Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where are all the "Happy Adoptees?"

"Where are all the happy adoptees? Aren't there any left who are grateful?" one woman wonders in the comments section after reading adult adoptee comments on a New York Times blog. I couldn't help but be amused by this comment as the comments were not really all that "angry."  They simply seemed to have a non-stereotypical take on the adoption story presented.  Adoptees expressed things like loss, ambivalence, and--dare I say it--disagreed with the author in some regard and her portrayal of an adoption issue.

"Angry adoptee" is universally defined as someone who expresses anything negative about adoption. It is said that these adoptees have had "bad adoptive parents" and "bad experiences" because they express a feeling of loss or point out a social or policy in adoption.  As an adoptee, sometimes it seems like people believe that the loving family I received through adoption must be repaid to society through my silence.  I am not allowed to have an opinion; I should be seen and not heard.

Adoptees themselves as a minority group; many of us are in other groups that adoption issues intersect with.  Minority status is typically defined as a group someone is born into, a group that tends to have less power than others and a group that has historically been disenfranchised or exploited by others.

We see in history through the lack of family preservation efforts, the Baby Scoop Era, baby farms, orphanages, the plight of illegitimate children, foster care issues, the orphan trains, and more, that those in the position to be candidates for adoption have been historically mistreated.

Likewise, when it comes to adoption issues, adoptees are in a position where they lack the power to make change.  Adoptees were sometimes adopted out of (or their family later moved out of) the State of their birth.  This makes self-advocacy extremely difficult because some adoptees can't vote in the State that creates policy surrounding their records and original family.  Resources may not be available to them because of this.  Other adoptees, such as those whose parents did not obtain citizenship for them as children, cannot vote at all.  Because of the way our records are handled, some adoptees cannot get passports, driver's licenses, or vital medical information.  We are rarely invited to the table of adoption discourse further more to help effect the changes that adoption badly needs.

That being said (and whether anyone wants to admit it or not), adoptees live in a society that does not understand adoption. Not only does society not understand adoption but it often seeks to dictate how adoptees should feel about their own adoptions.

I often say adoptees are the world's amateur psychologists for we are forever listening to the awkward responses of others to our life situations. Sometimes we find ourselves trying to make others feel better for feeling bad for us. Words and phrases can hurt ("be grateful," "at least she didn't abort you," "I have an adopted cousin who's fine with it," "DNA doesn't make her your mother," so on and so forth); sometimes it's best not to say anything.

I really admire the work on adoption done by adult adoptee and sociologist, Dr. Katrina Wegar.  In a study published in 2000, Dr. Wegar reviewed about 80 different studies and professional articles by others on adoption and summarized them in her articles, drawing conclusions on attitudes on adoption using the data.  What she found resonated with me.

Dr. Wegar found that the dominant North American opinion considers a heterosexual couple with biological children to define a "real" family and that other family forms are still often viewed as "abnormal" or otherwise deviant. She determined that "pop culture" has played the most active role in establishing how the average person thinks and feels about adoption. The concept of being adopted is often used as an undesirable thing and jokingly used against others (she notes the message of a birthday card joking with someone about being adopted).  She notes that the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found in 1997 that 52% of Americans "regard the media (news, books, magazines and entertainment) as their primary source of information about adoption."

The portrayal of adoptees, what people believe about being adopted, it's not always kind and it's not always empowering.  Adoptees strive to be understood and others must seek to be understanding.  We show passion for change which is so often misinterpreted as misguided anger.  So, are we really "angry adoptees?"  Or as we simply adopted adults who grew up and live in a society that doesn't always hear us and understand us?


Lori said...

Real, honest and without fault. Nice research and great points. We said.

Amanda Woolston said...

Thanks Lori :-)

Von said...

Well put and covering it all, as always a great piece of work which benefits us all.
All we have as a stigmatised, abused minority group is the power to speak out, if we can find our way to do it.
Thank you again Amanda.

Amanda Woolston said...

Thank you Von :-)

Triona Guidry said...

Well said. I especially liked this:

"Adoptees comment about these things, not to be "mean" to anyone but because we're tired of the generalizations and the misunderstandings."

I'm writing a blog right now about something I read in a paper about adoption, where they quoted *an anthropologist specializing in international adoptees* instead of ACTUAL adult adoptees.

I am tired of being marginalized.

Amanda Woolston said...

Thank you Triona :-) Looking forward to your newest blog entry.

maybe said...

Good post, thanks for pointing out the research.

Susan Rudat said...

As an adoptee, I've never been angry. Just sad. After 46 years of sadness, I recently found and met my birth mother. I has released alot of emotions in me, and my birth mother. She also spent many years being sad. Now, we are both so happy!

Anonymous said...

I am an adoptee who within the last year have found my birth sibling. With that, I finally have obtained a considerable social/medical history. Because I am 67 yrs old, it has been an amazing discovery. My dilema has been that my "original" birth certificate has no identifying information on it. I was told that there may be something on the adoption decree which I am not entitled to view. The Illinois HB#5428 recently signed by Gov. Quinn does nothing to open the information we need to be privy to. Our rights continue to be ignored and controlled by bureaucrats disinterested in those most impacted by their legal decisions.
Thanks for listening

Anonymous said...

You can put me squarely in the angry camp...I love your blog. Very well-written and communicated. You put voice to a lot of things I have been unable to vocalize, and in so doing, you are helping me identify feelings and put them into words. Thank you so much.

Unknown said...

I;m just reading this now. I clicked on it because I am dealing with an angry adoptee. I wish I could get him to read it. I don't believe he thinks he is entitled to any of these feelings.

Anonymous said...

Amanda, this peice is thoughtful and enlightening, as well as beautifully written. I am learning so much from reading your blog. It helps me understand my two adult adoptees a little better, and helps me understand why they may make the choices that they do regarding our relationship. Hugs.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this! Fortunately, most of my friends are accepting of my take on adoption. UNfortunately, I recently had one person tell me that she *wished* she'd been adopted, and didn't want to listen to why I think it's such a negative thing. And, of course, one of HER friends then chimed in to add that she has two adopted daughters and they're fine with it and who am I to complain and blah, blah, blah.

Keep up the discourse -- society needs to hear and acknowledge our voices.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. It is very hard as an adoptee to have your voice heard. It is even harder to even getting the government and public to understand the extent of the
grief, loss and pain of adoption. As an adoptee who suffered abuse from my adoptive parents struggle to tell the story of how adoptees in general feel, as the people I talk to assume I am just angry about my own experience as an adopted person. As and advocate for adoptees, I get quite frustrated at their unwillingness to grasp the collective pain and suffering of ALL adoptees, despite whether they went to good homes or not, the pain, loss and trauma is still the same, regardless. I can actually see them putting their hands over their ears, as their eyes glaze over and the stiff shoulder stance portrays the opposite to their verbal response. The I have those who just let it all flow out as if they are the expert on my life, my mother etc based on the media's biased coverage on adoption, forever families and happy ever after's fairytale! Adoptees are tired as being painted into one particular picture that is socially acceptable. Trying to paint the truth about adoption, is akin to having your parachute fail, while jumping from a crashing plane and having those the ground shouting as you fall, "it's not really happening".