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.