Thursday, August 9, 2012

Let's Fix This

Three years ago, my husband bought me a new computer, a Mac.  I was thrilled to have a new computer but reluctant to make the switch from my Dell computer.  Finally, I realized my Dell was dying, and if I wanted to save my files, pictures, and music, I had better start transferring it.  I had an external hard drive already, so I began the process of moving everything onto it.  It was a long, tedious process, organizing files, deciding what to keep, but finally I moved everything onto the external hard drive.  Then, my house was struck by lightning, and my Dell computer was a casualty.  I finally realized it was time to move all those files from my external hard drive onto the Mac.  Except, for some reason, I could not access any of the files, no matter which computer I used.  

Before I began the process, I had checked to make sure the Mac and the Dell would both communicate with the external hard drive.  When I saw that communication was possible, I began the process of transferring everything onto the hard drive.  I did not periodically move things from the hard drive onto the Mac because I already knew it would work, and I figured I could complete the final transfer later.  But now it was later, and my Mac was telling me the external drive was corrupted.  Every digital picture I had taken from 2002-2008 was on that corrupted drive, going nowhere.  To say it was discouraging would be an understatement.

Around that same time period, I had an experience that would greatly affect my life.  I had the opportunity to enter the Farmington office of LDS Family Services, the office that serves our area.  Since I had been involved in Families Supporting Adoption and had worked often with the outreach program (teaching the community, particularly within the LDS Church, about adoption and the services offered by LDS Family Services), as well as being a birthparent advocate for them, and since the Farmington office had actually been closed for several years, I hoped to make myself available to them, to do more of the same, if necessary.  Even though I was in the area for a completely different reason, I felt drawn there.  I thought I could help.

Instead, there was a couple in that office serving as church service missionaries who offered to help me.  They asked my story, and immediately told me that they believed it would be possible for me to communicate with my birth daughter's family once again.  This was something I secretly wished for, but I hadn't thought it was even realistic for so long, I had essentially given up on that hope.  Not only did they offer to help me, they promised to contact the woman who worked at LDS Family Services who could coordinate re-establishing communication with my birth daughter's family.  It was a miracle.

But if you have read my story, you know that soon after I was informed by one of the church service missionaries that after talking to Sandy, they understood that the agency did not have current contact information for the family.  Still, they encouraged me to write, promising that the agency would try to find the family and send the letter on.

I let it go.

I did the same thing with the external hard drive.  I tucked it away, hoping that there might be a way to fix it, to retrieve the thousands of photos stored within that useless black box, and that some day I could afford to pursue it.

It was my husband who found a way to retrieve the files from my hard drive, a couple years later, and I was thrilled to be able to load several old pictures onto my computer.  The process wasn't perfect, but at least they were not irretrievably lost.

It was also my husband who contacted LDS Family Services, unbeknownst to me.  He then convinced them  to seek out my birth daughter's family and ask them if they would be willing to re-open our correspondence.  They promised they would do all they could, but since they didn't have current contact information, they asked for his patience.  He persisted and finally his persistence paid off.  Communication would be possible.

Except it wasn't.

Like the external hard drive, the system was corrupted.

Let me tell you the rest of the story.  A few months ago, I attended a Birthmother's Day luncheon with one of my dear friends, my birth daughter's mother.  Several people were in attendance, birthmothers, adoptive families, extended families.  I saw a couple of my friends who are active in advocating for adoption.  One of them contacted me on Facebook soon after that and told me that she thought I (and my birth daughter and her family) would be an excellent candidate to participate in a panel on opening a closed adoption, for the upcoming Families Supporting Adoption Conference.  I definitely had mixed emotions about the whole thing, but finally I decided it could be a positive way for me to share my story.  I committed to do it.

Then I received an email from the facilitator for the panel.  He is a social worker at LDS Family Services and he wanted me to call him about the panel.  The number he left was familiar to me.  It was the Logan office.  Immediately, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It took me all day to get up the courage to call, but I finally did it.

You see, for several months last year I played a vicious game of phone tag with a person at that exact office, calling that exact number.  I would call and ask to talk to her, and she wouldn't be available.  I would leave a message; she would not return my calls.  There were so many negative emotions associated with all the promises she made--and didn't keep.  All the times she said she would do something, and then later told me she forgot.  Seeing that phone number dredged up all those awful emotions.

But I called anyway.


In his soothing social worker/counselor voice, here is this man, thanking me for being willing to participate, but in a round-about way telling me they don't want me.  It was awful.  I wanted to reach into the phone and strangle him.  You see, he told me, it would be best for everyone involved if I didn't share my story.  I never should have been able to contact the family but for "tender mercies," as he put it.  As the time went on in the brief conversation we shared, I came to fully comprehend what he was telling me and at that point, as graciously as I could without screaming my head off, I told him goodbye and hung up.  

Basically, he began by telling me that he couldn't allow me to share, in that setting (the FSA Conference), how LDS Family Services had helped me re-establish contact with my birth daughter's family, because that is against their agency policy.  Essentially, they WILL NOT contact either party, adoptive parents or birthparents, if the adoption occurred during the closed era, because, according to him, they have to follow the policy that was in place then.  It doesn't matter that LDS Family Services promotes open adoptions now.  It doesn't matter that the relinquishment papers that I signed clearly state that "Future legislation may make it possible for children relinquished for adoption to obtain knowledge regarding their birth parents".  You better believe that was a lifeline for me.  I hope you understand regardless of how "closed" the adoption was, I always hoped the family and I could renew the close relationship I believed we shared.

But my point is you must understand how horrified I became as I realized that the whole time I had been communicating with Sandy at LDS Family Services about trying to contact the family, I had been lied to over and over again.  Not once did she tell me, "I am sorry.  I cannot help you.  It is against agency policy."  As a matter of fact, it was people from LDS Family Services (including Sandy) who initially gave me hope.  And the reason I never thought there would be any problem with LDS Family Services contacting the family to let them know there was a letter waiting for them was because, as I understood it, that was how their policy worked in the past.  If a letter was requested, it would be forwarded.

But I see now how this policy could be interpreted differently:

I don't agree with the way they have interpreted the policy.  As a matter of fact, when the family and I initially communicated, there never was a time either party demanded letters of the other.  We just continued to write, and the letters continued to be forwarded.  So, I always just assumed it could continue that way.  Now I understand why they refused to send a letter to them when she was five.  Because that was how they chose to interpret the policy.  Essentially, they made an exception for me the one time.

I was not going to rant.  That is not the point of my post here.  My point is how disappointed I was to discover that I had been misled last year.  Sandy never had any intention of helping me.  She even had promised to add my name to the agency adoption registry, so that if my birth daughter or her family ever registered as well, they could match us up.  It turns out, per my conversation with Mr. Soothing Social Worker, that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN LDS FAMILY SERVICES ADOPTION REGISTRY and never will be.  They were thinking about it but changed their minds.  All along last year, I believed that Sandy was simply incompetent.  It turns out that she and the agency would never have sent that package along, even with the address and everything, without a specific request from the family who until I CONTACTED THEM had no idea whatsoever that the package even existed.  The whole time she was telling me she would look for them; in fact, per agency policy, her hands were tied.  I wish she would have been honest with me.  I wish she would have been honest with the family.  She never told them I wanted to write to them.  They were led to believe I was asking for an update from them, causing them and me all kinds of unnecessary anxiety.

Essentially, even though my blood was boiling about how I had been wronged, as I spoke to the panel facilitator,  I offered to talk about the reunion with the family without including any details about how it occurred.  I still felt like I could contribute something worthwhile to the panel.  It could even be healing for me to focus on the positive things that have happened because of this miraculous experience.  But as the conversation continued, I was told, "Please come to the conference.  Attend the class.  We would love to have you there as an audience member.  Just don't share any details of your story."

It has been several years since I have been told it is not appropriate to share my adoption testimony.  It didn't feel good then and it doesn't feel good now.  And I cannot help but feel that it isn't right.  I am not attending the Families Supporting Adoption Conference this weekend.  There is still a bad taste in my mouth about how that all went down.  And while I would NEVER be one to stand in a setting like that and say "Hey, you need to hear the WHOLE story about how LDS Family Services operates. . ." I will not stay silent about what has happened to me.

I do not agree with the policy LDS Family Services, in Logan, at least--I don't know if it is across the whole agency nationwide--is using now regarding communication between parties involved in closed adoption from years ago.  I believe that the policy followed in the past is open to interpretation, besides the fact that there should be more flexibility regarding changing policies over time.  Families who adopted should have been prepared for the possibility that a birth mother might some day want communication with the family again, especially since we were allowed to correspond briefly in the past.  Birth mothers and fathers should have been prepared for the fact that our children might some day seek us out.  All along, I have believed that LDS Family Services could be our intermediary to facilitate reunion.  I was wrong.  It wasn't one worker's incompetence who stood in my way, or anyone else's way, it is the agency policy currently followed there regarding past closed adoptions.

Just as the external hard drive was supposed to be a means to transfer information from one conduit to another and it failed, the system in place at LDS Family Services is defective.  While it could be a safe, positive way to enable both parties to find each other again, as it stands now, the system is broken.  I intend to write a letter detailing my experiences and my opinions and send it to every LDS Family Services office in the country.  I believe there are ways the agency could reach out to adoptive families and birth families in a non-threatening way to allow them to choose for themselves if they want to reopen communication.  If there is anyone out there who has opinions on this, please share with me.  I need all the help I can get.  I know it is terribly unrealistic that anything will happen to change the way things are done now, but I feel that I have to try.  

It just isn't right.


Maryann said...

I tried to leave a comment, but it was way too long, so I emailed you instead :) Thanks for posting this.

Km said...

I don't have any advice or words of wisdom but I just wanted you to know that I offer you my prayers, thoughts and love from here in Indiana! I am not at all familiar with LDS adoptions, but I am so terribly sorry you have had to endure such heartache. I appreciate you sharing your personal and authentic stories about adoption.

Dawn said...

It's very disconcerting to hear of your experiences and being blatantly misled. I'm thankful that adoption practices are moving away from closed adoptions.

I'm glad you are intent on writing to the other LDS agencies and trying to make a dent in policy. You have my support. Birthmothers should be honored, cherished and cared for like soldiers who come home from war. You are awesome.