While she saw the merits of open adoption from the beginning, her husband was wary and initially favored a closed arrangement -- he was afraid that the child might feel more loyalty to the biological parents than to them.
While such fear and insecurity is totally understandable in a couple who has struggled to conceive and who want desperately to become parents, it is a fear and insecurity that needs to be addressed directly by adoption professionals, and here is where many who negotiate adoptions fail so miserably.
Research about adoption shows clearly that secrets never serve the best interest of an adopted child. An adopted infant has two sets of parents, and each set contributes to the child's unique disposition and personality. Pretending that the original parents don't exist or negating their importance is a disservice to the original parents, for sure, but it is also a grave disservice to the adopted child and the adoptive parents. Building a family through adoption is not the same as building a family biologically. Certain challenges must be confronted and met in order to serve the best interests of the child.
Instead of educating prospective adoptive parents about those realities, too many adoption brokers cater to the adopting parents' understandable fears and insecurities. Consider this excerpt from a booklet for hopeful adoptive parents issued by the New Jersey State Bar Association:
"While open adoption is a legal option in some states, it is not legally enforceable in New Jersey. In other words, while adoptive parents may agree to permit some form of contact between the child and the birth parents, they are not legally bound by these promises, even if they are made in writing."
Another section reads: "In New Jersey all records relating to adoption proceedings ... are sealed by the court clerk, and may not be opened to inspection or copying without a court order, which almost never occurs."
So adoption attorneys go out of their way to assure prospective adoptive parents that they needn't have any contact with original parents -- ever. They have nothing to say about the fact that most adult adoptees feel they have a right to know who they actually are and where they come from.
Adoption attorneys have a vested interest in reassuring prospective adoptive parents, the paying customer. But are they really helping these parents for the long term when they say, in effect, that the original parents are irrelevant? For the adoptee, the original parents are rarely irrelevant across an entire lifetime, whether she talks about her deepest feelings or not.
I loved my adoptive parents, just as they loved me, and they shaped me in many ways. However, I believe the practice of adoption is deeply flawed. My parents and the practice of adoption are two separate things. My genes, obviously, come from a different set of parents, and I greatly resent the fact that all kinds of legal roadblocks exist to keep me from knowing more about them. Should I be automatically disqualified from having any interest in genealogy just because I was adopted at the age of three months?
The fact that people profit from the practice of adoption causes all kinds of ethical dilemmas, much like adoption attorneys leaving out pertinent details about what actually best serves the interest of children. As Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR) states on its website: "Adoption should be about the formation of a family for the benefit and best interests of children, not the destruction of identity."
Last May, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote a column for the New York Times entitled "Markets and Morals," In it, he quotes Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel, who asks in his book What Money Can't Buy: "Do we want a society where everything is up for sale?"
While the free market can provide great solutions in many areas, says Kristof, some things simply should not be for sale. I would say that babies are one of those things. "Where to draw the line limiting the role of markets isn't clear to me," Kristof writes, "but I'm pretty sure that we've already gone too far." In the field of adoption, where Caucasian babies cost more than African-American infants, and in the field of reproductive technology, where again, Caucasian infants cost more than half-Indians who are the product of an anonymous sperm donor and an impoverished Indian surrogate, the lines were crossed years ago.
The history of adoption demonstrates quite clearly that secrecy and a lack of transparency invite dishonesty and fraud. Am I saying that every adoption should be fully open? Not necessarily. There may be some cases in which a child could be harmed by exposure to original parents who have addiction problems or who suffer from mental instability. But these cases are the minority, and there is no doubt in my mind that every adopted individual should have access to his or her legal document of birth as an adult. While children may need special protections, adults do not, and they are entitled to the truth about their own lives.
While many misconceptions about adoption persist, I am encouraged that more and more adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents are speaking out about the need for adoption reform. Consider this comment by adoptive parent Gayle Swift to one of my posts:
"I'm the adoptive mother to two now-adult children. We've been fortunate enough to benefit from open access. This allowed each of my children to reconnect with their birthmothers. All of our relationships have benefitted! Our culture judges adoptees for wanting access to their original birth certificates and their roots. At the same time, "Who Do You Think You Are," a prime-time TV show, touts the joy and spiritual fulfillment of genealogy research. It is human nature to want to understand where one fits in the flow of the generations. Moreover, for health reasons, it is often essential to have access to birth family records. My daughter asks me why she has to have a 'fraudulent' birth certificate that lists me as having given birth to her. I have no reasonable answer. I am her adoptive mom and believe her birth certificate ought to reflect that. I'm not ashamed to be her adoptive mom and do not find it any less valid. I do not need the sham of a birth certificate that is essentially a lie. I vote for truth."
You can read Swift's beautiful article about this issue here.
What legislators considering adoptee rights bills should be asking themselves is this: Who is promoting sealed records in adoption and why? And do documented facts support their positions? Those entities that profit from adoption often shade the truth to ease the concerns of nervous and insecure prospective adoptive parents. Such sales pitches are not rooted in the facts about adoption, and they are highly unethical. We know better, and we can and should do better.
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