Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Study Findings of Adoption Stereotypes in the Media

I am always posting about how disheartened that I am with the media's portrayal of adoptees.  My biggest bone to pick has always been that the media goes beyond accurate portrayal of adoption or telling of an event involving adoption, and into enforcing damaging stereotypes of the actual people who live adoption every day.  Adoption is an institution; we should be able to discuss it without portraying unhealthy and condemning views of entire groups of people.

My most recent annoyance with this issue was the Sony commercial where a gentleman playing a woman's father growled "you're adopted!" at her to try to distract her from dominating the game the family was playing.  Another recent appearance of adoption in the media was the reporting of an adoptee who was adopted from Mexico that various media sources used to bring up the topic of deportation.

The 2009 study I just read reviewed news stories on adoption from 2001 to 2005 (309 stories).  They researched the common types of adoption-related stories that tend to make the news (e.g. fraud, crime) as well as the impact it might have on perpetuating negative stereotypes of the individuals involved in adoption.

The quote is from the abstract:
"Adoptees as defective or unhealthy were depicted more in negative news event stories, birth parents appeared less overall, and adoptive parents were most likely to have healthy depictions in positively oriented adoption experience, big family, and reunion stories. Although three quarters of the stories used primary adoption participants as news sources, one-third of the negative event stories did not contain healthy depictions of adoption participants. The authors discuss ways journalists and researchers might improve adoption news coverage."
The study seemed to suggest the interchangeability of a positive portrayal of adoption with the positive portrayal of individuals impacted by adoption.  In essence, stigmas against adoption participants are partly due to which types of stories (crime, fraud) the media pushes most.  They discussed that stigmatization may also result from poor word choices and reporting.

I agree to an extent.  I do think that the media uses poor word choices and often specifically chooses to represent a generalization of adoptees or a specifically negative portrayal of an adoptee as a person, rather than sticking to the issue being discussed.  I do not, however, see promoting a singularly positive view of adoption as being synonymous with portraying a positive view of individuals impacted by adoption.  Thinking well of the institution of adoption does not mean that a given person will think well of the individuals living adoption, or understand their needs past stereotypes.

Reference:
Kline, S. L., Chatterjee, K., & Karel, A. I. (2009). Healthy Depictions? Depicting Adoption and Adoption News Events on Broadcast News. Journal of Health Communication, 14(1), 56-69. doi:10.1080/10810730802592254

Photo credit:  jscreationzs

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Quote From What I'm Reading: The Sins of the Fathers

I am continuing to read a book I have referenced here on my blog several times,"The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered."  It is a information-packed read, but one I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about adoption history.  The book is not about adoption; it is about the history of church views on illegitimacy vs. the state's views of illegitimacy, as they would pertain to the formation of the view of illegitimacy held in the United States.  Witte covers Biblical views of illegitimacy, Roman Law, church law, English Law, and more, and how church and state views have intertwined throughout history.

Why is it a good tool in understanding the history of adoption?  The categorization of both legitimate and illegitimate individuals and thus the resulting disbursement of inheritance, as well as the consequences dealt to the parents and the resulting children, in addition to the lack of support for those in need, created situations where children needed to be cared for by others.  Indeed, to understand adoption's history, one must be aware of what has lead children to be adopted in the first place, and illegitimacy is very much a part of that.  

Adoption, in Roman law and Medieval canon law, was seen to legitimize children.  The English common law rejected the legitimization of children by adoption; neither did the early American law which was based upon the English common law.  Adoption was one of the law changes in the United States that provided for the legitimization of  illegitimate children seen to both legitimize the child as well as provide an heir for a couple with no children.

The book is an interesting read.  While I benefited from the knowledge of legal and religious history it provided, I disagreed with a lot of the conclusions of the book.  Namely, that illegitimate birth is the root of problems and that adoption will solve those problems as well as should be promoted as an alternative to abortion.

The quote:
"American law slowly drew the sting and stigma from traditional common law of illegitimacy.  Illegitimacy laws still remain on the books today, but they have been reduced to dead or dying letters in most American states.  The rights and best interests of the child, regardless of its birth status, are now the dominant legal logic respecting all children" (Witte, 2009, p. 135).
While not mentioned in the book but something many of us born in the U.S. are very aware of, our birth certificates were initially amended and sealed largely to hide the "illegitimate" labels once placed on the birth certificates of individuals born out of wedlock.  While many of the laws of illegitimacy have lost their power, adult adoptees are still being made to go through enormous lengths just to have access to birth documentation, based on these antiquated laws.  Have the laws of illegitimacy really lost their sting and impact?

Reference:
Witte, J., (2009). The Sins of the Fathers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Photo credit:  jscreationzs

Monday, December 20, 2010

December's Online Art Exhibit: Carlynne Hershberger

Introducing: December's Online Art Exhibit.  This is the first entry of a series of entries I am going to (attempt) to do monthly, featuring an artist who has been impacted by adoption.

Carlynne Hershberger

Carlynne Hershberger is an artist, teacher, author, blogger, and First Mother. You may be familiar with her blog "One Option Means No Choice."  She has given me permission to share some of the amazing adoption-related pieces she has done so far for her series "Silent Voices" (working title).  Carlynne creates these masterpieces using colored pencil as well as a variety of other media.  Please enjoy browsing some of her amazing artwork.  The descriptions below each image are written by Carlynne about each piece.




Self Portrait

This piece was the one that got me thinking about doing a series about adoption. I did a sketch for this years ago but just in recent years did it in color. When someone goes through abuse or a trauma like the natural mother does when losing a child it can leave a fracture like nothing else. This represents me and the fractured self both before and after reunion. I included the letters BFA (baby for adoption) for the signs that were put on the door to my hospital room and on the wall above my bed.
------



Secrets
The reference for this one is a photo of my daughter when she was a little girl. For 22 years she was a faceless child to me. I'd look everywhere I went at girls who were about the age she would be at that time and wonder..... The large dark space to her right is her missing heritage.
------


Reflect Here
This one is about the Magdalene Laundries. The story of these women and girls imprisoned in Ireland really struck a chord with me. I was raised Catholic and my daughter was born in 1980. The last of these laundries didn't close until 1996 so the first thought I had was.... this could've been me. The only thing that kept me out of that situation was geography. 
------


Expectations
Collaged in the background of the canvas are bible pages that speak about fornication. The white lilies are the young women expected to remain virginal and pure. The lilies are caught in a web of gold - the shaming of us by our religion.
------



Birthday Wish
When my daughter turned 18 I baked a cake for her and we wished her a happy birthday. That was the beginning of the search for her. On this canvas I wanted to represent the other mothers who lost children so I asked natural mothers to send me their names and the birthdates of their children I would paint them in. The birthday is the hardest day of the year for mothers of adoption loss.

------



All images in this entry are copyrighted and property of Carlynne Hershberger; used with permission on this blog.  For more of Carlynne, please check out her links:  

And her Etsy store......

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Exploring how Adoption Helped Define me


I am thinking about the post I made yesterday and about BJ Lifton's quote that I incorporated.  She wrote about an adopted person's two selves.  The self one is the adopted self and the other self is what might have been if they had not been adopted.  Some adoptees wonder what it would have been like to have been raised by their original family.  They may do so based on scant information or misinformation.  Reunion presents a challenge of piecing together what you thought you knew and what you know now.  Then you must decide how that fits into the story of your life.  Do I have these two selves; if so, what do they look like?

There are some things I am sure would be the same about me had I not been adopted.  I think no matter where I was raised I would have been a passionate, people-loving person.  I like to think I would always believe in hard work and do what I believe is right.  I would still rely on the help and comfort of those around me through hard times.  I would still always want to learn something more.  I would still be tall, stubborn, and "too outspoken to be ladylike" (a description bestowed upon me by a high school teacher).

My Adopted Self?
  • I just watched part of a Bruce Springsteen concert on TV with my husband and my husband said "you know he's from Jersey."  I said "well yeah!"
  • I roll my eyes every time I see a commercial for "Jersey Shore" (MTV show).
  • I know how to make a cheese steak...the right way.
  • I can identify lots of little seashore creatures.
  • I was an athlete and sports was a favorite past time of mine.
  • I was raised an only child.
  • I had never known a biological relative or seen someone who looked like me.
  • I had no family medical history.
  • I did not know my ancestry.
  • I was raised Presbyterian.
  • I can't fish, at all.  Have never been hunting either.
  • Never had a garden.  Don't have a green thumb.
My Biologically Raised Self?
  • I suppose I would puff up with pride about another state, that's far away, and know all the inside jokes there.
  • I'd probably have gone hunting and fishing regularly.
  • I'd probably be Baptist.
  • I would have known my ancestry.
  • I would have known biological relatives and see people who look like me regularly.
  • I would have had a family medical history.
  • I would been raised an older sister to brothers and have all those sibling dynamics.
  • I'd probably know how to cook the local food like nobodies business.
  • I would have probably grown some of my own produce and raised some farm animals.
Why do I identify with cheese steaks (yummmm), being an only child, and the beach (etc.)?  Because I was adopted into a family with no other children, and lived in an area where we love to eat certain things and enjoy certain past times.  Adoption defines part of me, not because I wear a neon sign that says "adopted" around town with me (except at the Adoptee Rights Demonstration--I rocked out a huge neon "adopted" sign there) but because adoption put me in an environment where I was brought up to embrace and value certain things.  I urge people not to pathologize an adoptee for identifying with being adopted--it shaped a huge part of who we are in the world.

Sometimes it is interesting to think of the "would have beens."  And in fumbling together my above "lists," I am not trying to portray or insinuate that one "is" vs. "could have been" is better than the other (except I don't think that not having family medical history is ever really a good thing).  And I purposefully kept the lists on a more superficial-ish level because these are things I'm still figuring out. 

There are some things I will never figure out and that's OK.

Saying that adoptedness is a part of my identity is, to me, a lot like saying being a woman is part of my identity.  I view the world through the eyes of a woman and the rest of the world views me as a woman.  I know the stereotypes and I know some of the difficulties women face.  I also celebrate my foremothers who have done so much for my rights and my equality.  Likewise, I see the world around me through the eyes of someone who is adopted, who knows what it is like to be a part of two families, and who has, at a time, lived without things people may take for granted (e.g. ancestral information).  I celebrate those who have gone before me to make things better for adoptees and who continue to do so today. 

And as I've said in a previous post, adoption has a lot to do with identity.  If it didn't, there never would have been seen a "need" to amend and seal our names and to issue brand a new birth document as if the original does not exist.  By the time of I was a year old, I had gone through three different first and last names.  Adoption has everything to do with identity.

Being a reunited adoptee can change things.  I am a daughter to two mothers and one father.  I know people who look like me, I have a family medical history, I know my ancestry, I still love cheese steaks, I can still coax a fiddler crab out of its hiding place to say hello, I am embracing my role as a sister, and someday, I might actually learn how to fish and enjoy it!

I did not have the opportunity for openness when my adoption took place.  It was not yet common place in the 1980's to have an open adoption or a contact and information sharing arrangement.  So I am learning this and figuring these things out and how each piece of my identity fits together now, at the age of 25.  Like I said, it is an interesting journey to say the least.  Adoption is just as much a part of my identity as so other many things.

"Those adoptees already in Reunion need help in integrating their two selves—the one who grew up adopted and the alternate one who might have been" --BJ Lifton

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Quote From What I'm Reading: Ghosts in the Adopted Family


This week, I read an article by BJ Lifton called "Ghosts in the Adopted Family."  It is about therapists being aware of the invisible grief and loss that those clients impacted by adoption carry with them.  It was published in the Jan/Feb issue of Psychoanalytic Inquiry.

The portion I'd like to quote is from the conclusion of her article:
"Those adoptees already in Reunion need help in integrating their two selves—the one who grew up adopted and the alternate one who might have been" (Lifton, 2010, p. 8).
I have heard adoptees talk about their "Selves," the Self on their adopted path, and the Self as they might have been had they been raised by their biological families.  When you're not reunited and have no one to ask questions to about your original family or are only going by what the agency passed along, filling in the blanks can be difficult.  Some adoptees might not think about it.  Other adoptees might fill in the blanks with things they've imagined.  Dropping what you once thought was true but isn't, and thinking how the "would have been" and the "is" now come together, is an interesting journey, to say the least.

Reference:
Lifton, B. (2010). Ghosts in the Adopted Family. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(1), 71-79. doi:10.1080/07351690903200176.

Photo credit:  jscreationzs

Monday, December 6, 2010

Adoption & Privilege


In school, we talk a lot about the privileges that come along with being a part of the majority.  Whether it be the  majority gender, race, religion, so on and so forth, where there are more people, other people tend to get out-voted.  Their needs might not be considered, and others, well, they simply aren't very well represented.  Which, in turn, can make things in law and society, very unfair for minority groups.  We're asked to reflect on issues and think about how others feel, how others experience difficulty with things that we never would have thought about because we don't have the same experience.

Adoptees, 2% of people, are often asked by others to ponder how their lives "could have been."  "Your mother could have harmed or abused you, you could have grown up poor and your parents took you in."  This is a basic assertion that the adoptee now lives a life of privilege because of adoption.  And perhaps, economically (which is only one facet of life and privilege), they do.  But when you point out that those things are stereotypes and don't make much sense when you actually sit down and hear people's stories....what is there left to ask a person to be more grateful for than every one else is asked to be?  But turning it around, there's a lot an adopted person could ask a biologically-raised person to be grateful for, instead.

Those who have been biologically-raised have likely....
  • access to their birth documentation.
  • no birth certificate related difficulties at the passport office, with driver's license or jobs where security clearance is needed.
  • grown up knowing their lives from birth-forward.
  • been in the same room with or grown up with other biological relatives; people who look like they do.
  • have access to family medical history.
  • have never had to answer awkward questions or stereotypes/assumptions about the other family that they have out there.
  • have had to deal with issues that may arise from having two families in two different roles in their lives.
  • have never dealt with harsh state laws that hold information on their heritage under lock and key.
I am sure others could think of other things.  Perhaps they experienced because of their adopted status; perhaps things other adoptees did not experience or that some did.

Reading the blogs of Adult Adoptees of International Adoption and Transracial Adoption has opened my eyes that some of these issues that they face that others in the adoption community may not face.

Faded Footsteps writes about such difficulties.  Not being able to communicate with her family without a translator; a third party where private moments are shared with a person in between is something  everyone, other adoptees included, may take for granted.  Not being able to communicate with them on her own in the way that she wants to is another thing many people may take for granted too.
"I’d like to communicate with my parents. 
Without a translator.
Without a third-party, without someone who gets to hear about my adoption details and witness the most private details of my life.
Unfortunately there is no magical power. There is no magical scientific equation in a language barrier. There is no magical solution that suddenly makes this Go Away. No, a translator does not make it better – merely on the surface level. Why?"
These are things I have never thought about.  How I take it for granted that I can communicate in the way I want to, without a third-party to translate, with my Original Family.

I remember at Yoon's Blur, Melissa discussing how she has been scolded by other Koreans for not knowing how to speak Korean.
"It's understandable to me when Koreans or Americans show surprise when I say that I don't speak Korean. I can deal with that. But it's when I get these looks and remarks of how unfortunate or irresponsible it is to my heritage and people that I don't know the language--first of all, as if I don't already have to deal with feelings of failure and inadequacy without you pointing it out to me, and second of all, as if I could have done anything about it. What, as a 6-month old Korean infant adopted into an All-American White family surrounded by other All-American White families, I was supposed to teach myself the Korean language and figure out how to make kimchi? That sounds feasible."
 Growing up surrounded by your culture and being able to be immersed in the language of your roots; something many of us take for granted.  Not having to learn these things as an adult--something else we take for granted.

Again, what transracial adoption is like for many; these are things I've never imagined.  Not only is being Korean, Chinese, so on and so forth, in the U.S. its own experience, but being an adopted Korean, Chinese, etc. person is its own experience.

Because 98% of the United States is not adopted aren't there privileges that come a long with that?  How often are adoptee issues really heard, represented, and understood if 98% of people have no clue what it is like to be adopted?

None of pointing these things out is about asking for some one's pity or sympathy.  Pointing out privilege is not about making someone else feel badly.  There have been times I've encountered so little sympathy for adoptee issues that it honestly would be an absolute waste of my time to write about adoption for that purpose.  No, this is not about pity.  Asking others to empathize with another group, not assume, and imagine the challenges they face is not about pity.

The LGBTQ community asking people to understand how hard it is not being able to marry, have their relationships respected under the law, and not be able to have the benefits that come with marriage is not about pity.  It's asking for your help.  Remember them the next time you walk into a voting booth.

A woman explaining how she's not taken seriously or paid fairly at work is not about pity.  It's about asking for your help.  Remember her the next time company policies come up; evaluate how the company can better serve the right of equality of its female employees.

When a racial or ethnic minority talks about experiencing discrimination, it's not about pity.  It's about asking for your help.  Remember them the next time you see discrimination and point it out.  Take a stand for a fellow human being.

And when an adoptee tells you part of adoption that are broken and unfair, it's not about pity.  It's about asking for your help.  Support the adoptee rights movement.  Look up national or local state groups.  Is there a bill in your state pending?  Write a letter to your legislator and ask for support.  There are loads of individuals out there blogging about reform and adoption issues (see all the fabulous blogs in my blog roll to the right!), all it takes is one moment to sit and read.

"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life."  --Jane Addams

Photo credit:  graur razvan ionut

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Attempting to Legislate Perpetual Childhood for Adopted People


I recently read a study from 1984 that focused on opening birth records in New York.  I like to read articles from the past because it shows me the reasoning behind why things are the way that they are and the reform efforts through history.  This study is no exception.  Interviewed were 42 adoptive parents on their perceptions of opening up birth record access to adult adoptees.

Why were Adoptive Parents being asked?

Per the literature review and historical overview in the article:
"Confidentiality has been the traditional hallmark of adoptions carried out by social agencies.  Social Workers and adoptive parents were influential in promoting legislation in the 1930s and 1940s to insure this policy through legal means.  In 1939 "about one third of the states provided for safeguarding the records of adoption from public inspection, and nearly one third made no mention of keeping the records at all' (study's author is quoting Brooks & Brooks, 1939, p. 132).  By 1950 most states had passed adoption legislation sealing adoption records.  The chief reasons given for sealing adoption records focused on issues surrounding the stigma of illegitimacy, the need for anonymity of persons involved in adoption, and the need for completely severing adoptees' ties to the birth parents (study's author is referencing Watson, 1979)."
The literature and historical review also noted that the ideal at the time was that the biological family was the superior family form and confidentiality and severance of ties to the Original Family was paramount in allowing the Adoptive Family to appear as a biological family (p.1).

So, how did adoptive parents respond now, after the records had been sealed for 40-50 years?  Almost 98% were against measures that allowed adult adoptees no access; about 58% disagreed with no access so long as there was medical need.  About 52% agreed with adult adoptee access so long as the First Parents and adoptive parents gave consent (p. 5).

The study attempted to find a correlation as to why adoptive parents in 1979 would feel one way or another about records access.  They determined that fear of being rejected by the adoptee had the strongest correlation with an adoptive parent's disagreement with adult adoptee access to their birth record.  The author of this study noted a prior study where it was found that most adoptees who initiated "genetic searches" felt positively about their relationships with their adoptive family, for the purpose of refuting the stereotype that adult adoptees with interest in their origins were doing so as an affront to their adoptive family.

This study records a piece of important history in the Adoptee Rights Movement.  It reminds us of a dominant argument against access that we no longer hear about--how adoptive parents might not want adoptees to access their original birth certificate.  This argument has fallen to the wayside as social norms and adoption culture has changed.  It's true that birth records were sealed to begin with, both to hide the illegitimacy of the adopted person but also to guarantee the original family could not locate the adoptee and interfere with the adoptive family  The idea that original mothers were promised anonymity is a relatively new objection to this movement.

When both objections, objections based on adoptive parent preferences and objections based on original parent preferences, speak to the underlying theme that has always been present: controlling social norms for adoptees.  Our culture has not quite let adoptees free from the "child role."  Therefore, in 1984 and prior, and even now, it is acceptable to make decisions for adult adoptees as though they were children in adoption law.  Often times without even giving adoptees a place at the table in doing so.

References:
Geissinger, S. (1984). Adoptive Parents' Attitudes Toward Open Birth Records. Family Relations, 33(4), 579.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Can you Tell Your Story Without Hurting Someone's Feelings?



My husband asked me a question today.  He wanted to know, which is more important: avoiding hurting people's feelings or blogging your truth?

I thought about it.  People are always the most important.

But we're not really talking about blogging being more important than people here, in my opinion.  We're talking about being able to express how I really think and feel.  And not saying your thoughts and feelings to avoid the possibility that others might misunderstand is not exclusive to blogging: I wouldn't be able to say my thoughts and feelings in-person, in email, or on the phone either.  I think the question is "which is more important, talking about your feelings or not talking about your feelings so that no one else could possibly misinterpret it and have their feelings hurt?"

Is being honest not important?

There may come a time when I blog something that might unintentionally hurt someone's feelings.  My experience being bullied in elementary school really impacted me, yet today I am friends with some of the individuals who perpetrated it.  There were teachers who I feel didn't stick up for me--I am still in contact with some of them and still think fondly of them.  I was in an abusive relationship with a former partner whose mutual friends could read a story I write of that experience and not understand.  Then there's the general life's hardships.  My families, both by birth or adoption, could read about struggles I've had in life and feel like they could have prevented those things, someway, somehow.

Telling a story can run you the risk of hurting someone's feelings, no matter how well you tell it, if they internalize it.  I can only hope that when my loved ones read my stories, they can see my heart.

If they ever are hurt, I would hope they would come to me and talk about it.  I don't blog because I am mad at any one or want them to feel badly.  I blog because I think it is important.  There are pieces of my story that are both good and bad.  I blog as a form of activist to do my part to give back to the large dialogue of change.  If more people aren't out there speaking about how they really feel about something, how will the world ever know any different?

"Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?"  --Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

Photo credit:  Francesco Marino

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Remembering my Tumor Without Family Medical History

It is two days after Thanksgiving and my parents are still here visiting.  We were sitting in the living room, watching TV.  Well, they were.  I was watching the pictures flip through my digital photo frame my dad got me.  I have seen those pictures a million times but I still love looking at them.  One picture in particular caught my eye.  I was holding my son, sitting with my head turned to the side.  You could see my scar; the one from the tumor (benign) surgery. I suppose I am not used to seeing the scar down the side of my neck and face because the surgeon specifically made the large incision to follow the curves of my neck and face so that it is not apparent when looking at me or talking to me.  But there's no hiding it when my neck is turned to the side.

My scar always makes me think.  It makes me remember how this one experience in my health care made me reflect on all of the, at-the-time, adoption-related unknowns in my life.  Not just that I didn't have a family medical history, but because I hadn't known about my life pre-adoption, or met my mother at that point.  It makes me think of how terrifying it is to not be able to tell a doctor what runs in my family when I am having a health crisis.  It makes me think of all of the individuals still in that place and how I know how that feels.

I thought about how my paternal aunt had just sent me our family medical history and how I felt when I read it.  Cancer....cancer....cancer....cancer....cancer.....I lost track of the cancers.  A few types of cancer were extremely well represented.  These were intimidating pieces of paper to look at.  I cannot neglect to say that I am thankful to have had good health thus far.

So at some point that evening, I asked my mom if she wanted to see the family medical history my aunt had sent me.  I know my original mother's medical history because I know and am able to talk to those family members and receive updates from them regularly.  My connection with my paternal family is different; I am only connected with one aunt who was kind enough to share with me a thorough list of our close relatives and their medical problems.  She looked at it and said something to the nature of: 

"Gosh, maybe it was better not to know."

"Not knowing family medical history does not make it go away or make it irrelevant," I said.

She then mentioned how we knew about my maternal family medical history.  What an adoption worker wrote down, removed identifying information from, and passed it along to my parents after interviewing my mother as a teenager was not family medical history.  I knew what was recorded of my mother, aunts, and uncles at the time of my surrender--all who were in their 20's or younger.

Knowing my grandparents had "this" or "that" at that time period still added to the mystery because I had no information or observation of family patterns--were their ailments more likely to be from lifestyle choices or from genetics?  I had no way of knowing.  Even before I began on my reunion journey and before I began my journey of allowing myself to think and voice my feelings from my adopted perspective, I refused to accept this family medical history.  I left my family medical history forms blank at doctor's offices.

Someone who is biologically-raised might understand how important family medical history is but perhaps in a different way.  Being able to grow up surrounded by relatives and gradually, over the course of your youth and lifetime, receive updates about various things going on in the family does not seem like it would be all that shocking to the system (not to dismiss those who feel it is--I am writing from a place where that was not my experience so I truly don't know).  Going through reunion and finding out everything everyone of the previous three generations has had and died from is overwhelming.  It's a difficulty that comes along with being adopted--but family medical history is no less important to know for us than it is for someone who grew up gradually gathering that information as a part of their upbringing and interaction with family.

One of the most mind-boggling things about this is, I had a mother who was more than willing to share and update her information and my parents would have accepted that information.  The willingness for openness didn't matter to an adoption system that was designed for secrecy.  It still is designed that way, really.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those today who still struggle because of that secrecy.

Photo credit: jscreationzs

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The History of Open Adoption vs. History of Open Adoption Records

I think it's so important to learn about history, especially the history of something that I personally am connected with.  Seeing what happened in the past helps us evaluate the present and make changes for the future.  No more interesting to me is the history of OBC access as well as the history of openness in adoption.  These histories are not widely known; I would hazard to say that they're not even widely known within the larger adoption community. 

OBCs (Original Birth Certificates)
The groups that oppose OBC access rely on two main tactics to do so: (1) adoption stereotypes and (2) selective representation of adoption history, where the history of "Confidential Adoptions" is intertwined (or one in the same) as the history of records access.  The current view by many of these groups is that confidential adoption, which included the sealing of the OBC, was preferable because it allowed an original mother to live her life free of the stigma of unwed motherhood, the adoptee free from the stigma of illegitimate birth, and the Adoptive Parents a child whose past was sealed neatly away.

This summary intertwines the record closures with the state of openness (or lack thereof) in adoption.  But when you look at the actual history, it doesn't fit.  In fact, open adoption vs. open records in adoption have opposing historical trends.  As adoption practice has become more open, records pertaining to an adoptee's pre-adoption history have legally become more closed.

In actuality, amending and sealing began as a way to hide  the "illegitimate" and "bastard" labels that, up until the 1960's, most states were still checking/writing/stamping/placing where the father's name should go, on the birth certificates of children born out of wedlock.  Especially decades ago, the title "bastard" was a defining label and could follow the person for a lifetime.  Adoptees often could access their OBCs until more closures started happening, this time to appeal to Adoptive Parents by enforcing the severance of ties with the Original Family by making the OBC unavailable even to the Adult Adoptee.

To learn more about that history, I recommend the many works by Dr. E. Wayne Carp, Dr. Katrina Wegar, and Professor Elizabeth Samuels.  To learn more about the history of illegitimacy, I recommend "The Sins of the Fathers" by Dr. John Witte.  Ricki Solinger is a leading Historian in Women's Rights and has researched and interviewed surrendering mothers.

I think the codes stating the reasons closures happened that have been found, the actual legal process of amending and sealing, the ads in the newspapers listing a surrendering mother's name (seeking the putative father), and the fact that all adoptees (step-parent, kinship, customary/tribal, etc.) regardless of whether or not they are raised by their natural parent(s) or relatives also have their birth certificates sealed, speaks for itself that OBC access being closed did not have anything to do with concern for whether or not original mothers actually wanted to be anonymous.

Confidential vs. Open Adoptions
As for the history of Confidential vs. Open Adoptions, my reading has lead me to believe that this is completely separate from OBC access.  Foremost, because throughout history, birth records have gradually become more closed (except for the few states that have recently been reformed) while adoptions have gradually become more open.  If they were one in the same, one would think the pattern would be the same.

You  might recall that I wrote about adoptees and their invisible history; how we have foremothers and forefathers who have gone before and fought for our rights.  BJ Lifton, whom our community recently just lost, was one of them.  But original mothers have pioneers in mother's rights too.  I have too often seen these mothers criticized for speaking out.  However, I believe it is the voices of these women that played a large part in why there is more openness and information sharing today.  If it weren't for the mothers who share their stories and spread awareness for change, how much progress would we have made?

And I in no way mean that to assume that adoption is perfect now.  It is far from it.

I was reading a study on openness in adoption, from 2003.  It does confuse OBC access with Confidential Adoptions when giving the historical background of openness in adoption.  Other information in the study was interesting to me, especially because it involved so much history.  The study included history in its literature review but was based on history itself, interviewing adoption agencies in 1987-89, 1993, and 1999 to gather their perceptions of the shift from closed adoptions to more open adoptions in the U.S.
  • Large numbers of Adult Adoptees and original mothers were returning to agencies asking for information (p.3).
  • Organizations supporting Adult Adoptees and original mothers (e.g. ALMA and CUB) began advocating for adoption reform (p.3)
  • These individuals and groups sharing their voices helped bring awareness that openness could be healthy--a concept that was often abruptly rejected before (p.3).
  • The decreased stigmas of unwed motherhood, the decreased amount of babies being placed for adoption, as well as the availability of more reproductive choice gave a new platform by which expectant mothers could speak (p. 3)
  • Some agencies began to realize that it was important to offer open adoptions because of the benefits to the child.  While other agencies may have disagreed with this, the gradual shift towards openness spread.  This was due to the fact that, without complying to the demand that there was for openness, they would not have been able to stay in business (p. 4).
  • During the first interview period '87-'89, 87% of the agencies were offering mediated/confidential adoptions and only 36% offered a "fully disclosed adoption" (p.8). 
  • During the second interview period 1993, both open and closed adoptions were widely offered and only 53% of adoptions were closed.
  • By the final interview period in 1999: "[n]ot a single agency at Time 3 offered only confidential adoptions" (p. 8).
  • Consistent with the historical overview of openness in the study's literature review, agencies from all three time periods stated that the trend toward openness was because mothers demanded it (p.11).
Historically, a lot of poor stereotypes have been spread about adoptees of closed adoptions who sought to open their records or essentially "open" their adoptions by reuniting.  Research consistently credits these adoptees and original mothers who did the same for the existence of open adoptions.  Socially, they changed the "norms" where now surrendering mothers and adoptive parents would not choose adoption unless there was openness.  Agencies had to adapt to the changing social norm.  They were also responding to the closed adoption adoptees themselves who went back to them and said, "this did not work."

The militant mother and adoptee activists from decades ago, whose words are so often hard to hear?  Thank them for open adoption.  They are the reason that it exists.

Things are absolutely not perfect--we still need people sharing their views and experiences.  While the trend toward increasing awareness of both mother's rights as well as openness in adoption was largely due to mothers and adoptees speaking out that the closed system had not worked for them, expectant mothers being able to voice their demands, and increasing societal awareness that things needed to change.....change is still needed.  Openness may be encouraged in the best interest of children but most openness is still not legally enforceable.  A mother who wants an open adoption may surrender with the impression her adoption will be open only for it to close.  Openness in adoption may be used to mislead mothers considering adoption--and this isn't right.  Mothers continuing to speak out about their experiences is vital to spreading awareness and promoting the rights of mothers.  Likewise for adoptees.  Hearing the voices of women and families is vital to understanding what is needed to preserve families.

Thank you, to all who have and are, fighting for the rights of adoptees, women, mothers, children, and families.

Reference:
Henney, S., McRoy, R., Ayers, L., & Grotevant, H. (2003). The impact of openness on adoption agency practices: a longitudinal perspective. Adoption Quarterly, 6(3), 31-51. Retrieved from Social Work Abstracts database.

"Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. " — Margaret Mead

Monday, November 22, 2010

Challenging the Idea that Oppression is the Fault of the Oppressed

Words can hurt, can't they?  It doesn't matter what movement you are a part of, people who are resistant to change or who lack empathy can say really hurtful or dismissing things.  After a while, these things take their toll.  It's helpful to keep some simple truths at hand to uplift your spirits.

What people with privilege say to oppressed people:

"You're just having a pity party for yourself."
Or....maybe because they have a unique experience, they choose to speak from it so that others can learn and understand what the needs of their group are?

"You're just looking for things to be insulted by."
Or...maybe there is a difference between looking for things to be insulted by and standing up for yourself when something is oppressive to you?

"You just want to tell people what to say and not to say."
Or....maybe that's just another way of saying that you're not willing to make the effort to refer to others in a way that is appreciated and promotes acceptance and positivity for that group.

"You're asking people to be politically correct."
Or....so what?  Political correctness is a weak gesture towards another human being.  Using acceptable language to refer to others takes a lot less effort than seeking to be kind and discovering what words others appreciate most.

We must stop making oppression the fault of the oppressed, and labeling it as their own personal flaw if they cannot find a way to "get over it."  It makes more sense to instead spread education and teach kindness than it is to apologize for ignorance so that it perpetually exists for no reason at all.  It can be really easy to be discouraged by people who simply do not understand or don't want to.  But I suppose that's what comes along with standing up for what's right. 

Don't be discouraged.


"Correction does much, encouragement does more" -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Photo credit:  Salvatore Vuono

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rest in Peace Psychologist, Author, & Adoption Activist BJ Lifton

As some of you may already know, BJ Lifton (Betty Jean Lifton) passed away on November 19, 2010.

Lifton was an Adult Adoptee, an Adoptee Rights Advocate, a Psychologist, a therapist, a lecturer, and an esteemed author.  She wrote many books and professional journal articles.  Lifton spoke out about the complexities of being adopted during a time where adoptees rarely did such a thing.  Because of her and many others, we have increased awareness of the many issues surrounding adoption and an improving societal atmosphere to discuss them in.

When adoptees and Adoptee Rights Reformers were criticized, Lifton took a stand for us.

Her books include:
  • Twice Born, Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter
  • Lost and Found, the Adoption Experience
  • Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness
...among other books and articles.

Lifton also had a website and a blog that I encourage you to check out.

I was only ever able to speak with her a few times when she emailed me after finding my blog.  I had no idea who she was at the time and regret missing the opportunity to ask her questions about her work.

Lifton has been writing, supporting, and advocating for the rights and needs of those within the adoption community for much longer than I've even been alive.  I didn't know her very well and am still diving into her various works; I hope you will check out the blog postings by others who also had a tribute to make to this wonderful woman.

Betty Jean will never be forgotten.  If you are a friend on her Facebook account, please make sure to post a comment on her Facebook wall.

BJ's Obituary

"No one has yet put into words the complexity of being adopted" --BJ Lifton

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today is National Adoption Day 2010: What Have we Learned?



National Adoption Day is a day where courts across the United States finalize adoptions from the public foster care system.  It is often a day (and November the entire month) where adoption in-general is celebrated and promoted.  I am not a fan of this because: (1) adoption encompasses a great deal of individuals, not all who feel celebration is appropriate or fits their experience in adoption; (2) NAAM and National Adoption day is about promoting the needs of children in foster and the focus on their needs is where the attention should lie; and (3) adoption policy is far behind the advancements adoption has made.

This post will be short; I don't have a lot to say (imagine that!) but what I think people could use today to focus on would be:
  • What are the rights and needs of children, mothers, and families?  How can we serve their needs best?
  • You do not need to erase a person's past and issue altered birth documentation to give them a home.  Let's revisit this issue and restore access to adult adoptees.
  • Who do you know that has been impacted in some way by adoption?  Do you make assumptions about them or have you talked to them personally?  Find out what's important to them.  Become an ally.

Photo credit:  Francesco Marino

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Adoptee Feelings are a Reflection of their Experience--Not a Judgement of Others

In the community that I grew up in, there were a lot of stereotypes about unwed mothers and adoption.  In my journey, I've noticed that there are a lot of adoptees who encountered those same stereotypes and there are some who have not.  Of course, the people I've met are not necessarily a representation of what  the majority of adoptees think, it does provide me with insight as to what stereotypes and issues adoptees may encounter.

I recently read one adult adoptee's amazing blog about the struggles of being adopted.  Somewhere in the comments section, it was suggested to him that his adoptive family would be offended by his feelings.  Later, someone suggested that his original mother would be offended of his adoption-specific feelings of ambivalence.

I think part of the disconnect is that some people may not be recognizing that adoptees have their own experience within adoption.  We are not merely an addition to someone elses' experience in adoption.  With a unique experience in adoption comes a perspective that other individuals with different roles in the adoption system may not have.

I think it is very good to encourage empathy and understanding with others.  But there's a difference between encouraging empathy and telling someone their feelings are invalid because of how someone else feels.  I know my original mother has experienced adoption-related pain.  I also know that part of my hurt is knowing that she hurts; she is my mother and I love her.

I remember one of the first things an adoptive family member said to me, they specifically called me to tell me this, when they found out I was seeking reunion was to be sensitive to my parent's feelings.  I don't think anyone can really understand how hard it is to embark on reunion and then to have others enforce the concept of eggshell walking.  At times, I felt like my personal journey was more about making sure everyone else was OK than it was about me.

I will always encourage my children to share whatever they're feeling with me, even if it hurts my feelings, so that I can be there for them.  I hope that no one would ever discourage them from that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reunions & Boundaries: Being Rejected by my Brother

When I reunited, I was embraced by the entirety of my maternal original family.  Waiting for me on the paternal side, was one aunt.  I also have met one paternal cousin.  My aunt is a wonderful woman.  I have a paternal brother who had spent the entirety of my life thus far convincing himself that I did not exist.  Well, not that I didn't exist as a person, but that I was not his sister.

The first letter I got from my original mother from the intermediary I can remember reading about the two maternal brothers I have.

I have brothers!

Growing up an only child.  I was thrilled to find out that I have not one, not two, but three brothers.

My aunt gave me my brother's email address and gave him mine.  She badly wanted us to connect.  I emailed him and waited.  A few weeks later, he emailed me back.  It was a "it's not you, it's me" type email about how he didn't want to get to know one another.

He was very kind and I don't think that my feelings could have been handled with more care.  But, it still hurt.

My birth State doesn't believe that adoptees are capable of managing boundaries in their relationships with their original families.  Adoptees who reunite through the State are what is called "vetoed."  This means that contact is approved through the government.  At any time, our original families can request that contact be limited or revoked.  This means that we can be held to criminal and civil penalties for contacting our families if our family vetoes us.  Only certain people can request to enforce a veto.  Original mothers can veto adoptees from speaking to their aunts and uncles, for example, even if those adult family members very much want to speak to the adoptee.

However, because my biological father is not officially recognized as my father on my paperwork, I cannot be vetoed from speaking with his family.  I can reach out to my brother at anytime.

But I don't.  While my birth State may not believe adoptees to be capable of managing boundaries in our interpersonal relationships with others, I know that we can assumed to be capable as any other person can be.  I respect my brother's boundaries.  He does not wish to know me at this time.  That is his choice and I respect it.


"Can two walk together without agreeing to go in the same direction?" --Amos 3:3


Photo credit:  jscreationzs

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ignoring Diversity When it Comes to Seeing Adoptees as a Group

I can't help but read/hear quite often the "I know an adoptee who is 'fine' so why aren't you?" answer to an adoptee expressing that something offended them or when they attempt to offer a different perspective on something someone else is saying.  This dismissive response just makes me chuckle to myself any more, because the more adoptees I meet and talk to, the more ridiculous it sounds to me.

The reason being, we are so absolutely diverse.

We are domestic adoptees, infant adoptees, foster adoptees, step-parent adoptees, tribal/customary adoptees, kinship adoptees, transracial adoptees, and we are adoptees from all over the world and residing in countries all over the world.  Sometimes we are a combination of those things (I am sure I missed some).

What our experience in adoption was like can also widely vary.  Some of us know/knew nothing of our original identities and families.  Some of us were raised by at least one natural parent.  Some of us were raised by natural family members.  Some of us were raised in open adoptions.  Some of us did grow up with identifying information on our natural families.  Some of us were able to be open with our adopted status.   Some of us experienced being silenced when talking about it or knowing it was a taboo topic.  Some of us didn't find out we were adopted until later in life.  Some of us have positive relationships with our Original and/or Adoptive Families, some of us do not.

Some of us, hold positive and/or negative opinions, not from our experiences, but because we've researched it.

We may hold membership in other minority groups on top of our adopted status.  Some of us are women, some of us are differently-abled, some of us have surrendered children, some of us belong to racial and ethnic minority groups, some of us are in the aging population, and some of us are members of the LGBTQ community.  Our religious beliefs--or lack thereof--as well as political affiliations and world views may also widely vary.

So honestly, when someone says "oh I know an adoptee....." and they use what they think they know about that person's life to tell me that my experiences or thoughts do not count or don't have a place at the table of adoption discussion; it's a little absurd.

We are a minority group; we have our own unique challenges.  What I like about the adoptee community is that the common ground we share unites us in strengthening our voices and making a positive change in our communities and the world around us.  Individuals who respect one another can go beyond appreciating what they share in common and can appreciate each other's differences and acknowledge that we all have something to "bring to the table" of adoption discussion.  For someone, especially someone that's not adopted themselves, to turn around the strengths in our community as a way to ignore or belittle another community member....I don't know if people understand how truly dismissive and hurtful that is.

This post is part of my series for November's National Adoption Awareness Month.

Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono

Monday, November 8, 2010

God's Mandate & the Modern Christian Orphan Movement


Lately I've been seeing a lot of blogs about orphans.  A lot of them are Christian blogs, talking about how God loves adoption and how he calls us to help the orphans.  And thus, they are considering adoption for those reasons.  I've been thinking about this.  I do not believe that modern, physical adoption in any way mirrors spiritual adoption.  However, God does indeed tell us to care for the orphan.

The orphan and the widow.
When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands (Deuteronomy 24:19).
In the Old Testament, provisions were made as a sort of Social Welfare program, to provide for families who had no male to provide for them (e.g. mothers and their children) as well as sojourners and strangers.  Women in that time could not own land.  If widowed, they would often marry a male relative to be provided for, to "redeem" her and whatever land/belongings that may be involved (Kinsman Redeemer).  For widows and their children who were not redeemed, they could provide for themselves by following closely after the workers in the fields and vineyards to "glean" what was dropped. 

This was no easy task; while it was against the law for the workers to pick up after themselves so that widowed families could glean, various Bible passages would lead us to believe that they may have been taunted and harassed by workers while gleaning.  The book of Ruth perhaps provides the best description of this part of the law being carried out to provide for sojourners, orphans, and widows.

Mention of "the fatherless" in the King James Version appears 43 times. Rarely are "the fatherless" mentioned in scripture without also mentioning the widowed along with them.

The UNICEF definition of "orphan" is a child who has lost ONE parent and has one still living.

We absolutely need to help and support orphaned and abandoned children.  However, we cannot view these children without also viewing the original context of their families. Where are their families?  What happened to them?  What are their needs?  Our Christian principles affirm this.  God rarely made mandates to meet the needs of children without also including their parents or families.  Christians need to understand that this new and improved "orphan movement" largely decontexts these children from their families as if their families do not exist.  God doesn't do this when he speaks about the orphan and watches over them, and we shouldn't either.

"One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed."  --Proverbs 28:27



This post is part of my series for November's National Adoption Awareness Month.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Using Classism as an Affirmation of Adoption


There were so many other bloggers covering Grayson's case that I didn't make mention of it on my blog yet; I read what they wrote and didn't have much to add.  But some things I have read and heard, such as in news articles, words spoken by anchors themselves, in the comments sections of news articles, topped with recently reading one adoptee blogger's summation of Grayson's case have left me wanting to make a brief posting of my own.

What bothers me is the devaluing of a father's constitutional right to nurture a child that he fathered because he has less of what society values---money.

It makes me sad to hear some adoptees chiming in that they are so glad their original family didn't raise them and then apply it to another adoptee's story.  As if Grayson's father cannot love him or care for him as much as an Adoptive Family could because when adoption is involved, the taboo is always directed at the original family and everything we can find wrong with them.  This isn't the first time I have noticed adoptees speaking poorly in wide generalizations of original families.

Things I think about when I hear certain statements.....

"I am so glad I wasn't raised by her.  My birth mother is a mess...."
Have you ever considered the impact surrendering you might have had on her?  How might her life had been different if support systems were in place?

"I don't like my birth family's values....."
Have you ever considered that you have the values that you do because you were nurtured by a family with those values....but you might have different values, completely unfazed about it, if raised by another family, simply because you wouldn't know anything different?

"I am lucky because my first family is poor...."
Have you considered you would love any family that nurtured you because you were loved and cared for, regardless of their income?  Do you only love your adoptive family because they aren't poor?

Talking about destiny reminds me of this commercial.....



The only difference between this young ballet dancer being the dancing and the one auditioning, the one serving food in a fancy restaurant and the one hobnobbing with important people at the fancy restaurant, and the one performing in the ballet and the one watching the ballet.....was how long it took for her cell phone to load before she set out on her journey that day, the few seconds the phone was delayed not allowing her to be in just the right place at the right time to meet the gentleman that connected her to her dreams.

Of course, it is only a cell phone commercial.  But it does make me think, how is any one ever to say that if "this had happened but not that, life would have been this way, not that way."  It's OK for someone to like their life how it is.  But our reasons for loving our adoptive family far surpass consumerism and wealth.  We do not need to use classism to say why we were glad we were raised by whomever raised us.  Coming to terms with adoption is an important task---but we should be kind and thoughtful in how we verbalize this.

"Obvious enough that generalities work to protect the mind from the great outdoors; is it possible that this was in fact their first purpose?"  --Howard Nemerov

 This post is part of my series for November's National Adoption Awareness Month--promoting the truth about adoption.

Photo credit: jscreationzs

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Adoption & Feeling Blamed

I remember when my son was born.  After 2.5 hours of pushing I was nearly exhausted.  It didn't help that my doctor was absolutely gorgeous and my nurse was a stunning vision of Jennifer Love Hewitt without one hair or a bit of makeup out of place, while I lay there feeling tired and sweaty in my thin hospital gown.  When he was delivered and placed on my chest, I remember my mind doing some sort of mom gymnastics.  I was loving him, amazed by him, and glancing over every part of him to make sure he was OK while bursting into a sudden realization of what motherhood is.  I couldn't help but notice that when he opened his mouth to cry, something seemed odd with his tongue.  I felt concerned yet simultaneously ashamed of myself for noticing that something seemed not-quite-right with this perfect child.  I just wanted to know he would be OK.

I asked about it but the nurses didn't seem concerned.  They were busy making other arrangements to transfer me to the post-delivery part of the maternity floor.  Later on I was told that he had a "tongue-tie" where his frenulum is so short, he is barely able to lift his tongue.  I was informed that this can interfere with his eating and breastfeeding as well as him being able to develop speech later on.  He did have trouble breastfeeding in the hospital and I remember feeling stressed and overwhelmed as each nurse shift would change and another nurse would come in and tell me "a better way" to feed my son. 

Along with the informative explanation about tongue-tie, we were told it was genetic and at some point in the conversation I recall being asked if it ran in either of our families.  My husband was unaware of it being an issue in his family.  Then there was me, the (at the time un-reunited) adoptee with no family medical history.

Back years ago, they would fix tongue-tie right in the hospital, now they want children to go to a specialist.  I realized that if I had been born with it and it had been fixed in the hospital or any time within the first 4.5 months of my life, I would have no way of knowing about it because I had no information about my life or medical care from that time period.  I had no idea if there was anyone else in my family who had it.  I immediately conceded "it must have been from my side," feeling sheepish that I went through 9 months of pregnancy with no genetic information to pass down to the child I had just brought into the world.

I felt horrible.

Maybe I felt like I was indirectly being blamed because they asked the question about family history and I thought it must have been my side he got it from.  Maybe I was blaming myself because when I love someone and want to do everything in your power to make life perfect for them, and when something goes wrong, I can feel like it's my fault even when it isn't.

A professor of mine once talked about how it is important to explain things to others and work on finding the root and a solution, but at the same time not phrase it in a way that makes a person feel like they are being blamed for the issue or problem.

Sometimes I think talking about adoption can be that way.  No matter what some one's connection is in adoption, when we talk about the problems that they feel involve ones they love, they may feel like they're being blamed.  I think it's important to be able to speak about adoption, acknowledge the truth and the problems it entails, and not be hindered by taking things personally.

No, I am not speaking about excusing unethical behavior or suggesting we not correct stereotypes and generalizations either. It has, at times, been hard for me to explain my adopted experience to others because there's adoption-related emotional "stuff" another person may carry that stands in the way of them truly understanding my perspective.  That is what I am reflecting on today in this post.

In case you're wondering now that I'm reunited, I know that tongue-tie doesn't run in my family either!  Go figure!

"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it." --Terry Pratchett


This post is part of my series for November's National Adoption Awareness Month--promoting the truth about adoption.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Being Adopted & Latina in the U.S.

You may, by now, have heard about the 13 year old girl from Florida who has been accused of putting insecticide in the food consumed by family members.  She has been arrested and is in a treatment facility.  Her family adopted her four years ago from Mexico.  When reading various news sources, I can't help but notice how insensitively this issue has been handled in the media.

The most notable things about how this issue is being discussed in the news are:
  • Some have referred to her as "a Mexican girl" while also discussing deportation in the same article.
  • Her "adopted" label is used frequently and her relationship with this family is constantly qualified with adoption.
  • The list of the family's good deeds towards this child are spelled out (adopting her after she was "abandoned" in Mexico, sending her to a private school, and "provided love and a home for the girl" (Fox News).
Yes, she is Mexican.  But she is also a United States citizen.  Referring to her as "a Mexican girl" and then noting that she cannot be deported because adoption made her a citizen has gived license to hateful comments in response both about race and adoption.  Online commenters have speculated that adoption from Mexico is some sort of scheme developed by this child to legally "hop the border."  Other online commenters wonder why adoption is standing in the way of her being sent back.

To me, the fact that she is adopted being repeatedly mentioned and that her status within this family being qualified with adoption has little to do with just letting readers know some facts about her life and more to do with associating and explaining her harmful behavior with being adopted.  Few online commenters on the articles I've read needed further explanation before diving into judgmental, generalizing remarks about adopted persons.

The lists of good deeds by her family only to be met with deviance from this child?  Only gives way to more "adoptees need to be grateful they were saved" comments.

Adoptees are being put in a position to not only be seen as abnormal individuals for being adopted but also are being put into a country who will treat them differently based on their race or ethnicity.  It bothers me that on one side of adoption, there are people starry eyed, proclaiming "race doesn't matter!" "Being adopted doesn't matter!"  "Get over it!"  Yet the second an adoptee, specifically one belonging to a racial minority group in the U.S., does something wrong, racist and adoptist remarks fly left and right.

How rude, racist, and adoptist can society be before it's allowed to "matter" to us?