Adoption Discrimination: CBS Calls Adoptees “Used Babies”

There has been widespread discussion in the adoption community about an offhand remark from a recent episode of “Rules Of Engagement” on CBS. You can watch the clip here.

One character said, in response to the news that there would be no food at an adoption fair he was planning to attend with his wife:

“A lot of nerve calling it a fair when they’re not offering some sort of meat on a stick.”

His wife says: “…If we get serious about adoption we need these people to like us.”

His response: “If they can’t like me for who I am then I’m not going to buy one of their used babies.” (cue canned laughter)

And that’s just the commercial. I can only imagine how the rest of this adoption-related plot is going to work out.
Okay, yes, this is a comedy. But discrimination against a particular group of people should not be fodder for the laugh track. This is why adoptees and first mothers face discrimination: because people make light of our situations. Losing your family is not funny. Surrendering a child is not funny. (Neither is infertility, for that matter.) There is also something to be said for comedy that isn’t afraid to make a point when a point needs to be made. M*A*S*H comes to mind — comedy combined with serious assessments of the impact of war.
I know a number of adoptive parents who are open-minded, honest, and willing to accept adult adoptee and first mother viewpoints even if those viewpoints make them uncomfortable. In my opinion, these folks totally rock and I wish more adoptive parents were like them. Unfortunately, far too frequently I encounter the other end of the pendulum: adopters with an entitlement mentality, who believe they “deserve” to be parents at all costs, who stick to the stereotypes because anything else interferes with their mental image of themselves as “rescuers.” (Go check out Cricket’s Blog Of Shame list for some nauseating examples.)
To me, this dialogue smacks of that: “Of course we should be fed, if we’re going to an adoption fair! Of course we should be wined and dined and pampered; we’re the paying customers! We expect top-notch service and prime quality merchandise — which we’ll return if it doesn’t match our expectations.” To such people, first mothers are mechanical wombs and adoptees are malleable Barbie dolls who never grow up. Note also the currying of adoption agency favors: Hide your true self, suck up to the agency and maybe you’ll be rewarded with a kid. Sadly accurate.
I don’t care that the dialogue is supposed to reflect the abrasive personality of the particular character who said it. The fact remains, people who don’t have direct connections to adoption (and even some that do) get their ideas about it from TV, movies, and books. Which means that if writers are going to use adoption as a plot point (I’m talking to YOU, Diablo Cody) then they better get their facts straight and realize what an impact their words will have on people for whom adoption is more than just a sitcom.
We also have to consider the impact upon young adoptees, who are at the forefront of adoption discrimination. Many are already ostracized, especially those who are of a different race than their adoptive families. I can tell you how such a remark on a television program would have felt to me when I was a child. In the era of “Diff’rent Strokes,” all adoptees were assumed to be poor kids who were damn lucky to be raised by wealthy whites. I hated the show, hated the assumptions, yet it was the only portrayal of adoptees I knew so I absorbed the stereotypes even as I struggled to find my own identity. Adoptees deserve better, and we as a society know better, thanks to the voices of the many people who write, blog, and otherwise share their viewpoints on this polarizing subject. Yet Hollywood is still stuck repeating the same damn stereotypes with a 21st century facelift. Instead of wealthy white men, we get adoption fairs. Instead of adorable black kids, we get international adoptees, donor conceptions, and donated embryos. Same crap, different era.
The dangers of discrimination arise from stereotypes and assumptions. Adoption agencies are to blame for setting unreasonable expectations in the minds of many prospective adopters. The mass media is also to blame for continuing adoption stereotypes: that adopting is “the same” as giving birth, that adopting a child negates the traumas of infertility, that “good” adoptees don’t ask questions, that “bad” adoptees search, that all first mothers are “whores” who didn’t deserve their children… the list goes on. People still believe this nonsense precisely because it is perpetuated.
What we need is open, honest discussion about adoption: what the stereotypes are, what makes them stereotypes, and how those stereotypes hurt people. Just as we shouldn’t accept discrimination based on race, gender, or sexuality, neither should we accept it based on adoption.
If you want to contact CBS, here is the contact information. It wouldn’t hurt to contact your local CBS affiliate, too.
Ms. Nina Tassler
President, CBS Entertainment
CBS Entertainment
7800 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039-2112

Saying Goodbye To Mom

Sorry for the hiatus. It’s been a difficult summer, and just when I thought things were getting better, my husband’s mom died unexpectedly at the age of 77.
She was a hell of a woman. She was known for her fancy hats, her no-nonsense attitude, and her nonstop chatting in a Louisiana drawl. Picture a lady in a broad-brimmed hat, driving a hundred miles an hour down the highway in a gold Lexus with a pair of pet chickens in a cage on the seat next to her. Her local politicians quaked at her approach because if they were up to no good, she gave them no quarter. They’d try to shut her up, and she’d keep coming back. You just can’t argue with a Southern lady in a hat, especially when she’s right.
My mother-in-law was not adopted; she knew her heritage backwards and forwards. But she was a forthright champion of adoptee rights. She read my blog avidly and often called me or sent me an email to comment. She read the articles and links I sent, commiserated with me over my struggles to obtain my identity, and gave me advice on how to deal with politicians. Because she really, truly understood why we adoptees fight for our rights.
She told me of her experience with Hurricane Camille in 1969, a Category 5 storm that decimated the Louisiana coast. Her father perished in the storm, along with the relics of her past: not just the house where she grew up, not just the neighborhood, but the entire parish (county) and a great deal of the surrounding area. She struggled to regain that past, documenting her family tree and going to the older folks in her family to ask them to identify people in the few photos she was able to recover. But, as she explained to me, at least she still knew where she came from.
Adoptees, she said, never had the chance to know, and she found that the most devastating of all. She thought if more people understood that loss, if they didn’t take their own heritage for granted, they would be more understanding of adoptees’ plight. She also felt for mothers who were coerced by the adoption industry into surrendering their children, having gone through a divorce in the 1970s in a state so misogynistic that she had to fight the bank to put the mortgage in her name instead of her husband’s.
I called my mother-in-law Mom, and that is not a title I give out lightly. Having had a rough relationship with my adoptive mother, and a rocky reunion with my first (birth) mother, she was the only mother I ever truly knew. She was the one who was there for me, who actually gave a damn if I was upset or having a hard time, who spoiled my kids rotten and taught me that you gotta stand on your own two feet and grab what you want out of life. At the end of her last visit, she gave me some money and told me to go get that DNA testing I’d been talking about, if it was going to help me find out even a little bit more about my origins.
This is a woman who had as much connection to adoption as your average person–namely, she knew some people who were adopted and that was about it. But, unlike most people, she took it upon herself to learn what adoption means to the people who have no choice but to live it, day in and day out. When I first met her, she made the same assumptions and believed the same stereotypes as everyone else. She had no idea that adoptees can’t just go to the courthouse and get their information. She didn’t realize that there is an original birth certificate and an amended birth certificate. She assumed that media coverage and Hollywood depictions of adoption were accurate. She didn’t think about the fact that most public portrayal of adoption is solely from the viewpoints of adoptive parents and the people who make money facilitating adoptions. She was unaware (but, upon learning of it, not surprised) that infant adoption preys upon mothers without resources, and that legislators and their cronies have turned birth certificate access into political capital. The point is, she MADE THE EFFORT, and that is one reason I loved her.
From her legacy, take this: If you do not have direct experience with adoption, learn what it really means, both the good and the bad. If you are an adoptive parent or prospective adopter, talk to first (birth) mothers and adult adoptees before assuming that your viewpoint is the only one. If you’re a journalist or novelist writing about adoption, make sure you know what the stereotypes are before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Question everything you think you know. Don’t dismiss others’ experiences just because they don’t jibe with your assumptions, or because the speaker sounds “angry” or “ungrateful” or “anti-adoption.”
Put yourself in their shoes.
Make the effort.

Good Vs. Bad Adoptees: Dismissing Our Experiences And Criticism As “Anger”

Lately we’ve had a rash of really bad bills that dangle the carrot of potential birth certificate access for some, while smiting others with the stick of disclosure veto. Regular readers know of our efforts here in Illinois against HB 5428. Some are celebrating the bill’s passage. I am not. New Jersey is about to go the same route, with a bill on the governor’s desk that seriously jeopardizes adoption reform. I know many of the people who support the NJ bill, just as I know many of the people who supported Illinois. But I cannot in good conscience support legislation that leaves some adoptees behind. I’m not going to rehash why I disagree with compromise legislation; you can read it here, here and here.
Instead, I want to talk about how these recent events got me thinking. There has been a discussion on the KAD Nexus blog concerning adoptive father and author John Seabrook’s NPR segment. Both the post and the comments that follow (including rebuttals from Seabrook) are a must-read. In response to Seabrook’s segment, adult adoptees discuss how their criticisms of adoption and racism are often dismissed as “angry,” “bitter,” or every adoptee’s favorite, “ungrateful.” I strongly encourage you to read it for context before returning to this post.
In my experience, the same can be said of adoptees who insist upon equal rights for all adoptees. If we refuse to compromise, to sacrifice others or ourselves in the name of a few butchered rights for some, then it must be because we are “angry.” We must have “had a bad experience” or “hate our adoptive families.” And woe betide those of us who may actually have had a bad experience. Then we are simply disgruntled and souring the milk for others. Our opinions and experiences are instantly negated, regardless of any validity they may contain.
Taking away the rights of a subclass is easier when the subclass is dismissed as “angry.” Anger implies irrationality, lack of forethought, selfishness. The weapon-word “angry” is especially effective against adoptees. For fear of being branded as such, many adoptees learn to dismiss their own feelings–for to be angry is to be the Bad Adoptee (as termed by BJ Lifton), the one who refuses to cooperate with the Adoption Game. Some adoptees, in turn, use the same word “angry” to ostracize fellow adoptees who refuse to play the game. It becomes a vicious cycle: society bastardizes adoptees, who bastardize their own kind so they themselves can “fit in” more successfully. Nothing says Good Adoptee like spotlighting another adoptee who’s not toeing the line.
This use of “angry” as a weapon has never been more clear to me than in the struggle against compromise legislation like Illinois HB 5428. I’ve analyzed the media coverage of the bill’s passage as an illustration of how adoptee voices are dismissed in discussion of matters that have a vital impact upon our rights. Yet, who better to discuss the pros and cons of the adoption process than those who have experienced it firsthand? I have also included my personal experience about being interviewed for several of these articles.
For my analysis I read all of the articles and press releases about the passage of Illinois HB 5428 I could find, with a mind to the following: Whose opinions were expressed (sponsors, adoptive parents and/or prospective adopters, adoption professionals, birth relatives, adult adoptees, others)? Was the widespread opposition to the bill by the adoption community mentioned? What about the downsides of the legislation–the fact that some adoptees will be blacklisted? IMO, the coverage ranged from fairly well-balanced to outright sponsor propaganda, leaning heavily toward the latter. Some of my thoughts as I read through it:
  • Almost every single article spouted sponsor opinion that this bill “opens adoption records.” That is inaccurate. What this new legislation does is grants a few rights for some, while consigning others to a permanent black hole of no access. And it’s Russian roulette: you won’t know which way it will turn out for you until you go through the process. The sponsors have co-opted adoption rights terminology, claiming that this bill is about “rights of adoptees.” (Case in point: this self-aggrandizing propaganda from sponsor Rep. Sara Feigenholtz.) But a bill cannot be about the rights of adoptees unless it applies to ALL adoptees.
  • “Contact preference” is another co-opted term. What Illinois has is a disclosure veto that has been termed a “preference.” But if it’s binding on the adoptee, it’s a veto.
  • Adoptee opinions were for the most part excluded. This is exemplified by the repeated use of the phrase “adopted children” when referring to adopted adults.
  • When adult adoptee opinions were included, they were often the parroted opinions of the sponsors. In other words, the viewpoints of token adoptees presumably summoned by the sponsors and/or the media to make it appear that this is what all adult adoptees want. An example is Howard Griffith, adoptee and former Denver Bronco, who attended the signing of the bill.
  • Those whose voices were heard are primarily those who make money from adoption (more below).
Other gems:
From the Chicago Sun-Times article “Adoptees cheer birth certificate law” (no longer online; PDF in my possession):

I learned early on what an emotional and tricky area of the law this is,” said state Senate President John Cullerton, who teased Feigenholtz that the reason he signed on to her crusade was that, “She said if I can pass this bill out of the Senate, she’ll vote for any bill I tell her to vote for for the rest of my life. It’s like I have my own vote over in the House. We’re going to start with that next week.

This is no joke, this is straight-up fact. HB 5428 was about political cronyism and jockeying for power. Sara Feigenholtz gets off on being “champion of adoptee rights” while calling us “ungrateful bastards” behind our backs. With her self-described “mentor” John Cullerton president of the Senate, she was in a position to reinforce her Confidential Intermediary Program and even get state money to advertise it.
Again from the same Sun-Times article:

Feigenholtz said the law was modeled after similar laws in Maine and New Hampshire to balance the rights of adoptive children and parents.

Modeled after Maine? Are you kidding? In Maine any adoptee who is of age can walk in and get his or her original birth certificate, for the same fee as non-adoptees. In Illinois it depends on when you were born, whether you are accepted and whether you can afford to pay fees that only apply to adoptees.

This press release lists the organizations that supported the bill, but (in an example of bias) NOT the organizations that opposed it.

A number of medical and child advocacy groups supported the legislation, including: Illinois Psychiatric Society; American Adoption Congress; Agudath Israel of America; Child Care Association of Illinois; Chicago Bar Association; Voices for Children; National Association of Social Workers of Illinois; Lutheran Social Services of Illinois; UCAN; Illinois Department of Public Health; Department of Children and Family Services; Jewish Child and Family Services; Illinois State Bar Association; The Cradle Adoption Agency; Adoption Advocates of America; Adoptive Families Today; Chicago Area Families for Adoption; Midwest Adoption Center; Search and Genealogy Services; Murphysboro, IL, Stars of David Adoption; and The Baby Fold, Bloomington, IL.

Except…

  • The AAC never expressed a position on the bill. Melisha Mitchell falsely claimed she was the AAC rep for Illinois at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when she had actually been dismissed from her AAC post prior to that hearing. Why has there been no mention of this in the press? And, because AAC is the only group listed here who represents adult adoptees or birth parents, that means everyone who supported this is either an adoption professional or adoptive parent; in other words, the people who benefit from adoption.
  • Similarly, why has there been no mention of Sara Feigenholtz’s foot-in-mouth bastard bashing?
  • The majority of these groups either make money facilitating adoptions (LSSI, The Cradle) or are professional organizations representing people who do so (Chicago Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association).
  • The Midwest Adoption Center is the sole-source no-bid contractor who provides Confidential Intermediary services in Illinois (e.g. makes money from records access).
As I mentioned, I was interviewed for five of the articles (the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Daily Herald, the St. Louis Dispatch and the Associated Press), as spokesperson for the Adoption Reform Illinois coalition. Here’s a summary of my experience talking with each reporter, and how those interviews translated to the printed page.
Monique Garcia and Bonnie Rubin, Chicago Tribune
Ms. Rubin was consummately professional. She took the time to listen to our opposing viewpoint, asked intelligent questions and even called back to clarify one or two things. So I was disappointed when there wasn’t a single mention of opposition viewpoint in the article she co-authored with Monique Garcia.
Staff, Daily Herald
Like Ms. Rubin, Barbara (the reporter who interviewed me) was professional and polite, and also called back for a clarification. I was disappointed there wasn’t more explanation about why we oppose the bill. A later article on their blog used phrasing that suggested opposition was not legitimate (no pun intended):

On the other hand, a group going by the name Adoption Reform Illinois [emphasis mine] criticized the new law as not going far enough, saying any adult should be able to obtain unredacted birth records. “Any proposed change that does not recognize adult adoptees as having the same rights and responsibilities of every other Illinois resident is unacceptable,” the group says in its opposition message.

Kathleen Foody, St. Louis Dispatch
I had been talking to Ms. Foody for quite some time about this bill as it progressed. To her credit she attempted to understand our opposition viewpoint and express that to her readers. I could wish she had made it more clear that this is about adoptee identity and the implications of that, but otherwise this is a far less biased article than most.
Deanna Bellandi, Associated Press
Ms. Bellandi was by far the most aggressive reporter who contacted me. She seemed as if she had already made up her mind what she wanted her story to say, and made numerous attempts to put words in my mouth rather than taking the time to listen and understand the opposition viewpoint. I was mistakenly identified in the article as “Triennia Guider,” and while I could care less if they get my name right, it points to sloppy fact-checking and makes me wonder what else they got wrong. This is a prime example of biased adoption reporting: when reporters have already made up their minds what they want the article to say, and when presented with information that doesn’t match, try to sledgehammer it in so they don’t have to change their minds or their stories.
“Adoptees cheer birth certificate law” (no longer online; PDF in my possession)
Abdon Pallasch, Chicago Sun-Times
Mr. Pallasch was somewhere in between the other reporters. He was aggressive, although not nearly as much so as Ms. Bellandi. However, this article is the one that really got me thinking about the comments on KAD Nexus, and how adoptees are dismissed as “angry.” This article failed to mention that I was speaking on behalf of Adoption Reform Illinois, a coalition of people who disagree with the bill, nor did it mention that other organizations were similarly opposed. It did, however, mention my own personal inability to access my OBC, in such a way that makes it appear that I am simply one of those “angry” adoptees who opposes the bill purely because it doesn’t help me personally:
“It does not actually open adoption records,” said Triona Guidry, whose birth mother will not let Guidry get a copy of her birth certificate. Even under the new law, the best Guidry will get is a birth certificate with her mother’s name redacted. “Equal rights apply to everyone. Everyone should have the right to go into that courthouse, pay their $15 and get their birth certificate.”
The conclusion of my admittedly non-scientific analysis? Even when opposition to this bill was mentioned, it was overshadowed by the propaganda claiming that this bill is a “win” for adoptee rights. The headlines alone illustrate this. For those of us who have followed this bill, it’s clear to see that the much of the media have drunk the same Kool-Aid that was served to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other legislators. Anyone reading casually, without background on the bill, would assume the opposition was merely a bunch of angry adoptees and that there were no birth mothers who opposed the bill as not going far enough for adoptee rights (not true; ARI submitted twenty pages of testimony including letters from at least half a dozen mothers). Because that way, our legitimate concerns about this legislation are quelled and everybody can party in the streets like Ferris Bueller because woo-hoo, Illinois adoptees have access now! Except we don’t. And under this new law, some of us never will. That’s not anger talking, it’s determination. Equal rights should never be diluted, and we will continue fighting until the rights of everyone involved in adoption are restored.
Since we’re stuck with this legislation, what about those (like me — here’s the “angry adoptee” again) who have already gone through the CI process and been denied? Is legislation like HB 5428 punishment for those who insist upon their rights? Are those who go quietly away when they are told “no,” or do not make waves, rewarded with the possibility of access while those who are “angry” — who do not accept the denial of their civil rights even when vetoed — are consigned to exile? The lesson: Be quiet and wait your turn, and you might win the Russian roulette of records access. But speak up, express your opinion, and you might lose that chance forever.
That’s the adoption industry pitting Good Adoptees vs. Bad Adoptees. Play the Adoption Game, or suffer the consequences.

What Needs Reform In Adoption? Everything!

This month’s Grown In My Heart blog carnival asks the question, “What do you think needs reform in adoption?” I could fill whole stadiums with answers to that one, but I think everything that concerns me boils down to one word: TRANSPARENCY, or lack thereof.
Take, for example:
  • Domestic and international adoption scandals: children targeted for adoption, mothers coerced into surrendering, adoptive parents duped into a false sense of security about the adoption process
  • Situations like Haiti, where crises are used to exploit children and families
  • Sealed adoption records, the myth of birth parent “privacy”, the discrimination faced by adult adoptees and their mothers, and the facade of compromise legislation
  • The lure of open adoption, which is rarely enforcable by the birth mother
  • “Crisis pregnancy centers” which are often fronts for adoption mills
  • Misinformation about the long-term effects of adoption, especially for transracial and transcultural adoptees
  • The general public’s lack of understanding about adoption, which is promulgated by the adoption industry so clandestine and questionable practices can continue. Part of this is driven by media bias in adoption reporting, which leads me into…
  • GET ADOPTION OFF TELEVISION. I have to wonder why there isn’t legal protection for minors exploited on television (think Jon & Kate or Balloon Boy). I think about these kids whose adoption stories are being told on TV (e.g. Teen Mom, 16 And Pregnant) before they even have a chance to know for themselves. Can you imagine how devastating that will be for them? It’s one thing to have consenting adults on these shows but something far different when we’re talking about babies and children. And even when it’s consenting adults, the information is almost always skewed. Let’s face it, reality shows and made-for-TV movies are not solid journalism, but most people base their ideas about adoption from them.
If adoption were transparent, if the procedures were scrutinized, I think there would be far less (although not zero) corruption. People will always find a way to game the system, but transparency and repercussions make it harder. Ratifying the Hague Convention would be one step. Restoring original birth certificate access to adult adoptees AND birth mothers would be another. We need more education for prospective adopters. We need independent and transparent regulation of adoption agencies. We need to get rid of private adoptions that too easily fall into the gray-market or black-market category. We need to eliminate pork-barrel legislation that turns original birth certificate access into a windfall for politicians and their well-connected cronies. We need to distinguish between infant adoption and foster-care adoption. We need to support mothers and families. We need to turn adoption from a boutique industry into a system in which kids who need help will get it.
But what we most need to do is take the profit margin out of adoption. If there is no money to be made, profiteering will decrease. I don’t anticipate this will happen anytime soon. Adoption is big business, with the funds and resources to hire lobbyists to maintain the bottom line. What we, as individuals, can do is demand transparency of adoption agencies and practitioners, and of our elected officials. We can also continue making scandals public, so that those who do game the system are caught. And we can educate the general public about adoption, including its flaws and misconceptions.
Adoption should be a last resort. We should strive to support children: with their parents where possible, with extended family where not, via domestic adoption in their country of origin and via international adoption only as a last resort. Yes, that means less adoptable children, but this isn’t about finding a child for everyone who wants one. The adoption industry sets very unrealistic expectations while continuing to sweep necessary reform under the rug. Let’s return adoption to its roots–finding homes for children in need–and do away with the corruption that currently defines it.

More Concern About Haiti Adoptions

There is growing concern about the fast-tracking of Haitian adoptions. Read on for some excellent blogs on the subject.
I’ve seen a lot of media coverage about Haitian orphans being “saved” or “rescued” by flying them to foreign countries for adoption. But “orphan” doesn’t necessarily mean the child has no living relatives. In many countries, parents place their children in orphanages temporarily until they can get back on their feet. Even if their parents are dead, these so-called “orphans” may have siblings, extended family, or others who can care for them. In a disaster like Haiti’s, we should be focusing on helping the country recover, not focusing on the wants of prospective adopters.
Okay, here it comes… the knee-jerk reaction that those of us advocating caution would rather see these kids starve and die on the streets. On the contrary, we want these kids cared for, kept in their own families where possible, domestically adopted where not, and internationally adopted only as a last resort. And yes, that means less adoptable children, and that’s just too bad. If you are so eager for a child, there are umpteen kids in the American foster system. They’re not cute “orphans”, but they do need help. If you’re really that interested in helping a child, that shouldn’t make a difference. But swooping down on Haiti like vultures is not going to help those kids.
There is also the question of what the “pipeline” is. Those American adoptions that were already “in the pipeline” are being fast-tracked. But what does that mean, exactly? It could simply mean those prospective adopters have passed the preliminary stages. They may not have passed home study or the other qualifications of being adoptive parents. And with the records in Haiti a shambles and at least one judge dead, it’s hard to know which children have actually been approved for adoption. Shouldn’t we take those tens of thousands of dollars a single adoption costs to help the people of Haiti as a whole? Wouldn’t that help more children in the long run?
Another thing that concerns me is the possibility that sweeping these kids into adoption’s net may result in increased “disruptions” down the line. A disruption is a nice name for returning an adoptee… a failed adoption. But what expectations does the adoption mill set for prospective adopters? It’s the glossy brochure, the “adopt and your life is complete” mantra. Reality is much harder for these children. You can’t take a child who is suffering from trauma and the loss of loved ones, bring them to America, plunk them down in front of McDonald’s and Nickelodeon and expect that they will grow up with no difficulties. I am concerned that some of these prospective adopters are so relieved at having their wishes finally granted that they will overlook the needs of the child. When that child begins to suffer from PTSD, will they blame the child for not fitting in? For being an “angry adoptee”? Will these adoptees be sentenced to quack therapies or drugged into behaving? Will they be returned to a country they no longer know, or shuffled off to yet another “forever” family?
In the words of Buffalo Springfield…
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear…
It’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down.

Haiti: Adoption Snatching In Action

Some people are trying to use the earthquake in Haiti as an excuse for a mass snatching of children for the adoption mill. I’m not even going to try to compete with the stellar coverage of other bloggers, so read on to learn about Operation Pedro Pan from the 1960s and how it is being replayed today.
The answer to this horrific tragedy is not to take these children from their culture, but to reunite them with extended family wherever possible and help Haiti as a whole regain its footing. I can’t say it any better than Bastardette:

We do not object to Haitian children, orphans and otherwise, being sent to credible and documented parents or family members in the US legally for temporary or permanent care depending on the circumstances. We do object to the unethical and possibly unlawful mass transfer of traumatized children, many with family status unknown, to foreign shelters and foster care, removed from their culture and language, with little hope of reunification. We also object to children being used as commercialized foreign policy pawns. Although Pedro Pan had positive outcomes for some, its intent and motives make it an illegitimate model for today’s Haitian earthquake child victims. Cold War politics destroyed Cuban families. Unchecked adoption industry greed, pap entitlement, and soft neo-colonial foreign policy cannot be permitted to disenfranchise a generation Haitian children.

Think Before You Support Compromise Adoption Reform Bills

The new legislative session is upon us, and I encourage you to think long and hard before throwing your support behind a bill just because it claims “adoption records access”.

Whenever there’s word of a new records access bill, members of the adoption community scramble to support it amid cries of “Write the legislators!” and “Write the newspapers!” But not all bills are created equal. Some are wonderful, shining examples of clean legislation, like Maine, for example. Others are travesties and need to die before they suck the life out of adult adoptee and birth parent rights.
A clean records access bill is one in which adult adoptees (and birth mothers too!) have the same access to original, unaltered birth certificates as people not touched by adoption. Compromises take many forms but may include:
  • A disclosure veto, which allows a birth parent to prevent an adult adoptee’s access to his or her birth certificate. (On the other hand, a contact preference is just that, a preference. It does not legally deny access to the adult adoptee’s birth certificate.)
  • A mandatory intermediary, which requires adult adoptees and birth parents to submit to third-party mediation even if all they want is information and not contact.
  • Sandwich bills, in which adult adoptees born before or after certain dates have access, while others do not.
There are several bills in discussion right now, including New Jersey and Missouri. It’s sad that people have invested effort in these bills because they are so compromised, they will do more harm than good. They’re based on the myths that “baby steps” are necessary to adoption reform, that compromise legislation can be revisited, that nothing else will work in XYZ state, that “almost good enough” is good enough. None of this is true. The best way–the ONLY way–to restore equal rights to adult adoptees and birth mothers is to enact clean legislation from the start.
Here are some truths about compromise legislation:
  • Baby steps are not needed to achieve clean original birth certificate access. It’s been done in Maine. It’s been done in Oregon. IT CAN HAPPEN. But you have to work at it, and if your nice clean bill gets lobotomized, you have to take the higher ground, kill it and start again.
  • Look to your left. Look to your right. One of your brethren in adoption is going to be left behind if you compromise. Ask yourself if you actually want to support a bill that means getting your information at the expense of someone else. And remember, that someone else could easily be you.
  • NOT ONE STATE that has enacted compromise legislation has EVER changed it later to clean birth certificate access. Once you have the compromise you are stuck with it. The politicians consider it a done deal and won’t revisit it. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot for nothing.
  • Compromises in one state bleed over onto others. Legislators ask, if it works for this other state, why shouldn’t we do it that way? It makes it harder to enact clean legislation elsewhere.
  • There are politicians and lobbyists who want you to compromise because it’s a way for them to pay lip service to reform while not actually doing anything. In other words, it’s a ploy to get us to be good little bastards and birth mommies and go away. Post-adoption services exist to make money, period. They do not exist to help you. They do not exist to restore your civil rights. Don’t buy into the rhetoric. Demand clean legislation, each and every time.
  • Adoption records access is not about medical history, search and reunion or anything else. It is about identity. It is about the right to be treated equally. Don’t get caught up in the arguments. Take it back to basics and stay focused.
What to look for in a bad bill:
  • Disclosure vetoes, mandatory intermediaries, sandwiches.
  • Convoluted language or anything that says, “we’ll figure out how to do this later”. If you don’t understand it, it’s probably not clean.
  • Sometimes shell bills are introduced that are replaced at the last minute by compromise bills that no one sees before the committee vote, like the fast one they pulled with Illinois HB 4623 in 2008.
So when you see there’s a new bill up for discussion, for heaven’s sake research it before you rush to support it. Read the bill for yourself. Ask your friends in the adoption community. Find out about the legislative sponsors. Use your head and your common sense. Don’t be a knee-jerk supporter just because it says “records access” on the tin.
For more on compromise legislation:

Find My Family: Does Reality TV Create Assumptions About Adoption Search?

After I posted about Rose’s situation, I was inundated with replies that she should contact Find My Family. While I know these suggestions were made out of the goodness of people’s hearts, I’m wondering if the existence of shows like this make people think that all you need to do is contact reality TV and they will magically solve your adoption search for you.
My question is partially prompted by the fact that I’ve seen it now. And I’ll admit, Find My Family does show the emotions behind search and reunion–but there are too many things I don’t think it addresses. What about those who can’ t complete their searches? What about those left behind by compromise legislation? What about discrimination against adoptees and birth mothers and fathers? (I should point out that I normally find reality TV distasteful, doubly so when it’s on a topic I find triggering.)
Because the thing is, Rose HAS contacted Find My Family. They elected not to take on her case. Possibly because it’s too hard–they may not want to expend resources on a search they don’t think they can solve (and therefore film the happy ending). Possibly because Rose is already a member of the forum who is doing Find My Family’s legwork (a forum that, again, is not being compensated or even acknowledged as a resource–hello, ABC, I’m talking to you!). Possibly because ABC is concerned about legal liability given the gray/black market nature of Rose’s case. Or possibly because they’ve simply filled up for the year and don’t have room to take on more cases. Who knows? The point is, reality TV like Find My Family is not a panacea. It’s not a magic wand. It’s a resource like any other, and it doesn’t work for everyone. These shows don’t take on every case. They don’t always succeed. What we see is a carefully distilled montage of their best results.
I’m still pondering my original question: Is reality TV good for adoptee rights or a hindrance? Now I’m beginning to wonder if these reunion shows give people the impression that searching is easy. As in, you can have the most impossible search in the world–but along comes Find My Family or The Locator and shazam, miracles! Adoption search is not that simple, logistically or emotionally. Some people luck out and get a match right away. Some people search for decades and never succeed. There is no magic wand, just hard work, determination, the willingness to fight a system that would just as soon see us slink off with our tails between our legs… and heaping helpings of luck and prayer.
I also wonder if reality TV glosses over the fact that reunion, like marriage, is an ongoing process that involves hard work. I would feel more confidence in shows like Find My Family if they were to mention search resources like ISRR and devote some time to what happens after the honeymoon.
What do you think?

Gray Market Adoption: The Twin Who Didn’t Die

This is a guest post from Rose, who is kind enough to share her experiences. I hope there is someone out there who can help with her search. Tis the season, and we could use some miracles…
My name is Rose and I am an adoptee who was reunited with my birth mother in 1988 with whom I had a very close relationship until her passing in February 2001. To honor her life and the memory of my twin that I thought was stillborn I wrote the following story:
Two tiny spermatozoa maneuver their way through the dark passageway in search of the prize when suddenly two large oval shaped masses loom in front of them. Each sperm cell burrows its way into the warm gooey side of its respective prize and becomes one with the egg, fertilizing it and thus beginning the cycle of life anew as it has done since the dawn of creation.
The now fertilized eggs begin the trip back down the same way that the sperm traveled up not too long before. As they travel, toward their new home for the next eight months, the eggs begin to divide becoming multi-celled organisms. They eventually reach the uterus where they burrow into the soft lining and continue to grow and divide.
Six weeks pass and by then the host knows of the presence of the two travelers and she welcomes them, but not all are happy about their arrival. The host is told to get rid of the ‘unwanted mass of cells’ but she refuses to. She does her best to protect the two little travelers but it is difficult. On two separate occasions violent earthquakes rock the cocoon that envelopes the twins. They do not know that is happening, only that what was thought to be safe and secure is not. The twins grow more anxious as each day passes, afraid of what will happen next.
Though on the outside, the next six months pass by without incident, all is not well within as the food supply becomes non-existent. The smaller of the twins grows weaker each passing day and it becomes apparent that it will not survive to see the outside world. The Littlest One, as it is called, musters its remaining strength and telegraphs the message to the one in front that it can no longer hang on. As a bright light appears and surrounds The Littlest One, it telegraphs a final good bye to its companion and is lifted by gentle hands into the loving embrace of the Creator and carried into the light. ‘But, wait,’ The Littlest One asks, ‘What about the one left behind? I can still see her.’ ‘Don’t worry’, says the One with the gentle hands. ‘She will be born very soon. She will not know about you until many moons have passed but she will never forget you because she will carry that knowledge deep within herself that you indeed existed. You will not be forgotten. Fear not little one and rest now, for you are home.’
No one knew whether the Littlest One was a boy or girl nor did they care, except for the remaining one. She mourned the loss of her companion, yearning to once again see his/her face. It was the Creator of all Life who reached down and took the Littlest One home, where He named the child and where He continues to gently rock the little waif in His loving arms, even to this day.
With each anniversary of my mother’s passing, and my birthday, I would think of my twin. In December 2007, all of that changed when I found out information that changed my life for ever. While going through paperwork on Mom’s family tree, I came across what I assumed was Mom’s hospital records from my birth. Curious, I started to read and there it was in black and white: a ‘delivered and a healthy male infant…’ My twin, a brother, had been born alive!
I wish that my story had a happy ending and I could report that I found him and we are living happily ever after, but that is not the case. Unfortunately, my twin is just another statistic in the world of gray market adoption. For reasons that are known only to the doctor who delivered my twin and I, he felt that it was necessary to place my twin with another family. The couple who took him only knew that the birth mother could not care for him and he needed to go to a home that could give him what she could not. What the family did not know was that the fact that the birth mother had not given her consent and in fact did not know that the child had been born alive. She had been told that it was stillborn. The hospital records were altered to look as if Mom had given birth to only one child, me. However, fortunately for me the doctor did not completely alter the records so that the records I held in my hand contained the first clues as to what happened those many years ago.
As a result of the deception on the doctor’s part over fifty years ago, finding my twin is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, a haystack marked the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is not only a closed records state, it’s locked tighter than Fort Knox. In fact, it would be easier to get into Fort Knox than it is trying to find out anything from the powers that be. Pennsylvania, as in many of the other closed adoption records states, feels that the records should be permanently sealed to protect the privacy of the birth mother. In my case, protecting her privacy is a moot point as she is now deceased and she never wanted it protected in the first place. The only person that is being protected is the doctor who perpetrated this crime that has affected three innocent people, not to mention our spouses and children.
Since that December night, I have been on a search for one thing and one thing only: The truth. That is all I want to know, for in knowing the truth, I know that I will be set free and no one can take that away from me.
Rose
ISO twin brother, Pottstown Memorial Hospital, Pottstown, PA, March 17, 1959

Birth Mothers Who Want Privacy Should Support Open Adoption Records

I mentioned this previously in my blog post on “Adoption BEWareness Month Part II” as well as on OSoloMama’s blog, and I think it warrants a post of its own. What I said was:

[I]f women don’t want the offspring they gave up for adoption to contact them, then they ought to support open adoption records. Because as it stands in closed records states, the only way for adoptees to obtain info is to contact their birth mothers.

The biggest argument against restoring original birth certificate access to adoptees is that we are all potential stalkers out to harass our birth mothers. Putting aside how ridiculous that is, in reality, most birth mothers desire contact, and most adoptees just want some information. The way sealed records operate, our only choice is to contact our mothers for that information.
I posit that original birth certificate access actually HELPS that small percentage of mothers who desire privacy.
My own is a case in point. When I began searching, it wasn’t with a mind to find my mother. Granted, I had a few hazy daydreams of meeting her over coffee, but my real goal was finding out about myself: how my adoption was arranged, what my birth name is, what my ethnic heritage is, where I fit in a long line of ancestors. And I spent a decade doing everything I possibly could to find out without contacting my birth mother. I did my own research. I asked search angels for help. I hired a private investigator. I tried both the state in which I was born and the state in which I was adopted, and as you all know got shuttled between them like the unwanted ball in a game of hot potato. Tried to use the Illinois Confidential Intermediary system, failed, hired a lawyer, tried again, succeeded for certain definitions of “succeed”, made brief contact with my birth mother, was denied further contact, and wound up exactly where I started… except for a few extra tidbits of vague information, some hefty bills to be paid, and a signed denial of contact form from my birth mother which denies me access to the very records I originally sought.
Score: adoption industry, several kazillion; Triona and her family, zero.
Now, if I had access to my original birth certificate, in the same manner as the non-adopted, I could have spent half an hour and $15 at the courthouse to obtain what took me thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, and a lifetime of pain to attempt to obtain. And I wouldn’t have had to contact my birth mother at all.
Compromise legislation and post-adoption “services”, however kindly (or unkindly) meant, merely pays lip service to records access. They have nothing to do with the privacy of anyone except the adoptive parents, and those agencies and individuals who are attempting to hide the misdeeds of adoptions past. Why else are the Illinois intermediary program’s procedures more confidential than my own private data? Why else are the original birth certificates of adoptees impounded, not upon relinquishment, but upon finalization of the adoption? Why else are adoptive parents often given paperwork that names the birth mother?
Those scant few birth mothers who want privacy should support original birth certificate access. Because the way the system is rigged in closed-records states, the ONLY state-sanctioned way for an adoptee to obtain information is to contact our birth mothers, whether we want to or not.