I have been reading this thread with great interest and a lot of respect for everyone involved. Warning, this is long. I have been trying to put my thoughts together on this for a while, and there is a lot on my mind.
Having foster parented for the last several years, I have seen this issue from a number of different perspectives.
The first child I foster parented was fifteen years old. His parents had seven children, and he was in the middle. Due to severe abuse and neglect that started in-utero (it is very likely his birth mother was drinking alcohol throughout her pregnancies), he was finally after five torturous years, removed from his parents' home along with the rest of his siblings. He suffered through another six years of intense effort by the state to reunite his family. During that time he was bounced around from home to home (by the time he came to live with us at 15, we were his twenty-third home), while the process dragged on and his parents were offered services and visitations to which they often didn't show. Preparing for visitations and then living through the betrayal of parents who didn't show was among many facets of his trauma. In the end, his parents simply did not have the ability to parent without abusing their children at least in the timeframe of his childhood, for whatever very tragic reason, and when he was eleven years old, his parents' rights were terminated.
That legal event was but a footprint of a very, very profound loss that had been occurring for him for years. That marker, that legal event, did have one positive effect. Rather than having parents in and out of his life (more out than in), making promises to get him back-- promises they must have known on some level they wouldn't keep-- handing him their own dramas and giving him their adult issues, even blaming him for his getting taken into foster care...because they had a legal right to access him, to come in and out of his life...he finally was able to have "birth parents." He could be told that his parents weren't able to parent him, that they tried but couldn't learn how to parent, that they just didn't have the ability. He could be told the honest-to-goodness truth. And he had the opportunity to free himself-- as much as humanly possible (which is never entirely)-- from what proved to be the fantasy that somehow they would get it together and make it work and give him the life he dreamed of, so that he could begin grieving his whole loss.
His parents had made themselves utterly unavailable, starting before their parental rights were terminated, but we tried to give him what information we could and sought as many more answers (and photos) as we could through connections that we did have. We encouraged him to put up the two pictures he had of his mother around the house, when he talked about wanting to. We were honest with him and compassionate toward his parents, who I have no doubt loved him despite their inability to gain the skills to parent safely and to engage in treatment. At one point we went with him to his childhood town for a court hearing to review his case plan. We had lunch in town and he told us about what he could remember. We listened and were there for him to hear his grief. He cried hard afterward, on the way home, moaning for his mommy. Telling us how badly he wanted her. His pain wasn't from the termination of parental rights. His pain was there long before his parental rights had been terminated. I know this wasn't his first time crying on the way back from his hometown. He talked about crying himself to sleep for as long as he could remember, from as early as five or six.
His pain was from his mother not having the ability to parent him. His pain was from wanting her so badly and knowing that she would never make herself available to him because after all these years she hadn't. His pain was from the fact that for years he was in the foster care system, sometimes in abusive group homes, and no one-- not his parents of birth, not other biological family members, not adoptive parents-- came to save him.
It seems to me that termination of parental rights, in foster care, at least, is often the humane thing to do in a tragic and sad situation. As foster parents, we have become accustomed to what happens when termination doesn't happen for years even when it is inevitable: which is the ongoing, painful, constant "rejection" a child feels when the parents hang on tooth and nail to rights that they are only willing or able to access without commitment to the longterm. That the parents have the right to visits, but can choose to show up or not. Can make the effort to show up or not. Can be successful or unsucessful at showing up. And still the child thinks, "if they love me, they will show up." And each time the parent doesn't show up, doesn't follow through with services offered to them, etc. etc., the child's sense of self is diminished. Sometimes biological connection doesn't empower a child to develop a sense of self. It only is a wounding to their sense of self.
When this child was placed in our home, we made the agreement to be a permanent placement for him. The therapeutic foster care agency he was in at that time did not do adoption, though we asked and would have been open to it. We knew that our "permanent placement" commitment extended through his lifetime, and we accepted that he would need assisted living services and our constant support and advocacy even in adulthood. We were a family. We bonded in our relationships. We cared for one another. We functioned in every way as a family does. No, we weren't his birth family, and never did we think of ourselves as replacements of his birth parents. He called his birth parents "mom" and "dad" and he also called us moms. The human heart does not have a finite ability to love and experience family. His concept of family included the parents who had given him life biologically and raised him (to the extent they were capable) for his first five years. He has much love for them, and a great sense of pride in many things he remembers about them. He bonded with them, even as they abused him, and they will always be two of the most important people in his life, if not the most important people. It also included us, who had accepted him as our child, and who he was in the process of accepting as "adoptive" parents. Was it "picture perfect." No! No family is picture perfect.
He did crave adoption, and I don't think it was just because foster children are "conditioned" to think of adoption as "the answer." I think having a family, having parents, is a very primal, human need. It is why children, including infants, can attach to-- even through their grief-- any person who becomes their primary caregiver so long as they don't develop an attachment disorder waiting for that person. In our society, for good or bad, there is a legal aspect to being family, and even kids "get this." That legal commitment, that "sealing of the deal of forever" seemed important to our first dfs. I really don't think a legal guardianship would have satisfied. Because it is not equivilant-- in terms of legalities and social aspects-- to other families who happen to be birth families, whereas adoption is. Of course, there is always an emotional difference to being adopted vs. being raised in ones birth family. But legal guardianship creates other differences too.
His extended biological family members, during his ten years of foster care, were not willing to raise him. His paternal grandmother and grandfather at one point stepped forward (he was about 13 I think). Now I have to say here that I do think sometimes even if biological family members are willing, sometimes they carry the underlying patterns that caused the abuse within the family in the first place. So I don't think that biological family placements are always healthy. And I do think that children can have very meaningful ties with biological family without being raised by a bio family member. Parenting a child isn't the only way to have a connection with them. And with his paternal family, I believe that to be the case. That it wasn't a healthy environment. But despite great reservations, the state put in immense efforts to make it work, to try to have biological family member raise him. And ultimately, his grandparents rejected him and denied the placement because of something about who he was. I still wonder why he had to go through with that. Why bio family members are allowed to carry so much weight that they do that to children, when there are other legitimate ways they can be involved.
Anyway, after almost a year of being with us, dfs started to really attach to us. He became very stable. His behavior, which had at times been totally out of control, calmed down immeasurably. He was doing beautifully in school and actually enjoying himself. He was involved in extra curricular activities that he enjoyed, and found a community for himself in our neighborhood and church. Stability is a very frightening thing to a child who has never had it. Our dfs was used to moving from family to family, never calling one his own for too long. He had several years when he moved multiple times during the year (remember, during just ten years in foster care, he moved from family to family twenty-three times).
So one day, he just decided he needed to move. I know in the intimate way that I came to bond with this child, that he was just scared of standing still and being loved by a family for too long. He told the director of the agency that he wanted to move, and the director came to the decision three weeks later that he needed to "have a voice" in the system and that this was the way to give him a voice. Nevermind that he was severely developmentally delayed, with a developmental level ranging from three to eleven, depending on the area of development and his level of stress. On "average" he was maybe 7 or 8 developmentally. This is a big philosophical stand that I take here: I don't think kids are developmentally capable, or should be allowed, to choose their parents at 7 or 8 years old (or an infant or any child). I think there are other developmentally appropriate ways to give kids a voice in the system. Ultimately, this is one major reason we left that agency.
Since that time, we have foster parented many other children on a temporary basis. I've learned how wonderful it can be for a child to live with their bio parents when it can be done safely...when services can be provided over the longterm (which takes a lot of state resources but is worth it in my opinion), and parents are willing and able to engage in those services. And I think those kids do have a right to be parented by their bio parents, if the bio parents are willing to parent in all the meanings of the word. Even when there are imperfections. Even when the child might suffer some limitations as a result. For instance, we parented one child on a very short term basis who loved her mother beyond words and whose mother loved her. Her mother was slightly developmentally delayed and had multiple mental health issues and did some damaging things that wouldn't warrant removal of the child-- such as telling an entire roomfull of parents and students in her child's school class during back-to-school night that her daughter sometimes poops in her pants-- but that would certainly cause ill-effects because of their repitition overtime.
I've learned that when children successfully bond with their parents as babies, which they usually can do in spite of abuse but often don't do when there is neglect, that bond is lifelong. And even if their parents do horrible things to them, the children will love them fiercly because they have made that bond.
I've also learned that in-utero bonding is not the be-all-end-all, and I believe theories about such bonding have validity to some point but after that point become almost mystical, as I've heard people describe it. Because I've parented children who just never bonded with their birth parents at all, in cases of very severe neglect, and the nine months in the womb really didn't change that. In fact, a while back I had been looking at The Primal Wound, which one of you mentioned, and read this in an Amazon review and it has stuck with me since, so I went and hunted it down now: "I, and I imagine many other adoptees, feel that the wounds inflicted by spending my first 9 months in the body of an unwilling host finally began to heal in the loving arms of my adoptive parents. More time with my overburdened biological parents may have damaged me beyond repair." I have seen that. I have seen severe neglect in which the children have never bonded until being placed in a permanent home. I have seen severe neglect that caused an inability to bond. I have seen severe neglect that caused brain damage.
I've learned to have a lot of respect for the grief caused by the loss of a parent, even when it is in the child's and sometimes the parent's best interest to change the child-parent diad into a non-parenting diad.
Now, we currently have a baby in our home who we are fostering and hoping to adopt. His parents can't take care of themselves, due to mental retardation, and he would suffer terrible abuse and neglect in his parents custody. I am thankful they didn't have the opportunity to do any of this to him (other than when his mother, in the time she would visit him just in the NICU just after his birth, when she was confused and held him upside down and didn't support his head and let it flop all around and even rested it on the arm of the rocking chair) and that we got dfs straight from the hospital before he could have suffered from abuse and neglect. His mother did parent dfs's older brother for his first two years, and even though it was in the home of her parents, she was able to cause incredible damage to this dear boy's brain (not to mention his emotional state). I also don't think she ever bonded with dfs. She is offered three two-hour visitations during the week. In his six months of life, she has come to a total of three visits (late I might add). During these visits, she would hold him for a moment and then pass him off and start chit-chatting with others in the room, and she would keep it up for the entire length of the visitation. She doesn't show any signs of attachment to him at all. The only reason she ever gets interested in him is when she is playing mental games with his dad.
His maternal extended family is not able and willing to parent him, and they support our adoption plans. His paternal family seems like they might support our adoption plans. If they were to try to seek custody, I think this *may* be worse for him than adoption, even if they could slip by in a homestudy. They are a violent family, to the extent that the police and courts are involved in their lives. And if they are violent as is, I can't imagine what having a baby in the house, with all the stress that accompanies that, would do. Their family legacy of dysfunction, from what I have heard, spans through generations.
We want to honor any grief that our dfs may experience as the result of his early loss. From our first days with him, we would whisper to him how sorry we were that he wasn't able to be with his "Mommy *******." We talk with him about his bio family, we keep in touch with his bio family members and intend for any adoption (if we are so blessed) be an open one. We want to keep photos of bio family out for him (we need them), even though he is too small to really appreciate them. We plan to be open and honest to him about his family, both bio and adoptive, and his life story. We believe that adoption is a beautiful thing, but that it also will represent a very real loss our dfs experienced early in his life.
I also want to say that no one will be financially profiting from his adoption. If we get to adopt, the state will pay an attorneys fees (actually, we pay it and then get reimbursed). In order to practice law, the attorney must charge for his/her services so that they can make a living, feed and cloth themselves and their families, and afford to practice law. The fee is relatively small, around $1000, which includes many hours of working on putting together the paperwork and attending court. Adoption hasn't simply developed for economic purposes because it exists even in the absence of profit.
I agree with an above poster that all parents have children for selfish reasons. That parents, if they have children, ultimately have them because they want them (even when that desire is a generous desire, such as "to share the love we have"). But I also think that dfs needs parents just as we need to parent. Those are basic human urges (and perhaps needs), that are primal and on a gut level. And we both have a right to have those things. dfs isn't an object that acheives our dreams, though we are grateful for the opportunity to raise a child through adoption. Adoption is a process of mutual fulfillment of human needs.
I realize that my experience is very specifically related to foster care, which may be considered in a different light than private adoption. However, I really relate to the poster earlier who spoke of a connection between a birth family and adoptive family that can happen in a voluntary adoption. Mothers don't always decide that adoption is best because of reasons that could simply be "fixed" if they had enough of this resource or that resource. I certainly think that more support for birth parents is wonderful, and when they can and are willing to parent, that support can offer the birth family the beautiful experience of remaining intact. Sometimes it is about money or having family support or whatever. But sometimes there are other reasons entirely.
One of the people who has influenced me most deeply has been a birth mother. She works at the infertility clinic I have gone to. After our baby dfs was placed into our home, she was so incredibly supportive and happy for us, and we got to talking and she shared with me the story of when she got pregnant as a teen and just felt in her heart of hearts that it wasn't her time to parent. It couldn't be pinned down to any one reason. It just was. She couldn't bring herself to parent. She just didn't have it in her, and neither did the baby's father. And then she met this couple who wanted to adopt, and she was struck immediately by this intense, spiritual, gut-level sense that these were her child's parents. And they connected right away. Not to say that it wasn't hard, to make that decision. But she knew, even through the tears and grief, that adoption was the right decision at that time. Now, many years later, she has given birth to another child and felt that it was her time. Still, she maintains a relationship with her first son, who even spends the night at her house sometimes. She loves her children both dearly, and it was her love for her first child that brought her to that incredibly difficult decision to choose an adoptive family for him.
I guess in summary, I feel that adoption has its time and place. And I feel that adoption isn't really the loss in a lot of cases. In a lot of cases, the loss is the birth parent not being a parent. And that loss can happen whether or not the birth parent retains their rights or even tries to parent when they are not able. But I also think the grief is real and should be honored.