The Unnecessary Adoptive Parent Voice

Mothers’ Day is around the corner. It is an incredibly emotional day for so many women, for reasons rooted in joy and in sorrow. This year I’m marking the day by traveling to Korea to support the Fourth Annual Single Moms’ Day.

I thought I would be over the moon with excitement as the trip approached, but I’m finding myself more reflective than anything else. This is a serious journey, not the usual adoptive parent get-together, and it has made me extremely conscious of my contribution to the hot mess that is intercountry adoption from Korea. It is sobering, and to a considerable degree, silencing.

This is a good thing. It’s also something that I hope happens more and more in the adoptive parent community, because to be perfectly honest with you, our voices really aren’t needed that much anymore. We are finally – and blessedly – being replaced by adoptees and first parents as the drivers of adoption experience. It’s about time, in my opinion.

Look, first of all, at what we have done with adoption. We have turned it into a worldwide business of such monetary proportions that is encourages more bad than good. We promote institutionalized abandonment by establishing baby boxes and baby hatches, and by creating practices that work around existing law and common sense to allow adoption agencies to hide first parent identities and fabricate them for adoptees.

We have also made of adoption a weapon with which we beat mothers, fathers and families who fall outside of our definition of "the best interests of the child," using it to justify the separation of poor and fragile families all around the world. To add insult to injury, in our own country we have turned adopted people into perpetual children and second-class citizens by denying them the right to even know who they are in the majority of our states.

And then we talk about it. We talk talk talk talk talk. We promote adoption without a backward glance to its injustices or the wake of pain it leaves behind, we give “adoptive parenting” advice, we share our brilliant family stories and plaster our family joy all over the internet and any other venue we can find. And when someone calls us on this behavior, we retreat to our favorite defense: our demand for civility and disdain for “anger.”

Yeah, we have done a heck of a job on adoption. Thank goodness there are adopted individuals and first parents who are speaking out – eloquently, professionally, unimpeachably. They are telling the true adoption story, the complex, paradoxical, mind-bending story of adoption. And, in case you haven’t realized it yet, they aren’t asking for anyone’s permission.

While it is amazing to see this transformation take place here in the U.S., it is knee-shakingly humbling to observe it happening in Korea. Korean adoptees and first parents were not expected to be vocal about their experiences – heck, the Korean adoption agencies were surprised that adoptees ever wanted to return to Korea, much less find their Korean families or work on their behalf. No one expected mothers to stand up to Korea’s societal stigmas, either, yet they have organized and are doing just that.

They are doing it, may I add, without adoptive parents. So in a way, I am the persona non grata in this year’s Single Moms’ Day. I do not bring a degree in sociology, social work, psychology or law to the table. I bring only the experiences of someone who has profited from the pain of my fellow panelists. And I say this out loud for one reason only: to encourage fellow adoptive parents to get off their adoption-promotion high horses and start supporting the adoptees and first parents who are fixing the mess we have made.

My voice, personal and collective, is truly unnecessary in this Single Moms’ Day event, or any other event or venue in which adoptees and first parents take control of their experience. It is far more important for me and all of my fellow adoptive parents to stand with adoptees and first parents who are using their talents to change the adoption paradigm. Yes, the rough-and-tumble nature of adoptee and first parent driven adoption dialog may make you uncomfortable, but don’t turn away: stay, listen, and then share what you have learned. That is the very best way we adoptive parents can use our otherwise unnecessary voices.

And never, ever fear that in standing for adoption reform, you put a child in need of family at risk. Who better than a child and parent who have been separated from one another to know the importance of family?


Ariel Miller said…
As a first mother it is refreshing to read this perspective coming from an adoptive mother. Reform is long overdue yet even with reform it would be unrealistic to think adoption would ever go away. It starts with education and sharing what we know. I could go on all day about the manipulation, coercion and unnecessary trauma caused by adoption but I want to share a different point. Not all first mothers see adoptive families as the enemy. Honestly, I think they can be victims as well because they are lead to believe that adopting a child will be the same as having a biological child. Of course it will be different but by denying these differences adoptive parents are set up to fail. There is a genuine need for true orphans to find homes and foster care still has a valid place in society (although it needs reform as well). Having said that, if an adoptive parent hasn't dealt with the grief over the loss of fertility or thinks they are doing this humanitarian act they may need to re-examine their motives. Adoption is based on trauma and many adoptive parents are not educated about the common signs to look out for in their adopted kids and how to help them through that in healthy ways. The brain develops on a continuum that starts long before birth and the development of an identity is part of that continuum. Infants see their first mother as part of that continuum and their core self is held within that biological mother long after birth. If that continuum is interrupted or the infant is forced to develop an identity separate from their mother before their are ready this will alter the architecture of the brain and healthy development of their identity. An adoptive parent may have love to give but a child that has been traumatized may not be able to accept that love. They may see the environment as hostile and will always have that abandoned baby inside them thinking this caregiver can be removed as well. Trust and bonding may be difficult and if an adoptive parent doesn't know the signs to look for this relationship could become toxic. I don't think it's the adoptive parents fault when this happens but another side to the adoption industries failure. Full disclosure and helpful resources for all involved can only improve adoption. I'm happy to see encouragement around single mothers in Korea and hope for more support and alternatives to adoption going forward. Things like Kinship care for example.
Unknown said…
Thank you for this! Refreshing and clear-sighted. With gratitude from a first mom on this Mothers Day. - Heather
Anonymous said…
The real mother is the greatest victim, and least valued.
Cherry said…
I've only just found your blog, and reading your post was just so uplifting.
You have a big, brave heart.

(from a first mother)

Thanks, Ariel, for commenting. You nail something really important with this: "Adoption is based on trauma ..."

If our society understood this, perhaps it would stop using adoption as the silver bullet for every societal problem. Oppose abortion? Choose adoption! Pregnant and scared? Make an adoption plan! Want to help an "orphan?" Adopt!

These attitudes have oversimplified the way we think about all of these issues, likewise have made us less sensitive to the trauma the separation leaves behind. This does no one any good.

Thanks again.
Thanks for commenting, Heather. I'll be thinking of the moms who have lost children to adoption here in the U.S. when I'm in Korea. Be good to yourself on Mothers' Day.
Well, I don't know about that, but I do know that I thank you for adding your thoughts. Hang in there on Mothers' Day, I know it is a hard day for so many mothers, as well as their children.
Anonymous said…
This it the first time I have read an honest and reflective post by an adoptive parent. We need more voices like yours. Your voice IS needed.
Anonymous said…
It makes me sad that there is so much anger towards AP. We have adopted 2 baby girls, and both times the birth mothers contacted us and asked us to adopt them. Nobody talked them into it, nobody made them. Our first daughter was born with Down Sydrome and her birth mother didn't feel equipped to handle her special needs. My husband and I were in a place where we could. I'm not saying our birth mothers haven't experienced grief and pain associated with choosing to place their babies, but ultimately it was their decision. I understand that some birth mothers are talked into it, but that is not always the case. I don't feel as though I have done my daughters any 'favors' by adopting them, but I do think that they have improved my life dramatically. As with all things, you can find negativity everywhere. I'm glad that birth mothers and adoptees are choosing to speak out about adoption, and I think that is healthy and I encourage it. But why not find the positive in adoption? If you focus on just the negative, you will always find it.
I completely agree with this post. It expresses exactly why I, an adoptive parent, have never felt comfortable having a blog despite experiencing a rather large shift with regard to my own views on adoption. It's hard to explain to others that you love your children so much that you wish they had never been subjected to separation from their families through adoption. Children need their own mothers most of all. Yes, some children will need the care of others, but not most. The cognitive dissonance involved in experiencing this evolution of thought is too strong for most adoptive parents, and they end up rationalizing their own adoptions.

I look forward to a day when family preservation, rather than adoption, is the default. Let's hear it for adoptee and natural parent voices.
Jan Louise said…
Anon may is probably because there is so little positive about adoption unless you own a " birthparent"
Dawn said…
own a birthparent?
Anonymous said…
Anonymous, the real mother is not the greatest victim of adoption. That would be the adoptee. Get your head out of the clouds and recognise that you were a party to the agreements that got your child adopted.
Anonymous said…
Thank you Margie.
Anonymous said…
Many adopters think they do own the mothers they use to provide them with children.
Anonymous said…
Oh wow...thank you. I am an adoptee of my first mom being forced to give me up. I am also an adoptive parent of two amazing children from first mothers who CHOSE adoption for their babies for various reasons. Going into adopting, knowing all I do about my own feelings of disconnect, identity crisis, deep depression, anger but also love for my adoptive patents, I thought who better to adopt than someone who knows and can help my girls through all the emotions that come ftom being relinquished and then adopted. Do not misunderstand....I did not save these babies, they saved me, blessed me and brought me put of the deepest depths of dispair after losing 6 precious children to miscarriages. So, not be angry and lump ALL adoptive parents together. I am both. I understand so much the trauma involved surrounding adoption. I can only hope my children understand.
Anonymous said…
Faugh. What a sop.
Perfectly said. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Interesting article in the Spring 2014 issue of Korean Quarterly titled "Korean Adoptee Parents and Korean Adoption" about KADs wanting to adopt Korean children and how the changes in Korean adoption policy/law have changed some of their plans. What change really struck me was that if the father could not be found to give his consent, a child that the mother relinquished for adoption would have to grow up in an orphanage. This struck home because in my family's case, our son's birth father gave false information to the birth mother and disappeared after the birth mother told him she was pregnant. I shudder to think of any child being forced to grow up in an orphanage, period, but it seems the children will pay a really heavy price for disappearing fathers.
Anonymous said…
I think instead of blaming the APs you should focus on the birthparents. Their the one who had unprotected sex went they knew they could not or didn't want to parent a child. Whose fault is because they find themselves in this predicament?
Scott LaVergne said…
Dear Margie,
Thank you, and thank you all that comment in earnest. Our kids are too important to languish in our rationalizations & rhetoric. I hurt so deeply from the loss of my first child, the loss of her mother, & know that they grief too. My daughter is trying to put the best bandage she can on this whole mess adoption. She wants to feel love and blended. I am so deeply angry with so many adoption views that created this mess as an answer for whatever reason. So justified are those that made these decisions, so compartmentalized are the decisions. So real is the pain, ohh how everybody agrees. My family was not consulted, her family, my lost daughter. I needed to be consulted, my daughter needed me to be consulted. Assumptions are ridiculous. But, when a mother changes her mind, does not want to follow the pre birth adoption plan, please wake up listen and help her whats best for the child and don't take her away from us. Hind sight is the mother did not know she had our support and what a tragedy this has been.

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