Closing an open adoption destroys the birthmother who chose you and harms the child
I would like to share a story that touched people very close to my heart and nearly destroyed a birthmother. The short version of the story is that a young teen ran away from an abusive home and fell in love with an abusive man. After two years of cohabiting the mother chose to become pregnant and had a beautiful daughter named Devon. The mother tried her best to raise Devon in a healthy home but soon became a single parent and battled depression, as well as poverty and a lack of resources. After being sexually assaulted and losing her apartment she placed her little girl with her father temporarily as she was homeless and just 17 years old. The father forged documents giving himself the power of attorney over Devon and pressured the mother to give the child to a family he claimed were his friends.
Over the course of a year the mother was forced to draw up a list of things she could give Devon and compare it to what an adoptive family could. She was repeatedly given messages that she didn't love her baby if she wouldn't do what was in Devon's best interest and place her in for adoption. She was told there was something called open adoption that meant ongoing contact with the child and that open adoption was legal and would stay open for Devon's childhood. She was criticized for being selfish for wanting to raise her own daughter and told that her daughter would have many developmental and psychological problems if she didn't place her in an open adoption. She was pressured and only 17 years old, had no education or life experience, no support, no other family and no access to a lawyer. She resisted and insisted on raising her daughter. Eventually the father made the adoptive family visit the mother. The adoptive family made many promises about visits,photos, report cards and invited her to be part of the family. They had her over to their family's holiday celebrations and made her welcome to visit them in their home. She found this very therapeutic as she had never had a real family. She began to believe that she would destroy her daughter's well being by not placing her for adoption and felt that adoption was the best thing she could do for Devon, who she loves and still thinks of and talks about daily.
The family assured the mother that she would always be a part of her daughters life. Open adoption was presented as being legally binding and she trusted this nice family who would give her daughter a nice home, brothers, a father, financial security, suburbia and the whole "real family life".
The mother reluctantly agreed to give her daughter a chance to have everything the mother didn't have growing up. The open adoption took place and the mother thought there were lawyers for both sides, one representing her best interest as the birthmother. The mother cried and vacillated between signing the adoption papers and raising her daughter. Her father insisted she sign the papers as he said he had power of attorney and she wouldn't see Devon ever again if she didn't sign. How could she hurt this nice couple by refusing to let them adopt Devon? Didn't she love Devon very much? The openness of the adoption was the deciding factor in her decision and she felt that adoption was in Devons best interest The day she signed the papers she felt like a big piece of herself had died, yet she felt happy that Devon would have a wonderful future.
She visited Devon and it killed her to leave at the end of every visit. She was reassured only by the openness of the adoption.
Time passed and the family betrayed her. They moved and the birthmother could not find them. Lawyers informed her that there is no such thing as legally binding open adoption, as Devons adoption had been a private domestic adoption and the birthmothers lawyer had been paid by the adoptive parents, not a free clinic. They closed the adoption and left the birthmother behind like a used kleenex, with no thought of her feelings or how Devon would feel that her biological mother had been used and betrayed. Devon probably felt abandoned as by this time she was 5 years old. The adoptive parents gave no thought to how Devon would feel or the grief she experienced losing her mother. They did not research adoption and the positive effects of maintaining contact with the birthfamily
The birthmother never stopped searching for her little girl. She cries when she sees little girls and cries when she thinks of Devon, which is daily. She never healed and never will.
The birthmother found out years later that the adoptive father died when Devon was 9 years old. Her little girl lost her mother and her adoptive father within four years of each other. There is a high probability that Devon experienced abandonment issues and psychological scarring.
The adoptive mother tried to pretend that Devon was her own child and Devon discovered by accident that she was adopted, another major trauma. Devon wasn't told why she was adopted and the vagueness about the possibility of being rejected by your own mother has serious negative consequences on a child's development.
Adoption is an option that unites children in need with parents who choose to love them. I hope this women's story helps adoptive parents realize that a child who is placed for adoption is loved just as much, and maybe more, than non-adopted children. A mother who is poor, young, single, uneducated and has no hope for the future may be willing to adopt-out her child if it means the child will have a better life than the mother could ever hope to give the child, such is love and it is a tremendous sacrifice a mother makes for her young child.
Birthmothers carry scars that never heal and adoption changes their lives in profound ways. Adoption is a gain for the adoptive parents but it is a big loss for the birthmother. Relinquishing does not mean that the mother does not love her child. The birthmother in this story loves her daughter and thinks of her every day. She has researched adoption extensively in the available psychological, sociological and anthropology literature.

The birthmother succeeded in contacting the adoptive family after seven years of searching. She sent many letters over a long period of time, explaining the circumstances of the adoption, her betrayal and the pain it caused. She begged for the adoption to be reopened, she prayed to God and never stopped sending letters. She thought about Devon and where she was at in her life, what her interests were, how she was doing in school, what she looked like, how she was faring in a single parent home, worried about abuse and neglect, worried if the family was living in poverty, worried about the adoptive mother having a new boyfriend and if he would be kind to Devon. She thought of her daughters adoptive brothers and how they treated Devon. She daydreamed and fantasized about a reunion, about hugging Devon and talking with her face to face. She felt incredible pain about not being able to participate in her daughters life, about not being able to give advice, counseling and support, about missing out on her firsts for everything, about if she looked like the birthmother, if she could afford to get a post seconday education, if she thought her birthmother had abandoned her. She attempted suicide when the betrayal first happened but the thoughts of reunion kept her going for those long years as her daughter was growing up. The birthmother waited and prayed, wrote letters and poems, daydreamed and fantasized. She eagerly went to her mailbox every day after she had found the family, thinking that the family might have answered her letters, or sent her a photo. On Devons birthday and for a few days before and after she became very depressed, every year since the adoption. Her suffering grew worse after the open adoption closed. The birthmother was sure that the adoptive mother would change her mind and reopen the adoption; after all the birthmother had chosen the adoptive mother. The birthmother had never abused or neglected Devon and had never had any problems with the child protection authorities. The birthmothers anticipation of news, or a photo, or a reunion grew as her daughter grew. She was certain that nobody could be so cruel as to ignore her child's right to know about her past. Wasn't it obvious that Devon needed to know her roots and her history? Wasn't two mothers better than one, especially now that her adoptive father had died? Wouldn't it be in Devon's best interest to let her know that her birthmother had never rejected her? That she loved her? That she wanted to participate in her life? The birthmother was sure that she would get news, or even a photo! Then she could start healing and stop crying all the time.

She never saw her Devon again

please do not promise an open adoption to convince a birthmother to relinquish. Birthmothers love their children. if you have any question please email me or post here.
How old is Devon now?
Wow! This is why we told our daughter's bmother that we could not do certain things from day one, then, when we were able to offer visits and other things it was more instead of less than we had promised. I can't imagine the damage this story had on the birthmother or little Devon! Shame on these adoptive parents.
My goodness, if she was 'just 17' when she had the baby, she must have been 15 and probably only 14 yrs old when she ran away from home and lived with an abusive man. How sad, it is too bad she didn't get taken into foster care then. And I'm not sure, but I'd think a 17 yr old with a baby would get into a home/program for young mothers? Maybe they don't have that in Canada. It is too bad young girls don't know all their options.
But since she didn't know her options, had depression and was homeless, and left the baby with an apparently unwilling (and abusive if this was the same man she ran off to) father, I think the baby was probably much better off being adopted.
Over simplifying the role of adoptive parents
DevonsAngel said...

Adoption is a gain for the adoptive parents but it is a big loss for the birthmother.

This is a tragedy but I do not think of our adoption as anyone's gain.
Stormster - just wanted to clarify, maybe I am taking your comment the wrong way. But - you don't believe that adding your son to your family by adoption has been a gain, so to speak, for you and your family?
To Say We Gained
In the dictionary the term Gain is defined as to "obtain or secure something desired" Notice the word someTHING, not someONE. I don't mean to be too literal here but we are discussing the use of a particular word that I found offensive.

Did we desire to be parents? Yes of course we did but I can never accept it as our gain in the face of our son's loss. I love him more than my own life so how can his great loss be my gain?

Furthermore, particularly in an open adoption where I speak to his birth mother every week and sometimes daily.... her heartbreak is palpable to me. Her pain my gain? No way. Not mine. Not me. We are in this together.

Am I glad she chose us to parent? Am I thrilled that he is a healthy and beautiful boy? Is my life more full? Am I blessed? YES. But there is a lot of emotional trauma in our little triad now and dare I say some of it may be mine in the future. Who knows?

You know what it is? It feels like gloating. And I have enough of a grasp of the complexity of the situation not to see it as a 'win' or a 'gain' or anything like that. I never saw motherhood as a prize. More like a privilege.
Stormster -

I understand where you are coming from and I understand that it is often an uncomfortable feeling knowing you have gained something at someone else's loss. But the reality is that you have gained something - and yes that something is the baby. Unfortunately the adoptive parents' gain is the birthmother's loss - it's an unfortunate reality in adoption.
I understand the concept of loss
If we break it down the way it's always been seen:

Birth mother = loss
Baby = loss and gain
Adoptive parent = gain

It seems to me that each member of the Triad loses and gains something over the course of a successful open adoption.

In some cases the adopting parent is also a birth parent, or has suffered multiple miscarriages or even stillbirths. She may be jealous or envious of the birth mother's relationship with her child. If we look at the big picture I still think the view that one woman loses and one gains is overly simplistic.

But yes, if we look at the day the mother makes the decision to place or signs the TPR, the day she walks away and faces her life without her the baby she has carried ....that is an agony I will probably never be able to imagine. I guess it's a matter of "adoption" in the literal sense vs. the quest for a healthy open adoption and all that the birth mother will gain through an ongoing relationship with her child.

Open adoption can be HARD. THe whole point is to support the triad so simple statements like that are very discouraging.
Stormster said...
But yes, if we look at the day the mother makes the decision to place or signs the TPR, the day she walks away and faces her life without her the baby she has carried ....that is an agony I will probably never be able to imagine. I guess it's a matter of "adoption" in the literal sense vs. the quest for a healthy open adoption and all that the birth mother will gain through an ongoing relationship with her child.

It is not only the day she is separated from her child... it is the year after that and 10 years after that, and (for me) 23 years after that. The loss is ongoing,no matter how great the relationship is between my son and I. To say that open adoption somehow balances the losses is really a misguided statement.
OK I've Been Meditating on This
I always assumed there was healing ...esp. in a functioning open adoption

I did not mean to negate (or gloss over) the loss.

The loss is ongoing. Open adoption should just be the norm.

Thanks for your insight Brenda.
DevonsAngel said...

She never saw her Devon again

I would like to ask what the outcome of this sad situation was...Not to be crude, but is the birthmother still alive? And is the OP a friend of the birthmother? Thanks.
Stormster said...
I always assumed there was healing ...esp. in a functioning open adoption

Healing does not mean the loss is gone, it means you have learned how to live with it. I know the days or things that are most likely to trigger a grief/trauma reaction. I have my ways of coping. But I think those triggers will be with me the rest of my life.
Healing does not mean the loss is gone, it means you have learned how to live with it.
This is a great statement and one I wish I understood 25 years ago. I spent many years thinking that in order to heal, I needed to get over the loss and I just didn't see that happening.

I will always have the loss of X number of years and all that entails. But healing (for me) meant making sure the loss caused no additional damage, coupled with a lot of forgiveness of myself and others. I'm not sure if an OA could have helped me with that.

That said, OA would have helped with the nagging questions, is he OK? Does he have a good life? etc. So the loss factor may have been somewhat reduced.
I don't know, I don't have an OA.

JMO, but everyone (a and b parents) needs to be responsible for their own healing, in their own time. Others can help with ideas, suggestion, support AND by keeping their promises. But, true healing comes from within. All sorts of confusion seems to erupt when someone takes responsibility for someone elses healing... It just doesn't work that way.
Yes Exactly
Oceans you so right. I have full feelings of responsibility for helping E's birthmother heal and not only do I now realize that won't work, but it is actually more about my own guilt.

Just as she has to cope with her own loss, I have to cope with my own guilt.

I have to stop thinking of OA as some kind of supersalve!

Even though I may have an ideal about women helping each other etc. the trauma to a birth mother is just outside the scope of my understanding. It has taken me over a year to understand that it is not the same as a death, or just living is not the same as healing from the guilt of a pregnancy termination. It's not the same as anything.

I really could use support for when the guilt hits me hard (like right now or when I read certain posts on this site). But what support is there? It is what it is?

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it IS black and white One gains and one loses. And open adoption is irrelevant to the loss.
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