The Fine Line Between Feeling and Fact in Adoption (a part of "Why the Adoption Establishment Annoys me" Week)
I was asked, as a part of the unofficial "why the adoption establishment annoys me" blog week, hosted by Land of Gazillion Adoptees, to answer the question: why does the adoption establishment annoy you? At the moment I can think of no better answer than how the issue in larger society of valuing feelings over facts, is reflected within this very institution.
Take Adoptee Rights as just one example. It doesn't matter that facts demonstrate that restoring the right of adult adoptees to access their own original birth certificates (OBC access) will not raise abortion rates, if someone feels that this will happen, they will still vote no. It doesn't matter that research has shown that it is a fact that amending and sealing never intended to promise anonymity to original families, if someone feels that this is what this process was for, they will still vote no. Adoptee Rights activists walk into legislators offices very prepared; we've been doing this for a long time. There are a lot of professional journal articles, a lot of studies, and there is data from already open states to look at. What keeps access from happening widespread across the U.S? You guessed it. Feelings. Feelings derived from stereotypes that people are so bent on keeping because they are unwilling to learn something new.
Feeling: "Those seeking open records should be completely open about their intentions. They have a desire to search for their heritage, at all costs, even against the pleas of those who gave them life" (David Malutinok, former President/CEO, NCFA, New York Times, April 5, 2000)
Fact: Studies of Oregon adoptees dated about the same time as Malutinok's statement found that, of adoptees who accessed their original birth certificates, not all wanted to use them for search or reunion purposes. Of the adoptees who had tried to search for relatives using their OBC, a large portion (about 40%) were unable to locate the person whom they were looking for. Statistics gathered from the "open" states that keep track show that only 1 in 2000 original mothers have expressed a preference for "no contact." Of the countries and states that treat adoptees equally in this regard, no known harm has been caused by it.
How this has happened in adoption is through strategic marketing, careful use of language and slogans surrounding adoption, and the painting of narratives that provide a broader and more diverse picture of what is living adoption as being irrelevant. Adoption has come to be viewed as this unquestionable entity that is absolutely synonymous with virtue and ethics. This phenomena of adoption has been acknowledged by even the most pro-adoption people out there. Thomas Atwood, former President and CEO of the National Council for Adoption, a lobby organization whose marketing campaigns have won multiple awards marking marketing achievements promoting adoption to young, pregnant women, agreed that adoption has become so beloved, people won't question it. In a 2008 article published in the Pediatric Nursing journal, Mr. Atwood critiqued the use of the word "adoption" when it comes to "embryo adoption" based partly on the grounds that adoption is beloved and synonymous with trust and ethics which may lead people to believe, via association with the word "adoption," that there are few ethical issues to be worked out the "donating" of frozen embryos (aka "snowflake babies").
"The practice of “adopting” embryos is fraught with legal, moral, ethical, and spiritual issues. Establishing policies and practices to guide it is and will continue to be highly controversial, complex, and imperfect. Compare this status to adoption, which is well established, respected, and loved. For NCFA and this adoption advocate, that incompatibility raises concerns regarding the use of the name “adoption."What has happened as a result of the unanimity of adoption and morality is that people will believe that it is safe to assume that every and all things about adoption are the picture of ethics and that there's no need to change anything about it. Why change something that is seen as embodying what is the epitome of morality itself? When this happens, we as a society take steps to blindly support anything that says "oh, this is good for adoption!" when stopping and just thinking for a moment, considering the bigger picture and factual information, might cause us to admit that change is needed here and that we need to make that change now. This is perfectly exemplified in how the time periods before expectant parents considering adoption can be asked to sign away their rights as well as the time periods surrendering parents have to change their mind, are becoming increasingly short. Pennsylvania has a bill (HB 451) that is awaiting a hearing that not only plans to shorten the time frame surrendering parents have to change their minds from 30 days to a mere 96 hours, but allows expectant fathers to surrender their parental rights prior to the birth of their child and therefore not be notified of adoption preceding past the time of their signature. There's even questionable wording that appears to negate any possible time period to revoke consent at all. Pennsylvania allows three days to make a decision after birth before an expectant parent can be asked to surrender. Three days. Most women are still in the hospital recovering from birth at three days. Three days to make an irrevocable, life-long decision? Wow. My head hit the desk with I read this bill. We as a society have come to the point of such unquestionable support for the concept of adoption that we've forgotten the importance of making sure expectant parents have enough time to really consider their decision and enough time to change their minds, so that they can be certain adoption is the right thing. We've forgotten that this makes sense. We've forgotten this when we believe adoption is so wonderful, that expectant parents don't need enough time to make up their minds or change their minds because the result of adoption is the end that justifies any process that lead to it that may or may not have been fair or as best as it could have been.
There was a controversial bill in Oregon (HB 2904) that sought to increase decision-making time and decision-changing time for surrendering parents. It included another change to adoption law which became equally controversial for the same reason. It provided for mandatory disclosure of pertinent information about adoption to surrendering parents in order to balance the power between the surrendering parents and adoptive parents, who likely know little of adoption practice and law when considering it for the first time, and the agencies and adoption facilitators who are well versed in policy and practice. Pennsylvania also has a bill about adoption counseling to this end (HB 449), although it does not make counselling and disclosures mandatory. To my interpretation, it enhances and pays for access to adoption counselling, rather than making it mandatory, likely based upon the idea that more expectant parents ought to be considering adoption and talked to about adoption.
I was asked by a legislator to provide feedback about HB 449 and it provides a perfect example of where I would encourage people to look at tangible facts and real experiences of surrendering parents, rather than supporting a bill on whether or not one's feeling toward adoption is wonderful. A case in point is the Pennsylvania mother, Kristy Gaffney, who signed documents presented to her by her baby's father under the impression that they were papers to declare paternity. Gaffney claims that, unbeknownst to her, she had actually signed forms to surrender her baby to adoption--an adoption that was proceeding, as she claims, against her knowledge, where the wife (whom she says she never knew about) of the baby's father is adopting the baby. We have to ask ourselves how, in this day and age, does this even happen?
There have been a variety of responses to Gaffney as she has gone public voicing this issue in her fight for her child. Some of the most cruel comments on articles detailing her story have said that she "deserves" (sexism) to lose her child because she is probably too "stupid" (disablism) or "uneducated" (classism) to raise a baby if she can't even read forms correctly before signing them. These are feelings based on stereotypes, not facts based on reality. The fact of the matter is, adoption law and policy is not always easy to understand. The fact of the matter is, these commenters do not really know Gaffney, how the signing of the papers happened, or her intelligence or education level (and neither do I). People may also be compelled to say that her issue is a "rare personal experience" that could have been prevented had she just been smarter. They might say that her narrative does not count because adoption is wonderful for most people--and when we allow our feelings on adoption to cancel out what we don't want to hear, we can't learn anything that could help us see how adoption could be changed for the better. What we ought to be learning from this case? Is that we do need to look at adoption law. We need to ask ourselves why has this happened? What allowed it to happen? Feelings aside, why world is a parent able to surrender a child to adoption without mandatory disclosure and counselling involved, without being fully informed, and without any oversight and protection from an appointed government agency? This is the welfare of a child we're talking about here. If it was a requirement for an adoption-competent, government appointed, professional to handle and oversee every surrender and be responsible to ensure the education of all involved, then parents would not be confused as to what they are signing nor would adoptions take place that the individuals involved do not understand.
Do feelings have a place? Absolutely, feelings are important and useful. I talk about feelings all the time! Our empathy is a wonderful tool to find common ground with other people and learn about their experiences. Intuition can not only keep us safe but help us make wise decisions. When it comes to political issues that impact other people, however, it is important to examine personal biases and challenge them with factual information. This is true in every institution and political topic out there. Truth be told, adoption is not the panacea for all problems nor is it the epitome of perfectness. It is an imperfect institution run by human beings who make mistakes. There needs to be an increasing trend where people search for and embrace factual information and reliable research (as well as demand that adoption statistics reporting in the United States be improved from its embarrassing state) rather than this unquestioning regard for an imperfect institution. Too often, this is what I don't see and that, dear friends, is what annoys me about the adoption establishment this week.
This post was a part of an unofficial week to candidly discuss blogger frustrations regarding the institution of adoption. Multiple other bloggers have contributed thus far, won't you lend them some support? Land of Gazillion Adoptees, Adoption Echos, Another Version of Mother, Third Mom, Split Feathers, Reform Talk, Jessica Sunlee, and Rebecca Hawkes. Check them all out here.