It’s funny what you learn when you meet other people who have followed the same path. Even though my adoption story hasn’t been perfect (indeed, whose life is?), it has turned out to be positive overall. And while I still have a number of years (I hope!) to live, I’m confident they will be positive, too, regarding my adoption journey.
However, I’ve been recently pulled out of the myopia I’ve lived for so many decades. I’m finding out that the adoption issue isn’t necessarily positive for everyone. Even though I’ve known that from an intellectual standpoint, I’ve never really paid attention to it. We’ve all heard of the adoptee who left her adoptive family to go back to her biological family. We’ve heard of fathers who have sued to get their child back. We’ve heard of Caucasian families who have adopted Native American children only to have the adoption challenged in court.
But what of the adoptions viewed as “successful? What of the child who was adopted who was abused? This became an issue between America and Russia when Vladimir Putin blocked American couples from adopting Russian children due to the antics of a handful of abusive parents. Even though 76,000 Russian orphans were successfully adopted by American couples, Putin opted for political reasons to focus on a handful as a rationale for blocking adoptions.
And then there have been the children who were sexually abused by an adoptive parent, physically abused by an adoptive parent. But not much, if anything, is said about the psychological abuse perpetrated by adoptive parents.
While Americans are much more sophisticated about adoption than they were even thirty-five years ago, there are still hundreds of thousands of us who were adopted in a more socially austere time. A time when adoption still had a certain amount of gaucherie about it. A time when single, pregnant women were viewed as whores (interestingly enough, the men never were). A time when even the birth parents were accosted by this embarrassment over adoption–sometimes so much so that they didn’t tell the adoptee until he was an adult–if the adoptee was told at all.
I’ve never understood how an adoptive parent could keep such vital information from their child. How they could disrespect their child so much? How they could challenge the child’s intelligence through silence? How they could refuse to divulge information even after the adoption was made known? This is psychological abuse.
I would hope that the parents of today would be more respectful of their adoptive child. If a child of color is adopted, will that child be told his identity? It will be obvious as he grows older that he is “different”. Will the family respect his ethnicity and encourage him to embrace it and help him to research it? Will the adoptee be treated as a member of the family or as a curiosity to be paraded around in an effort to elevate the parents’ stature to the detriment of the child’s psyche? Will he be placed on a shelf to be cosseted and admired like an expensive doodad? Will he be expected to feel grateful for being “rescued”?
I say these things because I’ve seen it happen. And it’s appalling. The adoption experience today is out in the open, where it should be. It should never have been closeted. If the parents, or anyone, are burdened by the “scab” of adoption, then keeping it out in the open in the fresh air will allow that scab to heal. And ordinarily, that “scab” is the parents or others involved who cannot seem to move beyond their own lack of intelligence (read: stupidity).
I know in Oregon, prospective adoptive parents must go through counseling and a certain “training” if you will, in order to understand the potential pitfalls of adoption. Even parents who have already adopted need to go through the program again. It’s a lengthy process. Indeed, the adoption process now has many twists and turns, not the least of which is expense. When I think back, my parents got off easy. They took in my birth mother, paid her bills and then paid an attorney to handle the adoption. This was fifty-five years ago. Costs were much lower, of course. But then, so were salaries. No matter what, they went through a lot to get me. But there were fewer rules and laws.
I dare say that there are negatives in any adoption. My adoption was chronicled in my book. But I have to admit that I’ve chosen not to dwell on any negatives. I guess that’s because I’ve sen so few negatives about my adoption, the circumstances and my parents’ handling of everything. This, despite the negatives I’ve discussed.
Over the decades to this very day, I have people who marvel over how well I’ve “handled” my adoption and the search for my birth family along with all the attendant problems and arguments. The one thing I keep hearing from people is how I’ve lost two sets of parents. It causes them to reel from the thought.
Truthfully, I’ve never looked at it like that. Certainly, I lost my parents (I don’t use the qualifier “adoptive”). As for my birth parents, well I never knew my mother. She had died before I met my family. I lost my birth father a year and a half ago. Even though my practical sense tells me I lost my birth father, my grief came from never receiving that acceptance or validation from him. And, truth be told, it also came from losing a bit of my identity as an ersatz caregiver who kept running up to B.C. to help him.
I have to admit, though, that sometimes I wish I had quizzed my parents more on why it took them so long to divulge the details of my adoption. They told me about my adoption when I was nine, but I was eighteen before the details emerged. Now, I’ve always said that I understood why they never gave me the details. I think they probably knew that it would be problematic for me to know as a child that I had a brother. I feel that they waited until I was an adult to tell me because that was probably when they felt comfortable. They were unfortunately dragged into it by a family member who threatened to spill the beans.
And that’s something that irritated me. This family member helped broker my adoption but it was not her place to stick her nose into things, forcing my parents’ hand. I knew my mom and dad well. I knew how sensitive they were and how they avoided conflict. Perhaps they were afraid of my response. Perhaps they felt guilty for waiting as long as they did. I don’t know. When people ask me about this aspect of my experience, that is what I say.
And therein lies yet another tangent to follow. I’ve looked on the positive side of this situation regarding my search. Many have expressed surprised that I’m not angry or bitter. I cannot understand why they would expect me to be so. Again, I look at what is, for me, the obvious.
My birth mother wanted to do what she felt was best for me. Her sister, my biological aunt, wanted the same. My adoptive aunt was also thinking in terms of my best interests. My mom and dad wanted another child and they did everything to make the transition seamless. I wasn’t aborted; I wasn’t sent to an orphanage. I didn’t end up in a home where I was abused, starved or abandoned. I am incapable of seeing a negative in my adoption, despite the problems after I met my family.
Sure, I would give my left eye to meet my mother. If God would give me one hour with her, I would be the happiest man on earth. But that won’t happen and that is my only real regret. And I’ve chronicled over and over the abuse, rejection and dismissal I received from my birth father and brother.
Yet, strangely, I still don’t feel that my situation was bad. There were negativities, of course. A radio interviewer asked me if I would do it all again. I told him that if it were December 1977 and I was handed all the details around my adoption and I knew what the future held that I would definitely, without reservation, move forward with the search.
So, yes, perhaps we focus too much on the beauty of adoption. But is that so bad? Can anyone predict how any adoption will turn out? No. Just like no one can predict how any birth child’s future will turn out.
Yes, people who have struggled and are struggling with their adoption need our support. They shouldn’t be marginalized and expected to accept everything that happened to them. They should’t be told to be thankful or to just accept what is. I believe what we need is an honest, open dialogue about this issue. I think if the media would pursue something like this, it would raise awareness among everyone of the adoptions that have gone awry and provide an outlet for adoptees who have felt that they need to distance themselves from their adoptive parents in order to move forward or even survive.
We can all help by allowing a person to state what he’s feeling without rancor or judgment. Again, bringing it out into the open will be healing for those involved and educational for the rest of us.