By: Meika Rouda
Adoption is expensive. Even on the lower cost of the spectrum, you are paying for the homestudy, outreach to locate a birthmother, birthmother expenses, and the legal fee for finalization. You are looking at at least $10k. It is a lot of money to gamble on a process that is not regulated at all. I can’t tell you the countless stories I have heard about couples paying $20K to a facilitator for a baby, a baby that doesn’t even exist. It is outright fraud but no one is doing anything about it. Why is that?
This is how the process usually goes: When you are looking to adopt a baby, you can do the outreach yourself or with a certified agency. The wait tends to be long and by the time you pursue adoption, you have probably already waited several years during unsuccessful IVF treatments to become parents. You are vulnerable and want a child as soon as possible. Then you hear about a woman who is a facilitator and has birthmothers lined up. She needs to find homes for these babies. Voila! This is perfect. So you call the facilitator and she gives you her shpiel about the birthmother, the baby, the chance that the birthmother might change her mind but she doesn’t think she will because she seems committed to an adoption plan. So the couple signs up only to get a call a few months later to say that the birthmother decided to keep the baby or maybe that the birthmother was actually never pregnant at all. Now they are out $20K and back where they started with no baby and no birthmother and little hope.
Domestic adoption is a shady business and I mean that when I say business. It is no longer run by non-profits and churches and social service agencies, it is run by individuals, who in the best case are attorneys who can actually give you legal services as well as help you find a birthmother, but most of the time are just some average Joe who decided to go into the business. It is lucrative, $20K just to hook up a birthmom and a couple; they don’t do any of the paperwork or help you navigate the sometimes complicated relationship with the birthmother. They are like a dating service, you pay the fee, they get you a date, and what ever happens from there is up to you.
We were very lucky to get hooked up with an honest and respectable facilitator. The only way we found them was through the non-profit agency that did our homestudy. But I spoke to several facilitators before finding them. People who just felt dishonest, they felt shady even though what they were doing was helping babies and families find each other. They had no credentials, just “years” of experience working with birthmothers. They worked out of their homes and made a lot of promises. They always wanted cash upfront.
I wish that there were a better way to put couples and babies together. It is important for birthmothers to have counseling and support around their decision and even then, they may change their minds. But I feel any woman who thinks they should place their baby for adoption, probably should place their baby. There is a reason they feel that way, they aren’t ready to be parents, they aren’t stable financially or emotionally, they have too many children already. There are many reasons. And we need to make sure birthmothers have the right support to get on their feet after they make a difficult decision like placing a baby. But we also need a way to help potential adoptive parents feel like they are diving into a system that works, not a process where a random $20K price tag is acceptable just because.
Why isn’t there a certifiable group that facilitators should be a part of? Lawyers and doctors and social workers have licenses to practice, is there any reason facilitators shouldn’t? Wouldn’t birthmothers also feel better working with a certified facilitator? Maybe there is some education facilitators need to have in order to do their job instead of sticking a sign on their front door and hitting the pavement searching for pregnant teenagers. I don’t know why the government or respectable adoption groups like the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute doesn’t make this more of a priority for legislation. By protecting birthmothers, potential adoptive parents, and babies we are building happy, healthy families and forming a safe structure that normalizes and secures the process. It could also potentially bring down the cost of private adoption, making it more affordable for more families interested in adoption. I realize there will always be the case of a birthmother changing her mind, that is her right, but there is no reason a family has to be out their life savings for nothing. I hope I never hear another story about a family putting up the cash and getting taken advantage of. I like happy endings and adoption should be a happy ending for all.
By: Meika Rouda
I have been doing some research on a book I am writing and heard an interview with Nancy Verrier, the author of the seminal book “The Primal Wound” which made a huge impact in the adoption community when it was published in the 1990′s. I haven’t read the whole book, just parts, but my understanding is that all adoptees suffer from a primal wound since they were taken from their mothers at birth. This wound lasts a lifetime and manifests in many ways, like people feeling sad all the time because innately they are missing their biological mother. Or that adoptees have various personality disorders because they don’t know who they really are and spend their lifetimes seeking an identity. Often, according to her theory, adoptees have trouble committing to things like jobs or relationships and don’t have concrete opinions or likes and dislikes because they have no true sense of self. The adoptee will suffer from loss and grief their entire life.
This is pretty sad I have to say. But thankfully as an adoptee I don’t feel that way. What I wonder about her thesis is how the adoptee compares to those born to biological families. I know many kids born to biological parents who have no sense of self, tons of identity issues, lots of abandonment fears, and can’t commit to anything. So how are these traits solely attached to adoptees?
For the many adoptees who have difficulty processing their adoption and feel this primal wound, I am glad this book has helped them. And truthfully, I worry that although I don’t feel this way, my children may. I can’t protect them from feeling this, I can only help them accept who they are and show love and compassion and understanding for how they feel. When I read adoption books, there always seems like there is something broken about being adopted. Like what Nancy Verrier is saying, that unless you know where you come from, you can really never know yourself. You spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. Perhaps. But even when you do know where you came from, it is still a journey figuring out who you are. It seems that from the start, adoptees are at a disadvantage because they had the trauma of being separated from their birth mom. It breaks my heart to think of my children, quietly suffering everyday with this primal wound. I have often asked myself if there is a wound I am not accepting about myself, that I may be in denial about my primal wound but I don’t think that is the case.
Will my kids be the same as me or will they spend their lives longing for their birthmothers? This I don’t know yet and it worries me to think they will have a lifetime of suffering. But as humans we are wired in many ways; yes things that happen to us as a baby or child affect us and that doesn’t have to be negative, it can be part of our strength too. I am not convinced that biological families are always best for people. While it may seem pollyanna-ish, I believe in the spirit’s ability to heal and in human resolve. That love and understanding is a powerful antidote to any wound, primal or not.
By Meika Rouda
I’ve always hated my nose. It is short with a wide bridge that plateaus off the tip landing with a thud. There is nothing elegant or sculpted about it, unlike my mom’s nose, which could have been the prototype plastic surgeons used for rhinoplasty in the 80’s. My nose has no structure or shape that gives it any dignity. There is nothing as righteous as a bump. It is just shapeless, with round nostrils like a baby’s.
As much as I admired my mother’s perfect profile, I never wished it were mine because it couldn’t be. We don’t share the same DNA. I was adopted. Now I know DNA doesn’t really mean much. Not everyone relates to their family, but at least you know where the manic depression, extra long second toe, or hairy arms are from. You have someone to thank and to blame for your assets and deficiencies. A cord of disheveled genetic code that makes you… you.
While I enjoyed the uniqueness of being me, I also realized that I looked different than my family; my skin a shade darker, my eyes and hair a milk chocolate brown. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-eyed, while my adopted sister has blonde hair and blue eyes. It didn’t matter to me though because my parents loved and adored my sister and me. They rejoiced in how lucky they were to be our parents. Adoption was something to be proud of and we did feel proud. Our family was full of love and affection and generosity and even though we didn’t look like one another, we did fit.
But people were always curious about my background. I have that mysterious brown palette that makes strangers ask “where are you from?” Over the years, I have had many people guess my heritage: Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Turkish, half African American, Cherokee. I had a guy come up to me once, randomly, and ask if I was from Genoa. When I replied that I didn’t know, he assured me I was Genovese and that everyone there looks just like me.
My friends have also called me in a frenzy convinced they had seen my biological mother somewhere: a stewardess on a Greek airline, a retail worker in a mall along highway 80, an actress from a TV movie. While I know they meant well, I didn’t know how to break it to them that I just wasn’t that interested. I liked my parents, my family, my home. The truth is my biological parents did the right thing giving me up and I was dealt a royal flush by ending up with my family. Besides, what is so great about looking like someone else really? It doesn’t mean you like them.
But then my husband and I decided to try and have a baby and suddenly I was curious. Maybe I should know more about my peeps if I plan to pass on these esoteric genes. And it wasn’t so hard to find out because coincidently, my dad’s law firm handled my adoption so he had all the forms, photos, and birth certificates in his office. That is how things were done in the 1970’s. So, I asked my parents for my file and much to my surprise, they said “sure”. I was worried that I would hurt their feelings by requesting it, like I was insinuating that they had failed me somehow but they were happy to help.
A few days later, we were at the theater and as my dad struggled to tuck his well worn briefcase under his seat, the one I used to pull around the house when I played “lawyer” as a kid, he mentioned that he had my file. It was 3 minutes before the show was going to start and my mom excitedly said, “Well, let’s see it!” I held back and let them review it all, squirming in my seat not to peek; I never imagined finding out my nationality minutes before a Broadway musical. But as they “Oooohhh’d” and “Aaahhh’d” and showed the photos to the strangers seated in front of us, I couldn’t resist. “Okay, let me see” I said, surrendering to my fate. There were 3 photos of my biological peeps: one black and white of my bio-mom in her very serious senior high school portrait; one color photo of my bio-dad looking jovial at a party and a third shot of them standing together on a suburban lawn. In this third photo, he was dressed in a suit, she in a yellow mini-dress and they looked like they were going to a high school formal. There were three rays of sun damage splayed like fingers across the print, leaving a ghostly sheen to their faces.
The woman in the photos didn’t look like me, even-though my parents thought she did. I didn’t feel anything when I looked at my bio-mom. No instant bond, or “Ah ha, this is what I look like!” To tell you the truth, it was sort of a disappointment. The mystery was gone. Bio-mom was not the exotic islander I envisioned. My peeps were whiteys. She had blonde hair and blue eyes! Bio-dad was darker, more like me and tall. I saw a little bit of myself in him, especially when I was a kid and had a pixie haircut. But I felt totally removed from them, both physically and emotionally. Nothing felt resolved, just extinguished. All of my fantasies dissolved, my curiosity cured, my unique self now not so incredibly unique. I suddenly felt average.
My bio-mom was German/Irish and bio-dad German/Italian. I guess that Italian gene was pretty strong, but German? I couldn’t feel less German. I hate schnitzel and sauerbraten and have no sense of superior order in my life. Where is the woman from Guadalajara or Tehran or Mykonos that was supposed to be my bio-mom? I felt duped. How could these be my peeps?
I suddenly realized that it is the stories I share with my family, the knowingness of what is familiar, the foods we eat, the songs we sing, the fact that we are Jews who celebrate Christmas, Easter and Passover. That is what makes me… me. These are my peeps! Family is more than your DNA; it is who you share your past with. The people who have been there to see you succeed and fail and always had loving arms for either circumstance. Looking like someone isn’t half as fulfilling as being like someone. Maybe if I find my bio-parents someday, they too will be writers or dog-lovers or have a habit of eating ice cream for breakfast. But for now, living with the question is better than knowing the answer.
Just as the lights started to dim, I held the picture of my bio-mom in my hand and looked at her nose. It was short and stout with perfectly round nostrils. And then the curtain came up.
*A longer version of this essay was first published on Fresh Yarn www.freshyarn.com.
By: Meika Rouda
The most difficult part of adoption for most people is waiting to be matched. For my husband and me the waiting was excruciating. I felt that once we decided to adopt, the process should be quick and easy since we had already waited so long to become parents while trying to get pregnant. Even so, we still had to wait longer that I ever thought. Matches are made in many different ways. Most often in domestic adoption, a potential adoptive family places a profile on a website that a birthmother sees and pursues. My husband and I used a lawyer who matches families with birthmothers as opposed to having the birthmother review profiles and choose. Others use ads, like in the back of the penny saver. (I have friends who received many calls doing this- it isn’t just Juno!) Or the rare instance of hearing about a baby through a friend of a friend. I even know of someone who was standing in line at Starbucks in front of a pregnant teenager and her mother. When he ordered the last bagel the pregnant girl sighed since she had her eye on the bagel. He saw she was pregnant and gave her the bagel instead. They started to talk and lo and behold, he and his wife ended up adopting her baby. Stranger things have happened.
These are all instances where matches happen, adoptions go through and families are created. But then there are the amazing people who don’t get matched after years of waiting. People who have several near placements that all end up with the birthmother changing her mind. Each time another heartbreak while being so close to parenthood. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for people, to have so much hope and then so much sadness and disappointment. I know a woman in this same situation. She and her husband have been waiting 3 years to be matched. They are in their 30′s, successful, kind, and loving people. She is a preschool teacher. What could be more perfect?! And yet they aren’t getting matched. I have no idea why. When I asked her if they had particular criteria that might make them hard to match she said “No, they were open to sex and race and would consider other factors, smoking etc.” They are focusing on open adoption and are happy to have visits with the birthmother. It seems they are having a horrible case of bad luck.
Or maybe the right baby hasn’t appeared yet. That is what my mother would say. She believes that things happen for a reason, that fate and god have a hand in everything. I don’t necessarily believe that but when you need hope, it is comforting to think that there must be a reason for the pain and heartache. That there will be a happy ending at some point. I don’t know how to keep my friend’s spirits up, I almost feel guilty that I have two adopted children that came very easily to us. Our daughter we didn’t even expect, she was just a call from our lawyer a week before she was born with the question “How do you feel about having a baby girl?” But I believe in adoption and I know a baby will arrive for my friend. I don’t know why it is taking so long and it saddens me to know that she has had not one, not two, but more than three birthmothers change their minds at the last minute. But she is optimistic and taking it all in stride. She has strength and a positive attitude that I don’t think I could muster if I were in her situation. Meanwhile, I have been frequenting Starbucks and keeping my eyes peeled for pregnant teenagers in line. You just never know.
By: Meika Rouda
“How many of you are adopted?” the keynote speaker asked. I raised my hand. The auditorium was packed with people. Who were they? I wondered. Social workers, adoptees, adoptive families, birthmothers? All of the above. “How many of you have adopted children?” I raised my hand again. The woman next to me, a petite blonde in her late twenties wearing uncomfortable business attire turned to me and said “well you are sure in this aren’t you?” I smiled at her. “How many of you are birthmothers?” The woman next to me raised her hand. She had also raised her hand as an adoptee. I found it fascinating that she was an adoptee and a birth mom. She found it fascinating I was an adoptee and an adoptive mom with no biological children of my own.
Last weekend I attended my first adoption conference. I went there expecting to feel like an outsider, the girl who doesn’t want to know her birthmother, the one who isn’t in touch with her children’s biological families. I ended up finding a lot of people there who felt underrepresented. There were several adoptive fathers who I spoke to that were offended that the common idea is that men are the ones who have to be convinced to adopt when that wasn’t their story at all. They had to convince their wives! These were men who didn’t care about passing on their DNA but had to wait for their wives to come around before they could adopt. This was the norm for them, but not the norm for the data.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “The data says…” People love to rely on data. But where does this data come from? Where do they find the people to interview, to do case studies on? There is a lot of data that state it’s better for a child to know their birthparents. To have a concise story with mementos about their birth family. The idea of this makes my skin crawl and I can’t say exactly why. I guess because it feels so unnatural to me. One of the seminars I attended was about how to talk to your child if you have no contact with your child’s birthmother. Most of the people in the seminar had International Adoptions, situations where it was impossible to know who the birthmother was. Their baby was left in a park in China and taken to an orphanage. They wanted to know how to make that story into something positive. “You can tell them that their birthmother left them somewhere that she knew they would be found quickly. That she waited in the bushes in the park to make sure the baby was picked up by the adoption agency. That she wanted a good life for the baby.” It is nice to create a story for the adoptee although at some point, the girl is going to learn about the Chinese government’s one child per couple law and the fact that girls are not valued in that country which led to her being left in the park.
The seminar leader continued coaching the parent. “And usually these women leave a memento with the child, a piece of cloth or a coin. If they did, make sure you give that to your child. Adoptees cherish mementos from their birthmother. ”
Say what? I have no mementos from my birthmother. Oh, actually I do, I have the correspondence she wrote to the attorney handling my adoption. I suppose it is nice to have these letters but do I cherish them? No. I don’t even know where they are. I think in a box maybe in my garage. What is the memento supposed to represent? That they cared for me?
Another group of the underrepresented were birthmothers who don’t want contact with the children they have placed. These were young women, not older ones who may have suffered the “primal wound” or placed babies unwillingly. These young women feel badly that they don’t want contact because the data says… You get what I am saying.
My main takeaway from the conference was that each adoption is different just as each person is different. Just because I don’t want to know my birthmother or birth family, doesn’t make me wrong or make my experience any less valuable than those who are in touch with their birth families and benefit from that. There really is no right or wrong in adoption except of course secrecy and lies which is harmful in any situation, not just adoption. I admit that there was a point during the day that I was sure I would reach out to my children’s birthmothers. That I would keep tabs on them and make sure they were doing well so I could update my kids on their status. The data had convinced me that this would be good for them. But it feels uncomfortable for me. Should I put my feelings aside to do what the data shows is positive for my kids? I decided at the end of the day not to. To just keep their information for my kids for if/when they want to contact them. That is part of their story, not mine. That should be their choice, not mine.
To me the important part is having access to information. To be able to have the choice to be in touch for all parties involved in the triad. It is their choice and the option is there but I don’t think I need to refer to my son’s birthmother as “Mommy Shannon” in order for him to have a good sense of self and strong identity. She is not someone who is a constant in his life at this moment. I know what the data says and I know what my heart and experience say too.
I wanted to talk to the woman who sat next to me at the conference. I wanted to find out her story, how she came to place a child, whether she was in touch with her own birthmother. It felt good to be in a room with other people who have stories either like mine or different from mine but that we are all touched by how powerful adoption is. The woman left before I could talk to her but as I saw her exit the building. I felt a kinship with her. Our stories may be different but our feelings about adoption being a positive experience are the same.