Monday, December 17, 2007

Disturbing Thought

If there was a demand for healthy two-year-olds, if there were a sizable number of parents who wanted to adopt, but did not want to deal with the baby stuff, would there be a system for mothers to relinquish their toddlers?

Would we have laws describing how many days or hours she has to change her mind? Would there be advertisements on the bus? Would there narratives about young single women who realized that their toddlers simply needed more than they could give and who then made the "beautiful choice" the "loving sacrifice" of surrendering them to infertile women who had spouses who worked full time and could stay home and give the toddler the love and care he or she deserved?

When women with toddlers went to apply for welfare benefits, would social workers ask them if they had considered adoption? How about when they broke down and cried at the doctor's office about how overwhelmed they were?

If this is unthinkable, why is it so?

Surely we could give counseling and support to all members of the triad so as to make the change in family as non-traumatic as possible. Children of all ages sometimes need new parents. It has always been that way, and it always will. Surely abuse and neglect are far worse for children's psyches than transfer from one loving but overwhelmed parent to another loving attentive parent.

Can you imagine that world? Imagine that when protective services was called for the first time about suspected abuse the social workers always reminded the parents that surrendering their child could be a loving choice. Perhaps she would even show them photographs of smiling couples with beautiful houses in excellent school districts.

Why is that world so disturbing, but the world of infant adoption not?

I find this imagined world appalling, and yet part of me is not so sure. I care for children who have been badly neglected and abused. They are severely traumatized. I have argued many times that David's mother when she first was an abandoned, abused, uneducated young mother of two should have been offered the care she needed so that she could have cared for her two sons. She should not have had to live the live she did, often homeless and unable to feed these children and the ones who came after.

It had never occurred to me, before today, that maybe she should have been offered the chance to surrender her children to "a better life."

Why do we demand that people take care of their older children, only removing them from their care when they have been severely abused, but set up systems for people to give away their infants?

Is it just because there are so many people who want to adopt those infants?

Of course partly it is because we believe infants are somehow blank slates. They will not remember; they will attach to their new parents; it will be just as if the parents had had the child biologically.

Perhaps it is because of how we perceive options? Historically women could not control whether they got pregnant or stayed pregnant. Today their ability to do so is far from complete. Is infant adoption part of our culture because that was the first point that parents really had a choice? Do we deny parents of older children the choice of surrender because they really had a chance to make another choice and didn't? "You took this kid home from the hospital, now you have to take care of it."

Does anyone know the current laws or history of surrendering children for adoption? How old does a child have to be before people stop saying that surrending it is "a loving choice" and start thinking it is appalling?

Where is that line, and can we persuade ourselves that it is there because that is what is in the best interest of the child, or is it about what the adopters want?

I know I sound anti-adoption, but I'm not, not really.

It's just these questions come into my brain and I find I cannot answer them.


  1. There are women who give up their toddlers to a "better life". It makes me sick to my stomach to think of it.

    The plain truth is that there is a world of difference between a newborn going to a new parent and a fully-cognizent child going to a new parent.

    People reqlinquish their parental rights of older kids, and I think that if it's sometimes necessary, there is an understanding of the deep and permanant damage that does to a kid that makes it instinctively abhorrant.

    A baby has a limited grasp on the understanding of parent and caretaker. There are reprocussions, but they often bond to the person who does the caretaking.

    A two year old KNOWS who mommy is, and that mommy gave her or him up and is not coming back.

    The very idea of that makes me want to sob.

  2. I'm sorry. I realized that my response was rather female gender-heavy when it came to giving up children. Of course, if the children are being given up their fathers have done it, too.

  3. You know, Yondalla I haven't thought of this either until now when you brought it up.

    I think you've put your finger on why so many people are anti-adoption. And why reunification is the end goal of all CPS efforts (save those rare infant cases, and usually even then).

  4. To me coming from a country where infantadoption voirtually does not exist find boith situation you sketch out here equally disturbing..


  5. I am a foster parent who only takes in young children so I have seen this happen. My current foster son is 16 months and has down syndrome. The social workers AND the mom's lawyer have all agreed that she is not able to successfully parent him. They paid for counselling and after three months of him being in care she relinquished her rights. Is it sad, yes, incredibly so, but in the new year he will be adopted by people who will love him AND be able to meet his needs.

    It has been my experience that social workers here assess a situation and move very quickly. Technically they have 18 months before a decision has to be made but they usually have a good sense of wether the parents are going to be able to get custody of the children back. I would say about 25% go for adoption, 25% go back to birth parents and 50% go to family placements. These numbers are based on my placements and are in no way an accurate statistic.

  6. The thought that infants are blank slates as being a reason why infant adoption doesn't seem so appalling is what immediately came to mind; so I wonder if that's a big reason in other people's minds, too?

    (Sorry, this is just a really rushed comment, but I thought I'd leave a note, anyways)

  7. I find that social workers discuss the idea of relinquishment with parents around the time that a TPR becomes possible. This way the parent can "make a loving decision" for their child instead of having their rights forcibly taken away. In fact, one of my kids is upset that her parents won't do this because she thinks they are being selfish by making them go to a court trial which they are bound to lose. She just wants the process to be over with. To be honest, I would rather know that my mother made the decision for me to go to another home because she knew she couldn't take care of me rather than knowing that a judge took away the rights of my mother because she was unfit. But then, I've never been in foster care so I can only go off of what I've seen so far.

  8. Girl you hit the nail on the head. I'm linking to this post.

  9. I can imagine (somewhat) that knowing your parent(s) chose to give you up and walk away would hurt, a lot--would be something that maybe you can only come to terms with, rather than get over.

    But it's still a hell of a lot better than abuse, so I say it can still be considered a loving choice. Not always--nothing can work for everyone, all the time--but in some cases, I think it could.

    More than that--why should birth parents have to walk away at all? Can't even later-on adoptions be open? If all involved can emotionally handle it, I don't get why they SHOULD have to say goodbye forever. I don't know much (to say the least) about the psychology of little kids, but they often understand more than we expect; it wouldn't be long before they understood this is home now. Mommy comes to visit sometimes, and now they live with Mama Gwen and Daddy Nigel (or Mama Noelle, whichever!).

  10. Y, I can't speak for domestic adoption (b/c I've never done it) but with regards to older children and international adoption... my kids were 3.5, 1, 5, 3, (years) and 6 months when their birthmothers relinquished them to an orphanage. Being from a country where no social programs exist, it is easy to say that overwhelming poverty caused their mom's to look for a better option, right? That in their birth country, there literally was NO opportunity for them to feed or clothe their children, to obtain medical care, to get an education, so they chose to give them a chance at a better life. We stress to our kids all the time that their moms loved/and LOVE them. But some of them still articulate that they think they were given up because they were bad (and the baby because his diapers were stinky). And what makes it tough is that they all have birth siblings that were KEPT, while they were given away. Adoption is not the norm in their country... I always struggle with the question: "Is it more loving to keep your child with you and watch them starve to death, or to turn them over to an orphanage and know you'll never see them again?" I'm not sure which my children would say, but the wounds caused by their moms' decisions are definitely deeper for the kids that were relinquished later.


  11. I don't know but there's something very visceral about Corey's comment. The world is imperfect. When I think about all the times in history when a parent had to choose between sending their child away and knowing they will survive or keeping them with them and facing a very real risk of death, I get nauseous. The British who sent their children to Canada during world war two (and some of whom did not come home again), the Jews who sent their children to other European countries or gave them to christian orphanages, and countless other times in history.

    From my own perspective, if we had been removed earlier, I think I would have a different perspective, but really, after many years of living with a parent, especially a mentally ill and dysfunctional one, I would question why I was given away so easily, what did I do wrong?

    As an adult, I can see that either a) my father (or a grandparent) stepping up to the plate earlier or b) being put up for adoption, might have been a better choice than living with her. It would still hurt like hell, but maybe life would have been different?

  12. Wow. I really don't know what to think. I was an infant -- a blank slate, so to speak -- when I was adopted yet I had attachment issues. My brother was nearly 3 years old when we adopted him and he had no attachment issues.

    My children's bio mom was TPRd on the first two children; she relinquished the youngest to me, after tremendous efforts to keep him with her. I know she feels secure with that decision and felt a sense of empowerment.

    What's going to be interesting is bio mom is now again pregnant. Again, all efforts and supports will be made to assist her in every way possible. But what happens if that fails again? Should she be given a choice? Would her choice be listened to?

    I wish I had answers.

  13. Reading this put new perspective on something I just wrote about wishing my son had different parents so that he wouldn't have to suffer the hurt and pain of emotional and physical abuse from his father who just got custody by lying.

    I wish he had a better easier life. Would I give him up so that it could happen? I don't know if I ever could. Maybe it's because I know that his life could be better with me (at some point).

    I have to admire and respect the people who do give up their children for better lives. And then the people who choose to bring these children into their families to love no matter what deserve even more respect.

    Thank God for all of you.

  14. My mother's parents called Child Services when she was 5 and her brothers were 3, 7, 9 and 11. They told them to come and take them...they didn't want them anymore.

    My mom and her younger and next older brother were placed and the two older ones were "farmed out" as cheap labor to farm families in Delaware.

    My mother often sent her mother (this would be my grandmother, her foster mother, since her birth father would never give her up for adoption) a dozen roses on the anniversary of the day she came to live with her. She was extremely devoted to her every day of her life and my grandmother was completely devastated when my mother died suddenly at age 40.

    I met my uncles (all except the next oldest brother who had been kept in touch with my mother by their social worker so I already knew him well) at her funeral and yes, it was weird.

    I remember when my mother's birth mother died when I was six and my uncle (the next older brother) came to make her go to the funeral and how she kicked and screamed and felt such hatred and resentment towards her mother.

    I don't know for sure if it was because she gave her up but I am fairly sure it was because of the life she made her lead before she DID call social services to come get them.

    My mother was grateful for her new family and loved them unconditionally for loving her back.

    My grandparents were special people who had three foster daughters, one of whom they adopted. My mother and her younger sister were brought when they were small children. This particular aunt whom I am close to even now came with rickets and was extremely malnourished. Her social worker quit when the state took her back to her birth family where she continued to be abused until she ran away at age 16.

    Would you be surprised to find out she ran to my grandmother?

    I think my mother and my aunt would tell you that some people aren't cut out to be parents. They aren't capable and often they don't want to be. And she would tell you that there are people who do so very much and who would love those children more than they could ever imagine.

    My mom's foster parents (my grandparents) worked full time too...both of them. They were teachers. But they made a family from three kids who knew what they were missing and were always glad they did.

  15. I don't find the situations you describe at all abhorrent. I think it would be absolutely wonderful if parents felt it was okay to make adoption plans for their children of any age whatsoever.

    My husband and I tried to adopt from Russia where we expected to adopt a toddler. When we went on to a domestic adoption, we continued to hope for a toddler (since we'd spent a year planning on that age and I was certain that's what I was meant to do) but were told more than once that toddlers simply aren't in the domestic agency program, they only end up in social services. That's just plain sad that parents who cannot take care of their children (for whatever myriad reasons) don't have alternatives before it's badly damaged the children.

  16. I know this is coming very late, but I'll share anyway. The idea that an infant is a blank slate is wrong. I spend a lot of time with newborns and their mothers, and it is clear to me that babies know their mothers AS their mothers from the moment they are born.

    I have complicated feelings about adoption, but I don't think anyone - least of all children - is well served by the fiction that babies are blank slates and don't know that they are no longer with their mothers. That notion might help some adults feel better, but it is simply not true. Even when adoption is the right answer for the child.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I rarely find parents with whom I resonate as much as I resonate with what you write.


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