Collateral Damage: On Adoption, Beheadings, and Invisible Siblings

Did you know Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, one of the recent beheading victims of the Islamic State, was an adoptee?

When I first heard it on the news (and once I started breathing again) my first question was: Does his mother know?  Forgive me, it’s a knee-jerk reaction I have whenever I hear of an adoptee’s passing. And by mother, I do not mean adoptive mother. I mean the woman in whose womb Peter was knitted together. Because surely, his adoptive mother knows, since she’s all over the news (and seems like a perfectly lovely woman, by the way.) But his first mother – the woman who bled for him as she labored him into this world – did she know he was gone?

Through some quick Internet research, I learned that Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig had indeed found his first mother soon after his 18th birthday and had become close with his two younger half-siblings.  But sadly, I came across this article of their first interview since their beloved older brother had been tortured and killed: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/25/peter-kassig-biological-family/70091378/ Here are some of the words he wrote to his sister, Jana, while in captivity (the letter to her was one of only two he was able to send during the year and two months he was being held captive by the Islamic State). To his sister he wrote:

“Did you know, when I was little, I used to pray for a little sister? I prayed and prayed, but I didn’t see how it was possible. What do you know? One day I found myself staring at a picture of you and all I could think was, ‘She’s perfect.’

“You are the best thing that has ever happened to me: you and your brother.”

To Peter, Jana and Sam were perfect. They were his prayed for miracle. They were, in his words, “the best thing” that had ever happened to him.

And yet, thanks to adoption laws, the federal government does not recognize Jana or Sam as Peter’s siblings, next of kin, or members of his family, regardless of their shared DNA, regardless of their deep emotional bonds. Therefore, the U.S. Government did not and will not provide grief counseling for them as they do for family members of hostages and kidnapping victims, which in the case of Peter means only his adoptive family, not his natural family. Not Jana and Sam, the best things that ever happened to Peter.

Much like my three younger children, Jana and Sam are collateral damage of adoption. They are the invisible siblings, the forgotten of the adoption constellation.

In their first interview since the Islamic State captured, tortured and killed Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig in Syria, his biological mother, Rhonda Schwindt, and two siblings describe a bureaucracy that declined to help a grieving family at its lowest moments. Kassig was beheaded Nov. 16.

When they lost contact with their brother Oct. 1, 2013, the Schwindts say the FBI kept his captivity a secret from them for 5½ months despite extending victims assistance to his adoptive parents, Ed and Paula Kassig. Once they learned of his fate, the Schwindts say they were denied federal assistance in finding grief counseling and the FBI told them to keep quiet — even after Kassig’s parents and friends were encouraged to speak up in an unsuccessful attempt to save him.

More than a week after his death, Jana Schwindt still doesn’t have an exact copy of the letter her brother penned to her in captivity. The original, they were told by the FBI, was processed as evidence and destroyed.

Jana, Sam, Matthew, Luke, Poppy, Lyne, Marie, Teresa, Lily, Violet, Heather, Max, Jane, Kyle, Keith, Mark, Eliza, Spence, JP, Caroline, Phoebe, Margaret, Bonnie, Claudia, Nancy, Melissa, Benjamin, Trevor, Cindy, Steve . . .I could go on and on with their names, but my tears stop me tonight as I think of their collective losses.

These are my friends with whom I have wept when they discovered they have 47-year old sister somewhere out there. These are my friends who have called me at midnight, wondering why their adopted-out sibling has cut off contact with them again after what they had thought was a lovely Christmas holiday to Hawaii. These are my own children. These are the ones who, if their beloved older sibling were beheaded by terrorists, would not be acknowledged as “real” by the U.S. government and would be deemed undeserving of victim assistance.

The fact this cloak of invisibility goes both ways is not lost on me. If it were my son in Peter’s position, Ms. Feverfew would not qualify for victim’s assistance, either. The law does not recognize her as next of kin or immediate family of any kind.

I’ll keep asking these questions until I get a satisfactory answer: Tell me again,  how is adoption, an act that renders my children invisible to each other in the eyes of the law, a loving act? How is this blessing my family “into the eternities” as I was promised it would?

Tell me again, what part of this is about love?

________________________________________

Another article about Kassig’s natural family: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/21/kassig-birth-family-mourns-death/19335637/

Dear Person Who Was Wondering “can a minor child give up their baby for adoption with out parent concent [sic] in utah”?

Dear Person Who Was Wondering “can a minor child give up their baby for adoption with out parent concent [sic] in utah”?

Yes. Why, yes they can.

She can’t open a bank account without parental consent. She can’t get married without parental consent. She can’t legally own property. She can’t get birth control if paid for by state funds without parental consent (one of only two states requiring this, the other being Texas).  And she certainly can’t have an abortion without parental consent. In some instances, she can’t even register for an online social networking account without parental consent.

But give away a baby without parental notification or parental consent?

You betchya!!!!!

Utah Code 78B-6-123. Power of a minor to consent or relinquish.
(1) A minor parent has the power to:
(a) consent to the adoption of the minor’s child; and
(b) relinquish the minor’s control or custody of the child for adoption.
(2) The consent or relinquishment described in Subsection (1) is valid and has the same force and effect as a consent or relinquishment executed by an adult parent.
(3) A minor parent, having executed a consent or relinquishment, cannot revoke that consent upon reaching the age of majority or otherwise becoming emancipated.

Heck. She doesn’t even have to tell the father she is giving his child away to strangers!

Welcome to the great state of Utah!

M.

P.S. Does anyone else see the irony of laws in which a minor cannot get birth control or get married without parental consent but can make a decision like relinquishing a child (that she got pregnant with because her parents wouldn’t consent for her to get birth control) for adoption without telling her parents? The law doesn’t even provide for grandparents to even be INFORMED that it is happening, much less CONSENT to it. What kind of whacked up laws are those? Oh yeah. Utah’s laws.

A Letter I Wish I’d Gotten

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I came across this letter this morning, written by Coco over at “Grown in My Heart.” It comes too late for us, but maybe it will reach some mother who might be considering making an adoption plan irrevocable mistake because she has been convinced by her culture and religious leaders that she will never be a good enough mother to her child.

http://www.growninmyheart.com/a-letter-i-wish-id-gotten

Much love,

M.

http://www.growninmyheart.com/a-letter-i-wish-id-gotten

Thank God for People Like “Harriet”

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

It isn’t often that someone who is neither an adoptee, first parent, nor an adoptive parent “gets it” about adoption, but sometimes they do. Here’s someone who does:

Every adoption that occurs is a black mark on the humanity of the rest of us, because every adoption represents parents who were unable to acquire the assistance, resources, or community necessary to raise their children or plan their families. ~ “Harriet” who writes at www.fugitivus.net

If you have tender ears, please be advised about the language content on her blog – she’s real, she’s raw, and she uses language that you aren’t going to hear in a Relief Society lesson. Be forewarned but also know that what she has to say is terribly important.

Take the time to go read that blog post. You will be glad you did.

Much love,

M.

P.S. THANK YOU Ask an Adoptee over at Facebook for pointing me to this important and provocative blog post!

God Doesn’t Do Adoption ~ Paul’s Version

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

My friend Cricket was recently attacked by a “Christian” PAP who proceeded to spout chapter and verse about how we are all adopted into God’s family, therefore adoption of infants is  a good thing. (Actually, that doesn’t quite sum up the full extent of the nastiness of this PAP’s reasoning, but for here, it will do.)

Here’s what set me off this morning:

“We also look forward to spending eternaty [sic] worshiping and adoring Him with all of His adopted sons and daughters. “God sent forth his Son…….so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galations 4:4-5 I’ve been adopted into God’s family and I hope that you will be too.” – Alicia, hopeful adoptive parent of her husband’s cousin’s dead but not-yet-buried wife’s baby. (Yes you read that right.)

Once again, I was left sputtering and stammering at my computer screen. I don’t get it – why on earth do “Christians” keep using those same couple of verses to justify adoption? So here’s my response to this, yet again. I realize I am not a theologian by any measure, but I am a thinker. Following is the scripture Alicia is referencing:

Galations 4:5 To redeem that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (KJV)

So yes. Paul says “adoption” right there in the Bible. He actually uses it a couple of times, but if one examines the text as written in the original Greek, one begins to understand that Paul didn’t mean “adoption” like the modern world means “adoption. ” His original Greek word huiothesia meant something else entirely.

The original Greek word in this scripture (and the others where Paul was translated as saying “adoption”) is huiothesia, derived from the huios (“a son”) and thesis (“a placing”), so literally the placing of/as a son. (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985).

The “placing as a son” imagery was something with which Paul and his readers of Galatia would have been entirely familiar (Mitchell, 1993; Zanker, 1988). Basically, it was a ceremony that occurred within the Roman culture in which a male child of a citizen achieved the status of manhood. Prior to the ceremony, a son was considered to have the status of a slave in his father’s house (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3: Caesar and Christ, 1972, p. 57), even though he had the potential to inherit his father’s wealth. The “placing as a son” ceremony occurred around a boy’s teen years, when his father determined it was time for him to pass from being a child (and under the absolute power of his father) into adulthood.

In this public ceremony, the young man would remove the toga he wore as a boy and put on the toga virilis (toga of manhood). This ceremony marked his entry into full citizenship in the empire and the right to vote in the assembly. The toga virilis also allowed for visual identification between a natural-born Roman opposed to a naturalized citizen of Rome (foreign born people who then became Romans).  Not only this, but after the “placing as a son” ceremony the son became fully legally vested with all of the rights, powers, and privileges of being a son and heir to his father’s possessions, wealth, and status. No longer was he viewed as a child – he was a fully participating member of his society and family. (Harrill, 2002; Fraschetti, 1997; “Roman Children,” ClassicsUnveiled.com). It should be noted that the one who was “placed as a son” was generally already the child of the father, thus it was not an adoption into the father’s household.

Paul’s original imagery of our huiothesia, literally “placing as a son”  (as opposed to being adopted) within God’s kingdom profoundly affects our relationship with God.  Adoption as applied to our relationship with God is problematic as it changes our fundamental status as God’s offspring. When a child is adopted into a family, he remains physically the same person. No change of name or falsification of birth records will ever eliminate the biological reality – he is still the offspring of his natural parents.  That child’s DNA will always remain different, separate, and unrelated to his adoptive parents.

However, God has told us we are his literal offspring, created in his image, especially as we consider that He was the Father of Adam and Eve (Acts 17:28-29; Luke 3:38).  As their descendants, our own DNA carries the fingerprints of divine origins. God even tells us that he is intimately involved with the physical creation of each one of us – He “knits” us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).

Although we maintain this divine heritage from God, when we are born we essentially become slaves of the mortal, fallen world we are born into. However, this does not change our status as God’s offspring. We are still His children – we are just separated from His household because of sin. Fortunately, a loving Father provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him, to have those chains of slavery broken.  That way is through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. The act of becoming a disciple and follower of Christ allows us to begin the process of what Paul called huiothesia – of becoming a full and participatory member of our Father’s household, with the full rights as His children. (If you are an endowed member of the church, ponder the meaning of huiothesia carefully in relation to putting an article of clothing which signifies a lesser position and putting on a new one that symbolizes the acceptance of a higher one, and then being welcomed back into the Father’s presence.)

So there it is. Again. God doesn’t do adoption. ‘Specially since we are already His children. He is into restoring things to their proper order and place in His household.

Really, some of these people should study history.

Much love,

Your mother who reads. A lot. And thinks about things.

P.S. Over on Cricket’s blog there are some amazing responses to Alicia’s letter to her.  In particular, take time to read the one left by T. Laurel Sulfate Friday, March 5, 2010 9:35:00 PM EST ,  Jenni Friday, March 5, 2010 10:01:00 PM EST and Christina on behalf of Goog82 Saturday, March 6, 2010 1:14:00 PM EST

References:

Harrill, J. A. (2002). Coming of Age and Putting on Christ: The Toga Virilis Ceremony, Its Paraenesis, and Paul’s Interpretation of Baptism in Galatians. Novum Testamentum,  44, (3), p. 252-277.

Fraschetti, A. (1994). Roman Youth. Storia dei giovani, Vol. 1, Dall’antichita all’eta moderna.  G. Levi & J.C. Schmited, Eds., trans. Naish, C. as A History of Young People in the West, vol. 1, Ancient and Medieval Rites of Passage. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 51-82.

Mitchell, S. (1993). Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor, vol 2. In The Rise of the Church, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 3-10.

Vine, W. E., & Unger, M. F. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index. Thomas Nelson.

Zanker, P. (1988). The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. Jerome Lectures 16; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 215-23.


Michael Blosil, Adoption, and His Mothers: I wonder…

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I am certain you have heard that Marie Osmond’s 18 year old son committed suicide this weekend. It seems that he was “struggling” with depression and didn’t feel like he “fit in” with any one.

What a lot of the media in the U.S. is failing to report is that Michael is an adoptee.

I wonder if that has anything to do with his depression and his feelings of not fitting in. I don’t have to wonder what my adoptee friends will say – they will state unequivocally YES!!! I also know what some of my adoptive parent friends will say – Oh no, it couldn’t be adoption – but maybe.  Then there will be that group of adoptive parents that will scream “THERE IS NO WAY HIS ADOPTION HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH HIS DEPRESSION! Show me the studies, show me the STUDIES, SHOW ME THE STUDIES that prove it does have something to do with his being adopted!!!!! Until then, I refuse to believe that it could have had any impact on him – there must have been something else wrong with him.”

I wonder if his natural mother will be told. I wonder if she will be invited to attend his funeral. I wonder if she will even be acknowledged. I wonder if Marie Osmond even knows who Michael’s natural mother is. I wonder if Michael knew.

This has always been one of my greatest fears – that I would finally start searching for you, only to find that you had passed away and I had never been told.

I wonder…would your adoptive parents tell me if something happened to you? Or would I have to find out from a newspaper headline?

Much love,

M.

Samba de Uma Nota Só or a Symphony?

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Every year, my department conducts a review of the progress of its graduate students. As part of this, I have to submit an updated curriculum vitae to my committee.  Review time is upon us and so this morning I have been working on updating my curriculum vitae.

Invariably, whenever I do this, I always wish there was a place to share “the rest of my life.”  A curriculum vitae only captures my academic and professional accomplishments. There is so much more to me than the courses I have taken, my GPA, the conferences at which I have presented, and papers I have published. Those things are only one of many leitmotifs in my life.  Unfortunately, there really isn’t a section for “Accomplishments in Home and Family Life” or “Spiritual and Emotional Growth” or “Gardening, Knitting, Crafts, Hobbies, and Other Interests” on a curriculum vitae.

Much like my curriculum vitae, this blog is just one more leitmotif – it isn’t the complete magna opera of my life. This morning, I realized that someone reading this blog who doesn’t know me in real life might get a very striated view of who I am as a person, a woman, a mother, a wife, and a friend.  To those readers, this blog must seem like the main melody line from a Samba de Uma Nota Só – the same note being played over and over and over again.

But this grief – this adoption grief – is a bass note, the F2 in my symphony of life.   It is a deep counterpoint to the lyrical melodies that permeate the rest of my daily living.  While at times discordant, this grieving for you – for us – provides a richness in depth and color to my life. Without it, I would have remained blinded to the heartache of millions of women and children caught up in adoptions throughout the world. With it, I am made more human, more humane.

For me, writing these letters is like practicing scales and arpeggios – necessarily redundant but essential to bring this grief into harmony with the rest of my life.  It allows me to master the basics, to learn how to slip from major to minor keys and back again without getting lost in the complicated rhythms of life.

But like I said – this is not all there is to who I am.  While profoundly affecting me in ways I still have yet to recognize, your relinquishment is not the only thing that defines my humanity, my personhood.  I have a rich and fulfilling life, full of personal & professional accomplishments, laughter, and love.

But all of that does not erase you.  I miss you. And sometimes it makes me sad. These letters allow me to bring some order and understanding to the otherwise atonal experience of losing a child to adoption.

Much love and belief –

M.
___________________________________________________________

(Edited to ad English translation of “One Note Samba“)

“This is just a little samba/Built upon a single note
Other notes are bound to follow/But the root is still that note
Now this new one is the consequence/Of the one we’ve just been through
As I’m bound to be the unavoidable consequence of you
There’s so many people who can talk and talk and talk just say nothing/Or nearly nothing
I have used up all the scale I know, and at the end I’ve come to nothing/Or nearly nothing
So I came back to my first note/As I must come back to you
I will pour into that one note/All the love I feel for you
Anyone who wants the whole show/Re mi fa sol la si do
He will find himself with no show/Better play the note you know”

God Doesn’t Do Adoption: “Is you is or is you ain’t?” (Or in other words: A question for Fred Riley of LDS Family Services)

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

So, in an effort to help me understand, clarify, and hopefully reconcile my feelings as an LDS mother seeking spiritual harmony in a post-adoption kool-aid life, I came across an article recently in the Ensign.  Really, I am trying to be a good Mormon, I honestly am. I am trying to study this thing out on my own and to take my concerns to the Lord in prayer. However, in my efforts to sincerely seek peace, I keep getting smacked upside the head by articles like this one. In a section titled “Latter-day Saint Theology and Adoption” found in the article “Why Adoption?” (Ensign, Jan 2008), Fred Riley of LDS Family Services is quoted as saying,

“From the time of Adam, adoption has been a priesthood ordinance,” says Brother Riley. “It’s a principle of the gospel that probably all of us will experience at some point as we’re literally adopted into our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.”

Uh…am I the only one who sees a fundamental flaw in this statement?   Doesn’t this idea fly in the face of some of the most clearly dileneated LDS doctrine?

Is it just me Ms. Feverfew, or are we not taught from the time we are small children that we are the literal off-spring of God, created in His image – not adopted into his household? Remember that Primary Song, I Am a Child of God? It clearly states the doctrinal point on this issue : “I am a child of God, and He has sent me here…” Or how about the Young Women theme which says, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us…” According to the LDS.org website, this theme “helps each young woman understand her identity, purpose, and destiny as a daughter of God”  (emphasis mine). Not the adopted daughter, but the literal daughter of the King of Heaven.

Or what of Joseph B. Wirthlin’s statement, “It is essential that you know and understand that our Heavenly Father loves you like a son or daughter, because He is the Father of your spirit. That makes you His literal child, spiritually begotten of Him.”

Or the article titled “You Are a Child of God” in which Russel M. Nelson reminds us of the importance of “knowing that we are literally children of God.”

Or what of our prophet, Thomas S. Monson who also reminds us  “that each of us is literally a child of God.”

Then there is “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” which states with undeniable clarity, “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

I could go on and on with the quotes, but I won’t bore you to death. I think you get the idea.  (A simple search of the LDS Gospel Library using terms such as “literal child of God” or  “made in His image” will reveal hundreds of more of these kinds of quotes if you really want to knock yourself out).

But here are the things I have come to know in the past several years, Ms. Feverfew: I have a Father in Heaven who is crazy gaga head over heels in love with me simply because I am His daughter, created in His image. I am the literal daughter of The King.  With this knowledge firmly in place, I am left the nagging question for Brother Riley: Which is it – is you is or is you ain’t a literal child of God? You can’t have it both ways – you can’t be adopted and be a literal child of God.

Much love,

M.

P.S. I guess I have more questions for Brother Riley, such as where is it taught (either in scripture or official church publications) that adoption is a “priesthood ordinance“? Did I miss something somewhere in my study of the scriptures or in my temple worship?  Maybe I wasn’t listening carefully enough in Relief Society or missed the memo while I was busy serving in Primary (you know how that can be – we tend to miss a lot of announcements while we serve the children in the church, teaching them that they are the literal children of God).  Or maybe perhaps this is something they teach in priesthood quorums and forgot to mention to us women folk? I say those things mostly tongue-in-cheek, but really, I am perplexed. Where is the scriptural and doctrinal basis for that kind of statement? But I digress…