I recently listened to this episode from a few months back. I love when I get to hear how the adoption journey has been from those who are many years into it. In this instance, the host April Fallon got to speak with both the birth mom in this first episode and then the daughter as well in the second episode.
As CAS launches the fall Birth Mom small group, the quote above is what really stood out to me in this episode. Even in a healthy, open adoption, it is so important for birth moms to have others to relate to and share with. Facing our feelings, especially grief or sadness, isn't necessarily something many of us are eager to do. However, when we share, it is a blessing to have others help carry the burden and lighten our load.
We recommend the Adoption Now podcast to everyone! These two episodes are a great place to start.
S3E16 "A Birth Mother's Journey Through Open Adoption"
S3E17 "Open Adoption from the Adoptees Perspective"
From the CAS archives, this was originally published for Adoption Awareness Month, November 2016.
An open letter to my brother I’ve never met,
Hi, I’m your biological sister. I am 21 years old. We have the same birth father. I have known about you for over half my life. I have often thought about you and how you have grown up. Were you involved in sports? Do you like to travel? What are some of your hobbies? What are your parents like? Do you have other siblings?
Over the years, I have tried to understand why our father created an adoption plan for you. I know that he was 15-16 years old when he found out you were on the way. He, along with his girlfriend were very excited to become parents but they were on a tough road. Both your mom and your dad were still in high school. They decided adoption because they wanted to help others who could not have babies on their own. It’s been over 20 years since the adoption and a lot has happened since then. We have a sister. She is 23. She also has been curious about you and what you have been up to. I am currently a senior in college going into the field of social work. I am getting married next summer. Our sister is going to start Grad School next fall in the field of criminal justice. Did you go to college? Are you married? Do you have kids?
We have missed out on so much of each other’s lives and my goal in life is to know who you are. I understand the difficulty in making this step and if you are even interested in meeting your biological family. I understand if you have no interest in knowing where you came from. I am prepared to handle that when and if that time comes. I just want you to know that you are loved!
I have started the outreach process in hopes to someday meet you. I have so many questions and so much to tell you!
-Your biological sister
Our agency has facilitated searches for birth parents, children, and siblings. For more information about re-connecting, visit the Adoption Search page.
We are sitting this holiday weekend in the blessing of the free gift God gave us all, forgiveness of sins and adoption into His family. Our spring newsletter went out this week, and it gave just a peak into the important season in one birth father's life. Here's a snippet of his story:
Soon, the Case Manager lost contact with Matthew. She learned that he had been arrested and was in jail. Matthew could have used this as an excuse to become uninvolved, but instead he turned it into a motivator. Matthew used his time in jail to focus on what was best for his child and what God wanted for him.
Even though it wasn’t easy for Matthew, he continued to be involved in the process.
Meeting with the Case Manager while in jail, he concluded adoption was best for his child. Matthew was able to select a family alongside the birth mother, and the adoptive family
even honored his request to visit him while incarcerated.
Because Matthew was given a voice, he became an advocate for his daughter and formed a relationship with the adoptive family...
(Read the full newsletter)
Please join us in prayer for Matthew and other birth parents who are struggling to make good choices and be obedient to Christ. We all are in need of God's redeeming love, and your prayer for birth parents and families as they navigate their relationships is so appreciated.
*Name changed for confidentiality
son’s birth mom who was going into labor and considering placing the baby with their family so the siblings would be together. Everything happened quickly and communication was flying back and forth between the Rinns, our agency, and the birth family as mom was making last minute decisions rather than connecting earlier with our agency. As the hours and days went by and the fog of unanswered questions thinned in the light of day, light of day, mom solidified her decision to parent and the Rinns were left with a sense of loss over a child that was never theirs. They were understandably frustrated as emotions had gone from high to low and our agency was in a bind when the birth mom did not connect with us regarding her wishes. What felt like an unnecessary trial turned into a refining fire clarifying their desire to grow their family through adoption yet again. These few days were a catalyst bringing the idea of infant adoption back into focus.
When Josh & Amy stepped through the doors of Christian Adoption Services in late winter, they had hope for the spring and the new life that would come into their family. They were joyful about their future family of four and knew it was time to pursue that dream. The loss during the previous summer shifted the Rinn’s vision of their family composition and their son was eager to become a big brother. The conversation with our staff was highly anticipated as they had only spoken with these workers during their frustrating possible match with their son’s birth mom. With a huge life decision involving the deepest emotions of parents and significant financial investment, trust had to be built for social workers who would lead them in navigating the blurry yet exhilarating path toward their unborn child. Leaving the CAS office, Josh & Amy were taking their first step into home study approval and the waiting period until expectant parents would choose them to raise their child.
The Rinn’s journey started to weave together with the birth parents six months later. Their lives would become intertwined in a beautiful image of love for the son they all cared for deeply even before his life began. It was autumn when CAS received a text from an expectant woman, *Julia, who was 20 weeks pregnant. She and her long-term boyfriend, *Tony, were in their 30s and 40s, lived in separate towns, and already had children from previous relationships. The thought of starting over with a new baby was not something either felt prepared for – emotionally or financially.
After much counseling and tears, Julia & Tony concluded choosing an adoptive family was what their child needed the most. This decision never comes easy to birth parents. Adopted children are wanted and loved by their birth parents, and allowing someone else to be mom and dad is a sacrificial decision!
While looking through profiles books, Julia & Tony felt a sense of peace and connection when picturing the Rinns as parents to this baby. The next months were an emotional flurry as Julia & Tony and Josh & Amy planned to meet each other and carefully consider the future of the precious unborn baby boy. In December, CAS held a “Match” meeting for the families. During this meeting, Josh & Amy saw the vision of becoming a family of four a little clearer.
A short month and a half later, Josh & Amy brought their beautiful baby boy home! Today the Rinns remain in contact with Julia & Tony. They share emails, pictures, and visits. Even though individuals walking through the adoption process experience loss and grief, all parties can celebrate the new life that comes forth by providing a child with a forever family.
*Names changed for confidentiality
As Case Manager, I had the opportunity of being part of a birth father reconnecting with his daughter after 18 years. He shared parts of his story below. Unfortunately, I do not get the chance to work with birth fathers as much as I would like to. Sometimes they are unknown or they are scared to be part of the process.
- Destrie Overmoe, LSW
Q. What was your role as a Birth Father at that time?
My role was not nearly as difficult or mentally taxing as [the birth mom’s]. And I carried a lot of guilt, shame and downright worthlessness about not being a man. I could not speak of it to anyone because I thought I was not being a man.
This isn’t an uncommon feeling for birth parents. The thought of not being ready or able to raise a child is sometimes mistaken for weakness. We encourage birth parents to know that adoption is a responsible and brave choice.
Q. Did you participate in counseling?
One time for me.
One meeting is sometimes all we have with birth fathers. As an agency, we strive to be inclusive of birth fathers.
Q. What did the weeks following the adoption look like for you?
I never grieved. With death there is a degree of closure. With this there never was closure. I just kept moving along because it [helped] me cope. But there were a lot of times throughout the years where something or a word stops you in your tracks…
Q. How have you come to find joy in your decision?
The day I saw [my daughter] walking towards me with a huge smile. I was prepared to bawl like a little child. Instead we hugged and 18 years of the worst feelings I have been carrying about me disappeared. Neither of us shed a tear. Hearing her say she never even had one thought of hate or anything negative towards me, only one word comes to mind. Forgiveness!
...we hugged and 18 years of the worst feelings I have been carrying about me disappeared.
Openness is something that wasn’t as prevalent 18 years ago, as it is today. We see a lot of healing happen when birth families, adoptive families, and the adoptee can maintain a relationship.
Q. Talk about communication and openness you have with the adoptive family.
[My daughter’s] parents are absolutely the kindest, nicest people I have met. Her mom and I have gotten to know each other and trust each other. I just really respect them both!
Q. How did the adoptive family support and help you?
Her mother has given me countless pictures and stories of [my daughter] growing up and has made me feel like I’m a part of her. I cannot thank them enough for how they have welcomes me into their lives.
Q. What advice would you give birth fathers going through this process?
Be honest with yourself. I never spoke to anyone how I was feeling. Do anything and everything you can do so one day that child will know you have always cared.
-CAS Birth Father (placement about 18 years ago)
For more insight into the role of birth father's, see the links below:
-Newsletter Focused on Birth Father
-Birth Father Video
Q: What led to your adoption decision?
I was at a point in my life where I was separated from my then husband, basically a single mother with no job, no work experience, living at home with my parents, and no clue what I was going to do with my life. I wasn't prepared to bring another kid into this world when my life was such a mess. I had briefly looked into getting an abortion, but couldn’t afford one without asking for money. Being a mom already I decided I couldn't go through with killing a baby just because I was pregnant at an inconvenient point in my life. I had talked to my mom about it and she said to contact the Pregnancy Center in [my home town].
Q: Did you feel prepared to walk through that decision?
I didn’t know what to expect as I didn’t know much about the adoption process other than what I watched in the movie Juno (haha!). I just went into it with an open mind. I had already made up my mind about it so whether or not I was prepared I was going through with it.
Q: What did your Case Worker do to prepare you?
[My Case Worker] was awesome. She was so nice and understanding. I could tell she had been doing this a long time because she was so caring, supportive, and knew exactly what to do and say when things got difficult. She gave me so much information about adoption and the process, and was so easy to work with. She was really my rock when we met the adoptive parents for the first time.
and they were all very supportive too. I kind of announced it on Facebook the Easter before I had her (like 4-6 weeks before my due date), and had an amazing outpouring of love and support with my decision. There were a few people who weren’t very nice about it though.
Q: How did you choose a family?
I got profile booklets to look through. I looked for a Catholic family, since I was Catholic, so I got only catholic family profiles. Their profile caught my eye because so many of their pictures were family orientated, they were candid [and] really showed their love for life. And they traveled, everywhere. I've always wanted to travel and see the ocean and I wanted this baby to be able to see everything I've ever wanted to see. Meeting them really cemented my decision. They were open and honest, and loved me.
Q: Describe your relationship with your child & her adoptive parents?
Almost fairy-tale like. I never expected to gain a whole new side to my family like I did with them. Their families were so open and accepting of me and my family. We talk on a regular basis and they send me pictures all the time. I get to talk to my daughter on the phone. It’s just amazing. I couldn't ask for a better relationship.
Q: What did the adoptive family do to support you & make you feel loved?
They came to all my appointments after we first met, met my family and endured an interrogation from my little brothers. They were able to stay in a room next to mine in the hospital and gave me all the time I wanted with her, then called a day or so after I was discharged from the hospital to see how I was doing, if I needed anything, and to thank me for giving them such a blessing. They've been so supportive though all my schooling, and just keep my family and I involved in what's going on in their lives.
Q: What is one thing adoption has taught you?
How misunderstood adoption is. So many people assume that the reason for adoption is a negative one...that the baby isn’t wanted or loved, that the mother is addicted to drugs, or a teenager, or that the decision was forced. It may be the case in some cases, but no one realizes the thought process behind the decision, the emotions that the birth mother goes through, or the amount of ridicule they go through from some of society for giving their baby away because other people "could never just give their baby away to strangers". They don't realize how intensely LOVED that little baby is to have that mother make the incredibly self-less decision to give that child a chance at a better life. A life they couldn’t give that child themselves. They have no clue about the struggle that mom had to go through to make that decision. For me, it was an easy decision, but I know that's not the case for other birth moms. I feel like I got very lucky with my adoption experience, and I wish there was more support for the birth mothers who struggled, and still struggle with their decision.
-CAS Birth Mother (placement about 8 years ago)
TONIGHT! 11/20 Birth Mom small group, 5:30-6:30pm at FM Area Foundation. Next year's dates:
Brave Love is an organization we have been blessed by through their video content and beautiful stories shedding light on a birth parents' loving decision. We use their videos when we speak about current adoption practices and positive language. Some of our adoptive families have purchased gifts from their shop and we are grateful for this pro-adoption movement. We spoke with Laura, their executive director, about being an agency partner. If you look at their map, North Dakota is not represented and we would love to be that beacon of hope for pregnant women who stumble across Brave Love looking for another option for their child. This partnership includes an annual fee of $600 and we would love to make that commitment, but we need your help. Would you consider coming alongside us in this partnership with Brave Love? Co-sponsors investing up to half the cost would really help make this commitment possible for our ministry. Donate now or contact us at 701-237-4473 if you have questions.
One of our birth mom clients wrote this article that brings a very personal perspective to the stigma felt by birth moms who choose life and a loving couple to raise their child. We hope you find this enlightening and can reflect on how we each might encourage life in our community.**
Why Birth Parents are Shunned While Adoptive Parents are Praised
People are typically surprised when they discover I have had a child. They are even further perplexed when I inform them that I chose adoption for my daughter. After the initial shock wears off, they often begin spewing out generic statements of praise such as, “You’re so brave,” or “What a selfless choice.” And although the words they speak are kind, sometimes I can’t help but notice a bit of a false or forced tone to them; almost as though they are only saying it because that is what is polite and not because that is how they genuinely feel. In fact, I am not the only person who has noticed this phenomenon, which leads me to believe that society holds a double standard when it comes to adoption. There seems to be a preconceived, negative view of birth parents who chose adoption, but a largely positive view of the families who choose to adopt the child.
Part of the blame can easily be placed on the history of adoption. The practice of raising another individual’s child as one’s own actually goes back all the way to the times of ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. According to E. Carp in his book, Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption (1998), in an attempt to carry on their bloodlines, families would adopt a male child from another family and raise him as their own (pg. 3).
Toward the 16th century, people started changing their views on this practice; any infertility was heavily scrutinized by the community and any means of forming a family outside of natural birth was deemed “Un-Christian”. The views of adoption really started to head south around the 1800s, when parents who were unable to provide for their children adequately sent them to live in orphanages and almshouses, or were taken there as an attempt to protect them from their home life. As many of us know today, the orphanages during that time were highly inadequate and the children often faced multiple forms of abuse.
Despite these horrendous truths, unwed women at the time who were facing an unexpected pregnancy were often forced to either get married before the child was born or place it for adoption. In an interview with Lisa Smith*, now an adult with children of her own, she discussed her mother’s experience of having her child removed from her, despite her wishes to keep it;
She didn't want to adopt my brother out. She was forced to. That's why she hid her pregnancy with me. She wasn't going to lose another child. She became an alcoholic along with my step-father. She mentions my brother sometimes and I can still see the hurt in her eyes and she is now 74.
In her article, “The Case Against Adoption: Research and Alternatives for Concerned Citizens”, Jessica DelBalzo insists that in most instances, adoption agencies pressure pregnant women into choosing adoption so that they can continue their business and earn their paychecks. A study from Baylor University was conducted last month by Elissa Madden, PHD, Scott Ryan, PHD, Donna Aguiniga, PHD, Olga Verbovaya, MSW, Marcus Crawford, MSW, and Chandler Gobin, BA, about the different counseling experiences that birth mothers had. They were surprised to discover that there were many mixed feelings; however, several women were dissatisfied with the level of counseling they received and many felt that they were unprepared for the termination process. Hearing stories like these, it is easy to understand why someone would be quick to judge birth parents and the adoption process in general.
In an interview with D. Overmoe and T. Bloch from Christian Adoption Services (an adoption agency in Fargo, ND), the two insist that, although they are not able to vouch for all agencies, it is never their intent to pressure an individual into something they are not comfortable with; whether that be the birth mother, birth father, perspective families, or anyone else involved in the process. They also want to make sure that the birth family is able to get the help that they need in order to be ready for such a difficult decision. Their organization likes to visit with the birth mothers at least once a week to make sure everything is going smoothly and help them cope with any grief or stress that they are experiencing. They admitted that it is easier to form these kinds of relationships because they are a small organization.
So you might be asking yourself, “why do birth mothers even choose adoption?” I, like numerous others who chose adoption, was simply not ready to be a mother, both mentally and financially. I had just decided to go back to school, was working part-time at two jobs and still living paycheck to paycheck, and I wasn’t ready for all of the responsibilities that come with raising a child.
In another interview conducted with Andrew Campbell*, now in his 20s, he stated “My parents [placed me] for adoption when I was born because my sister was only three months old when my mom got pregnant, but after I was born and they gave me to the family, they [biological parents] took me back. I think they [adoptive parents] had me for like a week, maybe two.” He went on later to say, “It makes people ask a lot of questions about a topic that most people will never probably feel comfortable talking about. Whenever I told somebody that I was [placed] I've always gotten sympathy.”
The key word that stuck out to me when he said this was "sympathy". Society these days automatically associates adoption as a sad, negative process, when in most instances it is done with the child in mind as an attempt to give them every opportunity that the birth parent couldn’t provide. Overmoe proclaimed, “When a lot of people think of adoption, they think of foster care where it wasn’t a choice and [the child] was removed from the home due to drugs, etc.” The two also described how some view open adoptions as a threat because, if the mother didn’t want the child in the first place, why should she get to visit now?
To counter this argument, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, and Children’s Bureau teamed up to produce an article on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website entitled Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents, in which they mention a study by S. M. Henney, S. Ayers-Lopez, R. G. McRoy, and H. D. Grotevant (2007) where they determined, “Birth parents in an open adoption have been shown to have better post-adoption adjustment, increased satisfaction with the adoption process, and better grief resolution” (par. 22). The amount of openness in an adoption is often dependent on the birth mother and the adoptive family, but most find that, although it may be difficult at first, it is easier in the long run to have an open adoption because then you don’t have to wonder about how the child is doing, what they look like now, and what sort of person they have grown into.
However, they also discuss some of the other hardships that birth parents experience; such as struggling to find their place in the child’s life, difficulties in later relationships and with later children, and challenges with their personal identity (whether or not they are considered a parent, etc.). I chose to have an open adoption and I believe it has really helped me heal and it has lessened the grief knowing I could see my child again soon.
Another stigma often associated with birth mothers is the idea that they don’t want or love their child because they are choosing adoption. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I know that for me, placing my daughter was easily the hardest decision of my life up to this point. When asked in a personal interview about her experience, Jane Doe*, a birth mother whose child is now 13, stated, “I did get comments from people asking if I loved my baby since I was choosing adoption. … People act like it's the worst thing that could happen.” Katie Davidson*, a young mother who chose to keep her child, shed some insight on society as a whole by declaring:
People are so quick to judge on this subject because they usually don’t have a clue what’s going on and then the mother looks like they are a bad person. But you know if that mother would have kept the baby they would have judged that too. I have learned one thing, and that is no matter
what your choices are; whether it's adoption, abortion, keeping baby, breastfeeding, formula etc.,
we will always be degraded by someone.
To reinforce Davidson’s statement, Raina Kelley quoted Adam Pertman, the director of Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, in her article, “Why Birth Moms Deserve Respect”, as saying, “Our society has lifted much of the stigma of single motherhood, but still finds it difficult to support a woman who is, as they see it, abandoning her child” (par. 5). People are so focused on what happened in the past that they don’t even realize that times have changed and what used to be a terrible sentence for a child is now a wonderful opportunity.
So what can we do to change the views on adoption? The answer is actually fairly simple; educate others. One of the biggest reasons why birth parents are looked down upon is because they are simply misunderstood. If we can inform others that adoption has changed since the 1800s, that it’s not just children being forcefully removed from their homes, that their biological parents were often doing what they felt was best for their child, then maybe society would change their views on them. Overmoe and Bloch spend a portion of their time going around to local high schools for the sole purpose of educating students about adoption. The two discuss how, especially with debates over abortion in full swing, you see people arguing pro-life, but never even mentioning the idea of pro-adoption. This gives the impression that, when faced with an unexpected pregnancy, your only options are abortion and parenting, which is not the case. The duo hopes that by informing students of all their options, they can better make a decision that works for them.
Another easy way to help birth parents is to provide support groups. It is important to grieve properly in difficult situations such as this, and support groups can help birth parents realize that they are not alone in what they are experiencing. It is relieving knowing that others have faced what you’re facing and they have come out on the other side still in-tact. According to their studies, Madden, et. all suggest that birth parents who received adequate grief counseling were more at peace with their decision and overall, had more positive feelings toward adoption. We have support groups for alcoholics, suicidal individuals, those dealing with cancer, and people with Alzheimer’s, so why not have support groups for birth parents?
These two simple steps aren’t going to magically solve everything right away, but they are an excellent place to start. The most important thing is to talk about adoption, get it out of the shadows. We need to make people see that it isn’t a dirty thing that needs to be covered up and hidden, it is a gift of life; both to the child and to the family who might not have otherwise been able to have a child of their own. We need to recognize that, while it is a remarkable decision to raise another person’s child and take on that responsibility, it is also a remarkable decision to allow someone to raise your child as their own. Choosing to place your child for adoption is difficult, having to live with that decision shouldn’t have to be.
*Names were changed to protect anonymity
** This article has been republished with the author's consent. The opinions expressed in this article are personal, and not necessarily the perspective of Christian Adoption Services. Emphasis ours.
Be sure to come back for next week's post with Adoptive Family resources!
Natalie came to our office pregnant with her third child, and without a permanent job or housing. She didn’t have custody of her first two children and working with Christian Adoption Services was a proactive step toward making a loving decision to seek the best future for her child. Natalie met with us over several months and spoke with her case worker about what she would like to provide her child. She carefully selected a family to meet and invited them into the process of Doctor appointments and preparing for placement of the child in their home. She had an opportunity to grieve and discuss goals for her future and the relationship she would like to have with her son. This was a chance for Natalie to have options; she chose the parents her son would call mom & dad and she chose to provide for his needs in a way she did not foresee being able to herself. Natalie avoided having her rights involuntarily terminated and having little control in the placement and future of her son. She put aside her own desires out of love for him…
The parents we work with come from a wide range of circumstances and though multiple factors make them so different from each other, something they all have in common is that they love the baby and are thinking ahead to the life they want for their child. Natalie knew she didn't have the financial stability or supports to provide what she knew her little guy needed. Statistics show that the poverty rate for single-mother families in 2013 was 39.6%* and nearly 22% single mothers had no health coverage in 2013.^
It is hard to look ahead when you are stuck in the middle of a difficult situation. No one expects to have their rights involuntarily terminated and county social services to dictate who will care for their child. When a client has a history of working with social services, it is all the more crucial to understand the opportunity to choose a different future for their child and empower them to learn about creating an adoption plan. However, the most recent data** shows that over 400,000 kids are in the foster care system. We know this is a serious issue and we want to honor the families who welcome foster care placements. We encourage foster care adoption and support this month of awareness. It is an important effort in decreasing the number of kids waiting for placement.
As an agency, we wonder, how can we prevent more children from entering the foster care system? The root issues run so deep and we know there are many great organizations working towards these issues. Instances of addiction, unsafe relationships or trafficking may influence separating a child from their parents. For CAS, we see an opportunity to present these vulnerable families with the choice of adoption earlier. This is a choice to select what family raises their child, a choice to have some control over how often they communicate with or see their child, a choice to voluntarily terminate their rights to give their child a loving, two-parent forever family. It is important that individuals close to pregnant women who may not be able to meet their child's physical, emotional, spiritual needs share the option of adoption. Friends, family, teachers, medical professionals, church communities, and case workers all have an impact on how pregnant women perceive the choice of adoption. If it is seen as abandonment, women will not consider this choice even if they are on a path towards involuntary termination and having no control over their child's upbringing. Infant adoption is much more than a preventative measure. The discouraging statistics (infograph from Michigan Foster Care) about foster alumni make us feel even stronger about the need to share the loving choice of adoption with pregnant women considering their options. They don't have to parent if they choose life, they can offer to bring together a forever family.
Voluntary vs Involuntary termination: Both are legal processes involving a court hearing during which a judge issues a decree that permanently ends all legal parental rights of a birth parent to a child. Generally in our agency's adoption practice the parents are choosing (voluntarily) to end their right so the adoptive couple has full parental rights. We seek to assist birth parents with that choice rather than have their rights (involuntarily) terminated later on when parenting is unsuccessful.
**US Dept of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Family: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport23.pdf
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