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Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Adoptee's Perspective on Love and Why Truth Matters

I loved my parents very much.  So it makes me really sad and angry when some people insinuate that I must not have because I am passionate about adoptee rights.  My mother lived to be 89 years old, and during the last couple years of her life, it was my privilege to look out for her, just as she had always looked out for me.  I looked forward to taking her shopping and out to lunch each week.  She was determined and independent, but her mobility was restricted, and she needed a scooter to get around.  Near the end of her life, when she was hospitalized, a nurse, testing her mental faculties, asked her who I was.  "That's my daughter," she replied, "and I couldn't live one minute without her."  She loved me fiercely, and I loved her.

I used to think that because I loved my parents so much, I had to love adoption too.  Or at least keep my conflicted views to myself.  It's obvious that some adoptees still feel this way, given the defensive responses that roll in every time an article is printed about adoptees wishing to reconnect with their original families.  There are always a few responses along this line: "I know who my real parents are, the people who loved and raised me."  The clear message is that this knowledge should be more than enough.  The implied message is that those folks who actually conceived you really aren't all that important.  There's also an unspoken message in there that as an adoptee, you must choose which family comes first.

As a mature adult who tries to honor the truth in all that I do, I find all these attitudes offensive.  And given that they still surface anytime a discussion about adoption comes up, I certainly understand why more people don't speak out.  Working for adoptee rights in New Jersey is very much like hitting your head against a wall -- over and over again.  Every time we approach success, armed with facts and testimonials, we are always thwarted by some back room deal, which has obviously been brokered by monied and influential lobbies.  Along the way, it is routinely implied that we are stalkers, intent on causing pain and disruption to our original families.  Opponents always drag in a few adoptees to claim they are just fine knowing nothing about their pasts.  Again, the implication is that we must not be fine, since we seem so intent on knowing.  The whole scene is frustrating and depressing -- some years, I find I need to take time off because the atmosphere is so toxic.

But I believe strongly that the laws governing adoption need a major overhaul, and the more I learn, the worse the landscape gets.  Several people pointed out to me after my last post on the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) that the NCFA has been supplanted by even more influential and unethical agency umbrella groups.  I realize that when it comes to adoption reform, adult adoptee access is most likely just the tip of the iceberg.  But the attitudes that keep the archaic laws in place banning adoptees from knowing their own genealogy are really very destructive -- and I believe that those attitudes, which insist that secrecy and deception must be a part of adoption, contribute greatly to the corruption that has been uncovered and that still goes on.

In my mind, adoption is not ethical unless all three parties involved are treated fairly.  Original parents should never be exploited in any way.  They must be respected, and every effort should be made to enable them to parent their own child, if it is at all possible.  There should be no coercion to surrender, either implied or outright, and open adoption agreements should be legally protected.

Once the child is born, that child's inherent right to know his or her birth identity should be honored.  She should not have to pretend that her adoptive parents are in fact her genetic parents when they are not.  It should be explained to those few original parents who prefer to remain unknown that while they are not required to have a relationship with their offspring, they may be asked at some future point to exchange information.  Telling an adopted person that such an exchange is too much to ask is an egregious insult, and it is a violation of his or her civil right to be treated just like any other American citizen as an adult.

Finally, adoptive parents need to be aware of the many abuses that have taken place and that still occur in the adoption field.  They also need to be better prepared for the realities of raising an adopted child.  Too many agencies ensure them that the child will be "just like their own" and fail to share the complexities of the adoption process.

We're obviously a long way off from the ideal picture I've just painted, although many good people -- adoptees, original parents and adoptive parents -- are working hard to improve adoption practice.  For the short term, I'd settle for an end to the offensive practice of questioning the loyalties of outspoken adoptees to their adoptive parents.  I, like any other human being, am a product of both my DNA and my nurturing, and which is more important is not relevant.  Both are integral parts of me.  The culture that encourages either-or thinking about adoption needs to change.

I loved and cherished my parents.  But I abhor the laws that prevent full-grown adults from securing their own legal documents of birth.  Truth and transparency are always better than lies and deception, and it is truly unethical to say that adoption must operate outside of those very basic and fundamental moral values.    

27 comments:

  1. great blog-well said

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  2. "The implied message is that those folks who actually conceived you really aren't all that important. There's also an unspoken message in there that as an adoptee, you must choose which family comes first."

    I never really realized how true this was until I found my own child after being shut out of his life in a fraudulent open adoption. It was clear he had to prove to his adopters how loyal he was to them, even after what they did to me and it was nothing short of dehumanizing. I felt like and unwelcome and uninvited intruder and that was the intent from the very beginning, by the people who gained while I lost...

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    1. So sad. As I said, I think adoption only works well when all three parties are treated fairly. I'm so sorry you were treated this way. There is still a lot of misguided propaganda out there about original parents, as you know only too well. We are all human beings of equal value, and our rights should be respected. Still so much work to do, sadly.

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    2. Yes, so true. Even sadder is the fact that the people who did this to me claim to be such good loving Christians (and so does my child), yet they all treated me sub-human.

      I read things that my child said about his natural father and I on the internet that was anything but "loving and Christian". His adopters are the one's who planted that into him after they claimed they "admired and respected" the "birthparents" so much. I was a "truly wonderful person" and they would "never forget me". This was before they got my child. After they got him, it was a whole different story and my story is not unique. So many mothers have been dehumanized in the same way and by dehumanizing the mother, they are in turn dehumanizing the child they adopted.

      Thank you for the insightful and truthful words you write here...

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  3. Yes, YES about truth and transparency being better than lies and deception.

    And this? This is what splits the baby: "as an adoptee, you must choose which family comes first."

    Well said, Susan.

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  4. Excellent. You know this gaslighting that they do, also harms adoptive parents by tricking some of them into believing that our desire to know ourselves our own history in some way implies that there was a deficit in their abilities.

    I often think as much as we are treated horribly as people who had "bad experiences" pathologized, stigmatized, etc. Those of us that speak out actually are a testament to what our aparents did right, we have enough self-esteem and value ourselves enough to risk the slings and arrows of outraged adoption profiteers.

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    1. That's a great point, Joy. After all it does take a good deal of self-esteem to be willing to stand up and speak a very unpopular truth.

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  5. Amen, Joy. It took me a long time to get it, but now that I do, I'm not about to be quiet. Sealed records are destructive on so many levels -- there is no excuse.

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  6. My god, things get so ugly when money is involved in something like adoption. Coming from a country where adoption is run as a social service rather than a business, I am constantly gobsmacked by the attitudes and (flimsy) arguments put forward on these websites by defenders of the adoption status quo out there in the US. I’m 35 years old and have literally never heard most of these arguments here in the UK.

    Never have I heard anyone suggest that if a mother ‘really’ loved her child she would give him/her up for adoption. Never have I heard anyone say that a child would be better off adopted because of the lifestyle the adoptive parents can provide. I’ve certainly never heard anyone imply that the childlessness of another couple should be a factor in a mother’s decision to place her child for adoption, as if the fact that a pregnancy is unplanned somehow makes the mother responsible for fixing other people’s infertility pain, in a way that the rest of us mothers in the general population for some reason are not. I don’t recognise the ‘rainbows and unicorns’ view of adoption as the ‘loving’ choice.

    Over here, as far as I can see, adoption is viewed as the complex and difficult issue that it is – something that by definition cannot exist without huge loss, and yet unfortunately is necessary in certain extreme circumstances for the safety or well-being of the child.

    And as for the sealing and replacing of original birth certificates - what on earth is that about? A birth certificate is a certificate of birth is it not? It is a record of a child’s birth and the parents that brought them into the world. How does any of that information change just because the child is adopted? In the UK the replacement birth certificate is called an ‘adoption certificate’, and includes the details of the adoption order and refers to the adoptive parents as the ‘adopters’. It is not designed as a fake birth certificate on which the adoptive parents are presented as the biological parents. All adoptees over here have the right to access their original birth certificates when they reach the age of 18. It’s hard to imagine where the practice of sealing and replacing birth certificates came from, as there doesn't seem to be anything inherent in adoption that would necessitate it. Until you remember that we’re talking about an industry here, one which used the promise of anonymity as a way of encouraging mothers to place their babies for adoption at a time when pregnancy outside of marriage was seen as scandalous, an industry which wants to help its customers maintain the illusion that their adoptive children were born to them, and which wants to try and prevent past (and present) lies and unethical practices being exposed by making it harder for adoptees and their first families to be reunited.

    Coming from a culture where adoption is not a business, it is so starkly obvious how much the anti-reform arguments are driven by the profit motive of the adoption industry – they just don’t make any sense from any other point of view. From a neutral perspective, the perspective of an outsider looking in, it is shocking how non-sensical some of these arguments are, and how clearly they are the rationalisations of people with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo for their own benefit.

    In the year ending 31st March 2011, 60 infants (under 1 year old) were adopted in the whole of the UK (source www.adoptionuk.org). In a population of over 60 million! That is what a system looks like in which there is adequate social security and no profit motive, and mothers are left alone to make their own decision about whether to place their child. Anyone have any idea what the figures are for the US?



    Posted by jenrcg to Family Ties at May 17, 2012 12:38 PM

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    1. "I’m 35 years old and have literally never heard most of these arguments here in the UK.

      Never have I heard anyone suggest that if a mother ‘really’ loved her child she would give him/her up for adoption. Never have I heard anyone say that a child would be better off adopted because of the lifestyle the adoptive parents can provide. I’ve certainly never heard anyone imply that the childlessness of another couple should be a factor in a mother’s decision to place her child for adoption, as if the fact that a pregnancy is unplanned somehow makes the mother responsible for fixing other people’s infertility pain, in a way that the rest of us mothers in the general population for some reason are not. I don’t recognise the ‘rainbows and unicorns’ view of adoption as the ‘loving’ choice. "

      I (and my brother) were adopted in the UK in the late 1960's, early 1970's and that is EXACTLY what our birth mother's were told, as they both happened to be teenagers, single, told they were too young to care for their babies, even though they both would have kept us if they had been given some kind of support. We were both adopted through a church adoption society that coerced them into believing the only option was to give their child a better life with two parents, and to forget their "shame".

      I suppose I only know these facts as I have been reunited for 20 years now, and have been told the circumstances of my relinquishment by the person it happened to. But then thinking back, my adoptive parents also alluded to the fact that the only reason she couldn't keep me was because she wasn't married.

      I only hope people in the US can have the same right as we have to get our OBC, as that was one of the first things I did when I became 18. It is too cruel to deny them that right.

      Susan, thank you for this blog, your writing really touches me.

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    2. Thank you, anon. I'm hoping the perspective of those of you from more "enlightened" countries can help more people to see the inequities in the American adoption system. Sometimes I really do feel as if I'm hitting my head against a wall, but I know there are a lot of us out here who feel the same! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

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    3. Anon – it’s great to hear the perspective of someone who has experienced adoption here in the UK - I’ve searched and searched for blogs by UK adoptees and first mothers, to try and learn more about the realities of adoption over here, but I haven’t been able to find any. I only know of one blog by a UK adoptive parent aswell. I’ve been trying to figure out whether it’s because less people feel the need to blog and speak out over here, because the UK system is generally fairer and less coercive (at least nowadays since single motherhood became socially acceptable), or whether maybe we’re just not really the blogging type over here.

      Reflecting on your comments, maybe the difference between the US and the UK is not so much that these coercive tactics have never been used over here (clearly they were in the era of your adoption and your brother’s), but that they don’t seem to be part of the popular perception of adoption over here, or the media representation of it, in the same way as they are in the US. In my experience (and I’m not adopted so maybe I’m not as well attuned to it as others might be), it’s quite rare for adoption to be represented in the UK media at all, other than the odd reunion show and the occasional documentary about the difficulties of placing certain types of children, eg older kids, kids with disabilities, sibling groups etc. Maybe that’s just down to the domestic infant adoption rates being so low here compared with the US, and maybe also the fact that no-one’s making any money from it, so you don’t have agencies spending millions on trying to create and maintain a certain view of adoption in the general population.

      Anyway I sincerely hope that the coercive practices used here in the 60s and 70s were mainly driven by the social stigma of single motherhood at the time, and that they died out along with that stigma – if not then we have some work to do here to put things right. The pregnancy crisis leaflets I’ve seen recently certainly seem to present the options (adoption, abortion, parenting) in a relatively unbiased and balanced way, and the low number of babies being placed for adoption is encouraging, I hope it indicates that coercion is not widespread here, either that or it is not working! The website www.ukadoption.com states that in the late 1960s there were around 25,000 children adopted in the UK, of whom about half were under a year old, so the numbers of babies being placed do seem to have dropped quite drastically.

      It’s great to hear that you are in a successful reunion of such long standing and have been able to access your OBC, lets hope that US adoptees win the same rights sooner rather than later.

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    4. American social workers went to countries like Australia and the U.K. to teach their fellow social workers the techniques that were most effective in getting vulnerable, unwed mothers to surrender their children for adoption.

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  7. @Jenrcg,
    I just wish that everyone else could see things the way you do. You are always able to see the forest through the trees, to see the real human impact of adoption and to cut through all the bull and get to the truthful heart of the matter. Please keep on writing! We need your voice.

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  8. "It should be explained to those few original parents who prefer to remain unknown that while they are not required to have a relationship with their offspring, they may be asked at some future point to exchange information."

    Okay, I will bite... what about those times when a future exchange is not possible? Because there are people that truly are not able to even try..... Are they required at some point to have some exchange that they do not want? Whose rights are more important?

    Lovely post, I am just curious.

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  9. Lori,
    I think that as an adult, the adoptee should have the right to know the truth and to ask for information, that is all. Of course, no one can be compelled to respond, but the data tells us most original mothers will. Some, of course, won't, and that's life. But in my opinion, no adoptee should be forced or expected to maintain other people's secrets for life. Thanks for commenting.

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    1. I think that asking for the information is fine. But at some point, seriously, there has to be a certain amount of mutual respect regarding each other's lives. Just my thoughts.

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    2. Just a thought on the *respect* angle from an adoptee pov. We hear reports of adoptees forcing themselves or relationships on to parents or families that are not wanted, and I have to say that how an adoptee behaves (inho) is contingent on how he/she was treated and made to feel as they were forming their own self-image.

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  10. Hey Susan, great post!! That whole dilemma of if you love your adoptive parents then you have to love adoption seems to come up a lot... but like you, there are so many adopted persons out there who have learned to see beyond that and look at the much bigger picture.

    This: "In my mind, adoption is not ethical unless all three parties involved are treated fairly." Amen! So many people used to say to me, well there are so many successful adoptions out there so your fight is unnecessary... to which I would reply, adoption is only successful when ALL parties involved are happy with where things are at. And that goes beyond the initial three parties to the extended families etc. And I cannot think of one yet where everyone has been happy with the way things were/are.

    Great post - will be passing it on!

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    1. Thanks so much, Myst. One thing I really enjoy about blogging is exchanging ideas and perspectives with all those involved in the adoption circle. Always appreciate your input!

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  11. Well said! I'm also an adoptee who loved her adoptive parents and considered my adoptive family MY family. (Sadly, they're gone now) Yet I still needed to find out the truth about my heritage in order for me to be a complete human being. One thing does not negate the other. Kudos to you, Susan, for the work you're doing to foster change in the adoption world.

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    1. Thank you Linda. I really enjoy exchanging ideas with all who have lived adoption. Of course I'm trying to get some of these articles into the hands of the people who really need to read them, i.e. legislators and the New Jersey governor! They, unfortunately, are not as receptive to my ideas!

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  12. Excellent post! I hope it is widely shared and takent ot heart!

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  13. Hi, I'm currently working to make a documentary about Adoption. It would be wonderful to have your input on it. Please visit the following website: http://adoptiontruths.webs.com/ and email me either publicly or anonymously. Your point of view is very interesting and I enjoyed reading it.

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  14. VERY well said ~ thank you for helping to disarm the myths that we adoptees live with. Bless you!

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    1. Thank you, Peach. Now that I'm older and have the time, I just feel compelled to keep writing! Hopefully, this blog along with yours and so many others will start to have an impact. I started the blog because it is so difficult to get anything meaningful about adoption and adoptee rights into the mainstream press. I hope social media will make a difference for us.

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