March 2016

Modern Family Made Possible Through Adoption

Author: Becca Edwards

In the mosaic of our memory, certain vibrant images from our childhood help render the person we are today. For Michelle Wycoff, that image was a framed poem by Fleur Conkling Heyliger on her bedroom wall.

It read: “Not flesh of my flesh, Nor bone of my bone, But still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, You didn’t grow under my heart—but in it.”

“I always knew I was adopted,” Wycoff said. “We celebrated my ‘special day’ like a birthday each year. My advice to anyone considering adoption is to make it part of the normal life routine and something special to be cherished in the family.”

The history of adoption is understandably fascinating and dates back to the Roman Empire when wealthy sonless families would adopt older boys or men in order to have a male heir. One such legendary adopted heir was the emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Fast forward a few thousand years and, according to authors Christine Adamec and William Pierce in their book Adoption, “From 1854 to 1929, homeless children (especially Catholics and Jews) were placed on trains and taken to rural sites in the Midwest and West in search of homes. At each stop, children were ‘put up’ on platforms to see if anyone would want to take them, which led to the phrase ‘put up for adoption.’” This morally questionable exodus was the brainchild of Charles Loring Brace, who hoped to send urban orphans to “kind Christian homes.” An estimated 150,000 street children were transported over the 65-year span of the Orphan Train movement. Another interesting aspect about adoption is how linked it is to major historical events such as war, famine, disease, genocide and judicial decisions like Roe vs. Wade.

The topic of history takes a twist when it comes to the adoptees and their curiosity concerning the circumstances around their adoption. According to adoption.com, “In a [1996] study of American adolescents, the Search Institute found that 72 percent of adopted adolescents wanted to know why they were adopted, 65 percent wanted to meet their birth parents, and 94 percent wanted to know which birth parent they looked like.” Also, as adoptees face health related issues, have children of their own or simply need to fill out health-related forms, the medical history of their birth parents becomes equally important.

For Wycoff, during her teenage years, her biological backstory became increasingly heavy on her heart and mind. This was not due to a lack of love, understanding or openness from her adopted parents. This was, as Wycoff succinctly put it, “About nature versus nurture.” Wycoff, who looks like a young Sophia Loren, has light olive skin, naturally brown hair and brown eyes. Her adoptive family, who had a biological child of their own shortly after adopting Wycoff, is of Scandinavian decent, and guessing from their descriptions, blonder and fair like the actress Malin Ackerman. “And it wasn’t just that I didn’t look like my parents and sister. I acted differently,” Wycoff said. “I was just genetically predisposed to independence. I always had one foot out the door in an environment growing up that seemed to thrive on co-dependence.”

When Wycoff was in her early 20s, her adopted mother helped her find her biological mother. “We went through the journey of answering the questions together. That helped tremendously when I did write my birth mother and received no response. The rejection I felt at that time was comforted by the support of my adoptive mother and father,” Wycoff said.

The process of adopting is equally emotionally difficult. And yet Amy Coughlin and Caryn Abramowitz in Cross-Cultural Adoption reported, “The United States adopts more children, not only internationally but also domestically, than the rest of the world combined.”

Amy Urban and her husband Chris recently welcomed home their second adopted child and will tell you adoption can be overwhelming. “The process is extensive and exhausting, but worth it,” began Amy Urban, who chose a private agency and adopted domestically. “Even when you are finally matched with a potential mom, you’re hesitant to get too excited. It’s just so fragile.”

The Urban’s adoption experience began after their sixth miscarriage. “Chris went to Barnes and Noble. They only had one book about adoption and he bought it,” Amy said. This book would lead them to attorney Ray Godwin—who is an adoptive father and has helped over 2,000 families adopt—and change their lives for the better. “We met with Ray and started the process. We specified our preferences like no drugs or alcohol issues with the birth mother and that we wanted a newborn (ages zero to six months). We didn’t want to do an international adoption, because with our work schedules, we could not travel. We put a book together with pictures of ourselves, our home, our wedding, our dog and areas around Hilton Head. We wrote that this was our life and we were looking to complete our family with a baby.”

Though making the book and filling out the paperwork was not hard on Amy, the home visits with the social worker were especially difficult for her. “Of course I understand why the home studies are important, but you feel so vulnerable when someone is in your house for three to four hours and appears to be judging you when all you want is a baby.” Amy and Chris had to answer difficult parenting questions that many people cannot answer unless they are already parents. “I really got bent out of shape during this part of the process, especially the first time. Our second adoption was much easier.”

But the Urban’s commitment to having a baby and hard work paid off when they received a call that they had been matched with an expectant mother the day before Thanksgiving. “We met the birth mother during a conference call with her, our lawyers and a case worker. We talked, then got off the phone, and she talked separately to the lawyers and social worker. Five minutes later the phone rang and we learned she had accepted us. Then things really started happening quickly, especially in terms of building a relationship with the birth mother.”

Throughout both of Amy’s adopted children’s pregnancies, she was in constant contact with the mother and has continued a healthy relationship with both, often sending updates and photos. “We got lucky with both moms.” She was also present for both births. “The moment both my children were born it was so surreal. I looked at them and the connection was instant.”

Like Wycoff’s adopted mother, Urban tells her daughter and son “they came from her heart and not her belly.” And both women, say adoption has taught them so much about love. “Adoption has taught my husband and me that love supersedes genetics. If we couldn’t have had our own children, there is no doubt in our minds that we would have adopted,” said Wycoff, who has two biological children. “I have friends who only want children if they are their own natural offspring. I don’t understand this. Adoption is such a gift.” 
Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).

  1. I am Amy’s aunt, and loved this story. There is so much I didn’t know.
    I will copy it and pass it on to my family. I remember the stress they went through until they actually had Hadley in their arms. They were blessed with two beautiful children. I hope to go down to see the little darlings in may. Thank you for writing such an informative article on adoption. Susan Dahl


    — Susan Dahl    Apr 4, 09:47 pm   

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