Adoption FAQ Fridays

Each Friday during National Adoption Month we are promoting a Frequently Asked Question about options counseling and adoption The Spence-Chapin Way to help everyone better understand how options counseling, including interim care, and the adoption process works at Spence-Chapin. Read all of the questions and answers below!

Question: What is Open Adoption?

Answer: Open Adoption is having some form of communication and contact between the adoptive family and the birth family over time. Today, the majority of adoptions are done with some degree of openness, with the extent and frequency of contact varying from family to family. Open adoptions have been shown through various studies to benefit all members of the adoption triad—adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. At Spence-Chapin, the open adoption process is led by birth parents, who can decide what kind of communication–if any–that they want to have in the future, which can include visits, letters, emails, photos, and phone calls. Spence-Chapin helps adoptive families and birth families craft an open adoption agreement, and our social workers provide counseling and guidance during the planning process, and at any time in their lifelong journeys.

Question: What is the Adoption Triad?

Answer: Adoption triad is a term used to the three groups that make up adoption: the adoptee, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents. The adoptee is the child who is being adopted. The birth parents are the biological parents of the child. The adoptive parents are the individual or couple who adopts the child. Spence-Chapin supports all members of the adoption triad through our community programming, counseling, and support groups. We believe it is important to provide a space where all members in the adoption triad can come at any point in their lives to receive guidance, advice, counseling, and community.

Question: What is Options Counseling?

Answer: Options counseling is a free service that Spence-Chapin provides to pregnant women and women who have recently given birth who are unsure about parenting. Our social workers review all options available in a safe space where women can talk about their questions and concerns and not face judgement or bias. Spence-Chapin works with local organizations to help women access resources and assistance based on their choice. Spence-Chapin will travel to meet with women seeking counseling anywhere in New Jersey and the New York City metro area (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Westchester).

Question: What is Interim Care?

Answer: We understand that women and their partners need appropriate time and space to make a decision about the future of their family, especially after a recent birth. Placing their newborn in Interim Care allows biological parents to continue counseling to fully explore their options while knowing their baby is being cared for by a nurturing caregiver in a loving home. Birth parents retain their legal rights while the baby is in care and are encouraged to visit their baby. Our services are free for biological parents while they take the days or even a few weeks to make a decision.

Question: Why consider Adoption?

Answer:This is a very personal choice and there are many reasons people have made an adoption plan for their child. Many say it’s because they aren’t ready or able to fully parent a child at this time but want to stay connected to their child. Others say they cannot provide the special care their child will need and want to find a family who can. Others choose to make a private open adoption plan instead of involvement with the public child welfare system.

Question: Who are the Adoptive Families? How are adoptive families selected?

Answer: Spence-Chapin works hard to recruit diverse families that are hoping to adopt a child. Our waiting families vary in age, background, family structure, religion, etc. After submitting an application, each family must attend several webinars and trainings to ensure that they are ready to begin the adoption process. Spence-Chapin then conducts a home study to get to know the family and their home environment more. When a birth parent is making an adoption plan, she is presented with information and descriptions of all of our waiting families and can select a family of her choice to set up a meeting with. If all goes well at the meeting, our social workers help the birth parents and adoptive family to create an open or closed adoption plan, depending on the birth parents’ preference. Spence-Chapin works closely with the birth parents and adoptive family every step of the way to placement and continues to provide lifelong guidance and support through counseling, community programming, and support groups.

Spence-Chapin has all types of waiting families! They vary in age, background, family, structure, religion, etc. They are all eager to adopt and provide a loving family to a child. You will be able to meet and connect with the people you select. Adoptive parents registered with Spence-Chapin have been screened by our social workers and prepared for open adoption. You can also browse through profiles on our website: www.spence-chapin.org/waiting-families

7 Myths About Open Adoption

For prospective adoptive parents, the term “open adoption” may sound intimidating or confusing. What does an open adoption look like? How does it work? Is it really in the best interest of the child? To make open adoption more understood, we’ve compiled this list of Myths and Facts to help guide you through your adoption journey!

1.Myth: Not many people have an open adoption

Fact: Today, the vast majority of adoptions are open. In a study conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, only 5 percent of respondents in a survey said that they had a closed adoption. Of course, the type of openness in adoption varies among families, can be infrequent or ongoing, and can take the form of letters, phone calls, in-person meetings—and a lot in between.

2. Myth: The relationships between adoptive parents and birth parents deteriorate in time.

Fact: The relationships between adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees changes over time, and tend to ebb and flow. As long as all parties remain committed to communication and are flexible, the relationships formed are life-long and rewarding.

3. Myth: Open adoption is a form of co-parenting.

Fact: In open adoption, the adoptive parents are the sole custodians and are the ones in control of their child’s welfare. The birth parents may play an active role in the child’s life, but the legal rights remain in the hands of the adoptive parents.

4. Myth: Open adoption is confusing to children.

Fact: Children are not confused by having contact with their birth family. Even at an early age, children can understand different roles and responsibilities. Further, while all members in an open adoption are shown to benefit from the relationship, it is adoptees that benefit the most over time. Some of the benefits to adoptees include coming to terms early on with the reasons for their adoption, access to information that aids in identity formation, knowledge about their own medical histories, and a better understanding of the meaning of adoption.

5. Myth: Having contact with the birth family will be an intrusion on my family.

Fact: Surveys show that families who choose to remain in contact with the birth family report higher levels of satisfaction with their adoptions. According to the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project, adoptive parents in open adoptions report a stronger sense of permanence in the relationship with their child as projected into the future, and more empathy toward the birthparents and child than those in closed adoptions.

6. Myth: Being able to communicate with and see the child will be too painful for the birth parents.

Fact: Birth parents in open adoptions with ongoing contact report less grief, regret, and worry, as well as more peace of mind, than those who do not have contact, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

7. Myth: There will be no boundaries. The birth parents will drop in whenever they want to see the child.

Fact: Through open communication, both parties should have a mutual understanding as to where those boundaries are. The way the open adoption looks is determined before placement, between the adoptive parents and birth parents (and the adoptee depending on his/her age), and is based on what is comfortable and practical for all involved. Birth parents and adoptive parents should both receive proper training and counseling on open adoption before making an open adoption agreement, to ensure that all parties have thought clearly and reflexively about what they want the relationship to look like. It is also important to work with a counselor or social worker to help craft the open adoption contract or agreement, and to have access to post-adoption services to work through any challenges or issues that may arise over time in that relationship.

Spence-Chapin encourages open adoption, which is why we are happy to answer any further questions you may have. Spence-Chapin offers individual and family counseling, open adoption support and guidance, and facilitates reunion meetings. Call us and let us know how we can support you and your family – 646-539-2167. We encourage to read this beautiful personal open adoption story.

An Open Adoption Story

By Lucy Shaw, LMSW and Birth Parent Outreach worker for Spence-Chapin

Dax (third from left) with three of his biological siblings and adoptive Dad, Jochen

For National Adoption Month, I’m excited to share my personal story of open adoption with you all. As an adoptive mom in an open adoption and as a social worker focused on Birth Parent outreach at Spence-Chapin, I have a unique perspective on adoption that I think is important to share. Adoption is such an integral part of my life and something for which I am so grateful and proud.

My husband and I adopted our son Daxton (Dax) in 2014. He’s now four years old! When we decided to adopt, we began working with an adoption attorney, and within six months of completing our home study, we had connected with Erin, Dax’s birth mom when she was about two months pregnant.

From that moment on, we truly never looked back. It seemed like things were destined to be as soon as we started talking to Erin. We drove Pennsylvania from NYC to meet Erin for the first time in January 2014. She even invited us to meet her and go with her to get her first ultrasound to find out the gender of the baby! What do you know, the day we started driving was the day Snowstorm Hercules pummeled the east coast! We had to pull over on the side of the road several times due to heavy snowfall, but we kept trudging along because we were so insistent that we were going to make it to this appointment, no matter what. And I’m so glad we did! I still have the ultrasound photo today saved!

I’m so thankful for having this chance to visit Erin while she was pregnant because it set the stage for a genuine and trusting relationship going forward. Throughout this journey of getting to know each other, Erin has been an open book. We could see right away that she had the best intentions and was an incredibly brave, honest, strong and trusting woman. She shared her story of why she was considering adoption with us and we could see firsthand what a kind and loving mother she was to her four other children. We could also see how hard it was to be a single mom raising children, while trying to work full-time and complete her education so she could make a better life for her family.

As Erin’s due date began to approach, she kept us involved every step of the way. She included us in her birth plan and introduced us to her other children and her best friend. She also allowed us to be by her side in the hospital when she gave birth! She was amazing at the hospital – she let me cut the umbilical cord and let us hold Daxton for skin to skin contact while she also bonded with him and breastfed him throughout the time we were in the hospital. We just followed her lead.

Daxton was born on May 6, 2014 and that weekend we celebrated my first Mother’s Day with Erin, Dax’s birth siblings and Erin’s best friend in Pennsylvania – as we were hanging out, barbecuing and watching Daxton sleeping happily in his car seat, I continued to be in awe of Erin’s grace and generosity in sharing this event with us.

Since Dax’s birth, Erin continues to show her kindness, resilience and strength in so many ways. And I often see these qualities in Daxton too, like the way he interacts with everyone he meets in such a friendly and confident way. From the moment he could smile and wave, he’s been making friends with almost everyone he meets.

Lucy with Dax’s birth mom, Erin

We stay in touch with Erin in many ways – we keep each other updated on Facebook and Erin’s always one of the first to like any of the posts I have about Daxton or parenting. I know she’s always thinking of us and we’re always thinking of her as well. We also visit each other about once or twice a year. For Dax’s 4th birthday, she came to NYC with all the kids and baked three gorgeous cakes for our party. She always goes above and beyond our expectations during these visits.

Overall, I feel so lucky to have this relationship with Erin and am happy that Dax will grow up knowing his birth mother and his birth siblings and be able to answer all the questions he may have about his identity as he gets older.

Parenting may be one of the hardest jobs on earth, but for me being in an open adoption is one of the easiest things about being a parent. I know there are going to continue to be challenges, tough conversations, and ups and downs in the years to come, but I’m not worried about answering questions about adoption with Dax or anyone else. In that area, I know without a doubt, with Erin’s help, we have honesty, love and resiliency to guide us.

Domestic Special Needs Adoption at Spence-Chapin: Who Chooses the Adoptive Family?

Families often have questions about what the matching process is like in our Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program. Similar to Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Infant Adoption Program, the matching process in our Domestic Special Needs Program is driven by birth family whenever possible.

Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program (formerly called ASAP – A Special Adoption Program) was created when parents struggling with an unexpected diagnosis for their child came to us needing support. Since creating this unique program in 1995, we have found over 500 loving adoptive families for children with special medical needs, and we continue to work hard at expanding the benefits of adoption to more medically-fragile children and the prospective adoptive parents who want to love them.

The Spence-Chapin Way

For both our Special Needs and Domestic Adoption Programs, our counselors provide free, confidential, unbiased and culturally-sensitive options counseling for parents in crisis. Our goal is to support these families in understanding all their options and rights as well as the resources available, so they can be empowered to make informed decisions and plans for their child. This includes connecting families to early intervention services, Social Security Income (SSI), and finding additional resources to parent a child who is medically fragile.

For birth parents choosing adoption, we are uniquely qualified to support and guide them through the adoption planning process. Our Special Needs Adoption Program is one of the only places in NY and NJ that has expertise to support birth families and find loving adoptive families for medically-fragile infants. Sometimes we know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby. We know that all birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby and want to make a plan that they feel is best for their child. When a child is born with a special needs, we look for adoptive families registered in our Special Needs Adoption Program.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

Ideally, birth parents can review profiles from multiple adoptive families. Some children have very severe medical conditions and it may be challenging to find multiple families for every child. When looking for prospective adoptive families, we network with other special needs organizations and advocates around the country to find supportive and loving families for children with diverse medical needs.

Additionally, some families have requests about the adoptive family, such as one or two-parent household, religious, racial, or ethnic preferences. In some cases, a birth parent may be looking for families that reflect their own heritage or cultural background. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with birth parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile. Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately, birth parents are only presented with profiles of families that meet their preferences and have a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in the family’s state.

Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who can be considered. Other times we need more options for the birth family and are looking for more prospective adoptive families. Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them.

Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of 8 or 10 children, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any state are eligible to apply to adopt. Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Ultimately, birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social workers. Once they have narrowed their choice to one family they would like to meet, a match meeting is held between the birth and adoptive parents with their social workers.

Birth Parent Perspective: Hear Zeke’s birth parents speak about their experience working with Spence-Chapin to make an adoption plan for their son. Zeke’s story was featured at the Spence-Chapin Gala in 2017. Learn more about his story here.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Scott talk about the unknowns he faced when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter.

To learn more about becoming a prospective adoptive parent through our Special Needs Adoption Program, read our Special Needs FAQ on our blog! You can also contact us at 212-400-8150 or asap@spence-chapin.org.

If you are a birth parent considering making an adoption plan, you can contact us 24/7 for free, confidential and unbiased options counseling: Call 1-800-321-LOVE or Text: 646-306-2586.

Things Never to Say to a Birth Mom by Terri Rimmer

Things Never to Say to a Birth Mom
Written and Shared with Permission by Terri Rimmer

Why don’t you have another one (baby) and keep it?
You just didn’t have the confidence to be a mom.
Can I take the baby?
Give me the baby.
I’ll raise the baby.
I have a relative who’ll take the baby.
You mean you don’t want it?
So, you just don’t want to keep it?
That’s really cold.
You’re a cold-hearted person.
So, you’re just going to give it up, just like that?
Why do you care if the baby’s okay? You’re not keeping it?
Why’d you name the baby? They’re just going to rename it anyway.
I’d try to get the baby back.
You can always change your mind back, right?
Why are you doing this?
Do you just not want kids?
Do you just not like kids?
You know you can sell your baby on the black market?
You can get on welfare.
You can afford it.
I’m not a fan of open adoptions.
It’s time to move on with your life.
You’ll think about your daughter one day maybe.
That’s a selfish decision.
You can make it.
I’ll give the baby a good home.
Are you going to have any more kids?
You love this child. You should have another one (you shouldn’t have placed her for adoption).
You should have faith in God and try to be a mom anyway.

Domestic Adoption FAQs

Families often have many questions as they are beginning an adoption process. These FAQs will help you decide if adopting through Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program is the right path for you to grow your family.

1.  Who are the children in need of adoption?
The children in need of adoption through our Domestic Adoption Program are newborns to approximately 8 weeks old. The babies reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the NYC Metro Area; most children are of Black or Latino backgrounds. Families adopting through this program need to be open to parenting a child of either gender.

2.  Who can adopt through this program?
We are often asked who can adopt. We are happy to share that all types of parents adopt: married couples, unmarried couples, LGBTQIA+ parents, single women and single men can adopt. Families who are already parenting adopt, as do families who are transitioning out of fertility treatments.  Families of all ages, income levels, ethnicities, and religions adopt. Truly, the one thing that all adoptive families have in common is that they want to be parents – and from there they are as diverse as the kids themselves.

3.  What is open adoption?
What if I want a closed adoption? How is open adoption negotiated? Open adoption is when adoptive and birth families meet and are able to have ongoing contact with each other at their own discretion. Frequency and type of communication can range from the exchange of letters and emails, phone calls, shared pictures, and visits. Open adoption is not co-parenting. It is an opportunity for birth and adoptive families to develop a relationship that will benefit the adopted child. Research shows that open adoption is beneficial to all members of the adoption triad: the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the adopted person. Having access to their birth parent can help an adopted person develop a better sense of self with access to information about his or her background. Families who are the best candidates for Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Adoption Program are open to periodic exchange of emails, photos, and visits with the birth family. Adoptive parents and birth parents each have their own social worker at Spence-Chapin. Your social worker will help you establish an open adoption plan that is comfortable to both you and your child’s birth parent(s). Both adoptive families and birth parents will get support from their social worker throughout this process.

4.  What are the common medical risks?
Many infants in need of adoption have some risks or unknowns in their medical backgrounds.Some of the infants come from backgrounds where they may have been exposed to cigarette smoke, recreational drugs, and/or social drinking during pregnancy. Good candidates for the Domestic Adoption Program are open to some risks and unknowns in the child’s medical history. This is something you will discuss with your social worker throughout your adoption process.

5.  Who are the birth parents?
Any woman of childbearing age could find herself in the position of an unplanned pregnancy. All birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby. They want to make a plan to give the baby a stable life that they are unable to provide at time of birth. Spence-Chapin’s experienced social workers provide intensive unbiased options counseling to biological parents in the NYC metro area to help them make the decision that is right for them and for their baby.

6.  What is the matching process and how does it work?
Birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social worker. Once they have narrowed their choice down to one family, a match meeting is held between the birth family and the adoptive family. Both the adoptive family’s social worker and the birth parent’s social worker are present for this meeting to provide guidance and support. Adoptive families wait an average of 1-2 years to be matched after completing their home study.

7.  What is interim care?
We understand that women and their partners need time and space to make a decision about the future of their family, especially after a recent birth of a child. Spence-Chapin’s Interim Care Program allows babies to be cared for in a loving home by a nurturing caregiver so that biological parents have additional time to plan for their child. Biological parents retain parental rights while their baby is in Interim Care and are free to visit their child. Our interim care givers are families who are trained and screened to care for the newborns on a temporary basis. Interim care allows the birth parents to feel confident in their plan before making the decision to place the infant for adoption.

8.  What are the next steps if I want to apply?
Join the next Domestic Adoption webinar!
Register at: www.spence-chapin.org/events.

Still have questions? Schedule a pre-adoption consultation or phone call with one of our adoption experts! Call: 212-400-8150 or Email: info@spence-chapin.org

Q&A with a Birth Mother

latoya

Latoya Sinclair is a birth mother who placed her son for adoption without the support of an adoption agency. Five years later, in a time of crisis, she received help through Spence-Chapin’s birth parent support group. Through this group, she has become an advocate for birth mothers and helped host Spence-Chapin’s 2016 Birth Mother Gathering. Recently, she told us she wanted to help more people by sharing her experience publicly and we are thankful she chose to speak to us. Below, Latoya speaks to Spence-Chapin Outreach Manager, Lucy Shaw, about her experience and hopes for the future.

Lucy: How do you think your experience as a birth mother has changed you?

Latoya: I feel like I grew up way too fast. It’s changed my relationships, how I interact with people, my perspective on life. Even in my career, I’ve always thought I have to do way more because I never want my son to think his birth mom never did anything with her life. I’m still changing. I deal with it every single day.

Lucy: What are some things that you think birth mothers and professionals could learn from your experience.

Latoya: There should never be a situation where a teenager is able to give up her parental rights without being legally represented. Because you are very young and your mind can be easily manipulated. And I wish more birth mothers would come out and not be afraid to say who they are. Because there are a whole bunch of adopted kids who had to come from somewhere.

Lucy: What are some misconceptions people have about birth mothers?

Latoya: I just had lunch today with one of my old counselors and she was surprised that I was getting pictures of my son. I get that a lot from people. They just don’t understand that there is still a connection. They expect people to be numb – as if the feeling of being a mother just disappears.

Lucy: Can you explain why it’s important for you to have photos of your child?

Latoya: I think I would go crazy without it! I see he’s happy and being well taken care of and that gives me peace of mind. It’s sad enough knowing that there is a kid out there that I love that doesn’t know how much I love them. But it would be even worse if every black boy I see walking down the street, I’m wondering, ‘Is he the kid I gave birth to?’

Lucy: And how do you think it’s beneficial for your son to have contact with you?

Latoya: I think it’s good for him to know where he came from. Most people have that information, so they don’t understand what it’s like. Everybody wants to see someone that they look like or are connected to in that way.

Lucy: How do you think adoptive parents could benefit from being more open?

Latoya: They will understand it will benefit this child they love so much. It’s not anything to fear.

Lucy: What types of qualities does it take as a birth parent to be in an open relationship?

Latoya: You need great communication and a willingness to be vulnerable. It is a matter of the heart – it takes being true to yourself and a lot of courage.

Lucy:  What are your thoughts on meeting your son?

Latoya: I’m keeping the door open. I don’t know how I’m going to handle seeing him. I’m leaving it up to him.

Lucy: How do you feel now about parenting?

Latoya: I’m not in the financial place or relationship to have a child right now. But I do want a child. I feel like it is okay for a child to have more than one mother. I’ve never wanted to take away from my son who he calls “mommy”. I’m more child-centered.

Endnote: As an adoption agency, we at Spence-Chapin are here to support women like Latoya and promote their voices as part of the adoption discourse. If Spence-Chapin had been involved when Latoya was pregnant, she would have received options counseling, been counseled on her rights to open adoption, and provided with an attorney at no cost. She would also have been able to choose families that wanted open adoption. Unfortunately, Latoya only found Spence-Chapin five years after she placed her son for adoption and did not have the support of an adoption professional when need it most. However, we are inspired by her strength and commitment to share her story and be a role model for others.

Read Latoya’s story here or watch Latoya describe what would have been different if she’d made an adoption plan with Spence-Chapin, below.

latoya

Biological ParentIf you have a friend, family member or client in need of options counseling, we can help. Call us 24/7 at 1-800-321-LOVE. Contact the writer Lucy Shaw at lshaw@spence-chapin.org.

Latoya’s Story

latoyaLatoya Sinclair is a birth parent who placed her son for adoption without the help of Spence-Chapin. Five years later, she found Spence-Chapin’s support group and has become an advocate for other birth mothers. She wanted to share her story publicly and to help other women in her situation get the support and respect they deserve.

In 2005, at 15 years old, Latoya became pregnant. “I was on the track team, just an average teen.” She remembers her cousin having dreams about fish, which in Caribbean culture means someone is pregnant. She didn’t think it could be her, but her cousin convinced her to stop at the hospital while they were on the way to the supermarket. When the doctor told her she was 2 weeks pregnant, “I kind of had a blank moment,” she describes. “I didn’t really have a reaction until the next day.”

Latoya recalls telling the biological father, “He was older than I was and had other relationships. So I thought it was something more than it was.” He wanted Latoya to have an abortion. At the time, it would have cost her 700 dollars. But when the time came to do it, he denied the baby was his and refused to help. “He just left me in the dark, by myself,” Latoya says.

Latoya lived with her aunt and uncle at the time and they did not want Latoya to raise a child in their house, with her being so young and the biological father being much older. Latoya’s aunt took her to see the family obstetrician and sought her advice. The doctor mentioned that she was seeing a couple who were unable to get pregnant and wanted to adopt. Latoya’s aunt arranged for a brief meeting with the couple. In the meeting, Latoya asked if she would be able to have an open adoption and see her child, and the couple said no. Latoya decided she did not want them to adopt her baby.

Latoya’s pregnancy was a very lonely time. None of the adults in her life understood what she was going through or how to help her. She began to withdraw at home and focus her attention and energy on being an excellent student. “I would go to the doctor by myself and see everyone with their boyfriends or husbands and get very sad,” recalls Latoya tearing up a little.

Due to the age difference with the biological father, Latoya had to testify in a trial against the biological father, for statutory rape. At the end of her pregnancy Latoya decided to go back to planning with the couple she met through her doctor because she felt that she had no other choice. She didn’t know she could turn to a licensed adoption agency to help her understand her rights and options in this critical time.

After a difficult 23-hour labor, Latoya delivered her son. She was disappointed that she wasn’t the first person to hold him and felt a range of emotions while in the hospital. She was happy to have bonded with her baby in hospital, and the adoptive parents would visit often.

The year after the placement was very difficult for Latoya. “People expect you to just go on with your life,” she said, “like you didn’t just have a human being inside you.” She started her Junior year of high school without the emotional support she needed. She was depressed but her family just kept telling her to “be strong”.

While the adoptive parents did not agree to on-going contact with Latoya, they did end up sending a photo and letter through the doctor a year after he was born. Receiving this photo increased Latoya’s desire to connect with the adoptive parents and remain in contact with her son. But this has been difficult for Latoya to do on her own, not knowing how to navigate and strengthen a relationship that was never clear to her when it started. Her son is now 9, and she has seen pictures and videos of him and exchanges a few text messages with his adoptive parents once or twice a year.

Latoya’s story is still unfolding. She has finished college and has a career in government helping others that she enjoys. She continues to strive for the relationship she deserves with her son and his adoptive family.

Endnote: As an adoption agency, we at Spence-Chapin are here to support women like Latoya and promote their voices as part of the adoption discourse. If Spence-Chapin had been involved when Latoya was pregnant, she would have received options counseling, been counseled on her rights to open adoption, and provided with an attorney at no cost. She would also have been able to choose families that wanted open adoption. Unfortunately, Latoya only found Spence-Chapin five years after she placed her son for adoption and did not have the support of an adoption professional when needed it most. But we are inspired by her strength and commitment to share her story and be a role model for others.

Read Latoya’s interview with SC staff here or watch Latoya describe what would’ve been different if she made an adoption plan with Spence-Chapin, below.

latoya

Biological ParentIf you have a friend, family member or client in need of options counseling, we can help. Please call us 24/7 at 1-800-321-LOVE. Contact the writer Lucy Shaw at lshaw@spence-chapin.org

Honoring and Celebrating Family Connections

snowflakeHolidays are a time for connecting with loved ones and provide the opportunity for time travel – we visit our past, experience the present, and set intentions for the future.

It’s easy to think about the family members we see and touch base with regularly. But what about those who were part of your child’s life before they were part of your family? It could be birth or foster families, orphanage caregivers, or early childhood friends. Even if your child was too young to remember these relationships, they are an important part of your child’s history and who they are today. Finding ways to bring their birth family, birth culture, and past into the present is important for deepening your relationship with your child.

Be imaginative about honoring those connections. The rituals and traditions you create with your child can be tangible and concrete, like putting together a Lifebook that has pictures of those important people, sending letters and cards, or setting up a visit. If you don’t have direct contact, the rituals can be symbolic. Go for a walk in the park where you first decided to adopt; eat the favorite food of that important person every Thanksgiving; collect stones from important places in your child’s life. The smallest detail can have a huge impact on your child now and in the future. Remember, be creative and make it a special tradition that is unique to your family. Your child might not like or understand the meaning of the rituals now, but it is important that you’re doing all that you can do to document and celebrate your child’s past so they can cherish it in the future. When you honor those who are connected to your child, you are honoring your children, their story, and your family’s roots.

Global Family Day – Fun had by all!

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THANK YOU!!

Thank you for joining us on Saturday for the Global Family Day Picnic!  Nearly 200 members of the Spence-Chapin family came together in Central Park (despite the 90 degree heat) for fun, food, and time together with friends.  Thanks for making this picnic a success!

Please let us know what you thought about the event by filling out a short survey here.

Visit our website for great upcoming Spence-Chapin events and programs.

Please donate to support Spence-Chapin’s Mission!

 

 

74 Year-Old Adoptee Advocates for Open Records

From my oldest memory I always knew that I was adopted and never hid that fact. I grew up Brooklyn, graduated from Bernard M Baruch College, got married, and had two children. I was never very interested in finding out more about my adoption, but my wife and children asked me from time to time. Then about 5 years ago I was going through some old papers and came across the legal adoption papers as filed with the court. That triggered my search. The agency I was adopted through was Louise Wise, which no longer exists, and I was referred to Spence-Chapin.  I contacted Spence-Chapin and after filling out the necessary paperwork I was contacted by one of their social workers. Needless to say, I was extremely anxious to get the info. She gave me much information that I had never known and I found it very interesting. But when pressed for additional information I was told that she could not reveal anything more as she was bound by law. I told her that was archaic and ridiculous considering the current state of adoption. She agreed and told me that was it. Subsequently I tried to coordinate the information that she had given me with the US Census for 1940, but that became a huge project.

I have shared my current journey with my family – wife, daughters, and 7 grandchildren.  They are all interested in finding out about this part of my life… their lives.

As suggested by Spence-Chapin, I sent an email to the New York State senate, asking them to oppose Bill A2901a that prevents adoptees from receiving their original birth certificates:

Dear Senator, 
I have also written to you via the senate general email.

The essence of my email is that I am asking that this proposed law be changed to the original.  As presented currently A2901A will forever close the Door on my search for complete information on my adoption.  

I am 74 years old and recently (5+ years ago) came upon my formal legal adoption papers while going through my mother’s papers.

This triggered my search and with the help of Spence-Chapin learned as much about my family history as was permitted under the current law.  I was hoping that before long that the law would be changed so that I could complete the search, not only for myself but for my wife, daughters, and seven grandchildren.

I do not understand the logic behind this amendment.  Having a Judge decide with all of the pre-conditions is a sure way of preventing many people who are in search of information. 

I have never written about any piece of legislation till now.

If I could make one statement to the Legislator it would be, “walk in my shoes as well as let the sunlight in.”

Paul Pruzan (Birth Name: David Cohen, born August 29, 1940)

Let Me Know My True Name

UnknownMy name is Allie Herskovitz. I am a junior at Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, NY.  I am a varsity cheerleader, study dance, serve as a volunteer with Bridges to Community in Nicaragua, and am working on my Girl Scout Gold Award. I was adopted domestically at birth and since fourth grade I have participated in several Spence-Chapin groups.

This winter, as an English assignment, I was asked to write an editorial on any topic important to me. Just a month before I had traveled out West and met members of my birth family for the first time. I was fortunate because my mom had kept all the documents from my adoption. I was able to make the connection without much of a search. My experience was very positive in many ways; however, I had attended a Spence-Chapin reunion workshop in 2014 and knew it could be very different- and frustrating- for many adoptees. When my teacher assigned the editorial I had reunion issues on my mind, so I decided to research and write about adoptee access to U.S. birth records. What I learned has made me a strong advocate for full and open access-for every adoptee.

Imagine that you were denied access to all information about your birth. No original birth certificate. No names of your birthparents. You might not even know where or even when you were born. How might you feel? For adoptees born in forty- three U.S. states this is current law- we are denied access to our original birth records. We are banned by the state from knowing our true origins. This practice of “sealing” birth records for adoptions began in Minnesota with the intention to overcome attitudes about the shame of adoption and illegitimacy. Over time almost all U.S. states banned adoptee access. Attitudes in some states have changed in recent decades, but almost six million U.S. born adoptees are still denied their basic birth information. I am one of those adoptees and in 2015 I believe everyone deserves full access to their original birth records as a fundamental human right.

Many Western countries, including England, Scotland and Israel, allow open access. In the United States, adoption regulations are delegated to the states, not the federal government, and the majority of states have laws preventing direct adoptee access to original birth documents. Starting in the 1930s and 1940s, social workers and adoptive parents encouraged states to seal records when an adoption was finalized. By 1950, most states had regulations that forever barred adoptee access. Since then, only a few states have changed their laws. Currently just seven states have completely opened their records, while several others provide for unsealing with restrictions. For example, Maryland and Iowa only allow access through a “mutual consent registry” and Nebraska allows adoptive parents, as well as birth parents, to veto unsealing.

Researching the history of U.S. adoption, I learned that over the years adoptees have been denied their records for three main reasons. The first reason, strongly promoted by some prominent adoption lobbies, has been the protection of birth parent confidentiality. According to this argument, unsealing records now would betray a promise of anonymity made at the time of the adoption. However, in the only two legal cases that have ever ruled on this claim, the courts have said open records laws do not violate privacy rights. The second reason dates from decades past when adoption was viewed as a stigma and spoken only in whispers. During the Depression and after WWII, issuing “amended” birth certificates became routine and helped to reinforce a “culture of shame that stigmatized infertility, out-of-wedlock birth, and adoption”. A third rationale is a concern for “disruption,” that sharing original birth information would disturb the lives of the adoption triad-birthparents, adoptive parents, or the adoptee. While some adoptive parents may still favor closed records for this reason, recent surveys show they are now a small minority. The International Association of Adopted People does not support any form of closed adoption, and rather than viewing open access as a disruption, states that sealed records are “detrimental to the psychological well-being of the adopted child”.

Among the public, as well as different members of the adoption community, there is a growing consensus that adoptees deserve full access. My family and I strongly support this position. We reject the age old reasons for sealing birth records. We see no valid justification for the state to deny me my original birth documents. I should have the same rights under the law as anyone else born in the United States- the right to know who I am. I should be allowed unrestricted access to my original birth certificate so I may know critical legal, medical, and genealogical information. That knowledge is part of my true identity. One organization, Adoption Find, really speaks for me when they state, “Adoptees did not sign away their rights. Identity is a human right…Adoption is not magic. Babies do not disappear into a void, never to be heard from again. We are real living, breathing people who deserve the same history, and wholeness of being that every non-adoptee takes for granted”.

Anyone favoring open access has opportunities to change state laws. At the current time, several states including Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Connecticut, have legislation under consideration that would expand adoptee access to their birth records. Citizens of these states, as well as all individuals advocating open access, can write to their state representatives. They can also write letters to their local newspapers and make donations to organizations that encourage unsealed records, such as Spence-Chapin.

According to one advocacy website, thelostdaughters.com, “what is missing the most in adoption is the truth”. Like so many American adoptees, I am not allowed by state law to see my original birth certificate. I believe it is time to get past the old arguments and to unseal every U.S. birth record. Without a change in the law, I could spend a lifetime of longing and searching for my true identity.

Letter from a Birth Mother

by Latoya Sinclair

July 24th is my son’s birthday. He turned 7 this year and it pains me because I know he is no longer just a baby, but a big boy who is growing into his own personality.

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What hurts me is that I am not able to hear his voice; I haven’t heard what he sounds like since he was two weeks old. I know that decisions and choices were made, and even though they were not rooted in consciousness they still help shape the present to what it is today.

If I could go back into the hands of time I would do many things differently, however reality tells me that I cannot. At this point it is up to me to make the best of a situation that is out of my control.  Now don’t get me wrong, adoption can be a joyous and wonderful choice for two parties who are rooted in the consciousness of the decision.  Anyone who says that adoption is the perfect choice for everyone involved doesn’t see the whole picture. When two sets of people who have not healed old wounds get forced together based on circumstances and outsider’s ideals, then we have a troubled mix that’s brewing.

This is why I rally for adoption services like Spence-Chapin to continue embracing the rights of birth parents. Please do not leave us out of adoption conversations. We need all the services and support we can get and we need to be included. Many times I hear individuals in the adoption community state that they are afraid to hurt first mothers by opening an invitation to adoption events, but this is what is needed in order to close the painful gap that many birth parents feel. For many of the women who call themselves birth mothers, if they are invited and included in the conversation, then the adoption community as a whole will see a positive healing change. We are stronger as a community than we are as individuals, so we should embrace and work in harmony with everyone who is connected to adoption.

Adopting a Broader Perspective: Reflections of a Young Adult Adoptee

I found my way back to Spence-Chapin when I was 18-years-old after my birth mother contacted me for the first time. I was a freshman in college and at that time, Spence-Chapin was doing (and continues to do) a lot of outreach to the young adult adoptee community. I have always had an extremely open relationship with my adoptive parents and after much family discussion and processing, we decided it would be a rewarding and interesting experience to participate in a young adult adoptee panel. At this panel, we shared our stories and answered questions for a group of prospective and adoptive parents. It felt empowering to be able to answer questions for parents and it made me aware of how comfortable I was with my own adoption story. It also made me consider the role and decisions of my adoptive parents with a new, broadened perspective.

After speaking on the panel, I met a few of the social workers at Spence-Chapin and decided to switch my college major from International Relations to Sociology. I decided that after graduation I was going to pursue my Master of Social Work. After completing my first year at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, I am now interning at Spence-Chapin for the summer as part of the Outreach Team. My guidance counselors and supervisors, both at my undergraduate alma mater Bucknell and the University of Maryland, have all asked me if I am “sure” about pursuing a career in adoption social work due to my personal connection. I know that I am able to answer “yes” to this question without hesitation or uncertainty because of my relationship with my adoptive parents.

Jenny Rosen blog post 2My adoptive parents have always supported my decisions and been open to my questions about my story. When I was contacted by my birth mother, it was understandably hard for them but they allowed me to take the reins on where I wanted that correspondence and relationship to go. All the while, they reminded me that they were there for me and that they loved me without wanting to be intrusive.

Interning in the Outreach Department and just being a small part of such an amazing organization has allowed me the opportunity to gain a better understanding about parenting and the process adoptive parents undergo. The experience thus far has made me reflect on my relationship with my adoptive parents and solidified this as the direction in which I want to take my social work career. I know that I would not be the person I am today or ready for this chosen career path without the love, acceptance, and support I received from my adoptive parents. (It actually feels weird to label them as my “adoptive” parents because they are really just my parents… no classifier necessary).

If there is any advice I could possibly give to prospective adoptive parents, it would be that open discussion about adoption and constant offerings of support are key components to raising an adopted child. Throughout my life I have had various questions about adoption that my parents may have been caught-off guard by but were always willing to answer. The one question I’ve never had to ask either myself or them is if I was loved. I have always known that answer.

Jenny Rosen is currently an intern in the Adoption Outreach Department at Spence-Chapin. 

Spence-Chapin General Counsel Yekaterina Trambitskaya, Esq. Joins the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys

Kate TrambitskayaWe are thrilled to announce that Yekaterina (Kate) Trambitskaya, Esq., Spence-Chapin General Counsel, was recently accepted into the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is a national association of approximately 340 attorneys who practice, or have otherwise distinguished themselves, in the field of adoption law. The Academy’s work includes promoting the reform of adoption laws and disseminating information on ethical adoption practices.

Kate has been an attorney practicing law in the fields of child welfare and adoption since 2006. Kate has advocated for children for nearly seven years in her work in the litigation unit of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), prosecuting child abuse and neglect cases. In her one year here at Spence-Chapin, Kate has worked on the many complex issues of today’s adoption landscape: birth father rights, Post Adoption Contract Agreements (PACA’s) for domestic adoptions, Hague requirements for international adoptions and adult adoptee rights to access unsealed records.

Around the office, our running joke is that on paper Kate is a lawyer, but in her heart she is a social worker like the rest of us! The passion, determination, and commitment that Kate has displayed toward every birth family, adoptive family, and child who passes through our doors is a testament to the very notion that every child deserves a family, and every family deserves the right to make the best decisions for their child.

When asked why it was important to her that she be accepted into the Academy, Kate told us, “The most useful legal and ethical feedback, advice, and guidance has always come from the AAAA member attorneys. They have always been eager to teach and always available to assist me in our work. I am hoping to further expand my knowledge and understanding of our field, learn from the most experienced adoption attorneys in this country, and help Spence-Chapin contribute to the next generation of adoption reforms and ethical practice.”

Please join us in congratulating Kate on this terrific achievement. We look forward to working even closer with our friends in the Academy, and continuing to provide Academy members’ clients with thorough, high quality adoption services to support every member of the adoption triad. From birth parent counseling, adoptive parent preparation, training and home studies, to post-placement services that include adult adoptee counseling, support groups and search & reunion guidance, we are poised to serve our adoption community better, together.

Spence-Chapin Supports the NY State Bill of Adoptee Rights

We are proud to join  New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s Unsealed Initiative in supporting the passage of New York State’s Bill of Adoptee Rights (A909 in the Assembly and S2490-A in the Senate) which allows adoptees born in the State of New York to access certain records when they reach the age of 18, including their birth certificates and medical history if availableAdoption Files

We at Spence-Chapin believe that it is a fundamental right of adoptees to know their original identities as well as the identities of their birth parents. Spence-Chapin has a long history of supporting both birth mother and adoptee rights and knows that the sealed records policies of the past are inappropriate in the current adoption landscape.  The current restrictions that New York State law places on adoptees’ information are heartbreaking for adoptees and birth parents.

Spence-Chapin works with the adoption triad each day offering post adoption services: adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, all who are in support of passing this bill. Regardless of the laws governing adoption records in New York State in the past we need to move forward and understand how important it is to adjust to the needs and rights of the adoption triad in present times. We have the opportunity to change the lives of these New Yorkers and we therefore urge the passage of The Bill of Adoptee Rights immediately.

That’s why Spence-Chapin is testifying this Friday, January 31, 2014 on the hearing on Bill of Adoptee Rights and that is why we have signed a petition to The New York State House, The New York State Senate, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.   Will you support this petition? Click here to sign.

You  can call us at 646-539-2167 to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s Personal Adoption History support.

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Update: Watch our testimony

How do I talk to my child about adoption

adoption, counseling, When you adopt a child, you are giving him/her the wonderful gift of a home.  However, with all of the love that you have to offer also comes the responsibility of being willing to discuss his birth parents at some point in his life. For many parents, this can be a challenging task; it can be even harder for the child.

Most adoptive parents understand that their child not only needs and deserves knowledge of how their family was created through adoption, but also that this knowledge must be provided in a way that will give the child the pride and self-respect every person needs as a foundation in life.

Years ago, parents thought that they should wait until the child was old enough to talk about the adoption. We now know that this way can do more harm than good as many adopted children are finding out about their adoption from other people and feeling betrayed.

Adopted children often have many questions about their heritage and they should be answered by their adoptive parents when they are asked. I have worked with foster and adopted children and families for more 15 years, and every child I have counseled has had questions about their biological family starting at a young age. Some younger children are often unsure whether they should bring up their birth parents to their adoptive parents, in fear that it will hurt their feelings or that it will cause anger and they will be abandoned once again. In some cases their fears are real, while in others they are not.

Prior to adolescence, children are extremely curious about their adoption stories. Although they question the circumstances that led to their adoption, most of them seem to accept the answers calmly – See more at:
Some of the questions adopted children ask are, “Did my mom and dad love me? Did my mom and dad love each other? Why did they put me up for adoption?” These are all valid questions which need to be answered to ensure that the child feels secure.

Adoptive parents have said to me, “I know that I have to talk to my daughter or son about the adoption, but where do I begin?” I think it is best to begin when the child is very young and is able to cognitively understand language — usually at around 1 ½ to 2 years of age. You want to be able to tell your child about the adoption often. Also, if you are married or in a relationship, you want to make sure that both parents agree on the same story. This will make the experience less complicated and stressful for your child. I always encourage parents to practice what they are going to say to the child before talking. It builds parents’ confidence and prepares them for questions. And be prepared — they will have lots of questions!

Here are a few more tips for talking to a child about their adoption.

1. Always be willing to talk about the adoption with your children. The more open you are about it, the more comfortable the child will be.

2. Keep the conversation age-appropriate. When a child is younger, use a story telling technique (Fisher, 2000) and keep the language simple. As the child ages and becomes more mature, more sophisticated language can be used.

3. Be honest but don’t scare the child. If you don’t know something, then say, “I don’t know.” If the child was a product of rape for instance, “You don’t want to start out by saying your mommy and daddy loved each other very much,” says Lois Melina, author of Making Sense of Adoption and Raising Adopted Children. “You can say something that would imply that their parents didn’t know each other very well.”

4. Help your child learn how to express their emotions about being adopted. This can be done not only through talking but through drawing or making a life book.

Addressing the adopted child’s past is the key to helping them move towards a bright future.

– By Dr. Sue, who is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Temple University and an expert in parenting, foster care and child abuse. This article was originally posted on montgomerynews.com

“I want you to know”: A Birthmother’s Letter

Birth mothers rights have been evolving over the past decades, from fully closed adoptions where birth mothers had no information about their child, to today’s adoption practices of openness and ongoing communication between birth and adoptive families.  Sheila placed her child at a transitional time when adoptions were still closed, but birth mothers were able to select an adoptive family.  Here, she bravely shares her thoughts and feelings about what this experience has been like for her.

 

I am Sheila and I am a birth mother.

I want you to know that my daughter was conceived in love within a beautiful relationship.  I want you to know that allowing my child to be adopted altered my very being forever.  I want you to know that I did not want to give her away; I wanted to protect her and love her and give her a beautiful life.  My child should have known me and how much I loved and still love her.

I want you to know that as a scared young woman who was given two alternatives…abortion or adoption.  No one talked to me about how I might be able to raise my child.  I wish I knew then the woman I would become.  I am and was strong enough and resourceful enough to raise my child, but no one ever told me that!  I wish I had had confidence and self- esteem; I doubted myself and didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough to care for another human being.  I had nothing materially, but I had love.  I want you to know that if I could turn back time, I would change the day I signed those papers and gave a part of myself away.  But, at the same time, I don’t want to diminish the importance of her family and the life she has lived.

I want you to know, through my blinding grief, I picked her parents carefully.  I was told of what a gift I was giving to another family.  All these years, I have prayed for them and felt like a part of their family from afar.  I wish her family would open their hearts to me.  I don’t want their thanks, I don’t want them to be grateful to me,  I just want them to know me  and perhaps pray for me, too.  I have this feeling that we may be able to have a pretty decent relationship.  I was drawn to them for a reason, and all my prayers brought them to my daughter for a reason.  If this all was meant to be for the good of her life and the richness of her family, then so be it.  I can cope with my loss, but I want you to know that I pray that door will open.  I am not a criminal or a stalker, which is the first thing everyone thinks when a birthmother seeks a connection with her child.  We all share something very beautiful, very natural and very strong.  I want to celebrate and honor that – together.

I want you to know that I didn’t know the depth of love I would feel for my first child.  The day she was born, I held her and talked to her and kissed her and hugged her and never wanted to let her go.  After I gave birth, no one told me what it would feel like to be a mother…I felt it later… overwhelming and unconditional love but she was gone and I couldn’t get her back.  I want her to know that I love her deeply.  While that may be strange to hear from someone she doesn’t know, it is the one absolute truth of my life.  That feeling didn’t go away over time, and was not replaced.  I have had four children since my first daughter was born and the feeling never diminished – it only grew.

Adoption may be right for some, and I hope it was good for my child.  I want you to know it completely altered who I am and the way that I live.  My daughter is in my thoughts every moment of the day.  I want to feel the touch of her hand.  I want to know her likes and dislikes, the similarities we may share and all about her that is unique and individual.  I want to know about her childhood, her favorite places, and fondest memories.  I want to share something with my child.  I want my child to wish these things too.  I want her to have all of her questions answered.  I don’t want to be an intruder in her life – but to be seen as someone who has a big heart for her – another person to love and be loved.

I want my children and my cousins and friends and aunts and uncles to know that I have another child; my first child.  My children deserve to know the truth and to know their sister and to share in friendship and love with her.  I can no longer go on denying her…I worked too hard to bring her into this world.  What kind of person am I that I deprived them of my first beautiful child?

I want you to know that for the majority of my life, I never knew another birth mom.  I thought I was the only one – the very bottom of the barrel – a terrible, awful person.  When I finally got the courage to join a birth mother support group, I was surprised by what I found.  Our group at Spence-Chapin is a casual and comfortable atmosphere that includes the most beautiful, strong and intelligent group of women.  We simply share our experiences and help one another.

I want you to know that we know we are being judged.  Not only do we judge and punish ourselves our entire lives, but society judges us as well.  There is still a negative perception of our existence, our motives and the “who” that we are.   We are very concerned with what society labels us as, how adoptive families perceive us, and what our children believe about us.  We want you to know we are not heartless, dirty, thoughtless and selfish.   We love our children – we long for our children and we need to be valued, understood and welcomed into the adoption conversation.  We are just like you – people with struggles and successes, failures and  accomplishments.

I want you to know that I am pretty wonderful today  because of all that I have experienced, endured, accomplished and contributed to life – all of it!  Everything!  My child deserves to know me and I deserve a chance to know her! I know I don’t have the right to call her my child, my daughter, but what other word expresses the closeness, the importance and the bond that she is…?

 

Our 15th Annual Birth Mothers’ Gathering

As a first time coordinator for the Birth Mothers’ Day Gathering, I knew I would be responsible for shaping an event that meant a great deal for many women and families. I am somewhat new to Spence-Chapin, and adore working for the organization, so it was an honor to be able to delve into the project.  It wasn’t just an opportunity for event-planning, but an opportunity to be involved with a ritual that stands against the societal stigmas applied to birth mothers and adoption, to educate an outside community that a child is never “given up” and Birth Mothers never give up the love they feel for their children.

On the surface, the event was certainly beautiful, but the real evening occurred somewhere else, somewhere more private and more unique.  Each woman – some with friends, family, their children, some alone – came with a different story.  As an observer, it was an honor to see the strength and power that made up the room. It made me want to be a better person, to find the same grace and humility many of the Birth Mothers showed in the face of extreme sorrow.

That evening, many women bravely shared their stories and brought the room to tears and laughter. One of those women came up to the front of the room toward the end of the evening and shared the following words with us.  They served as a reminder to every person in the room; being a birth mother means being a mother from afar, of finding the inner strength to love patiently, to protect oneself while unthinkably vulnerable, and to always remember; whatever our path, we are all just human and must cope with all that life offers – good, bad, and everything in between.

 – Lisa Marie Basile, Spence-Chapin Administrative Assistant

Birth Mothers’ Day Reflection

I had the good fortune to go to South Africa last October.  It’s a country I love, partly because it has taught me there is always hope in the face of unrelenting adversity, and the people live that conviction with pride in what they have overcome and they joyfully embrace life in the midst of challenges that could bring us to our knees.   At the end of this last trip, I reveled in the spectacular view of the gorgeous Western Cape all the way down the peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope.   And this time, unlike other occasions where I simply assumed I’d be returning, I wondered if I would go back again. It made it all the more precious for me as I savored every detail of the landscape.

When I thought about sharing tonight, I thought about that image of my taking off from Cape Town, and about not taking things for granted.  You see, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer exactly one year ago. I’ve only shared this with a few people, and don’t choose to broadcast it or to have it define me.  But we’re sisters. I’m not keeping secrets and I have things to say.

Right now I’m well. My treatment is not debilitating, and I hope I will still have some good years ahead of me.  So, while I do visit some dark spaces, I choose to have this great opportunity to experience how exquisite life really is every minute without taking it or any of my relationships for granted.

And that brings me to today.  I’m obviously at a critical juncture in my life.  Of course we all are all the time without knowing it, or paying it much heed. But I know in my bones, literally, that life is lived day by day, from present moment to present moment. That’s a good thing.

When my son found me, I woke up to grace, to learning by following his lead, walking on many eggshells to be sure, but respecting his handling of his various mothers and extended family, watching him mature in his marriage and parenting of his children, and I grew more patient, putting him first always, allowing time to guide us, a virtue that doesn’t come easily to me.  And I learned gratitude, for a young man and his family who welcomed me into their lives.

With nineteen years of relationship now, and my new life journey, things are deepening. Love is less tentative.  We can sign off with “I love you” without feeling awkward, and I’ve seen my incredible son just show up in so many ways where words are optional.  And that generosity extends to the parents who treasure him, as it was never more apparent for me than when his dad searched all over the house to gather boyhood pictures of his son to make an album for me at Christmas.  In a funny way, I couldn’t be happier in my life now that I don’t take a minute of it for granted.

I do know I’m particularly fortunate to have this relationship — that things aren’t always so rosy.  But, regardless, as I’ve been learning to focus more closely on what is important and what isn’t, I see that we all have choices all the time about how to respond to the good and the hurts in our lives, whether they be trivial or profound — whether people exceed our expectations or disappoint us. We have the choice to see who we really are, to make something of ourselves, to love and ask for forgiveness, to forgive ourselves and others like there IS no tomorrow, to not waste time sweating  the small stuff or even the not so small stuff, to choose to heal and abandon anger and regret, to choose to search if we want to, to do our emotional homework to handle possible outcomes, to be someone we respect and our children can respect even when there is no contact, to do so much more than just survive.

All of us, birth moms, first moms, those of us pushed to relinquish, or those having more choice but nevertheless feeling there was no other way out, those in closed, semi-closed, or open adoptions, those in reunion, those who aren’t or can’t be — all of us,  in the words of The Song of Bernadette, “torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo,” — know we are mothers, mothers of children we couldn’t parent, but mothers always, who celebrate the birth of our children. We know we have been unbearably strong.  We may need to whisper it first to ourselves, but then we can proclaim it to the universe and know we are heard.  Just don’t take anyone or time itself for granted.

A Day in the Life: Interim Care Provider

From the moment she gets a call from Spence-Chapin about a newborn coming into care, Carmela Grabowski goes into mommy mode. “I put fresh linens on the bassinet, clean the car seat, make formula, sterilize the pacifiers, change out all the diapers from size 2 to 1, and sort the clothes depending on the season and the gender of the baby.”

Carmela has been an interim care provider with Spence-Chapin since 2009, and has cared for 32 infants. This wife and mother of a 21-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter, both adopted, gives us a sneak peak of life as an interim child care provider. “I start my day around 6:00am with a feeding, changing the baby’s diaper. Baby is back down for a nap, and I then clean up the house, do laundry and shower. Around 9:00am, I give her/him the second bottle. I keep the baby up for about an hour– swinging, playing, cuddling when it’s down for a nap number 2. I take this time to work in my private office ‘til noon, and then I start making lunch for my husband and daughter. If it’s a day when the baby has a doctor’s appointment or a visit with her birth parents, we get on the road around 9:15am.

“In the afternoon, when I prepare dinner, the baby is in the swing keeping me company in the kitchen. By 6:00pm, the family sits down together for dinner and everyone takes turns interacting with the baby while we eat. At 8:00pm, it’s ‘Bath-Bottle-Bed. I usually stay awake until midnight, waiting for the baby’s next feeding, and of course, some more cuddling. Then, I’m up every 3-4 hours for late night feedings and diaper changes.”

“I’d tell anyone who wants to do this [interim care], that you have to understand that it takes up a lot of time and a lot of work. But, it’s most rewarding. You just get so much out of it. Adoptive parents often keep in touch. I keep a photo album with all the pictures they send me of the babies I’ve cared for. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

 

Spence-Chapin’s Interim Child Care Program is one of the last of its kind.  It began over 70 years ago as a valuable service for birth parents by giving them time after delivery – free from pressure – to make a decision about their child’s future.

Experienced care providers, supervised by our child care department, look after the babies in their home for several days or weeks after hospital discharge. Birth parents retain their legal rights and can visit their babies during this period.  Spence-Chapin’s board-certified pediatricians examine all infants in our care after hospital discharge; give them regular exams during their stay; and perform a discharge exam on the day they leave to go home.

You can learn more by visiting our website.