When my older sister placed her baby for adoption when I was nine years old, I had no idea that would be the beginning of an adoption story for me. Just seven years later, I met the boy I would eventually marry. He had two adopted siblings. Still, I didn’t know how my life and future generations would be impacted by the blessing of adoption.
Adoption has changed tremendously in the last century. Unplanned pregnancy and pregnancy out of wedlock have become more socially acceptable than ever before. Because of this, adoption laws and practices have also changed. It was not always smooth-sailing though. Some people took advantage of the system and many children were abused and neglected. In 1851, laws were passed to protect adopted children and better determine who could and could not adopt. Even then, most adoptions were closed. By the mid-90s, semi-open and open adoptions started to become a more heard-of option in the adoption community.
While I was dating my husband in 1979, his family was in the middle of adopting a baby boy. They had adopted a daughter nine years earlier. There were not a lot of differences between these two adoptions. Both adoptions were done through a private attorney with a doctor selecting the adoptive parents. Both birth mothers had medical insurance, so the only money they had to pay was to the attorney. In both circumstances, the birth mothers had no idea where their babies were going; however, if the girl would have been a boy, she would have gone to another family. They were given three days’ notice and picked up their baby girl in the doctor’s office with just a nurse present. The birth mother was given three days to change her mind, so those were very stressful days. Nine years later, they had an hour’s notice before picking up their baby boy in the hospital parking lot. He had only a bottle, his diaper, and an undershirt.
Adoptions were kept very quiet prior to the nineties when adoption records were no longer sealed for every adoption. An adoption exchange of either sort would not be legally binding under today’s laws. Both of these adoptees were able to locate their birth mothers many years later. This was the beginning of three generations of adoption for me and my husband.
Across the state, my sister placed her baby for adoption in 1970. I wasn’t involved much in the adoption process because I was very young. I only remember the sadness I felt when I realized we would not be raising the baby. My sister was only sixteen years old and marriage to the father of the baby proved unsuccessful. Adoption was the best solution.
The adoption was handled through a Christian adoption agency. Although my sister did not participate in the selection of the couple who would adopt her baby, she was made aware of their circumstances and felt good about the decision made by her doctor and the agency. Years later she found out that her baby was placed with a different family and her life was much different than what my sister had envisioned for her. With the addition of semi-open and open adoptions, this is rarely the case anymore. Once an adoptive mother has chosen her prospective family, she is in control of who her baby goes home with.
When we adopted our son in 1991, his birth mother met us at the attorney’s office to ensure that we were indeed the family taking him home. There were a lot of changes in the twenty years between those two adoptions. That is just one example of change over generations of adoption.
Both of these adoptees were able to locate their birth mothers when they were adults; one due to adoption search agencies, and the other because it was a semi-open adoption. Modern technology and social media have made it easier to search for and locate birth parents or children who have been adopted.
Generations of adoption have been around for as long as humanity. Oftentimes, babies were raised by family members other than their parents with no legal involvement at all. All parties involved were instructed to keep quiet to protect the innocent child and the birth mother from any scrutiny. It was thought that keeping it a secret was better for the child’s well-being. This has since been proven to be incorrect. According to CNN, “Children who are adopted may be at elevated risk for mental health disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, major depression, and separation anxiety disorders, according to a wide body of research.”
Semi-open and open adoptions have become much more popular. Being able to access birth records can be beneficial to an adoptee when medical history is needed. Adoptees often have questions about their biological extended family and genealogy. It became medically necessary for my sister-in-law to locate her birth mother when an obstetric ultrasound revealed that she had only one kidney. Grateful that she was able to search her birth records, my sister-in-law was able to find her birth mother. It can benefit adoptees and biological parents to have that knowledge, not only for physical health reasons but for mental health issues as well.
Marrying into a family with adopted children began my journey into the generations of adoption. I had watched my sister place her baby for adoption and the way it affected her young life. But having a husband with adopted siblings was a new experience for me. We never discussed adoption as a way to build our own family. But when we were faced with secondary infertility and other options failed, we began researching that course of action. We began the necessary steps once we made the decision and faced the challenges that came along the way. Anyone who says that adoption is the easy way out has never adopted!
Open adoption was just making a breakthrough in the early nineties. There were still lots of unanswered questions and unknown situations that could occur. The idea was scary for us, but we also knew that it may be a choice we would have to consider. In the end, we had a semi-open adoption where we agreed to share pictures yearly through the attorney’s office. My husband was more insistent on this than I was. From the beginning, I feared that my son’s birth mother would want him back. Over the years, I realized my fear was unwarranted. Although she loved her baby, she also recognized what was best for him.
For the next 18 years, we sent pictures and his birth mother sent birthday cards and Christmas gifts to him. When he was five years old, we began to explain the adoption to him and where the gifts were coming from. His response was that he wanted to tell her thank you. When he turned 18, we connected with his birth mom through Facebook and finally reunited personally when he was 24 years old. Because of the positive way his adoption had been discussed with him during his lifetime, the reunion was unstressed and a relationship was born. They continue to keep in contact with each other while I maintain the role of his mother. A meeting that took place 30 years ago in an attorney’s office between strangers has become a lifelong friendship.
In the years prior to 1990, this kind of outcome would not have seemed possible. But today it is more common than private, closed adoptions. Currently, nearly 95% of adoptions have some form of openness. Many adoptees have daily contact with their birth mothers. The extent of that contact needs to be discussed and decided on before an adoption is final.
We went on to adopt again several years later, under different circumstances. Although contact has been made between our daughter and her birth mother, there is not a relationship between them.
This was the second generation of adoption for us. Our adopted son has since married a wonderful girl with two beautiful children from a previous relationship. During their wedding ceremony, they put together a puzzle that symbolized all of them uniting into one unit. It was an honor when he shared with me that we have shown him that you don’t have to be blood to be family. One day, he hopes to formally adopt them, but until then he will be known as their daddy. And the third generation of adoption will be complete.
Another thing that has changed over generations of adoption is the number of transracial families created through adoption. According to the Institute for Family Studies, the proportion of adopted kindergarten-age children being raised by a mother of a different ethnic origin went up 50% between 1999 and 2011. Overall, 44% of adopted kindergarten-age adoptees are being raised by adoptive parents of a different race or ethnicity. Adoption helps many childless couples fulfill their dreams and gives children the opportunity to be raised in a stable and financially supportive home.
Transracial adoptions have their own complex issues. Teaching adopted children about their own heritage can be a challenge, but it proves to be beneficial to them. Some adoptive families choose to explore the culture and foods native to their adopted children. Embracing children’s own traditions can help as they grow into adults and prepare them for questions they most likely will be asked.
Socialworktoday.com says, “Complex, diverse, extended family networks of adoptive and biological kin are here to stay. Fortunately, most adopted people, including those born with challenges or who have endured trauma, function well, and the vast majority of adoptive parents are satisfied with their adoptions.”
Generations of adoption have blessed our family in the past and are blessing our lives now. They will continue to make an impact on the future generations of our posterity.Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.