Long and rambling post about adoption

I couldn’t sleep last night. When that happens, my drug of choice is a TCM. I love old movies, love love love them. And as luck would have it, it was Greer Garson night.  She was a beautiful woman, and I thought her soothing voice would swiftly send me to dreamland.

As luck would also have it, however, the subject of the first movie I watched (it took two, plus a couple of hours after that to finally get to sleep) was adoption:

Blossoms in the Dust is a 1941 American film which tells the story of the non-fictional Edna Gladney who takes it upon herself to help orphaned children to find homes, despite the opposition of the "good" citizens who think that illegitimate children are beneath their interest.
The name Gladney is likely to raise some eyebrows here. I’ve had no experience with this agency, but can say that what I have heard isn’t entirely positive.

At any rate, the movie is the story of Edna Gladney’s journey from woman on a mission to find homes for children to influencer of legislators: she worked for the successful passage of a bill that struck the word “illegitimate” from Texas birth certificates and provided the same inheritance rights for adoptees. Her fight to change the law stemmed from her experiences with children whose birth certificates labeled them “illegitimate.” Contrary to today’s adoption world, they were unlikely to be adopted, were likely to be shunned by future marriage partners and in laws, and suffered numerous other injustices in education and the workplace.

What struck me immediately was the odd disconnect between the way Gladney’s work was viewed in its time and context, and the way we view it now. Gladney must be commended for helping to dismantle prevailing, and very negative, attitudes toward children born outside of marriage and toward their mothers. But in her zeal to protect women and children from society’s cruel judgment, you can see the beginnings of many of the attitudes we fight today: that any old set of parents will do, and especially that connections to families of origin can be easily broken once adoption is in the picture.

There was an interesting scene in which a small-time gangster brings in his son with a request that he be placed with another family. The man’s wife had died, and given his lifestyle, parenting an infant son was out of the question. Gladney spent considerable time trying to persuade him not to surrender his son, but the gangster couldn’t be swayed. So the baby was placed with another family.

Later in the film, the gangster showed up with a warrant claiming that he had been duped, and demanded to know where his son was then living. He didn’t want to reclaim him – no, for the good of the child he wouldn’t disrupt the placement. Instead, he sought financial remuneration for his loss. The case came to trial, and the court demanded that Gladney divulge where the child had been placed. She wasn’t talking, and it looked bleak for her until the judge, in a surprise decision, found her innocent or threw the case out or whatever. I was dozing.

Turns out the child had been placed with the judge. Oh, what tangled webs we weave …

It didn’t help me get to sleep to spend most of the following movie (Mrs. Miniver, another good one) chewing on all of this. It has always struck me that one of the problems we have in discussing adoption with any objectivity is that when and how and where you experienced adoption can make your experience look very different from another’s. Perhaps we simply ask too much of our selves to get to a place of mutual respect.

Beyond the obvious winners and losers in the adoption equation, there are shades of gray that will tend toward black or white depending on your point of view. This is certainly why attitudes toward adoption vary so greatly, from zealous promoters to equally-zealous opponents. I think that maybe it’s a waste of time to look for common ground.

When things get complicated, my advice is to KISS. Seriously, if you keep it simple in adoption, I think you will ultimately get down to one or two issues that underpin just about every discussion. To me, unfettered adoptee access to their original birth certificate is one of these. You can put all kinds of soft arguments out there for why access should be forbidden or constrained, but you know what? They all fall apart fast. Whether it’s lack of legal precedent, misuse of legal terminology, or something else, they all fall apart. There simply is no good reason why an adopted person shouldn’t be able to follow the exact same process a non-adopted person follows to obtain the exact same information we can obtain.

See what this injustice does? It creates two classes of people – we non-adopted folks, and they, the adoptees. Laws are not supposed to create different classes of people, they’re supposed to protect people from being classified differently under the law.

Interestingly, SMAAC also advocates for unfettered first parent access to their surrendered child’s amended birth certificate. I had actually never even thought of this, but it makes sense to me. There’s a short but interesting discussion of some of the ins and outs of this on a law website.

So anyway, I fell asleep around 3, maybe 4, and am dead tired today. You can chalk this long and rambling post up to sleep deprivation.


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