In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the third annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
Today's guest post was written by a woman who some of you may consider to be "anti-adoption". I spoke with her at length on the phone several months ago after we had a cyber incident, and I am the one who invited her to write a piece for the series, because I think she is rational, approachable, and willing to collaborate. Please be respectful to my guest. Hosting her piece does not change the fact that I am pro adoption; I am a huge supporter of ethical adoption. I will be monitoring comments closely to make sure that they civil. Thanks to everyone who is reading the series every day! There have been many thousands of views thus far. It wouldn't happen without you!!
You Can Call Me Anti-Adoption If You Must
By Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy
There are so many labels in adoption. Some of them are often necessary just to be able to communicate clearly and effectively; yet they end up becoming a foundation of who we are in life. I am a woman. I am a friend. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a wife. I am a mother. And, often the single most identifying label, both in a heroic, damning and often judgmental way, I am a birthmother.
For the last twenty-five years, “birthmother” is a label I have had to bear. I was not born to be a birthmother, but life circumstances and some choices lead me in that direction back in 1987. There were times, I confess, that I wore my birthmother title proudly; believing that it gave me some kind of super powers making me smarter, stronger, more saintly that the average knocked-up 19 year old. At other times, I have fought the very use of that "birth" modifier in front of my first act of motherhood as demeaning and restrictive. Currently, I choose to use the terminology of "birthmother" to further what I see as a much needed calling; providing a platform for myself and other women who have walked the same life path to share our voices and explain what it really means to us to have a life after we relinquish a baby to adoption.
Sometimes that activity is labeled as "anti-adoption". Often, the very concept of those two words applied together -- "anti" and "adoption" -- are met with disbelief. Often, because I do choose to spend much of my time and energy pointing out the more negative aspects of adoption, I, too, get labeled as "anti-adoption".
What Being "Anti-Adoption" Means to Me
Before that title is thrown around and cast upon my head like a noose, I would like to explain what the words, anti-adoption, mean in my world:
1). I believe that it is wrong that there is profit being made in the adoption industry. The transferring of the parental rights of children, what we call adoption, is a thirteen billion dollar annual industry. Every day we hear more and more about corruption in adoption and many adoption experts agree that we need to get the profits out. There is just too much opportunity for the best interest to be deflected from the welfare of the children. In addition, the high costs of adopting make it completely out of reach for many prospective adoptive parents who are then left having to take out second mortgages or hold adoption fundraisers. I do not think this is "anti-adoption" but instead, I see this as pro-child welfare and against the commoditization of children.
2). I believe that less focus and attention needs to be put on the front end of adoption -- finding babies that can be adopted, quickly and smoothly, -- and more resources are needed in post adoption services for all members; adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents. Too many families are left hanging post placement with nothing but their best intentions to guide them. Birthparents frequently face the same lack of follow-up services, and mental health professionals are often uneducated about the long term effects of relinquishment. I do not see this as "anti-adoption" but rather, as a strong advocate for the continued support of all people affected by adoption.
3). I believe that the marketing and promotional aspects of adoption need to be overhauled. I do think there is something wrong with an adoption agency spending thousands of dollars in advertising or using crisis pregnancy center connections to recruit mothers to consider adoption for their babies. Adoption websites must discuss both the positives and the negatives, the risks and possibilities, when providing adoption information to all parties. People should not be told what they want to hear in order to seal a deal, pay a fee, or relinquish a child. I don't think of this as "anti-adoption"; I see it as demanding "truth in advertising" and freedom of information.
4). I believe that we must change adoption practices so that the expectant parents considering adoption have enough information to make an informed choice. An agency cannot tell potential birth mothers that they are strong and courageous, promise them relationships with their children and expect them to find peace and heal. Adoption professionals must present, however scant, the known research about the consequences of long-term grief, the true stats of adoptee outcomes, secondary infertility rates, and the legal truth about open adoption agreements. Adoption counseling should be from a true unbiased source and care must be made to ensure that mothers considering adoption do have real options insofar that they have parallel parenting plans and realistic recourses available. I can't imagine this is "anti-adoption" but instead see it as asking that mothers who "choose" adoption are really doing so freely and knowingly. I am asking for the word "informed" to be a true action rather than a pretty descriptive version of lip service.
5). I believe we have to demand that all adoptions are held to the highest ethics. We need to make sure that people are truly educated and aware of more than they Hollywood stereotypes when it comes to adoption. I want to see our legislators and policy makers understand the complexities and create uniform laws -- not because it makes adoption easier -- but because it makes the process right. I want to see children's needs come first. I want fathers’ rights upheld. I want legal accountability. I want more than a patchwork of state laws that allow people to cross state lines, get a new license, and work around regulations. I don't see this as "anti-adoption", but pro-ethical accountability. No one should ever have to look a child in the eye and say "I am sorry; we let you down".
6). I believe that as a country we must restore to adult adoptees the access to their original birth certificates. Currently adult adoptees are the only classification of US citizens that are denied the right to access their original birth certificates based on the fact they were adopted. This is a classic case of discrimination. This issue touches on the right to know one’s identity, the normal desire to know the story of one's birth if desired, access to genetic history and medical information, genealogy, and sometimes even the ability to get a passport, a driver's license, to vote or to have health insurance. With over 95% of adoptions today having some semblance of openness, the fact that the government is still stuck in a past based on shame, secrecy and lies can only hurt our children. I do not see this as "anti-adoption", but anti-discrimination and for protecting the civil rights of our children.
These are the issues that I have chosen to focus on, because change needs to happen for the sake of all our children and the parents and children that come after us.
Please Don't Let Adoption Labels Separate Us
The way I see it; I am trying to create change so that adoption can be what we want it to be: finding the best homes possible for children that need homes. It is not easy and I understand that not everyone will see things the same way I do. We come from different experiences and have had different perspectives, but I often wonder if we are not more alike than the labels would allow us to believe. I didn't have a horrible adoption experience, and, at one point, I thought adoption was all good , too.
I was sad to relinquish my child, but I did believe that adoption was the best option for my son. I had been lucky in many ways and the agency that I had chosen was kind to me. Like many people, what I knew of adoption was based off of made-for-TV movies, afterschool specials, and sensational news stories.
In other words, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Just like anyone else facing a new and unknown situation, I followed the leads of the experts. I trusted the agency. I read what they told me to read. I believed what they taught, and wanting to be seen as a "good birthmother," I did as I was expected. If I had a rule book given to me, I would have memorized it. Seriously. I had no idea that adoption was anything but personally sad while still being a wonderful option to bring a "win-win" to a crisis pregnancy situation.
I remember the first time adoption was presented to me in a less than positive light. I freaked out, too.
It was now 2001 and the Internet had found its way into my life. The first thing I did was Google "adoption" as I had never knowingly met another birthmother, or had too much exposure to adopted people, and I felt alone and isolated. I was still proud of my choice, still clinging to the words of my agency, still holding tight to the last pictures seen of my baby, a chubby smiling one-year-old.
I expected that other birthmothers would be, would feel, just like me. I was wrong. I was shocked, horrified, even speechless at first. Then angry, oh so angry, that anyone could dare to question this wonderful thing I had did based on the love of my child.
I remember the first time I was able to put aside my shocked horror and hear the message of these dissenting voices without applying a negative label. I had been stuck on what I call now my adoption elevator pitch: It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but it was for the best and I do not regret it.
To that I read the words written by now grown adult adoptees, people I trusted, whom I called my friends then, whom I call my friends now, and they said:
"Please, Claud, promise us, if you ever do search for Max, if he finds you, please do not say that you have no regrets. For us, the adopted, that means that you did not miss him in your life and that will hurt his feelings"
The concept behind this simple phrase shook me to my very soul.
I had relinquished my newborn son for all the right reasons; because I believed that it was best for him. Doubts in myself, in my family, in my situation, fear of resentments, fears of inabilities, fear of my own power as a mother gave me the strength to do the unthinkable. What I believed about adoption before and what I had been taught about adoption at the agency had provided my younger self with a firm foundation of goodness.
As a parent, as most parents, I wanted what was best for my child. As a human being, I wanted to be a good person. I deeply believed that my actions represented that goodness. Adoption for my son was better than a questionable life with me, and I was good, strong and selfless, for making this difficult choice. Yet, here were these people telling me it was all wrong? How could that be true?
Of course, I wanted to tell them otherwise, to disbelieve, but instead I opened my mind and I began to just listen and I began to learn.
We Must Accept the Negative for Change to Be Positive
It would have been easier to dismiss what I heard. I could have chosen to say "that's how you feel, but you don't speak for my son," or "your story was long ago, that's different than what happened to me", or even the "you speak from a place of pain and not all adoptions/ adoptees/ birthmothers feel like that", but I did not.
I could have stayed in the place where I felt good about my decision, but I believe it is human nature to change our beliefs based on new information. My job as a parent, even as a birth parent, is to consistently change to provide what my children need. My role as a human being is to try to leave this world a better place. For me, that means I have to shine a light on many ways that adoption can be better.
I shine a light on the dark places, the nooks and crannies, that we would rather not see. I point out the dusty corners and the bits that don't feel good. We want things to look pretty, so we sweep them under the rug; I bring them back out again and declare that our house of adoption is a mess! I am not trying to be unrealistic.
I am not trying to rain on anyone's parade. I don't hate adoptive parents. I don't approve of child abuse of any kind. I do not wish to see children raised in orphanages or in a life of foster placements. I do understand that there are times when children must be removed from their biological families for real reasons, and that is a terrible tragedy that a child should never suffer. I know we are all trying to do the best we can; we all want to be inherently, intrinsically, undeniable good.
I understand that we want adoption to be about being the best possible experience for all the parties involved, but I will say that we are not there yet. We still have a lot of work to do to before adoption is the way we want it to be, the way we believe it to be, the way it should be, the way it has to be.
If that has to be called "anti adoption", then I will wear that label proudly and would be honored to have you join me now that you know what it means.
Since 2005, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been blogging about life as a birthmother at www.MusingsoftheLame.com. Her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, What to Expect, Adoption Today, Adoption Voices, Gazillion Voices and many others. She is dedicated to Adoptee Rights legislation and changing the unethical adoption industry.
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