My husband and I spent seven years fostering children, eventually adopting four of them. We have experienced so many stories over the years, both from our own cases, and from other foster/adoptive families we’ve met through the years.
Please note: These are just a few examples of several situations that led to adoption. The sharing of these stories is not meant to shame either the parents in the above accounts or biological parents of adopted children in general. It's not meant to perpetrate the attitude that all adopted kids are "damaged" or come from "bad" backgrounds - or even that adoption was the magical fix that made their lives perfect again.
It is not to make light of a very sensitive issue. Rather, shining the light on things that happen in our very own towns and neighborhoods can broaden our perspectives. We can be aware of the need to help and support each other. We can be called to compassion, or even moved to action for these children and their families - biological and adoptive.
Here are some actual true stories from those whose lives have been touched in one way or another by adoption - with no identifying characteristics to protect the privacy of all involved.
A baby boy was born to a 15-year-old mother, herself in foster care at the time. Before the birth of her son, she had been removed from first her parents’ home, then her grandparents’ home, due to the adults' substance abuse at the time.
She had emotional issues, and had expressed concern that she potentially could “hurt” the baby if he was left in her care. The boy was first placed in a foster home. The birth mother decided later to relinquish her rights in order for the foster parents to adopt him.
A 17-month-old girl was left alone in a hot car outside a bar on the 4th of July. Police were called to the scene. When the parents were questioned, they indignantly stated their reasoning for keeping her in the car was actually due to their parental concern – “We would never bring a baby into a bar!”
A routine investigation began looking into the family’s home life. The baby girl was found to be severely malnourished, and had developmental delays due to being buckled in her infant car seat for most of the day and night, almost every day. The couple also had had other children removed from the home in the recent past in another state.
They had fled that area when an investigation was opened in that state due to concerns reported about their newest child’s health and well-being.
Most people’s idea of adoption is this: two teenagers get “knocked up” and place their baby up for adoption. In actuality, countless situations happen that lead to a child being adopted, with unique stories happening on all sides – birth families and adoptive families.
The birth parents of a baby girl were both only 15 and 16-years-old, living in a small Midwestern town. Both families decided that placing the child for adoption would ensure the best future for the child and for the birth parents. Both of the birth parents went on to have successful adulthoods and families of their own with their respective spouses.
A baby girl tested positive for heroin and amphetamines following her birth at the hospital. She spent two months in the NICU to detoxify her system. The birth parents were not a couple, and felt unable to parent the baby, so they had made an adoption plan.
The birth father signed the adoption relinquishment papers after the birth, but the birth mother changed her mind and desired to parent the baby. However, with the drugs in the baby's system, the little one was placed into foster care, and eventually adopted by the birth mother's parents.
The topic of adoption is fraught with complexity on all sides. There are numerous reasons why a child is adopted – whether through “normal” adoption with a birth mother choosing an adoptive placement for her child, or a child being removed and later adopted through the foster care system. Unfortunate events may transpire along the way for this hard decision to be made.
In one case a 4-year-old girl was left routinely in the care of her grandmother while the birth mother was in and out of prison. The grandmother was ill and bedridden, leaving the girl mostly to fend for herself on a daily basis. The birth mother eventually tested positive for illegal substances while having custody of and in the presence of her daughter.
A question of the girl's paternity arose, and waiting on genetic testing delayed the eventual adoption.
A birth mother of five children lost custody due to her habitual substance abuse. She refused to receive rehabilitation for her addictions or seek help for her assorted mental conditions. Her behavior was erratic, and she would hallucinate to the point of there being danger to the children; she attempted various methods of exorcism on the youngest boy, whom she said was possessed.
In cases where children have been harmed by their biological parents it's usually best to put the child into some type of counselling to deal with the feelings they have and to help them realize that not all adults are trying to hurt them. In adoptive cases, it can be really hard to establish trust with kids from abusive homes, but once trust is established you have to work hard to maintain that relationship.
Complaints were made to social services about the living conditions and loud partying in a home that included a 3-year-old girl. Moldy food remnants, hoarding of trash, pet and vermin feces, and drug paraphernalia were all found piled up throughout the entire habitation, leaving hardly even any floor space for walking.
The child had rashes and sores all over her body from poor hygiene. Children who come from a neglect background may have pervasive health issues and could be more likely to catch illnesses when they go around. Being in contact with a good physician can stop the children from getting seriously ill.
The mother of a baby boy was beaten so badly and often during the pregnancy by the birth father, because he didn’t want the child, that the baby was born several weeks early. The baby was removed from the mother's custody because of the fear of continued abuse, as she was not willing or able to completely sever the relationship.
In some cases where the mother is abused when she's pregnant, the physical abuse she suffers can hurt the unborn child and result in learning delays or even bear emotional scars from the trauma and cortisol that is passed to them from their mother. In teh worst case scenario, some mothers miscarry their children if they're beaten badly enough.
A baby girl was born to a couple who had an older child together and a sporadic history of commitment. Both birth parents became incarcerated around the same time and spent time in and out of prison and rehabilitation facilities. When having the children live with various family members wasn't working out, the children were placed with and eventually adopted by a foster family.
In some states, family members can petition the courts for custody of the children whose parents are incarcerated. However, if no family member comes froward to care for the children they become wards of the state and placed in foster care. Once the parents are out of jail they can petition the state to get custody of their children again.
A baby boy was born two months premature. This can happen in pregnancy, certainly, but this was mostly due to the hard-partying ways of the birth mother. Her body just couldn’t handle a full-term pregnancy. Once the baby was born, the baby’s lungs were underdeveloped, he was having difficulty eating, and was labeled with a “failure to thrive.”
The birth parents visited him in the NICU only a couple of times during his eight week stay. They refused the customary instruction from the hospital staff regarding how to care for the infant. (They said they knew how to handle a baby, and that it was condescending for the doctors to assume they didn’t.)
When presented with the facts on the effects of secondhand smoke on children, especially preemies with lung problems, they repeatedly stated that it was “lies” and that they would never give up smoking. Hospital staff and social workers were genuinely concerned for the life of the baby if he was discharged in his fragile condition to this family.
Ten children were in one home – a combination of the couple’s biological children and children of family members they had taken in and were “fostering,” albeit some outside of the state’s authority and placement. The children (almost all of them under the age of 5) were punished by being put on top of the refrigerator for time outs, being made to stand barefoot on metal crates, locked in basements or closets, forced to hold canned goods with outstretched arms, or by being sprayed with a hose when disobedient.
It's not simple to quickly determine the best case scenario for kids in these hard situations. Adoption isn't the only answer for a less-than-stellar home life - obviously. There are times when negative situations can be improved and lives can be changed. There are times when family members step up and take responsibility so that birth parents will still be in close proximity to their children. And there are times when adoption is a wonderful solution and a selfless gift.
It truly is a remarkable thing to witness a family being created through adoption, an opportunity to show that love knows no limits, including biology. A rough beginning does not automatically spell disaster for a child. A great adoption brings together the past and the future with an optimistic outlook, knowing that we all have amazing stories to tell about where we’ve been and where we’re going.