Rhonda Schwindt placed Peter as a newborn for adoption with Paula and Ed Kassig, who kept in touch with her over the years, she told Barbara Harrington of Indiana Public Media. Schwindt later married and had two children, Jana and Sam. When Peter turned 18, he asked to meet his first mother, and they were able to reunite within a day. Peter became a part of the Schwindt family and formed a close bond with Jana, 12, and Sam, 10.
After a stint in the army serving in the middle-east, Peter returned as an aid worker in Syria. At first the Schwindts heard little from him, but in the summer of 2013 he started communicating, They made plans to get together for Thanksgiving, but on October 1, 2013, Peter just disappeared--his Facebook page and his organization's website was gone. Around Christmas, Sam wrote to the Kassig's and asked about Peter. At the end of February, the Kassigs told the Schwindts that Peter had been taken. For the next six months, the Kassigs passed on information as they received it. Peter wrote one of the two letters he was allowed by his captors to his sister, Jana.
About a year after his capture, the Schwindts learned from Google alerts that ISIS had announced that Peter was its next target. At that point they heard nothing from the Kassig's. Rhonda doesn't say why she didn't hear from the Kassigs.
Peter was killed on November 16. The Schwindts had no communications from the government during the entire time of his capture. They were not invited to Washington to be included in strategy sessions. They were not allowed to participate in helping secure Peter's release. They have not been offered counseling or any other assistance. The government explained that was because they were not legally the next-of-kin.
But as Rhonda pointed out in the interview, family transcends the legal definition of family:
"I did sign away my legal rights. But that doesn't make us less of a family for Peter. And Jana and Sam didn't sign away any rights....And Peter wanted to be a member of our family, and Peter was a member of our family. Jana and Sam are his blood relatives....they are no less a brother and sister than any other brother and sister than I was to my own brothers."In his letter to his sister, Peter emphasized the importance of family:
"Family is undeniable the most important thing. If there is one thing I wish I appreciated more, focused on more, and missed the most is my family. When everything else is gone, family is all you have."
Although Peter's story ended tragically, there is a spark of joy for his first family in having the time with him that they did. Sadly, other first mothers do not even have this opportunity. They are forced on the sidelines by their lost child as is the case of Heidi Russo, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's first mother, and other first mothers whose children refuse them even a nodding acquaintance
The Schwindt's situation reminds me the plight of gay partners in the past when they were not allowed by hospital staff to visit their dying lover because they were not "family." In some cases, relatives of the deceased prohibiting them from even attending the funeral--and in movies much has been made of the cruelty of this omission. The government's rigid definition of family, particularly at a time of this tragedy, seems cruel and unusual and furthermore, unnecessary. Yes, it would have involved going outside of strict protocol to include Rhonda and Peter's siblings, but Peter's adoption and bond with his natural family and siblings should have triggered an ounce of compassion in someone to see that his situation--and the people waiting for him--called for greater inclusion. The Schwindts were family to Peter, as were the Kassigs, and that should have been good enough for Uncle Sam.--jane
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THANK YOU FOR ORDERING ANYTHING THOUGH THE PORTALS OF FMF.
Birthbond: Reunions Between Birthparents and Adoptees What Happens After
by Judith S. Gediman and Linda P. Brown
"In 36 interviews with women who relinquished their children to adoption, the authors present anecdotal documentation of what happens when birth mothers and their children meet. The case histories are bittersweet. For some, reunion provides enrichment and release from guilt; for others the event is wrenching, especially when it occurs in the adoptee's adult life. In considering the many facets of adoption--including the views of birth fathers, adoptive parents, grandparents--the authors of this helpful study allow us to hear voices and attitudes that could change future adoption practices in this country. --Publisher's Weekly. Co-author Brown, a first mother, was legislative director of American Adoption Congress at the time of publication in 1989; her co-author was her childhood friend who did not know of the daughter until many years of secrecy.
Although this book has been around for a while, its verities still stand: "It is probably impossible for those of use who are not adopted to fully appreciate what it means to know that the parents with whom you grew up, the people whose name you bear, are not your natural parents..The idea that we could just as easily have been someone else--a person with a different name, a different set of parents, in a home with different characteristics, different siblings, different traditions--is not an idea that most of us dwell upon because, in some fundamental way, we accept the fact that we are who we are...." --Page 45.
It would be a good holiday gift for someone adopted, or a first mother, in recognition of her status. Extremely helpful in helping mothers understand the roller coaster of emotions involved in reunion.