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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sealed Records are Wrong. Period

Raising an adoptive child is not the same as raising a biological child.  It's not better, it's not worse, it's just different, and it requires from prospective adoptive parents a prepared and educated mindset.  Why is this simple truth so hard for some people to understand?

I suppose it boils down to the fact that people really want to believe the simple concept that "love conquers all."
Certainly the adoption industry and attorneys who place babies for adoption want to promote that concept -- it's good for business to present adoption as an uncomplicated and "beautiful way to build a family."

Adoption can be an appropriate way to build a family, if all other options have been exhausted, and if all members within the adoption circle are treated fairly and with respect.  But adoption is rarely simple, and someone is almost always treated unfairly and without respect.  It is all too easy to strip identity rights from infants, who cannot speak for themselves.  And it is all too easy to placate the desires of adoptive parents, the paying customers, without educating them about the psychology of adoption in a responsible way.

Adoption is a complex process that demands extra empathy and understanding, and for adoption to become a respected institution, free of the scandal and controversy that now plague it, that complexity and the inequities of the system as it is now practiced must be acknowledged.

First Mother Forum just ran a beautiful commentary on this issue from adoptive mother Gale Thompson.  Many adoptive parents in her church, Thompson relates, do not want to face the fact that raising adoptive children presents some unique challenges.  Thompson says her views are too often discounted when she attempts to share what she has learned as the mother of two older, adopted youth.  Other adoptive parents, she finds, want to believe that "their kids won't have issues because their love will be 'enough.'"

The myth that "love conquers all" in adoption dies hard.  As Thompson so eloquently explains, "An adoptive mother has to accept that her child's desire to reconnect with his or her birth mother has nothing to do with her personally."

This is a key point that every adoption practitioner should be addressing.  But instead many practitioners -- the National Council for Adoption and state bar associations representing adoption attorneys -- continue to advocate for sealed records, to "protect the privacy of birth parents," they say.

Many original parents have come forward to say that they were never promised anonymity from their own children and that they do not desire it.  A thorough academic study of the history of sealed records has revealed that the sealing practice began to protect the adoptive family from "unwarranted intrusion," not the original parent from later contact from her offspring.  In states that have released original birth certificates to adopted adults, fewer than one percent of original mothers have signed contact preference forms saying they prefer to remain anonymous.

Yet business professionals in the adoption field continue to use the privacy argument as their rationale for denying adopted adults access to their own legal documents of birth.  Their real motive, I think, is this:  They want adoptive parents to believe that adoption is an uncomplicated and beautiful way to build a family.  They want them to believe that if they love the child enough, the identity of the original parents will never be relevant or important.  They want them to believe that in adoption, "love will conquer all."

What a disservice such attitudes render to everyone affected by adoption!  For those of us who have been denied access to our medical history and the most basic information about ourselves, love has not conquered all the inequities of the adoption system.  The adoption industry has not served my "best interests" well.  And it hasn't served the best interests of adoptive parents, either, when it has insisted that raising adopted children is just the same as raising biological children.

As adoptive mother Gale Thompson writes, "Knowing that your love alone isn't 'enough' can strike at a woman's core values (as a nurturer) and sense of identity."  Why set adoptive parents up for a sense of failure by refusing to inform them that adopted people will most likely want to know who gave them birth?  Why not share that that desire is perfectly normal and in no way diminishes a child's love for her adoptive parents?

Sealed records throughout an adoptee's lifetime are demeaning, discriminatory and wrong.  Period.  All the love in the world can never undo that basic fact.


  1. Susan - Once again, beautifully stated. I plan to link to this later this week at Death by Great Wall. The only input I have is that I cringed a little when the other adoptive parents at Gale Thompson's church were referred to as "adopters." As I've read a lot about adoption ethics, it seems like that term is usually used as a slam, a way to refer to the "adopters" without using the word, "parents." This is such an emotional issue with each part of the adoption triad, it seems like the best practice would be to refer to each member of the triad with the utmost respect, avoiding negative terminology. Maybe as an adoptive parent I'm being a little too sensitive, but I think you have an important message, and I'd love to see it reach as many people as possible, with as few distractions as possible.

    1. Dana,
      Thanks for pointing out the negative connotations of the word adopter. I just didn't think about it when I paraphrased the article. That's what is so great about blogging. I learn something new every day! I've made the edit -- thanks again!

  2. Raising an adopted child is HARDER. APs are either never told this or don't want to believe it. Adoption has so many problems because it is based on a lie. It is ridiculous to think that you can take a child born into one family and randomly place him or her in another. That s/he will effortlessly and without consequence be grafted onto this new family tree where s/he has no roots.

    There is no amount of love in the world that can compensate for losing one's ancestry, biological kin, roots, etc. Only those who take their biological connections for granted can think that love would be enough.

    I don't like the term 'adopters' either. As an adoptee, it makes me feel like I am a puppy or kitten from the pound.

  3. Dana, my own comment about the term "adopter" is that if one is going to change it to "adoptive parent," then the term "birth parent" must be removed as well. You see, the term "birth parent" means someone who was a parent for the act of giving birth, but ceases to be a parent/mother/father after that point. Many of us consider it to be extremely derogatory, as it reduces mothers who have lost children to adoption as being really nothing more than "incubators" or "breeders." After all, if you reduce a mother's significance to the physical functions of her reproductive organs, what role do you have left? It also reduces an adoptive person to being a "birth product" produces by this dehumanized person. As men do not give birth, the male equivalent would have to be something like "fertilization father" ... :(

    So, I would like to ask that if the term "adopter" is removed, then the term "birth parent" be replaced by a term which respects that this mother is still a mother. The term "natural mother" is about the only one which unambiguously delivers this meaning.

    You see, if one is going to give respect to one group affected by adoption, shouldn't the respect go all ways?

    1. I agree with you, Shannon. Once this issue was brought to my attention, I stopped using the word birth mother. I couldn't change the wording in this post, because the sections in which it was used were direct quotes. I think many people don't yet know that the term is offensive to many. I just became aware of the issue myself this past year. We all have to keep working at educating each other, I think! My wish is that we can come to an understanding and all work together to abolish the archaic practice of sealed records.

    2. As an adoptive mom, I love this post. Agencies do a huge disservice by not acknowledging the complex nature of adoption - for everyone. My 3 girls have suffered a huge and irreplaceable loss in their lives - and no amount of my love will ever be able to fill that hole. The best I thinkI can hope for is to help them navigate their journeys. Sealed records are wrong - I would give my left arm if my children could have their family information.

      I am not trying to be difficult, but if the first mom is the natural mom, then does that make the adoptive mom an unnatural mom? I truly want to be respectful to the mom's that carried and bore my children (although my girls were left babies and kids, we hope to someday be able to locate their first families), so from the adult adoptee perspective - what are the right terms to use?

    3. Hi Karen,
      I started using the term "natural mother" when many first mothers indicated they found the term "birth mother" derogatory. I'm not sure what the answer is here, maybe "first mother" would be most acceptable to all parties? If you've read my posts, you know how I treasured my adoptive mother. She loved me with all her heart, and I loved her back!

  4. Wow I just stumbled upon this page in a (somewhat) related adoption google search. I'm a 44 yr old adoptee who was always told it was for Birth Mom's protection that records were sealed. Yet when I found her I learned that wasn't the case at all, it was def. an invention of the agency.
    In the last paragraph, Susan P. writes
    'Sealed records throughout an adoptee's lifetime are demeaning, discriminatory and wrong.'

    That is so true. Adult adoptees have to employ trickery & tactical maneuvers to search for birth parents & are shut down by the state at every turn. It was only through the help of an adoptee search club & dumb luck (& sloppy redacting by a hospital-thank you long-lost secretary!) that I was able to locate my birth mother. The state was my road block.

  5. its so hard to find suooprt form people when your adopted if your an adopted parent they seem to get lots of support from people if your a non adoptee you can get lots os support form people but if your an adoptee there is no support from anybody nobdy is on your side when your adopted you walk this lonely road alone with no help from nobdy PLUS BEING ADOPTED YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH HAVING NO RIGHTS WICH NBODY CARES IF AN ADOPTEE HAS NO RIGHTS YOU CANT DO ANYTHING BECAUSE YOUR RIGHT HAVE BEEN RUINED AND TAKEN FROM YOU BEING Adopted wich nbody realizes or cares one reason non afoptees don't think our rights are not ruined is because the non adoptees have there rights I cant do much because my rights have been taken from me as an adoptee


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