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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Adoption Experts Sometimes Irk Adult Adoptees

Kudos to blogger Carlynne Hershberger for recently linking to the Psychology Today article: "Beyond Blood: Stigmas about Adoption Remain, and Hurt Families," by Abbie Goldberg, Ph.D.  To date, the article has generated 151 comments, many of them critical about the story's emphasis on stereotypes and stigmas as experienced by adoptive parents.  While a few adoptive parents and adoptees became defensive and lashed out in what I would consider a non-constructive way, many commenters had valuable information to share, and I'm hopeful that adoption "expert" Ms. Goldberg has learned a great deal as a result.

The article generated so much interest, I think, because like so many articles about adoption, it focuses on the feelings and problems of adoptive parents rather than the feelings and problems of adoptees themselves, or of original mothers who relinquished their children.

The story starts with an excerpt from the movie "The Avengers," in which a comment is made inferring that adoptees are "damaged goods."  Ms. Goldberg cites the example to support her theme, that "adoption stereotypes and stigmas are pervasive."

Those of us involved in adoptee rights movements would agree that adoption stigmas are pervasive and that they undermine our efforts to restore our right to secure our own legal documents of birth.  We hoped to see Ms. Goldberg dispel some of the most common adoption stereotypes, such as the wide-ranging belief that original mothers were promised anonymity, or the myth that open adoption has fixed all the legal inequities in the adoption system.

The article, however, quickly becomes all about the challenges of adoptive parents, what they should reply to adoption questions, and how they should educate others about the realities of adoption.  At one point, Ms. Goldberg even asks: "What can adoptive parents do to preserve their sanity?"

This focus, once again, on the experiences of adoptive parents rather than the experiences of mature adoptees who have lived the adopted life for decades, created quite a firestorm.  One commenter sent in an exhaustive list of adoptee blogs and encouraged original mothers to do the same.  "It's infuriating that more isn't known about these voices," she concluded.

That, I think, is the source of frustration.  While adoptees and original mothers struggle to get their stories into the mainstream press, the views and feelings of adoptive parents seem to be welcome everywhere.  Add to that reality the fact that the voices of adult adoptees are largely ignored in the political arena, where the decisions blocking adoptee rights bills are made, and you can see why there are some mighty angry voices out there.

In response to Ms. Goldberg's article, one commenter chastised an adoptive parent who suggested that an adoptee critical of the business side of adoption "seek counseling ASAP."  Explaining why adoptees so often feel disenfranchised, he said, "You have the entirety of a billion-dollar industry supporting everything you say and do.  You have the legal, governmental, medical, religious, and media-based systems of support at your back."

Then there is this comment from an original mother:  "This article doesn't even begin to address the myths surrounding the mothers who lose children.  As is typical in articles discussing adoption, it becomes all about the adoptive parents."

Another original mother reinforces the point: "There's another myth ... mothers were promised anonymity in regards to the children they 'gave up.'  It's a lie!  Most mothers want to be found by the children they lost.  I'm sick and tired of the industry hiding behind my skirts on this issue.  It's not about reunion. It's about civil and human rights being equal."

Naturally, the on-line conversation eventually comes to focus on the travesty of sealed records and other ethical problems in adoption.  "The issue of falsified records alone can be a monumental challenge," says one adoptee.  "We are treated as children and second class citizens while being denied our rights to our own personal birth records."

That adoption as it is now practiced has ethical problems is very clear, as evidenced in this excerpt from an adoption website by blogger Ms. Hershberger:

"The following is a range of total costs and the minimum budget we require to work with us.  It does not include your home study, adoptive parent travel costs, and some states birth mother medical expenses, but does include our fee, travel costs for the birthmother, living expenses, social work and legal fees."

Caucasian: $25K - $40K     Min. Budget of $25K
Biracial: $18K to $25K        Min. Budget of $18K
AA: $15K to $20K               Min. Budget of $15K

As you can see, babies are priced according to their skin color.  Ms. Hershberger correctly asks, "Can you read that and tell me that children are not commodities in this industry?"

How do we fix a system that is this broken and that has strayed so far from its intended purpose to serve the best interest of children?  Sealed records are perhaps the tip of the iceberg when it comes to adoption reform, but they do present a logical starting point.

Here's what I wrote in response to the Psychology Today article by Ms. Goldberg:

"Sealed records are so abhorrent that it is amazing to me that there is still so much institutionalized opposition to adoptee rights bills.  As a 61-year-old adoptee and cancer survivor, I was unable to participate in a medical protocol because I had no access to medical history.  And my story is not unusual.  The response in the legislative arena seems to be, "Oh, well."  Or "We'll let some of you have access to your own legal certificate of birth if your natural mother approves," or "We'll let a state-appointed intermediary search for you," etc., etc.  Such treatment is demeaning, discriminatory and unethical.  When year after year, decision-makers, the adoption industry, and some adoptive parents refuse to listen to what original mothers and adult adoptees are saying, people get angry.  You can only keep the truth bottled up for so long.  Ms. Goldberg, we need adoption "experts" to focus more on the adoptee voice -- it has been ignored in the world of power for decades, while adoptive parents have had plenty of spokespeople all along the way."

The subject of adoption engenders a lot of anger, and understandably so.  That's what happens when the voices of those affected by adoption are routinely ignored by those in positions of power.  Sealed records are an abomination and a stain on all of adoption.  They are indefensible, and there are so many of us who can tell you why.  It is time for all the "experts" and for adoptive parents too to take note and to make the issue a top priority.  Surely we can all agree and speak with a unified voice about the clearly unjust practice of sealing an adoptee's birth record for life.


  1. I also posted those " prices" on my blog- sickening. Very illustrative though of the industry of adoption. Great post.

  2. Excellent post! Thank you for writing it!

  3. This is fabulous. As a birth/original/first mother currently living an open adoption, I speak out for adoptee rights. The "prices" sicken me too.

  4. Also, I'd love to find that adoption website where the fees for different races were quoted. Can you either put me in touch with Ms. Hershberger's blog or get me the adoption website address? You can contact me at Thank you so much! :)

  5. Thanks for the mention Susan. I was appalled at the article and had to comment and blog about it. And as usual, as soon as I criticized the industry, the defenders rush in to tell me that I was mentally ill.

    Monika, here is the site I referenced in my blog that has the price list.

  6. It seems like people only think of adoptees as children, it just doesn't occur to many people that adoptees grow up and become adults. I think that's part of the problem.


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