Unicorns and Rainbows: I’m Okay, You’re Okay

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I recently came upon a discussion thread regarding an insightful post by The Humanist Adoptee. The post lists 13 Reasons Why Adopted Children Are Not Lucky.  The reasons listed by the author are not absolutes for every adopted person. But they are a pretty good summation for the vast majority of us, and certainly for a public that sees adoption as something completely different than what we’ve lived.

What truly fascinated me were the responses by some of those who didn’t agree with all 13 reasons, or at least most of them. These were from adopted adults who to a person stated they’d had “happy adoptive outcomes.” The fascinating part is that the adopted dissenters were posting on an online support group for adopted people. Yet saying over and over that adoption had in no way affected their lives. This begged the honest question: if adoption has in no way affected you, why join an online support group for adopted people? The responses varied from “I reconnected with my birthfamily and want to helps others,” to “I’m looking for my birthmother and just want to thank her for giving me a wonderful life,” to “I found my birthmother, thanked her, and my life is complete.”

None of those are invalid or false statements on their surface.  But digging a bit deeper, what becomes clear is these folks have still been affected by adoption, be it wanting to know more about birthfamily, wishing to connect with other adoptees and help them, or having already searched and found birthfamily.  And even having admitted that, still  maintained adoption had in no way affected their lives. The basic implication being that if adoption didn’t result in some negative outcome – be it abuse, neglect, feelings of inferiority, etc. – it didn’t have an effect at all. Therefore, they associated all of the 13 reasons as absolute negatives in adoptive experience and couldn’t bear to attach that to themselves or identify with it any way, for fear of pathologizing themselves.

So fearful were they of acknowledging the ways in which adoption may have marked us, that some stated their adoptive parents would be ‘extremely upset’ if they read the 13 reasons. A respondent to this notion posted, ” I think it’s very telling that two of the previous posters mentioned that they think their adoptive ‘parents would be very upset’ to read this ‘article’. This chills me.” It chilled me, too. It suggests that even discussing the possible ways we’re all affected by our adoptive experience is taboo, especially with one’s parents. I would think that any parent who loved their child unconditionally and adopted with no emotional baggage or notions of child “ownership” would be able to read every one of those points and not be upset.

But it once again serves to copperfasten the concept of the “happy adoptee” as the one who conditions himself to “fit in” and be “grateful,” or feels “lucky.” I would have thought that given the reams of information now available on the Internet – professional research white papers, studies, blogs, support groups, forum and the lot – we would long be past the myth of unicorns and rainbows when it comes to adoption. But there are still many out there who still hold fast to this idea that adoption has in no way colored the lives of those who live it. Perhaps they’ve just begun their journey and haven’t really taken a good, introspective look at the many ways in which adoption affects us. From lack of medical histories, denial of rights, or observing our own children as if they were new, alien species – we face hurdles every day that our non-adopted counterparts do not. To state it has had no effect, good or bad. is disingenuous and the ultimate act of denial.

“I was lucky – if my birthmother hadn’t given me up for adoption, we would have had miserable lives,” is the one old chestnut I find most egregious.

For me (and mileage may vary for others), I find trying to compare and contrast what sort of life I might’ve had in Ireland (or the UK, as my mum ended up there) versus the one I had here in the US is not only futile, it is nigh on impossible. We cannot guess how we would’ve been raised, what hardships we might’ve faced or what our outcomes would have been. I don’t consider that luck or fate. A State and religious institution colluded to create our fates and that of our mothers/fathers, so to attribute that to “luck” is disingenuous, I find. When a society or state fails to provide the necessary supports and resources to enable natural families to parent their children (which is acknowledged as the best outcome for a child, barring instances of abuse or neglect), it creates a power imbalance and leaves (especially) women with no power or choice over their own and their child’s outcome. It may be uncomfortable for many to look deeply at what was truly done to us – I get that. Complete introspection coupled with deep research of the history of adoption, and what it is/meant in Irish history, can be a bit daunting for some.

taken_adoptionThat power imbalance still exists today with intercountry adoption, and even with domestic adoption in the US particularly. I cannot just shrug off what Ireland did to my mother and to me, nor accept that it was simply my “fate” or “lucky” that I went to a decent family. For me, to do so would mean disregarding or minimalising the lack of power and choice my own mother had, including lack of access to safe abortion. I know too many people who went to the “wrong” families, and then later learned their natural mothers would have been perfectly fit to raise them (in fact, often went on to marry shortly after and led established, stable lives).

giftIf we accept that it’s okay simply because we weren’t abused or unhappy in our adoptive families, it leaves us open to suggesting that this practice of willfully separating children from their mothers because of factors like poverty, religious or societal stigma, or other pressures (outside of the aforementioned abuse/neglect) is okay as well, and we will have learned nothing from our history. This is not to suggest that adoptive parents are always colluders in this process as well – most are/were well-intentioned and often not aware of the background circumstances, or misled by agencies. But sometimes as a society, we grow too comfortable with the incorrect notion that children are “given” as a “gift” for adoption, and the whole practise is completely altruistic. It was and is not. Whenever I hear that well-used trope, I always ask the user of the phrase, “If adoption is such a ‘gift,’ then look around at your children and tell me which one of YOURS you’d be willing to give as a ‘gift’?”

So whether our outcomes/experiences were happy or not-so-great, it is dangerous to say that this means adoption didn’t affect us, and ultimately it is a form of denial. It also does not acknowledge the enormous trauma of loss – for both mother and child – and the abhorrent social mores that create/d that separation. That complacency can lead us down a slippery slope that will allow the practice to continue, with little regard to the rights of women and their children. I’m certainly not suggesting we all start flagellating ourselves or creating some sort of angst over our adoptive situations. I do urge everyone to think carefully about what adoption means not only to you, personally, but examine the hidden toll of the accumulated loss and trauma for all parties involved.

Dear Rosita: It’s Not About You

 

no-whiningIt is amazing the amount of print space, air time and political clout given to those who choose adoption (particularly of the intercountry variety) to ‘create a family,’ yet so little given to the adult voices of those who have actually lived and can speak to the long-term effects of the intercountry adoption experience. Over the last four months, Irish airwaves and numerous publications have extensively covered the impact of the recent Oscar-nominated film ‘Philomena’ and Ireland’s history of trafficking more than 2,000 of its own children abroad. Yet the Irish Times has remained curiously silent on the topic. Until this past weekend, when we were treated to Rosita Boland’s cringe-worthy lament on the ‘Kafkaesque process’ that she claims intercountry adoption to be in Ireland today.

Rosita, it’s not about you. Lost in this whinge-fest is the truth that adoption is supposed to be about finding homes for children who desperately need them, not about finding children for people like Rosita Boland who desperately want them. What Ms. Boland doesn’t seem to understand is that adoption, and more importantly, the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (to which Ireland is a signatory and ratified), is about the best interests of children – not the adults wishing to adopt them. Creating a family through alternative means when one finds oneself biologically incapable of doing so is not a Constitutional right. It is a privilege. And trying to create one by any means necessary, including by flaunting the basic human rights of natural parents and their children, makes for a playing field and supply/demand scenario ripe for fraud. If adopters like Ms. Boland truly want to make a difference in a child’s life, why not sponsor a child and his family? Or adopt one of the thousands of children in care (and, sadly, among whom are the cast-aside teens of prior Russian, Romanian and other intercountry adoption arrangements), of which according to recent HSE statistics, more than 300 are currently statused as tracked for adoption?

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We’ve all seen the numerous recent imbroglios in which Ireland has become involved concerning intercountry adoption: Vietnam, Mexico, Tristan Dowse and other cases all stand as stark reminders to how corrupt this practice has become. The moribund, quasi-governmental body known as the Adoption Authority of Ireland has managed to step into one nasty quagmire after another in its quest to create bilateral agreements and satisfy the insatiable demands of prospective adopters. That it finally tried putting the brakes on some of these relationships is a small victory for best-practice adoption, although clearly it put a major damper on Ms. Boland’s hopes.

The underrepresentation of adult intercountry-adopted voices when it comes to intercountry adoption policy – be it on the board of the Adoption Authority, in the media, or at conferences concerning the topic – is staggering and concerning. In the US, a Bill known as the Children and Families First (CHIFF) Act, designed to ‘fast-track’ intercountry adoptions, is struggling to gain support. It is sponsored by senior Senator from Louisiana Mary Landrieu, whose own husband was trafficked from Ireland in 1949 – before a legal Adoption Act was even on the books. But that doesn’t seem to bother Ms. Landrieu one whit, as she herself played ‘white saviour’ and collected two children internationally, and touts her husband’s ‘adoption’ as something out of a “storybook.” His export from Ireland and adoption was and is illegal. She and the CHIFF committee make the odious argument that there are ‘more than enough [children] to go around,’ as if children were somehow party favours. Even more egregious, supporters of this Bill recently hosted a conference to which not ONE intercountry adopted adult was invited. When questioned about the lack of representation of those with lived experience on the topic by groups of Korean, Irish, German, Vietnamese and other internationally-adopted adults, CHIFF committee members told us the conference was geared toward the ‘legal aspects of the Bill.’ So there are no intercountry-adopted lawyers out there? Ms. Landrieu’s own husband is a well-known Louisiana attorney. But perhaps he remains ignorant of his own trafficked status, unaware that perhaps somewhere in Ireland there was or is a mother who lives devastated and grieved that her child was taken from her simply because of the social mores of the day.

Which brings us back full-circle to the truth of Ireland’s own involvement in child trafficking from the 1940’s-1970’s. The last piece of dirty carpet remaining from Ireland’s history and culture of containment. Those of us whose identities, heritage and culture were stripped in that trafficking are now middle-aged adults: we vote, pay taxes, have children and grandchildren, have served in the US military, and yes, some of us are even attorneys. We have a voice and a story to tell. It is no mystery why the Irish State and former religious-run agencies would prefer this piece of carpet not be torn up. It will expose a half-century of fraud, corruption, illegalities and human rights violations that may well make the industrial school abuses and Magdalene Laundries pale in comparison. What is a mystery is why individuals like Ms. Boland whinge about the small number of children available to be adopted from abroad. We should be applauding those numbers and recognising that the best outcome for most children is to be raised within their natural families, within their own country and culture. Money and power should never be used as tools to subjugate women in other countries and strip them of their children. Implying that privileged white adopters can better raise a child is the worst sort of racism and classism, and does not represent choice or empowerment for women in underdeveloped nations or without resources to parent. And making it easier for that power imbalance to continue to exist is certainly not the answer.