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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Adoptive Parents and Pro-lifers who Cannot or Will Not See the Realities of Adoption

I give my adoptive parents a free pass for not better understanding the complexities of adoption.  I am 62 years old, and my parents adopted during an era when social workers actually believed the adoptive family was just like any other.  Infants were viewed as "blank slates," and there was little knowledge or understanding then about an adopted child's need to know anything about his or her birth family and origins.

I give myself a free pass for not pushing the issue harder with my adoptive parents.  I loved them, and I could tell they felt threatened by my desire to know my birth history.  Also, as a child and young adult, I didn't have the confidence or the social resources and support that I have now.

I give my original mother a free pass for not wishing to meet with me face-to-face.  Her decision hurt me, but she relinquished during a different time that presented different challenges, and I can understand how she might have used denial as a tool to cope with her experience.

Today, during these times, I'm no longer distributing free passes when it comes to ignorance about adoption.  We have the data and research to support the fact that secrecy does not serve the best interest of the child.  Think tanks like the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute have published numerous research studies recommending that every state allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates, and showing that there is no link between the rates of abortion and more openness in adoption.

However, ignorance about adoption is still widespread, and in many cases, it is fueled by agencies and attorneys who facilitate adoptions, and the lobbying groups that represent them, such as the National Council for Adoption and state bar associations.  Right to Life groups likewise promote ignorance about the complexities of adoption when they present it as a simple win-win solution to the abortion problem.

Should adoption exist as an institution whose primary mission is to serve adults?  Or should it exist as an institution whose primary mission is to serve children?  When those who facilitate adoptions infer that a child's birth history is irrelevant and unimportant, they are clearly defining their message to serve the adults, not the children involved.  And as a result, we get thinking like that of the adoptive mother whose comments were recently cited at the iAdoptee blog site.  Here is what this adoptive mother had to say:

"Honestly, I want NO attachment to the family of origin.  None.  I want to adopt children who are ready to move on."

"If a child has delusions of being reunited (with) a parent from whom she was severed legally, that child does not need me.  They need therapy ..."

"To create a fantasy world for a perspective child, or to accommodate a teenager who has given birth out of wedlock is wrong and counter productive."

And finally -- ..."The US social service system is why people such as myself go abroad."

First of all, I grieve for the Korean child placed with this family.  What chance will she have to develop a positive self-image when her very beginnings are so devalued?  She will never feel free to explore her roots in a family that clearly feels her roots are none of her business.  Worse, she is likely to feel that there is something very wrong about her roots.  And talking about creating a fantasy world, isn't it a fantasy to expect that a child, for the entire duration of her life, will accept the fact that she has only one set of parents when in fact she has two sets?  We know from social science research that such attitudes are in fact harmful to adopted children.  So how on earth was this family ever approved as an appropriate placement?

This kind of ignorance is beyond discouraging, as is the mindset of many members of pro-life organizations.  Last month, I commented on a Huffington Post adoption story and received a response from a pro-lifer that led to a rather depressing exchange.  I'll reprint it for you here:

Adam, please keep writing about the media's portrayal of adoption, and please keep advocating for the right of adult adoptees to secure their own legal documents of birth with no strings attached. We have a long way to go, especially in the legislative arena, and the institution of adoption continues to be tainted by the fact that adult adoptees are still treated like second-class citizens in most of the US.
03:31 PM on 09/14/2012
As an adult adoptee myself, how on earth are adult adoptees being treated like second class citizens? What about the birth parents' right to privacy? Is that unimportant?
11:52 AM on 09/17/2012
Would you not agree that our genes are part of who we are? In my own case, I was denied access to a medical protocol as a cancer patient because I had no ready access to my family health history. Is that not second-class treatment? I eventually found and contacted my birth mother, and she shared medical and family history with me, although she did not wish to have a continuing relationship. I have respected her wishes and her privacy. I think you are confusing privacy and anonymity from your own offspring. A woman's wish to keep secrets should never trump the physical and emotional well-being of the child, now grown-up. Also, statistics from states that have re-instated adult adoptee access to original birth certificates show that very few birth parents elect to have no contact at all. I believe your fears are unfounded.
12:05 PM on 09/17/2012
"A woman's wish to keep secrets should never trump the physical and emotional well-being of the child, now grown-up"

OK, and look how many woman are now aborting rather than giving their babies for adoption due to very real fears about their anonymity.  Anytime a woman is willing to give birth and place that baby for adoption rather than aborting, I think we can and should promise her whatever she wants.  I personally know women who have aborted rather than given birth because of stuff like this.  I think your views are quite selfish.
22 hours ago ( 2:35 PM)
Please take a look at the article at It presents a lot of research that should put your mind at ease. I encourage you to read it with an open mind. I'm not interested in continuing this argument with you personally, but I do encourage you to look at the available studies. My contact with my original mother has hurt nobody, and frankly, whether or not we choose to have a relationship when we are both adults is none of your business.
22 minutes ago (11:45 AM)
Agree to disagree.

Well, at least we ended the exchange in a civil manner, agreeing to disagree!  But honestly, getting some pro-lifers to believe that allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates will not increase the rate of abortions is like trying to move a mountain.  The choice is not as easy as adoption on the one hand, or abortion on the other, and some in the pro-life community recognize that fact.  Referring to a then-recent study, President of LifeNet Services Paul Swope wrote in 1998:  "A pressure to end a pregnancy with an adoption does not save a child from abortion, but may in fact, be a determining factor in a woman choosing to terminate the pregnancy. ... A woman desperately wants a sense of resolution to her crisis, and in her mind adoption leaves the situation the most unresolved ... This study suggests that in pitting adoption against abortion, adoption will be the hands-down loser."

As I've said before, if the pro-life movement is serious about promoting adoption, then it should join the nationwide movement to reform adoption so that it better serves the needs of all the people it touches.  And better serving the needs of the people involved means putting the child's interests first and facing up to the fact that adoption involves losses and complexities that must be addressed.

You might also like:

Adoptee Rights and a Woman's Reproductive Choices

Why do State Bar Associations Oppose Adoptee Rights?

Pro-life Ideology and Adoptee Rights

Gov. Chris Christie, Adoptee Rights, and Political Games

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why is honesty in adoption still a controversial subject?

In August, Rebecca Hawkes at Love Is Not a Pie wrote a post entitled "Shrugging Off the Shoulds and Shouldn'ts of an Adopted Life."  Growing up, Rebecca absorbed the same cultural messages that I did -- not because my adopted parents weren't loving, well-meaning people, but because the culture of adoption encouraged this type of thinking, both in my parents and in society as a whole.

"Your adoptive family should be enough for you."

"You shouldn't be curious."

"You shouldn't feel connected to your biological relatives."

"You should be loyal to the adoptive family."

"You should always remember that your real parents are the ones who raised you."

For many adoptees -- myself included -- these cultural messages are extremely difficult to dismiss.  Even now, at age 62, I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm not being disloyal to my now- deceased adoptive parents when I speak out for honesty and transparency in adoption.

For many years, I felt that my personal history was a taboo subject.  As a very young child, I remember asking my a-mother who my "real" mother was.  Ouch!  Obviously as a little girl, I wasn't up to speed on politically correct adoption language.  I'm sure I just wanted to know how and by whom I had arrived on this earth.  I don't remember my mother's response, but my father came to me later that evening and said, "You know, that really hurt your mother's feelings when you asked that question because she feels like she's your 'real' mother.

As a youngster, I felt as if I had tread where I wasn't supposed to go.  And I didn't go there again for many years.  There was always this feeling in me that a search for my roots would be disloyal and wrong in some way, but again, I just wanted some resolution -- to know the circumstances of my birth and my own genealogy.  Even today, when I know better intellectually, I sometimes feel as if I still need to apologize for that desire to know my own story.

For a long time, I convinced myself that adoption really wasn't a big issue in my life.  I buried my "curiosity" because as an adoptee of my era, this is what I was expected to do.  From adolescence on, I struggled with low-level depression, but I didn't connect these sad feelings to adoption.  Instead, I just felt deficient and different in some way, although I struggled mightily to appear just like everyone else, and I pushed myself to excel in academics and sports to prove to myself and others how worthy I was.  The last thing I wanted to do at that time was to embrace my status as an adoptee and to explore how that status made me feel.

Having my own daughters reinforced the fact that biology plays a key role in our lives and magnified my need and desire to connect with my roots.  But again I did nothing -- I continued to feel paralyzed. Those dominant cultural messages were still so deeply embedded in me!  For me, what tipped the scales was a life-threatening bout with stage 2 malignant melanoma.  While developing a treatment plan, my doctors at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital wanted to know whether I came from an at-risk family, and like so many adoptees, I had to answer, "I don't know."  And at that point, I just thought to myself: "You know -- I'm just not going to put up with this second-class treatment any longer."

Then, like so many adoptees who search, I discovered that discrimination against adult adoptees is still rampant and thoroughly entrenched throughout our society.  And even though most adoptions facilitated today have some degree of openness, the cultural stigmas about adoption remain very strong in many circles and sadly, in the legislative chambers of nearly every state.

How many times during on-line discussions about adoption articles do we see comments like this?:

"Your 'real' parents are the ones who cared for you."

"You shouldn't go looking for your original family and open that Pandora's box."

"You should be happy your biological mother chose to give you life and leave it at that."

Cultural messages like these are still pervasive, although at least in on-line forums, they tend to be outnumbered by fact and experienced-based comments posted by those who actually live adoption.

What I found at the end of my search was an older woman who was not interested in revisiting the past.  She did not wish to meet.  But she did provide medical and historical information for me, and I now know her name and something about her.  That alone is so empowering, a difficult concept to explain to anyone who has not lived the adoptee life.  So I ask all those who oppose granting adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates, "What is the big deal and what is it that you are so afraid of?"

My original mother is an adult; I am an adult.  I would have liked to meet.  She didn't wish to meet.  I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted.  End of story.  Why did I have to waste so many years wondering who and where she was?  Why am I not permitted to know more about my original father, who has long been deceased?  Who does all this secrecy benefit, and why must adults abide by such an archaic and dare I say, inhumane, set of rules?

Perhaps I am a slow learner, because it took me many years to figure all of this out -- that the problem with adoption isn't some deficiency in me; it's in a misguided, unethical and inhumane system that says, even though all the evidence proves otherwise, that it is acceptable for children to never know their birth identities.

Amending and sealing an adoptee's birth certificate for life is a practice that cannot be defended by any empirical measure.  When adoption is not built on an honest foundation, its participants are bound to suffer, either outwardly or inwardly.  And granting adult adoptees unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates should not be a controversial topic -- it should be a no-brainer.

You might also like:

The Silent Adoptee

Adult Adoptee Access -- A Civil Right Long Overdue

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries

Sealed Records Are Wrong.  Period.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Listening to Adult Adoptee Voices

One of my favorite blogs is Rebecca Hawkes' Love is Not a Pie.  Rebecca is an articulate and insightful adoptee and adoptive mother who has a talent for summing up the complexities of adoption in just a few words.  In a recent post, she explained why she speaks out against the institution of adoption as it is currently practiced, and I'd like to share her wise words here, as I write and speak out for exactly the same reason.

"I speak out ... because I still see a huge discrepancy between the primarily positive way the adoption system is presented -- both to expectant parents and to members of the broader culture -- and the more complex reality as many of us have lived it."

Rebecca goes on to say that "the mathematical simplicity of the adoption equation fails to take into account some core issues of biology and human nature."  A perceptive commenter to her post adds, "Adoption seems simple to everyone BUT the people who have to live with it every day."

How frustrating it is that the experienced voices of those who have actually lived adoption are so often dismissed by legislative entities and by the culture at large!  As a 62-year-old adoptee, I commend all of the following adoptee comments, which were recently written on-line in response to a New York Times Motherlode article entitled "Adoption, Destiny and Magical Thinking."

"Adoptees are eternal children.  (The system represents) a huge imbalance of power; the adoption agencies and adoption lawyers are controlling affairs in which they have no personal stake."

"It is the facts of my birth, my life that I am denied simply because I'm adopted.  Good, bad or indifferent, I want and need to know my heritage and medical information."

"I want my rights, knowledge of my full ID, and I don't want to feel guilty for that."

"It's unfair to expect adoptees to somehow, as a group, pretend that culture, biology and ancestry aren't allowed to matter to us when they matter to so many others."

"Because adoption has become more about finding babies for couples wanting to adopt instead of finding families for children truly in need, we have come to the point where the concern is centered more on adoptive parents than children."

"The sad thing is that the adoptee is the one most impacted by the choices of birth parents, social workers, adoptive parents, etc., and they have the least control, the fewest choices of anyone."

The New York Times article generated 202 responses, most of them critical of the adoption system as it is now practiced and so often portrayed in the media.  The question is: Why doesn't the Times follow up and do an in-depth article on the adoption reform movement?  Or the history of sealing adoptee birth records, a practice that persists throughout the United States to this day?  And why do letters about adoption from adult adoptees so rarely see the light of day in the actual newspaper?

The New York Times is not the only paper to ignore adoptee voices.  I have written multiple responses to articles about adoption in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Each time, I get a response: "We are considering your letter for publication."  Each time, the letter fails to appear.  Many of my colleagues in the adoption reform movement have had the same experience.  That's why so many of us are blogging -- the mainstream media doesn't seem interested in exploring the nuances of adoption.

One begins to wonder just what is going on here.  Many people try to dismiss the adoptee voice by insisting that negative sentiments are expressed by just a few "angry adoptees."  Thus we often see comments like this one, in response to the Destiny and Magical Thinking article:  "Looks like this article got picked up by a listserv or message board serving aggrieved adult adoptees."  Rather than acknowledge that many adoptees might share a common experience, this reader would rather believe that the comments are the result of some kind of internet conspiracy.

Then there is this type of remark: "Sure do wish we could see more comments from adult adoptees who have had unequivocally or largely good experiences." Granted, some adoptees who wrote in had not had good experiences.  But past experience had little to do with many of the thoughts expressed.  For example, what, in any of the comments I cited, suggests that these adoptees had had unhappy homes?  Many of us love or loved our adoptive parents deeply, yet we resent the fact that our original identities were unnecessarily hidden from us.  And we deeply resent the fact that the industry today refuses to learn from our experiences.

Adoptee voices are sometimes diminished by comments like this:  "The people who are happy about adopting or being adopted have no axe to grind, so they're mostly off living their lives instead of commenting here."

For the record, I'd like to say that I and many of the outspoken adoptees I know have extremely busy lives.  We are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, professionals.  We write and appear before legislative committees because we want to make the institution of adoption better for the people it most directly affects -- vulnerable children.  The system of adoption, which affects some of the most vulnerable people on earth, should be driven by sound research and experience, not by free market forces.

The truth is that adoption is complicated.  It is neither all good nor all bad, but it does present certain parenting challenges that must be addressed.  And in far too many cases, the adoption industry is not addressing those challenges.  Consider this insightful comment from another grown adoptee:

"My adoptive mother never gave my first mother a second thought the whole time I was being raised.  It never even entered her radar screen that my first mother and I lost something through the adoption.  She was so blissfully happy that she couldn't be there for me emotionally when I needed to work through my own issues inherent in adoption."

In this case, I cannot blame the adoptive mother for her oversight, as she was probably not prepared for the complexities and nuances of adoption.  I know my adoptive mother was not.  How could she be when the industry to this day continues to present adoption as a simple win-win enterprise for all concerned?

Adult adoptees have so much wisdom to offer because they know how it feels to grow up being adopted.  It is way past time for the industry, the media and legislators to acknowledge their voices without insulting their motives.