Archive for the ‘unplanned pregnancy’ Category

Where Are You From? or How I Chose Adoption as Career

November 18, 2011

I went to a writing workshop last week.  The topic was “Where are you from?”  I wrote that I am from the flat West Texas plains; I am from the salt of the earth, and I carry the saltiness of rebellion; that I come from listening audiences and the spotlight of a stage. And it went on (3 or 4 handwritten pages) from childhood to adulthood, ending with I am from the longing of parents who cannot make a baby and I am also from the loss of women who find themselves pregnant with a child they cannot keep, as well as from the seeking of roots by children who want to know their origins.

When I started to sketch out how I wanted to illustrate this ‘place’ from whence I come, I drew a flat horizon line, with rows of irrigated crops in one-point perspective. My intent was to add clouds to the sky and give them a silver lining. Then I picked up a Phoenix Garden magazine and immediately found a photograph of some fields near Casa Grande with reflected sky in rows of irrigation — at the EXACT ANGLE AND SCALE I had sketched.  There were other photos that I wove in:  a magician, plants, and in a segment at the back called “options for infertility” that was illustrated with newborn baby’s feet cradled in an adult hand. Pink feet became clouds in the sky and strings of silver sequins were the silver lining.

In the same magazine there was also an interview with local Radio Personality Beth McDonald of Beth and Bill, about continuing her program [now known as Beth & Friends] after Bill’s death from cancer. One of the interviewer’s questions was printed: “Death can remind us of our need to live.  What things do you still want to accomplish?” So I cut that out and placed it on the page because I, too, had a Bill in my life whose passing made me know I need to write and distribute my books on adoption. This is now in a journal book that will become part of a project for the Scottsdale Arts.

Blog for Choice

January 23, 2010

In my thirty years as a pregnancy counselor at adoption agencies, I met many women who had been forced (by social convention, by family members, by partners) to place their babies for adoption. Because of their stories, I developed a renewed support for keeping abortion a legal option for women.

Before Roe V Wade came along there were maternity homes, and a general attitude of forget-this-happened-you’ll-have-other-babies-who-will-take-his-place. (For a great read about those days, see The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. )

My own interactions with birth mothers from the years before Roe V Wade:

1. One day in about 1981, a hesitant voice on the phone said: “Ten years ago I gave up a baby for adoption through this agency . . .” When she didn’t continue I said, “Yes, how can I help you?” “You mean you’re going to talk to me? I expected you to slam the phone down!” Tears of relief flowed as she realized she was going to be listened to.

2. A woman who called from Florida on her child’s 21st birthday, said that she didn’t know if she’d had a boy or a girl, so she and her family always spoke of “the baby.” “It feels weird to say ‘The Baby’ turns 21 today,” she said. I asked her if she would like to know the first name of that baby, and she was amazed that I offered to tell her. I took her phone number, looked up the information and called her back to let her know it was Linda who turned 21 that day. “You don’t know what a gift you’ve given me!” she said.

3. About six years later a woman called and said that fourteen years earlier she had placed a baby for adoption through the agency. The day she signed papers, when he was only three days old, her worker told her they didn’t have a family for her baby because he was mixed race. “I’ve never forgotten him and I have worked hard to better myself, and if my child is still in foster care, I could take him back now.” I was startled; for one thing, it wouldn’t be that easy, but I wanted to give her some information. I took her phone number and went to the files. Her baby had been placed in a loving adoptive home the next day after she signed relinquishments, but no one had told her this. I called and apologized profusely for the lack of courtesy that she had been subjected to. “I thank you for letting me know that he has a good home,” came her response. I invited the birth mother to write a letter to be placed in the file in case her child contacted the agency. I don’t know if she did, or if he did, but I hope so.

As soon as Roe v Wade was announced in January of 1973, the adoption rate dropped dramatically. If they opted not to terminate the pregnancy but to give their child life, these pregnant women were faced with another decision: whether to raise the child or to make an adoption plan. None of their options was easy to take, but being in control of their lives and their bodies, made a difference to their psyche. They had an active role: to choose their outcome. And having the power to make the choice made all the difference in the world about their feelings when they chose adoption!

And that’s why I don’t want to return to the days when abortion was an illegal and criminal act and adoption felt like a punishment to mother and child.

Informed Consent: Ignorance vs. Alternatives

January 14, 2010

Recently a co-trainer in adoption education mentioned that at a recent training she encountered participants who said that merely mentioning adoption to a pregnant person was trying to ‘sell it.’
I’m of the opinion that all options should be discussed so that the person facing the choice has a clear understanding of the options.

In the 1980s the Reagan Administration instituted a ‘gag order’ that declared health care workers at pregnancy clinics receiving government funds were absolutely prohibited from discussing abortion with a pregnant patient, even if she asked about terminating her pregnancy. In an op-ed piece at the time, the writer said that by not mentioning any option, there was an implied negativity associated with that option. If it’s so bad that you can’t even say the word, then there must be something wrong with abortion even if it was her legal right to know about terminating her pregnancy, the writer said.

Something clicked inside me. As a pregnancy counselor at the time, I had pondered how rarely the word adoption was mentioned by health care people, while abortion was frequently offered as a solution to an unplanned pregnancy. By mentioning ONLY abortion as an alternative to carrying out the pregnancy, it was implied that abortion was the preferable choice.

Once there is an unplanned pregnancy, there are no outcomes without heavy residuals: Abortion, often a secret to the outside world, still weighs heavily on the person who experiences it, just as adoption may, particularly because it is harder to hide adoption than it is to hide abortion. Even parenting as a choice has its drawbacks, like the pain felt by the mother who cannot provide an active and loving father for her child. In my opinion, knowledge of all her options is the best approach to counseling a woman facing this difficult turning point in her life and the life of her child.

Exploring A New E-Book @ Tapestry

February 27, 2009

Tapestry Books sent out an announcement that they have an e-book, “A Birth Mother Perspective on Open Adoption” available on its website.   Actually, it is a Two-in-one of first person accounts by birth mothers Patricia Dischler and Melissa Nilsen.  It’s good to for an adoption-focused site to give space to birth mothers, the often silent side of adoption. For a limited time, this is downloadable for free. Take advantage of the offer and connect to these two articulate women and their personal stories.   Included are links to each author’s blogs.  Take a look.

Review: “Odyssey of an Unknown Father” by David Archuletta

February 4, 2009

Don’t be taken in by the tease on the back cover: “This book will teach you [prospective adoptive parent] what to look for to spot fraud or unethical maneuvers in the adoption process and to avoid this terrible scenario when you welcome a child into your home.” Sadly, it doesn’t follow through on that promise.
What it is: This is David Archuletta’s personal story as an alleged father whose former partner committed perjury by signing an Unknown Father Affidavit [in New Jersey] in spite of his having been somewhat involved in the pregnancy until she left her Colorado home to do an adoption — but the reader has to make it through a third of the book to learn that. Convoluted sentences, mis-matched syntax, sarcastic comments that don’t relate to the material — it’s difficult to find the meat.
Mr. Archuletta has two important messages to deliver: don’t assume that adoption is the best solution to every unwed pregnancy, and the baby’s father has important information to share, including (in his case) potentially dire medical history. Mr. Archuletta should not have been left out of this important decision for his child. Whether his involvement might have meant a different outcome or not, his rights were discounted.
Mr. Archuletta’s story should be a reminder to adoption agency workers and adoption attorneys why a best services practitioner should refuse to do an adoption when a pregnant client refuses to identify the father. To do less is to risk loss of licensure.
HOWEVER, this is one of those books that takes one situation and generalizes it to all adoptions. It well may be that Mr. Archuletta’s real intent was to scare prospective adoptive couples away from adoption all together. If that’s the goal, he may have succeeded, but not in the way he planned.
You know that saying in legal circles that “The person who serves as his own attorney has a fool for a client”? Well, meet the book publishing version: “The self-publishing author who acts as his own editor shows himself as a fool.” By the tedious end of this book, the author comes off as a wigged-out psychopath on a rant against his own personal injustice. Where I once had a modicum of sympathy for his cause, he’s done his cause a disservice by going on and on and on and on. David, get an editor!
Beth Kozan, Phoenix

Reviewing: “Without a Map, a Memoir” by Meredith Hall

January 13, 2009

The year was 1965; the place was a small town in New Hampshire. A 16 year old high school student with plans to go to college finds herself pregnant after a brief summer liaison. The ensuing unraveling of her life begins with the admission to school staff that indeed, she is pregnant. The swift reaction of her parents, her family, her church, her community is unexpected. She finds herself shunned, sent away and given no option but adoption for her baby. A casualty of “pretend it never happened,” Meredith Hall spent the next 21 years a lost and wandering soul. Although she never uses the word “forgiveness,”  she does recount the years of rebuilding her life. 

This intense memoir tells in poignant prose the extent to which an erasure of those nine months of her life affected who she became. And who she became is a strong female writer, a voice of that era caught in the cusp of social transition. It’s as if one of Anne Fessler’s interviewees in “The Girls Who Went Away” published in 2007 stepped out of the book to tell her personal story.

Halfway through reading this book, I did the math. Meredith Hall was 16 in 1965; so was my little sister, who also got pregnant that year.

My parents — with Sis in tow — appeared unannounced at the office to take me to lunch. Overjoyed to see them, but wary because they had never driven 50 miles to meet me for lunch, I drove the family car off the lot of the business where I worked as a secretary. In the backseat, my mother burst into tears. “Your sister has to get married.” “Be careful,” said my dad, “she’s driving.” (Like I couldn’t see this coming, I thought to myself.) My sister piped up: “But we wanted to get married anyway. This way, we just hurried it up a little.”

My mother was mortified. Raised on ‘what will people think,’ a generation of girls had come to put our parents’ reputation first — their standing in the community. “What must her mother think” my mother would say every time another peer got married and had an eight pound premature baby less than nine months later. “Her Mother!” I would silently think to myself. “What about HER!”

It’s hard to remember the binding morality of those days. Teenagers today hardly believe those seering days of control by image, although as I did private interviews of prospective adoptive parents through the years I would hear them say, “I never misbehaved. I wouldn’t have dared to; it would have killed my mother!”

So, are we better off as a society without that crushing burden of protecting our families’ reputation? Is the trend of pride about being a parent at 16, at 15, even younger — a healthier attitude? What about the fatherless boys and girls growing up wondering what they did to drive away an absent parent?  When I started doing pregnancy counseling in 1979, in my mind the student had four options: marriage, abortion, adoption, single parenthood. “I’m too young to get married,” my startled students would say, realizing the magnitude of sustaining a relationship over the years. Why didn’t they also think, “I’m too young to be a parent”? But they didn’t. These young women would blythly step into parenthood, more often than not to be disappointed by the friends who promised to ‘help’ them. I began to suggest to my clients: Ask them How will they help? Will they provide a ride to the 24 hr pharmacy to pick up ear-ache medicine at 3 AM? Will they buy formula for your baby? Will they provide diapers? Shoes?

The teen pregnancy recidivism rate is high; I pressed onward, informing the students of their options. Maybe in a few years one would say to me, “I remember you. You came to my school with a panel of teens who had placed their babies for adoption. I didn’t want to listen to you then.” And she would drop her eyes to her hands in her lap and say, “I never thought I would be where I am today.” She would explain how deserted and alone she felt with the decision of what to do with a second, a third or a later baby. All their ‘helpers’ were going on with their lives; had new boyfriends, were going away to school — these young women had learned that ‘helping’ meant ‘come and talk to me when you’re blue.’

The decision of adoption is still a lonely path. Getting to know other women who have made the same choice somewhat eases the pain, but it’s still an isolating event. In my new career as counselor to people with adoption-related issues, I listen as women in their 30s, 40s and even older — recall the baby they never met. As they prepare to search, as they wonder if they have the audacity to interrupt a life they said goodbye to years ago, I encourage them to open the door and seek the child, now grown. I have a new quote for them, from Meredith Hall:  “He looked for me.  I didn’t realize I should have been the one looking for him. He needed to know I loved him at least that much!”

And onward we travel that path, finding a few friends along the way to share the journey.

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?

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.

One Good Reason to Keep Roe v Wade

November 21, 2008

As an adoption worker who worked as a pregnancy counselor with women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, I have a strong opinion about keeping abortion a legal option for women.

Because two of the agencies where I worked have been in business for many, many years — including those days of secrecy in adoption before the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s — I also got to know birth mothers from the days of maternity homes and forget-this-happened-you’ll-have-other-babies-who-will-take-his-place.  (For a great read about those days, see The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the DecadesBefore Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. )

My own interactions with birth mothers from that era include:

1.  One day in about 1981, a hesitant voice on the phone said:  “Ten years ago I gave up a baby for adoption through this agency . . .”  When she didn’t continue I said, “Yes, how can I help you?”  “You mean you’re going to talk to me?  I expected you to slam the phone down!”  Tears of relief flowed as she realized she was going to be listened to. 

2.  A woman who called from Florida on her child’s 21st birthday, said that she didn’t know if she’d had a boy or a girl, so she and her family always spoke of “the baby.”  “It feels weird to say ‘The Baby’ turns 21 today,” she said.  I asked her if she would like to know the first name of that baby, and she was amazed that I offered to tell her.  I took her phone number, looked up the information and called her back to let her know it was Linda who turned 21 that day.  “You don’t know what a gift you’ve given me!” she said.
3.  About six years later a woman called and said that fourteen years earlier she had placed a baby for adoption through the agency.  The day she signed papers, when he was only three days old, her worker told her they didn’t have a family for her baby because he was mixed race.  “I’ve never forgotten him and I have worked hard to better myself, and if my child is still in foster care, I could take him back now.”  I was startled; for one thing, it wouldn’t be that easy, but I wanted to give her some information.  I took her phone number and went to the files.  Her baby had been placed in a loving adoptive home the next day after she signed relinquishments, but no one had told her this.  I called and apologized profusely for the lack of courtesy that she had been subjected to.  “I thank you for letting me know that he has a good home,” came her response.  I invited the birth mother to write a letter to be placed in the file in case her child contacted the agency.  I don’t know if she did, or if he did, but I hope so.

We started a Birth Parent Support Group in 1983.  As these older birth moms called, I invited them to attend.  A few came once or twice, but it was a poor fit for them.  Their grief was not alleviated by the positive descriptions they heard from women of current times who had choices.  Unmarried women in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s felt they had no choice; society made the choice for them, and that choice was adoption.  Because they were unwed, they would be ostracized if they kept their babies.  And abortion in those days meant a trip out of the country or to a back alley in a seedy part of town.

As soon as Roe v Wade was announced in January of 1973, there was a new element of choice in the equation.  If they opted not to terminate the pregnancy, they were making a choice to give their baby life.  Then they could also choose to parent or to release for adoption.  None of these options were easy to take, but being in control of their lives and their bodies, made a difference in their world and to their psyche. 

We’ve learned a lot since 1973, and the sudden swing from adoption to not-adoption —  did they parent?  did they get married to keep the baby?  did they abort?  — we don’t know for sure, but they had a choice.

And that’s why I don’t want to return to the days when abortion was illegal and a criminal act.

Beth Kozan, Phoenix, Arizona

Surely some one out there wants to Talk Me Down.  Bring it on. 

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?