November 19, 2008

DIY Revocation Period

A big topic in adoption reform is revocation periods--a period of time in which a parent can revoke their consent to the termination of their parental rights. Colloquially, it's sometimes called the time when "a birthmom can change her mind." Or, more crassly, "when she can 'take back' the baby." What you think needs to be done to revocation periods depends on where you fall on the reform spectrum. If you think laws need to be strengthened in favor of adoptive parents, you want them shortened or eliminated altogether. If you want more protections for placing parents, you want them to be longer. It's not quite as black and white as that, but you get the idea.

I usually fall on the side of favoring revocation periods. Some people say that they make adoption too emotionally risky for adoptive parents. You've given your heart over to this child, to the possibility of them being in your family, and then it's all gone. That is a huge, real, very painful loss. Just thinking about it possibly happening to us was gut-wrenching. Please don't think I'm discounting that. Of course we wanted finality in our kids' adoptions. We just wanted it to be a finality we could feel good about.

The state Firefly was born in has no revocation period and no minimum waiting period after the birth before consents can be signed. Neither is there a simple way for the potential adoptive parents to legally take a child home without the consents being signed first. So in a lot of private infant adoptions in the state, relinquishment forms are signed at the hospital and are final when the baby is only a couple of days old. And having our future child's relinquishment set in stone before she--or Ms B--had even left the hospital didn't feel right.

Long story short (too late!), we talked this all over with our agency, Ms B and our lawyer. We looked for ways we could do things differently either before or after Ms B signed the consents to create some breathing room. We wanted to be able to say to Firefly twenty or thirty years from now that Ms B had time to sit with her decision after she had recovered a bit from giving birth. After she was home and away from the surreal environment of the hospital. Whether or not that will be important to Firefly, we can't know. But it was important to us.

Our lawyer came up with the plan we eventually used. He pointed out that until the relinquishment forms are actually filed with the county court, the court has no idea they've been signed. So if we hung on to them for awhile, we could create the equivalent of a revocation period. If Ms B gave the word, we could tear up the papers and it would be as if she had never signed them (from a legal perspective, at least--emotionally it would still be tough). If she didn't, we'd file them and they'd become retroactively effective to the date they were signed.

There is lots more I could say about connected issues we had to think through--legal, emotional, practical. What it was like to talk this over with Ms B and make sure she had agency in the situation. The arguments one lawyer we interviewed made against it and why I didn't agree with him. But this is already long and I don't know if anyone is even interested in reading it.

One final note: this post isn't a comment on your actions or your child's adoption. I don't think all adoptions done without revocation periods are automatically unethical. Or that this made Firefly's adoption above reproach. Not at all. There's no need for us all to nitpick each other's adoption decisions. This was just something we wanted to try given all the particulars of our situation. I wanted to put it out there in case anyone else was thinking about similar issues. It would have been nice to have ideas like this in mind when we were trying to figure out what to do.

30 comments:

Smiling said...

Thank you so much for this post... I think too often we don't share these kinds of stories because people can so readily attack a path you took, but I find these to be the most helpful stories, the ones where someone shares a unique way to navigate something that I can file away to borrow from later.

There are so many things in life where the details are hidden away and kept private, often for good reason, and unless you happen to have friends or family to show you the ropes, you are on your own. I am so grateful when people go out on a limb to reveal their solution.

Sassy said...

Where we live (in Australia) babies are usually surrendered at the hospital but consent can't be given for 16 days after their birth, that's followed by a 28 day cooling off period which can be extended by an extra 14 days.

While I'm sure that sounds wonderful for those who worry about birth families changing their minds, it's not something that sits well with me.

What it leads to is babies being in foster care for at least 3 months, usually closer to 6 months, sometimes much much longer. And a not insignificant amount of mother's that leave hospital and need to be chased down because they thought they had signed what they needed to and have gone off somewhere to recover and have some space.

I'm all for an enforced period of time and list of things the mother must do (like counseling) as well as a cooling off period before the baby is placed. But I worry about the effect of placing newborns in foster care for months when very few women actually change their minds. If anything, they decide they want more or less access not that they want to parent.

The deeper I get into the process the more I feel like everything is done to protect the birth mother with little thought as to the effect some of those measures will have on the child and adoptive family. Don't get me wrong, birth mothers deserve protection, but we need to consider the additional trauma all babies here are put through, to give a handful of birthfamilies extra time to think about changing their minds.


Whoa. Sorry for the novel.

Sonya and Scott said...

In our state, our agency calls the the revocation a legal risk adoption. We brought our oldest home (private adoption) with no revocation, our lawyer "allowed" his birthmom to sign away her 7 day revocation period. Hindsight-unethical, but we were dumb as bricks back then. Second adoption, aforementioned agency, we signed papers at the hospital when he was 48 hrs old, brought baby home and birthmom had 7 days to revoke consent. PTL she didn't, we would have been heartbroken--you fall in love the first minute!

Thorn said...

I really like getting to read detail like this and I'd be glad to hear more. While I know all the states have different laws to begin with, I'm particularly interested in how people work with their own ethical rules around/within those laws. Thanks.

Dawn said...

I google shared you!

(I wanted to come on here and say, "Wait, are you commenting on MY actions and MY child's adoption?" but then I thought it might not be funny. I wanted to type that because whenever people get offended by something I wrote on my blog, I'm thinking, "Do you identify with what I'm saying? Because if you don't, what in the heck do you care???")

Anonymous said...

thanks for asking...I would be content to just leaving without commenting but I though I should put in a comment because I am a birthmom and the other commenters are probably not. My view is that I want whatever is best for the baby in question. I think that the revocation time should be six weeks, cause thats about how long it takes to feel kind of 'normal' after giving birth. Honestly it takes a while for a women who just gave birth to realize that this baby is actually a whole person. The whole experience of having a baby is very very very surreal. I women needs time to get herself together and think about what it is that she wants for her child.
Now I have read alot about how its hard on the adoptive parents to be taking care of a baby, even for a week, like the assume its going to be 'theirs'(as every birthmom wants them too) only to have the child removed from their care. Now, my thought is that if they really love this baby, they should be ok with whatever is in the best interest of the baby. If thats to be with the first parents(preserving bio-relations should always be the first priority) then the pre-adoptive parents should want that. Its just seems really selfish of them to me to be sad about something that wasn't really their to begin with. Its like being sad about the loss of an idea or a dream. Which can be hard, but its really not the end of the world. A birth/first family losses a person of there own. That decision to place or to parent should not be taken lightly or done too quickly. A real person is the reason for it all.

Lisa said...

I'm sorry, but with all due respect to the birthmom who posted, I cannot image taking home a child for six weeks and knowing that child could be taken away at any moment. There is so much intensity and energy in those first few weeks, it would be impossible not to connect and bond with that child.

I also think it is incredibly offensive to say that adoptive parents are "selfish" or "if they really love this baby" they would be fine with the baby living as their child for six weeks and then going to live with someone else. No one would be fine with that. It's not selfish to love a child you've been asked to parent. Why must adoptive parents always be the strong ones? Birthparents are allowed to grieve. Adoptees are allowed to grieve. But adoptive parents have to suck it up and move on.

Losing a child who you have parented for six weeks is not like losing a "dream" or "idea," you are losing a real person who is a real part of your family! It is a big deal. I think if someone had said, "oh you're just losing a dream and it's not the end of the world," to a birthmom, we'd all be in an uproar (and rightly so!).

If there was a revocation period, it should be short (I cannot imagine more than 7 days). The baby should also not go home with the family, but should go into foster care for this period (which isn't what anyone wants, but why should adoptive parents be put through this emotional roller coaster and birthmom have to contend with the fact that if they revoke their consent they are taking a child away from a family who loves it).

I'm sorry if this got rude (and long). I just get upset sometimes. I don't think revocation periods are all bad, but I do think a lot is being placed on the shoulders and hearts of adoptive parents. Adoption is always about what's best for a child, but we are human beings too and don't deserve to have our hearts ripped out.

mama2roo said...

this is extremely interesting to me and I'ld love to read more.

mama2roo said...

Oh, and BTW, our state doesn't have a specific time frame for signing termination either, and that's usually done in the hospital. Our revocation period is shorter than some, longer than others.

Desi said...

Heather,

I think it's wonderful that you put so much thought and concern into this and you can truly tell firefly that you did what you felt was right and not just what was the prescribed way to do things.

This is obviously such a touchy subject and since I am a firstmom I see it through those glasses and can’t fully grasp what adoptive parents go though. What I do know is the decision to place your child is hands down one of the biggest and hardest decisions anyone will ever have to make. And, it’s not like adoptive parents who can think or pray or plan for an adoption for as much time as they are comfortable with. When you find yourself in an unplanned pregnancy you have a finite amount of time to make that decision, one that will affect you and your child for the rest of your lives. Many times you have so many people telling you what is right and what is best and you are so emotional and hormonal because of the pregnancy that you don’t really even know which end is up. Can you imagine having your child for 9 months, the amount of time that a firstmother bonds with her child, and then allowing someone else to raise them? Because let’s face it, there is always someone out there who on paper looks like a better mom then we are, not necessarily a better mom for our particular children, but when you look at it from the adoption point of view that’s what many people say to any unwed girl. They look at it on paper and say you are young and uneducated and have nothing (monetarily) that you can give this child while family A has a home with a yard and a good education and a stable life so they will be better parents. At such a highly charged time in a firstmom's life I think it is important to have a period of time where you can say, “wait a minute, I can’t live with that decision, that’s my child and I want to raise him.” I can’t imagine how devastating that would be for the adoptive parents because of course they are going to bond with that child in any amount of revocation time, but I know how devastating it can be for the firstparents, and I would imagine for the grownup child, to realize that a lifelong decision was made at a time when you weren’t mentally or emotionally yourself and then you have no way to change it.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but I think you did a wonderful thing for not only your daughter’s firstmother, but for your daughter as well so she knows that you did everything in your power to make it ethical.

~Desi

P.S. Sorry for rambling on so long, it's obviously something I feel strongly about :)

thanksgivingmom said...

Heather, thank you for this. I found it an extremely interesting read myself.

One of the comments struck me particularly: "Why must adoptive parents always be the strong ones? Birthparents are allowed to grieve."

As a first parent myself, I cannot tell you how many times I've been told that I'm not allowed to grieve. That my daughter is safe and happy and healthy and that I should be appreciative of that, not sad. That I CHOSE this for her, and for me, and so I must swallow my grief and "move on."

I strongly feel that seven days is not long enough. After seven days a woman's body hasn't recovered, but her heart and mind should be ready to make the biggest decision of her life? I was still in excruciating pain seven days after my daughter was born. Walking, going to the bathroom, sitting - all of them were painful experiences - not to mention the fact that my heart was hurting. How much of that was hormones and how much was my uncertainty about my decision??? Getting used to the fact that I was lactating, without a baby to provide for - talking about messing with my head.

It takes at least seven days to even come out of the surreal fog of childbirth and placement.

Personally, I am inspired by the way that Heather identified what she didn't like or didn't feel comfortable with regarding Firefly's placement, and found a way that made it work for her.

Thank you Heather!

Thorn said...

Heather, if nothing else you've brought out how much pain, grief, and uncertainty there are in the placement process! I mean, is sending infants to a foster home until their final home is decided on going to help their attachment or keep the foster parents from falling in love with them? What is the difference between one week, two weeks, six weeks for everyone involved?

I'm sort of relieved that in working to do an older-child adoption through the state all of those issues are out of our hands. We'll probably wait 6 months with a child in our home before finalization, but it could be 90 days or a year. I'm sure I'll feel uncertainty during that time, but it's not going to keep me from bonding. But that's because I'm taking a path that has clear expectations and social workers and the courts making the decisions. It's so much harder and messier for all of you in the baby trenches, and I salute and support the people trying to make it as kind/fair/ethical as possible there.

Julie said...

Yeah, I know my heart will absolutely break if we have a child placed with us and then the firstmom revokes the relinquishment, but the fact that it would be a horrible experience for us doesn't mean it wouldn't also be the right decision for the kid and for the firstmom.

Please, if you have more to say about this, please post more! Our state has a 30-day revocation period, which I think is quite reasonable, but I'm interested in how people work with this in other places.

Portraits In Sepia said...

Thank you for a very thought provoking post. I just want to say that I agree with what Lisa said so no need to repeat it all.

Kendra said...

In theory, I really like what you guys did. In reality, I'm currently very angry about finding out that we've spent the past three months matched with someone who has been lying about something that makes this adoption plan suddenly extremely "high risk" from a legal and financial perspective. I don't think I can fairly judge much of anything until I find some peace with my own situation. I want everything to be ethical, all cards on the table, consideration given to all parties -- it's just making me really angry that I'm not getting the same respect in return.

Whatever. Sorry. This comment isn't even really relevant to what you wrote about. I think I just needed to vent.

Anonymous said...

I am with Desi on the 7 days being waaay to short a time. Lisa,have you ever been asked to make a life long decision after you've had the flu for a week? I didn't think so.
My time was 10 days, but because of a long weekend and a snow storm I ended up signing the papers four days after I gave birth, so it was ten days from then, but the adoptive parents had already taken my birthchild home with them. I wanted them too. Ten days worked for me. Legally speaking, any document signed when a person in not 'in his/her right mind' can be void. As an adoptive parent I am sure you don't want a birthmom making a decision that she regrets, right? You don't want to force someone to make a life long decision without time to really make that decision, right?? Honestly I think that overwhelmingly pre-adoptive and adoptive parents have the bulk of sympathy from the adoption world. Think of revaction period as a small amount of time(even if it seems long) compared to the many many years of parenthood you could enjoy. There many important things that people wait for. Birthparents have very little opinions and sympathy usually. Most people missunderstand them. Give them a break and they might give you a break.

Heather said...

@Anonymous 5:41pm - If you're going to call out another commenter by name, please comment under yours. Thanks.

Arcadia said...

My daughter and I left the hospital together; I as her only legal parent at the time made medical decisions and signed her out. Then her parents drove me home and took baby home with them. Legally, there was no reason I couldn't leave my baby in the care of trusted adults. I didn't' sign TPR papers at all for about 10 days. The state I live in has a 30 day post-signing revocation period. But my daughter's parents never showed me any worry in those 40 days. We chatted by phone and email and I was even invited to the "welcome baby" party when she was a month old.

Kathy's Korner said...

I think putting any type of time period on the revocation period is hard. For some, 2 days isn't short enough. I know people who's childrens first parents skipped out of the hospital before being able to sign anything and essentially disappeared.

And for others 30-40 days is barely long enough.

I appreciate very much your creative way of handling things Heather. We had a similar situation with one of childrens adoption...and as another poster said, we were still "dumb as bricks" at the time we didn't question it. Everyone else including both bio parents seemed fine with the process...who were we to question?

I appreciate the healthy respectful conversation on this topic.

Tammy said...

In both our adoptions, the revocation period after signing was 10 days. The second time, when we were a whole lot less naive, we had asked for there to be some adjustments to it to make it more in our son's other mom's hands when she decided to sign the papers (which couldn't happen before 24 hours but had no deadline of course)... we did this because we had already reconciled that adoption was a different path, where we couldn't count on this or that child being "ours" before their other mother said he/she was. It was a part of the decision making process, to let go and know we were taking a risk if a child came home with us before the revocation period was up. We made it clear to our SW and our son's mother's SW (she had two people with her the whole time, supporting her and in fact, encouraging her to parent) that the time table on all this was hers, not ours, that we were committed to it if she was but it was her decision, as he was her child.

And we took it one step further as we thought it through. As hard as it was, after DD came to our home, we had really heavy hearts (juxtaposed against the joy of this little girl in our lives!) knowing that we were now in more control of the proces but... "what if her mother wanted her back after the revocation period?"... what would we do then? Could we ever explain to her that yes, her Mom wanted her back but no, we didn't give her back because her time had run out. We couldn't defend that so we decided that even if she were to contest, we would have no choice but to let her go. And I can tell you this, by making this heartstopping decision, the holding loosely made our bond even stronger and helped us in our second situation where things were much less fluid and known. How did it help? It helped because we had lowered our expectations and faced the reality that as much as we wanted this to be like other experiences, adopting the child who isn't ours in the beginning (and who we always share with his and her other families) was definitely different. We were really just along for the ride. It was a painful realization and one that I have grieved over and over again, but it was reality that really, our feelings didn't matter in the whole scheme of things. It's not a matter of being strong, it's a matter of putting the rightful people first.

Reality is that, as families who adopt, we are invited into a very intimate family situation, an invitation that exists in very few experiences in life. We are invited guests until the mothers of our children decide other wise. During that initial period, I was a stranger caring for a child as if she was my own (because that is what she and he in our second placement deserved) and it wasn't until all was said and done that I was mother in its full form. I loved my children from the first moment, as any mother or potential mother would, but I knew that the love doesn't make the position of mother a reality.

Good golly... I went on and on. I can face the reality that for those wanting to adopt, the revocation period is really, really hard. I know for us, we breathed a sigh of relief when it was over and then again and finally, when the adoption was final. I do believe that as hard as it might be on an adoptive parent, the timing of the decision to place should be in the hands of the child's natural mother, and she should have time to heal and decide when she's ready. Both our kid's other mothers insist that they signed when they wanted to, and it was hard but a relief when it was done. I have questioned them about it, and I'm not completely sure that I'm sure I believe them. But that's what they said. I for one think it was too short a time, especially with all the other stressors that surrounded that time of their life when they give birth. The bottom line is... adoptive parents need to finally come to the conclusion that adoption is risky and you are taking a risk in entering into the possibility in order to build a family. Is it hard? Yes. Do we have to be strong? Yes. When a child is placed back in the first parent's family, is it hard? I am sure it is. Should we be able to grieve? Of course, just like everyone else. Is it about us? Rarely.

I appreciate you sharing the unique way you handled this time with Ms. B and Firefly. I hope we can all learn to find ways to be creative to make it better.

Min said...

Fascinating discussion, H!

Coming from my own unique perspective (of which you're already aware), I kind of favor some sort of standard revocation (let's say two-plus weeks--I'm just throwing that out there as a "fer-instance") with allowances for negotatiating on a case-by-case basis if and as needed. The problem becomes sticky, though, when one tries to figure out who decides/how it's determined/what's fair. Just seems to me that there's no real win/win with revocations, either.

Can't wait to hear more...

Lisa said...

It's nice to read everyone's comments. I don't really have anything else to add except that I know it is extremely difficult for birthparents to make the decision to relinquish, but there has to be a set time period on this. This is the nature of adoption. It’s not fair to anyone in the triad to have a long revocation period.* And birthparents should always be told that they can wait to sign TPR until they feel comfortable (in my state, it is 72 hours after birth, but the parent has the option to take the child home or ask for the child to be placed in foster care to allow themselves more time to think). There is no deadline for when they must sign. I know what is done in practice is different than what is technically true and that birthparents generally aren’t as savvy about demanding their rights, but parents could allow this extra cooling-off time if they so desired.

Heather, I think it is wonderful what you did with your daughter’s adoption. I could not have done it though. It would be too hard for me. The three days we waited after her birth (we were then when she was born) and the day TPR was signed were the worst three days of my life. I cannot imagine having that period extended out weeks or months.

* I will also mention how horrible this would be for the entire extended adoptive family. My daughter was my parents’ first grandchild, and if she had been removed from our home after six weeks of loving and bonding with her, we all would have been incredibly heart-broken.

Lisa said...

Tammy, you are a better and stronger person than I am. I could have never returned my daughter to her birthfamily if they contested after the TPR papers were signed. Perhaps that is something my daughter would have been upset about later, but I could never have done it. I could not have let her go.

luna said...

this is a fascinating discussion. thanks for raising these difficult issues, heather. and as usual, I think you handled it yourself with a great deal of dignity and respect for firefly and her first mom.

there are of course very strong feelings about this depending where you may fall in the triad and your views on the nature of open adoption.

as a prospective adoptive parent, I can say that we want to know our child was brought into our family in the most honest and ethical way. our state has a 30 day revocation period which I have thought to be reasonable. even if we have an early placement and a hospital plan that allows us to take the baby home, no papers would be signed before our child's first mother is home from the hospital and ready.

if we bring the baby home into our family and begin to parent, I know those 30 days will be filled with angst and uncertainty and risk. but the benefit of being able to bond and attach with the child in those early days -- and not have him/her go into foster care -- would far outweigh the painful risk of revocation. I say this knowing it will be one of the absolute hardest things ever, having to give our child back to his first parents after embracing him/her as our own. but I say it knowing that I can't truly imagine the loss his/her birth mother will be feeling. the pain of adoption is of course that it's rooted in loss for everyone.

ultimately, it is about the child, not about me.

thanksgivingmom said...

Lisa, it certainly would be hard for the extended adoptive family....but it also tears apart first families. If the placed child was THAT families first grandchild for instance. Families on both sides are strongly affected...I just personally do not think that's enough of a reason to shorten revocation times drastically.

You're correct that 24 hour TPR minimums (or 73) are MINIMUMS and that the first parents don't HAVE to sign at 24 hours, or 72. But a lot of times it's not framed like that. The 72 hour timeline is driven into first mom's head as the time she'll sign. Agencies need to do a better job of insisting that it's a MINIMUM, but then again they're job (in many cases) isn't to take care of the first parent, it's to take care of the paying adoptive parent.

Obviously if you follow the rules or your state, you're legally doing your part. Going above and beyond to push ethics at all costs is not required, but when people do it, I'm certainly touched.

Lavonne said...

Thanks Heather for starting this great discussion. I’ve been following the comments with interest. I agree with Min in that I don’t believe we can necessarily reach a win-win solution for this one. Everyone is so emotionally invested in the issue that it is often hard to see beyond our own situations. And who gets to choose the length of the revocation period? Is it possible to have a neutral party make this choice? Is there such a thing as an optimal time period considering that the bond between mother and child (both birth and adoptive) is strong? I love how Heather was able to determine how to address this one with Fire Fly’s first mother and agree together on an appropriate time period for them…I think this is an ideal situation where we are able to put aside our emotions for a moment and think about all parties impacted by decisions such as this.

What I love most about this is that people are talking about the issue and sharing from their own life experiences. Too often controversial conversations are quickly shut down because of all the emotion involved. It is great to see so many people contribute comments and keep the discussion going. It is through these conversations that we can begin to understand each perspective better and learn from each other. I would be really interested to hear what some adoptee’s think of this discussion and learn from their thoughts. (I’m not sure if an adoptee has already commented).

a Tonggu Momma said...

Our state has a minimum 30 day revocation period. I've always felt that was the shortest acceptable time. I'm shocked that some places have only a couple of days.

At the same time, most of my friends who've gone the domestic route within our state (we adopted internationally) also utilize our agency's foster program during those thirty days.

And I can't account for the actions of every social worker within our agency, I do know that many first moms utilize our agency's "Just Beginning" Home if they decide to parent their children instead of placing their children for adoption. It's a transitional home suitable for new mothers.

Jamie said...

I didn't have a chance to read every single comment, but I think it's fair to say that this is not a situation where one person's hurt is worse than the other. Until we have walked a mile in a person's shoes we cannot say what that pain feels like. I will never understand the pain that a birth/first mother feels when deciding to and placing her child for adoption. I birth/first mother will never understand the loss and pain involved with infertility. There actually can be a LOT of pain involved with the loss of a dream....just because it is not something that is tangible doesn't mean that the pain involved is not real.
I hope that someday we can all join hands and hearts and realize that pain is pain and it is not our place to judge the level of someone else's pain. Can't we just be there and support each other ~ after all....adoption is a situation where we are both helping each other with the situations that we find ourselves in. Ususally it isn't a place that we anticipated being, and usually it's a place that we have gotten to after much pain....but we need to work together in order to make it the wonderful thing that it can be.

Kohana said...

I don't think I ever considered the possibility of going by our own guidelines concerning revocation and TPR when we adopted. In thinking about adopting again, I've thought about it a lot, but had not actually heard of anyone creating their own plan.

Thank you for sharing. It is this kind of creative establishment of our own ethical standards into systems that are biased and unjust that is so wonderful to me. States that have 24/48 hour waiting times before TPR can be signed, and then with NO revocation period are simply wrong, and we need more ideas like this to empower individuals in the absence of changed laws.

JJandFive said...

It really helps to have solutions to a "non-revocation-period state".
When helping others walk through the adoption process, I've kind-of avoided agencies in those states as viable options to pursue.
Thanks for the post!

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