The Narrative

NO ONE has the right to anyone else’s child.
 
No one has the right to erase or suppress the voices of others in the equation. The intense focus on infertility in our social conversations means that we almost automatically and unconsciously center the voices of adoptive parents in every public forum.
 
Birth mothers, biological fathers and siblings, extended family, the child – all have a voice that is seldom heard outside the walls of their own houses.
No one has the RIGHT to anyone else’s child.

Why do we act as though they do have this right? As though loss through the inability to bear children or the desire to make a family larger are the biggest wounds that require immediate filling by taking someone else’s child.

Follow any adoption as it occurs. Does the birth mother have the same support the adoptive parents do? Is her voice heard, her fears spoken? Are the losses the child and mother experience addressed or even acknowledged? Is the reality that the child has been transplanted from one set of arms to another acknowledged as a trauma that will follow them throughout their lives?

Or is celebrating ownership of the child and their narrative the main focus instead?

Moving children from parents who are “unfit” or “unwilling” (often euphemisms for poverty, singleness or youth) to those who are “fit”, “deserving”, “capable” (often euphemisms for money, status, age or marriage) is an overarching theme in adoption. Race and disability cannot be excluded from this theme, neither.

Adoptive parents often bemoan what they have to do to adopt a child while simultaneously demeaning birth mothers for creating children and keeping them without similar barriers. Sometimes this extends to birth fathers as well, as is illustrated in this selfish narrative. Adoptive parents say that no one is controlling how biological parents are able to become parents (I think most Child Protective Services would disagree) but that their own pain at not being able to conceive is only compounded by  having to meet standards and wait for “the one” to be “gifted” to them. (Of course, these barriers are not the same for those who are able to convince family members or friends to adopt to them, or those who adopt by becoming foster families first.) The most incongruent portion of this narrative is that so many foster and adoptive families are abusive, neglectful – in short, fail to meet the very standards they place on the biological families they take their children from.  Even the best of these families, who offer the ideal adoption situation for children, avoid recognizing the trauma their adopted children carry within them, forcing them to adhere to the “lucky adoptee” narrative.

No one has the right to ANYONE else’s child.

For good or for bad, the biological family of a child must be recognized as of vital importance to them, on par or even more than the importance of the adoptive family. Millions of adoptees agree that this is the least that must happen.

What do you think? What is your experience of the mainstream narrative?

 

 

 

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The Shrink

She took 8 pages to write down the outline of my life.

At the end of it all, she sat back,

sighed

And said:      “Your story is so complex.”         “Thank you for sharing it with me.”

I screamed and shouted and died a bit more inside.

What I said

was

“You’re welcome.”

 

Experimenting

That great social experiment called formal adoption exists in many forms. There are relative adoptions, grandparents, aunts and uncles, for example, adopting family members who find themselves in need of a home. Step-parent adoptions resulting from marriage are also a large chunk of recorded adoptions. These types tend to be less controversial and more numerous than those that occur between adoptive parents and children from other families, aka stranger adoption.

The latter consist of a variety of kinds of adoption as well. Transracial, international, domestic, “special needs”, private and public are just some of the ways that these are identified.  According to “The Adoption History Project” out of the University of Oregon, the best and most accessible statistics have been kept for international adoptions, which have been increasing in number while overall adoptions have been steadily decreasing from their height in the 1970s.

“The statistical picture for international adoptions is uniquely clear because the federal government counts all legal immigrants, including immigrant “orphans,” as they are still called. (We also know that approximately 500 American children are adopted annually by foreigners, mostly in Canada and Europe, but in comparison to this country’s status as a “receiving country,” we know practically nothing about the United States as a “sending country.”) We know with some precision how many children born in South Korea have been adopted by U.S. citizens during the past fifty years—well over 100,000—and figures available through the Department of State tell us the number of Vietnamese, Guatemalan, Romanian, Chinese, and children of other nationalities who have been incorporated into American families through adoption. In the past decade, international adoptions have increased dramatically as a component of the adoption total: the 2002 figure of 20,009 was more than triple the 1992 figure, and comprised approximately 16 percent of all adoptions.”

The various ways that adoption shows up in highly developed countries means that there is no “single narrative” of adoption, in fact, the experiences of adoptive families and adoptees are unique to their circumstances and full of intersectional considerations. Race, gender, socio-economic status, age, sexuality and disability all play indivisible roles. The motivations for adoptive parents to enter into stranger adoption also vary, although now they tend to be for more mutualistic reasons than in the past thanks to the overwhelming influence of the pro-adoption propaganda that arose throughout the 20th century. As child welfare became more of a social concern, taking children in for more overtly selfish reasons such as free labor fell out of fashion. Still, many of the reasons people choose to adopt today may appear to be altruistic, but upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be poorly informed or purely because they could not have a child through natural means. Both require a great deal of patience and stamina to sustain over the long term, as well as an ability to bond deeply with a child who is not biologically similar. While creating a child with your own genetic material carries inherent risks, those risks are magnified exponentially when it comes to stranger adoption.

Pro-adoption groups such as the Adoption Council of Canada and St. Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society (UK) perpetuate the myth of adoption as an inherently rewarding social service that most adoptive parents ultimately find fulfill their desire for a family of their own. Even in this age of the general acceptance of ‘open adoptions’ wherein birth parents are included in the adoptee’s growing up experience, these groups still use language that erases the importance of genetic familial bonds. Words like “this child was born for us” and “being adoptive parents…makes us more understanding, tolerant, and generous human beings” prioritize the parent over the child.  Centering the adoptive parent experience is something that is common to most, if not all public adoption narratives. Even when groups support adult adoptees and birth parents, there is still a filter of positivity applied to all that makes it through to publication.

Adoptees are routinely censored throughout their lives when they talk about their life experiences. Nowhere is this more evident than on the internet, where adoptees are called “ungrateful”, “bitter”, “nasty” and “toxic”, just for speaking their truths. Combine this with the judgment that race, disability, gender and sexuality bring, it can be very difficult for adoptees not to fade into the background.

It occurs to me that all experiments require frank evaluation and that by suppressing or filtering an entire half of the data set, we will definitely never get there.

 

Mother F*$%r

When I was 15, my adoptive mother informed me that she wished she’d never adopted me.

This wasn’t exactly news to me, given how she’d treated me all of my life, but to hear her say the words, spit them at me as she calmly turned her flower bed, her mouth pursed with venom, that, THAT hit me like a booted kick to the gut. A heavy leather boot with cleats and steel toes worn by a monster much bigger than the middle aged white woman before me.

I still remember it as though it were yesterday. No, I remember it as though it happened this morning.

The pain. The inability to catch my breath as the icy cold water drenched me from within. Everything I’d suspected, everything I’d felt, every time I fought with myself that there really was a glimmer of hope of earning her love and her acceptance, every time I fought with her, pleading in my own child-like way for her to tell me it wasn’t as it seemed – she DID love me, she DID believe the words she told others: I was a gift. I was chosen. I mattered.

I did not. I was not.

I was a regret.

Later, she told me she had realized that I was far too broken a person when I arrived on her doorstep for her to “fix”.  My adoptive father agreed. As a child who had barely learned to walk on her own, I was too messed up to be anything they could have been expected to raise well. I was always doomed to fail. My beginnings imprinted on me a black mold, a virus even, that they couldn’t scrub out of my cracks no matter how hard they tried. I was damaged goods that their best efforts couldn’t make whole again.

Except

That was only the story they came to adopt in the same way they adopted an idea of a child so long ago. It was a story that allowed them to sleep at night, a follow up to the story that allowed them to take a small, chubby, blonde, traumatized toddler and call her perfect, call her a blank slate, tuck her into the perfect bed they bought. Dress her in the perfect clothes they curated during the long months they dreamed of how she’d fill their need for a child. How they’d be heroes for doing so.

It was not the real story.

It was never the story.