It's very simple: Identity is a human right
I read a beautiful post today, Why am I here: Chuseok in a day. It was written by a reunited Korean Australian adoptee, Ellie Freeman. In word and beautiful photos, Ellie describes spending Chuseok, that most family-focused Korean holiday, with her first family this year.
Like most get-togethers with my birth family, my Chuseok was bittersweet.
The post is bittersweet, the emotion veiled in Ellie’s descriptions of events and encounters with her family members. I came away from it understanding better than before that reunion isn't a bed of roses, it's rough as an unpaved road. Even when a search is successful, there’s no guarantee that reunion can happen, which to the adoptee means another rejection and more pain. All reunions are complicated by the challenge of crossing years of loss; transnational reunions are further challenged by language and cultural differences. It is hard, hard work. Even when everyone wants it and works at it, reunion can take a toll, one that sometimes breaks it, and the reunited, too.
It's hard not to be angry at a world that has allowed "search and reunion" to become "normal," which is what it is in the adoption world. The hoops that adoptees and searching birth parents have to jump through to find one another don’t really need to exist. We are talking about the reunion of people connected by nine months of gestation and the intimate experience of birth. Can they really ever be strangers?
Is permanent separation of a woman from her child the best we can do to support her fear of retribution or discrimination by family, friends and community? Shouldn’t a minimum degree of openness, at least enough to give an adoptee a birth identity, be a requirement for surrendering and adoptive parents alike? If we really care about our children, it has to be. It is far more “normal” than secrecy and separation, too, and can be achieved.
Shifting the old adoption secrecy paradigm starts with acknowledging that identity is a human right. Accepting this sets off a chain reaction of desperately needed changes. To start, it makes it crystal clear that laws denying adoptees their original birth information on the basis of adoptive status are discriminatory, just like laws that deny rights on the basis of protected class (think race, religion, sexual orientation and others). With discrimination defined, we could expedite the repeal of the offending laws.
On the adoption practice front, policymakers, facilitators and agencies would have to come up with ways to make openness a requirement for placing mothers and prospective adoptive parents, in transnational adoptions, too; we live in the internet age and can figure it out. Search and reunion would be demystified, since information and access to birth families would be available to the adoptee. And yes, all this can happen in ways that respect a mother’s or father’s privacy, by keeping the information about the pregnancy and child private from others, but not from the child who desperately needs to know who he or she is and, if possible, know the parents directly.
A paradigm shift can be achieved in one sweeping change or many little ones. Either way, it starts when people understand new possibilities. The only thing that prevents us from making the changes I describe here is our skepticism. I promise you, if you start believing that adoptee identity is a basic human right, you’ll start pushing for these change, too.