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.