Adoption Voyeurism?

This is a follow-up to my recent blog about conditional legislation, in which I wrote:

The fact that so many outsiders want to “help” us is voyeuristic, don’t you think?

I got to thinking about that. How much of the desire to “help” adoptees and birth relatives is some sick form of adoption voyeurism?

Let’s face it, people love hearing stories about adoption. Betty Jean Lifton talks of the allure of mythic adoptees like Moses and Oedipus. I think of modern-day equivalents like Harry Potter. Everybody sobs when Harry looks in the Mirror of Erised (“desire”) and sees only his parents, yet in the next breath those same people decry adult adoptees’ right to know. Our society can’t get enough of adoption because it is so traumatic, so life-changing and above all… so darn entertaining! Not too fun to live, though. If you were to ask Harry if he’d trade all his mighty wizard powers for the chance to be raised by his parents, the answer is obvious. Not so for real-life adoptees.

Witness celebrity adoptions; you can’t go anywhere without hearing about them. I have to wonder if some people hoard children instead of animals. I’m sure many adoptive families are sick of being asked where they “got” their children and pressed for the intimate details of their infertility. On the flip side we have the same phenomenon when adult adoptees and birth mothers seek information. We’re supposed to accept without question the idea that we require intermediaries, assistants, therapists, counselors to “facilitate” contact with each other–and that this method is the correct, indeed only, method of granting pseudo-access to records.

As an adoptee who’s been through the process, it seems to me that having to expose your inner soul to a third party in order to gain information about yourself is like having to get undressed in front of a total stranger. It’s a violation, and what does that stranger want to see for, anyway? Why is there such a teeming interest in “helping” us? What is actually gained by having so many people looking over adoptee and birth mom shoulders, except the titillation of strangers?

Many of us are seeking information, not relationships. I suppose snapshots of an adult adoptee hugging her original birth certificate isn’t entertaining enough, never mind it might be more satisfying to the adoptee. (I sure as hell enjoyed this picture from Maine a few months ago.) But a tearful airport reunion between adoptee and birth mother, now that’s material good enough for a whole slew of reality TV shows. We get offers from everyone: social workers, state legislators, neighbors, friends, random passers-by… everybody seems to know better than we do, so much so that mandatory intermediaries have been written into our laws.

I’m sure some adoption professionals are the soul of discretion and genuinely believe they are assisting the adoption community. I also know from personal experience that some make mistakes. And we all know in any population there will be the gimmes, the people who are only in it for themselves. How ironic that post-adoption programs rally around the battle cry of “confidentiality!” while simultaneously peering in on private relationships.

People are quick to judge adoptees and birth mothers, and it’s made worse by the fact that some of us, myself included, feel compelled to share our private stories publicly because it’s the only way to help others like ourselves. Most of us do so, not to be in the spotlight, but because if we don’t others will tell our stories to their own ends. And I for one am tired of people claiming to speak for me.

It’s time to allow adoptees and their families the dignity of managing their relationships without a bunch of Peeping Tom do-gooders peering through the windows.


  1. Great perspective to share, Triona!
    Bobbi, reunited Mom in Maine

  2. Hey, we are talking pretty much about the same thing over at firstmotherforum…on the tube! In the theater! In the movies! Madonna once again! Can Angelina be far behind? What ever happened to the brood that Mia Farrow adopted?

    adoption/separation/reunion–there is no better plot in today’s world.