America, You Have An Adoption Problem.

This post provides some sobering numbers.
Additionally, in countries such as Australia, England, and Ireland, private adoptions are illegal, as it’s considered unethical. Imagine that. Thanks friend for writing this necessary post. America, we have a huge problem.

velvet bocephus

Dear America,

I spent the first 16 years of my adoption experience as a “birth” mother in complete isolation. It was preceded by the nearly 10 months of family-conducted isolation during my pregnancy. Such is the life of a shamed pregnant teenager. I had personally never known either an adopted person or a natural mother. I thought my mother and the adoption agent, with whom she colluded, sounded like they were full of shite, but how was I to know any different? By the time I delivered my precious girl, my efforts to keep her via parenting classes at a local pregnancy center and accumulation of baby necessities (all returned by my mother) only proved my selfishness. I would be selfish having only love to offer a child. Ultimately, it was the threat of homelessness by my parents that definitively made my adoption “choice”. My greatest fear at the time was my daughter being placed in foster care due…

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The Church and Adoption: Changing the Narrative

Christians, at least the Christians I know, really want to do the right thing. When it comes to adoption they truly believe the narrative that tells them they are giving a better life to a child in need, and they’re comfortable with the status quo. But, how do we peel back the layers so we can reveal what is happening beneath adoption’s polished surface? How do we reshape a message that so many hold so tightly? And, more importantly, how do we do this in a way that will open hearts to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, what they’ve always been told is wrong…

Proverbs 12:17 He who speaks truth tells what is right, But a false witness, deceit.

The Church

Why is The Church willing to discuss controversial topics like homosexuality, divorce, addictions, abortion, or even politics, yet, unwilling to address the very real issues surrounding adoption? Is it because they aren’t aware that problems exist within adoption? Is it because they know someone who has adopted, or is adopted? Are they worried about hurting someone’s feelings? Are they afraid if they dig deeper they might discover that their altruistic intentions were misguided? Not only do I want to understand why, but I’d also like to know how we got here.

We have all the information. We have studies that provide alarming statistics of adoptee suicide rates, mental health issues, and over representation in jail populations. We have knowledge of trauma when a mother and her child are separated, not just some of the time, but every single time an adoption occurs. We have clear evidence of corruption and trafficking, both domestically and most frequently, internationally. We have facts to support that rarely, if ever, are there true orphans (no living family members) living in orphanages. We have story after story of mothers being coerced to relinquish their children.

We have one adoptee after another telling us how difficult life has been for them (Dear Adoption). We have mothers that are wrecked after losing their children; nothing left but a shell of their former selves. We have adoptive parents throwing in the towel and returning (rehoming) the children they don’t know how, or no longer want to parent. We have angry adopted kids/teens acting out their trauma while their parents are ripping their hair out, begging God to help them manage their children. Everyone is frustrated and stressed out but darn it, these parents are committed. So, why are we still touting adoption as a “better life,” a “win-win,” or a “beautiful choice?”

Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.

Does the Lord mistakenly put babies in one womb when, in reality, He intends them for another woman? Is this His plan? Why are we telling mothers that their children would be better off being raised by someone else? Why are we perpetuating a myth that unmarried mothers aren’t good enough to parent their own children? Why are we referring them to crisis pregnancy centers or adoption agencies? Why are we suggesting adoption at all? Why aren’t we doing everything we can to support these mothers in crisis? Why are we enticing vulnerable girls/women with adoption as an option, and when did it become acceptable to give away our family? We don’t give away family members. We just don’t. And, contrary to the pro-life argument, adoption isn’t the alternative to abortion, parenting is. (but that’s another blog post).

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

In the last few years I have had the opportunity to get to know other mothers and hear their adoption stories. The same thread runs through many of their experiences, which is, that the news of the pregnancy was met with shame and despair by not only family but members of their church. Shame? It’s a baby, a new life. Perhaps if we alter our responses to unplanned pregnancy from the shame game to what it really is, a precious gift- a gift for your family, not someone else’s – the stigma attached will begin to fade. Pregnancy isn’t a sin. Motherhood isn’t a sin. A baby isn’t a sin.

Many churches have a Single Mothers Ministry. They have children’s clothing, formula, bottles, diapers, readily available should a single mother need it. But, why aren’t we going back prior to this? Is The Church placing stipulations on which mothers receive this help? Let’s go back to how we respond to a pregnant woman in crisis. Do we offer these items to her? Do we provide support? Do we rally around her, telling her that SHE IS ENOUGH for her baby?

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

I have seen this wave of Christians decide that adoption is what they’re called to do. White Saviors. And, The Church gets behind them, including financial support. Do we see the conflict? Do we understand that the majority of the time a mother is considering adoption it’s simply because she’s lacking support and resources? Yet, we will rally around these families in their quest to “bring their children home.” Why are so many church members spending tens of thousands of dollars to remove a child from their family and their culture when that money could be used to BUILD SOMETHING; a safe place for them to remain together in the countries that have poverty and deep cultural stigma? Why aren’t we helping by keeping their family in tact, rather than removing their children? Why isn’t this a ministry within The Church? Why aren’t we preserving families first? How have so many people, seemingly, misinterpreted and misconstrued the meaning of this verse? What would Jesus do?

It’s so scary when our core foundation of beliefs are challenged. No one wants to step outside of safe and familiar to take a hard look at the areas where they’ve made mistakes. It was a jagged pill to swallow, at age 45, comprehending that the decision to relinquish my daughter, and my mothers decision to relinquish me, were not only avoidable, but harmful. We made the wrong decisions and we caused irrevocable damage to our children in the process. No one told us because no one knew. We simply accepted the narrative that had been passed on for generations, specifically within the church.

We must have these hard conversations. It’s uncomfortable because it forces people to look inward. Are we culpable? When I see people turn a blind eye to the atrocities that occur within adoption, I have to wonder… Who is it really about? A child in need or a couple’s desire for a child?

 

Photo by Anne Heffron

 

The Call to Adopt: Christians and Adoption.

I’ve heard these phrases often:
“We always felt called to adopt.”
“We never felt compelled to have our own children, so we chose to adopt.”
“Adoption was laid on our hearts.”
“We prayed about it and decided we would adopt.”
“We prayed for this child.”
“Adoption was God’s plan for our family.” etc. etc. etc.

Each of these comments prompt me to ask this question: If you knew you were called to adopt your children, if this was your prayer, then is it remotely possible that you misunderstood what the Lord was saying? And if you misunderstood, then how is it so many are misunderstanding what He is trying to say?

I am asking.

I know so many women that have struggled with the pain of infertility, even so, is it possible that maybe, just maybe, the desire of your heart is louder than the voice of the Lord? See, I don’t believe we are entitled to everything we want in this life. I think sometimes God says “No.”

For anyone that has ever attended an evangelical church, you know that adoption is as common as coffee in the atrium. The evangelical church is the largest lobby group for adoption today. Adoption has become a popular choice by both the pastoral staff and members of their congregation. Dare I say “trendy”? But, let’s go back to Scripture. How was adoption cited in the Bible? Other than Mordecai and Esther (a kinship adoption) I’m unaware of any adoption. Moses was- sort of- adopted but his mother nursed him and helped raise him, and there was no happy ending there considering his estrangement from the Israelites and subsequent flight into the desert. If we look more closely at a few of the verses that might be interpreted as reason to adopt, we find that there is a huge discrepancy between the verses pertaining to spiritual adoption into the family of Christ and adoption as it’s known today.

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Psalm 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

Psalm 82:3 Defend the weak and the fatherless, uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Matthew 18:5 Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.

Now, here’s the thing. I am trying to find the verse or verses that tell us to adopt another woman’s child and raise them as our own. I need to find it, but I can’t. If I found it, then I would understand why so many believe this to be something ‘the Lord has called them to do..’ I want to have grace for these decisions, including the decision I made 27 years ago. I was told this was God’s Will. I was told this (adoption) was the consequence for my sin. What I do see, over and over, however, is that we are to care for the orphans and widows. CARE FOR THEM. Do we see the difference? Imagine if the church made their ministry about keeping families together, rather than tearing them apart. Imagine if the tens of thousands of dollars paid to adopt a baby went to preserving a family instead? That IS the heart of Christ! Does He make mistakes? If he doesn’t then we must see that He had a plan when He allowed a pregnancy to occur. He had already chosen who He wanted to be the mother of that child. Was adoption a sin because we weren’t following the plan he had already put into place? Certainly a “calling” would have a clear scriptural reference.

(1 John 4) We are to search every spirit. We are to be like the Bereans searching scripture daily. This needs to apply to adoption as well. The church takes it as just so, but it never existed for 2,000 years until the last century.

Exodus 20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant, or his ox or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Coveting. This is a dangerous thing. And, if you profess to be a Christian then you strive to be like Christ. I have seen pages and pages of prospective adoptive parents requesting “prayers for the birthmother; that she will please make the right decision and give them their baby” (click here). The truth is, this isn’t their baby. It belongs to the mother that birthed the child and that’s where God intended this child to be. There’s no denying that they are praying that the “birthmother” will give them what they’ve longed and prayed for; what they believe is rightfully theirs. I’m trying very hard to understand why they feel this child belongs to them, via domestic adoption or international. Either one.

Matthew 6:2 When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Virtue signaling. It seems adoption has become more of an appearance thing and less of a God thing. It’s a heart issue, for sure. Adoptive parents stand out as virtuous, yet the scripture clearly states we aren’t to brag about our giving, yet, the child is the embodiment of their charity.

Does God definitively ordain the adoption of a poor and/or isolated women’s babies? Does God consecrate the paper orphan? If the answer is no, then the church is in a major crisis. If the answer is yes, then many of us are in a crisis of faith.

Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless and see that they get justice.

As long as we have adoption I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless, the infants that never asked to be removed from their mothers, be it forcibly or by subtle coercion. They never asked to be adopted and I’m certain every single infant would choose to remain with their own mother.

Written with help and support from Velvet Bocephus.

Photo credit: Anne Heffron

 

 

Adoptees and Saying Goodbye

I hate saying goodbye. It might be a move, a death, a break up, or an unhealthy friendship. Sometimes it’s just that a vacation is over, yet, for many adoptees it’s so much more than a goodbye; it’s a visceral response that is really uncomfortable. Even if we no longer want the person around, the thought of them not there anymore might induce something akin to terror. I’ve faced this. The logical reasoning is present, just not being applied. We would rather keep people in our lives simply to avoid being triggered, even when it has little to do with the person you’re saying goodbye to, but more to do with the feelings that go along with it. We revert back to infancy; the image of being left alone, the fear of not being heard, of being left behind.

After talking with other adoptees and therapists I understand that I’m not insane. It’s yet another glorious side effect of adoption trauma. I have, on more than one occasion, stood outside of myself watching the chaos unfold. Reasonable Me is pleading with Unreasonable Me, begging her to come to her senses as she has a melt down in the corner; her eyes are wild and she’s inconsolable, demanding that I leave her alone. There’s no logic with this woman, but what I now understand is that Unreasonable Me is actually Infant Me and she is terrified of feeling abandoned.

A wise friend gave me great advice a few years ago and I’m still trying to make it stick: Most relationships have a life cycle, they last for only a season. Wisdom is knowing when to withdraw or when to let it ebb and flow. It’s not always the death of a relationship, but sometimes it just grows old and slows down. Most relationships have imbalance; one person investing more than the other. It’s the rare relationships that remain equal that will live forever.

For many adoptees, and certainly for Unreasonable Me, this notion of a friendship life cycle brings uncertainty. We hold on tightly to those we love, sometimes in desperation, hoping they never leave. This reeks havoc on our self esteem. There has to be a way to gracefully navigate through these uncomfortable places. We need tools and we need to understand why before we can learn how. I want to learn how to climb over these massive rocks that were set in my path so I can look back and say I DID IT.

 

 

Listen.

People often ask me how I function being both adoptee and a mother of loss. The truth is, life was easier before. I could never connect the dots. Missing my daughter made sense but missing my mother was an elusive ghost. I didn’t have a name for it. How could I miss someone I never knew? Why would I long for her if I already had a wonderful family?   But, I did.

I was the master of distraction, constantly running, especially when I felt my momentum start to betray me. I surrounded myself with people and movement and noise. Sometimes I would work out twice a day. Keep moving. If I didn’t have an activity, I had a project to keep me occupied. Keep going. If I kept the volume of life loud enough then I couldn’t hear the persistent sound of despair.

I spent my 30’s searching for a diagnosis as an explanation but no doctor would give me one. My older brother worked for Mayo and one year at Christmas he thought it would be nice to give me the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. This book is HUGE, bigger than the Bible. It contains every physical ailment and mental illness known to man- with photos. Upon receiving this nightmare of a gift I started diagnosing myself with new disorders/illnesses and on several different occasions, drove myself to the emergency room. I was never given more than a couple bags of saline and a prescription for Xanax (which I never filled but probably should’ve). I knew they were missing something. But really, how do ER doctors diagnose adoption trauma? I had ALL the symptoms, I just didn’t know it had a name.

I had no idea there were thousands of other adoptees and mothers that felt this way. An army of grief: they had lost their mothers or their children. I had lost both. It wasn’t until I found community, support, and my mother that I finally began to mend. And that didn’t happen until I was 45 years old. If I’d had the information back then that I have now everything would’ve made sense, not just for me, but also for the family that raised me.

Today my overwhelming concern is for young adoptees and their parents. Teenage adoptees attempt suicide four times greater than non adoptees (Academy of Pediatrics). Adopted and foster teens /adults are the highest minority of people to be over represented in mental health facilities and prisons. Every time I hear of another adoptee suicide it sends panic through me. It’s avoidable! The trauma occurs at separation. If we support family preservation and view adoption as a last resort then we will lower these alarming numbers. Adoptive parents need to understand this prior to adopting a child. They need to be educated about adoption related issues in order to help their children survive.

 
This week we learned that we lost sweet Jane. She was a beautiful, 14 year old Korean adoptee. She could no longer numb her pain so she took her life. It sent a ripple throughout our community even though none of us were surprised. We shake our heads in solidarity and think, ‘What did they really expect?‘ We must listen, for the children.

(photo by Anne Heffron)

Spring

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I just hung up the phone with my New York mom. She’s such a gift, so well adjusted and comfortable in her own skin. She pours her energy into me and I devour it with an insatiable hunger. This is the nourishment I’ve been deprived of my entire life and she willingly provides it. My jeans finally fit again. They’ve always been my emotional barometer; the scale is too cruel and insensitive. I breathe in her health, her biology, her love. Our cells remember our mothers. We’re pulled to one another from across countries, time and space. We need our family.

During my search, along with my new understanding of adoption trauma and unethical adoption practices, I was thrown into an abyss. I’ve leaned hard into my tribe. We all look the same, covered in wounds only visible to us. I’ve found women that relentlessly climb towards healing through advocacy and education. They refuse to get stuck in their loss, turning their sights towards something bigger than their own pain. This is where I intend to hang out, holding their hands. It’s a sisterhood (with a few brothers thrown in) of tattered, limping soldiers determined to see change. The more important these new friendships have become the more I’ve seen relationships with childhood friends and a few family members change, becoming fluid, morphing into different shapes. Some are no longer recognizable and that’s okay. It’s necessary. I can hardly sit with some of them anymore because being asked to explain is futile and frustrating, not being asked at all is maddening. I’ve voluntarily let them go.

In Arizona we don’t experience the new shoots that come up in the Spring. It’s too hot and the ground is too hard and dry. One of the things I miss most about living in the Midwest is the new growth pushing its way through the dirt, all the rain bringing bright, colorful flowers to the landscape. This is like that. Beauty from ashes. New life.

I’m so excited to see what the next season brings.

Mother.

I found my family one year ago and during that time I’ve watched the sharp edges of my life turn into something softer and forgiving. How do we function in a truly healthy way if we don’t know who we are or where we came from? I lived the first 46 years wildly careening through it, not realizing the mistakes along the way until they were 100 yards behind me. I was fire, with an undercurrent of raging fear; fear of rejection, fear of security, fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment. I tested love and commitment, not believing anyone would stay. My marriage felt it, my children felt it, and the family that raised me felt it. Finding my family was like seeing my children for the first time after their birth, taking in every cell, memorizing them, yet already completely knowing them. It was deeply rooted familiarity. It was peace. Knowing my mother is seeing my reflection for the very first time.

 

Yesterday was her birthday. She had me one week before turning 20. I had my daughter and relinquished at nearly the exact the same age. This synchronicity is fascinating, how history repeats itself, often in the most tragic ways. I believe our shared experience, as unfortunate as it is, has helped us understand each other and give so much grace. She can hardly speak of that season, yet I keep asking her questions. I’ll hug her and tell her that I understand, because I DO. I see her gradually unfold, climbing out of herself, the place she’s most comfortable. I think she’s SO brave for going back to that painful time, not because she wants to, but because she loves me. She’ll talk herself through it, saying, “I can do this. I can do this. What do you want to know?” And she tells me the stories I’ve waited to hear. The story about my father. The story about when she carried me and how she felt during that time. The story about my birth, and that she never saw me. That she never held me. And, I listen. I can handle it, all of it, because we have each other. And with this gift comes the freedom to love and heal. Together.