As we look to the 100th year of the LSS Adoption program, I’m reflecting on all that I have learned from my time at LSS. A lot has changed since those first days of the “Lutheran Children’s Home Finding Society of South Dakota” in 1920. And in a way, things have almost come full circle. Back then, when a child needed a home, often the adopting parents knew the child’s name and even who the birth parents were. Some even kept in touch. The 1940s through the 1980s laws changed to eliminate stigmas, and although well intentioned, weren’t always in everyone’s best interest. One of those changes was sealing records of original identity from the adoptees themselves and requiring them to obtain a court order to find out who they were. Since open adoption became the norm some 25-30 years ago, things look almost the same as they did in 1920, but with a few larger differences.
Today, fewer infants are being adopted, as the birth rate has declined (as have abortion rates), birth fathers are more involved in the decision to parent, being a single parent is no longer stigmatized, and there are fewer international adoptions. More children are being placed with a relative, or kinship placement. Some birth parents are opting for guardianship plans. And those older adoptees in closed adoptions have discovered that finding birth family is easier now that over 26 million people have used DNA services such as Ancestry DNA or 23andme.
But the most important thing I have learned is this: Everyone involved in adoption needs to be aware of the seven core issues of adoption – grief, loss, rejection/ abandonment, mastery/control, guilt/shame, intimacy/trust, and identity. Lacking knowledge of these issues and not having support systems understanding these issues can leave people feeling ambiguous grief. No adoptee should ever remember the day they found out they were adopted. Adoptees should learn to understand what it means to be adopted early, rather than finding out this information as teens or adults and not feeling like they have a trust-base to go to in order to feel understood and accepted. Adoption is more than just bringing home a baby to love. It’s about loving the adoptee enough to incorporate their birth family story into their upbringing and talking about it, so they don’t struggle with feelings of rejection.
I have talked to older adoptees who have waited until their adoptive parents passed away before inquiring about their families of birth. Adoptees can be very loyal to their adoptive parents, so much so, that when feeling curious about their birth family and not feeling comfortable talking about it, that deafening silence can lead to self rejection. Many years ago, often it was only when adoptive teens were struggling that adoptive parents would inquire about the mental health or drug and alcohol use of birth parents, rather than looking at the actual issues adoptees were struggling with and acknowledging them.
I’ve learned that birth parents facing the decision to parent or place for adoption need to have people in their lives who support their decision fully because the need for that support is ongoing. I have talked to birth mothers who placed a child 50-60 years ago and told absolutely no one, living all those years with painful hidden grief. But even birth moms who are able to watch their children grow in an open adoption can struggle with grief and loss without support and acceptance.
As we look to the future of adoption, what will change? Economic, social, and political factors are influencing the number of children available for adoption. It seems interest in adoption from foster care is gaining momentum as fewer newborns are available. Throughout all these changes, it’s important for birth parents and adoptive parents to be educated on the lifelong issues of adoption and best practices to make adoption the best for all parties involved. As LSS prepares to enter its 100th Anniversary year of celebration, a new vision statement was recently incorporated—All people in South Dakota will be healthy, safe and accepted. Whatever the future holds, we will continue to work to keep South Dakotans healthy, safe and accepted.
For more information on Adoption or Pregnancy Counseling, please contact LSS at 605-221-2346 or 888-201-5061.
Submitted by Joyce Twite, Adoption Program Admin. Support Specialist/ Pregnancy Counselor