The Church and Adoption: Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?

During the last few years I’ve had several conversations with other Christians and church leaders about adoption. I walk away feeling disappointed because I expect them to embrace truth even when it’s uncomfortable. Or, at the very least, be willing to explore this idea that adoption might not be the best possible solution for a mother and her child. They are as passionate about adoption as I am about family preservation. I can’t break through their wall.

The conversations look something like this:

“I’m sorry you had a negative adoption experience. I know several adopted people who are happy. You could’ve been aborted. You might never have known Jesus if you hadn’t been adopted. What about the millions of orphans who need homes now? What about the mothers who don’t want their children? Adoption is like being adopted into the family of Christ. Open adoption is a better solution. Do you believe all adoptions are wrong?” <conversation over>

Most people, once they’re informed about darker layers of adoption; the layers most often dismissed within the cultural narrative, begin to understand. I’m seeing intelligent individuals shifting from their once firmly held view of adoption to something that looks a lot more like mercy and love. They ARE listening. So, if most are receptive then why does it seem The Church, more than any other group, continues to display a willful ignorance when it comes to adoption?

The Gospel of Adoption:

1. They truly believe adoption is the alternative to abortion. “Well, at least you weren’t aborted..” I hear this response more often than any other. They believe if they hadn’t adopted a baby/child then they surely would have died. They’re saving a life.

2. They believe they are rescuing an orphan and helping a mother in her time of distress. (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. (Psalm 82:3) Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. They’re saving a life.

3. They conflate being adopted into the family of Christ and modern adoption practices. (Ephesians 1:4-5) For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

4. They believe adoption is a “win-win” when an unplanned pregnancy occurs. They believe it’s a “win” for a couple who wants to grow their family and a “win” for an unmarried young woman who feels she’s unable to provide all that her child deserves. They’re saving two lives, really.

5. They believe it’s another way to bring salvation to a child who might never have known Jesus had they not been adopted. (Proverbs 22:6) Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. They’re saving a child’s soul.

When we search scripture using a different lens, the verses we often see in adoption doctrine no longer look the same. They mean something else now; looking after an orphan and widow is a distinct message of compassion, not separation. If we are going to remove a child from their family, their country, their history, creating a new identity, then shouldn’t adoption have a clear scriptural reference? And wouldn’t we want to know for certain this is what God had in mind when he knit them together in their original mothers womb? (Psalm 139:13)

I have watched mothers and adopted people, one by one, turn and walk away from not only the church, but also their faith. Adoption has created a faith crisis in the very lives of those we were supposed to be saving.

What if we’ve been doing it all wrong?

Most of the people I know who chose to adopt did so with altruistic intentions. They didn’t make these decisions lightly and they entered into adoption hoping to give a child a better life. They truly believe this was something God called them to do. I know their hearts. But, I remind myself that Christians aren’t Christ and adoption doesn’t always reflect the heart of Christ, preserving a family does.

What if this was never His plan and each anguished adoptee voice is trying to tell us another story? Not the one we rewrote for them, but the story that was written before they were born.

 

Photo cred to my favorite photographer: Anne Heffron

 

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When Love Doesn’t Win

I just hung up the phone with a friend I met in Adoptionland. She’s an adoptive parent raising 4 girls, all of whom are adopted. She is attuned to their needs and actively pursuing ways to help them not only survive, but also thrive around their trauma.

She woke up to adoption truths after they adopted their fourth daughter. She describes it the same way we in Adoptionland explain ‘coming out of the fog’. For adoptees, it’s the realization about what happened to them. For mothers, maybe it’s also what happened to them, but for me it was what I had done. And, for the rare adoptive parent, it’s understanding what they had participated in. And, it’s soul crushing.

Her awareness is refreshing, especially when her perspective is in opposition to the dominant narrative surrounding adoption. One of the many topics we discussed today was the misconception that love is enough.

I have to believe that most adoptive parents deeply love their children. I know they hope that their love, in addition to a better life (ie.”stuff”) would be the necessary ingredients for their children to achieve happiness and peace. Sadly, this is far from truth.

What an adopted person needs to be whole and complete isn’t Jesus, or loving adoptive parents, or a private education, or family vacations, or prayers before bed, or a nurturing home. While each of those things have their place, the reality defies everything we are told.

What a child needs is their people.

When they are separated from family there is damage to their mental, physical and emotional well being, for the rest of their lives.

My mantra for the last 10 years has been, “Love Wins.” I believed this so deeply that I even put a sticker on my car. I don’t like stickers on cars, so that should indicate how committed I was to the idea. I no longer have that car nor would I ever apply another sticker because, see, love doesn’t win all the time. At least, not in adoption.

Adoption: What Would Jesus Do?

“If you hadn’t been adopted you might never have known Jesus.”

This was said too often in my Evangelical upbringing. In conversations with several other adoptees, I’ve discovered this statement was on repeat throughout their lives as well. It’s safe to say this reflects the mindset of many Christians in regards to adoption.

When I was flying back from New York after meeting my mother for the first time I received a message from a friend asking me how everything went. I was telling her about our visit and how wonderful my mother is. As I began recounting our time together I found myself engaged in an internal battle fighting to reject all the preconceived notions I had been programmed to believe. Had she decided to parent me we would’ve had a great life together. My life wouldn’t have been worse, just different. And, if I hadn’t been adopted, I never would’ve known otherwise. My friend replied with, “Yes, but did you ever think that you might not have become a Christian?”

Psalm 135:6 Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all depths.

As it turns out, my mother was and always had been a Christian. But, even if that hadn’t been the case, why would we question or put such limitations on the sovereignty of God? To me, this indicates a lack of faith, tinged with traces of arrogance. This also validates my point: adoptive parents believe they are saving us.

Are they deeply concerned for our souls or are we the embodiment of their charity?

‘White Savior’ has such a negative connotation attached to it, so I’ve hesitated to write on this subject. I’ve been hard pressed to come up with a better term, but it’s scenarios like the one I described that have laid the groundwork for this suitable title. As I’ve observed the altruism behind motivations to adopt, I have seen how my friends and family honestly believe they are saving a child from a life of despair or perhaps even death. Add to that a child’s eternal salvation and every Christian wants to jump on a train filled with passengers waving their flags of virtue. It’s the Faith Olympics and adopting a child is the Gold Medal.

Most people I know feel good about themselves when they’ve done something that makes a difference in the lives of others. We send our children on church or school trips to help the needy, or they’ll go visit orphanages where they get to hold hungry babies. We have fundraisers and/or spend thousands of dollars so we or our children will have an “experience” in an impoverished country with those less fortunate. They post pictures and write blog posts about how it changed their lives and they’ll never take a steak dinner or a pedicure for granted again. We groom our youth to become the next generation of White Saviors.

What if the Church is spending our resources on the wrong thing? Imagine the dramatic shift we could make if we ministered specifically to keep mothers and babies together, families intact, and empowered communities to support those raising their own.

I think about adoption, Christians, and The Church. I lose sleep over it. They have kept the wheels of the adoption machine in motion. They have been the fuel behind a multi-billion dollar industry built on shame, deception, and corruption. If they fully understood the reality behind most adoption, would they continue doing it?

What will adoption look like in 50 years? Because, if it looks the same as it does today then it means we’ve done something wrong. What are we fixing? The solution isn’t to continue adopting, it’s to enable capable mothers to parent their own children.

 

 

Adoption and Abortion: The Great Conflation

“You should be thankful you weren’t aborted.”

I’m never quite sure how to respond when people say this to me. Throughout my life I’ve heard this more times than I can count. I’m 47 years old and I still have no idea why anyone would say this out loud. The truth is, my mother never considered abortion. And, neither did I.

These hurtful comments are made even more often, now that I’m giving a counter cultural response to the adoption narrative. Adopted people are at no higher risk of being aborted than non adopted people. This is what society has been programmed to believe; that adoption saves a life! Had a child not been adopted, they surely would’ve died.

Let’s break this down for those that are confused: When every single woman discovers she’s pregnant she has, in most states, a window of time to determine her plan of action; abortion or pregnancy. Once she’s made her decision that window closes. Abortion is no longer an option. So, it should never be mentioned again. The alternative to abortion is parenting. Not adoption.

Very rarely will a mother carry her child to term, bonding for 9 months, then want to give her baby away. She’s now faced with how she will raise her child. I can assure you, in most cases, adoption only becomes an option when she feels she doesn’t have the support she needs to parent. To say that adoption “saves a life” is false, and If we are being completely honest, it would be more accurate to say that adoption ends lives.

The attempted suicide rate for adopted people is 4 times greater than that of a non adopted person (link) Additionally, adopted people are over represented in both mental health and substance treatment facilities. (link) So, if everyone would start to process this logically and truthfully we would see clearly that Family Preservation is what saves lives. Children staying with their mother saves lives.

The Pro-Life lobby group is hell bent on this narrative. We see pro-life protesters outside of clinics waiting to pounce on vulnerable women, offering to adopt their babies. This is offensive on multiple levels, but I’ve heard story after story of mothers who, once they were told they didn’t have support to parent, tried to figure out if it was too late to abort. Do pro lifers hear this? Women would rather terminate than be forced to give their babies away.

Having only one choice -a forced adoption- isn’t having a choice. I often wonder if the Pro-Life Movement and the adoption lobby groups share the same bed. We do know that evangelical Christians are the largest lobby group for adoptions today. As long as they continue to conflate the two issues we will have misinformation perpetuated by a society that would rather believe the fairy tales than the truth. But, what a brilliant marketing tactic by the adoption industry: ‘Adoption saves a life!’ They know where their bread is buttered.

I was recently watching a video by Amanda Woolston, author of The Declassified Adoptee (link) . She addresses this issue, the underlying message and the damaging effects they have on the adopted person. She challenges people to first ask themselves if their remark is a “systematic, persistent denial of the adopted persons right as a human being to exist as a normal person.”  When you say to an adopted person that they should be thankful they weren’t aborted you are denying them a right to normalcy. Never mind the fact that these statements are completely untrue.

Words matter. Especially for the adopted person who struggles to feel satisfaction or approval from others. The only way to deconstruct the lies woven throughout adoption is to speak in truth. I know the risks involved, but lives depend on it.

 

Photo credit: My favorite photographer, Anne Heffron

 

Adoption: Infertility, Entitlement, and the Gift of a Child.

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

I’m no Bible scholar but I’m certain this verse is referencing the womb of the mother who carries the child. I don’t believe it’s referring to this mother as simply a vessel for another woman who is unable to carry a child of her own.

Children are absolutely a gift. But, for whom? God has already chosen who He wants to be the mother. He does not allow a pregnancy to occur in the womb of one woman so she will then give her baby away. I refuse to start believing He makes mistakes. The error, or sin, is made by those scrambling around, trying to make alternative plans for the voiceless being who continues to grow, completely unaware, in the safety of their mothers womb.

Adoption has never been and will never be God’s plan. Let me explain why:

1 John 5:17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

I can’t speak for anyone else so I will say that in relinquishing my firstborn I disregarded the plans God had for me and my daughter. In my arrogance I presumed to know better than Him. He chose ME, not someone else, to be the mother to my child. Every pregnancy is His perfect plan. In God’s infinite wisdom He knew what was best when he placed a child in my womb. When we deliberately make decisions that are in opposition of His plan, we are sinning. I sinned against my daughter and this sin continues to ripple out for generations. Mercifully, by His grace I’m forgiven, but my actions caused harm. Not because my daughter had bad adoptive parents, they’re exceptional people, but because every baby/child experiences life long trauma when separated from their mothers.

Nowhere in scripture is pregnancy or motherhood a sin.

Psalm 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

When a girl/woman finds herself in a pregnancy crisis she’s swimming in fear. She runs through every available option. Once she decides to stay pregnant, she’s then faced with how she will be able to parent her child. Much of her decisions from this point forward will depend greatly on the responses and support she receives from those around her; her family, her church family, her friends. As her pregnancy progresses, like every mother in the world, she will develop attachments to her child. This is God’s miraculous and perfect design; the bond between a mother and her baby. When those in a position of authority or power sway (coerce) a vulnerable girl/woman away from a relationship with her own child, there is culpability and someday they will have to answer for it. If you claim to follow Christ, there is a responsibility to do what is just and right. (1 John 2:6) Is it possible that in our ignorance we are suggesting a mother make the wrong decision? If we aren’t being obedient to His plan we are complicit in not only a sin, but also an injustice against mothers and their children.

Psalm 127:3-4 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.

I’ve heard this same story told over and over by mothers who have lost their children to adoption; we were told our own children “deserved better,” they put us on a pedestal of selflessness, using the love for our children against us; if we really loved them we would give them away.

For the adopted person, love= abandonment.

Deuteronomy 5:21 And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field. or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Is it a sin to desire (covet) another woman’s child?

I’m in no position to understand the depth of grief associated with infertility, but I have had several friends who have walked through its wretchedness. Watching them agonize through the process was heartbreaking and I have tremendous empathy. We know that couples will try, often for years, to conceive their own children. When their efforts are proven unsuccessful they often look to adoption as an alternative, or, as a last resort. It then becomes apparent they will settle for any baby to fill their desire to be parents. So often the desire of our heart can cloud judgement and good intentions. There is a very fine line between what a person desires and what they feel they deserve.

In order for one family to be created through adoption, another family must be destroyed. How can we say one mother’s pain trumps another?

James 1:14-15 But each person is tempted when he is lured by his own desire. Then desire when it is conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

When the desire of our heart is to be a parent and adoption is viewed as a loving option for everyone involved (a “win-win-win”), lines become blurred. We begin to justify an attitude of entitlement by disguising it as an ‘answer to prayer’ or ‘a gift from God’.

What is best for the child?

If a child via adoption is truly a “gift from the Lord”, why does it continue to destroy so many in its wake? Why is there so much pain and suffering as a result? (www.dearadoption.com)

The best place for a child is with their biological parents. Period. When that isn’t possible, kinship care is the better option, rather than being placed in the arms of strangers. Adoption should always be a last resort. Adoption, at it’s inception, was created for children who truly need permanency and love, not as a way to provide children for couples unable to have their own.

Typically, in most adoptions there is a group of people with more power and/or money who believe they have the right to determine what’s best for a mother and her child. The running narrative in our society, and more specifically, The Church, states that a child would be “better off” if they are raised by a married, Christian couple with a stable income, a four bedroom home, two cars, reside in a wealthy suburb, have a college education and substantial savings…etc. etc. When this is seen as suitable criteria, a very important piece of information is being overlooked: This was never the life God had planned for them.

 

Photo credit: Anne Heffron

 

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