Addressing the Statement Made By Many Faithful Members of the LDS Church in Regards to Voluntary Infant Adoption: “But the Proclamation says children are better off with two parents!”

Recently over on Facebook, one of my friends (whom I will call Jennifer) posted a link to a blog written by an adoptee. Jennifer then invited her friends to read it and truly listen to what this particular adoptee says about their experience of being an adopted person.  Subsequent to Jennifer’s impassioned plea for more listening to and less telling adoptees how to feel about adoption, one of her friends (whom I will call Maria) countered with the LDS-knee jerk response of, “But the Proclamation* says children are better off with a mother and a father!”

Here’s what I wrote in response to Maria:

I agree that a mother and a father who are sealed to each other and neither partner has ever cheated on the other *IS* the ideal situation in which to raise a child. The Family: A Proclamation to the World clearly states: “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” However, we live in a fallen world where sometimes, we don’t get the “ideal” or even that to which we are entitled (to use the language from The Family: A Proclamation to the World). Sometimes, a parent dies. Sometimes parents get divorced. Sometimes parents who are sealed in the temple and married fail to live up to other covenants.

Do you have any of those situations among your own family and friends? Do you have any siblings, cousins, parents, uncles or aunts, or friends who passed away or got divorced, leaving behind the other parent to raise children as a single parent? Have their been any cases of infidelity in your family? (You don’t have to really answer those questions in this public space, I am just asking you to relate this to your own life).

If we, who claim to be God’s people, are to fully implement The Family: A Proclamation to the World with absolute exactness, then the LDS church should urge *every* parent who is single for whatever reason (death, divorce, etc. – not just single expectant parents), parents who are not sealed to their spouse (part member families), or a parent who has cheated or been cheated on by their spouse “do the right thing” and place their child(ren) for adoption in a home that has a mother and a father who are sealed in the temple and and have never participated in infidelity of any kind. After all, it clearly states children are “entitled” to this kind of home.

However, both you and I both recognize this to be a laughable suggestion, that EVERY parent who is single, not sealed to their spouse, or has been cheated on should relinquish their child(ren) for adoption to a sealed-in the temple couple. The push (social coercion) for single expectant parents to live to a different standard than all of the rest of the LDS membership is indicative of the black and white thinking our culture tends to engender. “There’s a right and a wrong to every question” sounds great in a hymn, but real life is a bit messier. There tends to be grey areas in which we have to use common sense, compassion, and our judgement.

Socially engineering a substitute “ideal” through the removal of a child from their biological kindred is NOT ****always**** the answer. Indeed, even the LDS church recognizes this. One of their primary arguments against same-sex marriage is, (as they state in their recent amici curiae), “Both social science and our own experience have taught that children thrive best when cared for by both of their biological parents.” This position is rather ironic considering the LDS church’s stance on urging single expectant parents give their infant non-biological people to raise.

I love this church with all my heart, but this is one of those areas where efforts to socially engineer a substitute “ideal” comes in conflict with some of our fundamental beliefs about the centrality of family and the importance of family preservation through genealogy and temple work.

I don’t know how this Gordian knot will be unraveled, what I *do* know is it is duplicitous of us, as the Lord’s people, to say “Biological family matters!!!! They matter so much we spend MILLIONS of dollars a year helping people seek out their biological kindred dead. Family matters, except in the case of those girls who get themselves pregnant, then biological families don’t matter to her, the father, OR their baby and she should give their baby to a couple who is sealed in the temple because, after all, that child is ‘entitled’ to parents who are sealed in the temple and don’t cheat on each other.”

Family matters. Mothers and fathers matter. Children matter. None are interchangeable, even when a parent is single (for whatever) or not sealed to their spouse.

A Gaelic Blessing

Dear Ms. Feverfew -

In my undergrad days, I was a vocal music performance major. I sang in all kinds of choirs, and in several of them, we performed A Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter. Every time I performed it, I imagined this blessing reaching out to you across the years and heartaches that separated us; I imagined it finding you, then settling on your head like a crown spun of gossamer thin gold strands.

As today is St. Patrick’s Day, I honor our Irish heritage and share this Gaelic blessing with you again. Nobody does it better than the Cambridge Singers under Rutter’s direction. Nobody.

Much love,

M.

_____________________________________

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.

Tornado Warning

Tornado Warning Okaloosa

I am already an emotional train wreck this morning and have not stopped crying since the second stanza of the opening hymn of Sacrament Meeting. And when I say crying, I don’t mean the polite tear or two running down my cheek. I’m mean the unabashed crying that is making other people around me uncomfortable.  My hands shake each time I reach for the trays in which the sacrament is passed to the congregation, unsteady and weak with the knowledge of today’s anniversary.

I know my loss is not unique, but part of the larger fabric of human experience. This morning, I am acutely aware of not only my suffering, but that of those around me, too. Sitting behind me is Sharon and her four daughters. Last July, she held her mother in her arms as her mother died from injuries sustained in a tragic boating accident that also took the life of Sharon’s younger sister and injured several of her own children.  In front of me, Melody snuggles her darling baby girl who was born with several defects, smashing any hope she had of a healthy, normal daughter – we’ve talked frankly about the struggles she went through to accept the loss of her dream of a “perfect” baby girl. To my left is Vivian who never married and who lost the dream of children and a husband when she reached her 60s.  Two rows ahead of me is Betsy, who mourns the loss of her 23-year marriage. Three rows ahead of her sits Maddie and her nephews and nieces. They live with her because they have lost their mother to a life-long jail sentence for her role in a fatal hit & run accident. Up towards the front of the chapel, I can see Elaine with her five children. She’s dealing with the loss of her husband’s job and the reality they are going to have to move in with his parents.

It is within this river of loss I mourn my oldest daughter lost to adoption this morning. My grief is at an apex when my phone buzzes to life beside me. The tornado watch issued this morning has been upgraded to a warning.

Whatever unsteady earthen dam I have erected in my heart this morning breaks and splits wide open, leaving me awash in a current of muddy water. Thirty-six minutes of church is all I can manage today, and so I leave before the deacons have even been dismissed from passing the sacrament.  I run to my car in the gathering storm, the rains already pelting me at a 45 degree angle. I post this raw and honest statement on Facebook:

How fitting to have weather that matches my emotions on the 21st anniversary of the last time I held my daughter in my arms. Excuse me while I go seek shelter somewhere other than a LDS chapel. If I’m going to die today, it’s not going to be among people who believe my soul-crushing loss is “God’s will” and that my precious daughter is “better off” without me. #adoptionloss #stillwaitingforthosepromisedblessings

I can’t go home in my condition – my other children don’t need to see me in such great distress.  I drive to the beach and find it deserted – no one else is willing to brave the ferocity of this storm.   I know I am exposed to extreme danger sitting in the empty parking lot with no shelter nearby, the winds whipping around me, and lightening crashing between clouds overhead, but the winds and rain scour the edges off my suffering, and so I stay. Sitting here, vulnerable to the forces of Mother Nature feels like an authentic expression of my inner state. For for nearly six hours, I watch birds chase the roiling surf and listen to the rain pound the sand as the ferocious storm rolls across the emerald waters of the gulf.

Eventually (with enough deep breathing, mindfulness, and tear-stained writing), I collect enough pieces of myself to “pull it together.” Tears still fall as I watch the ominous grey-green clouds move off towards Tallahassee, but I have been granted a reprieve from the worst of the grief. I turn on the engine and head for home. Home,  where Jeff, Matthew, Luke, and Poppy wait for me.

______________________________

Right now I am having an tea party with my sweet Poppy. After stirring in three (!) lumps of sugar and some cream, she sips the fragrant Nutcracker tea and exclaims, “This makes my heart warm, Mommy!” I look down at her lovely little face full of light and joy, reach out to tuck an errant curl behind her ear, then offer up a silent prayer asking forgiveness of the daughter I gave away and giving gratitude for the one here before me. I lean down and whisper in her ear, “This makes my heart warm, too, sweet Poppy girl,”

A Variety of Inhibitions

“…relatively few people have the resources to resist authority. A variety of inhibitions against disobeying authority come into play and successfully keep the person in his place.”  (Stanley Milgram, 1974. Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York: Harper & Row, p. 6).

I’ve been thinking about this quote quite a bit this week and how these inhibitions came into play in my “decision” to relinquish my daughter for adoption 20+ years ago. How might they explain why I did what I did as a young single mom in the heart of Utah Mormondom, behind the “Zion Curtain”, in 1992/1993?  What resources was I lacking to resist the incredible and near constant pressure placed on me to do the “right thing”? How did my religion, my culture, and my family act as agents to keep me in my place, to assert authority to ensure I conformed to societal expectations of relinquishing my daughter for adoption?

I have many question but few answers at this point. Intuitively, I know exploring my own “variet[ies] of inhibitions against disobeying authority” is necessarily part of the process of unpacking this sack of stones called adoption.  I just wonder if I have the courage to stare down this dragon.

Finding True North

“But what if the great secret insider-trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life? Is that good news, bad news, or both? . . . . The pain does grow less acute, but the insidious palace lie that we will get over crushing losses means that our emotional GPS can never find true north, as it is based on maps that no longer mention the most important places we have been to. Pretending that things are nicely boxed up and put away robs us of great riches.”― Anne Lamott, Stitches : a handbook on meaning, hope, and repair

Anne Lamott, you’ve done it again.

You’ve explained exactly why I can’t “get over” my daughter and why I will continue to mention her, to think of her, to pray for her, even all these years later. She is a part of the landscape of my life. Her birth marks my entry into motherhood and to “get over” her would mean living my life without a map. Indeed, acknowledging the sheer brutality of our collective loss as Mother and Daughter (instead of numbing myself to the pain by earning another degree, mastering yet another art, perfecting yet another recipe, learning yet another skill, serving in yet another calling in church) has helped me find my own true north.

I’ve stopped pretending adoption loss can be boxed up, tied up with a ribbon hand-stamped with the words, “Gotten Over,” and put away on a shelf marked, “Moved On.” While I may have learned to live well with the crushing loss, I won’t ever “get over” her and for me, this is good news.  It means I won’t ever stop being fully human and that is richness indeed.

Obedience to Authority: Milgram and Birthmother Coercion

If a person in a position of authority told you to deliver three 450-volt electric shocks to a person who had been in distress but was now non-responsive, would you do it?

Most of us would answer: No. Without any hesitation or equivocating, we would answer NO. We would not deliver three 450-volt shocks to a person once crying out for help who has now fallen silent.

How about if a person in a position of authority told a perfectly capable and competent mother (who happens to be single for whatever reason) to hand over her perfectly healthy (and darling) baby girl to complete strangers, would she do it?

While most of us would say NO, yet again. However, Stanley Milgram’s controversial yet ground breaking experiments in the 1960′s about obedience to authority figures indicate otherwise. His research shows, in fact, the vast majority of us would comply with the demands of authority figures, even when we voiced our concerns and protestations. His studies asked the question, “How far will people go to appease those they believe to be an authority figure?” His findings show the majority of us will go pretty far even when we believe it to be harmful and even when it is against our own moral and ethical code.

Many are already familiar with Stanley Milgram’s social psychology experiment about obedience, but as a refresher, here’s a brief video in which Milgram explains the purpose and design of the study:

Milgram’s study has gone on to be replicated thousands of time, across many cultures, age groups, ethnicity, and genders by numerous researchers. Here are some of the main conclusions drawn from the Milgram obedience to authority studies.

    • Compliance to demands are dramatically increased with the authority figure is physically present.
    • Many participants believed the experiment to be safe because it was sponsored by an authoritative institution, and therefore willingly participated.
    • Participants assumed the authority figure/experimenter had a certain level of competence and expertise from. Due to this belief, they continued delivering the shocks.
    • The shocks given to the learner were said to be painful, but not dangerous.

During the debriefing portion of the study, many participants reported they were in a state of extreme conflict. However, they continued to be compliant to the authority figure even though they were highly stressed, agitated, hesitant, and confused as to what they should do.  The mere presence of an authority figure giving directions on what they “must do” was enough to make them do something completely contrary to their own moral code.

One of the fundamental lessons of Milgram’s study is that,  “…relatively few people have the resources to resist authority. A variety of inhibitions against disobeying authority come into play and successfully keep the person in his place.”  (Stanley Milgram, 1974. Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York: Harper & Row, p. 6).

These study findings can be applied to coercion within the process of a single expectant mother making an adoption plan. How many social workers, adoption counselors, and ecclesiastical leaders tell single expectant mothers it is “essential” or “part of God’s plan” to give her baby to more qualified people? How many times is a single expectant mother told there is “no other choice” if she ***truly*** loved her child, because adoption is all about love, right? How often are single expectant mothers told adoption *might* be somewhat painful, but it isn’t dangerous to them or their baby? How often do adoption agencies and religious groups assert their authority by using their credentials as evidence they know what is best for a mother and her baby? Most importantly, how often – especially in these days of open adoptions – are potential adoptive parents physically present in the delivery room or at the hospital (with the social worker) within hours of delivery, asserting their position of perceived authority and reinforcing the compliance of the newly delivered mother, simply by being physically present – even if they never say a word?

All of those things have been shown to increase compliance to the demands of an authority figure. In my estimation, all of these practices are coercive regardless of the motivation or intent of the authority figure. It is the outcome of the practice that defines it as coercion, not the motivation of the authority figure.

Just as the participants in the Milgram study did not have a gun held to their head to assure their compliance, no one has to hold a gun to the head of a birth mother to get her to sign the papers to voluntarily terminate her parental rights. Sometimes, all it takes is the social worker to show up at the hospital to shove the papers into her hands while she is still hooked up to an IV. Sometimes, all it takes is a bishop assuring a mother she is doing the “right thing.” Sometimes, all it takes is sitting across the desk from a judge, having him tell a mother what a wonderful gift she is giving the adoptive couple. The mother might be highly conflicted and hesitant about signing the papers and find herself in a state of high stress and agitation. However, she still signs them, even though it goes against every moral code she possesses and the fibers and sinews in her body scream at her not sign the papers

So why does she sign them? Because, according to Milgram, there is a person of authority from a venerated social institution, urging her on, tell her that adoption is “essential” to her daughter’s well-being and success in life, and assuring her though it might hurt for a while, adoption will do no long-term damage done to her or her child.

And so she picks up the pen, leans forward and signs the papers that forever sever her legal relationship with her beloved and precious daughter. Then in a daze, numb to all around her, she carefully lets herself out of the judge’s chambers and collapses in the courthouse elevator.

Dear March, Come In!

by Sarah Paulson @ creative commons flickrOh, March.

How lovely you are with your red-faced maples and daffodils.  But, March, forgive me – for far too many years, I have longed to skip right over you and wake up on the other side of June. For nearly two decades, I sought out ways to numb myself against your serrated edges, edges which sawed into my mother-marrow.

But not this year, March.

This year, I say to you: Dear March, come in!  Give me your hat and have a seat – I have so much to tell!  I feel safe enough to sit here with you until these fears melt away and I am left with nothing but your goodness, March.  We are going to sit here by the river and unpack this bag of stones called adoption together.

Blessings and welcome, dear March -

M.

_____________________________________________________
Dear March, come in!

How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat–
You must have walked–
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the birds’;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,–I declare,
How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me–
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

Emily Dickinson, “Dear March, come in!

Stick With Love

Dear Adoptive Parents Who Google, “i hate my daughter’s birth mother” and Land Here:

stickwithloveHow might I say this in the most loving way possible? I understand, in some ways, the intensity of your feelings, but have you thought of joining a support group (or five)…like yesterday? I beg you, find one soon – if not for your own peace, then for your daughter’s sake.

“Hate” is a pretty intense word. Perhaps you might consider entering into therapy for a bit to learn how to manage such intense emotions. By so doing, they don’t spill out into your relationship with your daughter. Even if your daughter’s birth mother did horrible things to her, you still need to dig deep and find place of love to reflect back to your daughter.

Children know things.  We teach them these things through the tightening of our brow, the catch in our breath, and the stiffening of latissiumus dorsi muscle when difficult topics arise. Your daughter will grow feeling the hate you have for her first mother. More likely than not, she will learn to hate the part of her that is from her first mother. By hating her birth mother – whether you ever speak the words aloud or not -  you are modeling for her how to hate half of her self.

There is another path. Wouldn’t you prefer to model love? Kindness? Patience? Truth? Hope? Perseverance? Acceptance? Forgiveness?

Hate is a mighty strong word, but love is stronger.  Love is so much stronger.

When There is Fresh Air to Breathe

"Hungryland" by Kim Seng

“Hungryland” by Kim Seng

“Look at this sky above us. Look up and see God’s first cathedral. May you rest in your place in the story of God for a while and slow your urgent scrabbling breath here tonight. It didn’t begin with us; it won’t end with us, and who wants to live in an ivory tower when there is fresh air to breathe anyway? I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even—or maybe especially—the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.” (Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey)

This. A thousand times over, this.