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/

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“But The Proclamation says. . . .”

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.