Birth mother

Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Birth Parent Search

During our late teens and early twenties, a main developmental task is to establish our identity while simultaneously seeking independence from our family. In other words, to figure out who we are becoming, we need to know where we came from so that we can have something to actually separate from. For adoptees, who have limited information about their origin, this is often the time when there is an increase in wondering and seeking out more information about birth family—Questions like: What makes me unique? What about my genetic history? How am I similar and different from my birth and adoptive family? Where do I fit and belong? These are all important, valuable questions. Some adoptees move through this stage comfortably by exploring these search-related questions on their own without pursuing contact with birth relatives or an actual reunion. Yet for others, these curiosities lead to a strong desire for an active search and the hope of making a connection with birth relatives.   

If you are in this age group, here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you decide if this is a good time to pursue a search.

1.     Do I have the support in my life to embark on a search right now, or should I build my community first? 

Having a solid support system of trusted people who are accessible to you is critical during your search. Consider the kind of help that you may need and then think carefully about who in your circle of friends, family, and professionals can be there for you. Many adoptees find that well-meaning friends and family have trouble understanding what they need, and that having the support of other adoptees makes all the difference. As you explore the answers to this question, you may consider working with a coach or therapist who specializes in adoption-related concerns. Joining an adoption community or support group can also offer a network of people who have been where you are and can share their search experiences.  

2.     How will searching impact my relationship with my parents?  

This is a tricky thing to talk about. However, overlooking it could lead to bigger troubles. Consider how much or little you want to involve your parents in your search process and be proactive in how you approach this so that you are in the driver’s seat. As a young adult, it is recommended that this process be on your terms—but you need to know what you want in order for this to happen. Take the time you need to explore and define what is right for you. If not, you may be swayed by other people’s point of view, no matter how well meaning. It’s important for you to feel “in control” of the process—so you can take responsibility for the outcome as well as feel confident that you are making the right decisions. These in-between years can be a confusing phase of life because parents have often been the stewards of the child’s adoption information. As you transition to adulthood, you can learn to own your story. There are often growing pains here—parents may need some help letting go while you may need some encouragement and support to take the lead. Being ready to deal with your parent’s feelings about a birth parent search is an important part of the decision-making process. This can be hard for anyone, and even harder for a young adult who is still “in the nest.”  Bottom line is, recognize that searching affects your whole family system—especially your parents and consider this in the timing of your search.    

3.     Do I have the time and emotional bandwidth to dedicate to a search?  

Although everyone’s search experience is different, most would agree that the experience took them on an emotional roller coaster that, regardless of the preparation, was difficult to predict. Many of our coaching clients initially reached out because they were unprepared for the emotions that came up as well as the impact it had on their lives. This is also true for people who feel they had very positive experiences. With this in mind, consider what else is happening in your life and try not to overlap the active part of your search with other weighty decisions or commitments that require significant energy (application deadlines, school exams, new job, or stressful travel, etc...) Once you actively engage in the search process, it can take on a life of its own and the feelings that come with this are hard to anticipate and prepare for. As positive as your experience may be, it is likely to be consuming and distracting for a period of time.  

In closing, keep in mind that your search doesn’t have to be conducted all at once. Searching can happen in phases over a period of months or years. Consider both internal and external factors that may be influencing you and set a pace that is right for you. If there is no pressure to move quickly, it is recommended that you give yourself time to think things through. Seek the support of a trusted friend or advisor who can support you to clarify what outcome you hope to achieve, as well as how you will manage both the joys and sorrows that may arise. 

Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you at every phase of the birth parent search process.  Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

An Open Adoption Story

Posted on October 25, 2018 by Spence-Chapin

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

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

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.

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.

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!

IMG_5285.jpg

IMG_5285 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.

Adopting a Broader Perspective: Reflections of a Young Adult Adoptee

A Spence-Chapin intern reflects on her adoption story and her journey to becoming an adoption social worker.

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

General Counsel Yekaterina Trambitskaya, Esq. joins the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

Spence-Chapin Supports the NY State Bill of Adoptee Rights

We support The Adoptee Rights Bill, allowing New York State adoptees the same human rights as all other citizens of New York. Learn more.

How do I talk to my child about adoption

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

Our 15th Annual Birth Mothers' Gathering

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 — we know we are mothers. 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.

Reflecting on Birth Parents and Placing a Child in Adoption

As a social worker in the International Department at Spence-Chapin, I’ve been enlightened by so many aspects of adoption: the way hearts of adoptive parents can break, heal, stretch, and grow; the tenacious resiliency of children; and the conflicted governments who don’t always recognize the fate they hold in their hands. But, I had not, amazingly, ever met birth parents in the process of placing their child in adoption. When Leslie Nobel, my colleague from the Birth Parent Department, asked me to be a Russian translator for a couple who were making an adoption plan for their son, I agreed with great distress. I was very willing to assist the family, but my first generation immigrant Russian had been rusting away in a corner while I moved ahead with my life. I didn’t even know how to say “adoption” and had to immediately call my mother for help: “adocharyt” (to make one a daughter, docha means daughter) or “asinovyt” (to make one a son; sin means son).

Meeting Vlad and Maria was a surprising experience.  They are extremely attractive and look like they could be a pair of figure skaters. In the United States on a work visa when Maria gave birth,  they had intended to parent their child. I learned that the country in which they reside could not possibly address their son’s special needs, and he would be exposed to a difficult and unfulfilling life.  They visited with their baby, cried often at the loss of not being able to raise him, but knew that adoption was the right choice.  I sat through several meetings with them, tripping my way over the language that was once my mother tongue.  I’ve often wondered, about the birth parents of our kids born overseas.  The adoption process cloaks the identities of birth parents, gives us snippets of information from which we can only create scenarios; Due simply to circumstances of timing and geography, I got to know this couple. Although it’s not entirely fair, I couldn’t help imagining Maria and Vlad’s story layered onto the stories of all the children I have helped to place.  This quiet, unassuming couple became the large voice of silent international birth parents.  As we spoke, I witnessed many of the same emotions as I do with adoptees and adoptive parents — regret, loss, confusion, relief and hope.

This all culminated with the honor of attending the child’s placement, and watching the sometimes awkward and sometimes heart-warming moments between the two families.  At feeding time, there was confusion as to who would give the bottle—each mother was trying to accommodate the other.  I had to repress tears when the adoptive mom gave Maria a beautiful necklace holding their son’s birthstone.  I had to repress laughter as the dads tried calling each others’ cell phones so they could program the numbers.  The reception was lousy, and ultimately they both ended up side-by-side at the window, phones high up overhead, trying to connect the two phones that were inches apart.  Both wives were cracking up and taking pictures.

Soon, it was time to go and a heavier mood took over. Talk of Skyping and nearest airports changed to everyone admiring the baby, and finally, handing him to his birth parents for goodbyes. There were tears, of course, but there were also smiles. We walked out to the elevator and Vlad and Maria left to grieve in private.

That day, my adoption world both grew and shrank. It grew because I was given the opportunity to have a new and invaluable experience, and shrank because the differences between international and domestic adoption are not so stark as I had believed them to be. Yes, how the adoption happens is different, but in many ways it is just a matter of geography. No matter where in the world a child who needs a family is born, all adoptions have the same players. They form what we in the adoption world call the triad – the birth family, the child, and the adoptive family.  I learned that when the birth parent piece is missing from the picture, it is our responsibility to put it back into its rightful place.

Adoption Reunion on Latest Episode of TV Show Glee

On Tuesday, May 25th, millions of viewers tuned in to watch the latest episode of the hit Fox show, Glee. Perhaps of most interest to those of us in the adoption world was the reunion of Rachel with her birth mother, Shelby. While such mainstream portrayals can successfully illustrate the expectations, emotional intensity and anxiety that accompany a search and reunion, Glee dismissed the importance of working to forge a relationship after the reunion.