We understand this is a complicated issue, it is an emotional issue, and there is a range of opinions on the matter.
As such, Celia Center wants to help all parties find a common ground, educate our community about the issue respectfully, diffuse “angry emotions” about this bill so we can stay rational, be “effective and influential voices” with state legislators and stay respectful and compassionate towards everyone involved.
We want to be clear, Celia Center does not support Bill AB1302.
We support opening a dialogue with fellow adoptees, first-birth parents and adoptive parents to help legislatures understand why this matters to adoptees.
We want to be respectful and talk about the best ways we can have civil conversations together to restore access to birth certificates in an ethical, humane, and efficient way together as Adoptees, First-Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents.
Let’s not split and divide on this matter, let’s conquer and side on this matter.
Learn the Basics of Rights
Effective advocacy requires a basic understanding of rights. Here are some links to helpful background information and case law:
This bill as introduced would have authorized an adopted person 18 years of age or older, the adopted person’s direct line descendants if the adopted person is deceased, or their lawful representatives – subject to birthparent non-disclosure preference which must be filed within 30 days of notice – to obtain the adopted person’s original long-form birth certificate upon filing a verified petition with the superior court in the adopted person’s county of residence or in the county granting the order of adoption. Amended and approved unanimously by Assembly Judiciary committee 4/18/23. Referred to Committee on Health.
Search Interactive United States Map: The Right to Obtain Your Own Original Birth Certificate Searchable database of related state and federal legislation from Adoptee Rights Law Center: Link to map
CapRadio - Insight With Vicki Gonzalez: "Many of us have unrestricted access to our birth certificate. But that’s not necessarily the case for people who are adopted. Their legal rights can vary greatly from one state to the next. At the center of the issue is a birth parent's right to conceal their identity, if they choose. But there is also the right of an adoptee to access their own medical record to learn their origins and family health history. Roughly a dozen states allow an adult adoptee unrestricted access to their original birth certificate. But that isn’t the case in California, which is criticized as being the most restrictive state in the country. Assembly member Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), an adopted parent himself, authored #AB1302 to make it easier for an adoptee to access their original birth certificate."
What a question! Who am I? I used to have no idea. For most of my time here on earth, I have been living a double life. I was hiding parts of myself that I didn’t even know were hidden. Yet on the surface, nothing seemed amiss. And then, at the age of 45—after a medical emergency—everything fell apart and I was suddenly faced with… myself. Unfortunately, having been in hiding for so long I didn’t recognize this new self, or the potential I had to heal and come out of hiding. The potential to allow all the parts of myself to coexist in a way that was not confusing, or worse, destructive. The potential to be able to finally answer the question: “Who am I?” with authenticity
But let’s backtrack a bit. In the beginning, I am a newborn, and my mother has to relinquish me because she lives in a society that would discriminate against an unwed, young woman with a baby and because there’s no father to help either. Suddenly and immediately, I don’t have parents. I don’t even have a name! On my adoption papers, I am registered as “Baby Boy Bender,” an eerily apt last name that I won’t get to hold on to but that is already hinting at something about me.
I am adopted into a nice upper-middle-class family, and I am a great baby, sometimes a little shy and too unsure of himself, but overall, a happy kid. My adoptive mother and father love me and provide for me and two of my siblings—one adopted, one biological—the best they can. There are toys and good food, vacations, and sailing. In family photographs, we are often laughing, with maybe one exception—a portrait of me as a 6-year-old staring off into the distance. By then I already know that there was something terribly wrong with me. And it is confirmed years later when another photograph confirms what I’d known all along as there’s me as a 15-year-old staring off into the distance.
I’d found my inherent flaw as a six-year-old when I revealed to a group of friends that I was adopted. Their faces registered shock and disgust, not awe. I’d always known I was adopted up until that point. I considered that a cool, unique fact about myself; my parents were never secretive about it. But there I was, learning that the world was going to judge me for things I had absolutely no control over.
What does judgment do to a person? It makes them feel shame.
I immediately felt that shame and it had plagued me for years, like a shadow that would not disappear no matter how much light I’d tried to shed on it. The photographs of me at 6 and 15, staring into the horizon, are photographs of a boy who was ashamed of who he was—even though he had no idea who he was! Some days I had an almost palpable feeling that I was living under a giant microscope; that everyone was watching me and they all had some kind of instruction manual that I was lacking. It seemed most people knew how to be around each other, most were feeling safe; they were making connections, and most of them were at ease. My almost constant state was that of unease.
My adoptive parents, albeit devoted and loving, didn’t pick up on my distress; they didn’t ask me questions, and they didn’t bring me to people to talk to—but why would they in the first place? I was good at hiding—I was becoming a pro at hiding. And if you were to ask them how things were, they would probably tell you that adopting Baby B. was a great success and that I was thriving. Admitting that there was something wrong would mean failure; it would mean that the adoption and their wishes to have a family were a mistake.
As a teenager, I discovered alcohol which turned out to be an amazing social lubricant—that allowed me to go from shy and quiet to suddenly gregarious and the life of a party. It was easy. No more unease! And, best of all, it allowed me to make connections with people. I became popular, I had a wonderful girlfriend, great educational prospects, and eventually a lucrative career. I had a house, a wife, and two children. The feelings of shame haven’t disappeared, but I was able to mask them so much better with alcohol—it was a cure for all my woes! What I didn’t know was that this “healing” elixir was also poisoning me—me and the very connections I was making.
Eventually, everything fell apart. And I had to find a new way to live—as a sober but still fragmented person. I recovered from alcohol but it wasn’t until I recovered those other fragments of myself that I became truly whole. It is not a coincidence that I’ve found true recovery after I had to address all of my biological and psychological mysteries: the seizure I suffered, the substance use, and finally, my own developmental trauma that stemmed from having been relinquished. In order to live, I had to figure out how to put all of the fragments together, eventually learning about the young woman who gave me up at birth, who herself had died from substance use disorder-related causes. My biological father is also no longer alive. But I have many half-siblings, half-nieces, and nephews. And I am still making new connections. And I’m making peace with those parts that were hidden and those I didn’t know how to address before.
Today, I work with people who will understand what I’ve just described—a community of other relinquishees, adoptees, and also those who struggle with addiction—not because their story is the same as mine, but because their feelings are. I am especially devoted to the intersection of addiction and relinquishment/ adoption. I write, and I speak publicly about issues unique to people like myself. I help others find connections that aid them in their own healing, and this is incredibly meaningful to me as I did not have the support I needed when navigating my own challenges.
This is why the existence of a virtual support group was so special to me—a much-needed group that I’ve helped to build and facilitate for the past two years called Adoptee Paths to Recovery. The feedback I’ve received over time was that having a community like that provides not only a place for people to make connections, but it has also helped them feel safe, heard, and validated. Where before so many of us had been living that sort of double life I’ve talked about—feeling shame and confusion, anger and pain—with support groups that assist people in investigating that intersection between addiction and separation from family, they no longer have to hide and can live authentically and healthily.
To me, healing, recovery, and thriving are about expansion. When I first entered the adoption community years ago, I attended mainly adoptee-only spaces in search of safety and validation. And that has served me well, as it provided me with the support and opportunity to continue to explore the impact of relinquishment in my life and across my lifespan. Since that time, I’ve been honored to have been given opportunities to network throughout the greater adoption community whereby I engage with relinquishees, adoptees, foster alumni, donor-conceived persons, those with misattributed parentage, birth mothers and fathers, foster parents, relative/kinship parents, adoptive parents, and adoption child welfare and out-of-home organizations and professionals. This has been part of my expansion.
With that expansion comes a need to move to a virtual support group for all those in the constellation. So today, I am letting you all know that I’m collaborating on a new group with Celia Center for all members of the adoption community experiencing and/or being exposed to addiction. It is called the Addiction and Adoption Constellation Support Group, and we will meet every other Tuesday at 5:30 pm PST/8:30 PM EST beginning on January 10, 2023. Registration is required, and you can find a link to that here.
Adoption is not the end of the process; it is, in fact, the beginning of one! Post-adoption care and services play an integral role in making any adoption successful.
Being personally acquainted with the situation, I had long recognized the importance of high-quality post-adoption and foster care services to ensure permanency, stability, and well-being for children. But that’s not all; certain other aspects demand our attention.
Post-adoption services help address sensitive aspects such as trauma (young children, adults, and even parents can suffer from it), loss, separation, sense of familiarity or belonging, etc. Such services can also help children and their families address their specific needs and help family members strengthen their bond and deepen their attachment to sustain the relationship.
Previously for many years, post-adoption services were only viewed as services provided after the legalization (finalized process) of the adoption – and in some cases, only for very short intervals.
However, now adoption professionals and families have recognized that a comprehensive continuum of multiple forms of support that vary in intensity levels is necessary to ensure well-being, long-term stability, and true permanency for adopted children and the families.
Post-adoption services are a vital support to the families raising the children in cases where they suffer from severe emotional, behavioral, or psychological challenges. With the help of support groups and sessions offered at the Celia Center, families can remain committed and effective. Our services help parents nurture children while catering to their special needs. As well as providing adoption competent therapy to children, teens and parents offered at Yoffe Therapy.
“There is evidence of a strong relationship between providing support to adoptive families as a matter of course or in the form of preventive services and positive outcomes in terms of the health, well-being, and stability of the family (Groze 1996a; Smith & Howard 1994)”
At Celia Center, we work to serve the goal of:
Support understanding of adoption by removing confusions surrounding the adoption process.
Improve parenting skills so they are able to deal with their new family dynamics.
Help parents and children cope with their traumas associated with adoption or foster care.
Improve child functioning.
Bridging gaps between the relational bands.
Prevention of adoption disruptions.
The importance of post-adoption services and support groups can be viewed in a survey of parents receiving post-adoption services. 80% of the respondents reported betterment in their households. Some excerpts from the survey are as followed:
“Research has shown that adoptive families’ needs are multidimensional and may arise at each developmental stage for the family and the adopted person. From a program development perspective, the research makes clear the need for flexible programming that permits families to return for services when needed and does not limit the extent to which they may receive services.”
“Adoptive families have a need for an array of education, support and therapeutic community services. And they need to be able to access this array episodically. This mix of services must be provided by service providers and therapists with an adoption-competent knowledge base and core values, who can see child and family strength amidst complex circumstances and concerning diagnoses.”
“For moral, social, and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that families remain intact and strong. The pendulum has swung and society again recognizes the importance of strong family systems in combating society’s ills. Adoption support and preservation services help build strong foundations for families created by adoption. By developing and implementing these services, families involved in adoption, service providers and policy makers are assuring adopted children of every opportunity to become useful, productive citizens.”
Some concepts behind the support groups of Celia Center are:
Respite care and child care
Services for children and parents, including groups of people from every age group
Support services including support groups and informal contact with other similar families
Celia Center was not my goal as I started, but it eventually became one. As I kept progressing, it became the highlight of my life as I could see my efforts bringing positive results.
Being a foster child myself who also went through adoption, I was aware of the miseries one can experience in this process. These were not the miseries that life caused me but the miseries which developed from my detachment from the world.
We need to realize that there is a ‘need to heal.’ There is a need to break the ice for the people who never get the chance to speak about how they feel. Even when they do speak, they are either shut down or not understood. They are received in a way that pushes them deeper into their shells, where they develop several traumas and social dilemmas.
To heal is to recover, to be at peace. It means to overcome the inner demons holding you back from moving forward. To heal is to set one’s soul and mind at peace. Healing cannot be achieved overnight. You have to go through a process, or sometimes a series of processes, to reach that state of mind where you are no longer bothered by what used to haunt you.
In order to heal, you need to stand tall in front of your fears and deal with them. You need to be reminded that you are loved, cared for, valued, and that you cannot be suppressed any longer. In order to heal, we need to break the chains of quietness, desolation, and life of fears. We need to come out clean to the greener side of life. The journey to healing could be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
People who have been through traumatizing events tend to experience heavy emotional burdens. It’s as if, over the years, the time has chipped away a significant part of them. This fear and struggle, if nurtured over a longer period, breed physical and mental disorders. These diseases devour the person slowly and gradually, leaving behind nothing but a hollow shell.
I can understand that after going through severe trauma in your life, it is difficult to grow from it. But for how long? For how long are you going to sit in that dark room? For how long are you going to absorb the pain? We have all experienced one of those dreaded days where you don’t want to get out of your bed. You just lie down, contemplating life and past events – it’s relatable.
Speak up! Talk about the things that are bothering you. Don’t just sit there taking it all in. Don’t empathize with your misery. Be the master of your senses; don’t let anyone else control it or take hold of it. Healing is the process that will lead you toward recovery. Eventually, you will be able to break through the chains of depression, fear, and anxiety, and breathe freely once again!
When we don’t talk about these things, they grow bigger inside us. If they are not dealt with at the right time and with the right guidance, they explode in the form of anger, violence, traumas, and other such issues. To understand this better, consider a human being like a spring.
You keep pressing and pressing the spring so it will absorb all the pressure and reduce in size (getting oppressed), but when you reach the contraction limit, it will pop up. The spring will jump up even higher using the energy that compressed it, directed in the opposite direction. The same is with human feelings and emotions.
Don’t let your stored emotions burst into some kind of retaliation or anger. Don’t let it corrode your body and soul from inside. Don’t live with your fears. Value the life that you have been granted, and make the most of it by making it better every day. Believe in the power of healing, and believe that in observing your struggle you will surely be rewarded with something great.
For a free mental health consultation please visit Yoffe Therapy an adoption competent mental health center in the state of California.
 “Research on Postadoption Services: Implications for Practice, Program Development, and Policy” in The Postadoption Experience p. 295.
 “Perspectives on the Need for Adoption-Competent Mental Health Services,” Casey Family Services, October 2003, p. 72.
 “Adoption Support and Preservation Services: A Public Interest,” Spaulding for Children, revised May 2005
A reunionwith your birth family can be a wonderful thing but when I searched for my mother, I really had no idea about who or what I would find. I remember being fully prepared for being rejected, to be honest I was expecting it but I hoped at least I would know what she looked like and maybe she’d tell me about her life. I had spent years feeling abandoned by a person I had never met so I had built up some serious walls of defence around me. It had taken me years to build up the courage to find her, I was looking for something but I wasn’t quite sure what it was at that point. I think my natural mother dealt with it really well, she let me lead the way in our newly forming relationship but let me feel safe and secure to do so. She never rushed me and it began to feel natural to open up to her.
I feel like I was never told the information I was needed when I was growing up. Everything was pretty vague, I mean I knew I was adopted but I never knew why or who were these mysterious people that gave me away. How could I know about my story if I didn’t know theirs and why could I not know? Did my adoptive parents know more than they would tell me? So many questions and no answers! I could sense it upset them and quickly it became a taboo subject like the elephant in the room, always there but never mentioned. I really appreciated my natural mother being completely honest about everything that happened, It allowed me to make sense of not only my story but hers too which to be honest I had never considered before. I never realised that she suffered, I always imagined it was an easy decision for her and I was just an inconvenience so you see how hiding the truth can be damaging. She told me the truth about my adoption and even wrote it out in story form which she’d read would be a good way for us both to make sense of what happened. She did so even though it was painful for her and I loved and respected her all the more for it.
When people hear about reunion stories they instantly think of tears of joy and a happy ever-after story. I doubt they could ever imagine that we would need to grieve, I mean why would we need to do that? We should be so happy! When I began chatting to my birth mother more and more it became apparent to me that not only was she was someone who I was becoming close to, she was a part of me that I had always felt was missing but lacked the language and understanding to know and express it before. Mixed in with the highest of highs and pure feelings of love and happiness at finding this most wonderful person who had created me was ever increasing feelings of despair and sadness for the time we had lost together. All the parts of my childhood I could have shared with her were gone forever, all the shared experiences that bonded her to her other children were elusive to me, eternally beyond my grasp. I also grieved for the way the adoption had effected me growing up, I wondered if I wouldn’t have felt so lonely and out of place if I had stayed with her, my rightful mother. I cried a lot on my own but I felt that maybe we needed to cry together as a way of bonding with her or maybe for the support and acknowledgement of the loss I had experienced, something which I never had growing up. I remember being upset that I couldn’t cry with her the first time we met and only did when I was on my own the next morning, maybe I was still as guarded as I had been all my life and unwilling yet to share my emotions. The next time we met we spent some time alone and chatted about the adoption and were able to speak more openly. All of a sudden I felt my walls crumble and my tears flowed, my mother gripped my hand and cried too and I feel like we connected at that moment and I realised to my surprise that we both grieved for the same loss. It was painful but healing to share that feeling of grieving together. Both adoptees and birth mothers had their grieving denied to them, it is disenfranchised grief, a delay to an inevitable and natural process that is cruel and damaging to deny. Sharing that with her made me feel even closer to her and her to me.
Feelings can easily consume you if they are kept locked up inside. When I was growing up I didn’t have the understanding or knowledge to know that my feelings of sadness, loneliness and not fitting in were to do with being adopted and neither did my adoptive parents. In the closed adoption era adoptive parents believed they were receiving the gift of a baby with with a blank slate, they wouldn’t remember or care about about losing their natural mother, why would they? They’re just a baby. Maybe it’s what they needed to believe in order to truly feel like it was their child and they wouldn’t want to feel like their child was in pain either so just hope for the best! Well it seems that babies do remember, they spend 9 months growing inside and listening to their mothers heartbeat. The mother might speak to them as mine did, they are ready to hear her familiar voice and to be soothed by the only person who can, they lack the ability to self soothe. I was a baby waiting to meet my mother and she wasn’t there, instead I was taken away and handed to strangers. My adoptive parents often told me how quiet I was as a baby and rarely cried even if I was hungry. They thought it was great, I was easy but I guess crying for my mother didn’t work so why bother? Instead I went into shut down mode and I think that must have continued throughout my life because I often was very quiet and withdrawn. Adoptees seem to become very observant and can be hyper vigilant looking for signs that we might be abandoned although this is usually subconsciously. Some adoptees like to test their parents but others like me don’t want to upset them so we keep our feelings to ourselves, locked down deep inside where they fester and do their damage. The first time I ever spoke about my adoption, what it meant to me and my feelings about it was with my natural mother. If I ever try talking about it to others I am either shut down with comments like yeah but you had a good family etc. Society doesn’t validate the feelings of birth mothers or adoptees. My natural mother made me feel like I could open up about it and she truly wanted to understand me, talking helped us both understand each other and ourselves better.
5. WE OFTEN FEEL OVERWHELMED.
Reunion is full of highs and lows and you never know what intense feelings are going to come next. We may have feelings of intense love for a person you barely know or feelings of deep grief and sadness for the loss of that same person. We may even feel like we have regressed in age and not fully understand why this has happened. I honestly believe these feelings are natural and important, it’s the situation that is unnatural so it can be frightening and confusing unless you have researched and read about the effects of adoption. Talk to your child about how they are feeling and maybe recommend books or video, my birth mother and I are always swapping articles and book ideas! Either party may however deny that it has affected them so it may be frustrating if they don’t open up at first but with time I’m sure they will. It really helps to understand that these feelings are normal and they can be worked through together. There are so many facets of reunion that can be overwhelming especially if there’s a whole new family dynamic to fit into and adoptees are especially sensitive to the potential of being abandoned, we subconsciously look for signs! A lot of patience and understanding is needed on both sides and I truly believe all reunions have the potential of being successful if both parties want that.
This is something only someone who has been taken from their natural family will ever truly understand. We grew up with no reflection of ourselves in our adoptive family with constant reminders that we didn’t have what others did. In my extended adoptive family there was always talk of who looked like who and took after certain traits of their blood relatives and it was the same at my friends houses. I often wondered if there was anyone who looked like me but it was strange because I still couldn’t picture my natural parents, they remained ghosts to me. I wondered if my artist talents were inherited because no-one in my adoptive family had any kind of creative flair, my adoptive father was very serious and practical and did not get me in he slightest. I often think he would have loved a son that was an echo of his own genetics and there are losses unresolved with adoptive parents too. Meeting my natural parents and siblings was equal parts wonderful and surreal, I could finally see myself in someone. I felt giddy scanning for physical resemblance’s and traits and it was wonderful to hear about the music, art and quirky sense of humour in my birth family that I had inherited. We are so starved of this that we crave it, we want to hear about how we look and act like members of our natural family because it validates us a person and makes us feel less alone in the world.
7. WE FEEL SPLIT.
There are many ways in which adoptees feel split. We often have the feeling that we don’t fit in or truly belong in our adoptive family but then we find our natural family and find we don’t truly fit in there either. With one we share experiences with no blood and shared genetics and the other we share blood and genetics with no experiences. We often feel like the baby that was relinquished died and we became a separate person to that child. I never really felt like I had been born until reunion which is probably hard to understand. It was like I was dropped off by aliens or just found somewhere. This makes sense because our connection to those who created us had been cut off and that which most take for granted was never there for us. We feel the need for connection, the true connection we were denied but we also reject it because we expect to be abandoned. Our brains weren’t shaped by the loving bond with our mothers but by the need to survive in a world that seemed alien and avoiding abandonment seems key to that survival even though that doesn’t really help at all.
Our lives didn’t begin when we were born, we spent 9 months connected with and protected by our mothers. Our whole world was literally our mother and the sounds surrounding her. Her world was ours. We were preparing for life outside of mother but it was ok because we would still be protected by her world and our bonding would continue. Likewise the mother’s body has prepared itself physically and spiritually to care for and protect her child. They know each other and are connected. We lost that connection to our universe and were suddenly surrounded by genetic strangers. Instead of being full of the love hormone oxytocin our bodies were full of stress and adrenaline in order to survive. It’s the premature development of the ego. All my life I felt like I couldn’t rely on anyone because they would just let me down. I apparently became a “stiff arm baby” and maybe I instinctively knew that spiritually I was on my own but physically needed these strangers to survive. The baby who was supposed to continue the natural bonding process with mother was frozen in time and in reunion is woken ready to continue what was broken. We don’t know how to do that as an adult, gazing into our mothers eyes and constantly being held by her is no longer appropriate so we don’t know how to bond or even if it’s possible.
9. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO CALL YOU.
In reunion you are familiar but you are still a stranger. In our adoptive families we develop roles and grow up with a mother and and a father and we are taught to call them mum and dad or mom and pop. Then you come along, our real parents but we already had parents who felt real and who have already filled those roles. So who are you to us? Maybe we want you to fill those roles or maybe we don’t or at least no longer need that, that time and that need has passed. But calling you by your name can also feel wrong, you gave birth to us, you are the reason we are here and our connection to creation. That is everything, you are more than just a friend. Much of our looks and personality is genetic and because of the two strangers who created us. I often want to call my natural mother “mum”, it feels right but it also feels wrong when I see it written it down or after I’ve said it. It wasn’t her fault but she wasn’t there in my developmental years when these roles are being formed. We may start calling you something and then stop and then begin again. Recently I’ve started calling my natural mother “mama” and it feels right or at least more right than “mum” or her name.
10. WE DON’T KNOW WHERE WE FIT.
We lived a life and grew up in our adoptive family and developed family roles whether that felt natural or not, likewise our birth families often went on to start or continue families without us. All of a sudden in reunion I found I had siblings, cousins etc that had spent their childhoods developing their family relationships with shared experiences. My mother wants to bring me into her family which is wonderful but I also don’t know what that means or how it works. All of a sudden I have a new world full of blood relations and extended family and I don’t know my place in their world or if I have the right to be there. My mother wants to bring me into her world and part of me wants to be there but part of me doesn’t trust this new world because it once rejected me.
Celia Center was approached by OWN Television about their new show Raising Whitley. It is a humorous and poignant docu-series following actress and comedienne Kym Whitley and her riotous collective of friends–whom she calls “TheVillage”– as they attempt to do something none of them has ever done before–raise a child together.
Kym needed advice upon meeting with her foster-adoptive son’s birth mother. Watch as the Celia Center Community and Founder, Jeanette Yoffe support her on her journey.
Jeanette Yoffe was interviewed for this podcast on February 16, 2018.
Podcaster Haley Radke invites Jeanette Yoffe to share what inspired her to begin a support group for adoptees. Discussion covers how to start your own group and best practices for peer-facilitated groups.
If starting or joining a support group feels too intimidating, don’t worry! Jeanette has a great idea for free support: find a listening partner.
The Adoption Constellation: New Ways of Thinking About and Practicing Adoption by Michael Phillip Grand
Using the term adoption constellation vs adoption triad
Adopt Salon constellation groups can include: adoptees, adoptive parents, first parents, foster youth, foster alumni, foster families, social workers, spouses, siblings
Suggested Support Group Rules:
We support each other here, we don’t fix each other – no unsolicited advice
Everyone gets a turn to share (5 minutes). What’s your name, what are you here for – do you have a question, do you want support for something in particular? You can share briefly about your story.
You can ask questions if you do want advice.
You can be here and not share: OWL (Observe, Watch and Listen)
Keep everything confidential that is shared in the group
We need firm and safe group rules so we don’t experience secondary trauma
Constellation groups help us examine adoption from multiple angles; helps in growing compassion and acknowledging it is a shared experience.
Celia Center support groups have been featured on OWN’s Television Show, “Raising Whitley” and TLC’s “Long Lost Family”
If you can’t find a group, don’t feel comfortable going to a group, don’t want to start your own… Find a listening partner! Book a regular call that is to someone who will just listen. Listen, receive and acknowledge.
Support groups to listen, share and support; you can also have guests come in and present, maybe for 15 minutes on different topics – mindfulness, an education piece about trauma, sharing their story… but leave space for the group to still share and discuss.
If a group has different members of the adoption constellation present, it’s best to have a licensed therapist to facilitate. For peer-led support, just having adult adoptees (for example) is safer.
Celia Center Arts Festival | Adopting Resilience, Fostering the Spirit of Creativity
Celia Center Arts Festival 2016 Summary Video
Check out adopteesconnect.com for new peer-led groups starting in the United States (started by Pamela Karanova of How Does it Feel to be Adopted)
If you have another resource of places to find in-person adoptee support groups, please get in touch so I can list it here.
My first job in the Los Angeles child welfare system was as a paraprofessional volunteer at the Stephen S. Weiss Temple Adoption Support Centerunder the supervision of Stephanie Siegel, PhD. I mentored children who were adopted, assisted with support groups, and helped answer questions about my experience at special events and panels for families. I didn’t think much of it because at the time, I was busy trying to be an actress! I had written and performed a play, titled “What’s Your Name, Who’s Your Daddy?” which sheds light on growing up in foster care with the objective to share “what it feels like.” I did benefits for local foster care and adoption organizations, and it was at a Q & A, with county social workers and psychotherapists that I realized I knew more than the professionals knew, about the psychological and emotional impact of growing up in foster care and the light bulb went on. “I think I want to work with children and families connected by foster care and adoption!”
So, I went back to school to pursue a Master’s Degree in Psychology, and was hired not as a psychotherapist first, but as a Foster Care Social Worker at Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency under the direction of Sylvia Fogelman and worked with children in the foster care system referred by the Department of Child and Family Services in Los Angles County. She said to me, “Trust your instincts, you have a lot to offer.” No one had ever told me that. I was compelled to do what she had instilled in me, and I learned endlessly about the foster care system in Los Angeles.
I drove to children’s homes in a 1985 Mazda Rx7, transported them to and from birth family visits and/or doctor’s appointments, monitored visits, talked with mothers helping them see how important they were to their children, recognized the stigma parents had about birth families as “junkies” or “bad people”, heard that social workers were making promises to children about returning to their families when parents were already AWOL. Every other day a foster parent’s call would begin with, “How can I give my 7-day notice?” I was overwhelmed, and kept asking myself, how do we all get on the same page?
Then in 2006, I wanted to start taking some small steps on my own, so I started a private practice, became a Medi-cal provider, doing attachment therapy with children and families connected by foster care and adoption. I answered parents’ questions over and over, about attachment, trust, grief reactions….” foster kids are grieving the loss of their previous situation…even if it was scary” “trauma impacts the brain and behavior…” “do you know any foster alumni you can speak to?” “have you read more about a birth mother’s experience?” “do you know any adoptees?” “Please make friends with other families like yours, this will be a lifelong process.”
I continued to question, where are the others out there like me? How can we help each other understand? How can I help eliminate the stigma of birth families? How can I help families understand the lifelong impact? I realized parents needed more support and education outside of therapy. The “whole system” needed more support and education of knowing together “what is the best interest of the child?”. And most importantly it would be beneficial if they could all hear it together, sit in the question together, and find solutions together.
So in 2009, I called a local adoption agency, Vista Del Mar Agency, and asked if they would host a support group I named Adopt Salon Constellation named after the book by Micheal Grand, The Adoption Constellation… where he writes…
“Openness helps everyone in the adoption constellation. It heals relationships and helps to guide how the birth family is part of the adoptive family, and how the adoptive family is part of the birth family. We have to think of that relationship in both directions, which is different than a totally closed adoption where we pretend that the birth family never existed. This is why we need to think about the adoption constellation. The constellation includes all the people involved in the adoption experience: siblings, both birth and adoption, extended families, social workers, teachers, religious leaders, and legislators. A constellation model allows for them all to influence the experience and recognizes changes in relationships over time. Some may drift away, some may become closer.”
After reading the book, I chose to include foster care to the equation too, because I was raised in foster care and many of the families I worked with were in foster care. This voice in child welfare needed understanding too.
And 60 people showed up to the first group! It was shocking! I finally felt that I had found a “ real solution” to a “ real problem”. Adopt Salon. The support group was and still is a success and has become couple’s “date night” on the first Wednesday of the scheduled months.
Goals of Adopt Salon:
#1: Bring everyone together- first mothers, first fathers, foster youth alumni, foster parents, kinship caregivers, legal guardians, adult adoptees, adoptive parents, siblings, relatives, and significant others in one room. Yes, I repeat, in one room!
#2: Provide a space to share each other’s stories in an emotionally safe environment, with a non-biased facilitator, who could hold each different voice and point of view with respect and regard. Which was me, the voice of the child welfare system having regard for all those who help a child navigate the child welfare system, and find a forever family.
#3: Create a list of safe and healthy boundaries. “We are here to share stories, thoughts, feelings, and ideas, receive psycho-education, process grief, and loss, build strong bonds and connections. There is no criticizing, judgment, or unsolicited advice given unless requested, when sharing all shares must be expressed in an “I message.” If you have a question, that person has a right to respond or say “no thank you. You can also be an OWL – observe, watch and listen so that your feelings can inform a proactive response, rather than reactive response. And most importantly, understand there are many voices in child welfare, and many different points of view because…”
“If you look at a tree from one angle, that’s the only angle you are going to get!”
How the group works:
We start by going around the group, each person states their name, their connection to adoption or foster care, and say if they have any questions, pressing issues, or shares, so the facilitator can return back to them to open up a group discussion.
Common themes that come up are the struggles with parenting a child with early childhood trauma, helping them change the paradigm from “what’s wrong with him to what happened to him?”, understanding grief and loss for the adoptee and foster youth and first-birth mother or father, shifting the way first-birth mothers and fathers are perceived as people with their “own unmet mental health needs”, and having the courage to acknowledge that we can and are grieving these losses together. And lastly, by acknowledging this commonality, this will help us see the connection of what’s truly “in the best interest of the child”.
There are stories shared about mothers who were forced to surrender their children due to no fault of their own and those whose families did not support them in keeping their children. There are stories of mothers, who genuinely wanted their children, who were not ready to be mothers, were also products of the foster care system and yet still wanted to be a part of their children’s lives but not knowing how. Then we discuss open adoption and how that works. And teaching foster parents, how to convey their child’s stories to them in an “age-appropriate way” and helping families who have not, still to this day, told their children they were adopted as infants. There are stories of foster youth alumni who ran away from home due to the abuse they endured and needed their foster families to understand how badly they were hurting and what they truly needed during those times.
The support group is held four times a year, on the first Wednesday of March, June, September, and December from 7-9pm at Vista Del Mar Adoption Agency.
Starting in October and November 2019, we will be hosting a new system of support, called Adopt-ED Salon Open House, which is a bi-annual open house bringing together people in the foster care and adoption constellation with those who have an interest in the community including social workers, therapists, prospective adoptive or foster parents, among others.
The mission of the open house is to increase awareness, facilitate community and encourage dialogue in a minimally-structured, non-clinical environment. This format allows people to have private conversations with any member of the constellation, ask questions that they always thought about asking and never had the opportunity to do before to break down the walls. Adopt-ED Salon Open House was developed by our board member, Carra Greenberg, lawyer, and an adult adoptee.
For 10 years now we have been learning, via Adopt Salon Constellation, how to break down the walls of the negative stigma, how to support one another with respect and compassion, and start saying “we and us” together, so we can be the constellation of change together, as a community.
The birth family creates the life. The adoptive and foster family sustain the life, and together,they affirm the child’s life.
The Adopt Salon Constellation Support group was created by CeliaCenter.org, helping families become whole again one group, one family, one person at a time.
Jeanette Yoffe, M.A., M.F.T. founded the non-profit she named, Celia Center, after her first mother, Celia. Celia Center is a mental health center that meets the critical needs of all those connected by Foster Care and Adoption and all those who serve the community of Foster Care and Adoption in Los Angeles and beyond. Year-round, they host mental health conferences, training, workshops, support groups, arts festivals, family outings, and wolf healings.
On January 23, 2016, we launched our first-ever Arts Festival. 30 artists all connected by foster care and adoption displayed their art, facilitated healing arts workshops and 3 plays were written and performed by adult adoptees.
On April 13, 2019, we launched our 2nd Arts Festival. 30 artists all connected by foster care and adoption displayed their art, facilitated healing arts workshops and 3 plays were written and performed by adult adoptees.
This Grown in My Heart Adoption Carnival Topic was supposed to be “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Was Touched By Adoption”, but I can’t use the feel good wording of “touched”. *
I was nottouched by adoption,it’s more liketorched, trampled, traumatized, terrorized, tortured, and torn apartby adoption.
Overall, I feel like I allowed the destructive force of adoption into my life.
Adoption was almost more like a crack that happened in my soul. A crack that I thought and was encouraged to believe would be temporary or always below the surface. Over time, the rest of life worked its way in, like water in cement, and caused the
So that gives me number one on my list; the rest is really really easy and I can, also quite easily go on and on, but this carnival only called for the ten things we wish we could have known.. I think I just have to go over it. *
I wish I knew thatrelinquishingmy child to adoption was not a one-time event that I would recover from by the most major life-altering “decision” that would alter the very course of my existence for the rest of my life. *
I wish I knew that adoption would not be a decision made entirely by me and affectonlyme, but would have life-altering implications across the entire berth of my family. I thought nothing of how it would affect my mother, my brother, and of course my children, both the one that I relinquished and the children I had later on. *
I wish I had known what I really was giving up when I relinquished my Max. I understood the concept of a baby, but I had no clue what it really meant to be a mother. I could decide to give up something that I never had to begin with.. or something that I never let myself have a chance to really experience. *
I wish I had known that public assistance, social services, paternity, childsupport,and all manners of help in general was nothing to be ashamed of, to be afraid of asking for or receiving or something that made me less of a person. I still think about my adoption counselor explaining to me rather briefly how I “could” keep my baby and go on welfare and how very horrified I was of that thought and I never even attempted to consider it. *
I wish I had known how it would feel to know for the rest of my life that I had assisted in denying a man the right to have a relationship with hisonlychild. Had I thought through the ethical complications and moral obligation to thetruthand this man’s rights, then I would not have to live with the knowledge of how I horribly and inexcusable wronged another human being. *
I wish I had known that I was strong and capable and worthy of being the mother that I was meant to be. The normal self-doubts of a young person basically untried by life were not bolstered in the face of adversity, but rather exasperated and exploited. *
I wish I had known that it was not my job, nor obligation to make another couple’s “dreams of a family” come true. I wish I had known that I should not have taken pride nor comfort or some sick sense of self-satisfaction by allowing other people’s needs to go before my own, not that I have an issue about giving of one’s self. I donate my knowledge, I give my time, I volunteer; but a child is not giving of oneself, an adoption is giving of another.. a child. I had no right to do that. *
I wish I had known that my son’s parents would not be quite as grateful and thankful to me as I had expected, hoped or been lead to believe. I wish I was not quite as disappointed that they just won’t speak to me and I have the distinct feeling that they really would just like me to go back away. I wish that didn’t hurt. *
I wish I had known that children really aren’t interchangeable. Just because one party wants something and another party isn’t so sure, doesn’t mean that we can switch things about and pretend we are God and it will work out OK. *
I wish I had known that my son had basic rights to his family, his truth, his heritage, his father, hissiblings, and me; more than I ever gave us credit for. To think that I could have thought so little of myself, my family, and all the individual traits and histories that make us unique and THAT could have been replaced with a one-paragraph bio and a few pictures is so insulting to every ancestor that breathed before me. *
I wish I had known that you cannot re-write life as it comes to you. That we can’t cheat it and pretend that things happened differently than we would have liked. And sometimes, most times, given time time what seemed to be a disaster is actually part of making things work out exactly as they should, but we just don’t know it yet. I wish I had learned to just accept things as they come and live the hand that was dealt to me even if it meant being a mother at 19.. because Iwasa mother at 19! *
I wish I had known that it was possible to love most fiercely and deeply someone that you haven’t ever really met. I wish I had known that I wouldknowmy son before I got to meet him again. That I would know his face and it would be so familiar to me. I would know his smell and I would need it to breathe. That I would know and understand how he felt, thought, and would react just because Iknew…way before I ever knew. *
I wish I had known how much it would suck to hear my other kids say things like” I forget what Max looks like”, or “I don’t feel like I have another brother,” or “If we got real poor would you have to give us away, too?” *
I wish I had known that adoption, which was supposed to preserve my teenage way of life, turned out to be something that completely changed my entire life and here I am, over 20 years later and adoption is still a major factor in my daily existence, my thoughts, my dreams and, even worse, is also a factor in my whole family’s lives as well. *
I wish I had known thatgeneticsreally play a huge portion of who we are and that things like our mutual love of pirates, combat boots, Mohawksand died hair, alternative music, god in the woods, being buried in plain pine boxes, Dr. Pepper, Boston cream donuts, thunderstorms, reading, and writing with these dern dots…. was all part of who he was before he was born. I wish I knew that my genes had carried more than the color of his skin and the familiar look of our feet and it was something that irreplaceable. *
I wish I had known that not every adoptee thinks that being placed for adoption was the best thing since sliced bread, are not grateful, are not happier to have a bigger house, and sometimes, can be quite adversely affected by the whole experience. It was really hard to accept that the thing that I thought was “best” could have actually been much worse. *
I wish I had known that there is no real “ready” to become a mother and that the mythology of motherhood as our society has crafted is a vicious losing situation. I wish I had known how easy it is for us to turn on each other and judge our fellow sisters because we are all so concerned about getting it wrong and not being the best supermom on the block. *
I wish I had known that it was going to be crazy hardthisway, being abirthmother, and that all the pain and sacrifices and sleeplessness would be coming to me anyway, but without the joys and pleasures of being with my child. I wish I had known that I would havewantedto make it work, that it would have been worth it to give up the fun. *
I wish I had known that Fear is never a good basis for making a decision. *
I wish I had known that the “scandal” was all in my head and that within six months no one would have cared much less remembered. I wish I had realized that my family would not have thought that I was a piece of poop for ver but would have loved and adored my baby as I would have. *
I wish I had known that having a baby at 19 would not have “ruined my life”, that being a mother at 19 would not have “ruined my life” and that adoption, well it pretty much ruined my life .. or at least got closer to ruining my life s anything else ever did. *
I wish I had known that school could have been put off a few years, but my motherhood was happening now. *
I wish I had known that I was being exploited and enabled and I walked right into it. *
I wish I had known that adoption was not glamorous or romantic, but that life being a birthmother pretty much sucks. *
I wish I had known that the adoption agency really didn’t have my best interest at heart and they weren’t my best friends and I shouldn’t have worried about making them proud by being the “best darn birthmother” and following all the rules. *
I wish I had known that putting everyone else’s wants and needs before mine for almost 20 years did not make me better, nor stronger, nor noble, nor brave and didn’t get me a key to heaven. *
I wish I had known that a piece of paper would not make me an un-mother. *
I wish I had known how much it would really really hurt and how, really, even after reunion, there is no normal and it is never over. *
And then one final wish that I still have now; of all the things in my life and all the mistakes and bad decisions I have made, with all the missteps and situations that came to me, whether by my own hand or been done by wrong by someone else; I wish there was a way to change the past and make just this one thing all go away. *