Adoption Bias: One Sided Triangles Fall Flat

A while back I posted an item from the Chicago Tribune’s Problem Solver column in which an adult adoptee was denied her passport because she erroneously assumed her amended (falsified) Illinois birth certificate granted her citizenship. I subsequently posted the followup in which she was able to gain a passport, not from the U.S. but from her country of birth. At the time of the first article I wrote to Problem Solver Jon Yates explaining that this is not an isolated incident and that all adult adoptees with sealed records are in danger of being denied necessary documents like passports and driver’s licenses. I received no reply and the Tribune made no further mention of the case, leading its readers to continue assuming that such incidents are rare and isolated.

Today’s Trib celebrates four years of the Problem Solver column, with Mr. Yates highlighting some of his favorite cases. He describes one that was so poignant he keeps the picture in his office:

When Jill and Jason Alexander wrote me asking for help getting a passport so they could travel to China and adopt a son, I was more than happy to place some calls. Shortly thereafter, the Alexanders wrote me a thank-you note I will never forget. They attached a photo of Owen, who looked so cute I couldn’t put the picture down. So I tacked the note — and the picture — to a wall in my cubicle, where they remain today. I see them every day I come to work — happy reminders about why I became a reporter in the first place.

This illustrates (again!) a common bias when reporting about adoption, a bias that is reflected in the public’s idea of adoption as a whole. People love to help put a Poor Orphan Waif(tm) in the loving arms of prospective adopters. But when those same waifs turn into adult adoptees, our requests for help are answered with chirping crickets. Why is it, I wonder, that people are so willing to sympathize with prospective adopters and adoptive parents, while dismissing the dilemmas of adult adoptees and birth relatives? I have some theories.

  • The rescuer mentality. People view adoption as “rescuing” children. They want to participate, to bask in the glow of the Good Samaritan. Never mind that most orphans aren’t and that the adoption industry is more corrupt than a sledgehammered hard drive.
  • The stereotype of birth parents as poverty-stricken strung-out malcontents who don’t deserve their own children. When was the last time you saw the media helping to keep a child with his family of origin, especially if that family is not so perfect and there is an “ideal” adoptive family waiting in the wings?
  • The stereotype of the ungrateful adult adoptee. “Good” adoptees never question the adoption industry, never want to know their origins, assimilate perfectly into their adoptive families and insist that’s where God wants them to be. Anything less and you are branded the “bad” adoptee, the ungrateful adoptee, the bastard. The validity of any concerns can thus be dismissed, whereas if they came from anyone else someone might have to pay attention to what’s going on in the adoption industry.
  • The successful marketing strategies of the adoption lobbyists. Let’s face it, these people are very good at their jobs. They have made adoption not only palatable but desirable. They have swept all negativities under the rug with words like “adoption plan” and “best needs of the child”. Even well-researched articles pointing out the flaws in the system come under fire. They have been so successful in brainwashing the public that it’s difficult just to enter into a discussion about adoption reform.

In short, a one-sided adoption triangle falls flat. You can’t cover putting infants into the arms of adoptive parents without also covering the lifelong anguish of birth mothers and the continuing discrimination against adult adoptees. What’s a triangle with one side? A line, the definition of one-dimensional. This is one-dimensional reporting, which is all too prevalent in the vast majority of articles about adoption. I have to agree with Robin over at Motherhood Deleted… there is no adoption triad. In the public eye there are only perfect adoptive parents, perpetual infant adoptees, and no birth families in sight.

Being a reporter isn’t just about the feel-good, it’s about tracking down the truth and saying what other people won’t, even if–especially if!–it’s unpopular.

Adoption Isn’t A “Choice” For Everyone

There’s this billboard that has been ticking me off for months now. It used to be on the northbound Metra tracks. I was so happy when they took it down, but now it’s back up along eastbound Route 14. It’s sponsored, natch, by McHenry County (Illinois) Right To Life and pictures a couple with a baby and the slogan: “Adoption. The choice everyone can live with.”

I have so many beefs with this billboard I could cook a chuck roast. It’s a daily reminder to me of everything that is wrong with adoption.

  • The billboard is specifically promoting infant adoption. Never mind that there are plenty of foster kids in Illinois and elsewhere who would be delighted at a chance for a good home.
  • It pictures Obligatory Cute Picture of Healthy White Infant with Smiling Heterosexual Caucasian Couple. In other words, it promotes adoption of white infants over infants of other ethnicities, foster kids, and kids with disabilities. Get Your Tabula Rasa Here! It also discounts single-parent adoption, gay adoption, and anything other than the stereotypical “nuclear family”.
  • This ad is designed to get expectant mothers to surrender kids–in other words, to make money for adoption agencies. I don’t see the RTL groups posting ads offering help for expectant moms or brochures on where they can find support. If it’s really about fighting abortion and not promoting adoption, why not offer every alternative? Nor do I see them giving expectant mothers realistic information about adoption (PDF).
  • It portrays adoption solely from the perspective of the adoptive parents. The baby is a perpetual infant without voice, and the (birth) mother* is nonexistent.
  • It says nothing about the lifelong impact of adoption upon everyone involved, including the adoptive parents.
  • (Plus, the damn thing ends in a preposition. My English teacher is howling from beyond the grave.)

Some people, especially the RTL crowd, get bent out of shape at criticism of infant adoption, or indeed any criticism of adoption at all. This billboard’s message is clear: An expectant mother’s only choices are abortion (“murder” in RTL parlance) or Warm Happy Fuzzy Adoption. What this billboard carefully does NOT point out is:

  • Adoption is not Warm Happy Fuzzy. Adoption begins in loss. There’s no way to make that prettier or more palatable.
  • Adoption is not a guarantee of a better life, only a different one.
  • Adoption should be a last resort. All efforts should be made to keep children with their families of origin, and only if they are truly in danger and there is absolutely no other choice should they be relinquished for adoption. But most prospective adopters want unspoiled goods, the tabula rasa, not an older child or one with potential problems or one whose birth family might want (horrors!) to maintain a relationship. They pay good money and like any consumer they demand a quality product. Which is why adoption is about finding a child for parents who want one instead of finding a home for children who need one. That leads to the adoption industry snatching up as many products (read: children) as possible.
  • Adoptees grow up; we don’t remain voiceless infants forever. Adoption was never a “choice” for us, nor for our mothers, many of whom were forced socially or literally into surrendering us. It’s also not a “choice” for our extended families, friends, and significant others, all of whom are faced with the negative impact adoption has had on our lives and the lives of those around us.
  • Adoption agencies make billions on infant adoption. Adoption is a profit-making venture, not a charity, however it may be portrayed.
  • Adoption agencies get federal subsidies for promoting adoption, to the point where they push adoption to strangers over keeping birth families together.
  • Adoption agencies deliberately market in such a way to discount the negativities of adoption (again, because they make money from adoption). Which means any information about adoption from an agency or adoption “professional” should be taken as suspect.
  • Adult adoptees are routinely denied access to their origins. Birth mothers are routinely denied access to the paperwork they signed and information about their offspring. Illinois has mechanisms that purportedly facilitate contact but they’re about as effective as a walrus trying to tango.
  • So-called “open” adoptions are rarely enforcable from the biological family’s side. Once the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents can–and do–take off with the kid, never to be heard from again. “Open adoption” is a marketing phrase to get an expectant mom in the door.
  • Foreign “orphans” often are not orphans at all, and may in fact have been stolen from their families. Adoption, international and otherwise, is chock-full of corruption.
  • Adoptees are torn not only from their families but also their countries, languages, and cultures of origin. Birth mothers suffer long-term consequences including depression, anxiety and other stressors that can diminish their health. Hollywood and made-for-TV movies gloss over these impacts, just like adoption agencies do. It’s not a pretty picture but it is the truth.

Why are we adoptees supposed to be grateful that we were not raised in our families of origin? Why are our mothers supposed to go away and never be seen or heard from again? Why can’t we promote support of expectant mothers instead of stealing their children to feed the adoption industry’s profits? Why can’t we restore unconditional access to adoption records? Why are we supposed to ignore what is wrong with adoption and simply accept the happy-go-lucky picture the billboard above invokes?

How about this as a new billboard? “Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Support expectant mothers and unconditional records access.”

* I use the terms “birth mother” and “birth family” on this blog although some find it offensive, not because I disagree (I find it offensive too) but because it’s more likely to be picked up by search engines. Which is a further demonstration of how relinquishing mothers and adoptees are dehumanized in discussions of adoption.

The Too-Wanted Adoptee

There is a fabulous conversation going on over at FirstMotherForum on an old thread. It began with Lorraine’s remarks about a book written by an adoptive father, who joined the conversation and shared his viewpoints. In one of the comments maryanne wrote:

We all know the many terrible things that are supposed to happen to the unplanned, “unwanted” child in a family, but has anyone ever looked into the detrimental effects of being the “too wanted” child, the result of years of assisted reproduction or adoption that was difficult and expensive?

I think this might place an awful burden on a child to live up to some unrealistic expectations of the parents that the kid be superior and “worth it”, and cause problems if the child does not fit the mold set for him as the golden prize baby. In international adoption I could see this being a problem if the child did not fit some ethnic stereotype the adoptive parents had about people from “that country” , like that Russians are literary or Asian girls are passive. In any adoption or high tech reproduction, in some ways the kid has to be more than just a kid to justify how hard it was for the parents to become parents.

I left several comments including this one:

maryanne, your observations are astute. I was exactly that to my adoptive parents, a goal and a prize. In their world being childless was tantamount to social suicide. They needed the privileges being parents would bring, such as meeting “the right” families through contacts at school and other parent-related events. I don’t know if anyone has researched the detrimental effects of being the “too-wanted” child, but they should. When adoptive parents go through the expense and ordeal of assisted reproduction, plus the expense and ordeal of adoption itself, there is a strong pressure upon the adoptee to live up to that “investment.” In my case, my adoptive parents seemed to be under the assumption that by adopting me, they could mold my interests and personality–even going so far as to hire psychologists to try to force me into that mold. This backfired to the extent that we are now estranged. I can’t speak to the effects upon international adoptees, but I do know that trying to meet the unrealistic expectations of being the long-awaited and finally-attained “prize” is emotionally overwhelming and impossible to achieve.

I’d like to explore this more, the idea of the “too-wanted” child. Do assisted-reproduction facilities and adoption agencies elicit unrealistic expectations among prospective adopters? How does this affect adoptees in the long term? In my experience, the answers are yes and extensively. There are far too many adoptive parents out there who set unrealistic goals for the children they adopt. Even after we adoptees become adults, we are expected to fulfill set roles that act as strangleholds upon our emotional well-being and identity formation. People raised in their families of origin sometimes suffer that, too, but in the case of adoptees there is this unspoken assumption that we must be 100% perfect because we were so badly wanted and, not to put too fine a point on it, very expensive. (And, if we’re not 100% perfect, we can get shipped back.) When people spend tens of thousands of dollars they expect a return on the investment. But if you’re investing in a human being, you have to be very careful of your motives.

I think prospective adopters would do well to assess thoroughly and extensively the question: Why do you want to adopt? The obvious answer–I want a child–is insufficient. Why? Is it to provide social status? Be a “rescuer” of poor orphans (not all of whom are orphans or poor)? Or is it honestly and truly because you want to open your heart and home to a child? If the latter, are you sure? If your adopted child said she want to meet her birth family–that she wants to have a relationship with them–how would you react? Can you accept the idea that your child will have two sets of parents, both of whom are equally “real”? Will you put aside your own fears, assumptions and expectations to help your child form positive, personal attachments to her family, culture, and language of origin? Will you accept her birth family as an extension of your own, or are they the “them” to your “us”?

Tough questions, and ones that not every adoptive parent wants to face. In which case, I submit they have no business adopting. Because adoption is different–not better, not worse, just different. And failure to accept that difference hurts everyone.

What do you think about the “too-wanted” child?

Erasing Adoptees’ Identities: The Foreign Adopted Children’s Act

As reported by Ethica, there is a new bill pending that would, in essence, erase the identities of international adoptees.

As written, the Foreign Adopted Children’s Act (S. 1359/H.R. 3110: A bill to provide United States citizenship for children adopted from outside the United States, and for other purposes) supposedly simplifies the adoption process by conferring U.S. citizenship retroactive to birth. Adoptive families would apply for a Consular Report Of Birth which, like an amended birth certificate, makes it appear “as if” the adoptee was born to the adoptive parents. Proponents of the bill say this will help adoptive families by eliminating some of the paperwork and expense, and help adoptees by offering them the same inalienable rights as a U.S.-born citizen. There are plenty of concerns about this proposed legislation which have been remarked upon by bloggers in the adoption community. From where I’m sitting, it looks very much like erasing adoptees’ identities.

Internationally-adopted adoptees already have many difficulties reconciling their identities. They are severed from their cultures and languages of birth, suffering lifelong consequences as a result. The FACE Act would remove what little remains of their birth identities, replaced with a fiction that has more to do with appeasing adoptive parents than it does helping adoptees acclimate. It would put further hurdles in the path of adult adoptees attempting to seek information about their origins.

Adoptive families should not be frightened of an adoptee’s culture of origin. It is an irrevocable part of international adoption. Rather than sweeping this fact under the rug, adoptive families must embrace the cultural differences that inviting an international adoptee into their lives entails. You can’t just rename a kid and expect them to fit perfectly into your little world. Doing so sets the adoptee up for immediate failure, as they attempt to rationalize the lie they are expected to live with the face in the mirror. And we already know that amended birth certificates don’t work for domestic adoptees. I’m against anything that puts my international adoptee brethren in the same leaky boat I find myself in.

Please visit the Ethica page and contact your legislators, urging them to vote against the FACE Act.

Adopting A Child To Replace A Deceased One

In the WTF category, this article (Houston Chronicle: Family eases grief of lost child through adoption) makes me sick, sick, absolutely sick. I feel so sorry for this girl and the expectations that are going to be heaped on her, above and beyond those expected of most adoptees.

The adoptive parents are in mega-denial:

“I’m convinced Marin [the deceased child] and Sioban [the Chinese adoptee] met in passing,” Lori [the adoptive mother] said. “Marin told her, This is how you get to Daddy’s heart, and this is how you get to Mommy’s heart.'”

No, I bet the former was pissed off at missing out on her life, and the latter is… well, pissed off at missing out on her life. What is most telling to me is this paragraph:

So they settled on adoption. And they decided on China, because most of the infants there are healthy and, because of the one child policy and male bias, there is a preponderance of girls up for adoption.

Translation: International adoption is easier because it’s less likely those pesky birth families are gonna come searching. It’s also easier because the records are more readily obfuscated. I don’t suppose this family bothered to learn anything about the real state of international adoption, such as the number of children who are being kidnapped–yes, kidnapped–in China and elsewhere to fulfill Western desires to adopt:

More telling quotes from the article:

The adoption itself was a 21-month process. Flying to China, Lori cried and cried. Was their adopting a child really God’s will? Were they supposed to have just three children? What if she didn’t feel love for this new baby? “But that second they put her in my arms, it was instantaneous,” Lori said. “I was like, This is my baby.’ It was very clear cut that our daughter just happened to be born halfway across the world.”

This is NOT YOUR BABY. This child HAS a family IN CHINA. The fact that you used the coercive and corrupt American adoption system to purchase a child does NOT make it “God’s will”. It’s blatant delusion. It’s failure to process grief. Who the hell approved these people to adopt? They already have three kids, for crying out loud! These are not desperate infertiles. These are people who had their hearts set on four kids and dammit, they are gonna have four kids even if they have to swipe one from somebody else.

And the couple says she has helped make the family whole again. “I tell you, she’s got McGrath blood in her,” Lori said, cradling Sioban in her arms.

No, she DOESN’T, and she never will. Does anybody think this family is really going to encourage this girl to explore her origins when she is old enough to understand? I’m betting on Chinese fairytales and the occasional take-out dinner as the extent of it, if that.

The next time somebody gripes at me about mentioning an entitlement mentality among many prospective adopters, I’m showing them this article. And if that makes me “anti-adoption”, then you can bite my bastard ass.

Thanks to Amyadoptee for pointing out this article, I think. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be violently ill.

Adopting Agroecology: Madonna, Malawi and Malthus

Again, can’t even read National Geographic without thinking about that cursed word, ADOPTION. This month’s issue has an article about the global food crisis. When I got to the part about Malawi, of course the only thing I could think about was Madonna and her haphazard attempts to adopt another Malawian orphan-who-is-not-an-orphan. Even NG talks about it when discussing Malawi’s two Millennium Villages:

Good primary schools, improved road systems, and connections to the power grid and the Internet are on the way in these villages, and in the “Madonna” village, which is further north.

The Madonna?” I asked.

“Yes. I hear she’s divorcing her latest husband. Is that true?”

The “green revolution” of the 1960s-1990s has not helped places like India, where cancer and birth defects are rampant in some areas. Aggressive fossil-fuel-based fertilizer use has resulted in contaminated ground water and barren soil. Western ideals of “helping” Africans and others by bringing the green revolution to them is not going to solve the problem of food production. Neither is the corn-based ethanol craze in my native Illinois, or genetic engineering, or any of the other “modern” techniques most people think will be the magic bullet. As I said in my previous post, we need to return to the simple, tried-and-true method of organic self-sustaining farming, otherwise known as agroecology.

And that is what some people in Malawi are doing. The Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities project (SFHC) helps farmers get off the ground by distributing legume seeds, which nourish soils and children’s bodies at the same time. As NG describes:

The program began in 2000 at Ekwendeni Hospital, where the staff was seeing high rates of malnutrition. Research suggested the culprit was the corn monoculture that had left small farmers with poor yields due to depleted soil and the high price of fertilizer.

[T]he project’s research coordinator, Rachel Bezner Kerr, is alarmed that big-money foundations are pushing for a new green revolution in Africa. “I find it deeply disturbing,” she says. “It’s getting farmers to rely on expensive inputs produced from afar that are making money for big companies rather than on agro-ecological methods for using local resources and skills. I don’t think that’s the solution.”

I live in a rural-suburban community where farming is still an important part of life. I’m lucky that I can (and do) grow my own food, or go to our local farmer’s markets and find a plethora of delicious produce sustained in Illinois soil. There is a big push in my community toward helping our farmers by buying or growing organic, sustainable produce. But we’re lucky. We have an abundance of rainfall, excellent soil, and easily accessible grocery stores when you just can’t help that craving for Ben & Jerry’s Cake Batter ice cream. Like so many others, Malawians don’t have that luxury. Instead they get people like Madonna taking advantage of the food crisis by sweeping in and stealing their children, and thus their culture, much as happened (continues to happen?) to Native Americans in the Western Hemisphere and Aborigines in Australia.

In 1798 Thomas Malthus suggested that our population and our food supply are inextricably linked. NG writes:

Though [Malthus’] essays emphasized “positive checks” on population from famine, disease and war, his “preventative checks” may have been more important. A growing workforce, Malthus explained, depresses wages, which tends to make people delay marriage until they can better support a family. Delaying marriage reduces fertility rates, creating an equally powerful check on populations.

Which is exactly what we’re seeing in the United States. Couples delay, discover they’re infertile, and wham! come up with the concept of “rescuing” those poor non-orphans by adopting them. This is merely distributing the population, it doesn’t solve the problem of the food supply nor does it benefit the cultures from which these children are stolen.

Madonna could have given her adoption blood-money to the SFHC instead. I wonder how many legume seeds THAT would bring! Not as fashionable an accessory as a child, true, but far more beneficial for both the planet and its people. We could preserve the Malawian culture by preserving their most valuable asset, their children, and at the same time help them restore their soil and their future through sustainable farming.

Why is that less noble than ownership via adoption? Why can’t we adopt agroecology instead of kids?

“Safe Haven” Laws Destroy Adoptee Identities

Questions are a burden to others. Answers are a prison for oneself.
— The Prisoner

There is a war going on over the identities of adoptees, under the guise of so-called “safe haven” laws. Take a look at this position paper from Bastard Nation, plus this impressive analysis courtesy of Baby Love Child. As Dave Barry says, no, I am not making this up. “Safe haven” laws are designed to destroy kids’ identities in order to fast-track them into the adoption market.

Please go read BLC’s analysis. Here’s what she has to say (from her blog posts on the Nebraska situation):

There is no ‘fixing’ these laws. Even should it be modified to apply only to “newborns” (define and prove that one…) or kids in ‘imminent danger’ (again proving that one will be no end of tricky) it will STILL deny infants their identity, circumvent all best practices in child welfare and adoption, and create a class of kids relinquished in a ‘paperfree’ manner.

After all, how can one have open records when there are no records to get?

(Now these boys [the tweens/teens dumped in Nebraska] being less than desirable adoption fodder, what with being termed ‘unruly juveniles’ and all, odds are pretty slim they’d be finding a new adoptive home within the week. Young, cute, and perhaps less verbal dumplings on the other hand, are in high demand, with phone calls coming in wanting to adopt almost from the first mention on many local newscasts.)

[T]he unseen and often unvoiced full horror of the law is that it intentionally encourages legalizes child abandonment AND effectively works to short circuit the fundamental identity rights of adoptees.

Do you know why international adoption is so popular? Because it’s less likely that adoptive parents will have to deal with the birth family. And what’s happening right now? Foreign countries are closing their doors to U.S. prospective adopters, and the adoption reform movement is making strides in opening records. What to do? Create a domestic subset of legally relinquished, guaranteed tabula-rasa children prime for adoption. Presto! Restock the supply chain, reassure customers, get rid of the nay-sayers, and give the politicans good election-year campaign material, all at the same time. “Safe havens” are a safe bet, politically, because it’s for the children, and you’re not against helping children, are you?

As for the lack of paperwork, baby dump advocates call it “non-bureaucratic placement.” And ANY person who has custody of the kid can dump, no questions asked. One of the Nebraska tweens was legally abandoned by his aunt. Imagine this: somebody gets ticked at you, swipes your kid and dumps him/her at a “designated safe haven.” We all know (from the recent Texas “sect” case, and elsewhere) that once a kid is in the foster care system, it’s damn near impossible without money and influence to get that kid back. As a parent, your rights are now zero. And as an adoptee, that child-turned-adult’s rights will also be zero. They won’t have any sealed records to open because no records will exist. How convenient for adopters like these who refuse to acknowledge that adoptees had lives and families prior to adoption.

Baby dump laws should be repealed. They’re not about saving kids, they’re a new twist on perpetuating the same old secretive system. Adoption should be rare and as transparent as possible. If we really want to save kids, we must protect their rights until they are adults and able to speak for themselves.

If You Think Baby Selling Doesn’t Happen

This latest news from the AP only confirms what we’ve known has been going on in Guatemala and other countries for years, if not decades. And no, this is not an isolated incident – the only thing isolated about it is the fact that it’s being reported.

This article might be better titled, “Stolen Baby Linked To U.S. Adoption Market,” but that doesn’t go over so well with editorial boards, advertisers, and readers. After all, to say that there is anything wrong with the U.S. adoption system is tantamount to treason.

But nothing like this could happen domestically, right? Sorry, but the game is played everywhere. Check out this story from Kentucky last year.

Yum, nothing like terminating a parent’s rights without cause in order to grab those juicy federal adoption subsidies. How do these people sleep at night? There are similar cases occuring in Britain as we speak.

Then, you might want to read what a self-proclaimed Senior Mother (what others might call a “birth mother”) has to say about it.

And while we’re at it, let’s ask some adoptees, particularly transracial adoptees who might have just a bit to say about the impact of removing a child from his/her country of origin. (You think?! How come nobody ever asks the adoptees?)

Somewhere in the world, right now, a baby is being stolen, leaving a family in grief. All infant adoption is stealing – from the family of origin, and from the adoptee. Instead of promoting this twisted scheme, we should focus on supporting all mothers, regardless of social level or ethnicity.

If you’re considering adoption, ask yourself if you really want to continue the flesh trade of infant adoption. There wouldn’t be a market for it if there weren’t willing consumers. Mentor a child or volunteer – but please don’t expect that adopting a juvenile, but nonetheless human, being is going to solve your problems. And recognize that infant adoption is very, very different from foster care adoption, when parental rights have (one hopes) been terminated only because no other choice remains.

I hope you’ll remember:

Adoption is about finding a home for a child who needs one, not finding a child for parents who want one.

Parenting is a privilege, not a right.