Recent posts by fellow bloggers Amanda and Von have really hit home for me. Amanda in a pictorial this week says, "I am an adult adoptee activist. This is not about my parents, my childhood, or a 'bad personal experience.' I lend my voice because adoptees are the only people who can tell you what being adopted is like. I'm tired of being a secret. I am adopted. I am not afraid to speak my truth."
Wow! As usual, Amanda sums up the truth in just a few powerful words. So many people immediately assume that those adoptees who speak out for equal treatment -- having the same access to their legal birth certificates that everyone else has -- must have had a "bad personal experience," and couldn't possibly represent the views of all those "happy" adoptees out there.
When it comes to the topic of adoption, active listening is a much-needed skill, but it is unfortunately seldom put into practice. Myths and assumptions continue to dominate the discourse, particularly in the political arena. As Amanda says, "Adoptees are the only people who can tell you what being adopted is like." But many politicians aren't all that interested in what adoptees have to say. They would rather let entities like the NCFA, the Catholic bishops, and the State Bar Associations do the talking.
As an adopted adult, I find few things more irritating than people who don't know what they're talking about speaking for me. That's why, like Von, I am one of those adoptees who has found blogging to be "more and more rewarding." My blog is a place where I can address the myths about adoption, where readers can ask intelligent questions, and where hopefully, some real understanding and learning can take place.
As Von says, "Enduring the assumptions the judgements and the harshness of non-adoptees ... is an added burden" for the adoptee. To illustrate the truth of what she says, I'll share just a few exchanges I've had with people over the years since I've spoken out for adoption reform.
In 2003, I wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, detailing my frustrating quest to secure my medical history after I had suffered a serious bout of malignant melanoma. The Sunday after its publication, the husband of a friend approached me in church and said, "You're absolutely right -- you should have access to your medical history, but those mothers -- they should have the right to keep their names secret." He expressed this view with such confidence that I was momentarily stunned. Here is a man who, as far as I know, has no personal experience with adoption, has read no research on adoption, but is completely comfortable with his assertion that original mothers have a "right" to keep their identities secret from their offspring for life.
His response should have been, "As someone who has lived with adoption, what do you think the solution to this problem is?" But like many, he wasn't so interested in what I thought; he was much more interested in telling me what I should think.
Another acquaintance listened to me talk about the rights of adult adoptees during a social outing and observed, "But adoption is a much nobler solution than the alternative." Ah! That red herring -- abortion. As most readers here know, there is no correlation between adult adoptee access and abortion rates, but once again, that annoying and unfounded assumption rears its ugly head.
This same acquaintance later related the story about a woman adoptee who "wasted" years of her life searching for her birth family. The clear message here is that adoptees should just move on and be "grateful" for the lives they have. The curiosity as to why an adoptee might feel compelled to spend years of her life searching for birth relatives is noticeably absent, but the judgment comes through loud and clear.
The comments I've related so far came from friends and acquaintances. They get worse when we adoptees start to interact with adoption agency personnel, attorneys and legislators. When I paid $400 to initiate a search at the agency that placed me for adoption, the first question I was asked was, "Why do you want to know?" The inference, to me, was, "Why aren't you OK not knowing?"
I'll spare you the details of my frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful search through the agency, but along the way, I was subjected to hurtful and patronizing comments like, "How would you like to be approached by a child you relinquished?" to "Your desire to know will be seen by the courts as 'idle curiosity'" to "You are very emotional." My quest ended with a patronizing letter from the agency's president and CEO.
I was particularly infuriated by her conclusion: "I hope your efforts to advocate for adoption reform impact the secrecy that surrounds the nature of adoption to make a positive change for the future."
These words from a woman whose agency has stood on the sidelines for the past 30 years as a grassroots group has advocated for adult adoptee rights in New Jersey! How hypocritical can you get!
I responded to the CEO this way: "Please don't patronize me and tell me that you have compassion for my feelings. Believe me, your behavior speaks much more loudly than your words. It has become clear to me that no one is willing to stand up for the rights of adoptees except the adoptees themselves, along with those who love them and have witnessed firsthand the hurt that you perpetuate by remaining unwilling to take a position. To be treated like a perpetual child as an adult is both demeaning and unfair, and I am amazed that as so-called professionals in the field, you seem unable to recognize this simple fact."
I was quite angry then, and I have a feeling that those were the words that branded me as "highly emotional." But the whole debacle was a valuable learning experience in that I finally recognized that the "experts" don't have my best interests at heart at all. I was fortunate that I was able to locate my original mother on my own through adoption networks, and that we were able to exchange information in a compassionate way that worked for us. This we were able to accomplish with no interference from state or agency "experts."
The laws as they now stand are unfair and outrageous, and the resistance to change continues to amaze me, given the data we now have. My blog is just a little contribution to the discourse, I know. But I'm inspired by the many other bloggers out there like Amanda and Von, who encourage me to keep moving forward. As adopted adults, we are truly the "only people who can tell you what being adopted is like." And at least in some quarters, it appears that some are starting to listen.
You might also like:
Maybe "Angry Adoptees" Are Just Well Informed
Why Adoption Experts Sometimes Irk Adult Adoptees
The Media and Adoption Issues
An Adoptee's Perspective on Love and Why Truth Matters