Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An Adoption Tragedy that Shatters the Stereotypes

If your current television programming provider blesses you with anything akin to the Lifetime Movie Network, you've seen one. If you ever settle upon 20/20 or 48 Hours or Dateline NBC for an evening's entertainment, you've probably seen one. I'm talking about the adoption horror story. A bitter "who's baby is it" contest over a three-year-old, or an adoptee who's life is empty, or an adoptive family that turns out to be a clan of despotic brutes. Scary!

But the year 2008 gave us a different type of adoption horror story, even if it was rarely reported that way. Unless you've been living in a Pakistani cave, you've heard about the story of Caylee Anthony, whose funeral takes place at FBC Orlando today. Anthony was not yet three years old when she was murdered, and the evidence points strongly toward Casey Anthony, Caylee's mother, as the perpetrator of this barbarism.

Perhaps you have followed the case closely enough to know that Casey Anthony wanted to place Caylee for adoption, but was pressured by her own mother into keeping Caylee.

It is not mere lipservice when I praise as heroes the mothers who place their children for adoption. The heroism lies partially in their courageous and principled refusal of abortion. It lies partially in their grueling decision to do such a difficult and anti-instinctive thing. But make no mistake: Among the most heroic aspects of this decision is the way that birth mothers often have to take a stand against others who browbeat them over their decision.

In one situation, the hospital employee cleaning the birthmother's hospital room told her she was a bad mother for putting her baby up for adoption! We've had people who love us (adoptive parents) but who have repeatedly said, "I just don't understand how any mother could give away her baby." They're not trying to be critical (they're thrilled that we have adopted), but the intensity of those sentiments subtly communicate the idea that mothers who place children for adoption are somehow abnormal or defective. In Casey Anthony's situation, her parents (the birth-grandparents) were responsible for pushing her into keeping little Caylee, with disastrous results.

A caveat or two is in order here. Whoever murdered Caylee Anthony (probably Casey) is responsible for her death. I'm not trying to take her off the hook in the least. Nor is it my desire to heap difficulty upon her parents in such a trying time. Since Google lists nearly 1.7 million references to Caylee Anthony's name, I sincerely doubt that this post will attract the attention of her grandparents.

I write this because there is a lesson here worth the rest of us hearing. Anyone can understand why people would struggle to think of their grandchild—maybe their first…and therefore potentially their only…grandchild—departing to become a part of another family. If, as the old saw says, grandchildren are God's reward for letting your children survive (probably the wrong joke to tell in this context), then it must be a terrible thing to imagine relinquishing your reward to some other set of grandparents out there. I can also imagine wanting to encourage your daughter to take responsibility for her actions, grow up, and take care of her coming baby. I can imagine thinking how difficult it will be to place a child for adoption, and wanting to protect your daughter from that struggle.

But there's another side to consider. You may get more of a blessing than you think in your grandchildren—you may wind up raising them yourself. And although you may be willing to do so, is that the best situation for the child? Also, placing a child for adoption IS your daughter taking responsibility for her actions, growing up, and taking care of her coming baby. It is a very mature and selfless thing to provide for your baby in that way. And the Casey Anthony story reminds us that it is too late to protect your daughter from struggle and heartache once she is pregnant. To abort is to have the heartache and guilt of a lifetime. To place a child for adoption is a difficult and painful decision. But to try to raise a child by yourself before you've even grown up is, just as much as the other two, sometimes a lifetime of struggle.

I'm not suggesting that parents should push their unexpectedly pregnant daughters into placing children for adoption. But if you are in contact with a young woman who has mentioned adoption as a possibility, please don't take it upon yourself to try to talk her out of it. And if you are the parent of a daughter who is contemplating the placement of her baby for adoption, try to be supportive of her decision. Love your daughter—and, incidentally, love your grandchild—enough to tell your daughter that she should do whatever is best for her baby, and that you'll be proud of her for doing precisely that, whatever it is.


Bob Cleveland said...

Fine post, Bart.

I suppose all parents think, or want to think, they did a great job raising their kids. And, naturally, that their kids would do a great job of raising their kids, too. So, in that light, when one's kid isn't the best choice for raising your grandkids, it would be a tough thing to admit. (our grandkids are both older than we were when we had our first, so....)

Perhaps the grandparents' desire to raise the grandkids would be a reaction to that, or perhaps some sort of atonement for having raised a kid who couldn't.

I know Peg and I would not have been, had that happened to us, and I hope I would have realized it then.

Anonymous said...


This is a great post and something I believe pastors, especially youth ministers need to hear. As someone who has worked in adoption for many years counseling birth mother's, I know the sacrifice it takes to make the decision to place your child for adoption.
I have spoken to youth ministers specifically, who do not feel comfortable speaking about adoption with a youth that is pregnant and would even discourage it because "she is not taking responsibility for her mistake." The idea of seeing a baby as a punishment is not fair to the girl and especially to the child. Adoption is not for everyone but it is a very positive option for those involved.

Thanks for sharing your story and for writing this post. I hope pastors and ministers take heed. If you don't know how to talk about adoption find someone who does and give the girl/guy ALL of their good options.


Taran said...


Thanks for this post. As you have pointed out before, given the richness of the adoption metaphor for Believers, I find it only appropriate that we encourage mothers on both ends of the decision to adopt. Very helpful.

CB Scott said...


This kind of post is one of those which only those who have walked the path and shed the tears of seeking an understanding in the Valley of Greatest Sorrows.

I agree with you fellow pilgrim.