Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Birth Mom Sues After Being Found by Child Placed for Adoption

I read an interesting news article today on AOL in which the ethics and consequences of reunification between adopted children and their birth parents took on a new twist. 30 years ago, an Atlantic City woman made an adoption plan for her daughter who was conceived as the result of a rape. In August 2008 the woman received in inquiry letter from New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services explaining that an adopted adult was looking for her birth parents and requesting verification of the woman's identity and interest in pursuing this contact. The woman had no interest in meeting her biological daughter and did not respond to the letter, assuming that would be an indication of no desire for contact. Evidently, someone went ahead and provided information to the daughter, who appeared on her biological mother's door step four months later.

This was not a happy occasion for anyone involved. The bio mom had no desire to have contact and be reminded of a very painful experience from her past, and the adopted daughter was then rebuffed by her bio mom when she had hoped for a wonderful reunion and very likely answers to a lifetime of questions left unanswered. The biological mom is now suing the state for emotional damages.

As I read this, my first inclination was to put aside all thoughts for the moment about the law suit itself and think only of the privacy issues and rights of all parties in this complicated situation. It really is quite controversial when one considers the current plea by so many for unsealed adoption records, for open adoptions, for the rights of the adoptee to be considered over the rights of the placing parent.

I can not speak to this as an adoptee with the gaps in life history that exist, with the unknowns of the past and of biology that are carried forever. I can not speak to it as a biological mother who made a decision to relinquish a child to the care of others. I can only speak as a spectator to that part of the drama, for even as an adoptive mom that particular and distinct set of experiences and emotions are not ones I am party to.

I am the one standing on the sidelines who is willing to step in when others have to step out. While I live with questions about my children's birth parents, the mysteries of those unknowns are not ones I internalize...they don't inform me about who I am or why I think and act the way I do. As the adoptive mom, it is more the curiosity factor...looking for explanations for inherited quirks, gifts and traits. Also, for myself but perhaps not for others, it is more about the fact that I would love to have even one opportunity to thank my children's birth parents for not aborting, for choosing life, and for their sacrifice which ultimately allowed me to parent their children. .

I also can not begin to pretend to understand what it feels like to look at a tiny little face created within my womb and know I will not be parenting that child. Regardless of the reason, the sheer enormity of that decision goes beyond any level of strength I can imagine having, and it also leads one to consider the remainder of a lifetime left for a biological mother to think about that child.

So whose rights trump whose? That is really the question here, isn't it? Does the adopted child have rights above all else? Does their desire to discover more about their identity come before a birth mother's rights to conceal hers???

Very, very tough moral dilemma there, isn't it?

I think that in this day and age, the majority of those who would be asked would say that the child has a right to know...that the information being withheld from them is rightfully theirs and they shouldn't even be having to search and ask. A part of me who would advocate for my own children tends to want to side with that perspective, as now I as the adoptive mom do come into the story and am left holding the "explanation bag", trying to offer up the "why's" and "how come's" that are not even mine to know, let alone be able to accurately explain. But as I am the only one around to connect biology and adoption, it falls on my shoulders to try and speak for someone whom I have never met, to rationalize and guide my children to an understanding of abandonment for which I have no explanation myself.

But you know what? As I thought this over throughout the day, I surprisingly found myself ultimately coming down on the side of the birth mother. I feel she was horribly violated, regardless of whether the child was conceived as an act of rape or not isn't even an issue. The birth mom made an adoption plan, was told her information would be confidential...and 3o years later that child ends up standing at her door. In essence, it was almost as if the birth mom was raped again, her privacy taken from her, she was left feeling powerless as she stood staring back into the face of the child that was born to her whom she had never had a desire to see again. Is it right that she didn't want to meet her own child? That is not mine to judge, nor should it be anyone's. She did the best she could under trying circumstances, and then moved on in her life. If we took adoption out of the context, how many of us would choose to revisit certain mistakes we made in our younger years? How many of us would welcome being jarred back to a time of great pain and emotional suffering and then feel obligated and forced to share details we had long stuffed inside? The difference in this case is that someone else felt they had the right to do that to the birth mom, that their desire for "transparency" and satisfaction of curiosity justified revealing information that was supposed to be confidential.

It's not right, I just can't see how it is right.

And we wonder why so many women choose other options when having an unwanted pregnancy. We wonder why abortion can seem preferable to having to deal with an adoption and all its attendant issues. If a woman can't feel safe and secure when relinquishing a child, knowing that their privacy will be insured, why would they risk it when a more "permanent" solution is so readily available?

And here is where I risk the ridicule of so many adoptive parents and perhaps adoptees as well...and I want to point out that I have already said I can not speak to their circumstances so this is purely my own opinion and thoughts spread out here for you to go ahead and knock down (respectfully, of course)...why is it that adopted children are not being taught that very possibly their need to "know" should not supersede the right of their birth mother's to maintain privacy? Why is there no sensitivity to the disruption of lives and possibly entire other families? Why, oh why, does an adopted child feel their needs come first and to hell with the havoc they may create should they force an unwanted reunion??? Why are they not taught respect for the decision made by another human being?

I know, perhaps I am extremely naive in all of this, after all my kids aren't old enough to search. But I have answered at an earlier age than most "Why did my mommy leave me like that? You told me mommies love their babies, why would she do that?". I have tried to treat my children's birth parents (not just mom's, mind you...the dads existed too, you know!) with respect and dignity when speaking of them. I have offered educated guesses and tried to help my kids explore possibilities for answers that in the case of international adoptees they might never have the ability to obtain.

Please don't get me wrong, if my kids wanted to search when they were older, I would support them 100%. But in doing so, I would strongly urge them to consider the needs, thoughts and feelings of the people who created them but for whatever reason could not parent them. I would (and have already done so) explain the sorrow of an unwanted pregnancy, the need for medical care, the possibility of gut wrenching poverty. I would encourage them to back off immediately should they discover a parent was reluctant or had no desire to meet. It is a matter of allowing human dignity to remain, of showing biblical respect for your parents. Just because they have a desire to know something or someone, doesn't mean they have the God given right to know. And I am fully aware that there are an enormous number of people who would vehemently disagree with me on that one.

Desire doesn't necessarily indicate a right. Want doesn't equal need. We don't always get what we want in life. We don't make others suffer who made a life giving decision for us.

And after all, pushing a reunion with an angry or reluctant participant is pretty pointless in the long run, isn't it? There will be no fairy tale ending, and as often is discovered in even the best of circumstances those Cinderella stories are a cover anyway for what often turns out to be very mixed emotions, convoluted and complicated feelings.

I am wondering how all of you feel about this. I am hoping you will share your perspectives. You may persuade me to see it otherwise, you may strengthen my own view point, or you may help me see it in a completely different light. I do hope you'll comment, as this one was a tough one for me to work through in my mind today, and it is very relevant to anyone who reads this blog and is involved in the adoption triad. It pulls you to think more deeply about what your thoughts really are on this subject, about how you view birth mothers and fathers, about what you feel is the right of your adopted child in all of this. As international adoptive parents, we think we will not ever have to face this sort of thing, but the world is growing smaller by the day, my friends. The countries we may view as backwards today may be very, very different in 20 years. People we think would have no way of finding us or us locating them will be ever closer with the march of the beat of the internet drum. I wonder, what would YOU do as a parent if you opened an email in a few years and found there a message from a biological sibling who tracked down information at an orphanage for their brother or sister...who happens to be your son or daughter. How then would you view privacy???

Looking forward to reading your thoughts!!


Carrie DeLille said...
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Joyce said...

thanks for your post on this and the way you lay it out. Esp when we consider the 'deal' made when she placed her child for adoption, that she would never see her again. And she gave her life and didnt abort... I agree wholeheartedly. I also never thought about the repercussions of allowing adoption records to be open, on abortions. And you are right, even though there is more of a move towards openness, girls (and the men) will be quicker to permanently `fix` the problem rather than adoption.

TheHappyNeills said...

I don't have experience yet (our first adopted child is not even home yet!), but I agree with what you have written! Especially the part about it being OK to pursue it, until one has the indication that a possible reunion is not a mutual desire--then drop it right there. There ARE birth mothers who have longed to see their biological child (I've seen it firsthand with friends) and everyone is overjoyed that the young-adult adopted child took steps to find her. Their families' relationship now is the neatest thing. None of them would have that now if it weren't for him starting the search.

So I think if a child has that desire someday when he's grown up--he's got to prepare his heart for the worst, but hope for the best! You just never know!

Carrie DeLille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carrie DeLille said...

Cindy-our brains, our hearts are unbelievably connected. I don't know why God has given me this special woman who seems to constantly be on my same wavelength. I cannot believe this is your post as I am praying right now about continuing contact with a birth mother. In brief, there is no brief, but it is not one's rights over another-absolutely not. It MUST be an agreed upon reunion. The hurt is too deep on both sides. For some of my children, it will be a sad, rude awakening to meet their birth parents-perhaps even an excuse to fail in life, but hopefully a push to succeed-for others, a very strong impossibility to even find the birth parents and this will carry its own pain and for others, an incredible, emotional, loving reunion. Each will carry it's own special pain and some will be mixed with joy....but it is nobody's right to force the other into this meeting. As always, in awe of the cord we are a part of-oh my, my shock when I saw your blog this a.m.!! Love you, my dear friend.

Anonymous said...

Lets stop and think about this situation. New Jersey is historically known for not releasing information. I have heard many a complaint from New Jersey adoptees and birthmothers on this issue alone.

Now lets look at the critical information in this article. The adoptee contacted both the birthmother and her daughter. Okay look at this reasonably. How does the state of New Jersey know the information on the daughter? They don't. This adoptee probably used paid services to find her. There are companies out there that will give full heritage to an adoptee or birthmother. Granted it is for huge fee, but they are out there. I don't the state of New Jersey gave the adoptee this information.

There is that one million dollars. For those that are not picking up this little tidbit, notice how this article showed up in a Philly newspaper when all the connections were in New Jersey. Where is the adoptee rights demonstration being held? IN Philadelphia. Is this a set up? I think so. Notice that the NCFA totally ignores the adoptee in this story. They even state that the agreement should be between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. The NCFA always brings out a raped woman when fighting against adoptee rights. We have birthmother bloggers who also have been raped and would have prefered to raise their child. Just as they can bring one out, so can we. I have known more mothers who were raped that loved their relinquished children.

Dee said...

I agree with you, but I also disagree. I think adoptees must have access to their information. I think they should have the right to contact the birth parents. However, I also think birth parents have the right to not have a relationship with the grown child. I fully understand what you say about privacy, but I feel like the child's right to know who she is, and where she came from, have to come first. I think knowing who you are and where you come from is essential, to heal the grief of abandonment. I have an acquaintance whose daughter from China will never be able to heal that place in her heart, because she was abandoned. The child is having real problems coping with that grief.

At least the NJ mom's child has some information, which is better than nothing. I feel bad for her, though, because this case is going to set precedents, and whatever happens will just cause more pain for that child.

Lori said...

I'm going to go out on this limb...as one who does not know who her sperm donor is, who has tried to contact him, who has even met him once and then had the door shut in my face. I am not a big believer in the whole "I have rights" things because to be frank, I think that it is a flippin miracle that I am on this planet, however it came to be, and the only RIGHT I have is to make choices based on circumstances. I've never been one that believed, "So and so has a right-to-know" or whatever because, really...who says? Who says I have rights? Who says the sperm donor has rights? I believe our lives, whatever they end up to be or from whence they come, are ordained and commanded by God Almighty and any privileges I am afforded are through Him and Him alone. Of course there is curiosity--I wouldn't have looked for him if there wasn't. But really, in hindsight, I question why I even looked. I knew he wanted my mom to have an abortion. I knew he didn't want to have anything to do with her or me. I knew all of that. So, knowing all that and still looking? Well, in my eyes, I was just opening myself up to whatever I got. Which was, as I said, the door in my face. That birth mother had those records sealed for a reason, and I think too many of us feel that we are entitled to so many things simply because we are born and walk the earth. While the adoptee's case may be, "I didn't ask to be born, I have a right to know how I came to be," the birth mother could say the same, "I didn't ask for you to be conceived, but I was compassionate enough and kind enough to allow you the live God planned for you."

I have never felt I had a right to any information about my beginnings. I have curiosity and desire to know, but anything I know is information I was privileged enough to be told or to find. I am just grateful that my mother chose life, and though I think the monetary damages may be a little steep here, I have no doubt that the birth mother's life has truly been jarred. She chose life, and that was so much more than she had to do.

Calico Sky said...

I'm a new reader to your blog and really enjoyed this post. I wouldn't trade my solid life with God for any amount of money or fame!

Calico Sky said...

oops I put this on the wrong post!!

Tammy said...

Well, I have a few thoughts on this post and I will have to respectfully disagree with you, at least on most parts.

I would like to take the rape part out of this story because that really does change the complexion of it. My feeling is that if you have consensual sex and become pregnant, you do have a responsibility to that child. You have a responsibility to have as healthy a pregnancy as possible and to make sure that child is cared for after birth - whether that be you, the father, biological family or an adoptive family. And yes, I do believe that birth parents have a responsibility to give information to a birth child. There is no responsibility to an ongoing relationship but there is a responsibility for knowledge and information.

I am bothered by the fact that we as a society have taken the responsibility out of sex. Sex has consequences - some wonderful, some unexpected and some dangerous. People want the fun without the responsibility and life doesn't work that way, especially when emotions and expectations are involved. If you create life then you do have a measure of responsibility towards that life for the entire duration of that life.

Rape does change that equation because the woman did not choose to have sex. But the blame needs to lay with the rapist, not the mother and not the child. I'm not sure that helps sort through this issue but we need to make sure the blame lies on the right person. HE is the one who made communication and contact so difficult - not the mother and not the child. They are simply the ones left to pick up the pieces. We sit here and debate whether the mother was wrong or whether the child was wrong. Had the father not raped the mother, we may be having a very different conversation and we probably wouldn't be having this conversation at all.

The biggest issue in this lawsuit case is that times, laws and expectations have changed since the adoption plan was made 30 years ago. When the mother made the adoption plan 30 years ago, closed adoptions were the norm. 30 years later, it is a different story. I wonder how much information was given to the adoptive family and child at placement - medical information, biological family information, etc. I would think that would make some difference, even if it wouldn't fill all of the needs of the child.

I do have to say, my viewpoint is a bit tainted. I have a good friend who was adopted about 30 years who has struggled with a similar situation. There was no rape involved but her birth mother was very young when she had her. When my friend sought her out, she also was turned down, very harshly I thought. In my friend's case, she was able to make some superficial contact with biological relatives. It hasn't totally filled the hole in her heart but I do think it helped some. It does put the relatives in a difficult spot though too, because they want to remain supportive to the bio mom while also continuing a relationship with my friend.

McMary said...

I agree it is a very tough question to work through. I firmly believe that it is wonderful the birth mom in this story choose life for her child--she already gave her the utlimate gift. so what about giving her information and meeting her. I can understand why the child wants information and even why she wants a relationship with her BM but what does she have a right to? That is where it gets sticky. I believe that we all have rights to many things but that our own rights end when they would cause harm to some one else. So I guess this would make me lean towards the Birth Mother's side in this case. It would be great if she gave the child information and even nicer if she met her and had a relationship but does she have to--No, I don't think so.

likeitis said...

At any rate, I liked some of the vadlo biology cartoons!