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.