Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

First Mother’s Day

May 7, 2010

Mommy, what was it like on the day I was born? Oh, Little One, the sun was shining and the flowers were in bloom! The world was crisp and new!

Mommy, what was it like on the day they told you I would never be normal? The clouds gathered, Little One, and blocked the sun from my tear-filled eyes. For awhile, I thought the sun would never shine again!

El Paso, Texas. Mother’s Day. The newborn baby would remain in the hospital for another two weeks while tests were done. The New Daddy was determined to not be like other daddies – anxious and worried — so he took the car and went to Juarez with friends. Defiant, The New Mother took a short-cut through the scrub desert, down the steep sides of a sandy arroyo and up the other side, to stand on the veranda of the Army hospital and peer through the nursery window at the tiny baby girl. The New Mother’s arms ached to hold the baby she had not yet touched – if you don’t count cradling with her insides for nine months of pregnancy!

How strange it must have been to be on the inside of the hospital, looking out at this chubby woman in a pink tent dress, her only dress that fit. It might have made someone uncomfortable to see the tears rolling down the cheeks of The New Mother, but no one offered a word of solace or advice. The New Mother peered in at the baby, sleeping with an IV needle in her freshly-shaved scalp, the needle pumping in medication to control the seizures that started shortly after delivery. Whenever the baby moved a smidgen, The New Mother tilted her head like any new parent, to glimpse a nose, an ear, and identify whose looks the baby inherited.

An hour was all the time allotted to The New Mother to observe her child on this Mother’s Day. Then, it was home again, through the sand, with grit accumulating between her toes in the pink, open-toed sandals that matched the tent dress.

Such emptiness. Such utter loneliness. The New Mother wailed her misery. She cried in anger and frustration. “IT’S NOT FAIR!” In self-loathing, the New Mother pulled scissors from her sewing basket. What would she do? Without looking in the mirror, she cocked her head sideways and whacked off her shoulder-length hair below her ears. More wails. Now what had she done!

A knock came at the door — the door with the ill-fitting frame inside the 18” thick adobe walls, where the wind let in the sand. The door made a scraping sound as The New Mother opened it. There on the threshold stood a wizened Old Crone – the only words to describe this hunched-over dark woman with a shawl over her head and shoulders. She spoke not a word of English, but consoled The New Mother in soft Spanish. The New Mother was at last soothed and relieved. Closing the door, saying adios to the only person who came forth to say she cared on this, her First Mother’s Day.

Review: “Reading Adoption” by Marianne Novy

January 30, 2009

This is a unique read, much out of “the usual” in adoption books. The author, as an adoptee, admits to having been sensitive along her educational journey to themes of abandonment, parental exchanges and orphans. But unlike other students exposed to the Greek plays, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Thackery and the Bronte novels — for Marianne Novy, the dark brooding stories of human foibles awakened knowledge of shared fate.  Ms. Novy has written a book that interweaves her professorial knowledge of literature with her personal story of search and reunion.  Her extensive exploration of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Tree and Pigs In Heaven gave me a glimmer of what it would have been like to have found someone to discuss these books when I read them — and longed for that discussion!

And to think, I was under the impression that adoption books started being written about thirty years ago!  I was wrong, as Ms. Novy points out.  The theme was all around me.  And that is her point.  Our view of adoption, of the roles the players “should” play, is unconsciously influenced by what we read, even if we don’t realize it.

Let this be a good ‘heads up’ for all of us educators in adoption (and we are all ‘educators in adoption’), to be aware of the subtle influences on all students!  A great read!  Thank you, Marianne Novy, for opening my eyes!

Beth Kozan, Phoenix, AZ

Brain Research cited on Discovery News . . .

January 3, 2009

Just in time for holiday visits to relatives, Jennifer Viegas published via Discovery News online a discussion of MRI research done on subjects while they were shown photos of relatives, strangers and morphed photos meant to look like the viewer. Findings were that a different part of the brain was stimulated when photos of relatives were viewed vs the part of the brain that is stimulated when strangers’ photos were viewed.

As someone looking at relationships through the lens of adoption, I wondered how such an experiment would turn out if the photos of ‘relatives’ were based on people not known to the viewer, in other words, is there a ‘recognition reflex’ — as some birth mothers swear to — that their babies recognized them, even though they had been separated for a significant time period. Hmmm. No answer, just a wondering on my part.

The article I read referred to the publication of this research in “the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience”. I couldn’t find it on first effort.

Fade out with these words from “Silent House” by the Dixie Chicks:

These walls have eyes
Rows of photographs
And faces like mine.
Who do we become
Without knowing where
We started from?

While Writing a Blog for Birth Parents . . .

November 21, 2008

. .

I learned this:   Not to announce what I will write on next!  I DID intend to write about Dear Birthmother, Kathleen Silber’s and Phyllis Speedin’s book that brought Open Adoption awareness to the field of adoption, but — although I have had many copies over the years that I’ve loaned out & given away — I couldn’t immediately put my hands on a copy.  I thought I should at least have it on hand to refer to.  So, that will come on another day, either when the library notifies me they have it “on hold” for me, or perhaps when I find my copy while looking for something else!

I’m having a grand time preparing my new book, a book for the families of birth parents, to help them understand some of the issues in adoption today, and how they can help their daughters and sons as they go through this unusual situation.  Because I am in the ‘gathering information stage’, I’m putting out a call to birth parents and to their friends and families, for feedback.  To Birth parents:  What helped you?  What would you have liked to hear from your friends and families?  What helps today, as Life goes on?  To families and friends:  What would have liked to know that it took awhile to learn or to realize?  What was scary when you first learned that your child / friend was planning an adotpion placement? 

For instance:  Over the years I’ve had mothers of birth mothers share privately that they are grieving the loss of their grandchild, but they were holding back because they didn’t want to influence the outcome.  I’ve also seen families withhold information from the older family members to protect everyone.  If you have first hand information in this routine, how has that worked out?  Is there an optimum time to tell others?  What are the factors that figure into this?

Who Is She?

October 14, 2008

I’ve been keeping statistics for the programs where I worked for thirty years.  Let me outline the statistics on birth mothers in these programs in Arizona.

Her age:  In those beginning days of my adoptions work, it was common for the woman who placed her baby to be as young as 15 or 16, but more frequently between 18 and 21.  The baby was usually her first born.  Today women who place their babies for adoption tend to be in their late 20s or in their 30s (confirmed by workers from other states whom I’ve spoken with at National conferences).  A few teens still make a placement plan as do a few women in their 40s, but more commonly she is a woman in her 20s or 30s who already had children, whether they were raising them or being raised within the birth family. 

Her marital status:  Though most are single, about 10% are married; about 2% are divorced.

Ethnicity:  When I started working as a pregnancy counselor in Tucson in 1979, my supervisor, who handled the adoption side of the agency, explained we needed Hispanic and Black families as prospective adoptive families because pregnancy clients who were Caucasian whose baby was bi-racial (the baby’s fathers were Hispanic or Black) would place, but pregnancy clients who were themselves Hispanic or Black did not place.  That was pretty much the case (with some exceptions) for the early 80s, but things changed, including the politically correct terminology.  These days the ethnicity of the birth mothers tend to reflect the makeup of the community.  In Phoenix that has meant that the birth mothers for the last few years have been about 55% Caucasian, 40% Hispanic, 2% African American and 3% Native American.  In our State we seldom see Asian birth mothers, unless they were themselves adopted.

Reasons for adoption:  In fact, familiarity with adoption is one of the reasons cited by women who carry through their adoption plan.  If she is adopted, or if she has an adopted sibling or if one of her parents or grandparents is adopted, she has seen first hand the benefits for a child, and she may consider adoption even if her peers do not. 

In recent years as high as 17% of the placements have been from drop-in birth mothers.  It is preferable, from the agency standpoint, for a pregnancy client to come to the agency by the sixth month of her pregnancy. 

Birth Fathers:  Having a few months before delivery gives the pregnancy counselor time to work with her client to contact the father of the baby, for in almost every state, it is necessary for him to be made aware of his rights.  It’s sad but true that adoption is the only one of her options where a pregnant woman must notify the father of the baby about the pregnancy and her decision.  She can terminate the pregnancy without his knowledge; she can even parent the child without telling him of the pregnancy — but if adoption is the plan, he must be notified and given an opportunity to participate in the plan for the child’s future.  In Arizona, he has thirty days after the notification in which to step forward and file a petition for paternity if he wants to halt an adoption plan for his child. 

Moms don’t always like to hear this.  They may say, “He left me!  He doesn’t deserve to be involved in this child’s life!”  The goal of the pregnancy counselor is to gently shift the focus to the child.  Making the adoption plan safe by having his rights dealt with prior to the delivery is much preferred to waiting for his notification to take place after the baby is born.  Under Arizona law, if she doesn’t know how to find him, the agency must show the Court they made ‘due diligence’ to find him, which may mean hiring a private detective to locate him.  If he cannot be found, then publication of the notice — which has her name and address in it — must appear in a newspaper. 

Seeing the adoption from the child’s side also helps her understand the benefits to the child of the father’s involvement, even if it is minimal.  The child will grow up with medical histories from both sides of his family, as well as a social history.  One adoptive mom wrote a letter to the previously uninvolved birth father requesting information.  She wrote, “We’d like to know if we have the potential for a budding musician or a little Jay Leno that we can help to develop to his potential.” 

I’ll expand on the role of the birth father in subsequent posts.  The next post, however, will review Dear Birthmother by Kathleen Silber and Phyllis Speedlin.  This classic, first published in 1982, introduced the idea of open adoption.

(If I failed to adequately explain something, or used terminology that is unfamiliar, please write a comment, and I’ll address those issues.)

Beth Kozan, Phoenix, AZ

Bibliotherapy in the World of Adoption

October 10, 2008

It is my intent to blog about adoption from the viewpoint of the adoption professional.  After almost 30 years in infant adoptions, mostly in Arizona,  I have observed many changes in the adoption community.  The bulk of my experience has been in working with birth parents: women and their partners who have placed infants and toddlers for adoption through private adoption agencies. 

When I began to work in adoption in 1979 in Tucson, I realized it was a field in which I was not well versed.  There are no ‘adoption classes’ taught in any formal learning environments, i.e., grad schools of social work or counseling.  Many people who come to adoption as a profession are participants: people who have adopted a child or adopted persons all grown up, who have a desire to help others in a field close to their hearts.  Fewer professionals are birth parents because it is still hard to admit one’s role as birth parent; therefore many birth parents are still ‘in the closet.”  However, the movement toward open adoption has brought the cleanser of sunshine to adoption, and with it, a lessening of the stigma of being a birth parent. 

So in 1979 I went to the Tucson library to check out books on adoption; there were three:  Orphan Voyage, The Adoption Triangle and Shared Fate.  Today, there are LOTS of books on adoption.  Most of them are written to the audience of adoptive parents (how-to books, mostly) and adoptees (picture books for children to help them understand adoption, and search-for-self for adult adoptees who wonder about searching for the original parents who are by-and-large unknown to them).  Fewer books are available for birth parents.  That is the area that I intend to address, over the next few months, in this blog.   But first, a little more about how I got here.

Orphan Voyage  was written in the 1950s.  The author, (as I recall; this book is out of print now) was the wife of an adoptee who wanted to talk to other adoptees, but in the fifties adoption was a shameful topic seldom discussed.  The author put ads in big city newspapers inviting contact from individuals who were adopted, to tell their stories of growing up adopted.  Many people had not been told they were adopted and only learned after the death of their parents, or were told but in a negative way and cautioned by their parents to keep it a secret.  Adoptees who had told their friends were ridiculed and socially exiled.  I experienced a flash back to a childhood memory. 

Two new kids who rode the school bus from our country community were living with their grandmother because their daddy, a soldier, had been sent overseas and their mother had to work full time.  Diana was my age; we were in the same second grade classroom.  Her brother Donnie was in first grade.  One day I overheard my mother exclaiming to my dad that an older ‘busybody’ neighbor had cornered Diana and asked her if her grandmother with whom she lived ‘treated her the same as her brother.’  She wondered because, after all, her daddy (the grandmother’s son) wasn’t really her daddy, like he was the daddy of her brother, and she was just wondering if her dad and his mother treated her as if she was loved the same way that Donnie was loved.  Diana’s grandmother had been in tears as she told my mother what the busybody had said: that Diana was adopted and this raised the question of ‘equal love.’

The Adoption Triangle was written in 1961 and is a ground-breaking and still-revered book about adoption.  Written by Reuben Panner and Annette Baran, two social workers from Vista del Mar, an adoption agency in the Los Angeles area, brought to the fore the issue of sealed records and the adoptee’s right to information about who they are and where they come from.  That edition that I checked out of the library identified Arizona as an “open records state” which meant that the original birth certificate was available to an adoptee when he/she reached majority.  I hadn’t worked in adoptions long, but I knew that Arizona was no longer (by 1979) an open records state.  What I learned was that the law had been changed and applied retroactively, because in just a few years we started getting calls from adoptive parents who had been telling their children “when you turn 18 we’ll get your original birth certificate and we’ll find her to get answers to your questions.”  These adoptive parents felt they had been lied to, and passed that lie on to their children because the lawmakers closed the records that they felt their children had a right to.

Shared Fate by H David Kirk read as if it was a doctoral dissertation (perhaps it was) written by an adoptive father who worked to help his children and other adoptees and adoptive parents to see their lives as interwoven, with the suggestion that the adoptive parent should help the adoptee understand Self.  He went on to write other books on adoption. 

It is my belief that people learn a lot from books, and that the current market of self-published and small press books have brought an awareness of adoption issues.  However, unlike when there were fewer books, it’s seldom these days that a book on adoption is advertised.  There are websites like Tapestry Books and Perspectives Press and EMK Press that showcase books in this niche market.  In each upcoming blog I will discuss books on adoption. 

I welcome your feedback and comments.

Beth Kozan – Phoenix, AZ