085: LDS Adoption: Perspectives from a Biological Mom

th-1Natasha Helfer Parker interviews Danielle about her experience as a birth parent going through LDS Family Services to find an adoptive family for her child.  This interview highlights the many complexities that go into such a decision and the emotional journey that continues to impact all involved.

This interview is meant to share one story – one perspective.  It is understood that the stories surrounding adoption are personal and extremely varied.  This interview is not meant to encourage or discourage birth parents from choosing adoption as an option.  Instead, it is meant to help open up discussion on a sensitive, and often taboo topic and help those on the many sides of this issue have a better understanding of what might or might not be helpful in supporting all parties involved.

The podcast hopes to continue to bring on other guests to discuss this topic so that several voices can be represented.  This interview was recorded almost a year ago – it was difficult for the interviewee to decide whether or not she wanted the podcast published.  She plans on returning to the program to give an update of what it’s been like for her after recording this initial interview.

Many thanks to The Lower Lights for the beautiful bumper music and to Brian Dillman for audio production of this podcast.  Natasha Helfer Parker runs a private practice in Wichita, KS and writes at The Mormon Therapist for Patheos: Hosting the Conversation of Faith.

Donations to Mormon Mental Health are tax deductible and go directly to support the costs of producing the podcast.  If and when donations exceed these costs, they will go to support trainings, research, materials development, and financial support for those who need help affording appropriate therapy services.

20 comments for “085: LDS Adoption: Perspectives from a Biological Mom

  1. Rebecca
    January 15, 2016 at 2:43 am

    Danielle, thank you so much for sharing your story. I needed to hear this. I found myself nodding during the first part, because it sounded similar to my story, and ended up putting down everything else I was doing so I could just listen and weep.

    I had a very similar experience with LDS social services in the same general time frame (my experience was in 1999). In my case, I felt inspired to keep my baby and was told by my branch president and the LDS SS counselor to pray again until I had the right answer. In my case, I did end up keeping my son, but likewise had many similar long-term effects, including years of feeling convinced that the church could and would take away my children if I was found again to be unworthy of motherhood, and had nightmares my branch president was taking them away. I, too, struggled for years with very very similar deep and destructive effects on my mental and spiritual health, and the role it’s played in my relationships with authority, especially church authority, including my old branch president, who is my current stake president and who is still unhelpful/hostile.

    I’m sorry for the long, TMI, me-too comment. i hope you can get a sense if how significant your interview is to me, Danielle. Thank you again for sharing this. I have not yet been able to process my story, and this helped break the imposed isolation.

    Natasha Helfer Parker where can I go from here? Are there resources for this?

    • Danielle
      January 15, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Rebecca my heart goes out to you. I’m happy to hear you were able to stand up against the pressure to place your baby for adoption and follow your heart. I’m so sad you’ve had to live with stigma and fear all these years. It was very helpful to be given the opportunity to find my voice and share my store more publicly here with Natasha. But more so I’ll feel my mission was accomplished if you are the only person it helps make a safer space to process your own experience. I’m wishing you the best as you break free from the isolation you’ve experienced and want to offer my heartfelt support. With love…

  2. January 15, 2016 at 6:37 am

    That was a very powerful podcast. I’m finding that I have many mixed feelings about this. Your pain is so real and I felt your tears.

    I’m stunned but maybe not too surprised by the level of manipulation involved.

    Was the staff male or female?

    • Danielle
      January 15, 2016 at 10:06 am

      “Was the staff male or female?”

      Both. The director of the office was male, my original case worker was male (he passed away shortly after my son’s placement), then my case was transferred to a female who had been involved sporadically in my case for follow up counseling and to handle communication between the adoptive family and myself.

  3. A Happy Hubby
    January 15, 2016 at 8:37 am

    I do appreciate the fact that we need to make space for less than perfect stories as well as the positive stories we mainly hear. We can’t improve if we don’t know where things have room for improvement.

    My father was adopted (nothing to do with the Mormon church). He always told me he was fine that his birth mother put him up for adoption as he knew as a parent how hard that had to be, so he assumed she wouldn’t be able to raise him (it was a place with lots of poverty).

    Danielle, I admire you for being willing to talk about this. I am sure it was hard, but not nearly as hard as the event(s) themselves.

    It is SO hard to hear how the events took your self esteem. That is so hard to hear and I don’t know how to combat that with the youth.

    I hope you continue to move towards more peace on this part of your life.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Danielle
      January 15, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      Thank you A Happy Hubby. I’m glad you take an interest particularly in helping protect the youth from lasting emotional consequences. I wish I had an answer for how to counter the messages that create the kind of beliefs I had about myself. I do however, think awareness is the first step so thank you not only for being aware, but for going beyond that and also being empathetic and concerned.

  4. Thomas
    January 15, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    In 2011, I wrote an opinion piece to the Salt Lake Tribune regarding the LDS adoption policy. Due to its length, it was never published. This piece is a bit dated now because it was written at a time when the Church was still very much involved in the actual recruitment / placement practices of adoption. It was also written at a time before I was aware of concerns over LDS Family Services’ practices with respect to fathers’ rights. I recognize that this is a highly sensitive area with myriad perspectives. I only wanted to share what I wrote in 2011 as it reflected my thinking at that time because I think it is important to keep this conversation going. It is likely that if I were to write this piece today, it would be difficult for me to be as gracious towards the Church as I was in 2011. Since then, I’ve come to realize that the long-standing policy regarding single expectant parents comes from the same worldview that established the priesthood and temple ban and that has developed the new policies involving same-sex couples and their children. Here is what I wrote in 2011:
    Over the past several decades, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reiterated its position that when marriage is not an option for single expectant parents then they should be counseled to place their child for adoption through LDS Family Services. This policy rests on two main arguments. One argument is related to the child’s temporal welfare and the other to the child’s spiritual welfare. Relating to temporal welfare, the policy follows the narrative that single parenthood is difficult and adoption can provide a better life for the mother and the child. This argument is correct in that single parents and their children face challenges unique to their situation and that single parenthood can and most likely will increase financial difficulty. However, recognizing the size and scope of the challenges is not to say that those challenges are insurmountable. Furthermore, single parenthood should not automatically be equated with the type of instability and lack of nurturing that a review of LDS Family Services literature would suggest. There are many single parents in the church who are actively raising their children in a manner that is consistent with the teachings of the Gospel while providing stable and nurturing homes for their children.
    The second argument for the LDS Church’s position on single expectant parents and adoption involves the child’s spiritual welfare. Adoption through LDS Family Services is encouraged because it affords that child the opportunity to be sealed to his adoptive parents and thereby lay claim to the blessings provided through the temple sealing. However persuasive of an argument this may be from a theological perspective, it undermines a belief that positive changes can still happen in peoples’ lives despite difficult circumstances. For the single-mother who opts to keep her child the day may still come when circumstances in her life are such that she can marry in the temple and be sealed to her child. The sealing blessing may not be available to her now, but she may be in a position to nurture and provide for her child as she earnestly seeks opportunities to make a temple sealing a reality for her and her child. In other words, the die is not cast. While not specifically addressed within this policy, the spiritual welfare argument does raise the following question: With such a strong stance for adopting out the children of single expectant parents, what are we to think about single parents currently raising children within the church and the eternal nature of those relationships?
    Perhaps most concerning is the way in which the Church’s position on single expectant parents and adoption is presented. LDS Family Services advertising and literature suggests that to place your child for adoption is to love your child and that to keep your child is to love your child less. After all, “You’re not giving her up, you’re giving her more.” Consider for a moment that you are single expectant parent. Add the aforementioned catch phrase to the one-size-fits-all counsel of an ecclesiastical leader to place your child for adoption, the steady drumbeat of a difficult future, and the remorse that you may already feel for having broken the law of chastity and you’ve found yourself caught in a perfect storm of guilt, confusion, and undue influence
    The decision of whether or not to place an infant for adoption is quite possibly the most difficult decision a single expectant parent may have to make. It is a uniquely personal decision and one that should be made following contemplation of the parent’s willingness and ability to care for her child – taking stock of the natural support systems available to her child as well as the other social, emotional, and financial supports that may be available. Sadly, and for a variety of reasons, this is often a decision that the mother is left to make without any significant assistance or input from the child’s father. Paramount in this decision making process is the single expectant parent’s understanding of the importance of a child’s connection to his or her biological family. Fortunately, adoption practices that have intentionally or unintentionally subverted biological connections are slowly coming to a close. Even as LDS Family Services has moved into the arena of open adoption, their advertising and recommended readings do little to promote the idea of family preservation or the importance of a child’s connection with his biological family. Given the critical importance of a child’s connection to biological family and the psychological difficulty that can be created across the lifespan in the absence of that connection, how can we, as a Church, discount the importance of biological family in favor of a blanket position that always prefers adoption over single parenthood?
    Those single expectant parents who have chosen to place their child for adoption of their own free will should be commended for the decision that they have made. And they are. Ensign articles, statements from the First Presidency, and LDS Family Services’ advertising campaigns frequently praise the selflessness of these birth parents. However, those single expectant parents who have made the choice to raise their child are rarely discussed. They too should be commended for their decision and provided the support and guidance that the Church has to offer. They should not be made to feel as though their decision is a sign of a lesser love for their child. My greatest fear is that some single expectant parents opt to place their child for adoption not because it is what they feel is in their child’s best interest but because it is the choice that their ecclesiastical leaders are counseling them to make as established by Church policy. I would hope to see a more balanced approach to the issue of adoption – an approach that favors agency by allowing for a full measure of love and support for those choosing adoption or those choosing single parenthood. I look forward to a time when the counsel of local Church leaders is one in which a single expectant parent is guided in her decision by pondering, praying, and receiving the unbiased support of her local Church leaders and not a one-size-fits-all adoption policy that neglects to take into consideration a full range of issues for the child now and into the future.

    • Danielle
      January 15, 2016 at 7:16 pm

      Thomas I really love your write up. It captures so well how I felt about my future as a single teen mom and how I view LDS adoption rhetoric now. After being sexually assaulted I felt unworthy and hopeless, but the impact of having those feelings confirmed by someone who I viewed as an expert in dealing with situations like mine was a much heavier blow. I suspected I wouldn’t find companionship after being assaulted, but after speaking with the LDSFS case worker I was so certain I wouldn’t find companionship I felt the only reasonable solution was to save my son from being denied the celestial kingdom because he couldn’t be sealed to his parents. I see how flawed that is, even in terms of LDS doctrine, but in a period of immense vulnerability that’s how the counsel given me fell.

      I would love to see an updated version of your piece published. Thank you so much for posting it here.

  5. Kim
    January 16, 2016 at 9:26 am

    Danielle,
    Thank you so much for your story. It is so close to that of my wife’s and I fear as my own sisters, although she has dealt with it all in another manner. I love how direct you are. Yes, every experience is unique but your comments like, “If someone seems capable and they want to raise their baby than you have zero business telling to do anything else.” Best response to the question on what options should we present to pregnant young women. So direct and unapologetic. As it should be. This applies to every case. Also, the number of experiences similar to yours far outweigh the number of “good, happy” experiences. I’m still very active. But my activity and faith in the church itself are very much at odds. I would wish for more of these truth stories to find their way to our young women no matter their situation. Your story and those of Elizabeth Smart and my own wife’s would do well to strengthen them and build them up positively to avoid the years of pain that is before them whether they are sexually active have babies or are just struggling to grow up with the images that is in the priesthood patriarchy perpetuate. How can I get you in contact with my wife? Thank you again!

    • Danielle
      January 16, 2016 at 11:06 pm

      Thank you for your comment Kim. I’m so sorry to hear about your wife and sister. I would also love for the young women (and potentially young men, as I’ve never heard an experience from a birth father unfortunately) to be able to hear stories like this and would gladly share mine if the opportunity arises. I also sympathize with the space you find yourself in between your faith and activity in the church as I’m aware of how difficult that can be at times.

      I posted this interview in the exMormon subreddit under the username of cradleless_hand if you or she would like to contact me either in that conversation thread or directly in a private message. No need to visit the exMormon forum if you prefer to avoid it as you can simply search for my username in the reddit.com search bar and find me that way.

      Thank you again and wishing you, your wife, and sister peace and happiness.

  6. Lynne Burnett
    January 19, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Thanks to both Natasha and Danielle for telling this story. Birth mother (or unwed mother as we were called in the 70’s) here. I have a hard time with the concept of negative and positive experiences as the whole situation is just so complex. But I absolutely feel that the way some of us were treated by LDS SS and leaders on the local level can be classified as positive and negative. I became a very devoted member of the church following my placement and held onto false stories to keep my sanity.Now that that is all behind me, I feel I can finally look at my placement for what it was. Religious coercion.
    Your story, Danielle, has added another step to my process. For years I told myself if I had only had him in a time period where there were open adoptions…if only…I would have not had anywhere near the trauma to my soul. I could have looked in his eyes, I could have seen him in his adopted family. Knowing where he was would have brought so much comfort. I realize this was just another story to keep sanity. Hearing the pain in your heart even being able to see/know him does not seem to have diminished your “choice”.
    Life long processing. Life long pain.

    • Danielle
      January 21, 2016 at 12:14 am

      Thank you Lynne, for listening and commenting. I can only imagine the circumstances and ideas around LDS adoption in the 70’s and my heart sincerely aches for you. I can relate to the untrue stories that help keep us sane. As painful as it is to face reality, it’s surprisingly better than the alternative, for me at least. You spoke of the possibilities of lessened trauma and potential comfort of being able to see your son. Take my experience for what it’s worth as I imagine it’s different for everyone, but even when I saw his photos but wasn’t able to know if he was okay between photographs or if he was okay in real time by the time the photographs reached me, I was constantly overwhelmed with very disturbing fears. Now that I have open contact with him it’s still very painful but the trauma is left in having lost my right to be his mom, not the constant terror of the unknown. I think it’s more akin to a grandparent who watches and worries about the things they know their grandchild is actually facing, which for me is far more bearable than where my mind went when I wasn’t allowed to know how he was.

      I hope your and your son’s story has arrived to a place of peace, comfort, and any closure an experience like this has to offer. I’m so heartbroken for the parents that don’t know where their children are, and the children who don’t know what they long to know about their birth family. I hope stories like yours and like mine being shared openly can change adoption into something better.

  7. beth
    February 15, 2016 at 4:58 am

    Hi Danielle, thank you so much for having the courage to share your story and journey, of placing your child for adoption, l too share that journey and similar story to yours. l am British, from Brighton, England and l had my baby placed 27 years ago when the SS was really strict about the laws and rules for the birth parents, I received one photo from the adoptive parents like with youself the heads of the adoptive parents were removed and it was such a tiny picture with a short descriptive letter of my baby’s growth, you couldn’t see my Daugthers face really well and that’s the only picture l ever got from them, back then, there wasn’t such a thing as an open correspondence or any chance of being in touch with my little girl as she was growing, things have obviously progressed a little from then, so needless to say it was all very heart breaking for the birth parents, from the word go, like yourself, l received little if no real support from my social worker, in fact l was 100%encouraged from the word go to place my baby for adoption and although l was by then in a stable relationship with my husband my case worker still instructed me that l should place my baby for adoption without giving me any other caring options, l felt so lost alone and both my husband and myself felt really left out and pushed out that we were not really being listened to at all, l feel for you Danielle and all like us and really wish you every happiness in your future, it’s wonderful that you could speak out your truth,
    please Natasha or Danielle, do either of you know of any support groups l can turn to in England which are LDS please, l’d be grateful for some help overseas, thank you both very much.

    • Danielle
      February 18, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      Thank you Beth. My heart goes out to you. I feel those birthparents who are left having to wonder have it far worse than myself. I’m dismayed LDSSS took it upon themselves to encourage you to place your child even though you were in a committed relationship and looking for support to raise your baby. I’m so sorry.

      I don’t know of resources in England unfortunately. I’ve contacted Concerned United Birthparents here in the states on your behalf in hopes they might at least have some leads. I’ll be sure to post here to let you know what comes up even if it’s nothing. On http://www.mormonspectrum.org/map/ I located UK Mormon support groups including a private Facebook page you can request access to https://www.facebook.com/groups/londonmostories/. I don’t know where you are with your faith, but that particular Facebook group is listed as an unorthodox group that is inclusive of believing, non-believing, and anything in between.

      You may also find support in a Catholic birth parent support group as the practices of the Catholic church were very similar, though I’ve been unable to locate any birthparent support group in the UK through an online search. You might try https://www.reddit.com/r/birthparents/. Post a request for birthparents in England to let you know if there are support groups in the area. Hopefully that will give you some leads. And do feel free to reach out. I realize online support is not the same as face to face, but you can find me under the user name of cradleless_hand on reddit, by copying and pasting the name into the search bar. Wishing you the very best.

    • Danielle
      February 19, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      Hi Beth. I received a reply from Concerned United Birthparents. It’s not LDS, but I’m hopeful it will provide some leads and possibly even support and resources that are useful to you. On their website http://www.cubirthparents.org/ send them a request for the email address for their director in the UK and they should get that information to you pretty quickly. Best of luck.

      • beth
        February 21, 2016 at 5:53 am

        Thank you so much Danielle for all of your information and support to me, l shall definitely look in to these areas and see what l can gleen from them for myself and my family also thank you for sending me your access too. Yes l too felt my situation was very unloving and unfair as my husband was a very stable secure and loving man and that was how our relationship felt, albeit, we had only been married for a mater of months and my husband was not my baby’s biological father, but he was 100% commited and l’m certain knew what he was taking on and cared very much for us both, my ss worker at the time showed no care or compassion toward our situation, l didn’t even get to say goodbye to my little girl, the ss worker told me to leave it all with her and she would deal with everything forgetting to show any love or to have a real heart toward us, l do feel very hurt by the whole set up and those years ago you really had no help or support it was just like a proper punishment and total control on behalf on the church to to birth parent, it’s really very damaging and so hurtful and there are never any apology’s from the organisation ,they have a lot to learn and perhaps are beginning to but sadly for people like myself the damage is already done ,but god willing can be reversed in time, thank you so much Danielle for your kind and caring wishes and all of your support, l send you my best kind wishes back, all the best.

  8. Melissa
    May 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Danielle I have to just say how much I enjoyed listening to your story and the perspective of a birth mother. My husband and I adopted a baby girl in 2003 from LDS family services.
    I recall vividly as if it were yesterday the day our birth mother placed her baby in my arms. Bitter sweet.. heartbreak for her and blissful joy for us.
    This is such a sensitive subject to all involved but I am grateful you shared this experience.
    Even on the adopted parents sided dealing with LDS services I felt things could have been done differently. Thank you again I am glad to have heard your side of things but knowing we have our child because of our birth mother I am forever grateful and I know your adopted parents feel the same. Bless you!

  9. Linda
    June 7, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    Lost baby to adoption through LDS Social Service in Seattle in 1971. Church was coercive and less than honest. I don’t believe my firstborn will be sealed to adopters in Eternity. It was not done ethically. Think Heavenly Father will set it right in the next life.

    • Linda
      June 7, 2017 at 7:21 pm

      Got my email wrong so posting this to correct.

    • Thomas
      July 14, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Good morning! I’m the same Thomas (full name is Craig Thomas Cline) who posted a comment in this forum on January 16, 2016. Adoption within the LDS context has been an area of interest to me for a number of years. This is an incredibly complex issue, and I’m interested in opening a dialogue with women who placed their children for adoption through LDS Family Services. If anyone who has commented on here who has experienced placing a child for adoption through LDS Family Services would like to talk to me. I’m interested in listening. I’ve seen several comments on here about religious coercion and my assumptions are that such techniques were widespread. In order to be transparent, let me tell you a little about my professional background. I’m a social worker with 13 years experience in public child welfare, and I’ve recently transitioned from social work practice to teaching social work. I’m currently an assistant professor and the BSW program director at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. You can read a little more about my professional background here: http://www.shepherd.edu/social-work/staff Again, I understand that this is a very sensitive issue, and I’m interested in learning more about it from those women and men who experienced child placement in the context of the LDS religion and LDS social services. I can be reached at 80cline@cua.edu (that’s my CUA e-mail address where I’m currently enrolled as a Doctoral Candidate).

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