Who Controls Adoptee Narratives?

I have been thinking a lot about Amanda’s recent posts at Declassified Adoptee. Through her experiences as an adult adoptee and her training in social work, she brings a lot to the table on how practices can and should be changed.

But, reading her blogs about adoptee narratives and the responsibilities of social workers to maintain them (here and here), I have to ask: What happens to adoptee narratives when agencies and social workers aren’t even involved?

My private adoption was handled by three people: the delivery doctor, an attorney who took my mother’s relinquishment… and my adoptive father, also an attorney, who handled all other legal aspects of my adoption including the altering of my birth certificate and the sealing of my adoption file.

Someone is going to tell me that a social worker had to get involved at some point. There was a social worker who came and did the home study on my adoptive parents, prior to the finalization of the adoption – which amounted to glancing around their picture-perfect home and declaring everything A-OK. As far as I know there were no social workers or agencies involved in my surrender. Certainly there was no one advising my first mother of her rights or options.

Instead, there were three laymen who had absolutely no interest in maintaining my narrative (or hers), and a vested interest in burying it.

They also had no training in social work. Basically you had three amateurs who were able to use loopholes to facilitate a private adoption, under the radar of those governmental entities whose job it is to make sure kids are safe.

I have no narrative prior to my adoption. I was born, my mother surrendered me to the custody of the delivery doctor, I stayed with him and his wife for a week, I was picked up by my adoptive parents. That’s it. No agencies, no social workers, nobody double-checking to make sure i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

It took most of my life for me to learn that much. My adoptive father lied to me until I forced the issue in my late twenties. He told me he knew nothing of my past other than the fact that my mother was Catholic and wanted me raised that way. I haven’t been able to confirm that. What I did confirm, and what he was eventually forced to admit, is that he handled all aspects of my adoption and therefore knew the complete contents of my file. He also had a copy of my original birth certificate, which he appears to have ordered destroyed upon his death.

Not only did these men not perserve my narrative, they actively went out of their way to destroy or conceal as much of it as possible.

As it stands now, I’m in limbo. I am legally barred by denial of contact from obtaining my original birth certificate. The narrative these men worked so hard to deny me may be forever out of my grasp.

I worry that, as long as secrecy is a staple of the adoptive process, there will always be situations like mine where the people who control the narrative are the same people who want it suppressed.

The ONLY solution is to cease altering adoptee birth certificates immediately, and to restore the rights of ALL adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates. Only then will the power to control narratives be returned to the people to whom they belong.

Dreading Birthdays III: Descent Into Despair, Restarting The Search

It’s that time of year again… my own personal descent into despair. I’ve written before about adoption depression and birthdays:

I didn’t really start dreading birthdays until I started asking questions about my adoption, questions that were misdirected or answered with (as I later discovered) outright lies. Before that I just had this vague unease that got worse as the calendar crept toward January. I wonder if my birth mother suffers like I do, from what the shrinkwrappers call “seasonal affected disorder” but I believe is simply part of the human experience. One of the most shocking moments during my brief contact with my birth mother was her revelation that depression runs in our family, in fact one of my uncles suffers severely from it. Don’t ask me what that means because it’s all I’ve got. To be given that tidbit and then left in the dark makes me feel like spring will never come. Maybe depression was imprinted on me in the womb. It’s in my blood, an unknown poison.

I don’t tell casual acquaintances about my birthday. People always want to know, put it in their calendar, send you an e-card or invite you to a little office celebration with stale cake. But adoptee birthdays invoke too many well-intentioned questions that are conversational for others and heartbreaking for us, like”Where were you born?” (some of us don’t know) and “Are you celebrating with your family?” (which one?) In short, birthdays are stark reminders of what may be our most traumatic experience: losing our mothers, our blood relatives, our cultures, our heritage. I don’t mind sharing with people who know my adopted status and understand that trauma. What I don’t like is the automatic dismissal of the uninitiated: “Oh, you’re adopted! You must feel so lucky.” And I’ll admit, I’m no fun. When people ask me straight out I give them a straight out answer: that I’m adopted, that my birthday is traumatic, that it brings up a lot of feelings of loss and I don’t really like talking about it. Talk about putting a damper on the party.

I didn’t even write a birthday entry last year, I was so fed up with it. This year feels… different. Still depressed. Still descending into despair, and I’m not going to say there’s hope at the bottom. It’s more of an icy determination.
I’m starting up the search again, trying to find not only my origins but the details of my adoption. So many lies and misdirections, so many half-truths and hunches, I don’t even know what’s real anymore. So I’m laying it all out, trying to discern fact from fiction. By Illinois law I am forbidden from contacting my mother – a total joke, as I have next to nothing about her yet she has my complete contact information due to the Illinois CI program’s screw-up. But I’ll be damned if anybody tries to tell me I’m not allowed to piece together my own past within the confines of the strictures placed upon me.
The holidays were harder for me this year than January is now, which is odd. Maybe it’s the weather. There’s been very little snow and with temps in the 30s it feels more like November. I can handle November. My pansies are still blooming and there’s lettuce in the cold frames in the veggie garden. But there’s always that awful feeling in the back of my mind that the hammer will fall, that November will become December will become January and the world will lock into ice and cold and loneliness.
Among the adoption paperwork (that is, the paperwork my adoptive father deemed acceptable for me to see, as opposed to the papers he lied about/destroyed/concealed) is a yellow sheet of legal paper. It’s a transcript my adoptive father (aka the lawyer who sealed my file) took of a phone call he had with his old college pal (aka the delivery doctor). I feel sick just looking at it. I decided to post this because it’s a little piece of BSE (Baby Scoop Era) history.

(Sorry if Blogger is sucky about embiggen. You can find it full-size here.)
Words jump out at me. “Nov Dec Jan,” reflecting the personal countdown to hell I still experience every year. “Girl very reasonable.” Of course she was, she had no resources or support! “How could it be done in Illinois?” That is the man I once called Father, concealing my origins.
Note carefully what is going on in this transcript (which has been edited by me for my own privacy). My adoptive father was told they had to go with a private adoption, presumably because they’d been rejected by all the agencies they approached. Private adoption was legal in Illinois, but that they couldn’t adopt me there because it was limited to Illinois residents. So they found a loophole by finalizing the adoption in Ohio, their state of residence. My adoptive father was an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio and arranged matters there himself. Because of this, he ended up controlling the process of my adoption as well as the contents of my adoption file, including my original Illinois birth certificate. I am told this would never be allowed today due to conflict of interest. Later, he became the person to whom I had to apply for non-identifying information, according to revised Ohio state law regarding private adoptions. You can imagine how well that went.
The sickest line, to me, is this: ““Have to arrange to have mother take child w/her & physically turn child over to us & take to Ohio.” To my understanding, my mother was forced to walk me out of the hospital (to fulfill laws saying only she could do so) and turn me over to the delivery doctor, who kept me for the first week of my life then turned me over to my adoptive parents. Elsewhere there is a notation about having to hold off on finalizing the adoption because of the waiting period for my mother to change her mind. It’s all so reprehensible: the careful application of law contrary to its supposedly intended purpose of giving a mother the chance to make an informed choice.
My adoption is gray market, legal as far as I know. But no one could look at the above scenario and consider it objective or ethical. This is the heart of the Baby Scoop Era: legal and illegal separation of children and parents. Except it never ended, because the same tactics continue to be employed today. They get you coming and going, both when the child is first adopted and later when the now-adult adoptee attempts to reclaim his or her birthright.
Icy determination and anger; that, to me, will always be January. This year I’m depressed but I’m also refocused. Adoption will not stop me. Depression will not stop me. Discrimination and stereotypes of adoptees will not stop me. Deformer laws, apathetic reporters and disdainful politicians will not stop me.
All adoptees deserve the same equal, unfettered access to their original birth certficates as the non-adopted. Nothing less is acceptable. Nor is our society’s prejudicial treatment of adoptees acceptable. I have had it with people speaking for adult adoptees and first mothers, putting words in our mouths, refusing to listen to our voices even though we are STANDING RIGHT HERE, blogging and tweeting and making ourselves heard.

The Critical Difference Between Foster And Infant Adoption

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month, and many of us in the adoption community are writing about adoption–not the feel-good articles you’ll see in the press, but writing that gets to the truth of what adoption actually is. And some of it, perhaps even most of it, isn’t very pretty.
A number of folks have pointed out that NAAM, which started as a way to promote adoption of kids already in foster care, has turned into a gigantic singalong in favor of infant adoption. So I thought I’d explain the difference between infant adoption and foster adoption.
  • Foster adoption is adoption of kids who have already been separated from their families, and are living in foster care.
  • Infant adoption is adoption of children, often newborns but sometimes slightly older, whose mothers are unable (either by choice or, more often, through clever coersion and familial/societal pressure) to care for them.
Do you see the critical difference? In foster adoption, family separation occurs BEFORE adoption. In infant adoption, separation occurs FOR adoption.
Foster kids are desperately in need of homes. But they’re older and may have suffered abuse or other situations that deem them, in the eyes of some prospective adopters, less than “ideal.” They often come with inconvenient birth families and awareness of their own origins. There is also a stigma attached to adoption from foster care, as if adopting a foster kid means taking on “damaged goods.” An infant, on the other hand, is considered a tabula rasa. In fact, healthy white or pass-for-white infants are such a prize commodity that they go for tens of thousands of dollars. While there is also stigma attached to infant adoption (indeed, adoption of any sort), it’s more likely that neighbors and friends are going to congratulate you on adopting an infant than adopting an eight-year-old out of foster care with, say, medical issues and birth family members still in the picture. That might take *gasp* reordering of one’s life on a massive scale. It’s “not what we signed up for.” (Never mind that life is full of things we “didn’t sign up for.”) Infants are cute and cuddly and, above all, malleable. As I’ve said before, why rent when you can own?
NAAM should be about finding homes for foster kids, the ones who truly need it. Instead it’s become about infant adoption: how to encourage it, how to advertise it, and how to convince as many expectant mothers as possible to surrender their top-quality tabula-rasa infants, because that’s what the market wants.
That’s not to say that there aren’t infants in foster care who need homes. And that’s not to say that there aren’t adoptive parents who open their hearts to children who are actually in need, infants or otherwise. But there is also the side of National Adoption Awareness Month that most people won’t see or don’t want to see–the adopters with entitlement mentalities, who think they deserve a child simply because they want one, and who turn that want into an obsession that drives them to go to any extreme to fulfill it. (Try the Vaughns for one despicable example.) These are the people who drive the market for infant adoption.
Infant adoption is rarely needed, certainly not the number of infants who become available for adoption. Think of all the time and money that is spent on infant adoption. Now, imagine that time and money being used to get as many kids out of foster care and into loving homes as possible. Also imagine that time and money being used to help expectant mothers who find themselves without resources. Oh, but then they might decide to raise their own children, meaning less available product and therefore less money made by adoption agencies. Infant adoption, not foster adoption, is where the real money is. And adoption agencies, despite their “charitable” reputations, are in it for the money. Anyone who tells you otherwise is, ahem, selling something.
Next, think about the efforts made to recruit infants from other countries, to the extent of lying and outright stealing children. Imagine if, instead, the resources spent on these expensive and unnecesary adoptions were spent instead to provide safe, effective, affordable care within such countries, to promote extended family adoptions when parents are truly unable to support children, to promote in-country adoption to preserve the children’s heritage, leaving international adoption as a very last and rare resort.
In the current atmosphere, this would never happen. There’d be an outcry from agencies, prospective adopters, and the general public, ostensibly on behalf of the poor “orphans.” What is not known to most people is that a lot of those kids have parents and/or families, and are designated “orphans” for the sole purpose of making them more adoptable/profitable. Again, that’s not to say there aren’t true orphans in need of help, but there’s also a whole industry that has been built on marketing children from other countries to Westerners. Which is why so many adoptees, upon expressing discontent with adoption as it is practiced today, are scolded with, “Would you rather have been raised in an orphanage?” or “Would you rather have been aborted?” as if the logical choice–being raised in one’s original family–was never an option. The adoption industry needs the perception that there are more orphans languishing out there than there actually are, in order to keep the profits coming. And, let’s be honest, there are some prospective adopters who get off on the idea of being the “rescuers” of “orphans.”
The unfortunate fact is, not everyone who wants to be a parent is going to get that opportunity. There are other ways to matter to children besides obtaining a child by any means necessary. Is it really that important to own? Has our society become so materialistic that we can’t put aside avarice for altruism? Why can’t we help children stay in their families of origin instead of wasting all those resources on unnecessary adoptions? The way adoption is currently practiced only encourages unethical and illicit behavior.
This is one reason that adoption agencies, private “facilitators” and some adoptive parents try to diminish the voices of adult adoptees, first mothers and fathers, and those scant few adoptive parents who dare to speak out against corruption in adoption. First mothers (and fathers!) can speak to their experience of being coerced into giving up their children. Adult adoptees like me (I was adopted as a newborn) can speak to the fact that no infant is a tabula rasa. Adoptive parents can speak to the corruption that they have personally witnessed.
No, the adoption agencies and those adopters who consider themselves “entitled” would be much happier if we keep National Adoption Awareness Month as squeaky-clean as possible. Let’s put these myths to rest. Foster adoption is about finding homes for children who need them. Infant adoption is about selling children to people who want them.

The Details Of An Adoptee’s Life Are Sacrosanct

… or, they should be.
I can’t get this post from Cricket’s Adoption Blog Of Shame out of my mind. These adoptive parents took it upon themselves to change this child’s birthday. Yes, it’s possible, even likely, that his original birthday was just a guess, but that doesn’t matter. Changing his birthday because it fits better with the school schedule, or because it’ll make him fit on the growth chart? As an adoptee, that absolutely galls me. Adoptees lose so much. They should not lose the few details they may actually have.
As others pointed out on Cricket’s blog, there may be clues to his original birthday in the date he was given from Ethiopia. The point is, that information is HIS. The details of an adoptee’s life belong to the adoptee, and adoptive parents have no business taking it upon themselves to alter them. Even if they later tell him the truth, think about how he will feel knowing that his very birthday was “not good enough.” The same principles apply to the adoption story. That story belongs to the adoptee, not the adoptive parents. Changing it, making stuff up or lying (either directly or by omission) is unethical, no matter how well-meaning the intent.
Most of you know that my adoptive parents didn’t tell me the truth about what they knew about my adoption. All my life, I was told they knew only that I was born in Chicago. I didn’t find out until my mid-20s that my adoptive father was the attorney who sealed my file. He therefore knew everything, from the contents of my original birth certificate to all of the details in my super-secret adoption file. This is a prime example of adoptive parents who had WAY too much control over the situation. A couple years ago I wrote about how too many adoptive parents hold the keys to an adoptee’s information. Some of them use that as a form of control. Mine certainly did. Behave yourself, be the Good Adoptee, and we might dole out tidbits of your background as we see fit. Disobey, refuse to cooperate, and we will hold your information hostage… or even destroy it. Which is exactly what my adoptive father did with his copy of my original birth certificate when I got too close to the truth.
But one of the things I managed to discover was my time of birth. To anyone who has their background it’s an insignificant detail. To me it was a revelation. A new piece of information about myself! And an accurate one, too, because it was taken directly from my original birth certificate. My time of birth is one of the few things I know for sure about my origins. No one has the right to tell me it’s insignificant, whatever their opinion might be. That information belongs to ME.
People who keep an adoptee’s information from them, or deliberately conceal or falsify it, have no business adopting. And control of this information should be taken out of the hands of adoptive parents by making it available to the adoptee at age of majority. By corollary, that means there should be no third parties between the adoptee and that information–no confidential intermediaries, no hoops to jump, just the same access to the same information that non-adopted people take for granted.

Vote by Oct 30 for Demons Of Adoption Awards 2010

Don’t forget to cast your vote for Pound Pup Legacy’s 4th annual Demons Of Adoption Awards. Votes are due by October 30. You can cast your vote here, and (if you have a strong stomach) read more about the nominees here.

From the web site:

Each year Pound Pup Legacy presents the Demons of Adoption Award to raise a voice against adoption propaganda and the self congratulatory practices of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s annual Angels in Adoption AwardsTM

Until October 30 you will have the opportunity to vote for the recipient of this year’s award.

The nominees are:

* LDS Family Services: for being the most secretive of all adoption agencies, using coercive tactics in obtaining infants for adoption and having no respect for father’s rights;

* Gladney center for adoption: for being one of the most profit-centered agencies around and blocking open record efforts in Texas;

* Christian World Adoption: for their involvement in “harvesting” practices in Ethiopia and their blind ambition to “save” each and every “orphan” in this world;

* Larry S. Jenkins: for his involvement in nearly every case where father’s rights were violated;

* Joint Council on International Children’s Services: for promoting the interest of adoption agencies at the expense of children, and pushing agency friendly legislation in Congress;

* Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute for giving their seal of approval to persons and organizations that promote the interests of the adoption industry and pushing agency friendly legislation in Congress;

* Council on Accreditation: for their lack of research done on inter-country adoption agency histories prior to giving out Hague accreditation;

* American Adoption Congress: For failing to remove state reps who were openly working against open access for adult adoptees;

* American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey: for opposing open records for adoptees and “protecting” closet moms, based on a “stack of anonymous letters” claimed to be from “birthmothers”.

* Christian Alliance for Orphans: for promoting the business interests of adoption agencies through churches.

* Southern Baptist Convention: for passing resolution no. 2 , pushing the business interests of adoption agencies to the members of their church;

* Adoption.com for systematically banning voices that oppose current adoption practices and their continuous pro-adoption propaganda;

* Scott Simon: for his vomit-inducing book “Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other” and his grotesque crying and blubbering about his purchasing of another human being;

* WE tv: for their hideously exploitative series ‘Adoption Diaries,’ turning what is a highly emotive and complex topic into ‘reality’ show fodder.