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Monday, May 7, 2012

An Open Letter to Adoptive Parents

I would so like to see more adoptive parents supporting the state-by-state efforts to update archaic adoption laws and to enable adult adoptees to apply for and receive their original birth certificates.  You may think that the problem of sealed records has been solved since today, so many adoptions have some degree of openness.  But when adoptees continue to be treated like second-class citizens in much of the United States,  a heavy cloud still hangs over the institution of adoption.  As adults, adoptees should be able to receive their own birth certificates, just like any other US citizen.  When you fail to support reform, you are sending the message that treating adoptees differently than everyone else is acceptable.  And you are tacitly supporting the myth that adoptees are insensitive stalkers, intent on disrupting the lives of their original families.

Even my own adoptive mother did not realize how severely compromised my civil rights really were.  When I experienced a serious medical problem and encountered problems as I tried to obtain up-to-date medical records from the agency that had arranged my adoption, she was genuinely surprised.  "But why can't you get them?" she asked.  "We were told that information would be available whenever we needed it."

"Well apparently, my original mother wants no contact," I replied.  "If she says she wants no contact, I have no way of getting up-to-date information."  Of course, I had to take the word of the "confidential intermediary" that my original mother indeed wanted no contact.  And I had to trust that the intermediary did ask for meaningful medical information, even though I didn't receive any.  Later, I was able to contact my original mother successfully on my own, and she did provide me with information that was helpful, both medically and emotionally.  But that's another story -- one that shows why a system that relies on confidential intermediaries is completely unfair to the grown adoptee.

My adoptive mother and I were products of the closed adoption system, and it was hard for her to even envisage another mother somewhere out in the world.  As she said to me during my communications with the agency, "I don't like to think there's another mother.  I like to think you came right from me."  That's a painfully honest assessment, and because she felt that way,  I didn't share much of my thinking on the matter.  I loved her dearly, and I didn't want to cause her any pain.

Of course I didn't really know my original mother, but I did feel a link there too.  She had carried me in her body for nine months and given birth to me, a rather profound process, to be sure, which I experienced myself two times.  I didn't want to cause my original mother any pain either, but I did feel as an autonomous adult that I had an absolute right to information that might help me to protect my own health, as well as the well-being of my children and grandchildren.  I approached her, after much thought, through a sensitive and carefully-worded certified letter.  I was fortunate that she responded.

Can you understand as an adoptive parent what a difficult position you are placing your child in when you feel threatened by the existence of the original family?  I completely forgive my adoptive mother for her limitations because she really didn't know any better.  The agency personnel were the experts, and she believed what they told her.  I forgive my original mother as well for not wishing to have a continuing relationship.  I believe denial was her way of coping with a closed adoption system, and I have to respect that.

It is the perpetuation of the closed system that upsets me the most.  It is so unfair to place a child into a situation in which she must be ultra sensitive about the adoptive parents' feelings, and ultra sensitive about the original families' feelings as well.  Why should the adopted child be the one who must put everyone else's feelings before her own?  Such a system -- which is still enshrined in law throughout much of the country -- is truly backwards, because it places the best interests of the child below the best interests of the adults involved.

I believe that as an adopted person, it took me a little longer to grow up than it should have.  It took me quite a few years to realize that it was acceptable for me to sometimes put my own feelings first.  It's not my job to protect everyone else's feelings and drive my own feelings underground.  It also took me quite a while to do what I needed to do to feel like a fully-empowered human being, just as capable as anyone else and in some cases more capable of handling my own personal affairs.

My wish as a 61-year-old adoptee, then, is that all adoptive parents in the next generation will come to understand that an adoptee's need to know her roots in no way diminishes her love for her adoptive parents.  As adults, we all know that life does not begin at adoption -- we adoptees carry different DNA in our veins, and that DNA has ramifications, sometimes emotionally, always medically.  An adoptive family can be just as loving as a biological family, of course, but it is a different kind of family, and we do no one any favors in not recognizing that fact.

Adoptees as adults have rights, and they should be treated just the same as the non-adopted.  In my case, not having ready access to my own birth record denied me the opportunity, when I had a health issue, to participate in a clinical trial.  Such blatant discrimination is simply not acceptable, and such discrimination, I believe, gives all of adoption a black eye.  Adoptive parents, please be assured that I couldn't have loved my adoptive mother and father more, yet a conversation with my original mother provided me with a sense of closure that was very helpful to me.  If you have loved your children well, you have nothing to fear from original families, and your children's love for you will be even stronger when you are able to validate their need to know the truth.

We need more of you adoptive parents to join the many adoptees and original parents who are lobbying to  reform archaic adoption laws.  Because you as adoptive parents finance the adoption industry, your voice tends to carry more weight than ours in the legislative arena.  Please join us!  Your children are precious, and they deserve to be treated just like all other citizens.


If you live in New Jersey, please join NJCARE, the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education.

You can find out how to help in your state by exploring the website of the American Adoption Congress.

Support the Adoptee Rights Coalition in its advocacy efforts for equal rights, equal access.

19 comments:

  1. Beautifully written, Susan. Thanks for commenting on my blog and for sending me the link.

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  2. " It took me quite a few years to realize that it was acceptable for me to sometimes put my own feelings first."

    I can relate to this. When we have no say in something as dramatic as being given up by our parents and raised in another family it does encourage the idea that what we want/think doesn't matter. I think it is time for adoptive parents to accept that they were lied to when they were told that we were blank slates and wouldn't feel any connection to our original parents. There is just too much evidence now to the contrary now.

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  3. "I believe that as an adopted person, it took me a little longer to grow up than it should have. It took me quite a few years to realize that it was acceptable for me to sometimes put my own feelings first. It's not my job to protect everyone else's feelings and drive my own feelings underground. It also took me quite a while to do what I needed to do to feel like a fully-empowered human being, just as capable as anyone else and in some cases more capable of handling my own personal affairs" - now that really struck a chord with me! I did realise early on though that if anyone was going to be there for me it was me and always took care to be self-supporting from an early age.Like your blog, I'm following.....

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  4. PS may I quote the above, I like it so much and think it helpful to many.I will post in the Facebook group Occupy Adoption if you permit, maybe you'd like to join too.

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  5. Of course, Von. I'll have to check out Occupy Adoption.

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  6. I really like this post. I especially like the way you said, "if you have loved your children well, you have nothing to fear from original families...".

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  7. Please don't paint all adoptive parents with the same brush (especially considering the generational gap and mindset(on adoption and a whole host of social issues) of adoptive parents from the 40's 50's 60's with adoptive parents of "today") -My son was adopted through the child welfare system (not a private adoption agency-) - I located his birth family when he was 10 (he is now 13) He chose to meet them (and they-him) and he sees his maternal aunt (his birth mother's twin sister) at least once or more a year. (He also met and visited his maternal grandmother and brother). I located a photocopy of his OBC and am in the process of petitioning the court for a court order to obtain that certificate on an "official" form from the state-so that I can proceed with trying to reclaim his dual citizenship (which was his birthright through bloodline)My husband and I have visited graveyards, newspaper archives, his birth mother's high school for yearbook photos etc. so that we can begin to build a family history for him to know and feel proud of. This is anecdotal-but--adoptive parents seem to be more open and honest with their adopted children than they were 30-40-50-+ years ago (I have family members who are in there 70's and 80's who adopted in the 50's and 60's and friends who have adopted within the past 10-15 years-)
    Regarding: getting involved-(among other things) I have emailed the local chapter of NJCARE -asking for more info and to join and ?'s on how to get involved-but never received a response to my emails-I also attempted to contact one of their spokespersons( on Facebook-( a few months back) and did not receive a response-(not that I have given up-time to email again and hope for a response)
    Fear his original family? Thanks for the reassurance but- you don't have to tell me how much I love my son or that he loves me-or that there is plenty of room in his heart to love his birth family too-

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    1. Anon,
      Thanks so much for writing. Would it be OK with you if I used some of your response in a future post? I am so sorry you never heard back from NJCARE -- not sure who dropped the ball there, but we desperately need more voices and testimonials like yours in the public arena! If you will e-mail me at susanandty@gmail.com, I will make sure you know what's going on in Trenton. You can also check the NJCARE website at http://www.nj-care.org/ for legislative updates. There is a How You Can Help bar on the left hand side that will enable you to get involved. New legislation hasn't been released yet for this legislative cycle, but with Gov. Christie at the helm, this fight will be an uphill battle. I know the adoption culture is changing, but the laws, as you well know, have not changed and in my view, continue to promote an unhealthy environment in which ethical violations can too easily occur. Thanks again for a beautiful testimonial. I know deep in my heart how much my mother loved me too, even though it was difficult for her to think about my birth family. See my next post, coming out today.

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    2. Hello- Yes that would be fine-Thanks for the info!!-
      Several years ago, when my son was little and my mother was still with us-we were having one of our many family conversations at the kitchen table -that conversation-in particular-was about our ancestors-"As your son gets older-you need to tell him about the family-tell him stories about his ancestors-his great grandfather...and then, in midsentence-her voice trailed off...she had a look of grave concern on her face-I can still see her in my mind's eye-and then she said "Oh(my name) ..someday...he's going to want to know who he is..he'll want to know about his other family" (she was concerned because I did't know where they were and that he might never know who they are and in turn -who he is)I never forgot that conversation with my mother-it stuck in my mind and so I decided to try and find them-sooner rather than later-because I was concerned that as they years passed it would become more difficult or maybe even impossible to find them. When I sought out his birth family I didn't know what to expect-I have always felt that they might have been wondering where he was and if he was ok-I brought pictures ,his birth mother's hospital bracelet and his "It's a Boy" card from the hospital nursery and basically was preparing myself for them to shut the door in my face. It turned out that they had been thinking about him all these years and are happy that he is healthy and doing well-(another couple was supposed to adopt him-his aunt had their info and a phone #-and both parties had agreed to keep in touch so that the birth family would know how he was doing etc.I think the woman was a nurse/staff in the hospital and this is how she contacted the birth family-) they had spoken on the phone-but the woman asked a lot of questions about his birth mother (she has schizophrenia) and then the birth family-didn't hear from her again-and they received a letter from the state that he had been adopted (but no inof. on who adopted him- as DYFS adoptions are closed-)
      There have been some disappointments following my initial contact with his birth family-(as there are in any and every family) but he is happy that he "has more family" and adores his aunt (at her invitation-we are going to visit her and his uncle and cousin this summer-she lives out of state) I think that there are so many "little" things (which are really "big" things) that she has shared with us such as bits of family history-such as there is musical and artistic talent in the family (my son inherited both) including a famous cousin who is a singer-that there are lefties in the family and gaps between front middle teeth-and just some personality/temperament traits (this has helped me understand him better)how much he looks like his birth mother's family- and most importantly-family medical history- I have written to the governor's office and emailed too and also email and call my family and close friends and ask them to do the same-I just emailed NJCARE again-I had called a while back-but the machine was full-It is an interesting coincidence that you wrote in your article that adoptees are treated like second class citizens-just had an experience recently at the Italian consulate-My sister's minor children (birth) can apply-on the same application with her-for dual citizenship -but my son cannot-because he is not issued a "long form" birth certificate in NJ (which is required for the process) -because he is adopted -(I told the clerk-that I was fed up with my son being "treated like a second class citizen" )

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    3. God bless you for your wisdom and all your efforts, and please keep speaking out!

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  8. PS: What are the statistics on the number of adoptive parents that are involved in the adoptee rights organizations? (involved vs not involved) are there any hard numbers on this-or estimates?

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    1. This is a great question, and one I plan to pursue. When Nancy Verrier wrote The Primal Wound back in 1993, I remember reading that she was barraged by negative criticism from adoptive parents. She considered it illuminating that she didn't receive one negative comment from an adopted person. Now I know there are so many more enlightened adoptive parents. In the legislative arena, however, what I see is mostly adoptees and original mothers speaking out. I'll see if I can find out how many adoptive parents participate in NJCARE and the American Adoption Congress. I believe there are just a few involved in the Adoptee Rights Coalition -- I'll check to see if any numbers are available.

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    2. PS I think (just based on my feelings and conversations with other adoptive parents)that there is such a strong instinct to "protect" our (adopted) child -for them not to suffer any unneeded hurt-and the worry that the birth family might not want to see them etc etc-There is so much grief for your child-many of us know the circumstances of our child's birth families and the reasons why they chose adoption-I have to say-I didn't take finding his birth family lightly-I was terrified-and worried if/that I was/had made the right decision-

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    3. Yes, I agree there are many concerns as to how to best handle the situation when children are minors. When children become adults, however, they deserve what every other citizen is entitled to: the accurate legal document recording their birth. I think that's what adult adoptees resent so much -- being legally treated like children. Your love for your son shines so brightly --it will make his path in life much easier, I'm sure.

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  9. Here is a group of adoptive parents that may be of interest -they also have a Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Adoptive-Parents-for-Justice-in-Adoption/100227340051650

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    1. Thanks, Jane. I'll look into that group -- I'm always looking for ways to dialogue with more adoptive parents, as I really feel we need a wider network speaking out for change in adoption law. What I've seen publicly in legislative hearings is that the adoptive parents' viewpoints carry more weight. Too many legislators still feel adoptee birthright bills somehow discourage the practice of adoption.

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  10. Thanks for your words. I spend a ton of time researching adoption on line. My four year old is adopted.... I probably ought to be researching how having old parents will affect him who knows which will bother him more. I enjoyed this letter and insight.
    www.adoptionpi@blogspot.com

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  11. Thanks, Carol. You are educating yourself about the complexities of adoption, and that is a great thing! I really loved my parents, as I'm sure your son loves you. It's the inequities of the system that I resent.

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