Secondary Rejection In Reunion: An Adoptee Perspective

Claudia D’Arcy has written an excellent post on her Musings Of The Lame blog: Secondary Adoptee Rejection In Reunion: Hearing The Rejected Adoptee’s Pain.

Claudia is a first mother, adoption rights activist, and all around groovy person. It may be one of the best things she’s ever written. And it was also the most difficult for me to read, because I live it each and every day.

Secondary rejection happens. It’s one of those things adoption dissolution (aka the “returns department”) that the adoption industry doesn’t want to admit.

Claudia reminds us, rightfully so, that adoptees who are rejected twice are not rejected for ourselves. We are rejected because our mothers simply can’t handle being mothers. They were told to go on, to forget it (us!), that their lives would “go back to normal.” Some of them need to believe it so much that they must deny anything that threatens it.

But there is no normal in adoption. And, despite understanding on the philosophical level that it isn’t about me… I don’t think I will ever be able to convince myself of that.

To understand my perspective you need to read my story: Caveat Emptor On Confidential Intermediaries and Case Closed! Another Adoptee Becomes A Confidential Intermediary Statistic (which has a timeline of events).

To be surrendered for adoption is one thing. To be rejected twice – to be rejected as a person, not a theory; to be rejected as an adult and not as an unexpected pregancy is something totally, utterly, abhorrently different.

When your contact is limited by laws and intermediaries, you feel like you have to pack a lifetime into a brief window of opportunity. You’re afraid you won’t have another chance to ask the questions to which you’ve always needed answers. It’s a horrible Catch-22 and one of the reasons I despise intermediaries and compromise legislation (that, and the fact that they criminalize us for demanding rights that are basic to all human beings).

I may never know why my mother chose to deny so abruptly and completely. But I know how it feels to me. It’s so much worse than simply being adopted. It is to say to your mother, “I exist” and for her to respond, “I wish you didn’t.”

It wasn’t like I was expecting some kind of rosy reunion. Upon hearing my story, some people think I was demanding that she come and be my mommy. Believe me, after my experience with my adoptive parents, the last thing I wanted was another parental unit. All I wanted were answers. All I got was a door slammed shut. Worse – a door partially cracked, then slammed shut. Which only makes me feel all the more like it was something I did, something I said, something I **AM** that makes me unworthy of the same basic rights – identity, heritage – that other people take for granted.

It does no good to hear people, even someone I admire and respect as much as Claud, say “it’s not you.” My brain understands that. My heart never will.

Some may not like my use of the word “rejection” (see Claud’s post for the reasons  why she chose to use it). I’m using it because that’s how it feels to me. Yes, I know, my first mother didn’t really reject me when she surrendered me for adoption, but it’s another one of those brain-heart matters that adoptees understand on the philosophical level but not on the emotional level.

How can we? Breaking the mother-child bond is the most destructive thing that can happen to either mother or child. We shouldn’t be cavalier about it and invent euphemisms that make it sound less bad. That’s the adoption industry’s party line, to make adoption more palatable.

The truth is, adoptees often feel rejected, no matter how good their adoptive circumstances are and no matter whether they eventually reunite, happily or not, with their original families. We have to deal with issues of rejection and abandonment every moment of our lives (and no, I’m not saying first mothers abandon, I’m saying this is how adoption makes many adoptees feel). Getting rejected twice feels like a confirmation of all those bad feelings.

To me, it was proof of what my adoptive mother used to say when I would come home crying because the other kids teased me for being a weird adopted nerdy girl (and yes, some of the teasing was specifically due to being adopted). I would be sobbing and she would roll her eyes and say, “You must have done something to make them not like you.”

I must have done something to make my mother not like me.

To all you first mothers and adoptees out there who may be considering a secondary rejection: Don’t. However you may feel, whatever happened to you – we’re not to blame, and rejecting us again hurts so very much. We’re not trying to “out” you or make your lives miserable. All we want is existence. All we want is for someone to say, “Yes, you were wanted. Yes, you were loved. Yes, I will answer your questions.”

My first mother may one day change her mind, but I’m not holding my breath. I think she is in such a state of denial that she simply can’t accept my existence without her entire world falling apart. It’s as though, by denying contact, she erased me from time and space – if I was ever there to begin with.

Sometimes you have to back away from a relationship if it’s toxic. I know some first mothers and adoptees who have had to do this because the other party overstepped or refused to accept boundaries. That’s a different matter. I’m talking about rejecting to keep the blinders on, to maintain the falsehood, to pretend the big nasty A word never happened. All that does is foist your baggage onto someone else. We all have to deal with our own shit, no matter how much it stinks, and we are better off for it once we do.

And, for the record, those denial of contact vetoes that are so helpfully mislabeled “preferences”? They put a permanent ban on the adoptee’s ability to gain access to their original birth certificate, which may prevent them from renewing drivers’ licenses or getting passports (or, in the latest twist, running for public office). There is a real and legal implication for the adult adoptee that the Powers That Be may not have explained.

Please have some basic human compassion when – not if – your adoptee or first parent seeks you out. You don’t have to embrace them wholeheartedly into your lives, but don’t send them back out into the cold with no answers. It’s cruel and unnecessary on top of all the other cruel and unnecessary aspects of adoption.

UPDATE: Claudia’s started a listly on this topic, you can read more here and be sure to add your blog if you’ve posted on this topic.

Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

ABC’s Find My Family: Is Reality TV Good For Our Rights, Or Adoption Exploitation?

Everyone in the adoption community is talking about ABC’s new show Find My Family. My question to you: Is reality TV good for adoptee and birth parent rights, or is it exploitation?
Many are wondering who is actually doing the searching for Find My Family. I may be stirring up a hornet’s nest, but here’s what little I know about it. ABC approached the moderator of a forum (of which I happen to be a member) and asked if the staff of what later became Find My Family could solicit on the forum. (Disclaimer: I am not speaking for ABC or for the forum itself. I’m simply sharing my observations.) I don’t know if any monetary compensation was offered for this, but I don’t believe so. This particular forum links volunteer (e.g. not paid) search angels with searchers. It’s a compassionate community of people who all found themselves flung into the deep end of adoption without a paddle. I expressed in private email to the moderators my reservations about this arrangement with ABC, because it seemed to me inappropriate for a reality TV show to be trolling a search-and-support forum for adoptees and birth relatives. However, the moderators and most of the other members were delighted, and they also appear to be generally pleased with the first episode of Find My Family.
My reservations remain. In my blog post “Adoption Exploitation And The Observer Effect“, I quoted my response to ABC, when they approached me directly and asked me to post an announcement on my blog soliciting adoptees and birth families for the network’s upcoming show. This was prior to their arrangement with the forum I mentioned.

Adoption is not a reality TV show. It is painfully real for those of us who experience it. I suggest you revise the show to highlight the denial of adult adoptees’ civil rights. This is a different matter than search and reunion, although the two are often conflated by the adoption industry and, in turn, the media and the public. Every day adult adoptees are denied driver’s licenses, passports, and other basics of citizenship because our original birth certificates are sealed in most states. We are forced to pay excessive fees only to find information is missing or mysteriously unavailable. Post-adoption “services” like registries and intermediaries have become yet another way for agencies and individuals to profit from adoption. That would be a far better topic upon which to shine your cameras than someone’s private reunion.

Admittedly, I haven’t watched Find My Family, so perhaps I shouldn’t remark upon it unless I do. But I didn’t like the way they came trolling a private forum looking for participants. Maybe I’m wrong, but it felt like they were letting the search angels do all the work while they make money filming the results. And believe me, these search angels work hard and don’t get paid a thin dime except maybe expenses. They’re doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. I don’t think reality TV, however well-meaning, can be doing anything out of sheer goodness because, at the end of the day, it’s about the advertising dollars they make. Also, it made me feel on display, a zoo animal in a cage, like I was being studied for some kind of reality-TV experiment. I’ve been exploited enough by adoption that this did not sit comfortably with me.
I also think we can draw some overall conclusions, not about this show in particular, but about reality-based adoption fodder in general. Most shows gloss over the difficulties in accessing records and focus instead on the happy-happy reunion stuff. There are those who say the happy-happy reunion stuff will help others understand our plight. I’d like to believe that, but then again I believed that a state-based confidential intermedary was in my best interests when they turned out to be incompetent money-grubbers.
From what I understand, Find My Family only accepted searches they thought would succeed. That’s similar to state-based intermediaries who only take on searches they think they can solve, because it skews their statistics to show more successful matches. In the case of a reality TV show, obviously there’s no show if the search doesn’t succeed. But what about those who don’t luck out with getting their search done by a reality TV show? How many searches don’t succeed? How many people become stuck for years if not decades? How many can’t afford the fees for state-based services, or attorneys to assert their rights, or private investigators when the state services fail? What about reunions that don’t turn out happy-happy?
More importantly, what about the civil rights of adoptees and birth mothers to access the records that pertain to them? What about the discrimination faced by adoptees and birth mothers? What about the empty promises of open adoption, disclosure vetoes and compromise legislation? What about those left behind?
Search and reunion is already far too conflated with the civil rights of records access, and I don’t think reality TV helps that. What we need are some shows that follow the demonstrations for our rights, the late nights writing letters to legislators and the media, the indignity of trying to say your piece while those same legislators are walking out on your testimony. Why weren’t the cameras on my friend Chynna when she was goose-stepped out the door by a Florida cop in attempting to obtain her driver’s license, because all she had was her amended (falsified) birth certificate? Where were the cameras when “Donna” was threatened with legal action for contacting a birth relative who wanted that contact? There’s a lot more going on in adoptionland besides happy-happy reunions. Maybe ABC’s Find My Family is going to address that. I hope somebody does.
Back to my original question: Is this good for our civil rights, or is it exploitation? I can’t decide. What do you think?

Adoption Records Secrecy Breeds Mistakes

I doubt few people in the adoption reform community are surprised to hear that Catholic Charities, that bastion of super-secrecy, made a mistake in connecting an adoptee with his biological family.
More than three decades after Ryba and Butler gave up their baby son to Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J., for adoption, and four years after the agency facilitated their “reunion” with Bloete, genetic testing revealed last year that none of them are related.
Lisa Thibault, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Trenton, acknowledged that the situation is “tragic,” and that a “mistake” was made somewhere. But she said the agency has done all it is legally able to do for them.
I’m sure CC charged a hefty fee for this botched “reunion”. That’s how confidential intermediaries work: You pay, they supposedly search and find. But the problem is, there are no checks and balances to ensure that you get what you paid for.
I’ve written extensively about my own experience with Illinois’ confidential intermediary program (here and here), which remains the only state-sanctioned method by which adult Illinois adoptees may attempt to gain access to their records. The word “confidential” is a euphemism for “hiding in the shadows”. Their policies and procedures are secret; even participants are not allowed to know what is done on their behalf. Which means if mistakes are made, you might never find out about them. In my case, my identifying information was given to my birth mother without my consent… meaning their policies are more confidential than the privacy of participants. What does that tell you about the priorities of such programs? It’s a back-door method of making more money off adoptions. Seal the records, then charge later for access to those very same records. It’s not commonly known by the general public but everybody in the adoption reform community knows how the game is played.
Cases like these are exactly why entire concept of confidential intermediaries needs to be chucked. Why should we trust third parties to act on our behalf when we have no way to verify their actions? Sealing adoption records and falsifying birth certificates only breeds these kinds of mistakes, and provides fertile ground for profiteering. Instead, all birth certificates should bear the truthful information of one’s origins, with adoption certificates verifying the facts of the adoption, and every single adult in this country, adopted or not, should be able to obtain their original, unaltered birth certificate for the same minimal fee. I spent thousands of dollars trying to get my records, just as these people have spent thousands trying to accomplish what Catholic Charities should have done in the first place.
We need to abolish confidential intermediaries in favor of open adoption records.
See also:
And let’s note that reformers in New Jersey have been fighting to open adoption records. There’s a petition here if you want to sign it to help the cause.

First Contact, No Second Chances

What exactly do we say when we contact a long-lost relative for the first time? Is it better to go slowly, in the hopes of establishing further contact? But what if that initial correspondence is the only chance you have to speak to that person? If you’re using a state-based mandatory intermediary like the ones in Illinois, you’ve got one and only one chance to say what you want to say. Should you take that chance, or hedge your bets and potentially let the opportunity slip by?

This was the dilemma I faced during my brief contact with my birth mother. I had been through so much just to get to the point of speaking with her: years of wrangling with attorneys and bureaucracy even to be able to participate in their blighted, benighted intermediary program. And then to be told we were only allowed three letters each… I felt I had no choice but to try to squeeze as much as I could out of that brief chance at contact. Maybe I scared my birth mother off with what I said, although I tried very hard not to be angry or judgmental. But if I hadn’t taken the chance I would have forever lamented not being able to share what I wanted with her while I could. I will always wonder if the reason she denied contact is because of something I said. But what else are we supposed to do? I think sealed records and mandatory intermediaries lead directly to this problem. When you are given a very limited shot at something as important as contacting your own parent or your own child… if there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication there is no second chance. Not very humane, is it? Makes me wish I’d never heard of intermediaries or open records or hell, being adopted. Maybe ignorance IS bliss.

For example, I made the mistake of mentioning that my daughter wants to know about her “other grammy”. I said it that way because my daughter, who is all of five, considers my husband’s mother her “grammy” and so that’s her vocabulary for it. I think it freaked my birth mom out because she wrote back very strongly that my adopted mother is my “real” mother. I tried to explain that it’s just how my daughter verbalized it and that I wasn’t trying to imply anything. But the fact is, my birth mother is the only “real” mother, genetically, that I could have. That also makes her the genetic grandmother of my children. It’s a simple fact of biology, nothing that either of us can do anything about. (She also said I should “make up” with my adopted mother, as if thirty-odd years of emotional abuse could be repaired with a wave of a magic wand. I guess it would be easier for her if I could take my need for a mother and dump it onto someone else but I can’t, not that I’m expecting her to fill that role either. Truth is, in this lifetime I don’t get a mother. Perhaps I don’t deserve one.)

Do the harsh policies of mandatory intermediaries actually hinder reunion rather than help it? Personally I don’t think the state should be in the search-and-reunion business, period. It’s like the tin-can telephone, the message gets distorted the more you pass it through third parties. And all adult adoptees really want is equal access to the records of our birth, not search, not reunion, and certainly not a strict matronly chaperone wagging a finger and telling us our time’s up.

How many times have you said the wrong thing to someone and had them take it in a way you didn’t expect or intend? In the real world you can go to that person and explain, move through the miscommunication. In Adoption La-La Land it’s one strike and you’re out. I submit this is cruel and unusual punishment, the icing on the sealed records cake. First contact, no second chances.

Adoption Records And Privacy In The Internet Age

I’m a computer professional by trade, so I’m very familiar with technology. And a recent column by Network World’s Mark Gibbs illustrates why today’s technology makes sealing adoption records pointless.

Gibbs explains how, with a bit of cash, you can find out just about anything about anyone. As an example he uses debt collectors, who have access to databases that describe everything from your Social Security number to your medical records to your most recent neighbors. As more companies cross-reference data, he says, it will become harder and harder to control where that data goes:

Every IT person with experience knows that it [availability of personal data] is not a question of the cat getting out of the bag; the cat and the bag will never even be in the same room.

He further quotes one of his readers:

‘There is no way off the grid… unless you just want to be a hermit and live in a hole somewhere. Computers were released to the world, the Internet tied them together, [now] Pandora’s box is wide open and the data has already hit the rotary oscillator.’

We adoptees are constantly accused of channeling Pandora by daring to ask questions about our origins. Advocates of closed adoption records, primarily adoption professionals and adoptive parents, claim records must be sealed because “birth mothers were promised privacy.”

But that’s not true. Birth mothers were told if they searched they would get drawn and quartered. The ones who were promised privacy were the adoptive parents, who were less likely to adopt if they thought birth parents would come banging down the door (one of many adoption stereotypes).

Birth parents cannot have been promised “privacy” because there is not one of us who lives in a vacuum. To use this as the main argument against the restoration of adult adoptee access to original birth certificates–a right that was revoked to cover the more clandestine aspects of the adoption trade–is ludicrous. Sealing birth records does not prevent adoptees and birth families from finding one another. All it does is create unnecessary and emotionally-draining loopholes for those of us who have no other method to obtain the same information others take for granted.

Privacy has never existed; the Internet just makes it more obvious. This is another reason why the sealed adoption records system should be abolished.