Linda’s, Lorraine’s, and my posts about their relationships with their daughters’ adoptive parents remind us once again how poorly informed many people are when they plan to adopt. Prospective adoptive parents can find help on the internet, in books, and from adoption agencies on composing a letter to convince a pregnant woman to select them as parents for their babies. Here’s a letter we’d like to see adoption agencies give people who hope to adopt.
Dear Prospective Adoptive Parent,
Recently a friend told me that her brother’s 25 year old adopted daughter moved in with her birthfather and his family and changed her name back to her original name. “How could this happen?” my friend asked.
It happened because the birth family remains a presence in an adopted child’s life. You may not want to think or talk about her once you have a child, but as soon as your child comes of the age of reason, he will be thinking about her.
Trying to keep an adoption “closed” and not talking about this reality in your child’s life will not prevent a reunion but it will close off a line of communication and may, in fact, be a source of resentment, estranging you from your child.
Some prospective adoptive parents decide to adopt internationally in order to create obstacles to a reunion; even great distance, however, cannot obliterate the desire to know one’s roots. International adoptees search for their first families just as those adopted domestically do, even though the odds of success are long.
However, because there is so much corruption in international adoptions today (Abuses in International Adoption: The Lie We Love and Babies Confiscated in China and Sold As Orphans) we cannot recommend this as a course of action you can embark upon with a clear conscience. Your chances of having a “clean” international adoption are markedly higher if you use an agency which retains information about birth families so that you can develop a relationship with your child’s birth parents thorough emails and letters and if possible, visits. If a relationship with a woman thousands of miles away is emotionally difficult, you should reconsider your decision to adopt.
In explaining adoption to your child, don’t tell him that his mother “loved him so much, she gave him away” or that he was a “gift.” Only an idiot would accept the logic that mothers give away their children because they “love” them or that he was “gift” to his adoptive parents, the kind that Santa brings. Mothers surrender their children because of poverty, illness, fear, lack of family support, shame, and uncertainty about motherhood. Open adoption allows your child’s birthmother to tell him why she could not raise him.
Keep in mind that no matter how far away the birthmother is, your child is also a presence in his birthmother’s life, and will always be so, in one way or another. My surrendered daughter, Rebecca, said that when she was growing up, her adoptive mother told her that I probably never thought of her. She then asked her father, a physician, who had delivered many babies if any of his patients who gave up children for adoption talked about it when they later came into the office. She told him what her mother said. He said "Of course your natural mother thinks about you. Every November 17th [Rebecca's birthday] she thinks about you all day long." He was right.
Keep in mind that even if your child decides not to search for his birth family, he may still reunite with them. Birthmother searches are becoming more common as women shed the cloak of shame.
Finally, don’t blame “bad genes” or prenatal deprivation if your child misbehaves. While these may play a part, adoption, particularly closed adoption, also plays a role. Your child may be stressed because his talents, interests, and personality do not match the rest of the family. Yes, nurture does play a part in who a person becomes, but be accepting of your child’s nature, and that the likelihood he or she will be like you is not greater than random chance. The research indicates that if he or she is like his or her adoptive parents, it’s because the adoptive parents also share inherited traits similar to the adoptee’s biological parents.
Blaming bad genes will damage your child’s self-esteem and make it harder for him to do better if he believes he is hard-wired to fail. Some adoptive parents, particularly those who adopt because of infertility, may unexpectedly find that when their child reaches puberty and is attracted to the opposite sex, that they fear their child may repeat history, and subtly suggest this to her or him, further implanting the “bad seed” idea.
As you explore adoption, prepare for what happens after your child arrives. Adoptee Sherrie Eldridge’s Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew is a good starting place. A more detailed book to guide you through the years and help you understand the adopted person’s psychology is Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self. One of the authors, David M. Brodzinsky, PhD., is an adoptive parent; another, Marshall Schechter, MD, was married to an adoptee.
Read the excellent memoirs by adoptees B. J. Lifton (Lost and Found) and Jean Strauss (Beneath a Tall Tree). For those considering adopting from abroad, The Language of Blood by Korean-born Jane Jeong Trenka and Outer Search/Inner Journey by German-born Peter Dodds are especially helpful.
Learn what adoption means to the woman who bore the child from the memoirs of those who live it: Lorraine Dusky (Birthmark), Margaret Moorman (Waiting to Forget), and Carol Schaefer (The Other Mother).
After you and your baby have settled in as a family, attend meetings of local adoption support groups. The American Adoption Congress has a list of organizations on its website as well as a list of other helpful books. The AAC also holds excellent conferences each year where adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees can learn from each other.