Thursday, November 3, 2011

Unnecessary Regret

 I like to say that I believe regret is a wasted emotion.  It is only useful if you can turn it into resolve.  I have never regretted the decision I made to place my baby girl for adoption, all those years ago.  I knew it was the right thing.  I knew she belonged with the family I chose, the family I was guided to through prayer.  I have suffered, I have grieved, but I did not ever question if it could have been different, or wonder how it would be if she had stayed with me.  I knew without a doubt she was where she belonged.  I still believe that absolutely.

The first year of her life was a very difficult time for me.  I was in a tailspin of despair and most of the time I didn't even recognize it.  I engaged in some pretty self-destructive behaviors.  But at the same time, I was trying really hard to make the decision to place mean something more.  I wanted to succeed, in my schooling, in my relationships.  I wanted to prove to her that she truly had blessed me through her brief visit into my life.

One thing that kept me going was the updates I received from her family.  They were such a gift to me.  And often times, they recognized my struggles even when I didn't.  They wanted good things for me.  They loved me.  This was a great consolation for the sadness I was feeling then.

One thing I do regret about my adoption experience is that I did not utilize the free counseling that was supposed to be available to me through LDS Social Services.  When I moved back home to Blanding, it just seemed too hard to access the services.  I think I got forgotten somewhat by the agency I had worked with in Logan, because I was no longer regularly attending counseling and birthmother group meetings.  But as I said, it is useless to regret that. Instead, I am resolved to encourage other women who choose an adoption plan to seek the counseling that is available to them, and make it work for you.  Also, I would encourage adoptive parents to advocate for your children's birthmothers.  Do everything you can to ensure that they are receiving the services they need.  Choosing an adoption plan is never easy, but there are healthy ways to alleviate the pain, with help.

I regret that I didn't take the opportunity to communicate with others who had experienced or were considering making an adoption plan.  I found it was healthy for me to share my testimony of adoption, especially relating to my own experience, but I also discovered that my story was not always welcomed by those with whom I shared.  I think also, in a lot of ways, it would have been beneficial for me to hear similarities from others.  I can't change that now.  But, for that reason it is even more important to me that I share what I can with others like myself.  It has been such a blessing for me recently to be able to share the grief and the joys of being a birthmother with other birthmothers.

There have been times over the years that I have regretted not making a stand about wanting to have more communication with my birth daughter's family.  In the first couple of years, as time went on, I was kind of discouraged by the agency from writing too often.  Although I did not have regular contact with the agency, being hundreds of miles away, there were a few times I was reminded not to expect too much, to let them have their space, not to demand letters.  I never demanded letters, but I liked being able to write to them.  My own life got busier as I married and had children of my own, but I enjoyed believing that as long as her family was willing, I could write to them at any time.  That was the policy I had been told.  A few years had passed since we communicated when I decided I would like to send them a letter, let them see how well my life was going.

It sort of blindsided me, the rejection I encountered with LDS Family Services when I wanted to send her family a letter around the time she turned five.  I was hurt and confused.  But I wasn't someone who enjoys conflict, so after they let me have that one letter, I never fought with them again for that privilege.  I do regret not standing up for myself.  I understood they were busy taking care of current expectant parents there, so I was not a priority, but I wish I would have made myself more important to them.  I wish I could have somehow communicated to LDS Family Services that I still mattered, as a birthmother, that I still needed their help, whether it was through counseling or helping me to maintain communication with my birth daughter's family.  I realize now I need to make LDS Family Services more aware of how they take care of the birthmothers who have passed through their system.  Today, I can help them to see that their services are so vitally important and should never end in the short time after placement.

One of my current regrets is that something happened within LDS Family Services that they did not keep records for myself or my birth daughter's adoptive family.  I am starting to realize this has probably happened to other birthmothers and their corresponding adoptive families.  It is a loss of trust. I believe if I were an adoptive parent, I would expect that some day if my child wanted to know more about her birth parents, I could simply go back to LDS Family Services and request the information they saved there.  They might not have all the information, but surely they would have something I could start with.  I know not all adoptive families seek out their children's birth families, but if they wanted to wouldn't the first place they would go be their adoption agency?  I know this is regretting something I had absolutely no control over.  Still, I regret that the agency I love and promote at some point did not recognize the value of keeping proper records.  I see that this is something I will need to try to help remedy as well.

The least I can do is try to inform birth parents and adoptive parents that the records might not be there now.  They will need to be proactive, register with the LDS Family Services registry, as well as state and national adoption registry.  There is sometimes an assumption that the information will be there if ever there is a reason to search for it, but I have discovered this is very rarely the case.  The unfortunate thing in my situation is the family never even moved, as I had been told.  This is another aspect of my experience with LDS Family Service that has damaged my faith in them.  Was there any truth in what they said when they told me the family had moved, or was that just a line they used to hide the fact that they had not saved the records?

I still love LDS Family Services.  I absolutely believe in the value of the services they provide, both to birth parents and adoptive families.  I am proud to be a member of Families Supporting Adoption.  I choose not to be a bitter birth parent, someone made miserable by all the injustices that have happened to her.

I need you to know about those injustices, though.  Not to make you angry and say things like adoption is broken, but to encourage a dialogue where we discuss what we can do to make the system better.  You see the pictures of the flowers I have included with this post?  They look beautiful, don't they?  Look closer.  Yes, they are dead, or mostly dead.  Those flowers represent my hopes of being able to communicate with the adoptive family.  When I first discovered I would be able to write to them again, those dormant dreams of mine became vibrantly alive again, just like these flowers sent to me by my husband.

Those dreams were crushed, and I moved closer to being the bitter person I did not want to be when I learned that communication would not happen after all.  I am not going to go into all the details.  I sort of already have.  And I am not going to link to those posts either.  You can click on the label "Being a birthmother" if you want to read more about that.  Essentially what happened is this:  I was told I could write to the family but they had moved, so the agency did not have a way to contact them.  I was told the agency would try to locate the family for me and then send my letters to them.  I did not want to write letters that might not ever go anywhere.  Then, I was told the family had been located and the mother said they were open to corresponding again, maybe even meeting.  I spent a difficult two months composing letters to her family and her.  I mailed them and waited for a response. And waited.  And waited.  Anything would have been nice, even just a call from the agency letting me know the family had received the letters.  There was no communication, no information of any kind from LDS Family Services.

My husband called seeking to know the status of the letters I had sent.  He was told the letters were never sent to the family; the mother had changed her mind.  Later, I learned Sandy at LDS Family Services had called her using a phone number she had found through an internet search, but she hadn't saved the number and couldn't find it later.  Sandy didn't have a way to call the mother back, and she didn't have an address to send my things.  Sandy had known the mother was not ready to communicate, but she did not tell me.  If she had told me then, I could have avoided the painful process of writing those letters and then agonizingly waiting for a response.

If Sandy had handled things better, I could have avoided resenting my birth daughter's parents.  I could have avoided the anguish of wondering why they didn't care about me anymore.  I would not have been imagining terrible things about them, grieving the loss of what I had believed had been a beautiful relationship simply severed by unfortunate circumstances out of our control.  I started to imagine that remembered relationship had not been real, that I had attributed characteristics and qualities to those people that did not exist.  I began to create a barrier in my own mind.  I began to be afraid of her family.  I began to believe that they were afraid of me.  I felt betrayed by them.  Why didn't they remember me?

It was the neglect of workers at LDS Family Services that created this cycle of pain for me.  Once I believed corresponding with the family through the agency was no longer an option, I wanted to at least cover my other options.  Sandy offered to send me the paperwork to register with the Utah State Adoption Registry, but for two months I believed the paperwork was coming in the mail and it never did.  I finally received it from her hands when I drove to Logan to try to show her I was a real person who needed her help.  Trying to reach her by phone was a nightmare, and I started to become the psycho stalker, leaving messages that were never returned, calling several times a day.  I believe the secretaries there really started to dread my calls.  I just wanted her to call me back.

It all came to a head when a friend of mine emailed me and said he thought he may have found something on the internet.  When I requested the information, I followed the links he provided, and there they were!  It was a miracle!  Immediately, I called my husband and told him.  He was out of town, but he had flowers delivered to me.  "Congratulations!" the card said.  It was an answer to prayers!  I called Sandy, and when I actually reached her and not her voice mail, I gave her the family's contact information.

And then nothing happened.

The flowers started to wilt.  I refused to throw them away.  This was supposed to be a good thing, finding the family, but now I just felt more miserable.  I sank into a deep depression.  Sandy did not return my calls.  I felt particularly foolish and annoying, calling all the time.  No, I did not want to leave another voice mail.  Does she ever even check her voice mail?  I started to think awful, horrible things about the family.  I felt betrayed.  Maybe they never really cared about me.  I am not going to get specific, but I am ashamed to admit I thought many unkind things.  I just couldn't understand why they would not respond.

And then I realized maybe Sandy still had not even called them.

I finally left a voice mail requesting she send the letters back to me.  My emotions were too unhealthy.  I needed to try something different, maybe contact the family another way.  I wasn't ready to let it go completely yet, but I knew I needed to get off the emotional roller coaster I was riding via LDS Family Services.

The message was left on a Friday.  I finally threw out the dead flowers.  Monday, during cub scouts, I realized there was a message on my voice mail.  I didn't recognize the number, but I decided to listen to it right then.  When you get a message like that, that makes you want to break down into grateful tears, you don't want to be in the middle of cub scouts.  Sandy had just gotten off the phone with my birth daughter's mom, who was EXCITED to write to me, and send me pictures.  The rest of the message was kind of weird, but the gist of it was there was absolutely reason to hope again.  The family really did want to communicate with me!

I regret the bad feelings I had towards the family.  I love them.  I really do.  There were so many misunderstandings all the way around, courtesy of LDS Family Services.  The family thought I was requesting an update, not the other way around.  They had no idea LDS Family Services did not have their contact information.  They knew nothing about the letters I had written to them.  They were not rejecting me, not afraid of me.  They had been thinking about me often these last few months.

The parents and I have had some contact via the internet since Sandy spoke with them.  I have been eager for them to tell me once they received the package I sent.  As of the end of last week, they told me they had not yet received it.  I called Sandy on Monday and she said she had sent it; then, she realized it was still sitting there on her desk.  I sincerely pray every day with all my heart that the other people who are currently being served by LDS Family Services in Logan are being better taken care of than I have been.  I would hate to regret not saying anything and having someone else suffer because of my silence.

Yes, I am resolved to document this experience and send it to someone at LDS Family Services, so they can be aware of the things they can do to improve how they serve their clients, especially other birthmothers.  I support LDS Family Services and their mission to help bring families together.  In explaining these things, I really hope I can help others avoid unnecessary regret.

Post Edit:  I just realized I did not mention that I found out last night the family did receive my letters!  I didn't mean to leave that out.  And yes, I was prepared to drive all the way to Logan (or send a family member in there) to take those letters off Sandy's desk and get them sent in the mail.

There are a few more ways I feel like I was wronged in how my case has been handled by LDS Family Services, but it is not necessary to detail them here.  I do believe it is necessary to let people know what has happened, though.  If anyone else out there has had a similarly frustrating experience, not just with Sandy in Logan, but anywhere, please let me know.  Like I said, I am not trying to bring the agency down.  I just think it would be good for them to know what they could do to improve the experience for others.  Thanks!

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