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?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dear Fellow Christian, it's not the Same Adoption

"We're all adopted!" I've heard ministers say from the pulpit countless times. The congregation would emphatically nod its head in agreement.  This never sat right with me, even as a child.  I felt somewhat belittled by this claim of false empathy to my experience.

I knew that spiritual adoption was not the same as physical adoption on earth. Christians praise God for their redemption from sin and for redemption from the impending inevitability of hell for the unsaved that sin brings.  Salvation saves a Christian from the clutches of sin and brings them home to God's family.

Perhaps when we judge single-parenthood poorly (or as second-best) and perpetuate the stigmas against being poor it is easy to make the connection of adoptees likewise being "redeemed" from something horrible.  Many Christians take physical adoption as a charge from God due to the parallel we make to spiritual adoption. I ask fellow Christians to take a closer look before deciding how what adoption means to them spiritually connects to how they view, speak about, or act upon actual, physical adoption.

Let's start where humanity's relationship with God began, for some literally and for some figuratively: the Garden of Eden.  The garden was made for God's creation, his family, for humans--the crown of all he spoke into existence.  We were created by God and communed with God.  Adam walked with God through the garden.  It is when he sinned that he was cast out.  He once belonged but now he was lost.  So much like the Prodigal Son, the lost sheep, and the widow's missing coin.  Genesis 3:15 is the first foretelling of the redeemer who would reunite God's lost family.

Christ’s ministry brought us teachings and parables expressing the same theme. We see the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which symbolized God's rejoicing when one of his children returns home to his family. This is not a stranger stumbling upon the scene and choosing to become part of the family but rather someone who was already a member of the family and chose to return.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep’s implication is no different. We see how the sheep was already one of the 100, who left the fold and became lost. The shepherd risked his life to save that one sheep and bring that sheep back into the fold.

The Parable of the 10 Silver Coins tells us of a woman who lost one of her coins and searched high and low until she could find the coin to return to her collection of 10. When she found her lost coin, she called everyone she knew to rejoice because even the one coin was as treasure to her.

Our spiritual adoption is symbolic of our rejection of God, and his willingness to accept us back into his family and making a way for us to do so.  In contrast, physical adoption is the dissolution of the biological family connection and the creation of an adoptive family connection.  When compared to physical adoption, spiritual adoption is more like reunion.

The other reality that we just can't escape when comparing physical adoption and spiritual adoption the traditional way is what we say about the people who live adoption each and everyday.  Can we compare the innocent child to the sinner who is redeemed by God, although unworthy?  Can we compare original parents and families to "hell" which their children are "redeemed" from?  Finally, should we place adoptive parents in the God role to do the redeeming?  It doesn't fit; these things simply aren't kind to say.  Original parents have their own strengths and challenges as do adoptive parents.  They are human beings with their own triumphs or mistakes--they are neither "God" nor "hell."  The child, who had no choice but to be born into a world full of adult problems, has not done nothing to be "redeemed" from.

Even the reunion comparison is in its own way unfair.  It places adoptive parents in the role that adoptees must be "redeemed" by reunion from.  Either way, trying to compare something that people literally live to a spiritual concept in this case isn't speaking well to the dignity of the human beings involved.

Physical adoption, very simply, should be the coming together of families and community members to work on behalf of children.  If religion and the need to make metaphysical comparisons get in our way of making positive change in this earthly institution full of positives, negatives, ethical challenges, and loss, then perhaps we should stop making the comparison at all.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Baptist Missionaries Jailed in Haiti: When the Shoe is on the Other Foot

(Photo credit)
A distressed Laura Silsby currently pleads from captivity in Haiti that she and the 9 other members of her Baptist-church-based group "did nothing wrong." She claims that they came out of love in their heart for these children. She tells an interrogator "we did not understand all your rules."

She is upset by the fact that the laws in Haiti are so confusing and that the Haitian lawyer appointed to her does not even speak English. She thought that her group could come in, take children out of Haiti for adoption, and that her benevolence was enough to conquer any details she had missed.

These children, many of which were crying out for their mothers in a language their 10 Baptist "rescuers" couldn't understand, were were taken with the intention of being adopted to families in the U.S.  Clearly lacking humility and a respect for another culture, they sought to take these children out of their Haiti without looking for their Haitian parents first.

For Silsby and her group, the shoe is now on the other foot, so to speak.  She is in a foreign land, away from her family, confused and feeling helpless, and unable to communicate because of a language barrier.  Rightfully so, she feels scared and overwhelmed, much like the children probably felt as she told them they must board her bus and go with her.

Silsby had forgotten a primary principle of her faith, to treat others how she would want to be treated.  To be returned to her family and the culture familiar to her.  To be around people whose language she speaks and can understand.  Now she cries out to national television about her plight.  In a quiet moment, I pray she sees the irony and becomes a culturally competent advocate for the best interests of these lost children and their parents instead.