In the "Open Adoption Interview Project," I was paired up with Jenni, author of In His Easy Yoke. Jenni relinquished her first daughter fifteen years ago to what was supposed to be an open adoptive situation. Since then, the adoptive family has cut off all contact with Jenni, and she's trying to resume contact so that she can know her daughter.
Jenni writes passionately and convincingly about the dark underbelly of the adoption process from the perspective of the expectant mother considering adoption. Check her out!
Here's a link to all the adoption bloggers who participated in this interview project.
My interview of her follows; you can find her interview of me at her blog.
The Sought-After: If you had a magic wand that would allow you to change three things about adoption practices in the United States right now, what would they be?
In His Easy Yoke: Well, I’m not sure we could change adoption in the way it needs to be changed unless we addressed what causes it to be so broken. Otherwise, the “fixes” are just band-aids. I believe the driving force behind the broken system is the fact that adoption is considered to be the panacea for infertility. That right there, unfortunately, gives birth to a gigantic snowball of issues that just rolls on and on and grows larger and larger. Infertility is a grievous thing, and so naturally it draws all sorts of sympathy and compassion, as well it should. What it should not do, however, is merit greater sympathy and importance than other losses. Within adoption, that is exactly what has happened.
I would say that the falsehoods that have been born from this hierarchy of loss have led to too many injustices to count. But if I had to pick a top three, they might be:
1) Sealed original birth certificates which are replaced with falsified BCs. Speaks for itself, right?
2) Openness agreements are not legally enforceable, and are only made as “good faith” agreements. Again, the problems with this are pretty self-explanatory. I’m hoping to post about the myth of openness sometime in the near future. Many women are “sold” on adoption because of how openness is presented today. It is presented as something that provides more of a choice for an expectant mom, but in reality, she has no choice or power in the situation at all. Conversely, adoptive parents are often very ill-informed and therefore ill-prepared for what open adoption actually is. I find that many parents agree to it out of duty once they get beyond their initial fears, but do not equip themselves to follow through when they discover it can be hard work. Agencies often don’t provide much information on the front end of things regarding what adoption looks like further out from relinquishing or adopting a child.
3) I believe it is a very large conflict of interest to allow agencies that profit from adoption to represent both the adoptive families and the expectant parents. If it is illegal in many states for a real estate agent to dually represent sellers and buyers, how can we not see the seriousness of this within adoption? It is a simple concept, but so hard for people to see. They don’t like to view adoption as a business like real estate. Of course not. That is vulgar, right? But although children are not commodities to be bought, that is what it boils down to. The agency or attorney is weighted toward the side of the deal that has the most to offer. Throw in the element of religion and faith-based organizations that are prejudiced against single mothers and it becomes so heavily weighted to one side that it’s a wonder it doesn’t fall right over. LOL Mothers and their babies need to be represented with as much care and concern as those who long to be parents. Anything less is inhumane.
TSA: Since we don't have a magic wand, how do you think these changes can be brought about?
IHEY: So many efforts are underway to open birth records. There is a big beast standing in front of the door, and many, many people who are not familiar with adoption law don’t even know it is an issue. I believe that we just need to keep spreading the word and bombarding our legislators with fact and real life experiences. I know from working inside politics and among senators day in and day out that hounding your legislators DOES work if you are persistent enough. J But we need to be articulate, informed and compelling in our persistence if we want to be heard and respected and effect change.
2) With regard to openness, I find that just like in the case of sealed records, when I explain to someone how openness agreements work, they are usually shocked. It seems to be another one of those issues where the problem is not a lack of compassion, but rather, just a lack of knowledge. Adoption is still a relatively taboo subject. We need folks with real life adoption experiences to share them and talk about what life inside open adoption is really like – the good and the bad. People run from what they fear. If we rely on the Lifetime Movie Network to be the basis of what we know about adoption, we will only know fear and not reality. LOL As more people speak up and speak out about healthy adoption relationships, I believe there will be more support for legally enforcing openness agreements. Just as with open records, we need to be hounding our lawmakers on the state level about this issue. Above all, we need to be asking those affected the most by the contact agreements, the adoptees, what their experiences have been and listen to what they want us to hear.
3) I am honestly at a loss for how dual representation can be addressed. It already seems like such a no-brainer, for lack of a better term. But I guess that is what happens when you have a multi-billion dollar industry that is unregulated. Things like this just go unchecked. The marketing paints such a beautiful, emotional, bitter-sweet picture, that it is hard for anyone to see past it. There are some things that give me hope, though. I am so glad to know many adoptive parents who understand the problems within the industry. I don’t believe all of the burden should fall on them, but I do believe they wield a lot of power. Many of them adopt more than once. This is an excellent opportunity to speak with their agency about the concerns they have regarding policies and practices. If more people would walk away from unethical agencies, the agencies would either have to change their practices or lose clients, therefore, losing business. Women who relinquish can’t remain silent, either. Ethical agencies need to be commended, and unethical ones need to be spoken against. We can’t bury our experiences, wash our hands and walk away. We owe it to others who will come behind us to speak out about damaging counseling methods and to offer resources and working solutions to problems within the process.
TSA: If you could have the kind of contact you want with your firstborn daughter, what do you think your relationship with her would be like?
IHEY: If I could have things exactly how I wanted them, I would never have relinquished my daughter. I know there are reasons that others feel were legitimate (mostly due to my age) but in all honesty, I believe that I should have fought harder against all of that. I wish that she was upstairs sleeping right now as I write this… a daily part of my life. Obviously, that’s not how things ended up. I have a semi-open agreement on paper. In reality, it is closed. We have no contact. I would be overjoyed to be able to correspond with her directly. I would like to have a relationship rather than be strangers. In all fairness to her, I believe I would probably want more from the relationship than she would want to give. (Don’t all parents of teens? J) I’d love to see her and talk with her about her life… what is important to her. I’d love to answer my phone and have it be her on the other end… to have a conversation that was natural and easy. But I don’t know if that is possible. I have hope for the future, though. My heart tells me that I want to soak up everything about her and demonstrate how much I love her and care about her life – flaws and all. I love her with a mother’s heart. But my head tells me that it is selfish of me to desire that from her, and that I don’t deserve anything of the sort. I gave her away to strangers, and I just don’t know how a relationship recovers from that. I can give her all of the reasons and circumstances behind it, but at the end of the day, I believe I failed her, and it seems like that resigns me to be to her whatever she will allow. I’ll take what I can get.
TSA: You mention that there are lots of "triggers" in your adoption life with no healthy way to work through the resulting issues--what do you think would be healthy ways to work through them?
IHEY: Up until recently, I really had no one in real life with whom to discuss adoption and my grief. Recently, my sister and I have begun talking about it, and just a couple of weeks ago my mother found my blog. That has prompted some good discussions and has opened the door for more healthy communication about what happened so long ago. We have only mentioned it a handful of times in the last 15 years. So I am hopeful that the newfound openness will allow me a place to go when I need to discuss something adoption-related that is weighing me down. Honestly, the best thing I believe I can do for myself is to focus on what I CAN change instead of letting what I can’t change cripple me. I do have to revisit the past in order to sort some of that out, but blogging has been cathartic and does provide some clarity. Writing is a good thing. I can work through my thoughts and emotions, and if I do it online, I can benefit from connecting with others who understand. I believe that it is extremely important to read views that differ from our own in order to stretch and grow and give us greater understanding of the complexities of adoption. But at the end of the day, when I am heartsick about how broken and twisted adoption can be at times, it is good for me to talk with people who share my same convictions and can help encourage me to focus on what is right and true, rather than let emotions get the best of me.
TSA: If you were in a room with ten pregnant women who were considering adoption, what would you tell them?
IHEY: I LOVE the CUB pamphlet written by Heather Lowe. It is entitled “What You Should KNOW If You Are Considering Adoption for Your Baby”. If anyone reading here is unfamiliar with it, I STRONGLY recommend you check it out, no matter how adoption has affected your life. You can find it at http://www.cubirthparents.org/.
I first read it years after I relinquished, but my jaw just hit the floor. Many of the things it addressed were feelings I had at the time I relinquished that went against what I was being told by my agency and my parents. It is a very common sense approach that is most definitely NOT offered through the counseling a woman gets from an agency or attorney. I started to go into specific points that the brochure addresses, but I just couldn’t say anything better than what it already explains. I think bringing up these facts to a woman who is considering relinquishment is one of the kindest things I could offer her. When you make a decision based on facts and truth, you are more likely able to own that decision. Oftentimes, during the process of making that decision, the focus is placed solely on what the mother cannot or should not do. I have never spoken to a woman who relinquished who said that anything long-term was discussed – especially with regard to how her relinquished child would feel. Being a “birth mom” has affected every area of my life. With each new phase or milestone, the wound is reopened in some way and I have to process things all over again. I think it would be foolish to assume that my daughter has just gone on to live a perfectly happy life without being affected by being relinquished. It would have changed things drastically for me had I realized that my decision did not guarantee happiness for her. I find that many women who have recently relinquished often have some sort of sad resignation to “getting pregnant so that the adoptive couple could have the gift of being parents… It was God’s plan.” Sigh. This is probably my number one thing that I want to shout from the rooftops to others considering adoption… Your purpose in life is not to fulfill the desires of people who want to be parents! Don’t let anyone guilt you into believing it! LOL There are other people to be considered who are rarely entered into the equation – the adopted person and the mothers who give birth to them. Their desires, happiness and well-being are just as important and God loves them just as much as He loves people who want to be parents! Babies don’t stay babies, but rather, grown into people with feelings and opinions that MATTER. And women who lose those babies have a lot of years of living ahead where they will struggle with how their loss affects them within each new phase of life.