Ethical Challenges in Adoption

So often in coming out of the fog of rainbows and unicorns fantasy adoption narratives, many domestic infant adoptive parents will say things like: “I didn’t know better, now I know,” “I was so uneducated before I adopted,” or “No one ever told me about adoption and trauma.”

Seriously that is not ok. You do not get a free pass for being ignorant and expecting others to teach you. I imagine you research the heck out of some of these things: vacations, restaurants, politics, how to do this or how to do that. Many of you probably spend hours on Pinterest pinning away.

How easy is it to learn about adoption trauma or the issues related to adoption ? Just google “Is adoption bad”, “issues in adoption”. In five minutes, you will learn about the 7 core issues adoptees face, you will learn all about adoption trauma, you will learn about the socio-economic disparity of expecting families considering adoption. Honestly, that simple research should lead you to spend more hours researching more in-depth and then, any person with any decent heart would not consider adopting any more.

I tried that google exercise to come up with something to write about today – yep, very quickly a couple of sites were chosen to share from.

At The Imprint, I found – Ethical Challenges Remain in The World of Private Adoptions by Daniel Pollack and Steven Baranowski from March 2021. From delving into the world of Georgia Tann and the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in connection with my mom’s adoption, I already knew a lot about the early days of adoption. Dangerous informal child care arrangements in the early to mid 1900s have been replaced by a patchwork of state and federal laws, regulations and child care practices meant to serve the best interests of everyone associated with adoption, but we continue to allow for ethically concerning “wrongful” adoptions.  

Over the last two decades, the National Association of Social Workers developed a Code of Ethics and child welfare practices have evolved and stronger assessment practices related to approval of adoptive parents have been established. Despite these advances, social workers have found themselves observing or being caught up in ethically challenging adoption practices that have continued to lead to unethical family disruptions and poorly implemented adoption policies, all of which have created more “wrongful adoptions” and a continued mistrust of the profession. 

Disrupting family structures for the so-called “best interest” of the child is the most ethically challenging aspect of adoption and child welfare practices. The rescuing of “orphan” children from “Third World” countries has led to an increase in human trafficking and is the most blatant form of family disruptions for the sake of making money through the guise of a legal adoption. 

All social workers are expected to promote social justice, the dignity of the person and to call out dishonesty and fraud. Ethical social work practice demands social workers focus on the rights of children and families to determine their own future, while advocating for transparent legislative oversight, protections for “whistleblowers” and increased education and social justice activism to eliminate wrongful practices. Another important aspect is the typically rushed adoption placement practice that occurs in many private infant adoptions.

There is more available from the article above at the link shared. The other site I found was at Mom Junction and was titled 7 Common Problems & Challenges Of Adoption written by Debolina Raja as recently as May 24 2022 (just days ago). The image illustrating this blog came from there.

Here’s the list (you can read more about each one at the link) –

  1. Financial Challenges
  2. Legal Challenges
  3. Intercountry Adoption
  4. Health Challenges
  5. Emotional Challenges
  6. Cultural Challenges
  7. Ethical Challenges

Try the google experiment – you just may learn something you didn’t know before. And always, research exhaustively. Something as important as this should not be decided based upon emotions or a desire to “do good” in the world.

Invalidating Adoptee Perceptions

Adoptive parents and even hopeful adoptive parents often say:

“I know many adoptees that don’t feel like their adoption was a bad thing, they are glad they were adopted” or “they don’t have trauma, they are fine” or “adoptees whose lives are fine are not online talking against adoption.”

One of the last emails I got from my adoptee mom before she died, she actually said “glad I was,” meaning adopted. She was lamenting how she just couldn’t finish doing the family trees on Ancestry because she knew the information just wasn’t real – for her or my dad (who was also adopted). So it was not that I believed she actually was “glad” she had been adopted but what else could she say at that point ? Neither my mom nor my dad really knew anything beyond a few names – at most – about their original parents.

I didn’t invalidate her feelings – my dad never expressed his own feelings about adoption to me. After both of my parents died, within one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were, something about their stories and had some contact with some biological, genetic relations.

So those who are not adoptees, who say these kinds of things probably just miss the signs that are there but not verbalized. I know my mom dearly wanted to make contact with her first mother but the state of Tennessee denied her access (which they then gave me in 2017 – wow it doesn’t seem like 5 years already that I have felt finally “complete”). If she had been so happy about being adopted, she would not have tried so hard to accomplish a reunion.

The thinking described above is problematic because it assumes that adoptees always feel comfortable sharing their true feelings about adoption with adoptive parents. That is rarely the case.

One adoptee admits –  I spent 50 years saying I was fine adopted, never an issue and believed it. I knew I responded to things differently than others, but never equated it to being adopted. It’s very difficult for adoptees to verbalize true emotions. The changes in our brain at separation try to protect us from rejections. It’s all subconscious. I had no idea my lifetime narrative was to protect myself, until I did deep work in therapy that focused on opening those areas of the brain to process the trauma. Life changing. The processing is very hard and easily something you’d try to avoid. Once you do it though, at least for me, it was life changing. I was 50. I get so angry I didn’t do it sooner. I didn’t know I should and clearly neither did my adoptive parents because I always appeared fine to them.

They don’t have the support to speak freely about their own feelings. Instead, they say everything is fine because the trust is broken. Maybe they tried to express these feelings in the past and were rejected or judged. The fear of rejection is so ingrained. It’s just not something most would attempt to do. The adoptee may feel too fearful to tell their adoptive parent or foster parent how they truly feel. They may have received a message that feeling any other way than glad is wrong.

One adoptee says – From the outside my life looks quite successful and there are lots of people who know I’m adopted. I’m absolutely certain that there are those who would point to me as a ‘happy adoptee’. No, you idiot, I don’t know you that well or trust you enough to share my pain and trauma.

To say of any adoptee – “They don’t have trauma, they’re fine.” It’s just so very invalidating. Every adoptee will automatically have trauma, no matter how they were adopted. To me, it’s the equivalent of a racist person saying they have black friends. Just because you have black friends doesn’t mean your ideals are not racist or harmful. Adoptees can grow up having a good life while growing up but they all come into adoption with trauma.

Nancy Verrier writes in The Primal Wound: “As adults, we believe what we want to believe, and we want to believe that a child who is not causing any trouble is well-adjusted. It is important to not be lulled into believing that this child suffers no pain-that ‘my child is not having those problems.’ Adjustment often means shutting down, creating a ‘false self.'”

Which leads another adoptee to say – This was true for me well into adulthood. It was not until I was about 40 that I started processing my adoption and how adoption trauma affected my whole life. Even now, I talk about my adoption trauma to some people, but not others. If hopeful adoptive parents think that adoption trauma only happens to those “with a bad experience,” they will continue on with pursuing adoption; and then, not be able to see and address the trauma in the child for whom they are caring.

Adoptees often talk about how they feel the need to be people pleasers in order to be accepted (my mom certainly was that way and she passed that trait down to her children). An adoptee is likely to tell their adoptive parents whatever they think those parents want to hear.

Which leads a foster parent to admit that they had experienced this first-hand. She says, When we started fostering, one of my adult adoptee friends was all rainbows and unicorns about it. As our relationship grew deeper and she heard more about how I was supporting the kids’ ability to know their families and saw how we worked for family preservation, instead of keeping the kids with us, she began to tell me her complicated feelings about her own adoption, and how she felt like she couldn’t have those conversations with her adopted family.

In the interest of fairness to people who have already adopted and may think that many of my blogs are too negative. Few people with any depth of knowledge on adoption think all adoption is wrong. I now present this point of view from an adoptive parent –

I work with adoptive families. I make an effort to learn from people who have experienced adoption trauma. I do this so that I can try to help my own kids, and other adoptive families who have already adopted, to see the signs of trauma and do their best to help manage this. Do the best they can for their kids. What is upsetting for me is when the comments say “adoption is a horrible thing”. I have seen some comments that literally say ALL adoptions are awful and should never be done. Using the analogy of dating apps, saying no one should ever use a dating app because someone ended up raped, would be similar. That anyone you meet from a dating app is actually terrible. Anyone who gets married from meeting someone there is in a fog . . .

Note from the blog author – many will say of adoptees who think their adoption was good and only good that they are still in “the fog” and have not woken up – but I laugh at this because I met my husband of over 33 years through an eligibles ad in an entertainment weekly, back in the day before heavy internet usage – my mom was horrified but my parents ended up being grateful we found each other.

continuing from the paragraph before . . . That such persons will eventually realize that they are miserable. I truly hurt for the adoptees who have parents who don’t acknowledge them or have been cruel to them. It is awful and has changed my mind about many aspects of the adoption process in this country. However being an adoptive parent in itself is not a bad thing. I have seen little acknowledgment that there are birth parents who are not going to parent. And some have no family support. Is it better to put those kids into an orphanage than to adopt them into a family who loves them and tries to give them a wonderful family and childhood?

I don’t think so and here’s why. My daughter’s birth parents were on the road when she was born. They had no idea where they would be living. Her birth mom has lived in many states since then. Anyone who adopted her would have been out of state within a week after she was born. But I was told that I screwed up by adopting out of state and I should have moved (multiple times, I guess) to be near her birth mom. Not everything is black and white.

I would love to see adoptees who have had terrible effects from trauma or adoptive families who are unwilling to listen to use their experiences to help other adoptive families learn how to act, be the way they would have wanted their adoptive parents to act. I believe this would be more productive than just telling them they are awful people for wanting to raise a child. My daughter has literally yelled at me for trying to understand the perspectives of adoptees who acknowledge their trauma. I have tried to encourage her to explore the same places that I have, to see if her adoption has had negative effects on her. I really would want to help her work through that. She has seen some of those places. Her opinion is that they are toxic. I continue to expose myself because it’s important for me to know the other side, so I will be able to recognize if my kids are struggling with adoption trauma – even if they don’t see it.

I am only suggesting that it would be a lot more effective, if everything weren’t so black and white in adoptee spaces. I’m still trying to learn what I can but I do think some people can manage trauma of any kind (adoption or otherwise) with little negative effect, especially if they have loving support. I hope that’s what we are all striving for.

And all of that above received this reply, which honestly is my own opinion too, at this point – I do believe there should be no adoptions. None. Zero. I want universal healthcare, good sex education, universal basic income, easy and free abortions. And any child born to parents who are not safe should be cared for by guardians, not adoptive parents. The harm done by having your life legally altered and severed is unnecessarily extreme.

Finally just to drive home the point to end this lengthy blog –

MOST adoptees had absolutely *wonderful* adoptive parents, and that *it didn’t matter* how good their adoptive parents were, or how much of a “positive adoption experience” the adoptee had; every adoptee still has trauma. Their DNA was still literally altered by early childhood trauma. Their identity was altered without their consent. Most adoptees have been denied the very basic right of having access to their own original birth certificate.

Yes, there are some children who cannot remain with their parents. *Most of the time* those that absolutely *cannot* be with their parents (which is so unbelievably rare), have at least *one* member of their biological family that could raise them. And in the *exceptionally rare* scenario where none of that is possible, adoption STILL isn’t necessary.

If you cannot love a child, care for a child, make that child a part of your home and your family, provide financial physical and emotional support for that child, without having legal *ownership* over that child, then you have absolutely *no right* caring for that child. Full stop. There is no “not all” or “what if” that can change the fact that adoption *is not necessary* to provide care to a child.

Adoption is unethical. There is absolutely *no changing that*. Caring for a child who has no home or safe family is not a bad thing, and literally *nobody* in their right mind would say that (but consider – whether or not there *could* be a safe family for that child, if their original parents were simply provided with good support). And that is NOT all that adoption is.

Many with a depth of knowledge about adoption, would allow that adoption *only* happen for older children (and by older I mean 16+, and even that I honestly hesitate to be okay with, as it’s perfectly possible to adopt an adult). And *only if* that child is ASKING to be adopted, without being prompted in *any way* by either the foster parents or the system itself. And *only if* the child fully 100% understands what adoption means, and has been told explicitly what they will lose by being adopted. *Only then* is adoption even possibly acceptable.

Everyone, please, just stop assuming an adoptee “had a bad experience,” if they speak out against adoption. Many adoptees would be frankly pissed off that you would imply that their *wonderful* and *caring* adoptive parents were bad parents.

I will continue to believe what I now do.

False Narratives

Recently the post of a new mother who just gave birth a few days ago and is giving up her child for adoption asked what items from his birth she should keep. She received over 700 comments, mostly from adoptees and birth mothers, urging her frantically to back out and keep and raise her child. The responses spoke eloquently of the reasons why. I thought this one excellent –

Obviously none of us could possibly understand to the full extent your situation or circumstances which led you to this decision, and I don’t doubt for one second that is consumed you entirely the past 9 months. Knowing that you only have just one more day before making probably the most difficult and life changing decision of anyone’s life, I’m sure you’d want to consider absolutely everything, especially if there was anything new which you hadn’t considered before.

Most of the people in this group are either fellow birth mothers or adoptees, so more than anyone else they understand exactly what you and your baby are going through, and will go through.

Knowing the main reasons why women choose adoption being financial and/or relationship instability, we’re all just here to let you know that if those are factors in your decision, there absolutely is support available so that you don’t feel as if you have to make this decision. No one should be coerced or forced into making a decision under the guise of being “best for your baby.”

If finances are an issue, there’s lots of support out there; not only from this group, but government programs, and there are so many church programs and charities. There are so many people here who can help you find whatever services you need because we’ve needed, and used those services ourselves.

We just want to make sure that you know the reality, that it’s actually far more important to have your birth mother in your life rather than having two parents who are non-biological. So if a lack of a father figure is affecting your decision, just please don’t be fooled into believing this false narrative that it’s more important to live in a two parent household, because that’s simply not true.

I’m sorry if you’re feeling guilt tripped, I truly don’t believe that was anyone’s intention.

We all just want to show you that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to make this decision if you don’t want to. We just want you to know that all those typical reasons that society tells us is why women should choose adoption, every single one of those reasons is complete b***sh*t in the real world. But so many people still believe the lies and the false narrative, so that’s exactly why this group is here, to show everyone there’s another way.

One more adds something important – Our mothers’ decisions caused preverbal, pre-personality developmental trauma that we have lived with for decades. It isn’t rainbows and butterflies. Adoption does not guarantee a better life, just a different one. Adoptees are overrepresented in mental health care. We are four times as likely to try to kill ourselves. This is our life, you are about to choose for your son. That is why we are speaking up.

You can find this group – Adoption:Facing Realities – at Facebook. There is a 2 week read only rule because the perspective is rather different from most adoption oriented groups. The comments of adoptees are given priority. Anyone in the triad (birth mother, adoptee or adoptive parent) is welcome but you should be warned that the rainbows and butterflies fantasy narrative of the adoption world is not what you will find there. However, you will find honesty, detailed personal experiences and a belief in family preservation. The group also includes former foster care youths now grown and transitioned to the adult world.

A Miscarriage of Justice

The origination of many adoptions is the traumatic experience of having a miscarriage. One miscarriage leads to another miscarriage – that of taking a woman’s baby for one’s own self. It is often an act of trying to overcome honest grief and sorrow by inflicting a lifetime of grief and sorrow on another woman. Our society condones this behavior by creating mythic stories that adoptees often call the rainbows and unicorns narrative of how wonderful adoption is. In truth it is not more wonderful than the realistic slings and arrows of everyday life and for some (the adoptee and the birth mother) wounds to carry forever. Some eventually experience a reunion with one another and while these are mostly happy stories (but not always), there is no way to make up for decades of life going on with different trajectories for each person.

If this society was a just one, we could be taking care of our mothers and our children instead of allowing money to drive the exchange of human beings to fulfill the thwarted desires of the people with the financial means to purchase a baby. Oh I know, most adoptive parents don’t view it that way. I know most adoption agencies and facilitators don’t want to view themselves from a perspective that they are baby sellers in it to make a profit. It is so easy for people to delude themselves with feel good stories.

I don’t have a lot of optimism that the profit motivated adoption industry will end any time soon. I am only heartened that some of us keep trying to make the point that children belong with the people who conceived them. Children need to grow up within the genetic, biological familial roots from which they emerged. Yes, sometimes parents die. This has happened to my own grandmothers – both of them – and we’ve lost more than one mom in my little mom’s group that has existed a bit more than 17 years now. We’ve also lost a couple of fathers too.

Orphans do deserve care within a family structure but there is no need to change a child’s original identity or name in order to provide for them. Some parents in our modern society get messed up – with drugs, with violence, with the criminal justice system. These people need intensive restoration into functioning members of our society. It is complicated and not a quick fix. I’ll readily admit that.

Emotional Toll

In the all things adoption group I belong to, adoptee voices are considered privileged. They are the ones who know what being adopted feels like. Sometimes adoptive parents or hopeful prospective adoptive parents come into the group. They struggle with the anger and pain that adoptees in the group express. There are also former foster youth who share their experiences and current foster care parents or hopeful to become foster parents come into the group as well.

Adoptees often express the emotional toll of trying to share their lived experiences with these other group members. Some who are not adoptees cannot take what they are reading and leave or become angry and disbelieving – surely they are the exception ?

If you ever encounter a “woke” adoptee (adoptees often express how it feels to have emerged from what they call the adoption fog when they believed the unicorns and rainbows version of adoption that the industry puts forth in pursuit of the profits they make facilitating adoptions), believe them when they express their struggles with feelings of abandonment, rejection, not belonging in the family they’ve been adopted into. Though most birth parents welcome a reunion with their “lost” child, not all of them do. These are more than sad for the adoptee experiences being abandoned and rejected all over again.

Being Heard

This is particularly true for adopted persons. The narrative in adoptionland is such that adoptees often refer to it as the rainbows and unicorns version of reality. If one does very much reading about the lived experience of adoptees, a very different perspective emerges. That perspective has guided this blog from its inception.

In the fall of 2017, I began to learn the stories of my original grandparents. Both of my parents were adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their true origins. They and we as their children, only knew some basic facts. The Tennessee Children’s Home and Memphis TN factored into my mom’s adoption. Her original name was Frances Irene Moore and she only knew her parents were Mr and Mrs JC Moore. Not nearly enough for her to go on.

In the 1990s, my mom saw the resurgence of interest in the Georgia Tann story. Miss Tann was directly involved in prying my mom away from her mother. My mom also learned when her adoptive mother died that she had actually been born in Virginia. Because of Georgia Tann’s reputation and because my mom could not explain to her own self how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted before the age of 1 in Tennessee, my mom believed she had at best, in her words “been adopted inappropriately” (that to the state of Tennessee as she attempted to get the adoption file I now have possession of) and privately, to me as her oldest daughter – she believed she had been stolen from her parents by deception, then transported to Tennessee. Not the actual story but not that far off the truth.

My mom was troubled by her adoption. She did want to reconnect with her original mother. Sadly, even as the state of Tennessee refused to turn over her adoption file (she was almost a decade too early in asking and when it did become possible no one alerted her that she could have it), they told her that her mother had died some years before and that totally broke my mother’s heart. She quit creating a family history at Ancestry because it was based on the families of the adoptive parents and as she said to me – that’s just not real to me, I can’t finish it. I understand – while my experiences with my adoptive grandparents are cherished and precious to me – they no longer seem “real” to me either, because I do not carry their genes.

My dad simply ignored the fact he had been adopted. His attitude was, his mother gave him up and these kind people raised him and so, they were his parents and that was that. When my mom wanted to know more, he cautioned her against opening up a can of worms. She couldn’t talk to him about it anymore and so, she talked to me about it. Sometimes adoptees even silence other adoptees because they don’t want to touch the pain hidden in their own unconscious trauma.

Just a note that my favorite adoption related community has shutdown. I have often shared stories from there because I think it is very important to make the stories based on direct experience more widely known. While there will be no more “new” stories unless the group reactivates, there is an archive that I will be able to continue to access. Even so, it’s closure leaves a hole in my own life and I’m certain in many other lives as well. I think the administrators were simply worn out. I do understand.