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Preschooler wants to know birth story - incest

Sept 2011

We have an adopted child who wants to know more information about her adoption story. Her biological parents are half siblings. They have the same mother but different fathers. They were both underage when the pregnancy occured. There has been speculation that the two were together multiple times and also speculation that the decision to have intercourse was not mutual. We don't know the truth. We do know that this child was born through incest. Anyone have advice on how to talk about this with our child at various age appropriate levels? She is currently preschool age. Concerned Parent


I also have a preschooler whose birth family story has information that is not age-appropriate for now. In our conversations, I say that his birth family was not ready to take care of a baby. I convey what I know about how much they cared about my kid and also that they were having some grownup problems to solve. Pact has good workshops on talking with young children about adoption, and a good booklist as well with books for children and adults. Check them out. Adoptive mom
Wow! What a difficult story (and what a question to start the newsletter with!). I'm an adoptive mom as well, and what I can tell you is that there are often painful stories behind an adoption.

First of all, you should arm yourself with knowledge: about incest, about developmental phases in children's comprension of adoption. You could contact FAIR or Resolve for information and referrals. PACT is an organizaton for transracial adoption. Second: know that you don't have to bring up any of the sad, sordid details until your child is much much older. This will buy you some time both to prepare for the conversation and to get to know your child as she grows and evolves into an adult. It may be that it never comes up--it depends on the kid and what kind of questions she asks about her history.

A rule of thumb is to let the child drive the conversation. The incest part is hard, but my understanding is that in some circumstances (the sibs don't go up together) it's acually not pathology. There's a lot of information out there, you will have to track it down. In the mean time, just follow her lead and start w/ the basics: babies are born from a mommy's tummy; men give the sperm; different families can look different and are formed differently; a kid can have 2 mommies and one daddy, etc. Good luck. It will be hard, but with preparation, not as awful as you think. A-mom


When we adopted our child with a difficult back story, we were told to always remember that her birth and adoption story belongs to her. That means she needs to know all of it including the messy parts. But that also means she gets to decide who knows all of her story. So we chose to be careful about the timing of what we shared with her since she needed to be capable of determining if she preferred to keep a portion of her story private or not. When she was in preschool and elementary school, we were concerned that she might innocently share parts of her story with friends, relatives or anyone who asked, even though later in life she may wish those areas to be private or only shared within intimate relationships. So we deliberately did not include those facts when she was small. Now, as a freshman in high school she knows everything including the advice that her story belongs solely to her and doesn't need to shared unless she chooses. So far, the more difficult details of her story is a family story. (Although we're wise enough to know that those details might spread.)

In addition to what you share with your child, be careful what you share with others, including relatives or close friends. Can you be positive they will keep information confidential, including from your child? How do you think your child would feel if he/she knew others had details of his/her story that your child would rather keep private? How do you think your child might react if your child realizes that before he/she knew parts of his/her story all of it was known to certain relatives or non-family adults? If her story is common knowledge among your relatives or friends (even just a few) and you don't want one of them (or their kids or their acquaintances) to inadvertently inform your child of facts you have not yet shared, you're going to have share them first even if you think your child is too young to have his/her full story. If that's the case, I suggest you get some advice on what to say from an adoption professional or counselor who specializes in adoption.

We told even our closest friends and relatives only our child's general adoption story. That satisfied almost everybody. Some people--a few close to us, some just nosy strangers--tried to speculate more out of us. We just declined to discuss it even if they got bent out of shape. And some people will get very pushy. So be ready with the way you will deflect that curiosity.


Do not tell her or anyone else about her biological parents being siblings. It's not something that she needs to know and it is something that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Simply tell her that her biological parents were young and unwilling or unable to keep her but wanted her to find a forever family to love her and to raise her and that you are now her real parents. If you are spiritual, tell her that God brought you together and matched you as a family. If you're not, just tell her how happy you are that the agency matched you. I have two adopted children and I know that children need to feel good about their background. Consider what matters, and in my opinion what matters is that she feels loved and proud of who she is. Concerned Adoptive mom

Medi-Cal for out-of-state birth mother?

March 2010

Hello, We are in the process of adopting a baby. The birthmother is out of state but we would like for her to give birth in California. Does anybody know if she is elgible for Medi-Cal in a public health hospital here in California? Thanks! Heather


Call the medical office at Highland Hospital and ASK them what their policies are regarding births and financing... doctor's wife
hello, Is the birth mother eligible for medicaid in her state? If she is, then the state will have rules about what it pays for in terms of out of state coverage. California's rules for medicaid generally require someone is a resident or intends to become one. I think that you are way in over your head, based on the question--there is a ton of arcane stuff that has to happen to get medi-cal in California. Plus, it is a program designed for very very poor and disabled people, that is already under tremendous strain to provide care for Californians. using it to fund your adopted child's birth so that it can happen in California is not the purpose of the program, and I think you would have to represent that the mother intends to move here, i.e. lie, in order to get it going. I think you would be better off (and it would be easier, legal) going to her state for the birth. all that being said, here is a website and a number that you can check out. http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/medi-cal/eligibility/Pages/PE_Info_women.aspx 1-800-824-0088 not a great idea
One of the responders said MediCal is meant for those intending to be permanent CA residents. I've wondered about eligibility for MediCal for pregnancy care, and question this. I am in SoCal right now working in an FQHC community health clinic in a large city that serves mostly Asian, Philipino, and Hispanic women, mostly recent immigrants. There are women who show up here in their 2nd trimester to begin prenatal care and they have just come within the past few weeks from their country of origin - usually the Philippines, Thailand, &c; one woman actually is from Bangladesh and flew here from a European country, where her husband is a student. They all apply for MediCal. They all come here to have their baby so it is a US citizen. They tell me they plan to return to their country afterwards. They are here on tourist visas and the like, and claim to have family or friends they are staying with. Now I have little issue with women who pay for airfare to come here and have their anchor babies, but they should pay for the medical care themselves. If these women can get MediCal, I don't see why your birth mother can't get it. At least she is a US citizen! As broke as the state of CA is there should be recourse for this kind of thing, but does not seem to be. anonymous

Accepting a card from birth-father to adopted son

August 2005

My 10 year old adopted son has been living with us for a little over 2 years now (since he was 7). We have explained all of his history even though he cannot remember any of it; he lived in foster care from ages 3-7. We are in contact with his birth- sister that we found (age 33) and it is positive. She is still in touch with the birth-father but our son is not. My question is that his birth-sister recently gave us a greeting card from the birth-father to our son. Should we give it to him? It is short and it says he thinks about him everyday and ends with ''your dad always...''

If we don't give it to him, it is likely he'll find out about it in the future. Will he resent us when he gets older? If we do give it to him, will he feel confused? He once said to us that if he ever got something from his birth-father he would frame it. He seems to hold his birth-father on a pedestal although he is far from belonging there, but we would never voice that. Are their any adopted adults who can shed light on this subject? Archives gave me a PACT website where I also sent this question. Help! anon


I'm the parent of a son and daughter adopted at birth, so our situation is different from yours. Your note brought to mind my son's experience. His birthmother was out of touch with our family until my son was in his mid-teens. She and I had corresponded sporadically, but she had sent nothing to him. Then, one November, we received a large packet with a letter for him, pictures of his birth half-siblings (younger than he), a tape of his half-birth-sister's confirmation at her church. My son got the mail before I got home, and opened the whole packet. He felt SO good to get that package. We could just see the warmth radiating from him. I think knowing he mattered to his birthmother was just very important to him. Now at 20, they have some correspondence by e-mail; I'm not sure how much, but I know it's important to him. None of this has made our ties weaker. In fact, the same day he received that packet, he went holiday shopping for OUR family, and bought the most thoughtful individualized gifts for each member of his adoptive family that anyone could imagine. He values both. I think if you can show your son that his birthfather thinks of him and that you are confident enough to know that love shared is doubled, not halved, then all of you will benefit. But I'll be interested to hear how adoptees feel about all this. Good luck. Another mother
Allowing him access to his mail is not the same thing as allowing him physical access. Should you censor his mail, I think he will really resent you once he discovers it.

Another thing you should do is be as factual about the birth father as possible, while staying neutral. One age-appropriate thing to say is that while the B-father undoubtedly loves him, he is not perfect. He is human like everyone else and has his own set of flaws and imperfections. This won't entirely dissuade him from keeping the B-F on the pedestal, but gentle remind him of this from time to time.

Next, I don't think it is fair that you prevent him from his own growth as a person. With that will surely come a dejected feeling somewhere down the line when he learns his b-f is not perfect. This is part of life, and while it may pain you to see your little guy have to feel any hurt, you owe it to him to let him have life.

If there is a way you can contact the b-f, even if it needs to be done through the liaison, I would do so. Let him know you welcome occasional cards (Xmas, bday), and explain the impact of him trying to be in the boy's life on a regular basis. Let him know your son needs consistency and stability, and that is why you came into his life. Somehow you have to get across, without sounding judgmental, that you have his son for a reason, and that the b-f still has a ways to go. That is touchy, I know, but it has to be said some way. Encourage him to become the best person he can be so that someday, he may be able to establish a real relationship with the child he passed his genes to. Each of you has your roles. None is less than the other, but it's important to note that if the boy gets false hope, it could crush him. (He'll get through it - but this is what you convey to the b-f). anon


Last year, I took my then 10 year old daughter, adopted at birth, to another state to visit her birthmother. Previously, my daughter had often expressed interest in meeting her birthmother and even mentioned that she was considering changing her last name to that of birthmother's. There had never been any contact between them, although I had on my own initiative been sending the birthmother a short letter and some photos every year at my daughter's birthday. We three had dinner together and a good conversation, including my daughter having me ask the biggest question on her mind: why her birthmother hadn't kept her but had kept an older and younger sibling. All in all, that was a positive experience for my daughter and me--I think and hope the same could be said for the birthmother. But the point of all this is that in the 18 months since that meeting, my daughter has referred several times to specific items in the conversation we had at our meeting, but shown no intere! st in following up with a letter o son. -Another adoptive mother
First of all, as the adoptive mom of three children, I think you are fooling yourself when you state that your son ''does not remember'' time before he was with you. The child was 7 years old when he came to you. He may not be able to express to you things about his life beforehand, but I can assure you he remembers. Recent scientific studies have proven that even in children adopted at very young ages (even less than a year) they have memory of things that happened before, in a chemical sense, stored in their brains. I don't mean to sound preachy, but please take the time to educate yourself about the issues faced by children adopted at an older age.

Now to your question, I would think that you must give the card to him. Though he never had a relationship with the birthfather, the birthfather exists, he is a real person and is part of your son's life. I admit that it may be a difficult and painful conversation, but you do not have the right to withhold this from him. anon


I was adopted at birth and am now 33 years old. I have had no contact from my biological parents and never wanted any. Obviously my situation was very different from your son's but here's my opinion; don't give him the card. Keep it until he is older and will understand why you didn't give it to him, which is that it will confuse him and feed fantasies he probably will have about his father coming to ''rescue'' him from you when you are ''mean'' to him, like when you have to set down normal rules and/or refuse him a toy or a car or a later curfew, etc. He is not old enough to understand why his birth father is not a good role model, but when he is he will also understand why you chose to keep him from having contact with your son. This is a really hard situation, you want him to have as much support as possible and as much positive family as possible, but in this case he needs you to protect him from an outsider, which is what bio dad is, who may confuse him at least and may undermine your family unit at worst. Of course you know your son best and should follow your instincts about what ! is best for your whole family. Good luck. Elizabeth
I don't have the experience you're looking for, but my gut instinct is that you should 1) reassure yourselves that your son knows that you are the parents, 2) don't worry about the fact that he puts his biological father on a pedastal. It's probably important for his self-esteem, and when he is older he can figure out the less than ideal parts of his father; 3)tell him that his sister gave you the card for his dad and you'd like to give it to him. Particularly given that this kid has been through the foster-care system, he probably will have continued questions about who he is and where he came from, and he needs to know that everybody loves him. There really can't be harm in knowing that more people love him, even if they can't be with him and you have the responsibility for caring for the child. You can explain that his bio-dad couldn't care for him adequately but that he does think about him. That would be a good thing for the kid to know, and good of you to pass that on. Remember that we all identify with our parents when we are young, even when our parents are horrible. It's part of developing self-image and self-esteem, and prepares the way for healthy development of an individual when they find out the ways they are different from a parent.
I'm adopted and I say by all means give the card to your son. If he finds out later that you kept it from him he will most likely be resentful. The only exception I can imagine is if the content was somehow negative or inappropriate. If the card just says that his birth-father always thinks of him, then I can't imagine how it could hurt. Loving someone and wanting the best for that person are very diffferent from being able to take care of them properly. When I found my birthparents and learned that they had been thinking about me it made a difference, even though they would have been completely unsuitable parents. I know it might not make sense, but knowing the people who gave you up love(d) you matters. Don't worry - even though it seems like his birth-father can do no wrong now, your son will get it one day. The people who raise you and love you through sickness and health are your real parents no matter whose genetic material you carry. Susan
Please give the card to your son. I lived a very similar situation where I lost my bith family early and then entered foster care. Even though your son says he does not remember the past, I remembered everything. I eventually was adopted (at age 12) and my adoptive family severed all ties with my biological family. I was keenly aware of it and resented the hell out of them for it. In addition, it made me want to hold on to whatever I could of my biological family. I think it is best to be open and honest. In addition, most adopted people I know, have an intense desire to know their roots. Especially if not adopted as a baby. Your son may idolize his bio father now, but with time, and maturity, he will know who his real parents are. With the card I would explain that you love him and are raising him because his father could not. Just keep explaining and communicating... anon
Definatly, definatly, absolutely give it to him. Your son is ten years old, and deserves to have it given to him. If he were five, or even eight, more of a child, I would think it was your choice to give it to him when he was older. But he is older, it is his letter, not yours. It is therefor his to read. He deserves to know his birthfather, if he wants to. If he finds out you hid a part of who he is (and his birthfahter IS a part of who he is), he will resent you for extremely when he finds out, and of course he will eventually. Mr. Roberts
I have two adopted kids. From what I have learned I would say, give him the card, and with it the message that not only do you love him, but his birth father does, too! The birth dad may not have been able to care for him, but he loves him nonetheless.

Personal story: I was very conflicted about telling my own first child (at age 3) that he had birthparents, because I thought it would confuse him -- but since we don't look alike I certainly didn't want him finding it out from someone else. I went to a workshop taught by an adoption professional, and came away with this: I was projecting my own problems onto my kid. I, personally, was very threatened and to some extent jealous about his birthparents. Once I set aside my hang-ups and focused on his needs--our basic job as parents--I was able to be very open and supportive about his birthparents.

The reality is, kids need all the parents they can find. Try not to feel threatened by the birth dad's existance, and try to talk about him in positive ways that don't leave your child feeling abandoned. When you can, try to stress to him how lucky he is to have so many people who love him. Tell him that parenting is a huge job, and not every birth parent is able to parent their child. That's why they need REAL parents, like us! P.S. If you haven't completed the legalities of the adoption process, get crackin'. You have may reason to feel threatened, if that is the case. Mary Ann


I am an adopted adult. When I was growing up, I would have given my left arm to have had a word of caring or concern from my birthfamily. Especially for a child who has been in foster care for so long, it is so easy to feel like a throwaway or that nobody cared about them. I think a birthday card from his birthfather would be SO meaningful and YES absolutely, if I found something like this as an adult and realized that my adopted parents had kept it from me, I would be beyond resentful.

He will not be ''confused'' to know that another adult in his life cares about him and wishes him well. You can reassure him that you are his parents; you have taken on that role and will be his parents forever; but this does not ''erase'' his birthfamily's existence. Even if his birthfather is not taking on an active parental role, I think it is a positive thing and can only be good for your son to know that he has made this caring gesture.

Of course he would frame something given to him from his birthfather. He wants to know that even though he is going to be growing up with another family, his family of origin still cares about him. It's not an either-or situation.

So yes, yes, a thousand times yes, and if he DOES choose to frame this birthday card, I hope that you are confident and open hearted enough to accept that. Adopted Adult


I think the question isn't so much whether to give it to him (yes) but when to give it to him (now? I don't know). At some point between now and your son's adult life he should definitely receive that card. I was adopted at birth and my birthmother contacted my family when I was 12. Things were very different in that era and any contact was a not-very-welcome surprise in my (adoptive) parents' lives. My mom was always completely honest with me when I asked about my birthparents. At the time she felt the need to protect me from what she feared would be a messy situation if I had direct contact with my birthmother, so she told me that she (mom) was in yearly communication with her (birthmother) but that she thought I should wait until I was at least 18. I think it probably would have been fine for us to communicate directly earlier, but bear no resentment for waiting. The ''your dad always'' line seems kind of inappropriate.

Could you talk with the 33 y/o birth-sister? Or with the birthfather directly? It might be helpful to be sure that all the grown-ups are clear on expectations about appropriate relationships and expectations before there's direct communication between your son and his birthfather at this age. adult adoptee


I was adopted at a young age (21 days). My parents told me about my adoption when I was old enough to understand...I think I was 6 or 7 ?? They have always told me they would understand if I wanted to find my biological parents, but they also made it clear that they loved me like I was their own child.

You situation is different on many levels...in my opinion, he has the right to about the card. Let him know how lucky he is to have so many people care about him :) Reassure him that he is part of your family, you will be there for him everyday. Maybe help him write a letter back to his birth father - I can 100% guarentee your son has many questions. The first question being, why am I not with you?

I'm 32 years old and I often wonder the same thing about my birth parents... Ashlee


My birth father left my mother when I was only 1 year old. I did not know him for years... I did end up meeting him when I found him in my 20's. Turns out he had tried to reach me, but my mother chose to not tell me.

My mother made a wise choice as my father was just out of prison and not a very stable person; however, had he been, I would have welcomed information and letters from him. You can never have enough family.

Note: We recently adopted a child and would welcome letters from the birth parents. An adoptee


Mixed feelings about contact with the birth mother

Feb 2004

I have two children. One was born to me and the other was adopted at birth as we were no longer able to conceive. My spouse and I have a great relationship with our younger child's birth mother --she is sweet, kind, respectful, talented and thoughtful. We see her a few times a year, as well as correspond with her. My problem is that every time we do see her, I feel some pain because my child looks so much like her (d'uh!). Her innocent comments like (''oh, I think he'll be tall like my brother'') tend to make me cry after the visit concludes.

I was the one pushing for an open adoption--my spouse at first only wanted to adopt internationally because he did not want a relationship with birth parents. But he and I now both passionately believe that openness is better for our child (and I think for the birth parents). But is it better for us? My husband says that if we were consistently meeting with the birth father (who currently does not want contact), my spouse might have the same feelings of . . . jealousy? inadequacy? that our child will love his birth parents more than us as he grows up? Have I not grieved enough because I was unable to have another biological child? I did go through IVF and could hardly bear it when it didn't work.

We have no intention of changing our visitation schedule so I am worried that as my son gets older, he'll pick up on my tension and the visits won't go as well or that it might damage his relationship with me or his birth mother. I would love any advice, books I should read, therapists I should see (!). Thanks. anon


It sounds like you are still grieving the fact that you can not have a second biological child and perhaps it would be helpful towork through your grief with a therapist. I am sorry to hear you went through IVF and could not concieve. However, the fact that you had this painful experience and went through all this grief does not have anything to do with your second, adopted child. I understand it is painful for you to meet the birth mother and you are right, it may not be what is best for you right now. However, as parents, we continuously make small and big sacrifices if we think that would be better for our children. It is absolutely wonderful for your child that you have such an open relationship with his birthmother and believe me, he will thank you forever when he becomes a grown up and can understand how difficult it was for you to see his birth mother, but you still did it. Be generous and allow your child to have relationships (and love) for others. He will not love you and your partner any less because of that. On the contrary, he will probably love you even more. Maria
Please contact PACT 510 243-9460 (www.pactadopt.org). They will tell you what books to read and may be able to refer you to a good therapist if you feel you need one. You are SO lucky to have such a wonderful relationship with the birthmother of your child. What you feel is only natural, but you need to work on your issues before your child feels it. You might still be grieving the loss of not being able to get pregnant again... who knows what you will find out. m
I think what you are feeling is common. You didn't say how old your son is, but I'll bet he is still pretty young, because I found that although I thought about this a lot at first, I hardly ever think about it now (we adopted our son at birth; he is 3 now.)

In our case, we met both birth parents when the birth mom was only a couple months pregnant, and we visited them every two weeks throughout the pregnancy, so that we could establish a good relationship. But after our son was born, a pattern developed where we see them only once or twice a year. We also keep in touch via email and photos. They move around a lot and are frequently out of contact. They and we are interested in maintaining contact, but the infrequent contact we have now works well for everyone.

We have a little twist on our relationship with the birth parents. They have been together for many years, and before our son was born, they had placed two other of their children for adoption at birth. The two children who were adopted are 4 and 5 years older than our son, and they live in the Bay Area too. We see these other two families pretty often, which is great for us, because we can all commiserate about the birth parents that we all have in common. It's REALLY great for our kids too, who have biological siblings that look like them, in addition to their other siblings at home, some also adopted, some not (which by the way comes with some very interesting ''how are we related'' questions! Is the adopted sister of my biological brother also my sister?...)

One of the other moms told me that after her son was born, he looked so much like "Jane" the birth mom, that, to her great distress, she kept thinking of him as ''Jane's baby''. But by the time he was one, she had forgotten all about it. He's 7 years old now, and he may have looked like Jane when he was a baby, but he looks nothing like her now! We don't know who he looks like - we say that he must favor the imaginary ''Uncle Charlie''.

Our son looked exactly like "Jack", the birth father. This worried me a lot, because after all the contact we'd had with the birth parents during the pregancy, I had gotten to dislike Jack quite a lot! (This is something that you don't usually hear about much in discussions about open adoption - what if you get to know the birth parents *too* well?) So anyway, I thought, ''Oh no! What if I start disliking the baby too!'' I worried about this for the first few months and then gradually stopped thinking about it at all. Now when I look at my son, I sometimes remember how I used to think that he looked like Jack, but he is so much his own person now, and so much a part of our lives and our family, that I can no longer see the connection between him and his birth parents. If I think about it at all, now I think, ''Well, Jack must have been quite a pleasant and delightful baby. I wonder what happened!''

So, I think that what you are experiencing happens when you adopt a child, but it doesn't last for very long. You may also find that as time goes by, you have less and less contact with your child's birth mother. In our case, and this may be true of many other birth parents too, they placed their children for adoption because they just had too many problems to take on the added burden of another child. Once the baby was born, they were ready to move on with their lives. They do sincerely care about their children, and want to stay in touch, but they really are not that interested in being a part of ''the family'' or in getting together on a regular basis - they have their own lives.

All the best to you, and hope you are enjoying your new baby.


Post adoption kinship agreements

August 2003

Getting ready to enter into a post adoption and kinship agreement with the birthmother of our adopted daughter. As of 1/1/03, the agreement is legally enforceable and part of the finalization docs filed with the court. Being advised by the agency not to worry because the adoption cannot be overtuned for failure to live to terms of agreement. Concerned, however, that over time both mine and birthmom's circumstances could change and I could find myself in litigation over interpretation of the agreement. Am I being unreasonable in my concerns? How do I assess the risk of litigation 10 or 15 years down the road?


We also faced that question when we finalized our adoption a little over a year ago (spring 2002). We decided that we did not feel comfortable with a legally enforceable visitation/contact agreement that basically placed the onus on us to live up to the agreement, but not on the birthmother. We also did not agree with the concept behind this new adoption development. Our feeling was that we wanted to do as much as possible to enhance our self-empowerment as our child's real parents, and that by agreeing to a legally binding contract with the birth parent, we were in fact negating our role as our son's real parents. This is not to deny that he has a birth mother and birth father, as we have been in contact with his birthmother post-birth and post-finalization, but that visitation and contact rights are typically reserved - legally at least - for a child's legally recognized parents in divorce cases. We felt that though we want to have an ongoing relationship of some sort with his birthmother, it should remain our perogative what form that relationship takes, based on our continuing assessment of what is happening in his birthmother's life and in our child's life. We were concerned that having a legally enforceable contract would force us to maintain a contact schedule we may not feel comfortable with, or to enter into a difficult mediation with the birthmother should we want to change the terms of the contract. Anonymous
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