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.

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?

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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