Second Chance

One of the saddest situations in adoptionland is a child that was adopted and the adoptive family seeks to be rid of that child and it does happen.

In one case, an adopted child had been through four failed adoptions. This child had been renamed each time and didn’t even know their real name.

Or a child adopted internationally when they were 2 years old now up for re-adoption at the age of 8-1/2.  The advertisement for this child is full of glowing attributes – why then is the need to be rid of the child ?  It is beyond sad that people adopt without understanding the trauma and wounds that come from separating the child from their original family.

Between 1 and 5 percent of U.S. adoptions get legally dissolved each year. Some children are put up for “second-chance adoptions.”   Second-chance adoptions are children who were already adopted and whose adoptive family no longer wishes to parent them.

Accurate statistics are not available for how commonplace second adoptions are, due to a wide variety of factors that include the closed nature of some adoptions, changed names on Social Security cards and birth certificates, and other paperwork issues.

Legally speaking, adopted children are recognized as no different from biological children. And for this reason, parents who opt to put a child up for re-adoption are doing nothing more legally complicated than any parent who puts a child up for adoption in the first place.

Children who end up in need of adoption a second time have lives that are deeply disrupted and end up with lifelong doubts about their worth.  Most adoptees, even when their first adoption does not end up dissolved, suffer from similar issues.

Adoption is a complicated situation that is fraught with problems.  That is why many adoptees are now speaking out against the process and looking for better alternatives for cases where a child’s welfare requires a more stable situation.

Becoming Whole Again

Much of what I write here came as an unexpected side effect of discovering who my original grandparents were.  Both of my parents were adoptees and both of them died without knowing what I know now.

The journey began because my cousin informed me she had received her father’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee.  This came as a huge surprise to me.  Back in the early 1990s, my mom tried and failed to get her own.  I had hoped, since she had died, it might become available to me but that is not how sealed records work generally – and I have bumped up against them in 3 states – Virginia, Arizona and California.

What made Tennessee different was the Georgia Tann scandal.  There would have been criminal charges lodged against her if she had not died before that could happen.  The movers and shakers of Memphis political life were all too happy to let the wrong-doing die with Miss Tann.

The story had such potency, that it erupted on the public’s imagination in the early 1990s on 60 Minutes and Oprah.  A movie was made by Hallmark featuring Mary Tyler Moore as a convincing Georgia Tann.  Reunions of adoptees with their original parents started being seen on television and my mom wanted that for herself.  It was not to be.  No one told her that less than 10 years after her own efforts were denied, it would have been possible.

It was surprising to me how the dominoes began falling so easily, so that in less than one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were and made contact with some surviving descendants.  Only a few years ago, I would never have predicted such a result.

It didn’t end there however.  From that new wholeness, I also began to understand deeply the impacts of separating young children or infants from their mothers and original families, how this causes a deep traumatic wound in the adoptee and how even the most well-meaning of adoptive parents (my adoptive grandparents were totally that and good people in general) can not make up for what has happened to the victims of the process.

And from all that, has come this blog.  No doubt I still have more to say as soon as tomorrow.

 

Secrecy

Secrecy in adoption was always meant to protect the adoptive parents from the original parents after a child was taken in adoption.

These concepts were not true –

Actions once thought natural, such as attempts by adoptees to learn information about their birth families, came to be socially disfavored and considered abnormal.

They were the psychologically unhealthful product of unsuccessful adoptions that had failed to create perfect substitutes for natural families created by childbirth, and they indicated adoptees’ rejection of and ingratitude toward adoptive parents.

Secrecy was viewed as an essential feature of adoptions in which birth and adoptive parents did not know one another.

Here is how hiding an adoptee became the law of the land –

Edna Gladney who was an illegitimate child but later went into the adoption profession and Georgia Tann whose name became associated with a scandal of stealing and selling babies were the prime movers for concealing an adoptees identity by falsifying their birth certificates and allowing adoptive parents to change the name the child was born with.  Then, the original records were sealed.

In the 1990s, a renewed media attention on the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal resulted in activists finally breaking open the secrecy contained in Tann’s adoption files for those persons affected (including descendants).

There are still many states who continue to maintain sealed records.  In my own efforts to discover who my own original grandparents were, I bumped up against the solid walls in Arizona, California and Virginia.

Adoptionland

There is a game similar to Candyland that I became abundantly aware of as I expanded my own understandings about the impacts of adoption.

There is an overly romanticized and idealistic love affair going on with adoption that brings to mind unicorns, rainbows and puffy hearts. In Adoptionland, clouds are made of spun sugar and the roads are lined with red licorice – nothing bad every happens in Adoptionland. All of the adopted children feel nothing but gratitude and their only goal in life is to make adoptive parents dreams come true.

The truth is that is marketing bunk.  Follow the money applies here as it does in many other situations.  The goal of the game is to take a newborn baby from its mother and give it to complete strangers who have enough money to pay for the baby.  The game has been so entrenched that this selling and buying of babies has been legalized and hidden as fees, etc.

For many adoptees, adoption is an extremely complicated experience rife with confusion and mystery – mostly because the adoption industry doesn’t respect adoptees nor seek to serve their needs.

It may seem unbelievable but there really are people out there fighting against the restoration of an adoptee’s right to obtain her own, factual, birth certificate.

There are adoptive parents who relegate the original parents of the child they are so privileged to be raising into the role of “birth parent” only – like their only role in the life of their child was to give birth to that child – so they could adopt it. Much like a surrogate mother in some reproductive situations.

Some adoption agencies charge higher fees for white newborn babies but much less for black infants.  There are states who work to make open adoptions unenforceable.

All of these unbelievable but true aspects of adoption are totally acceptable with most of the people in our adoption-focused culture.  One has to intentionally seek to inform themselves to begin to understand the truth.

In Memoriam

I am now reading a book titled – Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace.  I read an essay yesterday by Susan Perry and felt such a connection with her that I was seeking to reach out to her and discovered sadly that she had died some years ago.

She is quoted as saying –

“Sealed record laws afford more rights to the dead than they do to the
living and they bind the adopted person to a lifetime restraining order.”
~ Susan Perry

Just like my paternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, she was the product of a married man and a woman not his wife.  They were both of Danish ancestry, just as my paternal grandfather was.  An immigrant, not yet a citizen, married to a woman 20+ years his senior.

Susan’s adoptive mother had no idea how often her interior thoughts had turned to her ancestors. Who were they, and what was her story ?  My own mom had similar questions.

Mrs Perry did know that her adoptive parents truly loved her, and that love
and support helped to make her the person she was in life.  I believe I can say the same about all of the adoptive parents in my own family’s lives.

Yet, our genes are some part of what makes us the person we each are as well.

It is only natural that any adoptee that reaches adulthood (if not sooner) will want to know who passed those genes down to them.

I have bumped up against sealed records in three states – Virginia, Arizona and California.  I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have uncovered ALL of my original grandparents.  I have the DNA tests that no one saw the inexpensive cost and prevalence of even 20 years ago as well as the matching sites Ancestry.com and 23 and Me to thank for most of my own success.

So many adoptees are never that fortunate.  Sealed records are unjust and damaging to so many people.  They encourage unhealthy thinking, repression, and denial as the means for coping with life.

I wonder if, because of adoption, my own mom did not feel empowered to take charge of her own story, just as Susan wrote in her essay.

Even so, every adopted person’s journey is unique.

It is difficult for me, as the child of two adoptees, to understand why as a culture we continue to shackle adopted people to an institution that is governed by such archaic and repressive laws, when the data clearly shows that most original mothers are open to contact. Those who are not, can simply say “no”.

Once an adoptee becomes an adult – they do not need outside agents supervising their own, very personal business.

Repressive laws set the tone – either/or thinking.  There is a belief that adoptees who search are expressing disloyalty to their adoptive parents, or that the adoptee should just “be grateful” and move on.  Attitudes of this kind are hurtful and dismissive.

Here’s the TRUTH, adoptees have two sets of parents – and a unique mix of DNA and upbringing.  It is belittling and unfair to tell adoptees that they are not entitled by law to access their own original birth certificates. Every other American citizen has no such restriction.

This is institutional discrimination and there is no really good reason it exists.  Adoptee rights bills have accumulated plenty of evidence that they are beneficial for the majority of persons for whom adoption is some part of their personal story.

Always A Child

My Mom After Adoption

Children grow up into adults.  That is their only real occupation through almost 20 years of life.  Some children have to grow up early.  My mom gave birth to me at the age of 16.  I married at the age of 18 and had my first child at 19.

When I look at my 18 year old son, I can’t imagine him married with a child.  He is intelligent and has an abundance of common sense but as his mother, he is still a bit of a child to me, though the maturing is obviously taking hold and he spends much of his daily waking life doing men’s work with his dad on our farm.

There is a subset of humanity that is never allowed to grow up – adoptees.  Certainly, they pile on the years and mature, just like any other human being but society and governmental agencies treat them as though they were still a child.

Why do I say this ?  Because they are denied rights that any other citizen takes for granted.  When their adoption is decreed by a court of law, their identity is stolen away from them.  Often, their name is changed and their original birth certificate is amended to make it appear that their adoptive parents actually gave birth to them.  Sometimes, even the place where they were born is changed.

Then, when they become an adult at 18 or 21 years of age and because they know they were adopted (or for some who were never told the truth and take a DNA test and receive the unpleasant and sudden surprise that they do not derive their origins from the people they believed were the source), when they attempt to learn the truth of their identity, origins and heritage – they are denied the very normal and simple human right of knowing who they really are.

It is time for the LIES to end and for ALL states in this country (United States of America) to open their files to the adults who were once a child that was adopted by strangers to raise as their own.

Human Dignity

It has been amazing for me to learn how adoptees are treated as somehow LESS THAN other citizens in this country.

It isn’t a wonder to me that adult adoptees simply want self-determination and autonomy.  They yearn for a respectful and inclusive definition of family – where their inclusively defined (original and adoptive) family is seen as a strength rather than
a weakness.  It isn’t too much to ask that they be allowed transparency and truth.

Policies related to adopted person should be based on evidence and best practices that are healthy for adult adoptees and respectful of their human rights. They wish to be treated with dignity and as having human worth.

How is it that adoptees never have a say within the adoption system ?  That they are not considered the “owners” of their own birth experience.

A child’s human rights include –
the preservation of their biological family whenever possible, information related to their heritage and identifying family information that will provide accurate medical health histories.

At a minimum, there should be unrestricted adult adoptee access to their own original birth certificates.

It is mystifying to me that there is such a lack of support for an adoptee to make sense of their personal diversity.  I believe that is because in a predominantly non-adopted society, people simply don’t understand how it feels, how vexing this hidden and/or false identity is for a mature person.

My mom was offered the most minimal non-identifying information from her adoption file, often referred to as the “censored records”.  It was of no practical use to her and why is it that the powers that be do not honor a citizen’s right to information that is personally their own ?

Just recently the state of New York finally decided to do what is just and fair by adult adoptees.  Too many states continue to hide behind bureaucratic policies that I judge to be no more than bureaucratic laziness.

Who Am I ?

“Whose tummy did I grow in ?”

Consider this.  Most of us take for granted that we grew inside our mother’s womb.  A child that has always been told they were adopted will eventually reach a point where this question will arise in their own mind.  In closed adoptions, the child will never be given an answer.  In fact, great care has been taken to erase every fact related to their beginning in life.

Georgia Tann often falsified birth certificates and original parental data so that even after records were allowed to be opened for “qualified” persons (the adoptee or their direct descendants) one had to view the information skeptically.  I am fortunate that for the most part, the information in my mom’s adoption file seems to have been accurate.

But there was fudging about the nature of her parents who were presented to my adoptive grandmother (who thought very highly of advanced education) as two unfortunate college students who were caught by pregnancy.  That was hardly the truth.  My grandmother never went to college and my grandfather was a widower 20 years older than her who had already fathered 5 children.

Adoptees in a closed adoption will have their birth certificates falsified (as both of my parents did) to appear that their adoptive parents gave birth to them when they did not.  They will have their original name changed to something the adoptive parents want.  In my dad’s case, it happened twice, because my Granny divorced the husband she was married to when she adopted my dad.  The second husband objected to my dad carrying the vanquished man’s name and so at an age of already 8 years, my dad was given a new name.

Is it any wonder that adoptees often struggle with an identity crisis ?  Many adult adoptees believe that adoption should be ended.  The children should be given guardians and keep all of their original identity information.  Much like in the case of slavery, a child is not something one owns but a human being we are privileged to protect and provide for.

Transparency And Truth

Transparency and truth in adoption is the best way to ensure
honest and ethical practices and uphold the civil, human and
children’s rights for all involved.

It isn’t about giving people information they do not want to know,
it is about empowering them to make the choice
to receive the information if they feel it is important to them.

~ The Declassified Adoptee

I was raised with the saying “Honesty is the best policy”.  I can’t say that we didn’t know the “truth” that both of our parents were adopted.  I can say that important information was denied us in order to protect the adoptive parents from obsessed and grieving original parents seeking to reunite with their children.

I can say that my mom’s original mother would have welcomed her back with open arms.  I believe my dad’s original mother would have felt likewise.

It is true that perspectives are changing.  Both my niece and my nephew were given up for adoption and yet both have been able to at least reunite with their original genetic families in order to learn and understand whatever they needed to know.

Older adoptions are still closed to even the descendants of deceased adoptees, deceased original parents and deceased adoptive parents.  I know because I have repeatedly bumped up against an absolute “no” when trying to access records.  I believe only bureaucratic laziness continues to obstruct us.

Demeaned, Diminished, Dismissed

I signed a petition related to an effort in New York state – even though my issues are with Virginia, Arizona and California. Please consider signing the petition at http://nyadopteerights.org/no-more/ since changing laws in any state may have the effect of encouraging other states to do so.

It seems that sealed records related to adoption are ETERNAL, even when the adoptees are dead, the adoptive parents are dead and the original parents are dead.

It makes no sense to me that the descendants of adoptees should be denied the honest information related to their parents and those adoptions. I can only believe it is simply laziness on the part of the bureaucracies that would have to hunt down the information. The laws intend to prevent the flood of requests that would follow a Right to Know access. Tennessee experienced that in the 1990s. Eventually, they instituted a fee to cover the costs of the staff and the work involved. I’ve paid such fees (including to the Salvation Army who delivered something meaningful, even though it wasn’t much – it did help).

It’s time to throw open the prisons into which these records have been relegated.