' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Putting the birth family first in adoption

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Putting the birth family first in adoption

As our regular readers know, my daughter Megan was adopted by a Mormon couple and is a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Her oldest child, Rachael is serving a Mormon mission in South America. Recently, I connected to the “Dear Elder” website which provides a mailing service for letters and packages to missionaries. “Dear Elder” sent me an email last week recruiting volunteers for Orphanage Support Service Organization (OSSO), “a nonprofit charitable organization that provides volunteer opportunities to serve … in over 10 orphanages in Ecuador for the purpose of providing them with various types of support…. Volunteers provide one-on-one nurturing to these disadvantaged children who might otherwise never realize their potential. “

Sounded good but my cynical nature took over. I checked out the OSSO website to see if the orphanages were really just a vehicle for proselytizing. Not so: “None of our projects or programs will be used to propagate religious or political ideas that are contrary to the wishes of the institutions in which we are working.”

Hmm, I thought, that’s good but maybe these orphanages are just staging areas for infants slated for adoption in the U.S. We at FMF have written about the rampant corruption in foreign adoptions, fueled in part by the desire of Americans to obtain infants without the annoyance of birthmothers.

OSSO’s office is in Rexburg, Idaho, where a branch of the Provo, Utah-based Mormon college, Brigham Young University is located. Idaho is, of course, also the home state of most of the wacky Baptists who tried to take 33 non-orphaned children out of Haiti.

As those in the adoption reform movement know, the LDS Church is sort of an institutiona non-gratis. The Church pressures single pregnant women to surrender their newborns to “Temple-Worthy” Mormon couples. LDS Family Services is a powerful opponent of legislation to allow adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.

I wrote to OSSO and asked about its role in adoption. I received this amazing letter from Rex Head, the OSSO contact in Idaho.
“Our goal is to try and do what is best for each child.

When we receive a new child the very first thing we do is to try and find out about her family of origin. We often spend a great deal of time and resources determining if her family of origin is able and willing to properly care for her. If they are not we then see what if anything can be done to help that family become able or willing to care for their child. …. Sometimes we are able to return the child to her family sometimes we are not. If we do, we follow up to make sure the situation remains safe and supportive of the child.

We do not believe that poverty alone should be the reason to seek adoption as an alternative. For example one of the children in our care has a loving mother but is not able to support him as he needs to be supported because he is severely handicapped and caring for him is a full time job and she is very poor. We have tried to employ her in our orphanage but her temperament is not appropriate to work with a large number of children. So we have helped her find other employment. The demands of her job are such that she just cannot care for him during the week so he is with us during the week where he gets therapy, medical attention, good food etc. On the weekend he goes home with his mom and sister.

It is our belief that even the best orphanage is not as good as a good permanent family, so for those who cannot be returned to their families and it looks like the family situation is not likely to change in a favorable direction, or their family is unknown, we do the paper work and legal work so that they can be considered for adoption. We do everything possible to place her inside the country with Ecuadorian adoptive parents. There are however many many more children available for adoption in Ecuador than there are families wanting to adopt so if there are not Ecuadorian families wanting to adopt international adoptive families are considered. In our orphanage we have 22 children, 20 of them have disabilities….

Although we don’t do them [adoptions] ourselves we do allow them to happen even encourage them when needed. I appreciate your concern, and I am very aware of the great injustices done in the name of international adoptions.... There are about 50,000 international adoptions each year. It is a big business where much money is spent to find the youngest cutest healthiest whitest babies and sell them to the highest bidder. Sorry if that sounds rather commercial that is what it is. In some countries it is a very profitable export crop….

Please see the other side of the coin. There are 5+ million children living in orphanages worldwide. Most of them are full of children who are not young enough, healthy enough or white enough to be considered export quality and so the mainstream adoption world never knocks on their door.…. Those children have a right to a family that loves them and if such a family can be found it should be a crime of the highest order to keep the child and family apart no matter where the family lives.”
I almost cried when I read this letter. I thanked Rex and sent off a small check. You can donate to OSSO through its website, www.orphanagesupport.org.


  1. Sounds like a great program. It's so refreshing to hear him talk about the needs of the child and the family coming first with adoption seen only as a last resort.

  2. Jane, I am quite frankly, surprised to read this!

    It certainly sounds as if they are doing their best to put the needs of the child first.

  3. Most children in orphanages aren't really orphans and have at least one living parent who visits them regularly. They are in the orphanage because their parents are poor and cannot feed them.

    Why not help 3rd world parents keep their children?

    Adoption is human trafficking, whether it is domestic or international adoption. Billions of dollars are exchanged yearly for the innocent lives of children, who without their permission are permanently separated from their parents.

  4. Dear Anon:
    We've covered this subject extensively in the past and said just what you have. This seemed to be an alternative to the all too frequent grab-and-go concept of adoption we have written about.

  5. Anon,

    Here's a paragraph from Rex's email which I didn't include which addresses the question of helping 3rd world parents keep their kids.

    "Sorry Jane if I sound a little preachy. I feel very strongly about this. OSSO’s job is not to try and solve the world’s problems that lead to children in orphanages, although that is an important job. Our job is not to reform the international adoption world. Our job is to do our very best to provide a good loving supportive environment for children who find themselves without parental support until we or someone can find them a loving family."

  6. Jane,

    I liked the rest, but the paragraph you added today, well, it is the same old crap in a different kind of wrapper. At least as far as I can tell.

  7. Kitta here:

    My eyes were opened to the reality of orphanages when I began legislative work in records access. I met a number of older Americans who had grown up in orphanages in the USA.

    These people told me that being an 'orphan" wasn't so bad. They were able to see their parents on weekends and even go with them on outings. If the parents' fortunes changed, the children were able to go home permanently.

    If not, when the children aged out, they still had their family. they could find their family because they had never lost them.

    I suspect orphanage care lost support because of the 'blank slate theory" and the demands of paps to adopt. Obviously, orphanages were not a lucrative business...and adoption made more money.

  8. I have two words in response to Kitta's comment.
    Joe Stack.

  9. Can you direct me to a resource for understanding reluctant birth mothers? I've seen a few posts on here but am wondering if there is another resource I should read? My husband has been trying to find his birth mother. The intermediary spoke to her yesterday after she finally called three weeks after getting the letter. She listened to his letter read to her over the phone and said she'd "think about it". It's just very, very difficult to understand that reluctance. But I'd like to understand it rather than be angry at her. The latter isn't very helpful to my husband. Any help would be appreciated. Oh and the intermediary is good. I don't think she's a bad one. Birth mother was 26 and a professional. She's now in her 70's. Baby was born in the late 60's. It just seems like all the stories you read are joyous stories of reunion. The birth father already rejected outright. This was an extra marital affair. Thank you for any help.

  10. Eliza,

    Here's a couple of posts on FMF I wrote about the difficulty I had in responding to my daughter when I learned she may have been searching for me. These may help your husband understand where his mother is coming from. Let us know if this is helpful to you and your husband.



  11. kitta here:

    to Eliza, there was a judge in my state who threatened the mothers in his court with prison if they ever searched/re-united with their children. He made it clear that they were to have no contact with their surrendered sons and daughters, ever.

    That judge is dead, but the confidential intermediaries have said that a number of 'found" mothers have refused their children, stating the judge's threats as their reasons.

    Don't know if this is the case with your husband's mother, but it could be. Some mothers were told things like this.

    Also, the extra-marital affair might figure into the reason, also.

  12. Orphanages are very uneven and when they are bad they are terrible. Stack grew up in the Milton Hershey orphanage, and there have been horrible pedophile and abuse scandals about the Christian Brothers orphanages and schools in Ireland and Canada, and about the boarding schools where First Nation and Native American kids were forcibly sent. Ditto for institutions in Australia for aborigines and kids deported from the UK.

    No doubt there are some that are decent, but institutional settings for children have a huge potential for abuse that has been sadly realized all too often. No, adoption is not the answer either for most of these kids, but let's not get too sanguine about orphanage life just because some contact with relatives is kept.

  13. Thank you for the links to the posts, Jane. They were helpful in giving me a little insight.

  14. Thank you Jane. Thank you so much. You are so honest and I think I can understand a little better. All I could think was she heard the letter and didn't like the sound of him. (And he's amazing so I couldn't grasp that thought). From what we know about her, in some ways she was a bit like you. She was 26 and a surgical nurse in a hospital. Birth father was a surgeon. He was married, she wasn't. He had a two year old child. He ended up divorced but still doesn't want his family to know. I have to admit that until yesterday, I never thought about her viewpoint. I just thought all birth moms sat around waiting for the wonderful day that their child came looking. Stupid. The CI said that the mom sounded extremely "anxious" throughout the call. She actually had her husband call and do most of the talking. And she told the CI she was "angry" when she first got the letter. That infuriated me, but now I have a little glimpse into why that would be. I do think that the CI is an impediment just because it's easy to say no under that system. I intend to pursue it if the CI is unsuccessful. But I have no idea how. I've found a search agency that is no find/no fee but the fee is 3500. Sigh. I have enough information that I should be able to find at least him but no luck yet. Thank you again. The internet is so strange. I just really needed to read that. I'm not happy, but I'm calmer. I feel bad for her, but I wish I could show him to her. He is so accepting and kind and basically incredible-even from an unbiased perspective. I just feel like it would change her mind. :(

  15. Eliza, I'm glad to have been of help. I think the CI may well be an impediment, no matter how capable she is. The birthmother may be very angry that a stranger knows her secret and is intruding into her life. Let me suggest the two of you try some other search avenues. If you or your husband join the American Adoption Congress (www.americanadoption congress.org) you can find information about free internet search sites and local search support groups in your area. The AAC is having a conference in March in Sacramento. I'd really encourage you and your husband to go to it if you havent' been involved in adoptee groups.

  16. MaryAnne, if I may pick a nit. The Milton Hershey home is one of the better orphanages you can find. It has more problems than it used to, but it's not really connected to the administration. Hershey's will was very clear about how it was to be run.

    They are strict, and all the kids have to work on the farm that's connected to the home. And I know some men who grew up there and didn't love it. But I think that has more to do with confusion and hurt over being sent away by their mothers after losing their fathers.

    I just wanted to clear that up.

  17. Maura,

    I have no personal knowledge of the Milton Hershey Home but was basing my comments on this article by a guy who grew up there with Stack quoted on O Solo Mama's blog


    No doubt different people have different recollections of their experiences there.

    I do not think all orphanages are bad or abusive, but the way they are set up the potential for abuse is always there. That's all.

  18. Please HELP. I am living in the same neighborhood as the infant twins I placed for adoption in December 2008. I have no communication with the babies/adoptive family. No pictures, nothing. I am a stones throw away from them and losing my mind. When I leave my home I see them in stroller on walks with adoptive mom. I do not feel this is normal and is killing me. I lived in my neighborhood 2 years before they did. I cannot move. This is my 15 y/o son's stability. We have gone thru enough because of the adoption. WHY WON'T THESE PEOPLE MOVE????? I have given them their world. Two beautiful healthy children, boy/girl. Please give me advice. This is too hard for me at this point!!I feel if I have to live in the neighborhood with them I want to be their mother.

  19. Dear Anon:
    If you send me your address here, I will answer you and it will not be posted.

    God, that is so painful what you describe. Can you talk to the parents?

    my heart hurts for you



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