' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: When "Adoption" Can't Be the Problem...But It Is

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When "Adoption" Can't Be the Problem...But It Is

Sometime ago, I played duplicate bridge every week with an older woman, Nellie. Over the course of several years, my bridge partner told me about her daughter, Denise, who with her sixty-year-old husband, had adopted two American boys at birth and a Chinese girl. I heard that the boys were terrors; they lied, stole, and broke things. The girl was a doll.

The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted ChildI suggested to my bridge partner that adoption may have contributed to the boys’ bad behavior. I recommended that she and her daughter read Nancy Verrier’s The Primal Woundand Betty Jean Lifton’s Journey of the Adopted Self. 

Since Denise knew who the boys’ birth mothers were, I also suggested that she try to arrange for the boys to meet them. My partner scoffed at these ideas. The adoptive parents, her daughter and husband,  were “kind and loving.” Ideal parents. The kind and loving parents sent the boys, then twelve and fourteen, to a residential treatment program about a hundred miles from their home. They stayed there for a year or so, and seemed to be better behaved when they returned.

Journey Of The Adopted Self: A Quest For WholenessWe stopped playing bridge a few years later because my partner developed health problems. I ran into her last month. “How’s the family?” I asked. She told me the oldest boy left home the day he turned eighteen, a month before he was to graduate from high school, and moved in with his birth parents. They had married after relinquishing him. They lived in another state where his father ran a small business. The boy changed his name—first and last--back to his original name. “They lured him there with a promise of a job,” she said contemptuously.

Unfortunately adoptive parents who refuse to learn about the effects of adoption are all too common. Another friend’s brother, Jerry, and his wife adopted a daughter who acted out as a teenager. I urged my friend to encourage her brother and his wife to read Betty Jean’s Lifton’s books. No way – they knew about adoption from classes offered by the agency. Adoption could not be the problem, but even if it was, there wasn’t anything they could do about it. The adoption was a fait accompli. A few years later I learned that after graduating from college (yes, the acting out daughter made it through college), she found her first/birth parents. She moved in with her birth father and changed her name back to her original name. The response from this friend was the same as from my other friend, contempt for the adopted child and her birth father.

It is hard for me to understand why adoptive parents, who sincerely care for their children--and these parents did--resist reading books which might help them help their child. I have to believe that considering adoption as a negative in any way makes them so uncomfortable that they try to avoid it.

Not Remembered Never ForgottenAdoptive parents’ resistance to accepting that an adopted child has another set of parents--parents who as as Robert Hafetz describes them in Not Remembered/ Never Forgotten--may increase the chances that their child will be estranged from them. Ignoring adoption issues certainly does not prevent adoptees from searching or returning to their birth families.

Moving in with birth parents, at least for a period of time, is not uncommon. Less common, but not altogether rare, is adoptees changing their names back to their original names. Adoptee Florence Fisher, founder of ALMA (Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association) and author of The Search for Anna Fisher, took her birth father’s name which was her original last name. She had a lengthy and rewarding relationship with her father until he died a few years ago.
Lorraine here: Learning about the problems of adoption from an agency in business to promote adoption? I don't think so. If I'm wrong, please tell me which agencies are doing a good job of that. What I hear from some adoptive parents is: Why didn't anyone tell me?


  1. I find both stories sad. After all, the adoptive parents were supposedly good people. Obviously there is a dirth of ignorance about simple things. Things that should be part of educating PAPs before they adopt. And listening to those who know should just be good sense. Sigh...

    My daughter does not want to even know her father's family, taking her original name wouldn't happen, she barely believes she is my daughter at all....sometimes.

  2. Great blog Jane. I remember being told I was adopted at age 12 and from that day on waiting for my adoptive family members to talk about it...explain what they knew...stop pretending it (the adoption) didn't happen. I have great parents but it didn't matter, the need to "go home" where ever that might have been is still there. As some might say or think, I am ungrateful for the secrecy and isolation from my natural born identity and I did revert to my birth name.

    Lori Jeske

  3. "They lured him there with a promise of a job." That sounds so typical, lol.

    Many ap's, and some adoptees, for that matter, will never read the books you mentioned. These books are too "real" and reality scares them.

  4. All adoptive parents are supposedly good people, after all they've been hand-picked and assessed especially for the job.Unfortunately many don't do a good job and their chickens come home to roost.In part the fault lies with the agencies and institutions who want children off their hands and a fistful of money.

  5. I think that recommending that people read books that disagree with a point of view they already oppose is futile, confrontational, counterproductive, and often taken as insulting. Much as we mean well, maybe it is better to just talk calmly from our own experience and point of view than to refer them to some "expert"and her book. It does not matter if the subject is adoption or some other issue, this is tactic that backfires more often than not.

    I would not read a book from NCFA if someone from the opposing camp told me I should in order to understand their "truth". Why should others be more conciliatory from the opposite side? While suggesting a book might work for the truly impartial and clueless, those who already have emotional investment in their point of view are not likely to read or appreciate it.

    Why are some families dysfunctional? when they are adoptive families, the problems include adoption, but that is not the whole story either in most cases. Bad parenting certainly plays a role, and sending kids away to those cruel "treatment" camps to make them more compliant to me is not good parenting. Genetic weaknesses cannot be dismissed as part of the problem either. Nor is it clear that addressing adoption issues can help extreme bad behavior, but it can't hurt and is worth a try.

    My son cut ties with his dysfuntional adoptive family after his father died. He did not come to me, although he knew he could, but made a life for himself, a good life, and I think is stronger and more confident for that. His major issue was a mentally ill adoptive mother, not adoption per se. These things are usually not simple either/or, but a combination of environment and heredity interacting. The whole picture needs to be seen and addressed, not just one issue or perspective.

  6. Ah yes, the books. When my friend Yvonne pushed "The Brotherhood of Joseph" on me, written by the son of a friend of hers, and an acquaintance of mine, I took it because I did want to read a viewpoint from what Yvonne called "the other side." His father had already told me once, upon learning that my daughter had lived for a while in Sag Harbor with us, that "You are our greatest nightmare." So...

    The book is about Hansen's and his wife's harrowing and financially draining experiences trying to have a child (they were in their late 30s by the time they started), and then turning to adoption and ultimately adopting from Siberia. I will say that Hansen was honest in his feelings, even if we find some of what he had to say offensive, particularly when he talks about the real mothers of his children. I use the word "real" here because when he hears it in that context, he sees red and gets all hot and bothered. He freely admits they adopted internationally so they would not have to deal with a birth mother. So much for thinking about what this might mean to any one he would adopt.

    Given my own experience aside, I do not think that suggesting books by adoptees about the adoption experience ought to be frightening or a turn-off to adoptive parents, if they wish to understand their children, and help them deal with the issues paramount to their lives. It is not like asking adoptive parents to read a birth mother memoir--which might give them the hives. The books Jane suggested are either by adoptees themselves (and one a therapist), or a psychotherapist with a great of expertise with adoption issues. I would recommend them to any adoptive parent,or anyone considering adopting. My own personal addition to the list is "Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self." I read it many years after I had reunited with my daughter and still found it enlightening. I gave it to an adopted friend of mine several years younger, and she read it and passed it on to her best friend, also adopted.

  7. Hehehe... my son (could it be that he is like me:-) was annoyed when I sent him an adoption reform book years ago. So I never did that again. Aside from adoption we like a lot of the same fiction.

    When an adopted child is really troubled and disruptive, I think adoptive parents need to look at everything, including finding the birthparents and learning what runs in their families, what substances the mother might have used during pregnancy, illnesses, etc. This is not prying or insulting or calling her a crack whore, it is vital medical history.
    One theory about schizophrenia is that a viral infection during pregnancy can put the child at risk. Also, some forms of criminal behavior related to poor impulse control can be hereditary tendencies or due to fetal or birth brain injury. This is stuff parents need to know.

    Adoptive parents should not assume anything about the birthmother and family, but they should actively seek the truth by finding her and asking her to be honest to help her child.

    Adoption related emotional issues should not be ruled out either, even if it makes the adoptive parents uncomfortable, and should be explored as a contributing factor, including sound advice on how to deal openly with these issues rather than sweeping them under the rug or sending the child away.

  8. Good point, Maryanne. I'd be hard pressed to get through a book that disagreed with my point of view. On the other hand, they say "know your enemy" — not that we're talking about enemies here, that would apply more to political positions.

    Bottom line in this case: adoptive parents mostly don't want to know. They just want everything to be okay and when it isn't they don't want adoption to be the problems. And the agencies don't want them to know. Too bad Lifton's and Verrier's books aren't required reading pre-adoption.

  9. I also think adoption is often overlooked by the helping professionals who might be in contact with the family of there is a history of trouble. There was a show on Canadian television earlier this year or last year about a young woman who died in prison (from what appeared to be prison brutality) but her long, sad road there might have started with her adoption and nobody said squat about it or investigated it as a reason for her feelings.

  10. Maryanne suggests that telling about your own experience is preferable to recommending books. I did that and a birth mother friend -- another bridge player -- also talked to Nellie. Our experiences and opinions were discounted because "well, that's just your experience."

    Since the issues involved adoptive parents and adoptees and I am neither, I felt it essential to recommend books by researchers who had that experience: Adoptive mother Nancy Verrier and adoptee B. J. Lifton.

    I believe that if I had a crisis in my life and someone recommended a book, I'd take a look at it. Sadly, my friends' resistance to anything that might counter their notions of adoption was stronger than their desire to help their child.

  11. I think recommending books and links to people who have a different point of view from one's own is worth doing, even if only a few follow up on the suggestions.
    Whether they feel insulted or not probably depends almost as much on how they are approached as on how defensive they were in the first place.
    I also think it's useful to talk to people from one's own experience, particularly IRL, although obvious proselytizing is almost invariably counterproductive. I guess a lot depends on the who, why, where and when of it.

    I wouldn't go out and spend good money on books that put forward arguments that ran counter to my beliefs, but I'd certainly check them out if someone lent them to me or I could pick them up at the library or whatever.
    I read "Fast Track Adoption: The Faster, Safer Way to Privately Adopt a Baby" by Dr. Susan Burns, because someone lent it to me and I was curious.
    Of course it simply confirmed my previously held opinions ;- )


  12. I think that aparents like to think that they are the child's ONLY parents. So why would they want to read books or learn more about the breeding machines that created them?

  13. What are Adoption classes? Does anyone know what is taught to people who Adopt kids in them? I am just concerned, because we all know what was told to people who Adopt about the kids they Adopt is wrong. These Agencies and social workers didn't know, don't know squat about how Closed Adoption effected us, I mean how could they, they were never forced to grow up feeling they were abandoned by their natural parents or what having a law against being able to even know who they are does to someone. They had no right to speak for us either. I am assuming that Adoptive parents were told only neurotic Adoptees could not handle Closed Adoption and that Adoptees would never want to know who their natural parents are, which we all know is not true. (Just like the world isn't flat..) Adopted or not every person is curious who is in their bloodline and that is the way people are created. It's no one's fault, and it is not a sympton of insanity. It bothers me that fact is steamrolled over because it creates a loophole where Adoptees can be called ungrateful and in need of a psychiatrist when we aren't. If an Adoptee is abused, I think they have a tendency to want to know who their natural parents are more, I think that is taught, but I think the majority of Adoptees want to know if they are not abused either, because it comes down to wanting to know who one is, not saying to our Adoptive Parents (unless one or both of them were abusive), you aren't good enough for us and we don't love you. I just wish Adoptive Parents could understand that. It would make life for all involved in Adoption alot easier.

  14. Lori Jeske,

    How did you revert to your birth name? I looked into it and the attorney was charging a fortune.

    Also, Improper Adoptee,
    Thanks for covering so many of the myths of the closed adoption era. It seems like the new "open" adoption idea is a way of saying that, Yes the closed system was wrong. But what about those of us caught in the closed system? It's so unfair what happened to us.

  15. My oldest son has said his adoptive mother would never even consider that adoption had anything to do with his problems and/or struggles. Even at the age of 14, when he was cutting himself, she sent him off to a good "Christian" counselor who pretty much told him to straighten up and listen to his aparents or he would end up going to hell.

    Two and a half years ago, my oldest son moved in with us (my husband and I are his first parents and married seven years after giving him up) and his three younger siblings. And almost two years ago, we adopted him back.

    And the one thing I found most heart-breaking was that, because of the struggles my son had faced when he was younger, he was afraid that we would find out and not want anything to do with him anymore. It took a lot of time and patience to build his trust in us enough to know that there was nothing he could ever do, or had ever done, that would ever make us stop loving him or turn away from him.

    To me, that's another down side to not finding whatever answers might be out there when children are struggling, like my son was. For him, because of that lack, he was left feeling as if he'd be turned away from if anyone knew the truth about how "bad" he'd been led to believe he was, when it truth, he was, and is, an amazing good person who never deserved to be treated in the way he was.

  16. The attitudes Jane describes don't surprise me. If a PAP comes to adoption through infertility, they may have heard something like this:

    ... which might lead them to start thinking like this:

    ... or this:

    I don't think there's enough outcry against this kind of stuff from organizations that purport themselves to promote ethics in adoption. Prospective adoptive parents don't live in the world of adoption law or practice, they live in the world that makes these kinds of attitudes readily available. Reaching them there is critical, but I sure haven't found the silver bullet.

  17. Cassie...I'm glad your son found the acceptance/family/goodness he needed in you. That's so great.

  18. Robin,
    Honesstly I think at this point Adoptees need to listen to and respect their Adoptive Parents fear of us abandoning THEM. I understand their insecurities and that our wanting to find our natural parents comes off like a competition to them. The anger some of them might feel, well I did so much for you, I broke my back to make money to take care of you needs to be addressed with compassion and sensativity. Because it is true. Most Adoptive parents do work hard to feed us, clothe us, pay the mortgage etc. I think if we show them we care about those feelings, while trying to dispell the myths Adoptive Parents were misinformed about by the money grubby Adoption Industry, perhaps they would see our wanting our idenity information as less of a threat than it first was to them. I think it takes time. For them to understand, for them to be strong, and for them to finally realize the Adoption Industry and the social workers have screwed us all over with lies and fabrications. I think Adoptees, will not leave or stop loving their Adoptive Parents if they find their natural parents, if Adoptive Parents don't fight them on it. As I say on my blog, there is enough room in our hearts to love all four. But I think AP's need to realize too, that this is still a child parent situation and adult children will split if there is a fight. Non Adopted adult children do that over matters much less intense than this one. I mean a fight is a fight, asserting one's independence is asserting one's independence. Natural parents need to accept as well, that their child does love his or her Adopted parents, and just let them.

  19. Improper Adoptee,

    The adoption classes my husband and I took covered the basics of child development and attachment. However, since we were taking in foster kids (not a private infant adoption), they also addressed issues of trauma, abandonment, and abuse.

    They did emphasize being open with the children and trying to get as much of the child's family background as possible for them. The ideal, they said, was to have as open an adoption as possible. (Keep in mind, this does not always work out in these situations due to substance abuse, etc.)

    The philosophy of "it's not about you, but about them" that was promoted by one of our teachers did help convince my husband and I to keep our adoption open for our three youngest girls. Honestly, I wasn't for that at all at first, because, selfishly, I really wanted to be their mommy, but now I'm really glad we did. I think the girls will end up being so much more balanced and grounded this way.

  20. Improper Adoptee, I think what you've written here about "Adoptive Parents fear of us abandoning THEM" and being compassionate and sensitive is great. All of it. It's true that some feel this way, for me it was a 50/50 split, one parent fretted, one parent didn't. It's been helpful to me to be considerate, as patient as possible, forgiving, and practical when dealing with my "fretter". She's upset me briefly and not been a strong source of support or confident, but, this isn't a surprise. This is not where I look to for moral support on really anything. The combination of age and personality type will never make her an ideal adoptive parent with an adult daughter "in reunion" but to that I say(to myself) sucks to be her, not me. I do all I can to be kind, caring and respectful which helps me to not be manipulated by unfounded insecurities. I've said this before but many years ago when I wasn't interested in searching my mom had said if she'd been adopted she'd want to have searched, no doubt in her mind. When she gets all fretty (and annoying) I remind her of this and it always helps. In fact, when someone says something to her about me searching, like "well, I thought Campbell wasn't interested in searching" my mom always includes that she'd have wanted to know what happened in her answer. My advice, to add to what Improper Adoptee has said, get your parent(s) to say they'd be interested themselves and then throw it back at them (nicely) for the rest of their lives ; )

  21. mamamargie-
    I think if you took classes if you were Adopting an infant, the messages might of been different. The thing is about foster kids, is that many of them are old enough to remember their natural parents of course. I don't know how old your youngest girls are but I think your reply answers Robin's question better, if they are too young to remember their natural parents. Why? Because if the old system, as Robin said, the BSE era, was the best thing for Adoptees, why did they create Open Adoption? They began to realize that it was not in the best interest of the child. But what makes me mad is that the Adoption Industry is flaunting a double standard. They know Closed Adoption hurts Adoptees and natural mothers who wanted to keep their babies, yet they vie for the records to stay sealed and do not make laws to protect today's natural mothers so there is consistant contact until their child is 18. Robin is right. What about what happened to us? I don't even understand how Congress can beleive the Birth Mother Privacy Lie with the concept of Open Adoption today, the lack of papers signed by BSE Mothers to enable it, and of course stats on registries like Alma and Soundex-these are needed tools to open our files I think if we keep pushing. Along with the fact as you said, that you feel your children are more grounded and balanced because you are keeping their Adoptions open (which I appreciate and which will just make them love you more)which pretty much proves that even if a Natural Mother wanted privacy that is an act of child abuse and should no longer be honored and be seen a mistake in judgement on the part of the Adoption Industry for getting laws to allow it. I don't have an answer Robin. Except maybe get a million natural mothers and Adoptees together and sue each indiviual state for enacting the violation of our civil rights. I think it will take an act that big to jolt them out of their chairs. I mean a million lawsuits served has to screw up the state's budget somehow, lol...:)
    pretty blog btw way margie-pretty music too.

  22. There are a lot of us who do read books like this and are willing to read books like this. We do want the best for our kids and are open minded enough to listen.

  23. "There are a lot of us who do read books like this and are willing to read books like this. We do want the best for our kids and are open minded enough to listen."

    That is very true, Pickel.
    I had noticed, and thought of you. I'm sorry I didn't mention you before, but wasn't sure how to, so I'm glad you spoke up :- )

    Hiagha (Kippa that was)

  24. ""I am assuming that Adoptive parents were told only neurotic Adoptees could not handle Closed Adoption and that Adoptees would never want to know who their natural parents are, which we all know is not true.""

    Open Adoption came about because of the lack/decrease of babies being surrendered by their mothers. The newer generation of possible surrendering mothers...said in more ways than one, they wanted on-going communication, contact with their children. There also were many Focus Groups happening around the country a number of years ago(I'm sure requested by adoption agencies thru Focus Group companies), inviting mothers who had already surrendered, many times these were the older mothers from the BSE. They were picking these mothers brains as a way to fish out a supposed better way to convince the younger mothers to surrender their babies for adoption. These focus groups were paying these mothers $100 for their time. I knew a few who attended. Sadly these older mothers thought they could make a difference...pointing out the pain they endured from being forced to relinquish their newborns. Poor Moms...once again they were duped (unknowingly)by the very organizations that wanted more babies, to make their adoption businesses more profitable. Open Adoption was created not for the mothers, not for the babies nor for PAPs...it was created to entice expectant mothers to surrender their newborns, for those expectant moms who would not entertain the thought/not agree to a closed adoption.
    "They" succeeded.

  25. In my first years of reunion, I read as much as I could get my *birthmother* hands on. I was clueless about the effects of adoption...most especially for my then 34 yr old daughter. I read the books that Jane recommended, one written by an amother, the other by an adoptee,and more. To include old research papers on surrendering mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees. I read from both sides of the aisle, I wanted to learn, to know what all this adoption stuff was about. Some stuff I read made me cringe, others angered me, some truly enlightening, still other stuff made me cry.It truly helped me, but more than anything..I wanted/needed, as much as possible, an education on all things adoption, for the sake of my daughter and myself. I knew how to be a mother, I was already a mother who had raised 3 subsequent children to adulthood. But I did not know nor understand the adult I met 34 years later, after her birth. I was her mother, but still a non-mother to her and even within myself. I believed educating myself (a mother) on adoption from all sides..could only benefit me and hopefully help me to understand my daughter, listen to her and validate her feelings as a person who was adopted when a newborn. What mother(whether natural or adoptive),who truly cared for/loved their child , wouldn't do that?



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