by Beth Kozan
Note from the author: I wrote to an adoptee whose online column had raised issues about her early life.
I’m awake at 3 a.m., unable to sleep. I keep remembering your thoughts as an adoptee about the missing first 10 weeks of your life. “Was I just shoved aside and left to cry myself to sleep?” you wondered.
In 2015, when I wrote my first adoption book, this was the dedication:
This book is dedicated to the many foster homes and receiving home parents I worked with, in Tucson and metro Phoenix, Arizona. Their unsung devotion to the babies and toddlers they kept – for hours, days or months while important decisions were made – are appreciated.
A number of the adults placed as babies had no information about where they were until their parents received them at 10 days old or two months old or six weeks old; even their parents were not told. Without true information about where they were before placement, they conjured up reasons for the delay. They wondered, Did I cry too much? Was I ugly looking and she didn’t want me? What did I do wrong that she didn’t keep me?
I researched their cases, and almost always I learned their relinquishment to the agency was signed at the standard three days (72 hours), as determined by Arizona law. But why had they remained in foster care beyond the relinquishment? I wondered.
It was time to ask Delores Hartman, the foster mom in Tucson who had outlasted all other foster mothers from the olden days, what the reason was that babies placed in the 60s were asking why their placements may have taken differing amounts of time.
Mrs. Hartman told me: “We had to have a medical release from the pediatrician. The doctors wanted the issues with formula worked out. Babies who were ‘spitters’ might need to be on a different formula, so we would try another formula till the baby was satisfied and sleeping through the night. The doctors wanted the newborn baby rash gone, the pimples on their noses cleared up – then the new parents could love them more easily!”
I understood from my current cases that there were sometimes legal issues that delayed a placement: trying to find a birth father, give him notice that his child was going to be placed for adoption, and receive his input. But what about the children placed before 1979, the year of the Supreme Court case (Stanley v. Illinois) that gave unmarried fathers legal rights to their children?
Sometimes, because of the birth family’s religion, we needed to turn to another agency to find a family that “matched.” When I began adoption work in 1979, one of the relinquishment documents we had mothers sign was a Religious Waiver. Unless she signed this waiver, we had to place her baby with parents of the same religion as she professed: a Catholic baby with a Catholic family; a Protestant baby with a Protestant family; a Jewish baby with a Jewish family. (That was it for the faiths we worked with in 1979 in Arizona.)
Ethnicity was another reason we sometimes needed to reach outside of our pool of families. We thought it best if a Hispanic or Black baby, even mixed race, grew up within a family where they would look as if they “fit in.” We began looking for an ethnically matching family before the baby was born. There were quarterly meetings of all the agencies in Arizona; if we had an ethnically mixed baby, we would start looking for a family outside of the agency at an early stage.
Please don’t think you missed out on love during those 10 weeks!
You were probably in a foster family (also called a cradle family or receiving home). More than likely, there was a big sister who changed a diaper or a daddy who came home from work and took a turn rocking the newest addition to the family. You were taken to church when the family went, and the congregation knew you were the latest in the number of temporary children your receiving home family had. That family grieved when you left.
Another long-term foster family I worked with in the Phoenix area were Nancy and Gary, who spoke openly about the “baby hunger” that could only be filled when a new temporary placement came. Nancy had pictures of the more than 100 babies she raised for whatever time she was needed – a few hours, a few days, a few months – before the permanent family was found. I worked with a baby who had to have surgery for an inguinal hernia before he was discharged from the hospital. Nancy went to the hospital every day and night and fed him and soothed him while he slept. He stayed at their house until his stitches healed and there was less danger of infection.
It wasn’t anything wrong with you or with the agency that acted in (what was believed to be) your best interest. We just didn’t have all the information that we needed to help you grow.
Remember from psychology class the tabula rosa theory? The idea that each baby was a “blank slate” and didn’t know anything and wouldn’t remember? We know better now, but when I started my career in 1979, it was still believed that babies didn’t participate emotionally until they were old enough actively to respond to their environment.
Ask your agency for missing information. They might not give it to you, but a few details might be available to help you to find out where you were for those 10 ten weeks.
Beth Kozan, author of Adoption: More Than by Chance
Beth Kozan is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Helping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.