Archive for December, 2008

The Importance of “Dear Birthmother”

December 6, 2008

Several weeks ago I said my next post would contain a review of Dear Birthmother.  Then I  had to confess that I couldn’t find the book, as I had loaned it out and like many books, it found a new home.  Next I reserved it — twice — at the library.  Nothing happened.  I finally asked for it at the library’s website and was told they didn’t have it; their copy(ies) found a new home, too, I’ll wager!

So today, I finally got a copy I’d ordered through Amazon.com.  Their ‘new and used books’ feature is a good way to find niche books (and adoption books aren’t mainstream enough to be at every local or chain bookstore) at reasonable prices. 

Dear Birthmother contained the first written words I read about openness in adoption.  As such, it validated the baby steps we were taking at our agency in the early 1980s:  letting the pregnancy client read profiles of a few of our waiting families and having her choose the family for her baby.  Encouraging her to write a letter to the family within the first six weeks or so after the placement.  Cautiously sharing letters and photos of the baby with the birthfamily.  We were parallel in practice with the actions spoken of in this book, as were many other agencies in the mid 1980’s.  Published in 1982, the authors, Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin, an adoption worker and an adoptive mother respectively, identified four myths that affected adoption in those days (and still do, today):

1.  The birthmother obviously doesn’t care about her child or she wouldn’t have given him away.

2.  Secrecy in every phase of the adoption process is necessary to protect all parties.

3.  Both the birthmother and the birthfather will forget about their unwanted child.

4.  If the adoptee really loved his adoptive parents, he would not have to search for his birthparents.

(Ouch!  The language of these myths feels harsh, and it is also — still — the language of the outside world!) 

The method used to expose these myths, and to explode them, is the presentation of letters from birthmothers and birthfathers to adoptive parents and to their children, and letters from adoptive parents back to the birthparents.  Tonight, 25 years since I first read them, I can’t get through that first chapter without a tear or two slipping out.   The love expressed by the birthparents is healthy, and it rings true.  The respect that is returned to the birthparents through the letters from the new adoptive parents is genuine.

The authors go on to discuss the preparation process for the family who adopts — dealing with the pain of infertility, loss, the feeling of being scrutinized during the home study, the opportunity for education.   This is followed by a chapter on preparing the birthmothers and birthfathers for their loss issues, while recognizing their right to be proud of the child they have birthed and the life they have chosen for him/her.  There evolves a new definition of adoption:  Adoption is the process of accepting the responsibiity of raising an individual who has two sets of parents.

Open adoption has evolved beyond this beginning, and it is still evolving.  The example of respect, love and caring for each other, rather than seeing these two sides of adoption as “opposing sides” is one that serves adoption well.  It is preparation for nurturing all of the adopted person.  I’ve also ordered “Children of Open Adoption” and will report on it when appropriate (see, I’m not boxing myself into a process here).

Just another note:  Yesterday I started reading The Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging.  Now, in addition to OJT, I’m learning from a manual!  Yay!

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

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Search & Reunion – Doing The Right Thing

December 4, 2008

As guest speaker this week for a group of Confidential Intermediaries through Arizona’s CI Program, I spoke on:  “Engaging the Agency in A Search.”  Arizona’s Confidential Intermediaries are trained by and certified by Arizona’s Supreme Court to do searches for adult adoptees seeking birth family contact and birth parents seeking contact with their now-grown children who were placed for adoption in Arizona.  One central point I made was that, although a CI can get enough identifying information through the Court that they can complete a search without visiting the agency, if there was an agency involved, they should contact the agency as part of the search.  There may have been contact through the agency after placement, and the file may contain updated information that can aide in the search.  Or there may be letters in the file that should be given to the party being searched for.  Here’s how I ended my presentation:

 I’ll end with a story of a search case that Barb worked on.  (Some of you know that Barb was the administrative assistant at Catholic Charities for three years, an adoptee who became a CI and handled the communication log for the agency.)  It was a case that she wasn’t obliged to search for but it was The Right Thing to do.   

Barb received a letter from birth grandparents whose daughter had placed an infant through Catholic Social Services almost twenty years earlier.  These out-of-state parents had sent their young adult daughter to work in Phoenix, she got pregnant, didn’t tell her parents and placed the child for adoption through Catholic Social Service.  Several years later, the mother’s younger brother was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that the parents suspected their daughter also had.  As the family discussed who needed to be told about this genetically linked condition, their daughter tearfully admitted that she had placed a child, her parents’ first granddaughter, for adoption.  After learning about this child (who was at that time aged seven) the birth grandparents began a respectful letter writing campaign to the agency, sending a birthday card every year to their unknown granddaughter, to be placed in her file.  Now, the birth grandparents had retired, moved to the Valley, their granddaughter was ‘of age’ and could be contacted.  They had two questions:  Had their years of letters been shared with the adoptive family, and could the agency help them find their granddaughter?  When Barb pulled the birth mother’s file, bulging with birthday cards, she realized that while the baby was in temporary care with CSS, the baby had shown dysmorphic features, displayed a seizure disorder and, after being in a CSS receiving home for months awaiting approval for placement, had finally been placed with Arizona’s public agency, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), because CSS could not find a family for the child.  There was no evidence of correspondence in the file to these grandparents recognizing their plight or giving them any news of their granddaughter. 

 

Barb, a grandmother herself, wanted to reach out to them.  She came to me as her supervisor to ask if we could look for this child, now an adult, to let her know of her birth family’s love and concern?  Unfortunately the agency’s file only covered the child through the time of legal transfer to DES; we didn’t have the name of the family who took her.  We couldn’t tell from the agency’s file what the fate of the child had been.  Was she adopted? Raised as a foster child?  Did she  survive to adulthood? 

 

After hearing back from DES  that their file couldn’t be located without more detaild information, we searched through our file again.  The last item was a court order transferring custody from CSS to DES.  On the side of the order were the names of the individuals who were to receive a copy of the order. Along with names we did know, there was a name we didn’t recognize. In the case notes, a potential foster mother was discussed without naming her, just that she was a special education teacher and she and her husband were open to many different situations.  Following this hunch, Barb asked the Private Investigator who did some work for us to see if he would help look for this person.  Bingo.  Within an hour he called back with the news that this was the special ed teacher, also the adoptive mom, and he had a phone number.  Barb called this woman, discussed the situation, got written releases from everyone and then gave out phone numbers. 

A few weeks later on a Friday I was notified that there was someone in the lobby asking for Barb; Barb didn’t work Fridays.  I went downstairs to explain why Barb wasn’t there.  The visitors were the birth grandparents, who had come to say Thank You to Barb with a box of See’s Candy.  We sat and chatted about what it had meant for them to meet their granddaughter, a child with a more severe version of the family malady, but who is living an independent life thanks to the support and encouragement of her adoptive parents.  They were ever so grateful to the family who adopted their grandchild, and to Barb for going out of her way to help them find her.  At a meeting on the previous weekend, they had taken pictures of their daughter, their granddaughter, and the adoptive parents, and they promised to email a copy to Barb.  Receiving the photos let Barb know that she had done The Right Thing.  And the chocolate helped, too.