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.

NEWS from Our Outreach Team!

family-icon

Dear reader,
We just created a new FAQ for biological parents. Read it here first!

Why should I consider adoption?

This is a very personal choice and there are many reasons people have considered making 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 choose a loving family and stay connected to their child. Others say they cannot provide the special care their child will need and want to find them a family who can. Others feel they will lose their parental rights, and would rather choose an adoptive family and maintain contact with their child.

What are the benefits of open adoption?

Open adoption is an ongoing relationship between the adoptive family and the birth family. You can decide what this relationship looks like – it may include visits, letters, emails, photos, and phone calls. Birth parents who have chosen open adoption say they couldn’t imagine it any other way. They say that being able to choose and meet the adoptive family and maintain contact is the main reason they chose adoption. They say that being able to see their child grow up in a happy, loving family is what gives them peace of mind. In addition, they say they are happy their child will understand and know their birth parents and their birth story.

How can Spence-Chapin help me with this decision?

You have the right to confidential counseling before making your decision. Every woman or couple we work with is offered FREE options counseling and is assigned their own social worker who is an experienced professional. They will advocate for you in making the decision that feels most right to you. The social worker will answer all your questions and connect you to resources, including health insurance, prenatal care, etc. We can help you fully consider all of your options and advise you on all aspects of making an adoption plan, including open adoption and your legal rights. We respect your decisions and you will never be pressured by us to make an adoption plan.

Why should I trust Spence-Chapin?

At Spence-Chapin, we take a lot of care in supporting and advocating for you. We are a non-profit organization with over 100 years of experience finding loving families for children who need them and we are here to support you throughout your journey. We believe in free, unbiased and confidential support for women and couples making this decision, which is why we have separate and robust processes for working with biological parents and adoptive parents. Our social workers are available for free, unbiased, confidential options counseling in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Those we work with say they appreciate our support and did not feel pressured. In fact, the majority of expectant and biological parents who meet with Spence-Chapin find the resources and support to parent.

What if I want to keep my decision confidential?

Spence-Chapin will respect your right to confidentiality in making this decision. We take your privacy and safety very seriously. If you choose closed adoption and do not want contact after an adoption, Spence-Chapin will respect your rights as well.

What types of people are looking to adopt?

Spence-Chapin has all types of prospective adoptive parents waiting to adopt. They vary in age, background, family structure, religion, race, etc. Some are big families, some are small. Some live in the city, some live in the suburbs. They all are 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.

Can I hear from other people you’ve worked with?

Yes, hear biological parent perspectives on our youtube page.

Speak to an options counselor
Call 24/7: 1-800-321-LOVE
Text: 646-306-2586
Email: helpline@spence-chapin.org

Email the writer: lshaw@spence-chapin.org
blog post authorBiological Parent
 

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.

“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…?