Why I Relinquished a Son to Adoption, and Why I Never Would Again - Guest Post

{I first heard Ridghaus on his episode with Haley on Adoptees On, which struck me as I so rarely heard any stories from birth fathers. We later met at the 2018 Indiana Adoptee Network Conference and have remained friends, often comparing our experiences in adoption or in parenting as a whole (you can read parts of my story here and here). In the years since, I still have yet to meet or hear from other biological fathers who are open about their experiences or their feelings. The biological parent perspective is almost exclusively written by mothers, and so I knew I would want to offer a space for fathers during National Adoption Awareness Month}



Why I relinquished a son to adoption, and why I never would again


Ridghaus



A recent conversation with a dear friend about National Adoption Awareness Month brought to mind one of the biggest mistakes I ever made: relinquishing my son to an adoptive couple. I would not have words for the feelings surrounding my decision until I experienced more life, had other children, left Evangelicalism, and discovered my own adoption story.


Traveling back in time to May of my 18th year, I broke up with my fiancé Becky and took a job working for a Christian church in a neighboring state. A few weeks passed when I received a phone call from Angie, Becky’s best friend:

"Becky is pregnant."


Growing up in an abusive, alcoholic family, I wanted something better than I had, something more stable. So I left the job and returned to Kansas with hopes of reconciliation and giving our child a chance at the happiness neither of us had. But the break-up bitterness still tainted my perceptions, and despite sincere effort (whatever that means to an 18/19 year old) I couldn’t stay in the relationship, even for the benefit of this unborn child.

After another month back, we broke up again.


I worked three jobs, and any spare time went to sleep. She kept her own busy schedule, and neither of us had family support. We eventually pivoted away from conversations about sharing custody or relying on family when Becky said, “You’ll be paying for this child for the rest of your life.”


Back at my home church, I received a chilly reception, however, the youth pastor’s wife contacted us to say that her sister, Colleen, and husband Brian, were looking to adopt and would like to talk. Colleen brought a hopefulness edged with caution; she'd experienced several miscarriages and a couple of adoption attempts which fell through.

That first meeting and subsequent meetings went well, and we felt moderately comfortable about them raising our child.


The biggest sell for me was that they were two stable Christian adults with regular, steady jobs.The future closed like a camera iris, enabling me to only see what was immediately before me: a couple in crisis and a couple in need. Suddenly, adoption seemed to alleviate the burdens already heavy in my life.


I chose adoption because God could redeem our "sin" as joy for this stable couple.

I chose adoption because I couldn’t imagine a future with Becky or being reminded of heartbreak every time we passed the baton.


I chose adoption because they paid the medical bills.


I chose adoption because I wasn’t sure I could make it, and the cost of failure was now more than just my own life.

I chose adoption because no one thought to tell me what meaning and fulfillment comes from being a father.

I chose adoption for a clean slate.


Except, over time, I learned there is no clean slate.


The whole of our lives starts a never-ending equation written from the simplest sums onward into greater clearness yet complexity with all the tangents, junctions, and intersects of a life around others. Try as I might to escape, those early foundations continue to calculate trajectories into my life.

No "tabula rasa" comes with a newborn.


I wouldn't choose adoption again because now I know what it means to be a father.

Could Brian have told me what he hoped for by being a father? Our exchange now baffles me. A couple wants to experience parenthood, and they will look into the eyes of the crisis couple and convince them to relinquish their child because parenting is tough.

Please give your child to us because we want one, and it will be too difficult for you.”


Imagine a friend, or acquaintance, coming to your house and, noticing the wall is about to cave in, kindly offers to take away your picture so it doesn’t get damaged in the collapse, and he’ll keep that picture because you may never have a stable wall again. But if you do get the support to raise that wall and make it steady, he’ll still keep that picture because he’s had it so long now anyway.


I wept my way out of the hospital while this friendly couple held my newborn son. What I didn’t realize then was how much I missed him, and how often I stuffed that down each time I saw him. As he grew to talk and walk with me during annual visits, I oppressed my heartbreak.

Give him a hug, let go of his hand, and leave again.


Zach had little opportunity to mirror with us, and no understanding of why the woman he’d spent the last nine months growing inside was inexplicably gone.

I couldn’t predict or measure the impact that sudden absence had on him then, but I know it now. Separation creates trauma, and trauma rewires the brain.


An open adoption stemmed some of the separation trauma and anxiety, but it did not stay open for both of us equally: an open adoption only stays open as long as the adoptive parents feel comfortable. For reasons unknown and un-investigated by me, Colleen and Brian halted communications with Becky and her family for a while. I never experienced that and tried to not cross those invisible boundaries for fear of being cut off too.


By the time Zach had turned four, I had met and married Joan. Zach was our ring-bearer. Within a year of being married, we started to have our kids. Over the years, Zach played with his half-siblings, though they never thought of him as half. I watched them grow with, and without him, wishing that he lived closer, or that we lived closer, so they could have more of that time to grow together.


Running off-script, Brian left Christian ministry and the family when Zach turned 11. It took Colleen a couple of years to tell us why Brian hadn’t been on phone calls, to which Becky replied, “Well hell Colleen, I could’ve been a single mom raising Zach.”

A stable family is only a momentary snapshot. Few functional crystal balls exist; Brian leaving couldn’t be anticipated, but nevertheless negates a reason I did choose to give him up.


And then when Zach turned sixteen, I found out that I’d been adopted.

Does anything ever go to script?

This experience deserves its own stand-alone writing and I have spoken of it in podcasts over the years, but something I have only mentioned in passing is how unexpectedly important it was meeting biological family.


My mother’s voice sounded like a song I’d always known and never heard.

Watching my father shift tools easily from right to left and back to right handedness brought to mind a moment when I was 11 and my adoptive father asked, “how do you do that?” I’d been playing basketball or football, some ball sport and had no idea that what I’d done was unusual in the world. “Doesn’t everyone just shift from hand to hand?”


My cousin Pat taught me to play pool and Pat was left handed, but I would walk around that table and use both right and left hands as the angles needed.

After discovery, my bio dad, Ben, and I worked at demolishing a wall and I watched him push a tool from right hand to left, seamlessly, and then back to right and thought,

oh there it is.

This part of me existed in the world before I did.


As I sat with these new revelations, my mind drifted back to Zach. Did he feel the same? Was it important to him that he could see the ways that his traits existed in the world before him? I read Ron Nydam’s “Adoptees Come of Age” and a line stood out:

Adoptees are always re-creating the circumstances of their relinquishment.


I asked myself if that was true for me, even before I knew I was adopted.

Have I continuously created situations leading to my perpetual abandonment?

Maybe.


Contextualizing my biological identity concretized parts of self. My biological identity is a part of my identity, one part among others, and its importance to me took place by affirming that I came from somewhere, from someone, who did things kinda like I did them and who looked a bit like me.


Early spring 2011 when Zach turned 21, I read the Nydam book and reflected on, not just my life as an adoptee but also Zach’s life as an adoptee, and my role as his bio dad. I overlaid and folded our lives together like pages for paper airplanes and sought to see what we shared. What was different? I’d recently returned from a trip to see bio fam, so I decided to call him and talk about what I’d seen, how I felt, and calibrate with his own experiences.


I asked whether he felt like he “continually recreated the circumstances of his relinquishment” and we discussed lots of gaps over the years. Not seeing me and Becky as often as he’d like, the time when Brian left, and a “push/pull” in his relationships, a dynamic common amongst adoptees. Something that manifests in a "go away/no, not that far” tension.

And then I said, “If you’ve ever wondered the question as to whether I’d do it again, I wouldn’t.

Zach replied, “I think I’ve always wanted to know, but I couldn’t find the words to ask.”


I chose to relinquish my first son into adoption for many reasons.

Mostly temporary pressures, largely financial, some cultural, Christian mindsets and expectations, and a general concern I wouldn’t be able to escape the poor parenting models I received. The backward glance has greater clarity.


I remember one morning when one of my other - now teenage to early 20s - children said, “Dad there could be an unexpected pregnancy.

I felt that rush of feelings again. So the next day, I made brunch and invited all of the kids there to join, and they all came.


I shared with them the fear I had in discovering Becky’s pregnancy. I described the next few months leading into years of my decision before they were born. And I said to them, then, that I wouldn’t give any baby up, ever again.

That being a parent is challenging during the best of times, but if any of them were ever in my situation, I’d want them to come to me. To tell me.

I would tell them that they have my complete support, that I'd never let them do this on their own. That now I know Zach was not a sin, and adoption is not redemption.

I’d share with my children how meaningful parenting has been.

And how beautiful it is to watch children grow.




Ridghaus relinquished a son at age 19, and then later, at the age of 35, learned that he himself had been relinquished and adopted. He is the co-creator of the documentary film Six Word Adoption Memoirs, which has been shown to rave reviews and many tears at various adoption conferences nationwide. Ridghaus has a Master's degree in English Composition and Literature and has taught university-level writing and media courses, including poetry, for the last 20 years.


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Adoption and the bible>