I Still do the Math

Adoption can be expensive. Adoption costs are driven (primarily) by the adoption industry. The adoption industry is, indeed, a big business. I find it concerning that the relinquishment and placement of children is a business at all. But it is, and that’s the reality from which I write.

My (adoptive) parents paid approximately 10% of their 1975 income to adopt me. I didn’t know that until several years ago. I would have been okay never finding out.

I’ve done the math over and over in my head. Trying to determine if my brother (who is my parents’ natural/biological child) has a ledger that started around the same number.

I know it doesn’t matter to my parents. But I still do the math.

Wondering if 1967/1968 pregnancy costs would have totaled around 10% of their income at that point. Hoping that, if not, my brother racked up more expenses during the course of his 17 years in their household than I did in the same number of years.

I know it doesn’t matter to my parents. But I still do the math.

Thinking that it might be appropriate to offer that money back to them now that I’m in reunion with my natural parents because…well, because my adoptive parents were guaranteed a life with me that didn’t include them.

I know it doesn’t matter to my parents. But I still do the math.

I share this because I have recently seen several sets of soon-to-be adoptive parents write about the costs associated with their adoption process. I don’t know these prospective adoptive parents, but I assume they are going to be wonderful parents to their children. I anticipate they will love their children with all of their being.

But I hope their children never find the blog posts they’ve written, because I think it will make them do the math.

I think they will research what a brand new car cost in 2016 because the costs associated with their adoption were compared to that cost in a fundraising appeal.

I think they will read the exhaustive list of adoption-related expenses and add them all up.

I think they will explore the tax incentives referenced to see how much they can take off the associated expenses, hoping it will balance out to zero.

I think they will know it doesn’t matter to their parents. But I think they will still do the math.

While some may conclude that their parents must have loved them a ton to pay that price, and walk away from the calculator content. Others may conclude that they owe their parents something they can never repay in cash, and may look for other ways to repay that debt (e.g. always trying to be perfect, never talking about the pain they feel about their adoption, ignoring their strong desire to find their birth parents, etc.).

Adoption can be expensive. Adoption costs are driven (primarily) by the adoption industry. I just wish we could hide all of that from adoptees. Because they shouldn’t have to do the math.

Advertising Children Available for Adoption

I am about to violate almost every best practice I try to follow when posting on my blog because I’m writing:

  • While my thoughts are still not fully formed in my head
  • About an item I perceive as a problem without posting a solution
  • On a topic I suspect may be controversial.

But, I have to write and I have to write now to get the thoughts out of my head so I can enjoy a family and friend day in Pittsburgh, PA watching the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Pirates (sorry, local friends, go Cards!).

A few weeks ago, I was scanning my News Feed on Facebook when I saw a beautiful photo of 3 children that a friend had posted. I clicked on the photo and began reading the caption and came face-to-face with my first advertisement for children available for adoption through a foster agency. Many of you likely read that last sentence and wondered where I’ve been living because this is a fairly common practice (I’ve now discovered), but I didn’t know that at the time and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

I was adopted as a baby, and there were no color photos advertising my birth weight, general temperament, health status, favorite binky, etc. for prospective adoptive parents to scan to determine whether I might be the right choice for them. Nope, my adoptive parents just had to wait and see what turned up when they went to pick me up. I say that to say, I’ve only been in foster care a short period of time and it was while all the paperwork processing was taking place for my parents to adopt me. So, I don’t know the trials, heartaches, etc. that come with being a child in the foster care system and waiting to be adopted while babies seemingly stream through the adoption process with ease (another post for another day).

Yet, I have to think there is a better way to attract prospective adoptive parents than an advertisement that is shared in the newspaper, via websites, and on Facebook. And here’s why…in my research on this trend, I found tons of agencies that take this approach and one such agency project explanation read:

“By photographing these children in their best light, capturing their hope, their vulnerability, their pride, we bring the cause of adoption into the hearts of millions of caring citizens each year.”

As an adoptee, I struggle with many of those concepts. “Best light” gets me because it sets the stage for belief that parents are going to get that “best light” kid and not the one who has legitimate struggles based on their circumstances, which may be why so many foster children have difficulty finding permanent placements with families. “Vulnerability” gets me because it sets up a “savior” complex for the adoptive parents and a “rescued” complex for the child. “We bring the cause of adoption into the hearts of millions of caring citizens” gets me because not all people who would feel “called” to adopt after seeing one of those ads should do so!

But what really gets me, and the reason I had to write this today is one simple matter; think openly and ask yourself where you have seen ads similar to this before? I imagine you will think of the exact place I did – your local humane society. And that’s the part of this that burdens my adoptee mind and heart. Advertising children for adoption in the same way we advertise animals for adoption just seems wrong to me. And perhaps adoption agencies did it long before humane societies did, but for the love of humanity, where was the outcry from the adoption world that taking this same approach for animals was degrading to children? And, if the history is that we did it with animals first (I have to admit I haven’t looked it up because I don’t think my mind can handle the potential answer), then…wow…just wow.

Posted by:

Baby Girl (last name redacted)
7 pounds, 13 ounces
18 and 1/2 inches long
34 cm head size
32 cm chest size
Sleeps on her side with a blanket over her ear
Likes formula
Normal health

(which likely would have been my ad at birth)

History Matters

My natural mom is currently visiting family this week, specifically my brothers, sister-in-law, and nieces. I told someone about her visit earlier this week, and they responded, “Why didn’t you go with her?” I stood there in stunned silence for what seemed like a really long time before I responded, “Because it never even occured to me.”

One of the fascinating things about being adopted and reunited is that you get to see the ties of genetics and still understand and respect the strength of history. For a lot of my natural mom’s life and the large majority of my natural brothers’ lives, their family unit was each other. For the majority of my life, my family unit was my adoptive parents and my adoptive brother. 

While I share genetics with my natural family and history with my adoptive family, my natural mom and brothers share both genetics and history. I’m not suggesting that makes their bond stronger, but it certainly makes it different. Different enough that I never had a single thought it would be desired or even appropriate for me to visit too. 

For some, that might be sad, but it’s really not to me. The fact is, my natural family shares a history that I have no place in, and while I am excited to create a history with them, there is also a time and place for them to celebrate that history without me. 

As I write this, they are enjoying their last night together for this visit, and I hope they are having a blast!

Becky

Reunion: Year Three

I just celebrated my third year of reunion with my natural family. Well, almost. The anniversary of my reunion with my natural mom was Feb 19; my reunion with my natural dad will be celebrated on April 9. 

A lot has happened in those three years. I’ve been introduced to lots of family members. I’ve been told about others who don’t know about me. I’ve celebrated the birth of new family members. I’ve mourned the death of others. I’ve spent countless hours on Skype getting to know my natural mom. I’ve spent a few treasured hours on my natural dad’s back porch. I’ve awakened on some mornings wondering what in the world I’m doing with a stranger living in my house (for those who haven’t been reading my posts, my natural mom moved into our home to aid in the establishment of our relationship). I’ve awakened on other mornings in awe that I’ve been blessed with this opportunity. 

Despite the monumental nature of all these things, on most days, I just live my life and none of it seems like a very big deal. I have two moms, two dads, three brothers, four nieces, two sisters-in-law, nine uncles, six aunts, and lots (and lots) of cousins. And that just counts my adoptive family and my natural mom’s family. And it’s just my family. No big deal. And, yet, the biggest deal ever. And that’s what three years of reunion feels like to me. 

Becky

Is It Truly Part of My Identity?

Recently, I have been engaging in a series of dialogues about race that a friend started on Facebook. In a recent comment, I started a sentence by noting that I am not a minority, unless you count my Native American blood. My friend responded, “I would definitely count your Native American blood if you truly feel like it’s part of your identity…” and went on to address the substantive part of my original comment. I’ve been mulling over the implied question for a couple of weeks now because it’s bigger than whether my Native American blood is important to my identity. In truth, it’s a question about what, if anything, is important to my identity?

One of the interesting things about not knowing your heritage is that you can be from anywhere. I think it’s one of the reasons adoptees have a tendency to day-dream and make up stories about their origins. If you don’t have a “tie” to the genealogical history of your adopted family, then you can be the long-lost prince or princess who is waiting for the return of the king and queen. And, when you are hurt and confused by the abandonment part of your story, it’s actually pretty cool to envision you are from such an important heritage.

Of course, when the king and queen don’t return, you are left with a stark reality – your family is your family, but their heritage (from a blood line perspective) is not. No matter how many genealogy projects you are assigned by teachers who are understanding when you explain that you don’t know your blood line heritage, the compilation of materials they request that you gather from your adopted family still never really feels like yours. Even if you are proud that your paternal great-grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee Indian, that doesn’t make you a Cherokee. And regardless of whether your maternal blood line can be traced back to European royalty, that doesn’t mean you have royal blood.

As silly as it may seem, I was pumped when my natural dad told me that I have Creek Indian blood in my heritage. And having the names of generations of my natural families made me want to start doing some genealogical research; I even signed up for a free account to search. But then I started thinking – while this is my blood heritage, I was 37 years old when I found it and it’s no more a part of me than the genealogical history of my adoptive parents.

So, here I sit, with two distinct histories – one by nature, one by nurture – and I think it’s somewhat fraudulent to claim either. And that is the very real answer to my friend’s question.

Becky

Why Are Holidays Difficult for Adoptees…?

An adoption blogger I follow posted that simple question on Christmas Eve morning and asked adoptees to respond. I was too busy to think about the question at the time. My (adoptive) brother and his family were coming to open presents and eat dinner later in the day, and the task of preparing dinner had fallen to Jeff and me because my (adoptive) mom has acute bronchitis. But yesterday, in the still and quiet of Christmas Day, I thought about it, and I share those thoughts now.

I (thankfully) have been in the business of adding parents to my life rather than losing them. Same with siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I have lost (again) all of my grandparents to death, so I do know a little about how that loss feels at holidays. I remember the first holiday after my (adoptive) maternal grandmother died, and it was strange. I could feel her presence because I could still envision her in the places I had always seen her, but the fact remained that it was only my memories compelling that presence. It was oddly comforting in the midst of a harsh reality – I could conjure her presence at will even though she was gone.

I think the reason I have struggled at various holidays throughout my life is because I had no image to conjure of my (natural) mom and dad or the rest of my (natural) family. On days when “family” is a central theme, it’s difficult to not have ALL of your family there, and especially when you can’t even envision them. While I was separated from my natural families on Christmas Day, I now have pictures of them in my mind and could easily envision them enjoying the day. And those pictures, from memories of times we have shared, helped to make my Christmas complete.

Becky

Letters from Carol 1975

In late August, my natural mom and her sisters met at my Grandma Audrey’s house to begin going through her personal belongings. It’s been several months since Grandma passed away, so it was time to start the process. They found some interesting items during their work: pieces of scrap paper with poetry Grandma had written; greeting cards from family and friends; love letters exchanged between Grandma and my grandfather (who passed away prior to my reunion with my natural family); and empty envelopes that looked as if they had been swept up with handfuls of other items and stashed away in a frenzied cleaning effort.

Among Grandma’s things, they found a series of letters that my mom wrote to her family while she was in Memphis, TN waiting to have me; there are eleven letters in total that were written between January and March 1975. The letters were primarily contained in a single envelope with a simple phrase to identify them, “Letters from Carol 1975.” I find the phrase interesting. I know Grandma was very careful to avoid open references to me – especially after my brothers were born – but I suspect there’s more to it than that explanation. I bet if you lived through sending your youngest daughter away to have and then relinquish your first grandchild, it wouldn’t take many words on an external envelope to remind you what was inside. “Letters from Carol 1975” was probably all my Grandma needed to see.

The letters are equally heart-breaking, surprising, and funny.

My mom, not quite 17 when the journey in Memphis began, was terribly homesick. While she frequently mentions how much she likes the foster family with whom she is staying, she also writes a lot about missing the family and her baby kitten, Sebastian.

Mom’s letters also reveal the guilt she felt about the shame it may have caused the family for her to be pregnant. In one striking passage she writes, “It would be foolish to say that I won’t ever disappoint you again but I can say that I’ll never hurt you and Daddy like this again or ever give you cause to be ashamed to claim me as your girl.”

There’s not much mention of my dad, except the part where Mom declares that she’s sure “everything is over between us” and that “if he did come back I’d just slam the door in his face because he’s hurt me enough.” (Sorry, Pop, I know you read my blog, and you know that I have no hard feelings about how things went down with you and Mom, but I think it’s important to share her thoughts – even the difficult ones).

The letters contain a surprising amount of dialogue about my dad’s mom (who passed away prior to my reunion with my natural family), who apparently made quite a bit of effort to stay in touch with my mom, even offering to help support her if she decided to keep me. In one passage Mom writes that my paternal grandmother told her, “Carol, I think about you more than you will ever know. If I can ever help you in any way, let me know because you will always be like a daughter to me. If I had a daughter, I would like for her to be just like you.”

I also was surprised by the fact that the doctor felt my Mom had gained too much weight with me, so she was actually on a diet while she was pregnant with me. This didn’t go over well with Mom who wrote at one point, “I’m putting in an early order for a big stack of pancakes when I get home. JoAnn made some yesterday but I didn’t get any cause their (sic) too fattening. My mouth just watered and watered and I could hardly stand it.”

My favorite light-hearted moments are in two early letters. In one, Mom drew a self-portrait that is basically a stick figure with a huge belly, and she writes, “I’m kinda glad no one there will be able to see me SO big cause that’s hard on my ego. Next time you see me I’ll be my old skinny self again.” In another, she declares, “Mom, I have good news for you. I ate liver! JoAnn fixed it last week and I suffered through it. It really wasn’t too bad.”

For me, the most important parts of the letters reveal Mom’s struggle in deciding whether to keep me or allow me to be adopted. I don’t know how most adoptees feel, but I longed to know that I really was wanted – at least by someone in my natural family. When we reunited, my mom explained that she always wanted me, but just felt she couldn’t keep and support me at the age of 17. Actually reading her words at that age confirmed everything she said to me in the beginning. A couple of very important passages to me include:

  • “I’ve made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and I have to stick to it. I really believe it’s the best for my baby and no matter how hard it is for me, I have to put the baby’s future first.”
  • “I want my baby and I love it so much and because I love it I want to do what’s best for it. If there was anyway that I could give it the kind of life it deserves and needs I would keep it with me. But I’m afraid that I can’t give it the kind of life it should have even though I love it so. I just want to do what’s right…”

Oh, I don’t want to forget the bonus material in the envelope – a photo of my mom on her 17th birthday with a very visible baby bump. That’s me 22 days prior to my birth. It’s pretty cool to have a pregnancy photo of my mom. Most kids have those, but I had given up hope something like that existed. Makes me really happy that Grandma was a pack rat.

Mom and the Baby Bump