Angela Barra, aka Maree Oliver, joins many adoptees in expressing frustration at ignorant comments, questions and expectations of adoption and being adopted that she is confronted with. (I use the word ignorant as it is defined: lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.)
My experience is different. When people find out my area of expertise is adoption, the first question I am asked is: “Are you adopted?” When I say no, it is almost always followed with: “Are you an adoptive parent?” Or, “Did you adopt?” No again.
And then, dead silence. Dead. Uncomfortable. Silence.
Why? Do people really believe that adopted children come from the cabbage patch, or that all were truly orphans? Or is it because they do not see a drug addicted teen in front of them so that they cannot fathom that my connection to adoption is as a mother who lost her child to adoption?
Is it socially impolite to even ask, “Did you lose a child to adoption?” We ask people if they are divorced. Today we ask which pronoun someone prefers. But whether someone is the “silent” part of the adoption constellation is as awkward to discuss as to ask someone if they are now, or ever were, addicted to drugs. Why?
Why the Taboo?
Revealing that one of my children is deceased is met with discomfort but it also engenders expressions of sympathy and condolences for my loss. Yet, never once in nearly 50 years when I say that I lost my firstborn to adoption has anyone outside the adoption community ever said: “I’m sorry for your loss.” WHY?
If it’s common conversation to ask adoptees and adoptive parents about their experience of adoption, and if placing a child or adoption is allegedly a loving “choice,” why is it taboo to ask about it?
John Q. Public is not just ignorant of the truth of adoption, they are very vested in believing the fairy-tale, win-win version. Why? Because most everyone in the public knows someone who has adopted or who is trying to adopt. They identify with the struggles of infertility and/or feel compassion for same sex couples who want to be parents. The public sympathize with the pain of wanting to be a parent and not being able to. It’s a very human plight that people have little to no difficulty wrapping their compassion and empathy around.
Even my own parents and sister told me that because they identified with the adoptive parents and I had no right to interfere by seeking reunion with my daughter.
Because of this emotional connection with adopters and would-be adopters, the public buys into the assumption that those of us who lost a child to adoption, unlike the death of child, DESERVED the loss it and it was probably for the best. There is an accepted assumption that all children have a better life as a result of being relinquished and adopted based on the belief that all who seek to adopt are highly motivated and well vetted; average or above.
Adopting a child is also encased in savior and rescue mythos. It is quite ironic that while there is understanding and compassion for the pain of infertility, and acceptance of pining for a child to create or build a family, the fulfillment of the desire is still nonetheless ensconced in nobility. It’s a true conundrum. People seek out a child to fill their emptiness, [GD3] pay tens of thousands of dollars, and yet are seen in the end as altruistic humanitarians for taking an otherwise assumed-to-be “unwanted” child. This is because while the longing is understood, the average person cannot conceive of loving a non-related child as their own and thus admire those who do for their “bravery[GD4] .”
Standing on the side of an alleged “right” to adopt , as the public does – considering it a choice of many menu options to achieve parenthood – there is a staunch refusal to believe that many adoptions are accomplished via various levels of pressure, deceit, and coercion. Every contested adoption that goes public is met with overwhelming support for the adopters, regardless of the lies perpetrated on the mothers and fathers of the children being fought for.
Simon of the famous Simon and Schuster publishing company told me that the public shut their collective eyes and ears to abuses in the system - including child trafficking for adoption and massive, wide-spread corruption that shuts countries down one by one – because adoption is our “fall back” position. They thus reject as anomalies “forever parents” who terminate adoptions and adoptive parents who abuse and even murder[GD5] the children they are entrusted with.
The absolute, unquestioned belief in the adoption fable is powerful. In order to maintain the illusion, anything and everything that is contrary to it must be rejected. Anything that pecks away at the mythical image of adoption as a magical happily-ever-after, sanctified act of saintly goodness is arbitrarily rejected. This includes hearing adoptees, such as Barra, speak their truth about their pain of loss. If an adoptee expresses anything less than joyful appreciation, it is considered blasphemy. Honestly describing their loss often leads to a finger of blame is pointed at such adoptees. I\They are made to feel that it is their problem, not adoption.
The assumption is that adoption makes a bad situations good, thus, anything that suggests it is less than good and beautiful must be ignored, shunned, and silenced.
In this scenario, there is no place for the loss experienced by the families whose children bring so much joy to those who adopt them. It’s far easier to believe that the joy of adopting is also helping those who cannot care for a child. It’s easier to swallow rainbows and unicorns than to accept that one’s happiness is dependent upon others’ pain and loss. Adopted children are a gift, but not one that is necessary willingly given, but rather obtained because of lack of choice, opportunity, or support services.
Ingratitude, hurt, suffering, and pain have no place in the fantasy of adoption and are shamed into silence.
As I write to think of an analogy - of any other institution so heavily vested in pretense and so determined to keep the truth shuttered, I cannot. Clearly, we know that marriage is good for some and not for others. We know that pregnancy and birth are joyful for some and dreaded, painful, scary, and sometimes complicated for others.
I can think of no other example of mythos holding such a powerful position. But, it makes sense when you consider that adoption is a legal myth in direct opposition to the accurate, authentic genealogical reality of heredity.
Adoption is a lie and thus its very existence depends on no one saying aloud that the emperor has no clothes, and that is why adoptees like Angela Barra are shut down and mothers like myself are met with confused silence.
We as a society need accept the good, the bad, the ugly, the evil - and most especially the loss and pain - that is adoption. Ignoring the unpleasant truth does not make it not so and only adds additional pain to those who have been hurt. We must recognize that every adoption begins with a tragedy. Every adoption - whether it is a domestic infant adoption, an international adoption, an adoption from foster care, or an open adoption. Every single one, without fail, begins with the deconstruction of a family. We must recognize it and hear those who have suffered loss. Hear their pain and offer validation of their suffering.
The veneer is starting to crack as more and more adult adoptees are speaking out and sharing their realities - See #fliptheswitch - but we must not stop correcting the misconceptions with reality.