“Yes, she'll tell you she's an orphan
After you meet her family.”
Black Crows, She Talks to Angels
Americans have been doing a great deal of debating and struggling lately over what is real, true, and factual versus “alternative truths,” falsehoods, exaggerations, and lies.
In adoption, reality is an oxymoron. Adoption itself is a socially created construct protected by a legal pretense. And what’s real is often debated.
While in some cases a necessity, adoption becomes a fiction by virtue of the issuance of a falsified birth certificate that purports the adoptive parents to be the parents of birth. This falsehood is then given validation with a seal of legal approval and becomes an “alternatively true” identity for adopted person.
Among those whose lives are irrevocably changed by child adoption, there has been a long-standing debate of what - and who - is “real.” A childish power struggle was recently reignited by an adoptive mother who calls herself “Vietnamazinggg” who got her panties in a bunch over being told that she is not her adopted child’s “real” mother because she didn’t give birth. Her tale of woe has been picked up by multiple outlets and garnered hundreds of comments.
We get it. No one disagrees: Adoptive parents are the ones that are there day in and day out…because they CHOSE to be! They wanted a child and got a child - someone else’s child. No mother or father whether blood-related, step, or adoptive gets an award for that. Children often grow up knowing only the parents who raise him or her and in the normal course of events, baring abuse, people love the parents who raise him.
Why can't being a good mother and having a loving child be enough? Why try to change reality? But no amount of love changes one’s DNA or their reality. If an adopted child ever needed an organ transplant or bone marrow, not being related would be all too real.
Some people love their step-parent more than their original parent. Many people chose to have a step-parent walk them down the aisle at their wedding. Some don’t even invite their real parent, but that doesn’t change reality or re-write historical facts just as a divorce does not change the fact that you were married. And, never have I heard or read of a step-parent arguing to be called “real.”
I have friends who are far more dear to me than any blood-relative. I call some of my dearest and longest known women friends my “sisters” and feel a far greater bond with them than I do my actual sibling. But my feelings do not make it so, and if asked about my REAL sister, I know who that is whether we get along or are close or not. She will remain my sister even if I never see her again, just as my daughter who was first separated from me by adoption and raised by others - and even after she passed away - is still my daughter and I am still her mother. No legal procedure, or even death, can change that.
So, when someone asks an adoptive parent if their child has met their “real” parents, or when a child throws it up in anger, why get upset? It stings, but why feel threatened, insecure, or defensive? Why not answer the question that is being asked: they either have or have not met their progenitors, the people who conceived and birthed them and to whom they are blood-related genetically. It’s a simple FACT, not an insult.
To get all huffy and reply indignantly: “I am my child’s REAL parent” is just foolishness, and demonstrates a very sad insecurity and inability to accept reality. Your child’s reality. Such a position hurts your child because it denies his or her reality. When you denigrate or deny their original family by asserting your “realness” you denigrate and deny them. To feel or act feel slighted and object to not being “real” also causes your child(ren) unnecessary angst, feeling – unfairly - that they must choose allegiance.
Real means real. It means authentic, natural. Yet, there is nothing inherent in the word real that suggests a hierarchy of who is “better” or who has done more.
The reality is that all adopted people have two families: one that created them and they are related to by blood, and one that raised them. It’s a fact, not a competition. Children who are told they are adopted understand this. Their friends and classmates know it as well and will quite naturally will ask about the adopted child’s “real” parents. To a child, it’s simple and uncomplicated, because they’ve not been indoctrinated into what’s PC or hurtful and not.
“The traditional blood-kin family is composed of one mother, one father, and their child or children. The [traditional 70s’s heteronormative] adoptive family is composed of two mothers, two fathers and a child common to them. [Gd(-A3] Although society, and to some extent adoptive parents, would like to pretend that it is exactly a traditional family, it is the differences that are extremely significant in each member’s life.” Dr. Herbert Weider, a psychiatrist who has studied and written about adoption since the 1970s.
Adopted children know they have another family and some fantasize about them and will use that fact in anger. Adoptive father, Frank Ligtvoet, who recognizes that “biology is real and powerful,” writes:
“Of course [the following] scary remark will come sooner or later: ‘You are not even my real dad.’ A child that is denied something ‘utterly’ important, or is ‘unfairly’ disciplined tries to find hurting words and comes up with the ones she or he thinks are the worst. In our adoptive family it started early. Our son was five. The first you-are-not-my-real-dad hit us with some sort of surprise: How does a kid this age know that these words are meant to hurt?”
I do not agree that children say these things to hurt. I see it more equivalent to: “But Grandma lets me.” When a teenager says: “You’re not the boss of me” they are expressing independence and a major sense of unjust unfairness. The adopted child feels the injustice of having not asked for you to be his or her parent. They live wondering what life would be like with their “real” parents: “Would they yell at me like this? Would they let me watch more TV or eat more sweets? Would they love me more?”
“My partner and I were prepared,” continues Ligtvoet. We had discussed the realness of our children’s first parents and had concluded that they were indeed very real. They lived real lives…”
Adoptee, Nicole Burton, author of Swimming Up the Sun: A Memoir of Adoption, posted on Facebook:
“Both my mothers were ‘real’ in that I loved them and they mothered me. But one is my real biological kin and the other is my adopted mother. (If she adopted me, at some point I must have adopted her so that's what I call her.) About 40-70% of my attributes come from my biology so my kinship mother is hugely important to me and yes, if real means physical, she is my real mum. Adoptees have at least two mothers. That's our reality and it's not in the least bit confusing to us because it's all we've ever known. That's what adoptive mothers can't seem to understand….I tired of this false debate, ‘Who is the real mother’?”
First Comes Birth
No matter what happens in a person’s life, no matter how many caretakers he or she may have - and no matter how conceived - all children are born, some naturally and some with medical intervention. Birth connects everyone genetically to their ancestry. Upon birth, all children are issued a birth certificate – a permanent vital record of the event and is used by genealogists to trace lineage.
Adoption seals away that birth certificate, hiding it from adopted individuals for life in most states, and in other states it is hidden until the age of majority, whereupon with other caveats and hoops to jump through, an adult adopted citizen may be allowed access to his or her rightful vital record of their birth - something all other citizens have all along.
Upon the sealing of the adopted person’s birth certificate, adoptees are issued a replacement called an “amended” birth certificate, but known in adoption circles as what it is: a falsified birth certificate. This secondary document obliterates reality, eradicating and severing all legal connections between the child and the family into which he was born in order to fabricate a new family.
This elaborate hoax was created back in the 1930s and ‘40s to legalize a lie so that adoptive parents didn’t ever have to tell their adopted children the truth of how they came into their families, as was thought best. The falsified document – that can even change the date and place of the actual birth – then becomes the basis of all future ID for adopted persons: driver license, social security, passport, etc.
The original birth certificate, however, remains the only REAL, authentic one. And so it is with parents. Adoptees are real, live human beings. Every single one was born into a family that is very real.
There can be stand-ins and substitutes and they may be greatly loved and loving, but reality does not change depending on how much one loves another.
Times are Changing
More and more domestic adoptions are open today with varying levels of contact ranging from annual letters, to photos, to visits. Those that started out closed are being opened more easily and more often today via social media and DNA testing. No one can pretend forever anymore.
Inter-racial, transnational, and adoption by same sex couples also makes secrecy in adoption no longer possible. Such adoptive parents, and those who are confident and secure, are able to deal with the issue of “realness” in a straightforward and logical manner.
Regarding adoption language, Ligtvoet notes:
“In the adoption lingo the first parents are called birth parents and the adoptive parents forever parents, as if one could isolate birth from the rest of a child’s life and if one could guarantee that divorce and death are not around the corner. Most of the current terminology is still euphemistic. Or soothing. Or at least expressing the values of the adoptive parents.”
Adoption is demand-driven and its language, as Ligtvoet states, was created to placate the only paying customer in the process and appease those who pay tens of thousands of dollars, keeping many attorneys, adoption agencies, and facilitators in the business of procuring and redistributing children.
Many news outlets – and adoptees themselves - are less kind than Ligtvoet suggests, and use outdated adoption language, calling their actual, real parents “bio” or “biological” parents as if they were test tubes, petri dishes, artificial wombs, sperm donors, or paid surrogates. This reflects a need to diminish their role and push reality into a cold, sealed box along with the original birth certificate that testifies to the truth. Such terms are very hurtful and deny those original parents who pine for the child they may have been pressured or coerced to relinquish.
Adoption is confusing. The media often have trouble differentiating foster from adoptive parents and at times go back and forth within the same story. They will also use outdated terms such as saying that someone ”gave up” a child for adoption and some news reports use the term ”real parents” much to adopters chagrin. On the other hand, some adoptive parents get highly indignant when a news article – often reporting a crime – accurately identifies a person as being “the adopted” son, daughter, or parent. Yet, is it not critical to the reporting of a crime to definitively and accurately describe the relationship between perpetrator and victim?
While some adopters take offense at the accurate reporting of adoptive familial relationships, celebrities, politicians, and many other ordinary people wear their adoptive parenthood on their sleeves to garner brownie points for being good Christian soldiers or politically progressive “color-bind” liberals. Others post on blogs and write magazine articles painstakingly detailing their journeys through infertility treatments and the financial and emotional costs thereof. Some add how they suffered the "indignities" of adoption vetting and sob over "failed" attempts to adopt because a mother chose to nurture her own child. Some even seek online sympathy for wanting to terminate an adoption. In so doing, they make it crystal clear that for them adoption was far from their first choice yet object to being asked questions about how got their child.
The debate over who is the “real” parent is one of ego and must end. Parents who demand specific titles and react with upset to other terminology make children feel they are in the middle and have to choose. Many adoptees deal with feelings of abandonment and feeling as if they are a replacement for the baby their adoptive parents might have had.
They do not deserve to be additionally burdened with their adopter’s insecurities. Each adopted person when given free will without guilt, will decide for themselves how they feel about - and that terms they use to describe and define - the relationships in their life and those on their family tree.
Many adoptees, as they grow into adults, become articulate and are demanding to flip the hierarchy upside down and put them – the adoptee – where they belong: on top, with their voices preeminent in the conversation, #FliptheScript, rather than being a pawn in the absurdly ludicrous battle of who is “real.”
UPDATE (5/19/17): Interestingly, Frank Ligtvoet, contacted me subsequent to publication to tell me:
“I agree now with you that children don't use 'real' to hurt their AP's. I see the insecurity I still had when I wrote the piece.”