Imagine the feeling of finding you are pregnant, only that it is terror. Terror because you are not sure if you can support the pregnancy. Perhaps, you have no familial support. Perhaps, you do not have that financial safety net that is imperative to bring a child into the world and then see it through adulthood, or maybe the people you think are your support system fail you, or maybe, the choice to become a mother was not yours, was not consensual, was not planned. What should be a journey of joy is now one of fear, insecurity, and grief. I will not even get into options and choices.
Imagine now, the child in that womb, birthed under stress for over nine months, out into the world and warmth for the first time being handed off to strangers, strangers who promise to love and cherish them, yet people the newborn has no visceral memory or impression of. The voice, the smell, the feeling is all strange.
Imagine now, a couple bringing home a stranger’s baby, promising to love and cherish this child all life long, starting this journey with no preparation, no training, no understanding of what the trauma of being ripped from everything you have known does to a fledgling brain. (Spoiler: the effects are life long)
Also imagine, not newborns, but toddlers, young children being taken away from everything they have known from birth for a variety of reasons being placed into strangers’ homes (loving as they may be) and having to contend with brains and memories impacted by trauma. These small children having to live up to expectations from parents untrained, insufficiently trained to comprehend or raise children with needs far greater than an average person is capable of offering. (Think of the immigrant children ripped from their families of origin, placed in foster care, making their way into families that have nothing in common with them.)
Into this mix, bring in religion, private adoption agencies for whom this separation of babies from their parents is a billion-dollar business, and what we have is a hugely unethical, very problematic, and in the simplest of terms an act of violence against the vulnerable.
This is what we have currently in the form of the adoption industry.
I am well aware of the irony of talking about it as someone who is a mother because of this very process I have now come to loathe and fear.
Year after year, November is a month that glorifies all things adoption. It features stories in soft focus of small babies finding loving homes. It airbrushes everything, we, the public find it hard to consume. It sweeps under the rug, the very real thing called money that is involved in these transactions. Agencies charge money. Agencies write it off as birth parent expenses. Adoption laws are not uniform across the country. Each state has its version of what is legal and what is not. There is no uniform federal law that oversees adoption in the United States.
There is the adoption tax credit ($14,300 for the tax year 2020 per child finalized/failed adoption) that benefits adoptive parents. They are recompensed by the Government for the money they spend on agencies. These tax breaks are touted and tainted with nobility, with saviorism. When parents hoping to adopt set up fundraisers (GoFundMe) to fund adoption expenses, there is an aura of nobleness.
Yet, the same thing done by vulnerable parents to support their families is frowned upon (if they cannot support children, they should not be birthing them in the first place). The hypocrisy is stunning.
When the Government has schemes like CHIP and WIC to help the vulnerable and the parents in need to support the children they bring into the world, the recipients are slammed. They are painted in broad strokes as people milking the system. They are reduced in the eyes of society for requiring help raising families they are forced to have (reduced access to birth control, religious mandates against abortion).
I am intentionally not getting into race or anything that adds more complexity than this post can get into. It is bigger than I can articulate or even attempt to explain.
Against the background of NAAM – National Adoption Awareness Month, I have an ask. If you, my readers, see a feel-good story about adoption, ask yourself the following questions.
- Does the child have agency in the story being shared?
- Could the child have been placed in a family, related by birth?
- Does glorifying adoption help without placing the story in context?
- Does the story talk about the impacts adoption has on different members of the triad (not all good stuff)?
- Does the story point to statistics on how much likelier adoptees are to commit suicide than the average population?
- Most of all, ask yourself what is the slant of the story? Hit pause before you forward, amplify or glorify something you may have limited understanding of.
Again, I am fully aware there are circumstances where children truly need to be in homes other than that of birth for a multitude of reasons (think foster care), however, the goal of foster care is reunification (or, at least should be).
Over the ten years of being a parent by adoption, I have changed, my views have changed, my children and adult adoptees I have come to respect have questioned so many of my beliefs. My learning is just the beginning. I have miles to walk in these shoes before I can effect change.
What I can do at the minimum is point out how harmful glorifying adoption is. Gratitude is not a word that can or should be used in any context of adoption. The gratitude if any, is one from that of the parents raising the child, to have the privilege of being a parent. This is a highly skewed construct. Skewed towards those with privilege and money. If you add to it societal norms that expect children to owe gratitude to the people who raise them, it compounds and exacerbates everything an adoptee is already feeling.
In the larger political context, those five hundred plus children separated at the borders, my heart hurts for them, for their mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, and extended family. These children will now be saddled with the effects of trauma for the rest of their lives because adults around them decided how their lives should play out.
So, this November, I ask this of you. Please think about adoption stories that come your way. Hit pause before you amplify. If you live in the US and, are a citizen, vote to protect the rights of vulnerable women and children.