Who’s The Hero?

top_ten_superheroes_image1How many adoptive parents, like me, have been told what heroes we are and how selfless we were to have adopted an orphaned child? How many of these same (well meaning) people have told us how lucky our children are for having been adopted by us?

I have.

Indeed there are many couples out there who truly are saints. They become foster parents and bring children into their families who otherwise might never have a home at all. They take on the challenge of raising children with severe difficulties and addictions, emotional and physical, that can bring chaos into their homes. And somehow they deal with it without any self-pity. For some, it’s a religious calling, and that’s fine. To me, these people are truly selfless; they are the real heroes.

If I were to look in the mirror and be brutally honest (and I have), my wife Erika and I would have never journeyed to Poland or submitted ourselves to the emotional roller coaster that led us to our daughter, Casey, the centerpiece of our lives, had we gotten pregnant. But we didn’t.

That’s a hard truth to swallow because I simply could never have imagined my life without my Casey, even as it ended tragically with her suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge at only 17. But had we gotten pregnant there would have been no Casey. I hate to admit this, but it’s true – she was plan B. And I can moralize and rationalize all I want but that’s the harsh truth.

I don’t consider myself a hero or selfless at all. Heck, Erika and I wanted to be parents! And if we couldn’t make a child we’d go find one. That’s the unvarnished truth, the truth we try to sugarcoat.

Was Casey lucky to have been adopted by us? Perhaps. After all, she lived a privileged life in Marin County, California, and was accepted at elite Bennington College in Vermont. But what I’ve learned about orphaned children is that that is often not nearly enough. They bare the scars of abandonment, and I don’t think any amount of love and material comforts can make up for that. Though Casey never took our repeated invitations to delve into her past, I often wonder if she’d ever thought “why did my mother give me up instead of my siblings” who, for all I know, lived with their grandparents in a cramped farmhouse in rural Poland.

We adoptive parents are well aware of the supply/demand dynamics in adoption. Adoptive parents far outnumber available healthy (and white) infants who are the most desirable. Though Casey was deemed “special needs” in 1991 and, thus, not of interest to many Polish couples, it turned out that she wasn’t a special needs child at all. If it wasn’t us, I’m quite certain that she would have ended up with another couple from the US, UK, Europe or Australia. As her father, that’s painful for me to imagine.

Now since Casey’s suicide, I’ve become a suicide advocate, speaking to groups (particular adolescents) about mental health issues with a group of teens, and we get a lot of kudos from people. But like adoption, I wouldn’t be giving these presentations either or fighting for a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge if I hadn’t lost my Casey. I’d be blissfully ignorant, living my old life. No the real heroes here are the teenage girls I work with who haven’t been scarred by loss; they simply participate in these presentations out of the goodness of their hearts. They are the real heroes.

So, no, I don’t feel like a hero, but I do feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad for 16 of her 17 years. I just do what I need to do to keep my precious daughter’s memory alive.


Open or “Closed” Adoption. Is One Better Than The Other?


Dr. Nancy Snyderman With Daughter Kate and Kate’s Birth Mother

As we in the adoption community know all to well, the process of adoption has evolved dramatically over the years. Up until the 60’s or 70’s it was much like as it was depicted in the movie, Philomena (the movie version being a bit at the extreme end of the spectrum.) The adoption was a hush-hush affair on all sides, the adoptee never knowing that she was adopted. Instead, she was told a lie where she was in fact the biological offspring of the adoptive parents. In most cases there was nothing malicious about this; it was thought that this was best for all concerned, particularly the child. Well, we know how that worked out.

Then there was the stage in which we found ourselves in the early 90’s. The adoption wasn’t kept a secret at all. Unfortunately, many adoptive parents knew little or nothing about the birth parents and birth parents. Oftentimes, the birth mother gave strict instructions that she was not to be contacted, as was the case with us. Again, this was probably not out of malice but, rather, shame or fear. Perhaps the mother had a husband and family. Her pregnancy might have been the result of an affair, which if revealed, could destroy her marriage. Who knows?

For lack of a better word, ours was a “closed” adoption. We were told that Casey’s mother did not want to be contacted. We never told her that out of fear that it would’ve been too hurtful. So we made up a story, the classic, “your mother loved you very much but wanted you to have a better life.” And that was probably true, but then how would you explain the fact that she had other children?

In our neighborhood in Marin County, Casey had 2 other friends who were adopted under different circumstances. Ian was adopted at birth from a birth mother in the Midwest; his parents had her contact information. Esme was received by her parents under an open adoption; her birth parents lived in the Bay Area, and they visited her regularly.

While we always assured Casey that if she ever wanted to contact her birth mother we would do everything we could to reach her. These days, with the Internet, an increasing number of adoptee reunification services and private investigators, it is increasingly possible to connect adoptee with birth mother. But secretly, Erika and I had our fears and reservations. Would the experience blow up in Casey’s face, leaving her even more emotionally scarred? Would we have to endure a complicated, uncomfortable and potentially jealous relationship? Would we be taken advantage of? Would Casey pit both sets of parents against each other? On the one hand I was dying to know what Casey’s birth mother was like, what she looked like, what kind of personality she had, what mannerisms Casey inherited from her. On the other, I was just as happy to keep her at arms length.

I don’t know that there is a magic answer that suits every adoptive family. Open and closed adoptions each have their weaknesses and benefits. But knowing what I know now, I do believe that an open adoption is better for the child, just to have that primal connection with the person who brought you to life. There is always the possible that a reunion could prove disastrous, but I think it’s a risk worth taking. Many adoptees – Casey (and her friend Ian) included – insist they want nothing to do with their birth mother, and that’s understandable. But as one adoption therapist asked me, “Did you believe her?” It never occurred to me to challenge her.

Perhaps a middle ground could be to provide the child with the mother’s contact information, just enough to let the child explore on her own in her own time at her own pace. That’s why we have Facebook.

A Shout Out To Another Adoption Blogger

As a rookie, I’m discovering what others have probably known for a long time.

Blogging is hard.

You write and rack your brain for new material. You respond to comments. You visit other sites and connect with other bloggers who may be in the same boat you’re in, looking for exposure.

I’m a big Doonesbury fan. Do you know the Rick Redfern character? He’s the middle aged, bearded character with tieaskew who was a former Washington Post reporter.


Now unemployed, a casualty of the decline in the newspaper business, he blogs for the Huffington Post, unpaid of course. Yet he hopes this investment of his time and skills will get him back in the game.

I totally relate to Rick.

Meanwhile his idiot son Jeff who lives in the basement has stumbled into fame and wealth with a book he wrote about a cartoonish warrior. It was too easy.


This is a long and rambling introduction to acknowledge all the bloggers out there who toil away at their laptops for a cause, a teaching moment, an opportunity to be heard and build a following, to share something with others, but generally not to make money.

And that’s OK.

Sally Bacchetta is an adoptive parent and blogger (www.theadoptiveparent.com). She wrote a book, What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent’s Perspective,


It melds her educational and professional background in psychology and counseling with her experience as an adoptive parent. She wrote the book in response to a need common among adoptive families. “Adoptive families navigate emotional terrain that fully-biological families don’t have to.”


I suggest you visit her site and check out her book.

I’ll be back with more personal insights next week. So please subscribe and follow me. If there’s anything you want me to write about please write a comment. I respond!