In August, Rosie O’Donnell’s daughter went missing. She was found and returned; drugs are rumored to have been involved. And then on her 18th birthday, Chelsea O’Donnell left Florida with her birth mother. O’Donnell is said to have cut her daughter off financially and is holding her daughter’s birth certificate and social security card.
The adoption world is in an uproar. An adoptee! Returned! To her birth mother! Woe.
I’ve spent a week attempting to form coherent thoughts on the matter. The more I think, however, the more eye roll-y I get at those flailing their arms as to how it’s their “worst nightmare” that a child they adopted returned to their biological family. I see many more things wrong with this story than a child wanting to be with a birth parent.
Returning to Her Birth Mother Isn’t the Worst Part of This Story
I feel the most worrisome part of this scenario is how O’Donnell cut off her daughter. I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of their relationship and, likely, more went on behind closed doors leading to both Chelsea’s decision to leave and Rosie’s decision to cut off finances. But it’s kind of funny when you think about it.
Not funny ha-ha, but funny-really-sadly-ironic.
Again, I don’t know why Chelsea’s birth mother chose adoption. I do know, however, that many parents who eventually relinquish come to adoption’s doors in a state of crisis. They’ve been kicked out of homes, cut off financially or emotionally, and find themselves in a state of panic. With no one else to turn to, an adoption agency or facilitator becomes a safe haven during a tumultuous time. No one informs the expectant parent that flared tempers often cool, that families with closed doors often reopen them, that grandchildren have a way of softening hardened hearts, that there are ways for these parents to financially handle everything on their plate. Instead they’re hand-fed carefully chosen lines about the importance of stability, of two-parent homes, of “being ready.”
The whole turning away of a child in crisis is one well-played out in adoption circles, but it’s often the mother who places her child who finds herself alone. In this case, we have a child who we might imagine or assume is dealing with some stuff, as drugs were mentioned. Also,adoption affects many children (and adults) in ways we didn’t used to speak of or consider. Or, of course, she could be a normal 18-year-old girl wanting to spread her wings and the home in which she was raised isn’t currently supportive of her choices, whatever they may be.
I don’t know.
I do know that turning a child away, especially a child who may already hold trauma from being placed for adoption, seems a specifically unloving path. Maybe it’s tough love. Maybe there really are drugs involved. Maybe safety of other humans in the home is in question. Maybe it’s worse than any of us, sitting at home in our comfy chairs and playing Monday morning quarterback parents, can even imagine.
But I suspect the nuances in this story sway toward a desire to control this young woman’s allegiance. I feel that way most specifically as reports state Rosie is holding Chelsea’s social security card and birth certificate hostage. This act is not only petty, but strikes deep into adoptee issues.
The birth certificate in question, listing Rosie as a parent, was the second one issued on Chelsea’s behalf. The original, listing her birth mother, is sealed somewhere because we like to perpetuate the lie that biology doesn’t matter. We like to erase all of that “beginning stuff,” those real, live human beings who made a child, who contributed biological components that matter a great deal in both good and bad ways. We like to treat adoptees as second class citizens who don’t have a right to know their origins, their medical histories, their most basic of information. So yes, Rosie has chosen to hold that specific piece of paper hostage from her daughter.
That’s not controlling at all.
Nevermind the fact that Chelsea can apply for a new social security card and birth certificate, even with the current ones missing. It will take her a minute, but she doesn’t need them. At 18, she can begin to stand on her own two feet and attain documents on her own. The pettiness of this action is not lost on mothers like me who endured similar actions; my car insurance card was held hostage for awhile which resulted in an unfortunate problem with a speeding ticket and only further compounded my belief that I couldn’t parent the child I was carrying.
If my daughter, at the age of 18, showed up on my doorstep, I’d invite her into my home. I’d sit her down, get her some water and a snack, and I’d call her mom. I’d request her mom call their therapists, and I’d call my own. Together, the lot of us would work through whatever we needed to in order to help our daughter through whatever issue that caused her to set out in the first place. I’d invite her mom to my home, or I’d offer to help my daughter get back home. I’d offer a place of solace for a few days if cooling off time was needed, but I’d report back to her mom regularly.
I’d help my daughter. That’s what I’d do.
I’ve seen a large number of discussion over the past week use this specific story as a reason to keep adoptions closed, to refuse sharing information regarding an adopted child’s biological family. Quite honestly, I see it as the opposite.
While Rosie seems to have acted in typical Rosie-throws-a-fit fashion, it seems beneficial for a child to feel safe in more homes than one. To have a safe place to go when another place doesn’t feel safe—whether imagined, felt, or real—is a good thing. This is not Worst Case Adoption Scenario. This is not Lifetime movie-esque. This is a child, now an adult, with a number of people who love and support her.
More love is good.
Again, I don’t know the ins and outs of this particular story. I do know that adoptive and birth parents involved in open adoptions can use this instance to talk about the “what would you want me to do if” types of issues that might arise if a similar thing occurred.
And, when it comes down to it, I hope that Chelsea knows unconditional love. As a birth mother, I relinquished my daughter to someone I thought would show her that love. I have simultaneously held such love in my heart for my daughter since that time. I hope my daughter knows that, no matter what, she has two moms who love her and have her back.
I hope Chelsea has someone in her life showing her that love right now. We are all deserving of such love.
Photo: Redd Angelo