“When you know better, you do better.” -Maya Angelou
The more books and blogs and articles I’ve been reading (by adoptees, first moms, and adoptive parents), and the more I get to know M’s family, the more and more I’ve been thinking about M’s adoption and the exclusion of her first family from the process. There is, of course, so much I still don’t know. For example, did the agency truly vet all possible potential kinship placements? If they did, did they encourage or discourage (or neither) them from taking on the responsibility? Did the ones who were asked refuse because they didn’t have the resources, even though they wanted to? Did they get turned down based on background checks and formalities? And even if they were on board with her adoption, did they ever feel that they could inquire about my openness to maintain contact? Did Cindy (first mom)? Did the case workers even ask them? I doubt it.
My foster/adoption agency was very pro-bio family in my first foster son’s case. They encouraged me to meet the parents from the first visit, and applauded me privately and publicly for including them in doctor’s visits, giving them rides, and being a source of encouragement and pride in their parenting. I guess I assumed that they would support an open adoption unless the family was truly volatile and dangerous. I appreciated their support and faith in me as a parent, but also thought that they would assess a situation fairly enough to at least allow me to decide for myself the amount of openness that would be safe for M.
After many many months of Cindy not responding to the agency’s attempts to communicate, they got a hold of her and she stated that if Aunt K couldn’t take M, then she wished for her to “stay where she is” (according to the social worker). She requested a photo of M, and I was eager to comply. I composed a letter to her, and mentioned my desire to have an open adoption if possible. I gave the letter to the agency to give to her. A month later I was informed that the letter was never sent, because the supervisor would worry that it would inspire Cindy to come back and interfere with “permanency”, when everyone “knew” that she would just disappear again. Not only that, she specifically said that “open adoption” was not possible with this family.
What was I to think? They had all the info on the family, I had none. They were implying that this family was so inappropriate that any contact would be harmful to M. On another occasion, I was told, “M should just focus on being around her new family,” in response to visiting with her half-sister. A thinly veiled accusation disguised as a compliment to me and my “more appropriate, much better” family.
Of course, I’m not totally innocent either. I loved little M, and wanted to adopt her. I was told that kinship placements weren’t obtainable, but still I worried that something would happen to take her away from me. My longing for open adoption competed with my selfish desire to keep her as my own child. But looking back, I did ask. I did try. I attempted in the only way I knew how to write to Cindy and tell her that I wanted an open adoption. I created the facebook page for M’s first family to see pics of her and communicate with her before the adoption was final. I saved photos of them that were public, photos of Cindy and any siblings, just in case they were all I had to give to M some day. I had the same fears and reservations that so anger adoptees and first families, but I also wanted to overcome them.
Now I look back and wonder if the adoption could have been different, if it could have been inclusive of these family members who also love M. The agency, and admittedly myself, was afraid that someone would change their mind and decide to fight to have M. That makes me feel… so guilty. They should have had the right to make that decision. Even though I “won”, that doesn’t mean M “won”. But all I can do now is try to build those bridges and give back to her what she lost, before it’s too late. Before she remembers her family as “strangers”. I almost feel like that would be truly on me, and those angry adoptee bloggers might one day include my daughter.
8 thoughts on “#flipthescript: new concerns”
You had no control over that stuff, E! You did the best you could at the time. You had to follow the rules you were given, and it’s not on you that the agency didn’t follow-through with giving Cindy the letter & photos.
M will be able to read all of this some day, and see how much you desperately wanted her first family to be involved in her life, right from the get-go.
I didn’t have much control, that’s true. But I’m also guilty of just wanting to keep the baby and being afraid that another relative might come forward to keep her. Now that doesn’t sit right with me. Of course I wanted to protect my own interests, but it makes me cringe to think that I also didn’t protect the interests of my little girl, or think much about what that would look like to her in 20 years. It wasn’t outright coercion, but in my mind it’s just too close for comfort. I may not ever have gained access to her extended family’s names or whereabouts, and afterall I was trusting the agency to find an appropriate kinship placement if there was one. But now I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t make more of an effort to get in touch, even though the fear that someone may have intervened still makes me dizzy. It’s likely that they had even less control or power than I did over the situation, and that’s not right or fair.
You trusted the agency and that’s all you could do at the time. You couldn’t go and contact family members and be your own case worker. It sounds like the only light you had on their family situations were from the agency. The whole rest of the picture was dark. That is not your fault. Also, missing out on one year of contact is nothing compared to the possibility of future relationships you are laying the groundwork for now. The agency decided her birth mother and family were incapable of caring for her and that you are the person she should be with. Yes, I’m sure you were scared to suggest too much and lose M, your heart was involved and wanted preservation of the family you were becoming. That doesn’t make you a guilty party. The thing about these systems is that they are flawed and we can only do so much within our assigned roles. Remember that without all the details the agency didn’t share with you about her first family, you should proceed with caution, keep them from making promises they can’t keep, and help her build good boundaries and reasonable expectations with them. You can also do a little detective work and look up criminal records and sex offender registry listings. They won’t give you the whole story but if anything comes up in them you could learn a little about what might have made things not suitable for reunification.
Good ideas! I appreciate your thoughts! If only the agency was able to tell me everything, but they have privacy laws to contend with.
Yeh they can’t, boo. And I think I get extra wordy when what I’d like to do is give you a hug. Being a mom isn’t easy but you are doing it right.
You are being very honest and honorable here. It is interesting to read. If it makes you feel less guilty, I think you might have to realized that the Agency was trying to protect M, and it would have been inappropriate and potentially harmful at the time to “lure” bio family without full information. You were being responsible, even if it feels selfish now. How does that sit with you?
I totally agree with the other comments / commenters. You’ve been clear all along with your concerns regarding M and her first family, both in terms of her safety and her future. You’ve done so much to respect the loss and gain she’s going thru, to see her as an individual, and to imagine yourself in her place, looking back, and what would she want, what would you want, as a child looking back.
So many of the stories I’ve read from adoptees are about the power differential between first and adoptive families, which is unfair at best, horrifying at worst, and should be addressed… but it’s not something you have actively abused, you are not an adoptive parent putting your own needs first and intentionally working to discredit or intimidate M’s first mother. You entered into foster parenting in good faith that the agency had / has M’s true best interests at the heart of their actions, and it’s obvious that you have. Wanting her and hoping you could keep her is natural, not something you shouldn’t have been doing. It’s part of the foster ideal, that the kids will be in homes where they are loved and wanted.
Reading the stories of adoptees who have found out their parents were unfairly pressured into giving them up is enough to make any adoptive patent question the process they’ve been through, but just your willingness to question it is another of many evidences that M was foremost in *your* mind, to say nothing of your efforts to make connections with her first family.
Like goodfamiliesdo, I get wordy when I can’t offer a hug. You’ve done all you could, at every step of the way.
Thank you so much, your comments are a comfort 🙂