Tag Archives: intercountry

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?

guatemala_cables

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.

Adopted ‘Children’ and Parents: at age 50?

I recently read a letter to the editor of the Irish Times by a Mark Kearney of Trinity College.  I really must reassess my whole conception of Trinity as a seat of higher learning.

I couldn’t resist a rebuttal, although apparently the Times could — they didn’t publish it.  So I’ll post it here instead:

Mr Kearney’s letter rather poignantly cuts to the crux of the matter with regard to the rights of adopted people.  Interestingly, in both the title of his missive and thrice in its contents he refers to himself/other adopted people as ‘the child’ or ‘adopted children.’  As someone with children and grandchildren, who votes, pays taxes and earned the right to drink and serve in the military more donkey’s years ago than I care to count, I consider myself an adopted adult or adopted person, not a child.  Moreover, I am an adult whose rights have been abrogated not only by the Irish State, but by the U.S. as well (specifically the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) as I was chosen for exportation in the early 1960s.  And this abrogation is what continues to keep me a ‘child’ in the eyes of those governments.  In fact, in Pennsylvania, if one chooses to petition the courts to have their adoption file unsealed, the case is heard in the Juvenile Courts, even if the petitioner is 55.  Child indeed, sir.  How demeaning.

What Mr Kearney doesn’t seem to understand is that the fight isn’t about just the ridiculous wait times through agencies, the sometimes inept handling of our cases, or even the ingratiating and infantalising way we’re generally treated by agencies, often the media and general public, our parents or other family members, and perhaps most painfully by one of ‘our own’ like Mr Kearney.  Those are small injustices that pale in comparison to the true issue at hand: the fact that adults are still denied unfettered access to the documents of their birth in 2010.

Trace, contact and reunion are wholly separate issues and yes, understandably not everyone desires to know their heritage, medical history or who they resemble.  But the right to have one’s original birth certificate (a right enjoyed even by felons) should be every citizen’s right.  What they decide to do with that document is their own business.  Perhaps they’d like to just frame it and hang it on the wall.  I, too, had a very satisfactory adoptive experience and it was with the support, love and assistance of my adoptive family that I was able to trace my natural mother as well as the daughter I relinquished to adoption in the US.  Both contacts were welcomed, positive and have brought me a sense of self and healing.  I realise I was lucky in those results and that it isn’t always that way.  But I also prepared myself for the worst and knew what I could expect.  All of this was accomplished on my own and with the help of friends — the agency I first sought assistance from was not only incompetent, but unethical in many regards (c.f. vaccine trials at Bessboro’ circa 1960-61).

As they say, it’s foolish to mix apples and oranges and the right of access to one’s birth certificate should not be confused with trace and reunion.  They are not mutually inclusive.  But those, like me, who have the desire to know more about who they are and where they came from, should be treated with dignity and respect, and not as some ungrateful, whingeing ‘child’ riddled with insecurities and self-esteem issues.

Using terminology like ‘adopted children’ smacks of the concept that adoption begins and ends with the receipt of a ‘warm bundle of joy,’ when in fact it’s a lifelong process.  Perhaps Mr Kearney could benefit from the words of the Rev. Keith C. Griffith, MBE: “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”

Ireland’s ‘first wave of intercountry adoptions’?

Irish Minister for Health and Children Barry Andrews’ official statements on Wednesday, 3 March (at the Committee debate on a pending adoption bill) leave me with my jaw gaping and wondering if this man is fit for office. He said, “The first wave of inter-country adoptions occurred in the early 1990s. Some of those individuals are now coming of age and beginning to take an interest in tracing. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to wait until we have a little bit more knowledge and experience of this area. There is a perfectly good system for tracing in this country. It has worked well. “

This is an absolute insult to the more than 2,000 of us who were involuntarily sent from Ireland for adoption between the 1940’s and 1970’s, largely to the U.S. We represent that ‘first wave’ and are now well into adulthood (some of us even have grandchildren…imagine that). We are tax-paying, voting, middle-aged adults who, by the way, hold dual citizenship. We, along with our in-country adopted Irish brethren, have also been vocal in adoption reform for the last twenty years. It is truly unfortunate that the government largely chose to ignore us, despite our best efforts to produce sane legislation and truly efficient post-adoption services. It is clear Minister Andrews himself has either chosen to ignore us or would like to conveniently forget this dark chapter of baby-brokering in Ireland’s own history. Time and again, we have offered sound proposed legislation, including the restoration of unfettered access to the original documents of our birth – a right enjoyed by every other citizen save adopted people.

The last sentence of his statement above also absolutely beggars belief and I happen to know firsthand that it is largely untrue.

Having availed of the ‘perfectly good’ post-adoption services offered by the Sacred Heart Adoption Society in Bessboro’ as early as 1997, I can attest to the absolute ineffectiveness of the current system. In fact, the handling of my own particular case was so disastrously mismanaged by this agency that in 2003, I was forced to file a complaint with Mr. John Collins of the Irish Adoption Authority. Among the agency’s many egregious mistakes were the following:

Their trace coordinator was following several incorrect birth certificates for my natural mother, despite the fact their own records noted her correct date of birth on admittance forms (which I was given a copy of, in violation of the agency’s own ‘non-identifying information only’ policy). I was told my mother was an “orphan,” that her parents had been killed; she was actually, like me, born out of wedlock. The same trace coordinator would have contacted some poor woman in Limerick of no relation to me, except that I had grown so weary of their inefficiency that I managed to trace my mother on my own. It took me one e-mail to a heritage researcher based in Dublin, and an hour later I was looking at a faxed copy of my mother’s and my own birth certificates. Over the next few years, I established welcomed, careful contact with my mother (we enjoy an ongoing close relationship).

For my mother’s part, she too tried at various times over the years to contact this agency. Initially, she was told I had been sent to California, when in fact I was raised in Philadelphia. Shortly after I arrived in the U.S., my adoptive parents sent a letter to her, along with photos of me at my first Christmas with my new family. They wanted to assure her that I was happy and healthy and assimilating to my new life. She only got one photo; the others and the letter were withheld from her.

After informing them of the success of my self-trace, I received a nasty letter from the aforementioned trace coordinator, including a copy of private and confidential correspondence between this coordinator and my adoptive mother (still living). I did not solicit this letter and it was unnecessary. When I informed my adoptive mother of this breach of her own confidentiality, she was absolutely horrified.

This same coordinator was captured on videotape showing a visitor from the U.S. the records room at Bessboro’ and announcing that only she and one other person had access to this room – a professional publicist who they were “hiring to write a book to refute that [June, author of ‘The Light in the Window‘] Goulding woman’s lies.” So I’m given to understand that some publicist off the street can have free access to my and my adoptive parents’ private information, but I myself can’t? And this is effective post-adoption service?

My experience is completely typical of that currently experienced by many thousands of adopted adults in and from Ireland. For me and others who were part of the wave of children sent to the United States, it is further compounded by distance, costs and either lack of information or disinformation. Let’s try listening to the elder voices of those who have experienced inter-country adoption – we don’t have to wait for the “1990s” crop to come of age. And here’s a news flash, Minister Andrews: many of those voices came from your own backyard.

Without a Home

I am an American citizen.  On 11 September 2001, like millions of my compatriots, I sat and watched the destruction of three great symbols of this nation’s strength, the instantaneous (I hope) death of thousands of men and women who had simply marched off to work that morning, and I cried. My tears held an extra measure of salt that day because in my solidarity with my fellow citizens, I still stood apart. My terror has deeper roots: I stand on the same U.S. soil as millions of other people do, yet not by birthright or heritage or by choice. And I have to wonder why I’m here. Forty-one years ago the Irish State made a decision on my behalf to send me to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I was one in a 2,000-strong wave of children sent to the U.S. for adoption. I have no doubt my mother had little say in my destiny, much less me.

As I grow older the whole concept of “destiny” grips me more than ever. For the record, let me state that my adoptive parents and my upbringing itself were lovely. But at age 18, I found myself in the same position as my own mother in 1960, relinquishing a daughter for adoption in Pennsylvania in 1978. And in 1993, what had been an abusive, horrid marriage to the father of my two younger children ended in his suicide. The bullet he used to take his life lodged in my face and left life rather touch-and-go for a few days.

My adoptive mother recently told me that the first few agonizing hours after she’d been contacted by the hospital and informed I’d been shot must have been eerily similar to those experienced by the thousands of parents, spouses and children who waited for word of their loved ones in New York or Washington on 11 September. She was in Philadelphia and I in Florida at the time, so she endured an interminable wait for a flight to my side. Would all this have happened had I stayed in Ireland? This is the question that burns.

I have always considered Ireland my home. Like many adopted adults, I tend to be rootless, creating no strong or long-lasting bonds with anyone save my own children, and never staying in one place for very long. I’ve bounced between Philadelphia and Florida, with a stop in Indiana along the way, three times to date. What brought me back to Philadelphia was not necessarily my adoptive family (although I do enjoy their company for the most part). It was a need to be closer to my now-found eldest daughter, Kerry, and her own growing family.

Moments in my adult life, and a few during childhood, have been inexorably touched by adoption. My makeup, good bad or indifferent, has been defined by my bastard status.

And now, as I wonder what the hell I’m doing here a scant hour and a half away from the carnage in lower Manhattan, I can’t help but feel some animosity toward a government that cared so little for my status as a citizen that they’d send me 3,000 miles from home. As if that weren’t bad enough, my quest to learn more about my birth heritage has been met with frustration, secrecy, and thousands of miles of bureaucratic red tape, government ineptitude, and disorganized records. Ultimately, the cold almost unfeeling attitude I’ve encountered with various agencies and institutions have left me with such a vast sense of isolation, I have to wonder where in hell I really belong.

Perhaps this attitude I sense really doesn’t exist, and the individuals I’ve dealt with for what scant information I’ve received are really just victims of a bungled system in need of radical reform. But no adopted adult — in the U.S., Ireland, U.K. or elsewhere — should be subjected to the levels of incompetence we’ve witnessed in the last ten years. And more importantly, the indignities we’ve suffered as virtual second-class citizens have left us confused and wondering, do we matter at all?

And just to remind those in a position or place to initiate reform, those of us sent abroad have even less in the way of resources or direct contact than our Irish-adopted brethren. So we sit isolated and very much alone, especially in these days of fear and uncertainty, struggling with the fact that our natural parents are now aging and less likely to be found or contacted without fear of disrupting the tangled lives they’ve had to construct to hide their “shame”. We’ve precious little in the way of support from agencies and a mountain of backlog to work against. I fear that without serious reform and a consistent level of service and support from the government or sponsored agents, we will gradually fade into obscurity, our loved ones long dead, and a chance at any claim of national heritage gone.

Our naturalisation papers say we are American, our birth certificates say we are Irish. What we are, at the moment, is without a home or any way to contact those who might claim us through blood.