Reasons to Work With an Adoption Agency

DO I NEED AN ADOPTION AGENCY 

It wasn’t all that long ago that a woman considering adoption would grab the Yellow Pages, you know that big book everyone used to find a business listing. They would turn to the section “Abortion Alternatives”. They would see many different professionals they could contact via phone and get their answers and concerns voiced. They could feel how they were respected or not, how they were judged or not. It was a feeling expectant moms would describe to me when I asked why you chose ASC. “I felt heard, I just felt good, I felt safe. I felt no matter what I chose for my baby, they would support me and be there for me long term”It would be obvious right away the reasons to work with an adoption agency. 

Last week I was doing my first in person education seminar on adoption.

In attendance was the OB nurses that care for women as they bring their babies into the world. It is a job like no other. It takes the upmost positivity, energy, and the love of all thing’s woman. The three times I gave birth were the most vulnerable I have ever been in my life. I remember each nurse vividly that sat with me as my husband snored on the couch next to us. She cared for me and knew what I needed before I could even try and figure it out. For this reason, I love to speak to them and thank them for what they do for all women. During this meeting, I learned about this hospitals most recent adoption. When these nurses heard the story; they all knew exactly what I was feeling too. That vulnerability we feel during pregnancy.  Everything is so delicate and for anyone to take advantage of this time in a woman’s life, no matter her age or circumstance, is a crime in my opinion.   

This patient was 16 and considering adoption for her baby.

Her mom was by her side and supportive of her decision. Not forceful or coercive, but supportive.  The prospective adoptive parents lived in Michigan, and the expectant mom found them through social media. They shared their story, as sad as it was, and it tugged at her heart.  She wanted to help. She had a baby and they wanted one desperately.  She and her mom sent a private message. 

Now let’s go back to The Yellow Book era. 

They would have looked at the professionals, the agencies that were licensed child placement agencies. The ad’s stated lifetime support, no judgment, educated families, open or closed adoptions. She would have a social worker that would have walked her through things, let her know what she was entitled to request and to receive. She would have been presented home study approved families that were educated on ethics in adoption. She would have known that anyone wanting to skirt ICPC is going to skirt something else too. If the attorney is willing to skirt ICPC then the attorney does not have YOUR back, even if they told you that you were being represented, you were not.  

Social media said none of these things to this young mom.

Instead, she got a bunch of promises that her dreams would come true for her child. She was told they would keep her in their life and update her.  Two weeks after she signed the papers, they blocked her from calling and texting. The attorney cannot reach them, or so he/she says. This birth mom had zero representation, she trusted, she allowed social media to vet them. How many likes they had; how many people Hearted their sad, desperate story. 

Why you should work with an adoption agency, even if you find your “perfect family” for your baby on-line is to ask the agency to support you, to vet them for you. If that family will not call the agency, assume they will skirt you too. 

This young mom will show up at our birth mom support group and ASC will support her and do our best to get her services. I will leave numerous unanswered voicemails on the attorney’s phone. All I hope for is he or she never “represents” another expectant mom.  


Reasonable

“We were told (8 years ago) updating our son’s birth mom once a year is reasonable”.  It this reasonable? Yes, I am sure ASC thought it was reasonable 8 years ago!  But being an adoptive parent means you must lifelong learners of all thing’s adoption. This is modern adoption. Updating your adoptee’s birth mom annually or only when they request is outdated and unreasonable now, with the numerous ways we can stay connected virtually and electronically.  

I can imagine this 8-year-old boy is going about his life, thinking all is good, becoming a strong reader, working on his math facts and of course, playing Roblox.  One day though, it may not be ALL GOOD in his little mind. Why? Where? How? When? And a few more Why’s are going to cross his mind. He’s going to possibly experience a whole bunch of emotions that he has no words for. Sadness, loss, grief, loneliness, despair is just a few that come to mind. He may even ask his mom, why did my birth mom give me up? This mom will be shocked to hear this language, as they were taught to use phrases like: You first mom made an adoption plan and placed you with daddy and me. She loved you very much but wanted you to have both of us to care for you. Where did “give you up come from”?  

If parents aren’t going to keep the family dialog around adoption open and comfortable, adoptees tend to go to society to learn and listen, and this can be harsh. This child obviously heard the old notion, why were you given up? He clung to that as that is how he is feeling deep down. 

Instead, they could have been asking open ended questions that start with “I wonder”.

I wonder if your birth mother would love to hear from us more than one time a year? I wonder if we sent updates about you more often, she would smile. I see her face sometimes, when you smile on your bike rides. Daddy and I love her so much and feel so honored she chose us.  

Every week since launching our placement team, we hear the same sentences.

We were good about talking adoption when he/she was a baby, but life went on and we didn’t want to make a big deal out of them being adopted. We wanted to focus on us being a family. Well, all well and good, but your family is made up of the roots of another family. These roots run deep within your adoptee and just as much as you want your child to feel a part of your family, your adoptee is looking for ways they can identify with their first family, or family of origin.  

If you adopted your child and you stopped communicating with your child’s birth family because you were told or assumed, it was “reasonable” after some time to lesson communication. I am here to tell you your child could benefit from you putting their First Family more prevalent in the family conversations and actions.   


OLD Acronym Is Slow to DIE

On hospital white boards around the country and deep within adoptee files is the acronym BUFA. “Baby Up For Adoption” This acronym is used to describe a patient who is seeking medical care and is considering adoption. 

In the patient’s pre-natal medical records, it’s listed where you would put a “complication”, where it says she has high blood pressure or her family history of diabetes, or AMA “Advanced Maternal Age.”  When mom is admitted onto the labor floor, “BUFA” is listed next to her name on the active labor board. When a medical provider comes to take care of her, he/she would know that the patient is considering adoption, before walking into the room.  

I remember when I first learned of this acronym, I was in Kokomo, IN. I was outside the mom’s room and I noticed a sign outside her door that said BUFA. I asked her nurse what it meant, and she looked around and said quickly and quietly, “It means she’s putting her baby up for adoption.” I got this feeling in my gut, this feeling of what’s wrong with her choice. Her and I have been discussing this option for months. She has gone over and over why she feels she can’t bring her twin babies home. I felt shame myself, as I was part of her plan. 

Debbie had nothing to be ashamed of. Debbie was 42 and had 3 babies at home she was raising with her husband. Their twin girls were 2 and they had a 1-year-old son. She said another set of twins would kill her and/or her marriage. I know the women that have this acronym next their names would feel so sad if/when they see it! So why do we use this outdated label? Because the word ADOPTION is so shameful? Because if someone knew, she would be JUDGED? Her adoption plan is a SECRET? 

These are the things nurses and doctors have said over the years.

They use BUFA to protect their patient, this way they know what “language to use” before the encounter. Whatever the reason, I challenge you all to come up with something else. Some professionals use “Baby Blessing”

I am not sure why we can’t just use ADOPTION? 

By 2021, all medical professionals should be using respectful, neutral “language” no matter what the patient is considering. No shaming, no judging, no talking into or out of anything. Call it what it is.   

It’s not good, it’s not bad, IT JUST IS. ADOPTION.  

Since this article was written and awaiting to be posted: The post placement team got an inquiry from one of the twins that Debbie delivered and placed for adoption. We supported her reunion with her biological mother.  This adoptee does not feel that she was given up, she stated “I was given the best life and I cannot wait to share that with my birth mom, and see who and where I came from!”  


When you know better.

It’s 1999 and a 23-year-old woman was considering placing her baby for adoption. She was a single mom of two and had her mother’s support to consider adoption. She and her mother were looking at profiles but kept saying the same thing, “nothing clicked”.

The adoption coordinator at that time, according to her notes suggested she meet a family to see what she thought. The coordinators next note was “Meeting was cordial, but I left with concerns about this match”. The expectant mom was looking for a Christian family, and no one was what she was looking for. Her pregnancy was progressing, and time was running out.

That next weekend, ASC took a call from a prospective adoptive couple that had just delivered a 7-month-old baby that did not make it. It was their second attempt at IVF and after this loss, were devastated. 

This adoptive family was Christian, they did not just say they were Christian, they practiced it. Without even hesitating, a home study was started and within 7 days, a baby was born and immediately put to the adoptive mom’s breast, since she was able to lactate from her recent pregnancy. 

ASC felt like they helped the birth mom find the right family, finally a Christian family that she had been waiting for. ASC felt like they were able to give this family a baby.

The home study actually read from this era: “adoptive mom and dad state that they are planning to be fully open with their child about their adoption. They believe that the time frame to do this is when a child is much older but will readily answer questions should their child have questions at a younger point then this.” I read on further down “they state that they would be more than supportive of their child if they would like to eventually do a search for their biological roots when they reach the appropriate age.” 

Fast forward to 2020.

That baby is now a young man and was just recently told he was adopted. The adoptive mother stated that it just never was the right time. It was never appropriate, I guess. She stated, “some people would get into our business and tell him they think he’s adopted, but we never confirmed it”. I could not get an idea from her whether she felt guilt from withholding this information about her son. At this point, I just wanted to speak to him myself. 

He had a very deep voice and talked slow like he had all the time in the world for this call. He seemed nervous, maybe shy and asked if his birth mother knew we were talking. He stated that he used to have a photo of his biological mother and siblings, but it disappeared years ago. I do what I usually do and asked him, “do you want me to share things, or do you want to ask me things”. He replied, slowly, “I want you to tell me.” I opened his file and told him. 

He is now in reunion with is biological mother, ½ sister and full brother. His grandmother has since passed. We are still going, still doing our best. We cannot change the past, but we can be better. In the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, do better.”


Let’s Get Uncomfortable!

I hear this phrase at the gym and I find it difficult to get out of my comfort zone. After work, the last thing I want to do is get my heart rate up and sweat. I give a dirty look to the coach but I keep working till my heart rate goes up and up some more.


At ASC, we have been exploring and sharing our thoughts on race, class and culture.

More importantly, we’ve been listening and learning. There are a lot of uncomfortable subjects I have been dancing around, avoiding, regarding race and class. I know I need to start speaking up and getting uncomfortable with these conversations. I am willing to. Growth happens in the spaces where we dare to get uncomfortable.

I was on a video call recently with a Black birth family. I have been supporting them through a reconnection with their daughter’s (white) adoptive parents. They shared with me life had gotten in the way of staying in contact with their birth daughter and her parents. They admitted they had not been as good at keeping in touch. I made sure they knew it was ok. There is no judgement. Birth parents have a difficult road to walk after placement. Navigating grief. And, raising other children. Surviving.

She (birth mom) asked if I could help them reconnect. She wants her daughter to know she loves her and wants her to know her brothers too. I sat and looked at their faces. Their long braids, dark skin and the way they spoke. I saw a beautiful family. I saw their race and their culture. The love. I listened to the way they spoke about why they placed their daughter for adoption four years ago. He was not in the position to help her. She was not in the position to parent on her own. This was her 3rd baby in 4 years. Today they sit and say, “we never thought we would reconcile and be able to give our birth daughter the experience of her first parents and siblings all together. We just want to see her and allow her to know us.”


The image of them brought so much emotion to me. I could not stop the tears that came. Birth mama had to step away from the camera as she was so overcome with grief. Birth dad then said, “if you could just ask them to update us, let us get to know each other and allow our children to all play, it would be awesome.”


I work on these re-connections often. This one felt even more important. Especially at this time. It wasn’t just about connecting two families, this adoptee to her birth family. It was about connecting a child to her roots. Her history. Her culture. Her race.

When I contact adoptive families to reconnect or request updates, I am often challenging them to get uncomfortable.

Many are ready to hop on board. To take this journey. Others need more help and support. That’s what we’re here for. Stepping out of our comfort zone is the best shot we have at growth and healing. Especially for the adoptees we love and support.


I’m continuing to show up at the gym most days. Through sweat (and some pain) I’m walking into the uncomfortable, and you know what? I’m getting stronger.

We’re doing the same thing here at ASC. Challenging ourselves to step outside our comfort zone. To have the difficult conversations. To push a little when needed. We’re seeing growth. And, healing. Let’s continue to get uncomfortable. Together. It may not always be easy. But, it will be worth it.


Adoption Language

Language in adoption is constantly changing. And, it varies greatly. Until recently, we had been using the concept of “positive” adoption language.

Once we started listening closely and more attentively to birth parents and adoptees, we know there is a problem with referring to adoption language as “positive.”

While we and others in the field of adoption may have had good intentions, “positive” adoption language can lead others to believe adoption is just that. All positive. But, adoption is more complex then the historical narrative. Like many others, we want to move away from this concept of “positive” adoption language and more towards adoption language that is honest, accurate and neutral. The thoughts and ideas below are not new. Birth parents and adoptees are speaking out about adoption language and in what direction it should be heading. We want to let you know we are listening and moving in that direction with you. 

To us, HONEST adoption language is very important.

It leaves room for words many are afraid to put next to, heck, anywhere close to, the word adoption. Grief. Loss. Trauma. Complexity. For adoption language to be honest it must encompass more then just the happy, feel good phrases, so often attached to adoption. Adoption is love. Adoption is family. Adoption rocks. Love makes a family. Is adoption about a broader definition of family? Yes. Is there life, love, hope and joy in adoption? Yes, we think there is! We see it. But, right next to it is the grief, loss and trauma. There isn’t one without the other. Honest adoption language creates space for both.

Adoption language needs to be ACCURATE.

Decades ago the phrase, “put her baby up for adoption,” was commonly used. When you really think about that phrase, what does “put up” mean? If you research this term, you’ll likely find more about it’s historical context and where it came from. It’s outdated and inaccurate. In more recent years, and even today, people will use the phrase a woman, “gave her baby up,” for adoption. This can infer that she herself “gave up” or “gave away ” her child. A potentially more accurate term/phrase describing the parenting decision a mother makes is “she placed her child for adoption.” Adoption professionals, adoptive parents and non members of the triad should use “placed” instead of “put up” or “gave up.” It is important to note: if a birth parent or adoptee ever identifies more with the latter, they should be given the room to use the language that most resonates with them and their adoption. 

NEUTRAL adoption language leaves room for birth parents and adoptees to name their own unique experiences and feelings related to their adoption.

Here is one example. Adoption professionals, adoptive parents and non members of the triad often refer to birth mothers as brave and selfless. We’ve used (and use) these words often. And, we believe them. We witness the love birth mothers have for the child(ren) they place. We see the sacrifice they make. The pain they endure. Their strength and courage is incredible. However, some birth mothers do not identify with being brave and/or selfless. They see their decision as selfish, or both in different ways. Do we think an outsider looking in should tell her she is a coward, selfish, only thinking of herself? Absolutely not. It’s unlikely they would know the true depths of her and her story to cast that kind of judgement. At this time, we’re moving towards describing the decision a birth mother makes to place her child as difficult. Because it is an incredibly difficult decision she has likely spent a great deal of time exploring, thinking about and planning for. It is not a decision she has taken lightly. And choosing a different word(s) doesn’t mean she isn’t brave or selfless. It leaves more room for her to decide.

A thought on referring to birth mothers as brave. A question to ask ourselves? If we call a birth mother brave, are we saying she is only so if she places her child for adoption? Is she also brave if she chooses to parent? Words matter. They have meaning. We won’t always get it right. The key is to keep leaning in, listening and learning. And then, having a willingness to change and grow.

Person first language in adoption is something to consider using.

It does just that. Puts the person first. There may be times when an adoptive parent has to distinguish that her child is adopted or between her adopted child(ren) and biological child(ren). This is not always necessary but in the case an identifier is needed, what if you put the person first?! They are first and foremost your child. They are your child through adoption and/or your child through biology. The same could go for identifying as an adoptive parent. “I am a parent through adoption.” First and foremost a parent. Through adoption. Being an adopted person or an adoptive parent is a part of a person’s identity. Not the entire sum of who they are. Person first language recognizes a person is more then just one thing and leaves room for all the parts of our identity.

Adoption language is more complex then could ever fit into one blog. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The key is to leave room for continual learning and growth. Being willing to recognize and admit when certain language is no longer working. And then, change it! Maybe even change it again! We also have to leave room for birth parents and adoptees to choose and use the language they most identify with. Even if it’s not the language adoption professionals, adoptive parents and non triad members are using. We’ve heard birth parents and adoptees use a myriad of terms in adoption: birth mom/dad/siblings, first mom/dad, biological mom/dad/siblings, family of origin, family of experience, adoptive mom/dad/siblings. The list could go on and on. There is room for diverse, inclusive, honest, accurate, person first, neutral adoption language! And, there is room to change it as we go! 


A perfect day to say Thank You…

Let me set the scene. I was very pregnant. Probably 7-8 months. I was starting to experience some swelling and water retention, pre eclamptic. Likely not feeling the best. Hormonal. Uncomfortable. Testy.

Our ASC team was at our weekly staff meeting.

I can’t remember exactly what we were discussing. And really, the specifics don’t matter. The room started to heat up. Tensions rising. As can sometimes happen when a handful of strong, smart, opinionated women are working together. It’s why we’re good at what we do. I was sharing my heart, my passion for the birth mothers. Specifically the ones I’ve walked with and sat next to in their trauma. Julie was sharing from the business side of adoption.

Side Note: Yes, ASC is a business. We’re not afraid to say that. There are things to consider when running a business. If we didn’t do that, we would not still be here, able educate and support all sides of the triad. I’ve heard one birth mother speak on this before (Ashley Mitchell,  @BigToughGirl). She talks about how women are going to keep choosing adoption. A lot would have to change for that to change. That’s a discussion for another blog. So, if women are going to keep choosing adoption, hopefully agencies and attorneys will then serve them well. Ethically. Compassionately. With life long support. Our goal is never to convince a woman to choose adoption. Our goal is hopefully the women who are considering adoption and then the ones who ultimately place, find us or an organization like us. One trying to do right by them. Again, all of this is a topic for another blog, but I think worth acknowledging here when you put the words adoption and business side by side.

Back to the day in question. As Julie and I shared from two different perspectives, I quickly lost it. I am a passionate person when it comes to my work. My energy can become frenetic. My voice raises. I talk fast. On this day, I took it to another level. I’d say it was an out of body experience. I don’t remember much of it. I began yelling. Some profanities spewing out of my mouth. I quickly stormed out and got in my car. Presley ran after me, as they were worried my emotional, pregnant self was now setting out in the car. More profanities exited my mouth. Amanda was back inside crying. We all say if Kathryn had been there, maybe it wouldn’t have escalated to this point. She keeps us all grounded and in check ;). My husband still doesn’t believe me. He thinks I exaggerate this story and how I acted. Ron, I promise you, it was as bad, if not worse then I’ve described.

In many places of business, you’d be fired if you acted the way I did. That’s not the case here. I apologized to Julie. She acknowledge my feelings and my heart. We moved forward.

Julie founded ASC in 1986.

She was an adoptive mother and wanted to start changing things in adoption. She had a vision of more support for all members of the triad. Later, when her daughter (through adoption), Lauren, struggled with her identity as an adoptee, Julie was the one paving the way for her. Making a safe space for Lauren to search for her birth family. Sitting next to her in her grief and trauma and then in her joy and peace when she reunified. I often ask Julie how she did it. She was ahead of her time as an adoptive parent. Julie has told me on numerous occasions, “There was no room for insecurity and/or fear (many adoptive parents experience) when it came to supporting Lauren.”

Julie hasn’t always gotten it right in this work. None of us have. How could we? Adoption is ever changing. We’re learning as we go. Sometimes faster then we can keep up! But I can say this with 100 percent certainty. Julie has always been willing to listen and learn. And then, change and grow. And thus, ASC has always been willing to do the same. It’s why we’re still here. It’s why I’m still here. Why I still believe in this work, this incredibly difficult work, we are doing.

Julie lost her daughter, Lauren, in a car accident, suddenly and tragically, in 2005. I have no doubt if Lauren were still here she’d be one of the strong, courageous, trailblazing adoptees on social media sharing her story. Hoping to help future generations of adoptees and adoptive parents. I can picture she and Julie sitting next to each other, educating the adoption community together. I imagine her calling Julie out on the things she did wrong ;), and thanking her for the things she did right. Lauren would be leading us right now. I have no doubt about that. I never got the chance to meet her, and I miss her. I know she’s looking down, proud of her mom. I hope she’s proud of us too. 

Why am I sharing all of this today? Both taking a trip down memory lane and looking towards the future. Today is Julie’s birthday! She’s 60 some years young ;). I think it’s a perfect day to say thank you.

Thank you for leading us. For paving the way. Even when you/we didn’t or don’t get it right, you’re ready to make changes. To grow! Thank you for trusting us, this next generation at ASC. When we recently asked to set aside some funds for continuing education on transracial adoption and post placement support (as we move into this next era in adoption) you didn’t bat an eye. Your YES was on the table. Thank you for that. We wouldn’t be here without you Julie, and we wouldn’t be going forward without you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. And, happy birthday!

With love and gratitude, Alli (and all of your ASC ladies J)


“He Has Never Asked”

After 22 years and 100’s of adoptions, they are coming back for answers. I started leading ASC’s post placement team in January this year. Once I dug in, I realized how much of a need there is. We have only just began to scratch the surface of my dreams for this project. I believe this is the most important work we do.

The adoptions of my past, of the agency’s past, shhhh, our mistakes, is what keeps me digging in. I feel somewhat responsible. I did nothing intentionally wrong, ASC and other adoption agency’s did nothing intentionally wrong. We did not know any better. Just like my mom threw me in the station wagon without a child seat, as she took country roads at 70 miles an hour. She did not know any better.

We have evolved as humans. We are committed to doing better, because darn it, these are people’s lives, and we feel they are important.

This happens to be Lynn and her important story.

Lynn’s post placement plan with the adoptive family was like most of its era in the late 90’s. Lynn was portrayed as a young, teen mom, age 16, who was involved in a relationship with a “much older” man. There was no real “medical history” that was shared. The plan was that after Lynn signed the adoption papers, pictures of her son and letters were to be sent to Lynn, to keep her updated. They were sent to ASC and the agency would send them on, taking away any identifying information. After just a few years, Lynn stopped requesting and no one kept sending them.

Lynn had moved and her life became hectic and traumatic. You would expect nothing else from her family of origin. In 2009 and again in 2011 Lynn gave birth and tried to parent her children. But addiction grabbed Lynn and wrapped her in its devastating grip. She lost custody of her children to the state and has no idea where they are or if they are even together as siblings.

In 2018, Lynn got sober and the feelings started to well, “feel” like they do. Lynn reached out to the post placement team this month and asked for an update. It took us a while to find her son’s family after so many years. But when we did the adoptive parents said, “He has never asked about her”. Adoptive mom continued to say, Andrew has always known his story and that he is adopted. He never seemed to need to know any more.

This is not okay anymore at ASC!

These adoptees need to be prompted. They need to see positive body language, have a safe space to show emotion, grief and loss of their first family.

Now I have not spoken to Andrew personally about his feelings, but I have spoken to many other adoptees who all said. “I never talked about it, as I didn’t want to hurt my parents feelings, but I always wanted to know more”.

Every single time I hear this statement from past adoptive parents, “He has never asked”. I count to three and and remind myself, this is our mistake, the mistake as adoption agencies. No one did anything intentionally wrong, but a lot of harm has been done. Enough is enough at ASC.


“Now is not a good time”

Arguably, the most important work we are doing right now at ASC is post placement care. We’ve spent the last couple of years developing our post placement program and then continually changing and adding to it as we learn more. It’s a work in progress.

Currently, it consists of a dedicated day each week, a specific phone number and email and a team ready to support all members of the triad. We are getting birth moms started in post placement counseling. We are helping birth and adoptive families navigate the logistics of their open adoptions. We’re signing adoptive families up for post placement class to prepare them for raising the part of their child’s identity that is that of an adoptee. We’re striving to create a safe space where birth families, adoptive families and adoptees can come to share and process their respective grief.

The Adoption Support Center has been facilitating adoptions since 1986. That’s going on 34 years. A lot has changed in those years. When we started, historically, adoptions were closed. We take pride in the fact we’ve always been a little ahead of the times when it comes to adoption. Since day one, we’ve been willing to change and evolve as we learn more. With that said, we still did many adoptions in the era of closed, secrecy and shame. In the era where adoptive parents were not given adequate education.

We made mistakes. Thankfully, adult adoptees, birth mothers and adoptive parents are sharing their stories. We’re learning so much from them! What we did wrong. What they needed. Now, we know more. We’re committed to doing more.

Without fail, there is a certain type of call we get each week right now. 

A certain type of email we’re responding to on post placement Fridays. Birth families are searching for their loved ones. (Note: Adoptees are searching regularly as well, but for this conversation, we’re focusing on the birth families initiating the search.) They are wanting to reconnect with the child who was placed. Sometimes it’s a birth mother reaching out, other times it’s the child she parented looking for their brother or sister who was placed for adoption. We start the process for them.

In the state of Indiana, legally, an adoptee has to be 21 years of age before they can personally search or be given information about their adoption.

When they are over 21 years old, we will often look for them directly. When we can’t find them, we’ll look for and reach out to their parents. When they are younger, we look for their adoptive parents first. As we’re making these calls and sending emails, we’re met with a common reply. An unsettling, puzzling reply.

“Now is not a good time.”

That’s what (many) adoptive parents are telling us when we reach out letting them know their child’s birth family is hoping to reconnect. “Now is not a good time.” Some give a little more information. Maybe their child is struggling with depression. Drug use/addiction. A bumpy life transition like going to college. Bullying. The list goes on. Hmmmm.

We have no doubt their child may be facing a challenge at the time. Going through something messy. Shoot, most of us are facing something hard at any given moment. Life is rarely neat and without complication. 

As we’ve listened and heard this response on repeat, we’ve got a guess at what is actually being said by adoptive parents…

“Now is not a good time for US.” We’re not ready for this. We’re scared. What if a reunion makes things worse? What if our child leaves us? What if they love their birth family more? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US?

But, they aren’t able to articulate that. 

If they were able to articulate the above, our response to those fears would be something like this: What if it helps?! What if your child finally has answers?! What if some of what they’ve been struggling with is related to being adopted and that specific part of their identity? And, the missing pieces. What if they can love two sets of parents? What if they can finally start to find healing? There is no perfect, right time for healing. What if the time is NOW?

Let us be clear. We do not fault adoptive parents for having these fears. They are valid. All emotions are valid. There’s probably more going on deep down as well. But, these fears left unrecognized and not given the proper space and time to be felt, and processed, can greatly impact their child. And, not in a positive way.

Only an adoptee can decide if NOW is the right time. 

We’ve also heard adoptive parents tell us, “We asked them if they want to meet their birth family and they’re not interested.” Is this true sometimes? Sure. But, we’ve heard from many (adult) adoptees that when their parents asked them if they wanted to meet their birth family, they didn’t feel safe and comfortable enough to give their real answer. Their YES. They could sense their parents discomfort. They didn’t want to hurt them. Maybe they didn’t even know how to vocalize what they needed.

The adoptive parents telling us “Now is not a good time,” were in part failed by us.

They weren’t given enough education and support. We didn’t do it on purpose. But, it happened. Now that we’ve learned and know more, we hope adoptive families will give us the chance to share this new information with them. Education and support that may be able to help their child heal! 

These days we say on repeat, adoption is complicated. It’s love and loss, joy and grief intricately woven together. We owe it to adoptees (of all eras) to give them a safe space to share their voice. And then, to genuinely listen.

This isn’t going to be easy. For anyone involved. But, it will be worth it. 


Grief, my hidden treasure.

This Saturday is my dad’s birthday (May 30th). He’d be 65 years old if he were still here. He died suddenly, unexpectedly when I was only 3 years old. I’ve often felt I didn’t have a right to grieve the loss of my father, Owen. When I shared parts of my story or someone would ask a question, I’d quickly follow it up with, “I was so little when he died. I don’t remember him. It’s ok.” 

Grief often felt self indulgent to me.

I had a beautiful childhood. One of privilege. It wasn’t perfect, as nothing ever is, but, I was loved, safe and cherished. I have a mother who is my best friend and an aunt who is my second mother. My (step) dad loved me, and still loves me, even when I relentlessly try to push him away and keep him at a distance. Amidst all of this, grief was illusive to me. Something I was chasing. And, I didn’t know what I was looking for. 

My dad died on the side of the road. On December 23rd no less. We were on our way to Florida (from Indiana) for Christmas. My mom, brother, maternal grandparents and I were all in our station wagon. My dad was driving. As the story goes, my, at the time, 32-year-old, uber healthy dad started to feel funny. Tight in the chest. Shortness of breath. Dizzy maybe. He said out loud something along the lines of, “I’m not feeling so well.” He pulled the car over and passed out. My mom and grandfather quickly pulled him out of the car. It was evident he hadn’t simply passed out. We were losing him. My mom, a practicing nurse at the time, started CPR. My grandfather helped. It wasn’t enough. He died right there. On the side of the highway. My brother and I were in the car. 

My mom blames herself. She thinks if she had performed CPR better he’d still be here. Somewhere deep inside, she knows that’s not the case. She and my grandfather did everything they could to save him. An autopsy later revealed he had a heart defect. He had recently had the flu/pneumonia, and likely the infection combined with his heart, caused his death. No one could have saved him. At some point his heart would have been compromised by something. 

I don’t (cognitively) remember any of it. Nothing. I’ve heard stories. Those have shaped some “memories.” Though I don’t “remember,” something changed on that day. I was forever different. I suffered a loss so profound grief became etched in my DNA. On a physical, primal level, I wasn’t the same. Three year olds may not hold memories in the traditional sense, but based on what I now know, they remember. Their bodies remember. Their hearts and souls do too. 

It’s no wonder I now work in field cloaked in grief.

Gosh, I’m not sure where I could find more grief if I tried. Working in adoption, you’re confronted with the triad of grief. The infertility grief an adoptive family brings to table. The grief a birth mother experiences when she places her child in the arms of another. And equally as important, the grief an adoptee feels. Her life began with loss. Trauma. She was born into one family. Raised in another. There’s possibly no loss quite like it. 

We can’t intimately know another’s grief.

I’ll never know the hurt of a couple trying to start their family, only to be faced with disappointment, loss and heartbreak time and time again. I can’t begin to imagine what a birth mother feels when she finds herself in a time and place unable to parent her child and thus she walks out of the hospital empty handed. And, I don’t know the pain of an adoptee who feels there is hole in her heart. Something missing. Curious about where she came from. Desperate for answers. Wanting to understand. 

But, I do know grief. In the depths of my soul, I know it. I haven’t always been able to find it. But, it’s there. I once attended a continuing education class (for my social work license) on grief and children. Basically, how to help children grieve. We were practicing exercises to use with kids. As one activity, we were given paper and crayons. Told to draw grief. It was left at that. I grabbed the yellow and black crayons and started creating. I wasn’t thinking. Just drawing. This is what ended up on my paper. 

A few minutes later, we were asked to share our picture with the group. Describe it. I wasn’t exactly sure what I had drawn but I started talking. “I think this is my grief. This hidden treasure. And, it’s buried. If I can dig deep enough to get to it, uncover and unearth it, I’ll have found the gold, the gift. If I can hold it and get to know it, I can begin to heal.” 

My entire life I’ve been trying to uncover my grief.

Trying to let it breath. I now have the sacred honor and privilege of helping others in the adoption triad do the same. I get to be a guide and support. I wish I knew how to better help them. How to make their pain go away. I don’t. I don’t have any of the answers. I’m just now starting to learn how to help myself. But, I’m not afraid of walking with them. Of guiding them to their grief, their buried treasure, and sitting next to them in their pain. Because grief was written in the depths of me the day my father died. It’s a part of who I am. One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, writes, “Grief, like joy, is holy. Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved.” Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of it at all. 

The night before my father died, we were staying in a hotel. My brother was in a bed with my mom, and I was sleeping next to my dad. He turned to my mom as I lay next to him asleep and said, “have you ever seen anything more beautiful in your life?” 

There are no videos of my dad. I’ve never heard his voice. I have only a few pictures. There were no letters left for me (from him). But, he left me with a gift. He left me with this grief. My hidden treasure. I’m able to walk with others as they hunt for their treasure too. It’s the humbling work of my life. It’s freakin’ hard most days. But, I was made for this. And, he’s with me. Every step of the way. 

Happy 65th birth to my father, Owen, who left me with his love and this grief, too. I will forever work to find it, and in turn I know I’ll be making my way back to you.