Ending Intercountry Adoption

The more I’ve learned about this, including from now adult adoptees brought to the US from another country, the more it has troubled me. Today, I came across a document about – The Legal Mandate for Ending the Modern Era of Intercountry Adoption by David M Smolin.

After describing all the high level discussions and reports – from the United Nations to The Hague, which included defining the sale of child as human trafficking. He say that these international instruments have been an important success, changing fundamentally and positively the way these subjects are understood. Unfortunately, the project of bringing intercountry adoption practice into conformity with these standards has largely been a failure. Also that applying these developing standards to the approximately 70 year history of modern intercountry adoption nets one overall conclusion: the system as a whole has failed to implement its own principles and standards.

Even within the context of most of the more positive efforts are extensive histories of systemic abuses, usually with little or no governmental provision of remedies or assistance to the persons and families deeply hurt by those abuses. Far too little, far too late. He notes that if systemic intercountry adoption is to continue, there would need to be a large-scale revision as to the implementation of norms and the provision of remedies, when norm violations occur. Trying to do intercountry adoption the same way will end up with the same un-remedied harms to children and families that we have seen over the last 70 years.

The author states his “conclusion does not mean that every international adoption has been illegal in the modern era of intercountry adoption. Some individual adoptions most likely have met international standards. Further, some nations during certain periods of time may have had practices in conformity with, or close to conformity with, international standards. However, these exceptional circumstances cannot justify the maintenance of a system of intercountry adoption which pervasively and systematically violates international standards.”

I am in favor of family preservation and decidedly not in favor of strangers taking children out of their culture and away from their native language – ever. His entire document is 23 pages long. You can read it at the link above.

Evolving Perspectives

Bernice Dittmer, 1989

The topic came up with my husband last night as he is organizing lots of family history and photos into labeled binders for our sons if they ever should become interested “someday”. How should he label my Grandmother Dittmer ? I said adding Adoptive was just too cumbersome though it was necessary in certain communities and situations.

I was so excited when after 60+ years of living I finally knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted, they died knowing next to nothing about their own origins). I realize I am fortunate to have achieved so much in so little time. My dad’s mom was unwed and his father would have been lost to all of us but she knew who the father was and left us breadcrumbs. DNA has done the rest.

For awhile since, when I think of grandparents, I think of these original ones. They are the blood and genetic lines I am honestly related to – but I never knew them. I know “some” about them from meeting cousins and an aunt (though most not in person) and receiving photos and stories from these relatives that I am truly more grateful for than my words can ever express.

Lately, something else has happened in my evolving perspective. I am able to re-own my adoptive grandparents. After all, they were the only grandparents who reside in my childhood memories. They had a great deal of influence on me in so many ways. Primarily, that had a lot to do with the proximity I had to them that sadly my own grandchildren now do not even have them me and much to my own sorrow that the circumstances of all of our lives as such.

My dad’s adoptive parents taught me humility. They were poor and god fearing Church of Christ people. Since learning my origins, I also realized the “miracle” that my mom was not sent away as a high school student un-wed at the time of my conception to have and give me up to adoption as well. I believe I have my dad’s adoptive parents to thank for that and primarily my Granny. I also have her to thank for waking me up to leave an unhealthy long-term romantic relationship which opened the way to meet my husband (now for over 30 years). We spent many weekends with these grandparents and attended church on Sunday many times with them. I honestly do love them both.

My mom’s adoptive mother (shown in the image above) was a wealthy, formal kind of woman. My mom called her “Mother” to her dying day and we called her “Grandmother”. She taught us the manners of the upper class and what life is like for them by taking us on fabulous trips as her companions after my adoptive grandfather dropped dead shortly after his retirement in his 60s. My adoptive grandmother lived to over 90 years. She could be very difficult and cruel in her judgements. I respected her. Love might not be the best word but she had good intentions. She grew up in Missouri in much the same circumstances as I live now. By the strength of her own will, she made her life better than the world she originated in.

So, I can acknowledge today, a subtle shift – I have two phases of grandparent. My childhood grandparents who were that for decades of my life. And my actual grandparents who are forever lost to any ability on my part to know them in person but I am somehow – who and what I am – because of them.

My Dad with my Granny & Granddaddy

Using Bio in Reference to Family

When one spends time within the larger adoption community (this includes original family, adoptees and former foster youth as well as adoptive and foster parents) the precise use of language sometimes becomes an issue. For my own self, I am entirely willing to learn to use the most appropriate language while giving a large tolerance to the words anyone else uses because we are all doing our best to improve and reform circumstances that have historically not been in the best interests of the child who ends up adopted or in foster care. That is really the most important issue – the well-being of our children overall.

Some of the adoptees or former foster youth have had reunions with their original family that have not gone well at all, only heaping more heartbreak and rejection on already wounded souls. Some had really crappy experiences with their adoptive or foster care families. Life can be incredibly hard at times for a lot of people. I try to always remember that and I too fail to be compassionate and sympathetic enough at times. We all do. Rather than beat ourselves up over our mistakes in judgement and actions, we really can only try to do better in the next instant – every instant after every instant. Life is for evolving ourselves and through our efforts to make ourselves a better human being overall, we evolve our families, our communities, our countries and our planet. It is an on-going process that never ends.

Whatever we call our parents, it can only be whatever feels right to each of us personally. I think every one of my own children has called me by my familiar first name of Debbie at some time or other and it has never truly bothered me. It does get complicated when adoption is in one’s family history. I called my mom’s adoptive parents – Grandmother D and Grandfather D – they were very formal people. I called my dad’s adoptive parents – Granny and Granddaddy. They were very humble, salt of the earth kinds of people.

When I learned who my parents actual original parents were – in my heart, they did take the place of my adoptive grandparents because they are truly the genetic, biological ones. However, I never use a “grandparent” identifier with them. It is their names that I use – Lizzie Lou, JC, Delores and Rasmus (though he preferred Martin, I like the more Danish version personally). So though, when I think of grandparents now (having only learned of them after the age of 60, after they were long deceased and I will never know them but second hand through other descendants of theirs), I think of the original ones but I never use the childhood identifiers for them.

There has long been a raging controversy over the use of the word “birth” to denote the parents who conceived and birthed children who were later surrendered either voluntarily or involuntarily (forcefully taken). Here is one perspective on that issue –

I personally loathe the term ‘birth mother’ and prefer ‘bio’ to differentiate between adoptive parents and family I’m related to by biology. I don’t understand why Lee Campbell (founder of Concerned United Birthparents) insists that ‘birth’ is not offensive but ‘bio’ is. Biology denotes DNA; genetically unrelated surrogates can give birth, so it’s not an inclusive term, as far as I can see. Anyway, as an adoptee—the only person among ANY of my family who had NO CHOICE—I’ll use whatever term I please. I adore my maternal biological family, including my late momma, whom I didn’t get to know past infancy. I feel far more connected to her than I ever did to my adoptive mother. I have three living maternal uncles and we are CRAZY about each other. We don’t use qualifiers referring to each other, but in cases when clarification is needed, I specify with ‘bio’.

Some of the push related to language was actually influenced by the adoptive parents when the whole industry was going through radical change in the 1970s. Social workers started to push positive adoption language. You had adoptive families complaining about the previous terms: they didn’t like natural mother because then they were unnatural. They didn’t like real because that made them unreal.

Many original mothers and their offspring do dislike the term “birth” because a woman who has given birth to a child is much more than just a woman who gave birth. There is a bond formed in the womb and all the conditions and circumstances that occur during gestation that will forever be a part of any human being and of course, there is the genetics as well.

Here is another perspective from a former foster youth who has adopted a child out of foster care – I always refer to my own parents as my biological parents. I honestly don’t have much relationship with either of my parents. I have learned through the years they are truly incapable of having a safe parent/child relationship. And honestly they are simply my biology. Nothing more. As an adoptive parent, I have learned and respect my daughter’s mom and family and refer to her mom when speaking to her as simply – her mom. In posts on the internet I try to always use first family. I will add that I only use first family in areas of the internet when needing to differentiate. In real life, it is simply family, mom, dad, grandmother, etc and no one has ever been confused over whether I was talking about adoptive or her first family.

Another one added – I call my son’s Mom, his Mom. His first family, his family. I can’t handle the terms that make the moms less than.

I totally agree.

And many of these women really don’t like “tummy mom.”

There is also another kind of family where the adoptive parent is actually “kin” related to the adoptee. I know one of these kinds of situations rather well. So one who is a former foster youth wrote –

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I will call my bio parents whatever I want. They are not my “real” parents, because neither of them raised me. It is incredibly offensive when people ask “your adoptive (kinship) mom, or your real mom?” No. My kinship mom IS my
“real” mom. Our relationship is far from perfect. My raising was far from perfect. But she’s the only person who I’ve ever felt comfortable enough regarding our relationship to call “mom”, and I’ll continue to do so.  I hate the phrase “real mom.” My mom is my mom.  Period.

In my own case, my biological, genetically related daughter was not raised by me after the age of 3. She ended up being raised by her dad and step-mother.  My daughter considers my ex-husband’s wife her mom. I accept that. I carry enough conflicted emotions for not raising her – regardless of the reasons that came to pass. But I do acknowledge that her step-mother was the one that was there when my daughter was sick, in trouble or needed a compassionate heart to listen to whatever. I do have a decently good adult relationship with my daughter. I am grateful for that much.

Anne with an E

I’m only vaguely familiar with Anne of Green Gables.  Anne has been a bona fide cultural icon for over a century, ever since Canadian author L M Montgomery first debuted her in 1908.  Anne was orphaned as a baby and in care until age 12 when she is adopted. She experienced a lot of abuse during her time in care.

We don’t have commercial TV or streaming in our home – while we do have internet the limited allowance and expense when adding onto that prohibit our streaming anything beyond a few youtubes and that costs us a lot as it is.

However, I was reading about this version in the all things adoption group I belong to and I became intrigued.  The woman who brought this to my attention describes it as – “a very dark portrayal, with depiction of trauma, flashbacks, so many feelings of abandonment, as well as the difficulties her adoptive parents have in relating to her.”  That was enough to get me looking into it.

Another woman said –  “The first season is the darkest with the flashbacks. As it goes on, it’s not as dark but continues to deal with a lot of other feelings that people not raised by biological family go through.  I honestly loved this series. I felt it was a more honest portrayal of children who were in foster care and adopted than I have seen in a long time.  This show helped my children discuss the hardships that adopted people or abused/traumatized people deal with.”

Another woman said – “The other depictions we saw didn’t seem to focus so much on the trauma. We listened to the book as we drove up to Prince Edward Island and there’s definite evidence of her struggles in there, but this series took it to another level and made it real and made the connections very visible of past trauma, fear of abandonment, and the inner world she creates to get away from it all.”

Vanity Fair had a review of this series.  They note that in the first episode Anne with an E graphically depicts, via chilly flashbacks, the years of abuse Anne sustained before she came to live with the Cuthberts.  While Anne likely did suffer some torment during her tenure with the Hammond family, Anne with an E ramps up the trauma by having Mr Hammond die of a heart attack brought about by beating the tar out of poor Anne.

This version retains some of Anne’s eccentricities—a fierce imagination and intricate fantasy life, as well as a fondness for high-flown language.  This is an Anne with PTSD.  Anne of Green Gables endures as a cozy story that reveals the resiliency of the human spirit through small-scale, domestic victories and setbacks, as well as the mundane, everyday tragedies of human life.

In episode 4, the town’s minister takes misogyny to its historic depiction because Anne doesn’t want to go back to the school where she has continued to suffer abuse.  He tells her adoptive mother – “This problem is easily solved.  If the girl doesn’t want to go to school, she shouldn’t go. She should stay home and learn proper housekeeping until she marries. And then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone I shall make a helper for him.’ There’s no need for her to bother with an education. Every young woman should learn how to be a good wife.”

The Vanity Fair review complains that “Anne with an E seems to think Anne’s triumphs are only noteworthy if she’s continually told she can’t succeed, when in fact her unfettered brilliance needs no such clumsy opposition.”  Judge for yourself.  Don’t know if I’ll ever watch this but maybe if it comes out on dvd.  Clearly, it spoke to the wounded hearts of the people in the adoption group I belong to.

 

Offensive Descriptions

The surrender of baby Moses

It’s a story as old as mankind but in these modern times, many of the common phrases of yesteryear are being relinquished.  Some descriptions of a mother who surrenders her baby are now acknowledged as offensive.

I would have said Birth Mother before I became better educated by people even closer to the truths of adoption than I am.  Now I will most often say Original Mother or Natural Mother.

Some have described their adopted children’s mother as the Belly Mommy.  This could be equated to making the mother of those children nothing more than an incubator.  People are often confused if you say other mom or first mom.

Of course, what an adoptee chooses to use to describe their biological parents should be entirely their choice.  Adopted children should always be told that they were and allowed to ask questions about their biological roots.

The most important thing is to be transparent with your children about their unique circumstances and normalize those children regardless of how they originated.  It is perfectly appropriate for your adopted child to know they grew in another woman’s body.  Age appropriate language can be hard to define but naming that other woman as the child gets older is a responsible way to approach the situation.

The truth is –  a mother’s role does not end at the birth of their baby, even if that baby is surrendered to adoption.  It is a lifelong genetic/biological connection as the prevalence of adoptee reunions would indicate.