The first person to teach me love also taught me loss. Those depth of those memories of love and loss were stored in the deepest and darkest areas of my mind and heart.

It was a wake-up call when I learned my mom hadn’t died.

She’d made a choice, and though many say it isn’t a choice, it feels like it was.

It’s August and I’m already dreading December. Every August I try to wrap myself in the heat outside because soon, it will be the anniversary of her choice, and Christmas and then my birthday. Such a cold time of the year.

Every time I talk to her, which isn’t much these days, I can feel both the heat and the cold waging a war inside me.
WarmthandColdThe sound of her voice brings warmth, but the memories of her leaving leaves me feeling cold and sad all over again. I wish she could know how terribly difficult it is just to say hi. I always answer her calls. But in the middle of the incredible amount of work it takes just to talk to her, I wish I could simply hang up. It’s like throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end. I’m constantly looking for the edge of the pool so I can simply get out of there alive.

Once, here in this space, someone made this comment:

“I feel so sorry for your mother. I feel sorry for you, that your heart is so cold.”

There is so much truth in that statement. That wake-up call has stayed with me and I wonder which is worse – grieving her loss or finding out she hadn’t died. She’d made a choice and I’m not sure how to trust her again. How does one trust the person that taught such a complete and thorough lesson in loss?

I vacillate between extremes. Working so hard to see things from her point of view, to feel her pain. Yet it takes an insane amount of work to step outside my own loss of her. It feels like I’m trying to inhale smoke without getting the scent of a cigarette on me. Such a fruitless effort.

Though I lost her, she is still here. She taught me love. Then she left me. And in December, I’ll be wishing it was August.

The Right Hand

My adoptive mom tells a great story. You should hear her. I can’t tell it like she does, but I’ll give it a try.

When I was little, I would only take things in my left hand. I guess it was pretty inconvenient for my adoptive mom. She always said she’d already had one kid that was left handed and wasn’t doing it again.

She refused to let me accept things into my left hand.

Little things.

Like food.

The Right Hand

Eventually, I only used my right hand.

Isn’t that hilarious?

Well, I can see that the story may have lost its charm as I tell it. However when she told it, people laughed.

I’m now an adopted “child” who has siblings in both biological and adoptive families that are left handed.

I’m not.

And that’s been a pretty lonely island lately.

What My Adoptive Mom Could Have Done Differently Or Better

I often give my opinion of open adoption and the resulting question from hopeful adoptive parents or adoptive parents is: What could your Amom have done to be better or make your adoption better for you?

I really wish that people would take time to read, not only my blog, but as many adoptee blogs as possible, but often, people just want their question answered as quickly as possible. This sometimes makes me angry because I often interpret it as: “look, I don’t have time, interest etc. to read over your blog, so can you just break it down for me and give me some hard and fast answers so I can move forward with my plans.”

Instead of getting angry, I’ve decided to give an answer here, so that I will have a place I can direct people since my answer is lengthy. Here are the things I can think of off the top of my head that my Amom could have done better/differently. There are many more, but this is a good start for my answer to the question. What my adoptive mom could have differently or better

What could your adoptive mom have done differently or better?

  1. BEFORE adopting, my Amom really should have thought through whether or not she was capable of being an adoptive parent.
  2. To answer question one, she should have sought counseling for herself.
  3. She should have resolved at least SOME of HER childhood issues BEFORE adopting.
  4. She should have questioned whether she was truly a patient person.
  5. She should have questioned whether she was a person who sought to understand others.
  6. She should have questioned whether she was capable of loving another woman’s baby as much and equally as her own biological child.
  7. She should have considered HOW her childhood issues would play into her role and expectations of herself as a mother and especially as an adoptive mother.
  8. She should have truly, TRULY examined how manipulative she was and could be. (This has a direct impact on what ethics, or lack thereof, one will display in what she is willing to do and accept in a largely unethical industry that trades infants/children for money.)
  9. In a follow up to #8, she should have asked herself if helping an infant’s mom, could have helped the mom keep the baby. Adoptees often want the answer to that particular question when they grow up.
  10. She should NOT have viewed adoption as CHARITY.
  11. She should have done everything she could to understand the loss and grief that an infant will go through in losing his/her entire family, yes, even in open adoption. She should have done this BEFORE making the decision to adopt.
  12. She should have considered whether she was racist and/or carried prejudices toward other races and especially that of the infant she was adopting.
  13. She should have considered if adopting was an act of convenience that would later become inconvenient (and costly).
  14. Once she got me, here are few things she could have done better or differently, starting with – she should NOT have hit me.
  15. She shouldn’t have teased me about my race.
  16. She shouldn’t have presented one face in front of others and kept a face of anger reserved for me behind closed doors (here is where #3 would have come in handy.)
  17. She shouldn’t have used me as a prop.
  18. She shouldn’t have grown tired of me as a got older.
  19. She should have shown understanding when I had abandonment issues and understood that it will happen at different ages and during different situations throughout my life. (Here is #4, #5 and #11 would have come in handy.)
  20. She should have been prepared for MY anger.
  21. She should have been prepared for MY acting out.
  22. She should have known that adopting a child IS different than having a child and will require more patience and understanding.
  23. She should have sought professional help for me when I was very young and started displaying behaviors she didn’t know how to handle.
  24. She should have been willing to be part of the process in accepting professional help for me, for herself and for us together as well as part of the family.
  25. She should not have spoken to others about my issues in front of me or in any public manner whatsoever.
  26. She should have shown respect towards my biological family and not have viewed them as “less than” her.
  27. She should not have viewed open adoption as an opportunity to teach me a lesson in how I escaped a bullet in living with my biological family.
  28. She should not have viewed open adoption as an opportunity to teach me a lesson in appreciating what she was providing materialistically.
  29. She should have respected my opinions and not tried to set rules on how I felt.
  30. She should have acknowledged my feelings rather than trying to talk me into seeing things in a more positive manner.
  31. She should have allowed me to show anger.
  32. She should have allowed ME to determine the amount of contact I had with my biological family as I got older.
  33. She should not have recruited my biological mom to back her up in disagreements with me.
  34. She should have understood that the time period after visits was excruciating and that it took weeks or even months to adjust.
  35. She should have understood that I held two very different roles within two very different families and that I took this on at a very young age (4).
  36. As an extra “wish,” I wish she could have understood that I faced every single issue that closed adoption adoptees face, including all of the same reunion issues, except I was 4, 6, 8 years old. (The obvious exception being that I didn’t have to search for my biological family)
  37. She should have understood that at a very young age – 4, 6, 8 years old – I was navigating horrendous complexities in relationships such as trying to be a sister to someone who was incredibly jealous and competitive with me over the fact that I had “things” while I was incredibly jealous and competitive over the fact that she had my original mom. She, ever saddened and angry that she hadn’t also been adopted out and me, ever saddened and angry that I had been adopted out.
  38. She should have known that I felt adopted out of one family and adopted into another and that through open adoption, I was always reminded of that fact at a very young age and that because of this, never felt as I truly belonged in either family.
  39. She should not have introduced me as her “adopted daughter” throughout my entire life.
  40. She should have considered how her extended family would treat me and whether they could accept an outsider as their own. This includes examining whether uncles would display unwanted physical attraction, whether her mother (my supposed grandmother) would never make eye contact with me, whether the invitations to family events would stop once I was older and whether her family would only be accepting of me in her presence.
  41. And maybe just because I’m feeling a little selfish today, maybe it would have been nice if she had went the extra mile to understand that adoption completely changes a person’s identity. She could have acknowledged and became part of the movement to open records (or possibly not change a person’s identity to begin with). She could have understood that I never agreed to have my identity erased. I wasn’t able to sign off on a document that said my authentic ancestry, race and name were no longer who I was AND that I wouldn’t even be able to access that information (YES, EVEN IN OPEN ADOPTION). Maybe she could have talked about the fact that MY birth certificate was a complete lie and maybe, just maybe, she could talk about it while not crying and feeling sorry for herself!

So these are just a few things I’ve jotted down in a few minutes. These are the things that I can think of from my own point of view in my own situation. I really hope that other adoptees may comment with a few of their own, but every hopeful adoptive parent should realize that no adoptee owes you these answers. The answers are out there. It’s YOUR responsibility to search out these answers – for yourself and for any child you may adopt.

My Real Mom

Sometimes I’m asked who I feel is my “real” mom. Like most things in adoption, it’s complicated to answer. (Side note, I realize many adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents don’t like the term “real” regarding adoption but I grew up hearing it and to me it’s valid to discuss it. To each their own.)

Real mom

Yes, I have one real mom.

I guess when some people hear me talk about my anger and negative feelings toward my adoptive mom, they may think it’s sort of a clear-cut situation where those feelings should lead to a definitive answer to that question, “which mom do you feel is your real mom?”

When I answer this question as a matter of fact, to me, my biological mom is my real mom. If I take a DNA test, the answer as to who my mother is, is a factual answer. I can say whatever I want – this person or that person is “like” a mom to me – but in reality, I only have one mother. The same as I can say I’m European and have red hair (maybe I even dye my hair red), but DNA doesn’t lie and the truth as to my real race is there.

But the emotional side is a bit more blurry.

My childhood memories are tied to my adoptive mother. It makes me angry. But then, I can’t hate some of the best moments of life. I can’t separate those things. My memories, my adoptive mom and I are all intertwined.

My first kiss with the love of my life happened while standing in the driveway of my childhood home.
My middle school friends and I grew up in and around my house. We caused trouble and laughed and cried in my home.
The memories of my first pets and a major source of happiness for me as a young child, center in my home.
My favorite Christmas memory happened while standing in the living room and being so happy my adoptive mom knew exactly what I wanted.

I can’t really ignore or separate these feelings and memories from that of my adoptive mom. She’s woven into the heart of them. Yet … that is the exact thing that intensifies my anger toward her. The fact that a person I despise and often feel sorry for, is at the center of so many tender moments really just pisses me off sometimes.

In everyday life, our childhood is referenced so much and I cringe almost every time. Even changing my password on some online account leads to 3 questions like: what is your mother’s maiden name, what was your first pet’s name, what street did you live on when you were five, etc. All of these questions are tied to memories that are directly related to my adoptive mom.  (Another side note: I have childhood memories tied to my biological mom also since I was raised in an open adoption – but that would be a post in and of itself!)

So like many adoptees, the answer to the original question is complicated. I have one real mom. But I also have so many connections, memories and emotions toward another woman who (even though I am very angry with her) is tied to the title of “mom.”

One real mom. Yet, another “mom.”
And yes, it’s complicated.



You took a pass
on my heart.

So often
as I dial your number
that thought crosses
my mind

And I ask myself
how I can place blinders
over my own eyes
and ignore that
small detail

I reached out for your hand
you withdrew
and now you ask why
I’m not reaching
for you

I so often
feel like a failure
in the sport
of overcoming
and acknowledging

I dial your number
taking a pass
on feeling anything
at all

An Interview with Saving Our Sisters Founder, Lynn Johansenn

Today, I’m thrilled to publish an interview with Lynn Johansenn, founder of Saving Our Sisters (SOS), a non-profit organization dedicated to family preservation. Lynn graciously honored my request to talk about her earliest efforts toward family preservation and her vision in helping women make a truly informed decision when considering adoption.


Kat: Lynn, I’ve been involved with SOS for over a year. When I first became acquainted with you, SOS was an informal, tightly woven network of first moms and adoptees who were passionate about helping families avoid the pain of adoption. This was accomplished by providing information to resources, basic necessities and/or support to the new or expectant mom. SOS is still the same wonderful network of people providing these resources, but it has grown to become an official non-profit program under the umbrella of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB). It has been an amazing process to witness.
With all of the growth, I’m interested to hear about the beginnings of SOS (technically before it was called SOS). I’d love to hear more about your personal story, how it inspired you to help others facing adoption, the first time you used your voice to help others make an informed choice and the first time a mother decided to parent with your assistance.

You lost your son to adoption in 2011, and I’ve heard you say that you came out of the fog pretty quickly after. It seems that you were almost immediately regretful of having reached out to an adoption agency who took advantage of your fears. You were in a situation where you felt backed into a corner and you didn’t have any options. Would you say that’s an accurate description?

LYNN: Yes, that is completely accurate. I did not want to relinquish my child, I wanted him. My issue was I had no maternity coverage. I contacted the private insurance company that I had a high deductible through, and asked if they would pay for my medically necessary C-section. I was told no. This led me to next attempt to work out a ‘cash price’ for the delivery of my son. I had to work a deal with the hospital, the anesthesiologist and the doctor. The price still was not something that I was able to afford. I was quoted $15,000 and it had to be paid before walking into the hospital in labor. I refused to look at ‘profiles’ until I just ran out of options and time. 12 days before my son was born, I finally threw in the towel and browsed through some that the agency ‘case worker’ sent to me.

Kat: I can’t even imagine those last days of your pregnancy and the feeling of hopelessness you must have experienced, Lynn. Thank you for sharing that with us. Like most of us, I’m sure once you found the adoption community, you must have felt the connection many of us share. Once we discover that connection, it inspires many of us to use our voice. Can you share more about how this experience unfolded for you?

LYNN:  Well, I read a few blogs. Then I blogged, which initially, was very therapeutic. It helped me process and document my anger, frustration, guilt, grief and complete and total regret for relinquishing my son. I also started reaching out to the adoption community online, I needed to talk to someone. I ended up in a group that was a ‘happy-dappy’ adoption group, complete with adoptive parents and mothers who relinquished. It didn’t feel right – at all. I couldn’t wrap my head around how anyone could be happy with giving their child away to strangers. I also made some amazing connections. I found a mother about my same age whose story was very similar to mine. Everything in our situations had happened very fast, we panicked, and felt we had no support and that we couldn’t ‘do’ another child. We ended up spending time on the phone. We talked about how we needed to do ‘something’ to keep any other mothers from giving away their children, when they were in such temporary circumstances. That is how all of this started. I put it into motion. In the forums I was in, I started offering advice, and help to pregnant mothers who were out there looking for it. I also gave them the truth of what adoption was. The despair I suffered by losing my son. I also listened and learned from the ‘happy’ people (usually adoptive parents), who challenged my stance on helping mothers keep their babies.  They had hesitations, of course using the typical stereotypes. ‘What if they’re addicted/alcoholic/homeless? They should keep their babies?’ I had to be able to answer these questions, and I figured out how to do so. Of course a mother who has no home, is using or drinking needs help. In these cases, we can look for ways to find them help, and look for a guardian within the family who would be willing to take in the infant until mom gets on her feet and does what she needs to in order to be the kind of parent she wants to be. All mothers need and deserve a chance – if they want it. I am happy to report, I haven’t found these stereotypes……we’ve helped a lot of mothers since 2011, and I’m happy to say, there has been only 1 case of a mother who was in this situation. Her family did step up and is helping her and her child.
Kat: That is awesome to hear!

I relate to your experience of finding others who had gone through similar circumstances and then finding the support in each other to start speaking out. It’s very empowering. You immediately had some success in helping other expectant moms because I read on your blog that by November of 2011, you had already spoken to 11 moms. Do you remember the very first time you reached out to someone who was considering adoption and can you tell me a little about the situation and what you said?

LYNN: I do remember, and I’m happy to tell you. It is the same thing I tell them when I’m helping them today. I ask them if they want their baby. I ask them what the situation is that is making them feel like they have to give their baby to really complete strangers. I ask them what and where their support network is, and if they’ve asked them for help, or spoken about her concerns with having another baby. I listen, and then once I have a pretty good idea about where her head is, I start asking how permanent the obstacles she is feeling really are. I offer suggestions on how to eliminate the obstacles. I also start thinking about the resources that she may be able to find locally that would take some of the stress off of her. Whether it be energy assistance, a list of daycare providers, to getting some assistance with any other children she has. We talk about where the father is, and if there are different fathers of her other children, and we talk about the level of support she is receiving from him/them and his/their family, because after all, the children are a part of their family as well.
As for the things that the industry doesn’t tell them, I explain for example, that there is NO REASON she needs to sign in the hospital. As long as she has a safe place for her and her baby to go after delivery, she should take the baby home, she will be recovering from giving birth anyway and that she can place her child for adoption at any age. People waiting for any baby will not care if the baby is a day or 5 months old. They will happily take her baby. The industry professionals want a mother to sign as SOON as the state statutes say she can, and in my opinion, before she can get her wits about her and truly feel the bond her and her baby have. I also explain that open adoption agreements are not enforceable without a TON of cash. If the relationship becomes closed, she will have to take the people that have her child to court (if she is in one of the few states that enforce these agreements), and to remember that they have more money than she does right now. I also tell her that her child’s original birth certificate will be amended and sealed away, and not even her child will be able to obtain it in many cases – it will be like she never existed.

Kat: I think that’s an important point that you highlighted, Lynn. Most of the time the mom is pressured to sign as soon as possible. You are so right that she should never face that sort of pressure and in fact, any such pressure is a good reason to delay signing. What are some other high-pressure tactics that you explain to expectant moms?

Lynn: I explain what coercion is, and I ask her if she has had any experience with it. For example, has she ‘matched’ with people who want her baby? Has she received any money while pregnant, had bills paid, or clothes purchased for her by the agency or prospective adoptive parents? I ask her if the adoption entity has explained whether or not she will have to ‘pay back’ the funds if she changes her mind. I explain how having people in the hospital before, during and immediately after she gives birth (especially people who want her baby) is distracting and even dismissive to her personal experience and bond that she will have with her baby. Pre-birth matching is coercion. I explain that it creates ‘obligation’, and once I ask her how she will feel if she changes her mind……it then clicks. She will feel bad for them. Once they understand the coercion, they understand why matching, and the money and the ‘gifts’ is so very wrong.

I also talk to her about how there is no guarantee how her baby will feel as an adult that he/she was given away, and that her intentions may never matter. Some adoptees grow up and are very angry. Every household has the same challenges, divorce, job loss, lack of funds at some point or another and there is no guarantee that the people who want her baby won’t experience them. I tell her to reach out to adult adoptees and speak to them, so that she can really hear it from them so that they can tell her what it is like to grow up ‘adopted’. I tell her to speak to mothers who have a successful open adoption (if she can find one, I only know of 1 mother in one).

Kat: As an adoptee from open adoption, I really appreciate that you talk to them about how it used as a coercive tool. And you are so right – not all adoptees are going to say they were happy within that arrangement. This is an aspect that most agencies refuse to discuss.

It must have been an exhilarating experience the first time you were able to assist a mom in keeping her baby! Having been personally involved in one instance myself (via SOS), I can say that I was ecstatic that this beautiful family wasn’t separated. It was a truly wonderful experience to see the mom and baby together. I’d love to hear more about the first time you experienced this and any details you’d be willing to share.

LYNN:  It was. I didn’t have a ‘network’ back then focused on family preservation, and all of my work was done via the internet, so I never got to meet her. She really didn’t need to receive any monetary or financial assistance. She contacted me via an online forum discussing adoption and pregnancy. She just needed an ear, and someone to help guide her through some of the decisions she needed to make as a mother. She needed information. I really just encouraged her to ask for help, and tell her family and friends the truth, that she wanted her baby. She listened, and kept her baby. She was also very thankful, and it was extremely uplifting, and I believe it helped me begin healing. I gave her what I needed when I was in her shoes. I also remember thinking how easy it was. All she needed was an ear, and some advice.
I was over the moon as they say, and talked about it with my closest friends and family about it. I even lost a few friends over it. Especially the one that was thinking about adopting because she wasn’t conceiving. I was a mother of loss on a mission back then, and hadn’t quite healed enough to educate or deliver my message and intentions with tact. I guess you could say I had an abrasive way of communicating my passion. Thankfully, I have been able to build this amazing network and we have helped more mothers than I can count which has helped me heal some, and my regret, passion and focus for family preservation and adoptee rights can be communicated in a way that I don’t come off as just another ‘bitter birth mom’ to the majority of society. I know that people who despise what I do will always consider me bitter……..and deep down……maybe I am, but I’m putting it to good use.

Kat: Yes, passions can run a little heated to say the least, but we’re always learning and improving! I can appreciate your desire to use your experience to inspire you to help others. That’s my desire as well.

Lynn: I never imagined that there were so many who are on the same side of adoption who share the same views. By that I mean, adoptees and mothers of adoption loss. I never knew anything about adoption before being a pregnant mother in complete and total panic mode. I was totally blind to it, and was sold the industry facade and had no idea the complexity, the stress on the relationship I have with my older daughter, or my extended family that doing this even with the best of intentions was going to cause. Sadly, it is a permanent solution to my so very temporary problems that literally dissipated within a few short months after losing my son.

Kat: Lynn, thank you so very much for sharing so many details of the early days of your story and your efforts to help moms who are facing adoption. It’s so important to know the history, the inspiration and the vision, and I hope to talk to you more about this in the future. I’d like to express my gratitude to you for taking time to talk with me and for sharing so much.

Lynn: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about this, and share with others the beginnings and focus of what has become Saving Our Sisters, and most of all, thank you for everything that you have done! <3

Saving Our Sisters is a 501c3 non-profit program.  Please consider donating to this organization that is dedicated to preserving families. Donations can be made via the Concerned United Birthparents website (select Saving Our Sisters for your donation) and may be tax deductible (please check with your tax advisor). In a time period where we are accustomed to seeing exorbitant director salaries and very few donation dollars being spent on the actual organizational purpose, it is extremely refreshing to know that the work SOS accomplishes is done through volunteers. 100% of the donations go to the needs of the families helped!