Collateral Damage: On Adoption, Beheadings, and Invisible Siblings

Did you know Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, one of the recent beheading victims of the Islamic State, was an adoptee?

When I first heard it on the news (and once I started breathing again) my first question was: Does his mother know?  Forgive me, it’s a knee-jerk reaction I have whenever I hear of an adoptee’s passing. And by mother, I do not mean adoptive mother. I mean the woman in whose womb Peter was knitted together. Because surely, his adoptive mother knows, since she’s all over the news (and seems like a perfectly lovely woman, by the way.) But his first mother – the woman who bled for him as she labored him into this world – did she know he was gone?

Through some quick Internet research, I learned that Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig had indeed found his first mother soon after his 18th birthday and had become close with his two younger half-siblings.  But sadly, I came across this article of their first interview since their beloved older brother had been tortured and killed: Here are some of the words he wrote to his sister, Jana, while in captivity (the letter to her was one of only two he was able to send during the year and two months he was being held captive by the Islamic State). To his sister he wrote:

“Did you know, when I was little, I used to pray for a little sister? I prayed and prayed, but I didn’t see how it was possible. What do you know? One day I found myself staring at a picture of you and all I could think was, ‘She’s perfect.’

“You are the best thing that has ever happened to me: you and your brother.”

To Peter, Jana and Sam were perfect. They were his prayed for miracle. They were, in his words, “the best thing” that had ever happened to him.

And yet, thanks to adoption laws, the federal government does not recognize Jana or Sam as Peter’s siblings, next of kin, or members of his family, regardless of their shared DNA, regardless of their deep emotional bonds. Therefore, the U.S. Government did not and will not provide grief counseling for them as they do for family members of hostages and kidnapping victims, which in the case of Peter means only his adoptive family, not his natural family. Not Jana and Sam, the best things that ever happened to Peter.

Much like my three younger children, Jana and Sam are collateral damage of adoption. They are the invisible siblings, the forgotten of the adoption constellation.

In their first interview since the Islamic State captured, tortured and killed Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig in Syria, his biological mother, Rhonda Schwindt, and two siblings describe a bureaucracy that declined to help a grieving family at its lowest moments. Kassig was beheaded Nov. 16.

When they lost contact with their brother Oct. 1, 2013, the Schwindts say the FBI kept his captivity a secret from them for 5½ months despite extending victims assistance to his adoptive parents, Ed and Paula Kassig. Once they learned of his fate, the Schwindts say they were denied federal assistance in finding grief counseling and the FBI told them to keep quiet — even after Kassig’s parents and friends were encouraged to speak up in an unsuccessful attempt to save him.

More than a week after his death, Jana Schwindt still doesn’t have an exact copy of the letter her brother penned to her in captivity. The original, they were told by the FBI, was processed as evidence and destroyed.

Jana, Sam, Matthew, Luke, Poppy, Lyne, Marie, Teresa, Lily, Violet, Heather, Max, Jane, Kyle, Keith, Mark, Eliza, Spence, JP, Caroline, Phoebe, Margaret, Bonnie, Claudia, Nancy, Melissa, Benjamin, Trevor, Cindy, Steve . . .I could go on and on with their names, but my tears stop me tonight as I think of their collective losses.

These are my friends with whom I have wept when they discovered they have 47-year old sister somewhere out there. These are my friends who have called me at midnight, wondering why their adopted-out sibling has cut off contact with them again after what they had thought was a lovely Christmas holiday to Hawaii. These are my own children. These are the ones who, if their beloved older sibling were beheaded by terrorists, would not be acknowledged as “real” by the U.S. government and would be deemed undeserving of victim assistance.

The fact this cloak of invisibility goes both ways is not lost on me. If it were my son in Peter’s position, Ms. Feverfew would not qualify for victim’s assistance, either. The law does not recognize her as next of kin or immediate family of any kind.

I’ll keep asking these questions until I get a satisfactory answer: Tell me again,  how is adoption, an act that renders my children invisible to each other in the eyes of the law, a loving act? How is this blessing my family “into the eternities” as I was promised it would?

Tell me again, what part of this is about love?


Another article about Kassig’s natural family:

Merry Christmas


Earlier this year, in a series of what felt like devastating events at the time, I was gifted with release and the sure witness I have done all I can. I have fulfilled my sacred contract.

Unlike every Christmas Eve for over two decades, tonight there are no tears but a profound awareness my daughter is exactly where she needs to be to learn the lessons she needs to learn from God/Life/The Universe at this very moment.

With peace this advent season, I pronounce blessings on her head and on the heads of all the Lost Daughters who have walked this journey with me these last eight years. I am connected to each of you in ways I never dreamed possible and my life is enriched in countless ways.

Much love and belief to all of you –


The Doctrine of Transferability & LDS Adoption Policy

The Doctrine of Transferability states:

“When a man and a woman are married in the temple for time and all eternity and then separate, the children will go with the parent who is justified and who has kept the covenants. If neither of them has kept his covenants, the children may be taken away from both of them and given to somebody else and that would be by virtue of being born under the covenant. A child is not to be sealed the second time when born under the covenant, but by virtue of that birthright can be transferred. (Questions Frequently Asked About the Temple and the Endowment. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981, 10).

Let me see if I have this straight: In a Mormon afterlife, children can be taken away from less righteous parents and given to more righteous ones by virtue of the sealing ordinance. Children can thereby be transferred from one family to another, never taking into consideration what the child may want. It’s all about the more righteous parents being “justified.”

Sounds an awful lot like LDS adoption policy to me.

Should anyone be wondering why LDS first mothers are such a hot mess most of the time, this is a perfect example of why. This is what we were taught from the time we were small enough to sit on our mother’s laps. That if we aren’t perfect, we deserve to loose our children. Not only do we deserve it, but we should expect it, too.

LDS first mothers have been taught since our youngest days that if any parent isn’t righteous enough, he or she will have their children taken from them in the next life and transferred to someone else, some more “qualified” and “worthy” couple. The pattern has already been set in our doctrine – we are mere players on a stage at this point. Parents that are “unrighteous” in this life lose their children and the more righteous (and infertile) ones feel perfectly justified in facilitating the transfer of those children into their family. After all, it is a pattern God has set forth for the eternities. Why not help Him along right now?

Does This Part Get Easier?

Someone stop me. Now.

I am doing it again.

I am buying way too many gifts for Poppy, just like I have done every year at Christmas time since she was born.  Last Christmas was the first time I was truly cognizant of it, but really did not quite grasp why I was doing it. I just know I *totally* blew the budget.

This year I have figured out why I do this and it is alum to my soul.

It is over-compensation, plain and simple, driven by the subconscious need  to make up for all the Christmases I did not have with Ms. Feverfew.

I wish someone had told me 22 years ago that not only would I lose my oldest daughter to adoption, but I would lose the ability to fully enjoy another holiday season to adoption, too, that it would steal precious moments with my other children from me like a thief. I wish someone had told me that the losses would compound and grow as the years unfolded. I wish Bishop Felix or someone who knew would have told me this gets harder, not easier, as the years go by. My ability to withstand the grief has grown, too, but some days. . . some days like today when I was standing in the girl’s clothing section at Kohls with Poppy at my side ooohing and aaahing over the sparkly Hello Kitty purses, it hits me and my heart tightens and it’s hard to breathe.

I will never get the chance to stand next to a 4-year old Ms. Feverfew in Kohls as she delights in the purse selection and talks me in to buying one for her.

It is never more obvious Ms. Feverfew is missing from our family than when we are together on Christmas morning as Matthew, Luke, and Poppy dig into their stockings. Always, always, always, there is the unspoken Truth that lingers in the air between my boys and me. Their oldest sister is not there. I can see it in the flicker of their eyes when we are talking about extended family members who are enjoying Christmas morning, too. It’s a look between them, a feint of the eyes towards me, and slight shake of the head that Matthew gives to Luke, almost as if to tell him, “Not now, little brother. This isn’t the time to ask Mom about Ms. Feverfew.”

Actually, that is not the entire truth of the matter.

It is obvious she is missing every time we sit down to eat dinner together. We have a table that seats six. There is always an empty seat. Our vehicle seats six. There is always an empty seat.

It is that empty seat driving my behavior towards Poppy when it comes to gift buying.
My question is now that I am conscious of how I am overcompensating, what do I do to stop myself? I’m trying to be more mindful of my actions and working very hard to be present in the here and now, not the what-could-have-been ghost of years gone by, but it is a tenuous walk right now. Someone please tell me this gets easier as time goes on, that it gets easier to raise my sweet Poppy, that eventually the ghost of her lost-to-adoption-sister will stop shadowing the joy I have with this amazing creature who came into my life four years ago.

Does this part of adoption get easier?

“Recruite” a New Birthmother and Earn $500!


This is an actual postcard sent to an actual mother* of adoption loss by an actual adoption agency in Utah, A Guardian Angel Adoptions.

And yes, you read it right.

The mother of adoption loss can get a $500 gift card for convincing an expectant mother to voluntarily terminate her parental rights and give her child to some couple far more “deserving”/”worthy”/”capable”/educated/well-monied/married than she is at the moment.

One of the common tactics used to keep mothers of adoption loss “in line” is to have them go around to various groups “sharing the miracle of adoption.” This agency is upping the ante by attaching a dollar value to the “recruits” a mother of adoption loss brings to them.  What is the logical conclusion of this set-up? Mothers of adoption loss preaching the “miracle” of adoption to turn a profit.

Niiiiiiiiice. </sarc>

Now, each one of these expectant moms who falls in the adoption industry’s web will be, very literally, a cash cow for not only the adoption agency, but also for the mother of adoption loss who recruits her to join the ranks of the childless mothers.




All together now, can we say: Conflict of interest?

And really, why am I not AT ALL surprised an adoption agency in Utah is doing this?

*Used with her permission.

Out of The Mouth of 10-Year Olds

I was taking Luke, my newly minted 10-year old, to the doctor this morning.  He was in the back seat chattering away about a new book series he has started reading. The main characters find out they are adopted and set off on a quest to find their “real parents.”

My heart skipped a few beats when he said, “I can’t even image what it would be like to be adopted, to grow up not knowing you and Matthew and Poppy and Dad. That would be (he paused for several moments) – that would be such a tragedy to never know you guys and to have to grow up with someone else, without my real family.  I mean, the other family might be nice and all, but they wouldn’t be you and that would be terrible because you are the best mom a boy like me could ever want. I don’t even want to think about it. (Another long pause). I would be so sad to not know Poppy but I wouldn’t know why I was sad because I wouldn’t know about her – there would just be someone missing and I would hurt and I wouldn’t know why.”

I agreed – it would be a great tragedy to not have him in our family. I didn’t need to remind him of his older sister, the one who shares the same Ghiradelli chocolate brown eyes as his. She’s never far from his thoughts.

We both fell silent. I knew exactly what he was thinking because it is a question he has asked me many times before. How can I miss my sister when I don’t even know her?

I don’t know why, but it is always on birthdays I am reminded in stark detail of the price adoption has extracted from my family. Luke is perhaps the smartest of all my children. Don’t get me wrong, Matthew and Poppy are wicked brilliant, but Luke is in a class all of his own.  And I think because of this intelligence, he is much more aware of what is missing. To his creative and never-still mind, my lost daughter is more than just a ghost but is a very real and very much alive sister.  He is keenly aware of her absence in our home, around our dinner table, and in his life.  He longs for her. He pines to know her.

But adoption. It always comes back to adoption.

A few months ago, he said he would wait until he was 62 if that’s how long it took to finally meet his sister. I pray to God (if there be a God) he doesn’t have to wait that long.

Searching for a New Home

As I mentioned in my previous post, these letters to my lost daughter have served their purpose and run their course. There’s not much left for me to say to her and what needs to be said (like how I met her father and the real reason we didn’t end up together), will be written in private and protected posts to which only she and I will have access.

On the other side of the river of grief I find there is still so very much I want and need to say about adoption, though, but I have come to realize this is not the space in which to do so. As such, I am searching for a new home for my pontifications and ponderings about adoption, LDS-style. My primary focus of my new blog is going to be family preservation advocacy and pathways to healing for first moms and families, generally (though not always) within the framework of the LDS culture and theology. I want to include research article reviews and summaries, book reviews, and insights I have gained over the past two decades. I’m trying to come up with a clever blog name but am having a bear of a time even coming up with a blog name, period.

I would like to get back to sharing what I am writing, but haven’t found a new home for it yet. Any suggestions?

For Now, That’s Enough

Turns out a brush with death alters a person’s viewpoint on a lot of things.  I know it has had that affect on me.

Stuff that once seemed really hard now seems. . . .well, less hard. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks, but it doesn’t suck nearly as much as waking up in the ICU after surgery that was supposed to be an out-patient procedure, a transfusion of blood slowly bringing you back to life.  It still hurts, but not nearly as much as someone thumping on your chest to wake you up after you collapse in the hospital bathroom a few days post-op.

Perhaps that is why I don’t write as much in this space.  This adoption stuff still hurts. It still sucks. I suspect it always will to one degree or another until I take my last breath. But perhaps the letters to my daughter have served their purpose and have run their course, just like the transfusions I received while at UCLA in May 2013. I am alive. I survived the worst thing a woman could experience and tonight, that’s enough.

Perhaps there simply isn’t anything left to say to my lost daughter at this point other than this: I am sorry. I love you. I am here for you when and if you ever change your mind.

And for now, that’s enough.