Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Would You Rather Have Grown Up in an Orphanage?"


When we challenge adoption practices and policies, sometimes people become confused about why we do so.  Adoption provides homes for kids, why change it? People have gone so far to assert that those who want to change adoption must not want needy children to have homes..  People must assume that there are adoptees who make these opinions consumed by their own pain, not considering the needs of children, and haven't done their homework.

In reality, many of us have been those children.

I spent the first 4.5 months of my life in a foster home.  I do not know the names of my foster parents or where I lived.  I don't have any pictures or any real information about my life.  Since my state reformed its access laws 14 years after my birth, I now have my uncensored adoption file.  I know that I lived under a false alias and received medical care as an infant at a doctor's office where the agency presented my identity to my health care providers as being this false alias.  An adoption worker noted that I will get sunburn if you don't put sunblock on me and that I am sensitive to dairy.  I guess nothing else about me was important enough to be written down.

People have suggested that if I dislike adoption it must mean that I would have rather stayed in foster care for the rest of my youth, rather than be adopted.

But they're forgetting that I was not magically materialized within foster care.  I was born to a mother; I had a family.  Why was I in foster care to begin with?  Why did I need to be in foster care for almost 5 months when my mother signed off her rights less than a month after my birth?  I can make an educated guess but I will never really know.

My parents adopting me out of foster care is also not what I have a problem with.

If we sought to address the reasons why children are entering into orphanages, we can prevent so many losses from happening.  Why are mothers "abandoning" their children in orphanages in countries abroad?  Why are they disenfranchised by terrible poverty?  Why aren't there social welfare programs to help keep families together?

Adoption is a reaction to a problem.  It will not keep the problem from continuing.  It does not address the problem at its roots.  Adoption will not solve the problems of all of the children in orphanages.  But addressing the reasons why orphanages are being used will.  Not having kids growing up in orphanages is the goal.  Adoption is an institution that impacts vulnerable populations globally.  We have to question its policies and practices and continually shape them.  If we do not, we will never meet the needs of children and families.

"Women in developing nations who place children for adoption abroad usually do so because they are disadvantaged by terrible poverty and/or by the stigma of illegitimacy." --Fisher, A. (2003). Still not quite as good as having your own? Toward a sociology of adoption. Annual Review of Sociology

Photo credit: Maggie Smith

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Tale of One who is Adopted and one who is not

These are the stories of two, real people, with their names changed on this blog.

Alex was born in the 1950's.

Haley was born in the 1980's.

Alex's mother found it impossible to continue on living with her alcoholic husband.  But back in her day, women couldn't always just take their children and leave.  Divorce and single motherhood were heavily stigmatized and treated harshly by surrounding society.  So she left tearfully one day and moved across the country, leaving two-year-old Alex and his younger brother to be raised by her husband's mother.

Haley's mother experienced an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager.  Unable to qualify for welfare because she was considered the dependant of a family who themselves could not qualify for welfare but could not readily afford to raise a baby without assistance either, Haley's mother sought out the help of an adoption agency.  But the agency pressured Haley's mother into thinking that the only way to do right by Haley was to surrender her to a family that could raise and support her.

Alex's mother remarried and started a new family.

Haley's mother graduated high school, married, and started a family.

Alex's mother's identity was never hidden from him.  It was never questioned whether or not he should be able to know the name of his mother.  Correspondence from his mother was in a letter here and there, rare, and discouraged by his family.

Haley's mother's identity was hidden from her.  It was questioned whether or not she should be able to know the name of her mother.  Haley had no way of contacting her mother and her mother was forbidden from knowing who Haley was or trying to contact her.

Alex saw his mother again for the first time since age two when he was 21.  He visits her every other year with his wife.

Haley saw her mother again for the first time since she was a few weeks old when she was 24.  She talks to her a couple of times per week.

Alex does not need permission from the state to speak to his mother.  His birth certificate is his own, the state makes it available to him without question, and no one can revoke it from him.  Alex is seen as normal for embracing his roots and loving his mother.  People treat him like a normal person, with normal reasons for accessing his birth certificate, and a normal son of his mother.

Haley needs permission from the state to speak to her mother.  Her birth certificate is not her own, the state does not make it readily available to her and questions her repeatedly when she wants it, and it is able to be revoked at any time.  Haley is seen as abnormal for embracing her roots.  People treat Haley like a novelty, think she is disloyal to her parents for loving her mother, and have called her names for her interest in her heritage.

Why?

Haley was issued a decree of adoption.  Alex was not.

There are people who live "adoptee-like" lives everywhere.  It's why the horror "what if your mother...____enter dramatic scenario here___" objections to adoptee rights are irrelevant.  Living separately from your mother and not being raised by her, hard family situations, and controversial conception circumstances are not exclusive to adoption.  It's your decree of adoption that sealed your information and made you legally different than everyone else---not the "controversial" details that may have allegedly surrounded your life pre-adoption.  It's the decree of adoption that chopped you off at your roots and sealed your OBC; period.  Don't let a legislator or anyone else tell you otherwise.