December 27, 2010
When I worked as a child welfare worker, I facilitated many adoptions. It was the upside to a job that that often seemed bleak and challenging. Children that had suffered such abuse and neglect were legally and emotionally free to find peace with a new family. While adoptive parents exuded joy, I always felt adoption was indicative of a failed system. Child welfare failed, courts failed, service providers failed and parents failed. I always felt a little sad for the loss of the biological family.
One day, a case came across my desk that changed that way I think about adoption. A baby girl was born in prison to a very young mother. The mother was herself the product of abuse and neglect and the victim of much domestic violence. She had no prenatal care and her child was born with significant special needs. The child was immediately placed with a fabulous foster family that had already adopted several special needs children but none with needs as great as this child. Visiting the mother in prison, I advised her that she could, upon release, work toward having her child placed with her. Her lack of prenatal care was in all likelihood not to blame for the child’s congenital birth defect. The mother was adamant that she sign voluntary consents to terminate her parental rights and give the foster parents the opportunity to adopt. I counseled her regarding her rights and stated that perhaps she needed to wait a little to make such a huge decision. The mother signed and the baby was adopted by her foster family.
A year later, I was being seated in a restaurant when a waitress approached and asked if my name was Elizabeth Nelson. As a child protection worker, this question was often followed by expletives and accusations, but I admitted that this was my name as I glanced around seeking a name tag that might give me a clue as to the woman’s identity. The waitress grabbed me and hugged me and cried that she was so thankful that I found a family to adopt her child with the significant special needs. She stated that she was a few months out of prison, had an apartment and had been able to maintain her job. She further stated that she would not have been able to get her life together with her child and she feared that her child would not have gotten the medical care and advocacy that the adoptive family was able to provide. She reiterated how grateful she was for her decision and for the decision of the foster family to adopt.
It was then that it occurred to me that adoption was not necessarily indicative of the failure of a flawed system, but a gift to both the foster family and to the biological mother. A family was able to nurture and care for a child in need and a troubled young woman was given a second chance through her soul searching over her daughter’s fate. Both women found strength that they did not know they had. There was no failure here; events occurred as they were meant to occur.
Another year later, I watched as both the adoptive mother and the biological mother clutched each other in grief at the baby’s funeral. It was clear that the baby had touched both mother’s in such a vital way. I was reminded again then and still often think about, the great gift that each of these women had given and received. It changed my perspective regarding adoption. It is a gift to be honored, revered and cherished.