no matter how messed up things are, there is always hope. In your darkest hours, on your darkest day, never forget that you are this mother. Nothing anyone can do will ever take that away from you. No one can ever erase it. In the most basic and primal ways, the truth is you are a mother. Every tear you’ve cried and every hope you’ve ever wished cannot be taken away.

“I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.”

Hope is free, it costs nothing. My message of hope is this: Hope for yourself, hope for your happiness, hope for all that was lost, but whatever you do, don’t lose hope. In your darkest hours, when all seems to be lost, remember who you are. Remember you are a mother. No matter what anyone else says, no matter how anyone else tries to spin it, this is the truth. The truth always wins.

My oldest son took me to see the new Captain America movie today as an early Mother’s Day gift. One quote in the movie stuck with me and I will share it here for you. Hold onto it, embrace it, and even when the whole world seems to be pushing against you, hold firm in what you know, innately, to be true. May peace find you this Mother’s Day and everyday – in some form or another.

“Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, YOU move.'”

-Peggy Carter, Captain America

In My Dreams

I obsess. That’s what I do. Fear is something that is always a part of my life and I have struggled long and hard, for so many years, decades really, to not let it control me. Alas, it sometimes wins in the end.

I have waited so many days, months, years, to see her again. To have communication with her. Sometimes I feel like a crazy stalker. I mean, I kind of am, aren’t I?

I wasn’t told her last name, their last name. I wasn’t told what town they lived in. I was given first names and a state. I put my trust into an institution (adoption) that I would get my yearly visits and I’d never be a stranger to her.  Then the visits stopped, before she could form any intellectual memories of me, her father, her siblings. What was I to do?

I did what any mother would do. I began looking for her. I would receive pictures every couple of years and an update about once a year. A far cry from what I was promised, but I took it anyway. I would study the pictures, heed the words, analyze everything.

A picture from the first day of kindergarten. A name tag hangs around her neck and I see it has her first and last name on it but the exposure is so high it’s nearly impossible to make out what it is. I can tell the length of the last name, though. It’s not your average length and that’s a clue I keep. Pictures with license plate numbers in the background, restaurants, anything – I grab it, store it in my mind, search frantically for hours. I just want to know her last name.

Part of me doesn’t believe the narrative that I’m getting in updates. It seems too good to be true. Everything is always rainbows and sunshine. It drives me to search more fervently. I feel like a mad woman. My husband tells me I should leave it alone. He feels guilty. He knows its killing me. He can’t make up for it.

Haunted by the faces of my daughters whenever I look at them. Each of them carries characteristics of her. It’s like I’m haunted by the ghost of someone who is alive but is so very far out of reach.

Sometime around her seventh year I finally get somewhere and make a huge discovery. Her last name. It opens doors. For the years to come I silently watch. When she is old enough to utilize the World Wide Web, herself, I start to find her foot print everywhere. It is amazing to me. She’s real, she exists, she’s not a ghost. A secret peek into her life as she knows it, not through the lens of someone else and what they choose to tell me.

I stalk. Is it stalking? I feel like a stalker. I am silently watching my child, making sure she is okay, and as years go by sensing that things aren’t really that okay. I don’t do it for the reasons that others stalk. I never reach out to her, disturb her world. I do it because I feel like I must protect her, its instinctual, and this is the only way I know how.

The first correspondence that confirms my intuition that something is amiss. Questions about my pregnancy, hinting to some issues. It honestly sounds like everyone in my family. High-spirited, oppositional. Yep, sounds like my girls, sounds like my husband, definitely sounds like me. I implore them to not drug her up. I am reassured everything is fine. Life goes on.

I realize I’m obsessing and for my own sanity take a break. I decide to only check up on her every few months, just to make sure she’s alive, because I honestly don’t know if I’d be told if she wasn’t.

The feeling is overwhelming. The “knowing.” I just know. I can’t explain it. It’s the same feeling from when she was just a week or two old and I knew the people in charge of her care were not treating her right. I awoke my husband very early and told him we needed to go get her that very moment. I knew something was wrong. I was right that time. I didn’t want to be right this time.

A single post, expressing how she was going away. It was made the same day I had the feeling. Now the feeling has changed. I feel betrayed, I feel sick, I feel like I may genuinely go crazy knowing she’s been sent away. A new obsession begins. I must know where they’ve sent her. I must know so I can see if she’ll be treated badly, if she’ll be abused, mistreated, there.

Pictures. I assume they are taken in the place she has been and I look for clues in the background. The name of a little coffee shop and a quick search reveal to me a city and state. Another search reveals the only place it could possibly be. The pictures match.

The waiting for her to come home. Never being outright told she was sent away so never expecting to be informed she was home. Worrying, wondering. More obsessing, more searching. Finding a blog written by a “house mother” who is bragging about sending a child outside in the freezing cold without shoes or a coat because she wouldn’t stop yelling. I wonder if that child is mine. I secretly want to hunt the woman down and hurt her for hurting my baby.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

And then, confirmation, from her personally. A secret connection between her sister and her. I am overjoyed. I am scared. I don’t know what to do. I’m terrified of her adoptive mother. If she finds out, if I overstep anything she deems “appropriate” then it all crumbles. I know nothing. I have to obsess and search and worry on the Internet. Updates will cease to exist and updates are clues.

It’s all out in the open now. Most of it, anyway. I still watch my step, stay in my place, because if I don’t get to see her again, don’t get to touch her again, don’t get this visit, only the third since she went with them when it should be the 16th, I just might end up having a nervous breakdown. But now there is another fear, another obsession.

I am a stranger. There is no possible way she could think of me as much as I think of her. I don’t expect her to. This obsession isn’t healthy. I obsess about if she wants to talk to me, I obsess about if I’m coming off too strong, I obsess about if she would rather me just go away but she’s too scared to tell me. I obsess about, well, rejection. I want to talk to her like I do my other children. I want to have funny conversations about gross and inappropriate things. I want to discuss social issues that I am passionate about and teach her about the world, the way I do my other children. I want to know her. I want to hear her voice, see her face in something other than a still picture. I want to soak up every last bit of her. The good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly, the everything.

But I don’t want to scare her. I don’t want to hurt her more. I don’t want to make her feel like she owes me anything.

I don’t know what to say. I’m scared. I want to tell her how her expression in the newest picture is my expression in the picture of me 6 years ago. I want to tell her that her handwriting is the same as mine when I was her age. I want to tell her that her fiery personality and stubbornness comes from her father and I but the undertone of kindness, compassion, and empathy comes from me. I’m hard on the outside, soft on the inside. I want to point out that her voice, in the one video I saw, sounds just like mine. I want to tell her that her sister can’t distinguish, sometimes, while scrolling through her feed if a picture is of me or her, for just a second. I want to tell her that I see her.  I don’t “know” her but I see her.

I want to tell her I believe her. I want to tell her that I can’t say all the things I want to because I have to stay in my place because I don’t hold all the cards. I don’t hold any, actually. I want to tell her that she will always have a home. I want to tell her that she does belong somewhere, she exquisitely belongs, but she doesn’t know it. I want to tell her so many things. Little things, big things. But how much is too much? Where do I walk the line? How do I know? So I say nothing.

And then I obsess that my nothing is too much. Am I sending the message that I’m not interested, don’t care? Nothing could be further from the truth.

She’s hurt. She’s wounded. She’s been through a lot and, ultimately, it’s my fault. I chose this for her when she had no choice. And here comes another obsession. I don’t deserve her kindness, her love. I don’t even deserve her “like.” I had no idea, though. Everything everyone told me was that this was what was best. But I feel guilty claiming that I am a victim, too. At least I had a chance, she never did. How do I make it better? How do I find forgiveness?

These are such deep thoughts and, no doubt, would be hard for anyone to process. I stay quiet. I can’t push too much because if I do and she decides to go away, it would be like giving her up all over again.

There’s no going back. What’s done is done. I can only hope for the future. But how do you dare hope for something so perfect? Just to be a part of her life would be like a piece of heaven. Do I dare hope for that? Am I setting expectations too high?

In my dreams we walk, we laugh, we hug. We tell each other all that needs to be said. We catch up on everything we’ve missed without each other all these years. I catch her up on all my quirks and she let’s me into her private world. We don’t judge each other or push too hard. We just walk. And it’s exquisite.