Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The tragedy of adoption

This is the post I meant to write last night. Perhaps it's better to write it without the two glasses of wine.

I've been researching private adoption agencies because I am finding that social workers are extremely reluctant to place children out of birth order. It may be a long time before we get an adoptive placement because all the children available are older than my daughter. And I still desperately want a baby, which we are unlikely to get because my husband won't consider any type of foster care. I recently discovered that the cost for a private adoption won't be as prohibitive as I thought. It would cost about the same for two medicated cycles but with the new tax credit I would get it back. Buy my agency research is leaving a very bad taste in my mouth. To explain this I want to tell you a story.

A lot of the emotional problems I currently have can be traced back to something that happened long before I was born. In the 1940's a sixteen year old girl, Virginia, became pregnant. Her parents were horrified and sent her away to have the baby. They took custody of the baby, probably without even consulting the mother, and raised him as their own, disowning and abandoning their teenage daughter at the same time. Fast forward a few years and this young mother is married and has 3 young children. In 1953 her alcoholic husband abandoned her and her 3 children. In desperation she got pregnant again with another man trying to "trap" a husband. It didn't work. This young mother was now pregnant with 3 young children to care for. It was 1953 and it was socially unacceptable for a pregnant woman to work. I suspect she didn't have any skills she could have used anyway. Welfare was not what it is today and was largely privately controlled. So Virginia turned to the only people she thought could help her, Catholic Charities.

The church offered to keep Virginia and her family in an apartment, but at a very heavy price. They told her that she would have to give all of her children up for adoption as soon as the baby was born. I'm sure she felt she had no choice and I know her choice hurt her deeply and destroyed her life. I don't think she was ever given any options or help to try to parent her children. She had to stand by and watch as her children were all taken away and separated. She was able to stay in touch with her youngest daughter, the newborn she placed. She was adopted by a family friend and when they thought she was dying of scarlet fever at seven years old, the family revealed who her first mother was. Her oldest son, the one she lost as a teenager, wanted nothing to do with her. Her second oldest son, who was five at the time, was separated from his sisters and had several failed adoptions before finally being adopted by a less than capable family in Texas. Her oldest daughter, 4 at the time, has never been heard from again and Virginia was convinced until the day she died that her daughter died of a broken heart soon after being placed in the orphanage. Her second youngest daughter, my mom, was 3 when she was placed in the orphanage. She was quickly adopted by a woman that was incredibly cruel to her until the day she left home. My mother was moved while she was asleep from the orphanage to her new parents' car and then across the country. She did not see her birth mother again until 1985, after she had 3 children of her own and a severe mental breakdown. This is the third generation affected by that one decision. I watched the results of my mother's abusive childhood in her suicide attempts and refusal to leave our abusive father. The cycle is finally broken in my family and my sister's (not my brother's, but that's another story) so the end of the story is not all bad. But it was a long damn road to get here and there were many, many casualties along the way.

So you see, when I think about private infant adoption I don't just think about a brand new baby to hold and love. I think about the baby's mother, who may not have had the support she should have. A mother that wanted to parent but was forced by circumstance to rip out her soul and hand it to a stranger. Both my mother and her brother were abused in their adoptive homes. While I know that won't happen in MY home, the birth mother won't know that. I can alleviate that worry by having an open adoption, but how do I make sure I'm not gaining my happiness by ruining someone else's life? I've been finding lots of horror stories in my research. **Edited to add - these are all recent stories, not from when my mom was placed.** Stories from birth moms saying they were coerced into giving up their children. Stories where the grieving mothers were denied the counseling and medical care they were promised, care already paid for by the adoptive parents.

I think it is possible to make the adoption process as healthy as possible for all parties. There are certainly circumstances where the child should not remain with the birth parent. But how do you know? The main agency I'm looking at doesn't have much information out there, so it's hard to know if they will do the right thing. I want a baby but I don't want to be part of another multi-generational cycle of loss and pain. I wonder if there is a way to get what I want without all the peripheral damage.


  1. wow this is such a powerful post and I can understand where your feelings come from. I do not know much about private adoption but I do know that things must be different then 1950 when women or even teenage girls had less choice. Perhaps talking to a social worker might help who works with this stuff might help?
    wishing this was all way less complicated.

  2. Yep, that was part of why I wrote this post. Things are different now then they were 60 years ago, but not different enough. I've heard enough from birth mothers and news stories to know that the pressure on single, young, or addicted women to give up their children is very, very strong. Just look at all the adds on infertility and adoption sites. They all say "Pregnant? We can help" and then only talk about adoption options, not help with parenting. It takes a special agency to deal with these women fairly. I forgot to add that we will be making an appointment to speak to a social worker with a non-profit agency here. I'm hopeful because I liked the answers they gave me over the phone. But everything about adoption makes me feel a little dirty. We are "shopping" for a child based on how they will fit into "our" family. To get what we want someone else has to lose something precious. It is just terribly unfair.

  3. Darling, what heartache! I can only imagine what your family has been through and all the heartbreak along the way with a road littered with casualties of family.

    This is the road you never wanted to come down if that stupid odds scale had not tipped over completely. You will make such a wonderful family and that child will be so loved. And there's room in your heart for a mother who gives up that child as well. I send you the best thoughts that you find the right infant without the tremendous heap of sadness to wade through.

  4. Oh my. What a difficult road your family have had to travel.

    I'm sorry that you feel you are 'shopping' for a child. I think that you probably have a far greater understanding of some of the underlying issues than many others and, as the previous commenter has already said, you will provide any child in your care with such a wonderful, loving family xo