Monday, November 30, 2009

Finding Jane Doe

I don't know if I've ever explained the name of this blog. When Shelly and I came up with this, the idea was to talk about our respective searches for our mothers. We didn't know their names, so we were looking for anonymous people.

Almost as soon as we set up the blog, my search came to fruition. I haven't heard from Shelly in a while. Last time we talked, she hadn't started her search and wasn't sure when she would. I hope she will check in at some point and let me know how she is doing.

With the completion of my search, the name of the blog became less important to my posting. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how much the name is still relevant. I started off looking for my biological mother. As I got to know her, and as I got to know other adoptees, I realize how much more I have been looking for myself.

So much of adoption is focused around identity issues. Who are our biological parents? This is a secret hidden from us. More importantly, though, who are we? Are we the children of our adoptive parents? Are we the children of our biological parents? Are we anyone's children?

I have spent so much time trying to figure out who I am. Not just since I started my search, but for my entire life. I have wanted to figure out who I am. I have always felt lost.

My search did not answer these questions. If I thought that it would, I was mistaken. I don't think I believed it would, but I'm not sure. Still, it has given me more grounding than I had before. I do feel more a part of this world than I did before my reunion. It's not the answer, but it has provided some pieces of the puzzle.

I guess I am still looking for Jane Doe. I'm still trying to find myself. I think I'm in here somewhere. And I feel more optimistic about finding me than I did for the first thirty-some years of my life.

But the search didn't end with reunion. It only really just got started.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Not Just a River in Egypt

In general, when talking to adoptees about their feelings regarding adoption, I try to take them at their word. In other words, if someone tells me they are fine with adoption, I don't immediately assume they are in denial. Nothing in my experience requires that all adoptees feel the same way I do to validate my own feelings.

I do understand why the "denial" charge is often bandied about. Many adoptees report feeling as though they have come out of a "fog" with respect their own attitudes about adoption. They explain their own stories with reference to their own denial. And given that the experience is common (if not ubiquitous), it is easy to think that other adoptees may be going through the same thing. And I have no doubt that some adoptees are in denial.

But I don't know someone else's heart. And even were I to suspect denial, it's not my place to share it with the person. Someone who is in denial will only dig their heels in if they are not ready to confront whatever it is. And someone who isn't in denial is just going to be turned off. So even when I do wonder, I keep my thoughts to myself.

But there is another form of "denial" in adoption. It is the tendency to deny the negatives of adoption.

Most people are willing to acknowledge, especially when confronted with cases, that there are bad outcomes in adoption. There are adoptees who are abused, neglected, and even murdered. But it seems a strong tendency to deny problems with adoption itself. These are just bad experiences, exceptions to the beauty that is adoption itself.

I suppose I understand. Parents (whether adoptive or biological) want to believe they are doing right by their children. If they believe that adoption itself is harmful, then they have to wonder about their own roles in that. Adoptees themselves do not want to be thought of as broken, damaged, or victims.

But it is the constant denial, that refrain, that keeps ringing in my ears. I don't mind the individual that looks to their own situation and sees it as a positive. But when that is generalized to all adoptions, what is being denied, by others, is my experience. In order to preserve adoption, adoptees who are angry about adoption are told that they are wrong.

That turns denial outward; it becomes a denial of the reality that many adoptees experience. And just as I don't accuse others of being in denial, I don't deny injustices and injuries that I don't experience. In other words, whether or not every adoptee experiences the injustices and injuries of adoption, that doesn't make them not real. Just because some individuals would rather believe that the world of adoption is just fine, doesn't make it so.

It's true that denial is not just a river in Egypt. And any adoptee who has ever spoken up about the problems of adoption can attest to it.

(Clearly, I have to quit reading adoption blogs that I stumble upon. At least, I have to quit reading the sunshine and rainbows blogs. I do appreciate all the positive comments on yesterday's post. I'm trying to talk myself into believing all of you, instead of the voices in my head.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Problem with Adoption

I'm almost sure I've talked about this before, but I've seen enough comments about bitter adoptees who have turned out badly because of crummy parents that I feel the need to revisit this. I apologize if I'm just repeating myself.

I often see adoptees who complain about adoption be dismissed because they had bad experiences. They should, it seems, be quiet so they don't ruin it for the children that will have wonderful experiences if only people are allowed to adopt them.

This response seems to be an attempt to explain away adoptees' concerns and criticisms. If it's just a matter of who our parents are, if they just messed up, then it isn't adoption that's the problem. We just got lousy parents. Thus, people are free to adopt as long as they aren't "lousy."

Here's the thing, my parents weren't lousy. Were they perfect? No, of course not. But they weren't lousy, either. Some adoptees did get lousy parents, which seems to me a doubly-whammy. Because if I'm this screwed up over adoption and I didn't get lousy parents, imagine how someone who did must feel.

Am I mad at my adoptive parents? No. Am I mad at my first mom? No. But that doesn't mean that I'm okay with my adoption.

Some people seem to be willing to admit that it wasn't the fault of my adoptive parents. But then they seem to want to turn it on me. There must be something wrong with me. Lots of adopted kids turned out okay and happy, so there must just be something broken in me.

I'm presenting ideas that I've seen elsewhere on the internet, without giving direct quotations because I'm not trying to take anyone to task. I'm after an idea, here, not people.

The problem I have, with all of this, is that it strikes me as so obviously delusional. Could that many adoptees just be screwed up? Could that many have had horrible parents? The answer, it seems, has to be no.

But the real problem for me is that all of this criticism of adoptees sows doubt in my skull. Did I just get lousy parents and not realize it? If so, does that mean that's what I should be pissed off about?

That doesn't seem right. Am I just broken inside?

And there it is. The worry that I'm broken. That's something is deeply wrong with me. I don't want to be happy. Or I'm incapable of it. That no matter what my life had been like, I would be a miserable person.

Am I a miserable person? Am I not okay? Not happy? I didn't think so. But all these defenders of adoption tell me that I must be. That the problem is I'm deeply flawed.

Why should I listen to them?

Because it's the predominant voice in our society. Our society lauds adoption, views it romantically, sees it in the best possible light. When that is the message you hear day-in and day-out, you begin to doubt yourself. You can't help it. I can't help it.

So even while I have always thought there was something deeply wrong with adoption, I have always kept it to myself. I knew it would just give people one more reason to think there was something different about me. Something wrong.

And when I see people dismiss adoptees and their concerns about adoption in these ways, I feel my deepest fears about myself confirmed. What if it's true? What if I'm broken?

I lash out, sometimes vehemently, against such criticism. Not because it really angers me, but because it cuts too close to home. It touches that deepest fear and brings it to the surface. Like a cornered animal I lash out, because there is nothing left to do.

Would it be better if I could quit listening to those voices? If I could just conquer that fear and let it go? Yes, of course. But it's so hard to quit listening when the voices seem everywhere, and there seem to be so few voices to counter them.

"You're broken. You're broken. You're broken."

Friday, November 27, 2009

In the Closet

Despite everything I've been through the last few years, I still don't talk about adoption much in my every day life. I can't say I don't think about it, but I often keep it to myself, even when it might be appropriate to inject it into a conversation.

I feel strongly about adoption, and about sealed records. These are things that matter to me. So why don't I talk about them more?

Maybe that question answers itself. As an adoptee, I have wanted to just fit in for so long. I don't like rocking the boat. I don't want to be considered weird or different. (I suspect this goes beyond merely my adoption, but I think it must play a part.) I was the odd one out in my (adoptive) family. And I just wanted to belong.

Bringing up adoption, and more so my feelings about it, would serve only to distinguish me, to make me stand out from the vast majority of people. So I regularly find myself holding my tongue, when all I want to do is correct misconceptions and to educated about the discrimination against adoptees.

I feel wrong about that. Yes, I blog about this stuff. Yes, I participate in activities online and in my every day life. But I keep so much of it private. And talking about it makes me feel so uncomfortable when I'm face-to-face with someone. I wish it weren't that way. I wish I could do it differently.

Maybe I'm getting better at it. But it's slow going. I do feel trapped in this facade. Trying to keep everyone comfortable and happy so that they don't have to deal with my realities. I'm thankful my wife is so supportive about these issues. I don't think I could take it if I had to keep them from her. But from so many others... I pretend to be a well-adjusted adoptee, when I often feel like anything but.

Well, that puts it wrong. I think I'm relatively well-adjusted. But I'm pretty opinionated about adoption. And I don't speak up as often as I might. Does that make me a phony? Or merely a pragmatist? What is a pragmatist but someone who is a phony with excuses?

For now, all I can do is try to educate people when it seems appropriate. And hope that I can extend my comfort of what counts as appropriate.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Being Thankful

I know that adoptees bristle at being told they should be grateful for having been adopted by their adoptive family. I know that I bristle at it. We shouldn't have to be grateful for that. As a result, the word "grateful" has become something of a four-letter word around adoptees. And I don't blame them.

And yet, on this day, it's hard not think about those things that I'm thankful for. This year, despite the turmoil, I do find myself when many things to be thankful for, in addition to my wife who has always been supportive in all of this.

I'm thankful we survived the spring flood, despite all the upheaval and damage it caused.

I'm thankful I found my brothers (my biological father's sons) and that they accepted me as their brother. I'm still working on how those relationships will play out, but I'm glad that I made that contact and it continues to go well, if slowly.

I'm thankful that my relationship with my (first) mom and her sons continues to go well. I miss them. And I wish I could see them more frequently. It's been almost a year since I've seen her, and almost two since I've seen my brothers.

I'm even thankful that my relationship with my (adoptive) mother is normalizing a little. I still feel awkward around her, and sometimes still a little upset for last year, but I feel like we're finding our way to a new normal. And that's a good thing.

There are things I have to be thankful about. I don't ever want to take them for granted.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Family Traditions

Last year at this time I mentioned my annual tradition of baking cookies the day before Thanksgiving. Then, I was very upset over my (adoptive) mom's decision to not be home for my holiday visit. This year, though our relationship is not exactly back to normal, making the cookies once more had the feeling of being a part of a long-standing family tradition.

I also made rugelach for my wife. She loves it, and I wanted to make something special for her. It has been part of this annual ritual for years. As usual, there are pictures on Over A Candle.

I wish there was something I could think of including in this day that would connect with my first family. I love the sugar cookies. And the rugelach is very tasty. These connect my childhood with my life now. But I would like something to bring in my first family, too.

My (first) mom has told me that she's made Christmas sugar cookies for decades. They probably aren't the same recipe as the cookies that I make (that recipe comes from my adoptive grandma, who made it up herself). Still, even though I suspect the recipes are different, I do feel like there is a bit of a connection through the sugar cookies.

It still feels good to have some tradition of my own, based on other traditions from my past. That I spend the day baking feels right, somehow. It puts me in the holiday spirit. It gives me some of the stability that I have long craved in my life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Positive Adoption Language

A blog post I stumbled upon in the last couple of days keeps poking at my brain, trying to get me to write something about it. I'm not sure what I need to say. I'm not sure I have anything to add to the debate about adoption language.

Maybe it doesn't have to be new, though. Maybe simply being another voice in the chorus will help get through to some people. Or maybe I'm just banging my head into the wall. Either way...

When I look at the typical lists of so-called "Positive Adoption Language," it just sets off so many emotional triggers.

One of the most well-known terms of PAL is "birthmother." There have been a number of very good articles written about why this term is offensive to women who have relinquished their children for adoption. (One good article on this point is "Why 'Birthmother' Means 'Breeder'" by Diane Turski.) For me, as an adoptee, I find it demeaning of my relationship with my (first) mom. She's not my "birthmother." It sounds wrong to me. And the term also doesn't help me talk about other people in my biological family. I don't have a "birthfather" (as Turski and others have pointed out). No man gave birth to me. And my brothers aren't my "birthbrothers." They weren't even born when I was born!

So why is this a "positive" term? What's positive about it? Is it just an alternative to "real mother" and "natural mother"? That's what it seems. So it's positive for adoptive parents. But it isn't positive for two-thirds of the so-called triad. So why is it the "correct" language? It's minimizing. And in the end, I find it offensive.

Similarly, when I see people claim that the correct language is "was adopted" rather than "is adopted," I want to scream. By turning my adoption into an event in the past, those who advocate such revisionist language seek to minimize the gigantic impact adoption has in my life, and the lives of other adoptees.

Also, we're not supposed to say that a child is "given up" for adoption. Rather, they were "placed for adoption." The idea is that being "given up" signifies that the child was discarded, that the child wasn't valued. But here's the thing... That's how adoptees often feel. We feel abandoned. We feel as though we've been given up.

Why is it "positive" to sugar-coat the experience of adoptees? To gloss over the pain that is too often a part of adoption? Who is it positive for? The adoption industry? I don't see the positive of this language. I see an attempt to alter reality. To deny reality. To deny the negatives of adoption.

I guess I would hope for some honesty in the way we talk about adoption. Language is important. It shapes ideas and opinions. And if we aren't willing to talk honestly about adoption, we cannot be sure we are doing right by the children that adoption is supposed to be about.

Me? I'm adoptee. I've been an adoptee most of my life. That's not going to change. I have four parents, one of whom still hasn't spoken to me. Two moms. Two dads. I only use adjectives to distinguish them when it's necessary. And I never use the "birth" adjective. If people don't like it... well... tough. This is my life, my experiences. I'm not going to listen to someone else tell me how to talk about it. Especially when their proposed language seems a denial of reality.

I think people need to ask themselves... Why do we feel such a need to pretty up the way we talk about adoption? Is it because people have a deep suspicion that there really is something wrong with adoption, and they need to bury it with language?

That would be my guess.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Guilt

I know no one is perfect. I really do. And I don't expect them to be perfect. I really don't. I think I am a patient person, a forgiving person. If for no other reason then that I know I am not perfect and need the forgiveness of others.

So I don't know why it's so hard for me to get over my disappointment at my mother's absence last Christmas. It's not like I think other parents are perfect. I know my dad isn't perfect. I know my first mom isn't perfect. I know other people's parents aren't perfect. So why can't I just let this go?

I don't know. I just don't.

But in making plans to visit family over the holidays, I made a hotel reservation. In the past, we have stayed with my mother. Because of my own conflicted feelings, I thought we should stay in a hotel. Then I started feeling guilty about that.

It seems like too much a slap in the face. Granted, I have no idea if my mother is going to be home when we visit. And if she is, I don't know if she wants us to stay with her. But if she will be there, and if she asks us, I think maybe I should just say yes.

Staying in a hotel wasn't an attempt at punishing her, but I worry that she would take it that way. I don't want to make the rift between us even wider. I'm not assuming that we will stay with her, but I want to leave open the possibility for now.

I just hope it's not a mistake.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fixing the Past

So often, in discussions abut adoption, I hear people talk about adoptees "getting over it" or "wanting to undo what has already happened" or some other such nonsense.

The mistake is thinking that, because we share our stories, what we want is sympathy for our traumas. The fact is, I don't want sympathy. I don't want to fix anything that has happened, and I'm perfectly capable of "getting over" any of my traumas without sharing them with perfect strangers online.

I believe I'm not alone in saying that I don't share my story with others in order to get sympathy. As people who know me personally could attest, I have a tendency not to share my feelings in general. Certainly not to get sympathy. Why I share my story is so that others my learn from my example.

I speak out against adoption so that I might prevent other children from going through its traumas. And I share my story so that other adoptees might know that they are not alone in feeling ambivalent about their own adoption.

I appreciate those people who have supported me in my own journey, both in person and online. And I'm glad for their friendship and companionship as we all struggle with this crazy little thing called life.

But my attempts at speaking out are aimed at helping those who have not found such support, and maybe - in my idealist fantasy - to help prevent someone else from knowing what I know.

Adoptees are not whiners. We are advocates for potential future adoptees. We don't want them to go through what we have.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

National Create More Lies Day

Today, across this country, in various courtrooms, many children were stripped of their identity. Their identities legally changed, birth certificates amended to show them born to people to whom they are no biologically related.

Feel good stories about new families being made abound. But no one wants to talk about the families that are destroyed to make adoption possible. How do we, as a nation, celebrate the trauma of these children?

Then I remember that Columbus has a national holiday. It all makes a little more sense.

If only people would be as interested in protecting the rights of these children, maybe we could have something to celebrate. Perhaps we could all donate to the Adoptee Rights Demonstration in honor of National Adoption Day.

In fact, that's what I think I'm going to do...

This isn't much of a post. But I hate this day. A lot. And I can't think of anything else to say.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Annual Rituals

This week, we made plans to visit family over the holidays. Once again, we'll be visiting my adoptive family. I'm okay with that, I think. I want to see my father. After losing his father this year, I want to be there for him.

Of course, this trip means that I'll see my mother, too. Possibly, that is. I haven't spoken to her in about a month. I honestly don't know if she will be home this holiday season or not.

To be honest, I'm not sure which I would prefer.

If she's not there, that would suck. To have her gone three years in a row from a holiday visit would seem absurd.

But if she is there, I have to wonder how it will go. In addition to making the airline reservations, I made a reservation at the hotel we stayed at last time. How will she react if we don't stay with her?

I am not trying to punish her. I'm not angry with her. I just don't feel right staying with her. And I'm worried that she will see it as a form of punishment, or revenge.

It's just that things aren't the same. I don't know that they ever were how I really saw them, but if so, they aren't that way now. And I don't know that they can ever go back. I feel the need to distance myself. I need to keep a part of me safe from the emotional turmoil that she causes in my life.

It still feels like an awful thing to say about my mother. But a year after she abandoned me, again, I still feel that way. I love her, and I want a relationship with her. But I don't know how to trust her. Not completely. Not now. Maybe not ever.

One more reason for me not to like the holidays.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pointing out the Obvious

There are some things I can't let go. When someone passes off crummy rhetoric as a competent argument, I have to point it out.

Today, in my Google alert on adoption, I received the following article, apparently from a news website focused on Northern Arizona. In it, the author links adoption to being anti-abortion. This is, as nearly any adoptee can tell you, incredibly problematic. But before we even get to the crummy adoption part, we have to wade through the crummy anti-abortion part.

Adoption is solution to abortion issue:

The first excuse given is the most common: A woman should have rights over her own body. This is probably the easiest point to argue against. If a woman has rights over her body, mothers should be allowed to drink and smoke with their children inside them.

Pregnant and non-pregnant women should be allowed to do heroin, cocaine and meth. Legalize all illicit drugs, and acquit all those guilty of attempted murder by means of fetal alcohol syndrome. To say a woman has free reign over her own body is to allow her to dissolve drug laws and mistreat an unborn baby.

There are several problems with this "reasoning." The first, and most obvious, is that it assumes something which is actually a major point of contention in the abortion debate. It assumes the fetus is a child with rights. While some pro-choice advocates have argued that this is an irrelevant point, it is clearly a controversial point that many arguments on both sides turn on. What the author has done has assumed something that must be argued for. He uses that assumption to make his case. It's called begging-the-question, and it is a well-known fallacy.

Further, he assumes that something being illegal is also immoral. But that grants the law too much (and too little) connection to morality. Many things are against the law that are not immoral. (What side of the street you drive on, for instance, is determined by the law, not morality.) Other things have been legal but are not (and never were) moral, such as slavery. The law cannot serve as moral justification. At best, the law is an attempt to codify morality. The author reverses this, suggesting that the law justifies morality.

Then there is the whole business about "illicit drugs." This is a slippery slope fallacy. Recognizing that people have the right to self-determination is not identical with allowing them to do absolutely anything with their body. There are lots of well-worn examples of the slippery slope fallacy.

That's three fallacious bits of reasoning in one argument. That would be impressive if it were intentional. As it is, it's just sad. I hate to think how little critical thinking goes on in the majority of people.

As far as that goes, I might as well have posted this on my regular blog. (Indeed, it's a nice rant along the lines of what often appears at Over a Candle.) But then he gets to the adoption part of the insanity.

But many ask: Why should a woman have to spend her life with the child? She doesn’t have to. The answer is simple: adoption.

To pregnant rape victims: My sincerest sympathies to you, and may your burdens be eased. However, a piece of advice in your suffering: Abortion does not solve rape. Adoption, however, gives another couple a chance to have a beautiful baby boy or girl.

Most of this ground has been tread by many people in many different places. I think I was struck by how flagrant an example this is of someone who is clearly ignorant about the complexity of adoption.

Somehow, it's okay to make a woman go through nine months of a pregnancy and the discomfort and dangers of childbirth because we're not going to make her spend her life with the child. Never mind the damage done to both mother and child with adoption. At least she won't have to raise the kid.

In one paragraph, we go from "sincere sympathy" for rape victims to the real motivation behind adoption: babies for other couples. No real concern for the women who were raped. No concern for mothers coerced out of their children. And absolutely no regard for the children who are stripped of their identity and put through the adoption mill.

I'm tired of being a solution for other people's problems. Adoptees, whether children or adults, are people. They are not gifts. They are not solutions.

Do I really have to say that again?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holding My Tongue

Should I have said something? I don't know.

I was with some students tonight. I am the advisor for a student organization and we were playing a game. One of the students got a text from her father. And a couple of the students joked that he was telling her she was adopted.

I stayed quiet. It was a joke. And no one seemed to be saying anything nasty. But I didn't really understand why they thought it was funny. They are students. They are young and say a lot of things that they don't think about first. They don't know I'm adopted. They don't know what it means to me, how it has affected me. It isn't really appropriate for me to talk to them about all of this.

So I said nothing. And I really am not sure I did the right thing. I mean, this is important to me. I want to educate others about the importance of adoptee rights. And I certainly don't think people should use adoption as a way to tease one another.

But I kept it to myself. I feel badly that I did. I guess I'm just not comfortable outing myself in that setting. Maybe I should be, but I wasn't. And now I find myself wondering what I could have done differently.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Adoptee Rights: Louisville, KY - July 25, 2010

Just this morning, I realized that I have let way too much time go by without either saying anything about the Adoptee Rights Demonstration or, at the very least, updating the badge in the right-hand column. I need to correct that failure now.

On July 25, 2010 adoptees and their supporters will gather in Louisville, Kentucky for the purpose of demonstrating on behalf of the rights of adoptees. The demonstration is organized to coordinate with annual conference for state legislators. This is an opportunity to raise awareness of discrimination faced by adoptees and help work towards legislation that will restore our rights.

This third annual demonstration is the first that I will finally be able to attend. I have been dying to attend this gathering over the last two years, and my schedule was uncooperative. Now I think the stars have finally aligned and will allow me attend and gather with my fellow adoptees.

I hope that you can join us. If you are an adoptee, or if you support adoptees, I hope you will attend or, if you are unable to attend, might consider supporting our efforts in other ways. Spreading the word about the issue, about the demonstration is one way to help. Writing your legislators, letting them know that there are many people who support adoptee rights is another. There are numerous ways to get involved. I hope that you will consider helping.

If you are interested in the demonstration, please click on the badge to the right. Or follow this link: Adoptee Rights Louisville.

Please support adoptees. We deserve equal treatment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Profiting from Adoption Loss

So we've had The Locator on television for awhile now. And it looks like ABC will premier Find My Family next week. Both are shows that seek to reunite families that have lost contact. In many cases (though I gather, from what I've heard of The Locator, not always) these are families that have been broken up by adoption. So now we get the feel good reunion stories.

I feel torn. I am glad that these families are being reunited. I'm glad that good reunion stories are out there in public, as it may gain supporters for adoptee rights.

But it just doesn't feel right. Search and reunion are so personal. These are real people (I assume) and real lives. The pain and suffering experienced by a child who loses his or her family is not, should not be, the source of prime-time entertainment. It shouldn't be a source of entertainment at all. A child loses his or her family. And then we compound that loss by broadcasting the reunion on national television.

Am I wrong to doubt that this is a good thing? Do the benefits outweigh the problems? Should we hope that this helps the cause and gets people thinking positively about reunion, and celebrate the reunions that are facilitated by this work? Is it okay to serve this up to the masses and not raise questions about it?

I just don't know. I don't know. I'm tired of people using adoptees for profit. I want us to be people, not commodities. Is that so much to ask? If the government would simply give us our birth certificates, these reunion shows would be unnecessary.


Sunday, November 15, 2009


One of the things I worry about in talking about issues in adoption, particularly my issues, is that I'm going to over-pathologize adoption.

I do think that adoption harms children. I think its harm is real, describable, and something to avoid. But I do not think that adoptees are irreparably broken. I do not think we are damaged goods.

Adoptees are some of the strongest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. They are resourceful. They deal with adversity, and they fight for what they believe in. They are competent, functioning, and contributing members of society. They are not hopeless and broken.

Having said that, they shouldn't have to have put up with the adversity that they have. They shouldn't have been put through that emotional turmoil. They should have been free to grow and develop without losing their identity.

Adoptees are survivors. But they shouldn't have had to be.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Numbers Game

How many adoptees want their original birth certificates? How many biological parents don't want their information given out to adoptees?

The first question is something opponents to open records like to use to argue against open records. The second question is ignored, or if it's addressed, it is argued that it's irrelevant.

The reason behind why opponents like to toss around claims about how many adoptees want open records is obvious. As I discussed last week in my post "The Rhetoric of Marginalization," opponents want to paint a picture that it's only a small minority of adoptees who want open records. Given that collecting such numbers is nigh impossible (because no one even knows how many adoptees are out there, much less where), such arguments should be easily dismissed.

Because of the trouble getting hard numbers, this is a hard argument to refute, but it should also be pointed out that it's irrelevant. It doesn't matter if only a few adoptees want equal treatment. It is something that belongs to us a civil right, even if only a fraction of us want to assert it. (This seems unlikely to me, but I don't pretend to have evidence.)

The number of biological parents who aren't interested in sealed records seems more clearly on our side. The range I usually see bandied about is that somewhere between 90% and 95% of biological mothers want their children to have access to their original birth certificate. The response, however, is obvious: we cannot allow the majority to trump the rights of the minority. It doesn't matter what the majority want; the minority has rights that should be protected.

In general, I believe, this form of argument has merit. The minority ought to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. But the specifics don't support sealed records; indeed, the case is the reverse.

Opponents of open records suggest that the majority of adoptees don't want open records, and that fact is somehow supposed to support the invented right of anonymity for biological parents. But no such right truly exists. And in as much as it exists in practice, it should be trumped by the adoptee's right to their identity, a human right if ever there was one.

It is incumbent upon the opponents to show the basis for the supposed right to anonymity, and then to show that such a right is somehow more basic than the right to one's identity.

Failing this, opponents attempt to change the conversation to a discussion about what the majority wants. This is a losing argument for either side to rely on. We cannot find definitive numbers (so either side can make themselves look good with bogus surveys and the like). And what the majority wants is irrelevant to what rights people ought to have. Human rights are not things that can be given up just because the majority want to (or, more commonly, want to take them away from some minority group).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Different But Equal

Problem-solving usually requires creativity. I always think of that when I get into discussions about being anti-adoption. People always think of worst-case scenarios and wonder, "what about the children?" (I'm going to ignore the rampant corruption for now, which too often gives the lie to the feigned concern for the children.)

If we don't have adoption, how we will care for the children who are abused, abandoned, or otherwise cannot be cared for by their parents?

The mere fact that the only solution people can think of is adoption points to the lack of imagination necessary to solve various problems. We think the only solution to children who need love and care is to falsify family records and relationships.

Adoption itself, the language used and the way it is viewed by society, helps to mask the problems that give rise to it.

Adoption, as I've pointed out before, involves loss. A child loses his or her parents. Either they cannot or will not care for him or her. That is a loss.

When we "create" familial relationships through adoption, we cover over the loss, making grieving that loss more complicated. Instead of acknowledging that loss, allowing the child to grieve it, acknowledging the complexities that arise with new familial relationships - ones created by the law instead of by biology - instead of all of that, we pretend as though the problem has been solved.

Rather, all we've done is bury the problem. We complicate an already complicated situation. By insisting on using the term "mother" for the adoptive mother, we confuse and obscure what is already an emotionally dangerous arrangement.

Don't misunderstand me. An adoptive mother may be as important, or more so, emotionally as the biological mother. But she isn't the biological mother. But because we think in such simplistic terms, we co-op the term, and then insist that it doesn't indicate the biological relationship.

I get the impulse. We want to make the situation as easy for the child as possible. We don't want to confuse him or her. Tell the child "I'm your mommy now" makes it easy for the child in conversations with other kids. Trying to explain the intricacies of adoption to the child in terms that will make it possible for the child to explain it to other children is too much for the child to accept. I'm sure that's how we can explain it in terms of thinking about the welfare of the child.

But is it worth to save the child that heartache only to cause more lasting problems? Instead of facing up to the complexities in adoption, and trying to address them, we'd rather ignore them.

I really think we need to jettison adoption and it's problematic terminology and thinking. We need to recognize that there are many important people in our lives, from our childhood on. Parents are important. But so are teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, mentors, friends of the family, and the like. For some people, like myself, there were other people who were crucial in our lives. They weren't our parents (biologically-speaking) but they raised us and cared for us. Did they do it only because we call them my parents? No. They did it for ten months before they legally became my parents. Why gloss over our relationship with the same words we use for other relationships? Why pretend that I didn't lose my parents at a young age by calling other people my parents?

We need to think about this in more robust ways. We can invent institutions and language that honors the complex origin of those people we currently call adoptees. I have to believe we, as human beings, have more creativity than this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Understanding Loss

My sister-in-law had a miscarriage. This was a year ago. I know that it was a year ago not simply because of the brief blog post about it but because she posts about it on Facebook. She still mourns the loss of her son.

I feel badly for her. And I've certainly never noticed that anyone on her Facebook account has ever told her she needs move past it, to get over it.

I think it stands out for me because it reminds me of the loss inherent in adoption. I see this woman mourning for her child. And I see the outpouring of support for her.

And I'm befuddled by the failure of people to understand the loss of relinquishment. I don't pretend to know what she's going through. But I know she hurts. And she deserves understanding.

And it bothers me that the loss of adoption requires so much explanation, and is so easily dismissed by others. A parent loses a child, and a child loses a parent. And we are supposed to spend the entire month of November celebrating this sort of thing? Celebrating?

Further, no one doubts that my sister-in-law was her son's mother. No one questions that. And they shouldn't.

And yet, some of the insensitive people I've seen talk about adoption refuse to acknowledge that the biological parents ARE parents. They give weird definitions that entail your mother is the person who raises you, is the person that is always there for you. These descriptions would entail that my sister-in-law is not a mother, but I don't know anyone insensitive enough to make that claim. Yet people have no trouble doing it when it comes to biological parents who relinquish.

I have sympathy for my sister-in-law. And I'm not sure I feel right dragging her story into this discussion. I don't mean to minimize, in any way, the loss she has experienced and continues to experience. But the mind boggles when I see people deny the loss of adoption.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm reminded once more of the pitfalls of having only casual interactions with people on Facebook.

One of my brothers, one of my bio-father's sons, posted something on Facebook asking why deer always wait to cross the road right before a car comes. I was feeling badly that I hadn't really written to him in a while, so I wrote something back about getting to the other side, and then said I hoped everyone was okay.

He wrote back and said that they were. But this morning, a friend of his wrote that he thought it had something to do with chickens. And my brother wrote that it wasn't funny.

And I got worried. Had my lame attempt at humor offended him? I don't know him, and he doesn't know me. Had he misunderstood my comment? Or had he understood, but thought it was in poor taste? I don't know him, so I don't know how to take his response to his friend.

This internet reunion thing is crazy-making. Maybe if we met in person he would hate me.

Why do I care? Why do I fret about this? Why does it matter whether someone I don't know likes me?

Ugh. Some days I wish I could just forget all of this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I'm not sure why, but sometimes I feel like a fake. I can't quite explain it.

I know adoptees who were abused. Adoptees whose biological parents were lied to. Adoptees who were lied to for decades about being adopted. Adoptees who have been denied by their biological family. Adoptees who have found graves or never found anything.

What do I have to complain about? What pain have I experienced?

I feel like I don't have the right to talk about adoption. I feel like I had it good, and I ought to be happy with what I've got.

Maybe that seems silly. Or maybe it's the gratefulness shtick. Or maybe something like Catholic guilt. I don't know.

I just don't feel right being upset about adoption.

And yet, I am upset about it. And I don't know how to stop being upset about it, so I just keep hoping no one finds out that I have no right to complain.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Conflict of Interest

I just got back from my monthly search/reunion support group. It's open to adoptees, relinquishing parents, and adoptive parents. And it's run out of a family services center. A service center that facilitates adoptions. And I try not to think about that.

You see, when this whole thing started, I needed to be able to talk to people. I needed face-to-face support. I think I still do. And I also want to be there for other adoptees going through this emotional roller-coaster of adoption, search, and reunion.

And yet, it's a group, run by an agency that, among many other helpful services, facilitates adoptions. And the group is facilitated by social workers who both search on behalf of adoptees and natural mothers, as well as oversee adoptions.

As a result, it's hard to feel free to speak my mind about adoption. I don't want a group I do nothing about rant about adoption. But I want a place where I can be angry about adoption. Where I can express my anger about society's views, the proliferation of adoption, and the denial of basic human rights to adoptees.

When we are talking about individual stories and situations, the social workers are helpful and supportive. The group is good. But every now and then, somehow we get on the topic of adoption in more general terms. And I feel like I have to sit there with a fake smile plastered on my face. I glaze over and wish I were somewhere else.

I wish I had an unaffiliated support group to attend. Especially one just for adoptees. But I will still go to this one for now. I do find it helpful. And I do want to be there for others. I just wish that it was more socially acceptable to question adoption. Until people begin to understand the harm adoption inflicts, there is no incentive to look for alternatives.

And yes, that makes me angry.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Twin Traumas

There are two things that seem to be everywhere. Adoption has popped up in the strangest places, as though it won't let me forget it. That seems to have been increasingly the case over the last few years. The other one is divorce.

I've been "lucky" enough to live through both. And they each affected me in different ways.

Brodzinsky, et al., compare and contrast the losses suffered by children of adoption and children of divorce. I get to reflect on how they can reinforce one another. After all, when one set of parents abandons you, it sets you up to think that relationships are impermanent things. Who knows when the next person will leave.

And with divorce, they do just that. You go from two new parents, back to one (depending on the custody arrangement). And when it happens at a relatively young age, it's hard to really understand that it's not about you, and that it won't keep happening.

So as I'm watching the season finale of Mad Men tonight, I'm struck by the scene where the two leads sit the children down to explain that daddy won't be living in the house anymore. All I can think about is how unfair this is to the children. I want to scream at the parents that their own shit is stupid, that they need to suck it up and do what's right for their kids. Never mind that they can't figure out how to make their relationship work, they have a responsibility to those kids, and their divorce is going to mess with them for the rest of their lives.

My reaction to this story is nearly as visceral as my reaction to every dumb adoption story I've seen on television since I started seeing adoptions stories on television. I hate how children are treated, and I hate how self-absorbed adults can be. Yes, it sucks to be responsible for another human being, but you had a kid, suck it up and be the adult.

I know it's just a television show. And I know this is the sort of thing that happens. But it still bothers me. I hate that it happens. What bothers me more is that we have little trouble recognizing the harm that divorce does to children. But we are still so unwilling to acknowledge the harm adoption does.

Maybe I just need to quit watching television.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I think I have search on the brain right now. I'm not exactly sure why. But there it is, and I figure I should just run with it.

However, in my fixation about thinking through the issue of search, I want to be clear about something. The NCFA and other opponents to equal rights for adoptees would have you believe that open records is about search and reunion. It's not, and that is important.

By conflating the two issues, the NCFA avoids the equal rights argument and tries to suggest that what we are fighting for is the right to have relationships with our biological families. Of course, no one has the right to any relationship, so it seems easier to refute this position. It's called a straw man, and it's a fallacy. But if done well, it can be rhetorically effective.

The fact of the matter is, adoptees have a right to access government documents about themselves, the same documents every other citizen has access to. It doesn't matter for what purpose they want them. These are their documents. They have a right to them. We have a right to them.

Open records is simply about giving us the same rights everyone else has. It's about providing us access to documents that no other person is denied.

The issue of search is important. And it requires each adoptee to decide how to approach it, how they need to go about answering the questions, for themselves. Some may never search. But it is their decision.

The issue of open records is about equality and civil rights. We are owed these documents. And any discussion that avoids that simple observation is really avoiding the true issue. This is what it's about. And anyone who cares about adoptees should support open records.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Rhetoric of Marginalization

There are a number of commercials on television now whose first line of dialogue begins with the word "Fact!" Indeed, I just saw an Advil commercial that begins that way.

Of course, many times, what follows the exclamation "Fact!" in such commercials is almost never an actual fact. This is a corollary of something I often tell my students: Whenever someone uses the word "clearly" or "obviously," what follows is almost never clear or obvious.

I thought of this as I was doing a little bit of research for today's post. I was looking through various materials trying to recall where I had read that, according to the NCFA, few adoptees search for their biological families. Sure enough, it was in their "Adoption Factbook IV." In several articles, they claim that few adoptees search. Those who do are in the minority. And yet, curiously, they don't cite evidence for this "fact." They simply assert it over and over again. (This is the same method George W. Bush used to "prove" that Iraq had WMD.)

Of course, the NCFA has a vested interest in maintaining the perception that few adoptees search. There are political and economic motivations. Further, in perpetuating the perception that few adoptees search, they help discourage more adoptees from searching. If adoptees who are considering searching are told that it is abnormal to search, they are less likely to do it.

The reasons why are clear enough. There is, as I pointed out yesterday, a great deal of ambivalence for many adoptees regarding searching. There are emotional obstacles to doing so. Putting out the message that they would be in the minority of they searched simply reinforces those inherent obstacles.

I think that's part of why that passage I quoted yesterday from Being Adopted seems so important to me. Every adoptee searches. Every adoptee goes through these questions. How they resolve them varies. And I won't sit here and say that there is only one right way to resolve them. For me, I needed to hear the story from her. If someone else doesn't, that's okay. But that doesn't mean the person hasn't thought about the story, hasn't asked him or herself the questions.

Every adoptee needs to know that it is not unusual to ask these questions, to want to find some answers. They should be allowed to grapple with them in their own way, at their own pace, to be sure. But this repeated message that "most adoptees don't search" is harmful. Adoptees who hear it learn to stuff their curiosity and their emotions regarding their origins. However they decide to resolve these issues, they should be allowed the freedom to do so in their own way. They shouldn't have to hear, over and over again, how one way of doing so is strange and something most (normal?) adoptees never do.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Every Adoptee Searches

When I started actively searching for my first mom, I started getting a little crazy. The emotional turmoil of deciding to move forward with a search, the waiting, the wondering, the ambivalence, the feelings of disloyalty... All of it drove me a little mad. (For those that know me, a little MORE mad.)

I began scouring the internet for resources to help me. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I didn't really know anyone adopted when I was growing up (or really, until I got into reunion), so I didn't know how other adoptees felt about this. I just wanted some insights into what I was going through.

I stumbled upon a review of Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by Brodzinsky, et al. I ordered it from Amazon and began devouring it immediately. The book was a life-saver in many ways: for the first time in my life I realized I wasn't alone in how I felt about adoption. I think that's why the book is still the first one I recommend to anyone when it comes to books about adoption.

One passage, in the first half of the book, has stuck with me:

We are often asked, "What percentage of adoptees search for their birth parents?" And our answer surprises people: "One hundred percent." In our experience, all adoptees engage in a search process. It may not be a literal search, but it is a meaningful search nonetheless. It begins when the child first asks, "Why did it happen?" "Who are they?" "Where are they now?"

Those questions are some of the earliest ones I can remember. Asking them helped shape my childhood and, ultimately, my identity.

We usually take "search" in such a literal way. And it is heavy with implications and pitfalls. What does it say about our feelings towards adoption, towards our adoptive family, towards ourselves? But I have to believe every adoptee searches, in precisely the way that Brodzinsky and his co-authors suggest.

Some adoptees may resolve those questions without ever performing a literal search. Or some might abandon the search before it ever gets that far. But I have trouble believing that any adoptee never asks these, and related, questions. Never wonders about where they came from.

Those questions, that wondering, is a form of search. We may forgo carrying it through to the end, to finding out real answers, but the questions are always there to be asked.

I'm glad I found some of my answers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rebelling and Adoption

One of the things that has been amazing for me during my reunion with my first mom is how similar we are. Our interests, our fears, our peculiar neuroses... I had long suspected that, in the nurture versus nature debate, nature had a lot to do with things.

That's not to say nurture doesn't have a role to play. I know that my (adoptive) family had an impact on the person I would become. That was never really in doubt.

But I have to admit I didn't fully appreciate the nature side of this until I reunited with my mom. I know that not every adoptee experiences the connection that I did. For me, though, it was huge. My mom noticed it, too, as she has said a number of times that she thinks she and I have more in common than she does with any of her other boys.

And I've thought about that. I know that often, when children are raised by their biological parents, they often go in very different directions than their parents. Academics often don't have children who are particularly interested in school. Very religious parents often find their children are somewhat apathetic towards religion (or vice versa).

Which has gotten me thinking... Am I so much like her because she wasn't around to rebel against? Instead of rebelling against those parts of me that are most like her in order to establish my own, separate identity, it seems as though I embraced those parts. Maybe as a way to hang on to whatever connection with her I had even in her absence?

I don't pretend to fully understand human psychology, or even my own psychology. I never really took an interest in developmental psych. But I have to admit this question fascinates me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Demons of Adoption Awards 2009

Just a quick note to let you all know that the annual Demons of Adoption Award was announced by Pound Pup Legacy yesterday. The "winner" was Bethany Christian Services. From the announcement:

To raise a voice against adoption propaganda and the self congratulatory practices of CCAI's annual Angels in Adoption AwardsTM, Pound Pup Legacy initiated the Annual Demons of Adoption in 2007. This year there were many 'worthy' nominees, but members and visitors of PPL's website decided Bethany Christian Services to be most deserving to receive the award. Bethany Christian Services has over the years used coercive tactics on pregnant women to obtain infants for adoption and has used its influence, both in the US and abroad to create 'orphans' to further expand their business.

You can read the whole announcement, with a lot of history of the adoption industry and it's self-congratulatory "Angels in Adoption Awards," at Pound Pup Legacy: Bethany Christian Services recipient of the Demons of Adoption Awards 2009. It's a really informative read. It's also a pretty disturbing read.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Identity is a social construction. Who we are is shaped, in part, by the messages we receive starting at a very young age. It is not just that, of course. And there are elements that are ingrained in us from birth. Our temperament, for instance, is basic building block of our personality. It helps shape our reactions to things that happen to us.

So many different bits play a role in shaping our identity, it's hard to tease them all out and understand how they impact us. All of which leaves us with a temptation to oversimplify the situation. We want to point to just one thing, or a couple of things as essential to our identity. But we have to resist that impulse.

When I try to explain the importance of reclaiming my original birth certificate, it usually results in blank stares. "I have my birth certificate and it didn't affect my identity." Of course, the person who says that cannot really know it didn't affect his or her identity. They've always had that information.

The adoptee who lacks it often can't escape the sneaking suspicion that something magical might be contained in that document. That something essential to identity is hidden there, and they are being kept from it.

While I don't deny I have, at times, been tempted to overblow the importance of my OBC, part of me isn't sure that it's possible. After all, it is a part of my identity, and something I should have.

Maybe even more than the information is what it symbolizes. After all, when I did get my OBC, I already knew what it said. But that isn't why I wanted it anymore. I wanted it because it returned to me a measure of control. A measure of what was lost all those years ago. I got back a bit of power over how my identity could be defined.

There is a power in these kinds of symbols. It is obvious that there is power or groups wouldn't be trying so hard to keep adoptees from them. They wouldn't be trying so hard to keep us from reclaiming this piece of ourselves. And the harder they try to keep them sealed, the more adoptees become convinced that there really is something magical hidden inside.

What could be more magical than a piece of yourself?

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The comment left on Tuesday's post has had me thinking.

I was struck by the fears that Shari, an adoptive parent, expressed about failing her daughter and how her daughter might feel about her later in life. I suspect that many adoptive parents would be able to relate. The one that stuck with me most forcefully was the fear that her daughter might one day hate her.

I can honestly say I don't know too many adoptees that hate their adoptive parents. I'm sure there are a few. Many of those, I suspect, were abused and have good reasons. And there may be some who weren't abused and still hate their adoptive parents. But there are also biological children who hate their biological parents. It happens. But I suspect it's rare.

That's not to say I don't understand the fear at all. I do have some sense of it. Indeed, I often don't talk to my (adoptive) parents about adoption. I suspect that even if they could hear my feelings about it without feeling as though it's about them, they might still feel upset. They might wonder if they did something wrong.

The answer is, they didn't. I mean, sure, they did things wrong. What parent doesn't? But they didn't do anything wrong to adopt me. Just because I hate adoption doesn't mean I hate them. I don't. I don't think I ever have.

They made mistakes. They were bound to. No parent, adoptive or otherwise, can avoid making mistakes. And children, adopted or biological, survive those mistakes. And most, I think, don't forever hold them against their parents.

I don't know if it's useful to hear me say this, but I've been thinking about it a lot the last few days, and I wanted to put it out there.