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Video: She adopted a baby — and then gave him up

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    >>> we're back now at 8:12. each year, more than 130,000 children are adopted, but what happens if the child does not bond with the family? anita tedaldi recently blogged about her family's heartbreaking experience. we're going to talk to her in a moment. but first, "today" national correspondent natalie morales has anita 's story. and by the way, anita asked us to protect the identity of baby d and her husband who serves in the military.

    >> the first time i considered giving up d, i was lying alone in bed. i ran to d's room, afraid that he was already gone, but he was there, sucking his thumb and breathing evenly. i caress his cheek with two fingers and exhaled.

    >> tell me about the very first day you got that phone call and told you, we have a child.

    >> we were just overjoyed. we had pictures, and i remember i would look at the picture with my kids.

    >> reporter: as with any adoption , anita and her family were thoroughly screened and they went through counseling to help make d a part of their family.

    >> he had been found by the side of a road, but the doctor estimated he was younger than one year. d lacked strength in his legs and had a completely flat head from lying in a crib so many hours a day, but the physical or developmental issues weren't the real problem. five or six months after his arrival, i knew that d wasn't attaching. i tried very hard, maybe even harder than i would with my biological children to find a connection, and i didn't feel that we were establishing that connection.

    >> reporter: after 18 months of trying to bond with d, anita came to a heartbreaking realization.

    >> my thoughts and emotions were disjointed and came in waves. one moment i was determined to keep d because i loved him. an instant later, i realized that i wasn't the parent i knew i could be and that i should place d with a better family, a better mother.

    >> reporter: she chose to terminate the adoption and she began looking for his new family.

    >> i explained to him that he'd be joining his new family and that we loved him very much, that he had done nothing wrong. in our last moments together, i stared into his eyes and told him that i loved him and that i tried to do my best.

    >> do you feel like you failed him?

    >> i'm not sure that i failed him. i loved him and i tried my best. in that respect, i didn't fail him. he deserves the best life he could possibly have. i wish i could have been the one to give him that life.

    >> that was nbc's natalie morales . anita tedaldi is with us now along with allen pertman, executive director of the evan b. donaldson adoption institute and lisa belkman, columnist for "the new york times" magazine. good morning to all of you. anita , it's a heartbreaking story. and when you said in that piece that you just weren't connecting with d, can you explain that little more? what were the signs that there was no connection here?

    >> sure. i think it was both ways, that the child, d, wasn't connecting with us, and at the same time, while i was seeking help with a therapist, a social worker, while i was trying to establish a connection and did some attachment therapy, i also realized that on my part, there was a difference. i also had a hard time bonding with him.

    >> and when you say bonding, though, there was obviously affection. you say that you loved d, even though you weren't bonding with d, and i think some people might need a little explanation on that.

    >> sure. i loved him and i cared deeply for him. i tried to do the exact same thing that i did with my biological children, but over time , it became clear that our family maybe wasn't a good match for him, that we were unable to meet some of his needs.

    >> and the emotions, you say, came in waves. you thought, well, i should stick this out at one moment, no, we should find a better solution in another. was there one specific incident that kind of turned the corner for you?

    >> i don't think there was one specific incident. i sought help early on in the process and i spoke with a social worker who was involved with the adoption and then with a therapist. so, i came to this conclusion over time .

    >> adam -- let me make it clear, you were not involved in this adoption --

    >> no.

    >> but this is not the happily ever after story that we hope adoptions have.

    >> right.

    >> how often does something like this happen, where there isn't a bond?

    >> mercifully, not very often. this happens in biological family formation. someone, actually, downstairs as i was preparing told me about her sister who took a long time to bond with her biological kid. it happens, and the one message we shouldn't take away from this is that this is, you know, adoption is a rental where you try it out. it's not. it's permanent, it's loving and it's like every other family, but that doesn't always work.

    >> from the adoption agency point of view, is this the outcome you would rather see? would you favor someone like anita sticking with it for consistency for that child or finding a better match for the long-term betterment of that child? how do you come down on that?

    >> well, the donaldson institute is a research organization, not an agency, so i don't have to make these decisions. from a practice point of view, you want what's in the best interests of the child . i can't speak to the intimacies of this one episode because i don't know them well enough. in general, you give it all you've got for as long as you can, and in most cases, people sometimes take years to bond with their kids, especially if they're from tough circumstances, but you cannot know in one case.

    >> lisa , i know this story generated a lot of comment, and i want to be honest, not a lot of it -- there was a lot of it that was not positive. a lot of negative comments directed toward anita . were you surprised by that?

    >> i was not completely surprised. anita was hesitant about writing this. she had been a blogger on other subjects and this came up in our getting to know each other, and it took months before she wanted to write about it. i spent a lot of time saying, are you sure you want to write about it? because it's a hot topic. and the point was not to say, look, this happens all the time and to frighten people away, but the point was to say, this happens sometimes and knowing about that going in, more information's better.

    >> and anita , to the people who have judged you harshly at times, how do you respond to that?

    >> you know, i think i would have done the same thing two years ago. in fact, i did do the same thing two years ago --

    >> in terms of judging?

    >> in terms of judging. i wrote a column where i criticized somebody who had done the same thing. and so, i understand where the criticism comes from, because of course, this is not the outcome that anybody would hope for, but ultimately, we had to do what was best for the child, and so, i hoped it would have been us, but working with the support that we had, that was the conclusion we came to.

    >> real quickly, how is baby d doing? you've checked in.

    >> he's doing well. he's doing well.

    >> which i guess is the happy ending in all this. so, each though it seems like a difficult path to get there. anita , thank you very much. adam, thank you. lisa , thank you very much. we appreciate it. we want to know what you think about anita 's decision and the story in general. we'd like your comments. logon to our website at todayshow.com to weigh in and we'll be talking about that in a later program. we're right back after

TODAY contributor
updated 10/1/2009 10:37:07 AM ET 2009-10-01T14:37:07

No decision she ever made or ever expects to make was more agonizing or more controversial. After 18 months of pouring her love and efforts into bonding with her adoptive son, Anita Tedaldi realized it wasn’t working and gave the child to another family.

“I loved him and I cared deeply for him,” Tedaldi told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Thursday in New York. “I tried to do the same exact thing I did with my biological children, but over time it became clear that our family maybe wasn’t a good match for him, that we were unable to meet some of his needs.”

Tedaldi inspired both praise and condemnation when she wrote in The New York Times’ Motherlode blog about the orphan boy she and her husband adopted — whom, they learned, had been found abandoned at the side of a road .

The child’s exact age could not be determined (details that have been reported about the child’s age, place of origin, and new family have been altered to protect his identity). His legs were underdeveloped, and his head was flat in the back from being left in a crib unattended.

The controversy has spread to the blog written by TODAY’s Natalie Morales, who wrote about it after reporting Tedaldi’s story. After reading Tedaldi’s story in the Times, Morales observed: “It’s a piece that will bring you to tears.”

She did her homework
It also brought Tedaldi to wrenching tears. She and her husband, who is in the U.S. military and is frequently deployed overseas, had three natural children. They wanted to adopt to share their blessings with a child who otherwise would have had little hope.

“I had wanted to adopt for a long time, even before I met my husband or had my biological daughters,” she wrote in her blog entry. “I’ve always wanted a large family, like the one I grew up with in Italy, and I love the chaos and liveliness of many kids.”

Tedaldi said she wasn’t going into adoption blind or with false expectations. “I did lots of research on adoption, including attachment problems and other complications that older adopted children can have,” she wrote. “I spoke to my therapist and went through a thorough screening process with social workers to figure out if I, and my family, could be a good match for a child who needed a home.”

Anita Tedaldi raised an adopted child before reluctantly coming to the conclusion that another family could give him a better home.
She was ecstatic when she picked up the boy, whom she identifies only as “D.,” after months of waiting, Tedaldi recounted. But as much as she poured herself into the challenges of raising him along with her natural children, she realized that she wasn’t connecting with him, and that he wasn’t bonding with her at that visceral level that only a parent understands.

As time went on, Tedaldi began to consider giving him up to another adoptive family, but first, she sought out a therapist to help her bond with D.

“Still, I struggled,” Tedaldi wrote. “One day ... I was on the phone with Jennifer, our social worker, who merely asked ‘what's up’ when I blurted out that I couldn't parent D., that things were too hard.

“As soon as I said these words out loud, a flood of emotions washed over me, and I sobbed, clutching the phone with both hands.”

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, said adoption should not be “a rental where you try it out.”
An agonizing decision
Problems with D. were also affecting her marriage, and when her husband was home between deployments, they found themselves fighting nearly constantly. Finally, the family made the wrenching decision to go to an agency to find a new home for D.

Tedaldi and “Samantha,” D.’s new mother, spent days meeting together with the boy to smooth the transition. Tedaldi wrote movingly of the last time she saw D.

“I kneeled down and pulled D. close to me, desperately wanting to impress an indelible memory of my son on me, and me on him, inhaling his scent, feeling his soft skin and touching his coarse hair. In our last moments together, I stared into his eyes and told him that I loved him and that I had tried to do my best,” she wrote. “His new mom would love him so, so much; my little man would be OK. He didn’t cry, he stared back at me, then looked to Samantha and asked for more juice.”

Forthright opinions
Comments were quick to come, from those who said they admired Tedaldi’s courage to those who said they despised her cowardice.

“I have heard our society called ‘Throw Away’, this woman, and I cannot call her a mom, just threw this little boy away, again. What message have we embedded in this little boy's mind? He has now been thrown away not once but twice. Have we created a future psychopath? Will he ever trust another person?” wrote one reader to Morales’ blog.

On the other side of the debate was this comment: “I watched Anita tell her story with Matt this morning and, as a mom, it broke my heart. It is not anyone's place to judge her. She was looking out for little "D's" best interest and it had to be a very hard decision for her and her family. Why are we as a society so quick to judge!!!!”

The New York Times’ Lisa Belkin received many comments from readers after publishing Anita Tedaldi’s story.
Tedaldi told Lauer she knew the criticism was coming. In fact, she had been critical of other mothers who had done the same thing.

“I did do the same thing two years ago,” Tedaldi said. “I wrote a column where I criticized somebody who had done the same thing. I understand where the criticism comes from, because, of course, this is not the outcome that anyone would hope for. But ultimately, we had to do what was best for the child.”

‘Not a rental’
There are more than 130,000 adoptions in the United States every year. Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of “Adoption Nation,” told Lauer such cases as Tedaldi’s are rare.

“It happens, and the one message we shouldn’t take away from this is that adoption is a rental where you try it out. It’s not. It’s permanent and it’s loving, and it’s like every other family, but that doesn’t always work,” Pertman told Lauer.

Lisa Belkin, columnist and editor of the Motherlode blog, told Lauer, “The point was not to say, ‘Look, this happens all the time,’ and to frighten people away. The point was to say, ‘This happens sometimes and knowing about that going in — more information — is better.’ ”

Months later, Tedaldi said D. and his new family are doing well.

“I’m not sure that I failed him. I loved him and I tried my best — in that respect I didn’t fail him,” she said. “He deserves the best life that he can possibly have. I wish that I could have been the one to give him that life.”

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