Total Pageviews

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are Adult Adoptees Worthy of Respect?

Unfortunately, adult adoptees in the United States are still not respected as autonomous human beings capable of making intelligent and appropriate choices.  If they were, how can we possibly explain the fact that in most states, adopted adults are still denied access to their own original birth certificates?

Amanda Woolston over at Declassified Adoptee has written a perceptive post on this issue here.  As she explains, opponents to adoptee rights usually frame their argument around three themes: boundary issues, in which the assumption is that adult adoptees cannot manage boundaries or relationships without supervision; secrecy issues, in which the assumption is the original parents are cowering in shame and must therefore be protected; and social issues, in which the assumption is abortions will go up if adoptees are allowed access to their true birth records.

The data disproves all these assumptions, yet they remain prevalent.  To be clear, what adult adoptees are asking for legislatively is the opportunity to secure their true and original birth certificates.  When adoptions are finalized in the United States, the child's original birth certificate is sealed away, and an amended one, listing the adoptive parents as the mother and father, is issued.

This bizarre and outdated practice was initiated during the shame-based era around the mid-twentieth century, and it was never intended to protect the anonymity of original parents -- surrender documents reveal that the intent, rather, was to protect the adopted child from the "shame of illegitimacy," and the adoptive family from "unwarranted interference or intrusion."  The assumption at that time was that the original mother would forget the child and move on with her life, and that the child would forget that she ever had other parents.

Now, many years later, of course, we know better.  The data maintained by those states and countries that have restored adult adoptee access shows that the vast majority of original parents are not paralyzed by shame and are most often happy to hear from their surrendered offspring.  Meanwhile, scores of adoptees search for their original families every year in spite of the legal obstacles because they feel deeply that they are entitled as human beings to know their own personal history.  Whether the adopted adult elects to search or not, she should have the freedom to secure her own birth certificate, just like any other American citizen.  Denying her that right is so discriminatory that it amazes me that it continues to be an accepted practice.

What is the justification for denying the adult adoptee equal rights?  As Amanda points out, it is rooted in a negative view of the adoptee and often the original parents as well.  Some legislators infer that adoptees are "stalkers" who cannot be trusted to respond appropriately, should they use their true birth certificate to search, and should they encounter a negative response.  I  find this viewpoint particularly insulting, since my original mother was one of the few who was not open to a personal meeting.  We had a helpful phone conversation, and that was the end of our contact.  Neither of us was harmed, and we handled our private past -- which we co-own -- like the adults we both are.

Other legislators assume that original parents are so overwhelmed by shame that adult adoptees cannot possibly be allowed to know who they are.  First of all, this scenario ignores the fact that many adoptees find their original families every year -- an estimated 40 percent of them received some identifying information in their adoption decrees.  The idea of guaranteed anonymity for the birth family is truly a myth.

Secondly, this shame-based view treats neither the adult adoptee nor the original parent with any respect.  The assumption is that the adoptee is likely to tread into a place where she is not wanted, and that the original parent will not be able to handle the shock of hearing from her relinquished offspring.  Never mind the fact that legally, courts throughout the United States have always had the right to open adoptee birth records "for good cause." (at the adoptee's time and expense, of course)  Meanwhile, reunion stories in the media have become so commonplace that it boggles the mind to think that any original parent could ever be totally shocked to receive a call or letter.

The assumption that abortions will increase should the adult adoptee be granted access to her true birth record may be the most difficult assumption to refute, even though statistics show that there is no relation between abortion rates and adult adoptee access.  As Amanda points out in her post, adoptees are punished because we cannot figure out as a society how to address women's health issues.  The civil right of the adult adoptee to know her own personal history must take a back seat to the ongoing debates about abortion and women's reproductive choices.

As an adult adoptee, I personally resent being held hostage to this ongoing debate about women's health concerns.  My rights as a human being should not be compromised because of the social views of a minority of citizens.  Human rights are human rights.  Every human being has a right to her own identity and her own genetic make-up.  In what other area of life do we deny a population equal rights to support an ideological argument?

If adoptees and original parents were truly respected, they would be treated like the adults they are -- capable of managing their own personal affairs without agency or state interference.  The argument over adoptee rights, as Amanda points out, would then take on a totally different framework.

Instead of saying or thinking, "Adoptees are likely to have a dreadful effect on an original parent's life," we would say, "Adult adoptees should have the opportunity to have positive relationships with their original families."

Instead of saying, "We must maintain a system of secrecy and lies so that adoption remains a viable option," we would say, "Adult adoptees can often be an asset to their original families, and the truth may very well allow all parties a sense of closure."

Instead of saying, "A woman must be allowed to remain a lifetime secret to her own child," we would say, "This child and every child is worthy of respect and equal treatment under the law, so it is imperative that we address the unjust social policies now in place."

As an adult adoptee, I respect myself.   But unfortunately, my state's laws don't respect me.

 You might also like:

Adoptee Rights and a Woman's Reproductive Choices

Sealed Records Are Wrong. Period.

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries

Pro-life Ideology and Adoptee Rights

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Adult Adoptees Sharing: Sealed Records are Misguided and Unfair

One theme that emerges again and again in adoptee writing is that the process of adoption is not a one-time event.  Many adoptees have written on-line articles this month in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month to share adoption as it is, not as many agencies, right-to-life groups, and adoption attorneys tell us it should be.  There are post-adoption issues that many adoptees must confront in order to feel emotionally and/or physically healthy, and those issues are compounded by a legal system that still obstructs the adoptee's search for his or her own personal history.

Fortunately, in today's internet-connected world, adoptees can find and collaborate with each other, and many individuals and groups are speaking out about the need for adoption reform.  As an adoptee, I am grateful for internet connections and opportunities, as I have often found it difficult to get serious articles about adoption into the mainstream press, even though I have a writing and public relations background.

As many of us have found, the press is generally interested in sound bites and dramatic reunion stories -- not so interested in adoption history and the discrimination that has evolved as a result, particularly for adopted people and relinquishing mothers.

That's the reason, in my view, that blogging is so popular among adoptees and original mothers who are working for adoption reform.  The internet gives us an outlet for us to share what we have learned and how adoption can be improved as a result.  Of course I'd prefer to place my opinion pieces into the New York Times or the Newark Star Ledger, but on-line, I can produce one piece after another and target them to select audiences, like New Jersey state legislators and adoptive parent groups.

Through the internet, we can contribute something positive even as we're working to find a wider audience for the voices often ignored in adoption articles and discussions, those of adult adoptees and relinquishing mothers.  There is so much wisdom to be gained from the experience of those who have actually lived the life of adoption.

One of the many things that really annoys me about lobbies attempting to maintain the status quo in adoption is how they try to pit one adoptee against another, or adoptees as a group against original mothers.  During legislative hearings, these lobbies often showcase a young adoptee who "is just fine" knowing nothing about her original family.  The implication, of course, is that there is something amiss with those adoptees who are "not fine" knowing nothing, and that sealed records in this day and age are somehow defensible.

The fact is that more than half of all adoptees search, even with obstructive practices like sealed birth records in place.  So obviously, many are not "just fine" with the status quo.  Of course many adoptees have no interest in delving into the past -- my adoptive brother is one of them.  But that fact doesn't alter the basic truth that all adult adoptees are treated differently by law from other citizens -- and that is unacceptable discrimination.

Also, that young adoptee who is "just fine" with knowing nothing today may not be "just fine" with knowing nothing tomorrow, next week, or next year.  I spent all of my formative years trying to convince myself that my adoptee status had nothing whatsoever to do with who I was.  Who wants to be different from everyone else?  As a young adult, I delayed my search because I did not want to upset my adoptive family.

As many adoptees can tell you, life events such as the birth of a child or a serious illness can precipitate a major change in thinking.  In my case, it was a cancer diagnosis that prompted me to act.  In others, it is the birth of a child.  As adoptee Dorothy Sands points out, "As a child, teen and even young adult, a closed adoption system existed.  I did not question the system because it was too big and in the grown-up world."

For Sands, the turning point came when she gave birth to her first child.  "When becoming a parent," she explains, "we enter the world of genetic connectedness" and "we confront adoption in the daily ordinary events."

Today, Sands has found her original family, and she questions the ethics of secrecy in adoption.  The closed adoption system forced her to stuff her emotional baggage "in a dark closet in my mind," she says, and her adoptive parents too were missing "a lot of information that could have helped all of us."

Adoptee Deanna Shrodes, a pastor, writer and public speaker, agrees with Sands' view that adoptee feelings are constantly evolving.  "Once you have your own kids," she says, "it's almost impossible" to ignore the facts about your own adoptee status.

As a young person Shrodes accepted the narrative provided for her -- her original parents were young and unable to care for her, and they made the selfless decision to give her life rather than abort.  Later, Shrodes discovered that she was a "classic baby scoop baby."  The abortion option was not even legal when she was relinquished.  Her looming existence presented a "problem" that had to be solved for the convenience of the mature adults involved.  Her original parents were very young, they had no support and no real choices, and they felt coerced into surrendering.

"My opinions changed about adoption because I got brave for a moment.  And then I got brave for a little bit longer," says Shrodes.  For those who are not adopted, it must be nearly impossible to imagine the bravery that confronting the truth requires.

Most adoptees know that something unpleasant most likely precipitated their relinquishment.  So when they search for their original family, they know that they are opening themselves up for possible disappointment.  In addition, many adoptees fear hurting their adoptive families -- I know I did, because the culture during much of my life was not supportive.

"Loyalty to the adoptive family and hurting people's feelings is one of the biggest reasons adopted people postpone their search," writes adoptee Lynn Grubb.  "Fear is the enemy of all searching and fear of upsetting the adoptive family is very powerful."

Yet many adoptees need to overcome their fear and discover their truth for themselves.  And as adults, they have an absolute right to own their own truth -- why as adults should they be bound any longer to the narratives of others, narratives that were often developed to protect someone else's self-interest, and narratives that in many cases are not even true due to the corruption that a closed system makes possible?

As Shrodes writes, "Maturing means being confident enough to identify real issues and deal with them. To discover my identity and first family whether those in authority wanted me to or not.  To go after my truth and refuse to be denied.  At some point," she adds, "I had to grow up."

You may wonder why so many adult adoptees, who are busy working and raising their families, feel compelled to speak out.  In my own case, I feel that the system of adoption hasn't changed all that much, and I don't want to see another generation of adoptees have to waste time and energy dealing with the same issues we've faced.  Most states in this country continue to seal the adoptees' original birth certificates when legal adoptions are completed, a strange and outdated practice that in my opinion, gets adoption off to a bad start from the get-go.

Yes, the majority of domestic infant adoptions have some degree of openness today, but in most states, those "open" agreements are not legally enforceable.  Adoptees still have to jump through all kinds of hoops to secure the most basic information about themselves.  Many agencies and attorneys continue to sugarcoat adoption issues, and as a result, many adoptive parents remain woefully ignorant about unique adoptee challenges.

As Shrodes writes, "There is so much work to do for adoption to reform and center around the child.  Not the agency.  Not the adoptive parents."

A more ethical adoption system will develop when we as a culture start highlighting, not hiding, the voices of adult adoptees and original mothers who have relinquished.  To their credit, more and more adoptive parents are reading adoptee and first mother blogs in their attempts to better parent their children.  But too many, both in the adoption community and the culture at large, would rather believe the industry's claim that an adoptive family is just like any other, and that the existence of sealed records is necessary for adoption to succeed.

Shrodes has compiled an excellent list of important steps to adoption reform, so I'll share a few of her thoughts here as to what the future practice of adoption should include:

(1)  No secrets.  Period.

(2)  Original birth certificates available to all adoptees -- no exceptions.

(3)  Adoption of infants should be a last resort, not a first response.

(4)  When adoption must take place, it should be centered around the needs of the child, not the adults.

(5)   Post adoption issues are real, and they must be recognized and addressed.

(6)   Confidential intermediaries should not exist.  (This recommendation hits home for me, since I have suffered through the indignity of dealing with an agency intermediary.)  As Shrodes says, "Let flesh and blood talk to one another unhindered, please.  Give them their rightful information and let them be."  (Give these people) "space to do whatever they're going to do with you out of the way."

(7)  "Non-identifying information should not even exist.  Adoptees have a right to know the specific details about where they came from, who they came from, their medical history and anything else that pertains to them personally."

As a mature adoptee, I agree with every one of Shrodes' common-sense suggestions.   They spring from a well of experience, as do the thoughts of the many perceptive adoptees blogging at Lost Daughters and on their own sites.

Adoptee voices are getting louder, and that's a good thing for the future of adoption.  Perhaps someday even state legislators will start listening and come to realize that the lobbies that continue to support sealed records are most concerned about their own self-interest and ideologies.  The health of the people actually affected by adoption is the last thing on their minds.

You might also like:

Personal Opinions Regarding Adoption

Reactions to Searching

Becoming a Parent

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wise Words from the Lost Daughters Adoption Blog

There's a lot of perceptive writing going on this month over at the Lost Daughters adoption blog.  Contributors there and on their own blogs have been responding to daily adoption "prompts" to commemorate National Adoption Awareness Month.

Originally a state-based initiative intended to raise awareness about the needs of foster-care children who need permanent homes, National Adoption Awareness Month has strayed far from its intentions in recent years.

Now it is more often used by adoption agencies to market their services than it is to spotlight the needs of foster-care kids.  Unfortunately, the agencies and adoption attorneys in their eagerness to find babies for perspective adoptive couples often reinforce stereotypes about adoption, and the complexities of adoption and the voices of adoptees themselves are almost always overshadowed.

The writers at Lost Daughters, all grown adoptees, would like to change that dynamic.  They are working hard to put the focus back on the adoptee herself, and they are correcting much of the misinformation about adoption that is often spread during the month of November.

All of the posts are informative and perceptive, but three of them have especially resonated with me:  Deanna Shrodes' "Blogging Adoption and Everyday Life," and the posts by WP and Rebecca Hawkes responding to a prompt about the adoption stories they were told by their adoptive parents as children.

Shrodes is a writer, speaker and pastor who has just recently begun to write about adoption.  As she explains in her article, she remained quiet for years for fear of offending certain members of her family and the conservative religious groups in which she was involved.

But like many adoptees, Shrodes paid a price for her silence.  "I played along with a script given to me," she writes, but "staying quiet about my true feelings ... fostered a 45-year-old emotional wound." She was blind-sided by the grief she came to feel about losing her original family.

Eventually, says Shrodes, she came to realize that "silence was a horrible antidote to pain" and that silence was not an acceptable option for her either "as a human being or as a Christian."  As slow as progress has been in the adoption reform movement, I am encouraged about the future of adoption every time another voice like Deanna's joins the growing adoptee chorus.  These voices simply cannot be ignored forever.

Now a passionate supporter of adult adoptee rights, Shrodes has come to realize that Christianity in its more fundamental forms is "unfortunately one of the biggest if not the biggest obstacles to equal rights for adoptees."  Like many of us, Shrodes is working to correct the stereotype that abortion rates are adversely affected by more transparency in adoption.  As she explains, "I am pro-life.  I'm just not pro-secrets."

The corrosive power of lifetime secrets in adoption is a common theme among adoptee voices.  So is the concept of "playing along with the script given to us."  As WP explains in her article responding to a prompt about childhood adoption narratives, "To a large extent, my adoption was presented (to me) within the framework of my parents' desires."  Like WP, many of us were told, as agencies advised, that "your parents were unable to provide a stable home for you" and that "we wanted you very badly."
We were expected by the powers-that-be to be content with such limited information.

As WP so eloquently says, "I'm angry that those in charge thought I should be given so very little" when the real point should be: "It's a hard story, but it's your story and you have a right to know it."

This thought is echoed in Rebecca Hawkes' post about the stories our adoptive parents told us.  "My childhood adoption narrative wasn't so much false," she writes, "as it was incomplete."  Her adoptive parents were (and are) loving and conscientious people, she says, and they believed, because they were told it was so, that she would grow up feeling "as if born to" her adoptive family.

Hawkes, like many of us grown adoptees, had been told very little about her original parents.  They were young and unable to care for her, and she should always understand how very much "she was wanted" and loved by her adoptive parents.

Hawkes' story is very much like my own.  I grew up knowing virtually nothing about my original parents, and it was just assumed that I would have no need for such information.  My parents did just what the agency told them to do -- they provided a loving, stable environment, and the idea was that the original parents just shouldn't matter.

The problem is that they did matter to me, even though I loved my adoptive parents deeply.  My original parents are, after all, a part of me.  For many years, I drove my feelings underground in order to meet cultural expectations and to spare the feelings of my adoptive family, but eventually I felt what I would call a spiritual need to connect with my original mother.  Mine was not a Norman-Rockwell type of reunion.  But it was an exchange that did provide me with a much-needed emotional closure.

As Hawkes so wisely writes in her recent post, "My true adoption narrative was one I needed to write myself."  And that's the point.  All adoptees as adults should have the freedom to come to terms with their own adoption narratives.  No one else should be writing the script for them about their own lives and histories.  Certainly no state or agency should ever be in the business of locking away for life the adoptee's own legal certificate of birth.

What is truly disheartening today is that many agencies and adoption attorneys continue to act as if original parents just shouldn't matter, and as if equal rights for adult adoptees just aren't important.  Such sentiments may be what perspective adoptive parents want to hear, but they are not shared by most adult adoptees.

Secrecy and lies corrode the soul.  Hosts of adoptees and original parents can attest to that truth.  We can only hope that sites like Lost Daughters will continue to attract more and more readers, and that writers like Deanna Shrodes will continue to challenge the conservative church's misguided approach to the practice of adoption.

You might also like:

Maybe "Angry Adoptees" Are Just Well Informed

Adoption and Magical Thinking

Shading the Truth to Ease the Fears of Adoptive Parents

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