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.
That 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).
If 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.