November is ‘adoption awareness month.’ Here are a few things I know:
I was surrendered by my birthmother in January 1966, during a period known in the history of adoption as ‘the baby scoop.’ The baby scoop occurred from approximately the end of the Second World War to the early 1970s, when it’s believed that 4 million babies were surrendered in the US, often coercively, to adoption. I’m told my birthmother wanted to keep me but wasn’t allowed to keep me because she was unmarried and only 19-years old. Her older sister, who wanted to adopt me, wasn’t allowed to adopt me, either. Her parents were unwilling to accept me into their family. Five weeks after I was surrendered, I was placed in an adoptive home. During the same year I was born, my birthmother met a guy, got married, and started a family. By all accounts, she was a fine parent. While there’s no ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ adoption story during the baby scoop, there’s nothing extraordinary about our experience.
After my birthmother’s death, the state no longer had interest in keeping our file confidential. When I was 46-years old, I learned my birthmother’s identity, some limited facts about my ancestry, and received half of a family medical history. But I never met my birthmother. A significant reason why we didn’t meet is that we needlessly ran out of time. In 2006 Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell vetoed legislation that would have allowed me to receive my original birth certificate and reach out to her. It’s widely believed that Rell vetoed the legislation in a bid to appeal to Evangelical voters and secure a place as John McCain’s Vice-Presidential running mate in 2008.
They say that losing a child is the worst thing any parent can experience, but they never say it about birthmothers. Every time I hear someone evoke the sanctity of family, I remember my experience. Our values manifest through our actions, not through our words. In the culture that sanctioned, enabled, and promoted my adoption–which is the culture in which we’re still living–your family is no more sacred or secure than mine was, your ancestry no more important than mine, and your family values aren’t really worth a damn. Zealots work to secure laws that manipulate our lives toward their purposes. And we learn to live with that. Or we don’t.
Adoptees are four times more likely to commit suicide than the non-adopted and, while constituting only two percent of the population, make up twenty-five percent of the institutionalized youth in America. In addition to ‘making families,’ adoption also creates a fair amount of pain. Taking a child from his or her mother is a traumatic event in the life of that child and the life of that mother. Among themselves, adoptees often name a revealing truth: adoption is the only trauma that requires victims to be grateful.
Please remember, adoption is no unqualified good, nor is it one thing. But for many it’s complicated, displacing, decontextualizing, and too often destructive to the people it purports to ‘save.’ And it’s shrouded in silence. So during this so-called ‘adoption awareness month,’ I invite you to reflect on adoption’s complexity and to learn what you can from the people who’ve been directly affected by adoption’s consequence. Ending silence is a first step toward awareness.
[This was originally posted on Facebook, 1 November 2015.]