Shifting Perspectives On Birth Parents

Written by Anna Bernacki

“Don’t give her your phone number, she will call you incessantly.”
“Stay away from her, she will use and manipulate you.”
“She’s a really horrible person, don’t trust anything she says”.

These are just a few of the many things I was told about the biological mother of my two youngest children, Krista. It took me a year, but eventually, I took the time to get to know her for myself and found none of these things to be true. She was so horribly misunderstood. Krista has endured more hardship in her lifetime than I think she even realizes. When she talks about her childhood, I see a hurt little girl desperately trying to get someone to see her and love her. She grew up in and out of the foster system, bouncing between homes, juvenile detention, mental health facilities, and group homes. She faced horrific abuse at home and in some of those foster placements as well. Her way of survival became putting up a hard exterior in an effort to make herself unlovable. She was never adopted. She fell into addiction, and eventually aged out of the foster system, homeless.

I met Krista when she was homeless and deep in her addiction. She had just given birth to the most beautiful baby girl, who had been taken from her arms in the hospital and placed in our home. In that courthouse waiting room, I witnessed such an innocent sweetness between mother and baby, however, because of all the things I had been told about Krista, I was fearful.
I, myself, was born to a teen mother and placed for adoption. At the time of my adoption, babies were sent to a foster home for the waiting period rather than going to their adoptive home right away. There was zero contact with my birth mother or my adoptive family during those first few formative weeks of my life. No bonding or healthy attachments were being built for me. When I was finally placed in my adoptive home, my mom recalls that I was very resistant to touch and hated being held. Something that should have been comforting and made me feel secure, was actually terrifying for my little body. My adoption was a completely closed adoption. There was zero contact between my adoptive family and my birth mother. My parents did a wonderful job of always making sure that I knew where I came from and how I ended up in their home. They always assured me that my birth mother loved me very much, but I struggled with that knowledge as I grew up. How could someone who loved me just give me away?

This fueled a burning desire to find my birth mother once I turned 18, so I could ask her these questions myself. I fantasized about that day so often as I reached adolescence and was trying to find who I was. As it turned out, I wouldn’t end up meeting my birth mother until I was 22. The entire experience had been planned out in my mind for years, but when I did finally meet her, it was nothing like I expected. I was truly disappointed, and we genuinely had no connection at all. I remember getting in my car that day after meeting her, and saying out loud to myself, “Thank God I was adopted!” Eventually, we lost contact without any sort of resolution. My adoptive family became my only family and I had come to terms with that.

When my husband and I became foster parents, I had very preconceived ideas about how to approach the relationship with the biological family based on my own experience. Our first placement was two sisters whose parents really wanted nothing to do with me. We would barely even say hi at visits, and they did not acknowledge me at all in court. I chose to allow them to determine what the relationship would look like, and I respected their wishes. After we adopted the girls, some things changed and for safety reasons we had to make sure that there was no contact. The pain that it has caused them is unimaginable. I have often wondered if I am doing the right thing, but ultimately my job is to keep them safe so even allowing their family to know
something as simple as our last name or the city we live in could be detrimental to their safety. Keeping that adoption completely closed and seeing how harmful it has been on the girls has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Things were so different with our second placement’s biological mother, Krista. She wanted to have a relationship with me even though it was scary for her. She had no reason to trust me after her horrible childhood, so I knew that no matter what I had to build and maintain her trust. She had learned throughout her life that most people were not to be trusted. My word meant everything, so I was extremely careful to never say anything or make any promises that I wouldn’t be able to keep.
Over the years, Krista tested me in every way. Her goal was to push me away, and the sooner the better because then it wouldn’t hurt as bad. I look back at some of the things she did and said to me, and they were wild! There were times I was so deeply hurt, but I saw that desperate little girl in her and knew I had to remain steadfast if I was going to show her what true love really meant. Eventually, we created such a deep bond that we understood each other in a way no one else could. We saw each other’s hearts, and her walls came down.

Krista had two more children, and spent 5 years fighting the court system to get her kids back. It was always three steps forward and two back. She didn’t have a supportive family to help her. She was in and out of addiction, and continued to struggle with homelessness. The cards were all stacked against her. My husband and I had said many times that we wished we could have adopted Krista and given her the childhood she deserved. As her case progressed, it became clear that she was not
going to be able to bring her children home. Then in 2022, she made the impossible decision to sign over her parental rights to us. I have never felt so humbled and honored, while also feeling so heartbroken that a family would not be reunited. I had grown to love Krista so dearly, and the thought of her losing her hope of having a family again was devastating to me.
In the weeks that followed, my husband and I presented an idea to her. What if she was to be adopted by us as an adult? She would have her forever family, be able to see her kids grow up, and share our last name. It wasn’t a typical relationship and so many people questioned our motives. We didn’t care what others thought though. She took some time to think about things,
but decided to move forward.

Due to unforeseen obstacles and state laws, we were unable to legally adopt Krista. In spite of that, we made a commitment to her that she would forever be a part of our family. She does call me incessantly, so maybe that part was true, but not for the reasons I was told. Beyond the hardships of her life, she has learned to love and has finally allowed herself to be loved. Her
kids love her fiercely and it has been so beautiful to watch them grow up with her in their lives. They will never have a holiday or birthday without her there. As I have watched my younger two develop their relationship with Krista, I have found myself
wondering what my childhood would have been like if I had been able to have contact with my birth mother. Even if it wasn’t as consistent as things are with Krista, it could have saved me the extreme disappointment when I discovered that my birth mother and I didn’t have a bond. Maybe it would have saved me the years of fantasizing what that relationship would look like
and I would not have been so desperate to find a connection with her. Or maybe getting to grow up with her in my life would have given us the chance to develop a bond, allowing us to have a lifelong relationship.

Adoption is complicated and full of emotion on both sides. Each story is unique and there is no one size fits all, but looking at all sides when choosing how you will approach a relationship with the birth parents is crucial to the development of your child and will determine what their future relationship with them will look like.



Want to keep learning from Anna as she continues her work in advocacy? Follow her on instagram! 

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