Adoption Apologies Expected in Australia – Why Not America?

(Originally posted on DailyKos.com).

In recent weeks, the Australian Senate inquiry into past adoption practices urged the government to apologize for separating thousands of families in the decades following World War II.  The inquiry, which began in 2010, revealed that illegal and unethical tactics were used to convince young, unmarried mothers to surrender their babies to adoptive homes.  In some cases, mothers were drugged and forced to sign papers relinquishing custody.  In others, women were told that their children had died.  Single mothers did not have access to the financial support given to widows or abandoned wives, and many were told by doctors, nurses, and social workers that giving away their children was the right thing to do.

Books like Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away and Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosersremind us that the tactics used to procure adoptable babies in Australia were no less of a problem here in the United States.  Stories abound of young mothers who were sent to maternity homes, denied contact with their families and friends, and forced to return home without their babies.  Single, American mothers were also denied financial support and told that their children would be better off without them.  In some cases, they too were told that their babies had died.  Many signed away their rights while drugged and exhausted after child-birth.  Others were threatened with substantial medical bills if they didn’t surrender.  These unethical practices were used against an estimated 4 million mothers in the United States.

Where is their apology?  Where is the apology for their children?

While it’s true that mothers in Australia fought hard for the recognition they’ve begun to receive, American mothers have organized similarly.  When I first began researching adoption fifteen years ago, mothers on both continents had already been working for years to gather information, raise awareness, and seek restitution.  Exiled moms in America vastly outnumber their Aussie counter-parts, and yet, their tremendous losses are scarcely acknowledged here.

There’s one very simple difference, however, between the two countries.  Though both have seen a drop in the number of infant adoptions taking place since the early 1970s, social and governmental attitudes toward adoption are quite different.  While some politicians have recently tried to revive adoption in Australia, infants are seldom adopted away from their families.  Young women not only have solid access to contraception and abortion services, but those who choose to continue unplanned pregnancies are encouraged to keep their children.  Welfare programs support this goal as well.  Adoption itself isn’t a big business in Australia.

The United States, on the other hand, continues to promote adoption.  In 2001, it was estimated that the business of adoption brought in $1.4 billion a year, with an estimated growth percentage in the double digits.  Maternity homes have made a sickening comeback, and anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” (often affiliated with profitable local adoption agencies) promote adoption as “the loving choice” even over parenting.  Despite what professionals know about the negative psychological impact of adoption on surrendering parents and adopted children, Americans as a whole tend to view it as a positive institution.

Admitting that mothers and their children were wrongly separated in the decades preceding Roe v. Wade could, conceivably, open up modern adoption practices for public criticism as well.  Having worked with mothers and fathers who have lost children to adoption in the past ten years, I can confidently say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Today, open adoption is commonplace.  Parents are assured that they can maintain some contact with their children over the years.  Some are promised pictures and yearly updates while others are told that they will be treated as members of the family.  Few are warned that open adoptions are frequently closed by the adopters in the weeks or years following finalization.  I’ve encountered more than a handful of mothers who say they never would have surrendered had they known this could happen.

In addition to false promises, other coercive tactics are still alive and well.  Some professionals – doctors, nurses, social workers, and even school counselors – advocate adoption even to clients who have expressed no interest in giving up their babies.  Young women are still told that if they love their babies, they will give them away.  Prospective adopters advertise for babies in magazines and online, and expectant mothers are encouraged to “make an adoption plan” and meet the would-be adopters before the baby is born.  In some cases, the adopters even join them in the delivery room.  None of this is done in Australia, where it’s wisely acknowledged as putting undue pressure on the mother to go through with an adoption she may no longer want.

If Americans admit that adoptions were conducted unethically or illegally in the 1950s-1970s, they may just have to admit that the industry is still as rife with corruption as it ever was.  The numbers may be lower now, but if anti-choice, anti-contraception politicians have their way, they will be on the rise again soon.  An apology for past practices is warranted, but what we need even more than that are safeguards for the future.

Posted in Activism, In the News, Infant Adoption | 2 Comments

Politicians and Adoption

Republicans and Democrats are known more for their differences than their similarities.  However, there’s one thing they both love to embrace, and that’s adoption.

Recently, in a statement celebrating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Obama said:

“As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.  I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right.

“While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue — no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.”

Republicans, on the other hand, would take away a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion and instead force all pregnant women to become mothers.  Of course, they would also see these women denied financial support and stigmatized for being unmarried, young, or poor – pushing them toward adoption as “the loving option” for their babies.  At least the Democrats would leave them the legal right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

I understand that it’s popular for politicians – especially on the left – to talk about compromises and unity.  And I understand that for the average, unaware politician, adoption seems like an olive branch, downplaying abortion as a necessary evil and exalting adoption as an alternative for women facing an unplanned pregnancy.  I am not going to assume that the Democrats who laud adoption are being malicious, but their ignorance is still problematic.

What Obama and others fail to understand is that adoption is not the simple procedure that abortion tends to be.  By the time an adoption can take place, there is a real baby involved, not just a clump of cells. The pregnant woman is no longer just a woman anymore; she has become a mother whether she raises her baby or not.  If the child is surrendered to adopters, the parents have no closure, just the heartache of knowing that their child is growing and changing without them.  And that’s not even considering the psychological impact on the child!

Political adoption promotion shouldn’t be allowed to go without comment.  If you have a story to tell, tell it to your representative – and your president – whenever you see adoption touted as an alternative to abortion.

Posted in Activism, In the News, Infant Adoption | Leave a comment

Infertility and the Adoption Option

When I tell people that I’m opposed to adoption, one of the questions they invariably ask is:  What about infertile couples?

If I wanted to be snarky, I’d say, “What about them?”  It makes me ill to see a line drawn tying infertility to adoption, as if children are a product to be sold to people who can’t make their own.  It cannot be said enough: fertile men and women are no more obligated to provide children for infertile ones than people with all their limbs are obligated to provide arms and legs for amputees.  Suggesting that adoption must continue in order to make sure that there is a supply of babies for those who demand them is nothing short of turning kids into commodities.  That may be the adoption industry’s forte, but it’s not acceptable.

However, there is something positive to be said for the people who ask this particular question.  Just asking is an interesting illustration of the asker’s perspective on adoption.  Just asking says, “I understand that adoption exists to meet the needs of the adopters.”  Just asking says, “I realize this isn’t about the children at all but about what the adults want.”  In other words, it’s honest.

Without adoption, what would infertile couples do?  Everyone wants to know.

I suppose they would go on as the ethical people I know have always done – being involved aunts and uncles, doting on their pets, working with kids, volunteering, or seeking out satisfying lives that don’t involve children at all.  Adopting doesn’t make a person any less infertile or any more of a parent.  It’s not a solution for abused or orphaned children, and it’s not a panacea for infertility, either.

Sometimes, life isn’t fair.  Perpetuating that injustice by inflicting more unfairness on others isn’t the cure.

Posted in General Information, Infant Adoption, International Adoption | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Problems with International Adoption

Recently, a college student asked if she could interview me for a paper she’s writing on international adoption controversies.  Of course, I said yes – I enjoy helping with things like that when I can.  This morning, she sent me her questions, and writing back made me think that I should post here with our Q&A if nothing else.

1. Some argue that by sending a child to Chinese lessons for example, enriches the child of any cultural background they may have lost.  Do you agree or disagree and why or why not?  There’s no amount of “enrichment” an adopter can provide that’s going to give a child the same experience – or even close to the same experience – he would have had being raised within his culture of origin.  There’s so much more to being part of a culture than just speaking the language or learning about the food or meeting other people who have also left or been taken away from that culture.  I’ve spoken with many adoptees who returned to their home countries as adults, and the one thing that they all have said is that no matter how much they know intellectually, and no matter how long they stay there as adults (several have moved back permanently), they’ll still never quite fit in there.  Ultimately, that means they don’t fit in anywhere – they don’t feel a sense of belonging in their adopters’ countries, but they don’t feel it 100% in their own countries, either.

2. Do you think international adoption is typically successful, or should it be kept within the country?  Why?  I’m anti-adoption on all counts – domestic and international.  I don’t think either type of adoption is ever truly successful, and both types are plagued with violations of ethics against the natural parents and the children who are adopted away from their families.  International adoption presents some additional issues, though – like the loss of culture and “fitting in,” as well as the loss of social capital for countries whose children are being adopted out to foreigners.

3. If the federal government were to ban international adoption, what do you think of the argument that: there are children in third world countries in need of help that a successful American family could provide?  I don’t believe that adoption is a way for Americans to actually help children abroad, anyway.  When you help someone, you should be doing it with their best interests in mind, and adoption is not in a child’s best interests.  If Americans want to help children in third world countries, they can do so by donating to or participating in organizations that provide medical services, food, and education in those areas.  The amount of money that the average American couple spends to remove one child for international adoption could make a tremendous difference in the lives of a whole village, if it were being put to good use.

4. Obviously there are some successful adoption stories; do the stories of unsuccessful adoption journeys outweigh any success?  Actually, I disagree that there *are* successful adoption stories.  There are some that turn out terribly, and some that turn out less terribly, but none of them are what I would call a success.  In every case, you’re left with a child who has lost his or her name, culture, family, and identity.

5. Do you think families hoping to adopt will “shop” around the globe to find the perfect child if international adoption continues?  Some adopters shop around, some gravitate toward specific countries for specific reasons.  As long as international adoption continues, people will continue buying children to suit their own needs and claiming they’re doing the child a favor.

6. Can you think of any possible disadvantage for an adopted child if he/she were to enter into a family that already has given birth to a biological child?  Being adopted is itself a disadvantage.  Being adopted by people who already have their own child/children can certainly highlight the lack of fitting in that an adopted child is likely to face anyway.

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The Trouble with Boys

Phrases like “lock up your daughters,” and “you’re going to have your hands full when she’s a teenager.”  Visuals of fathers cleaning their guns when their daughters’ dates come over for the first time.  Parents losing sleep over their teen daughter’s virtue.  It all adds up to a common mythology that says raising girls is more fraught with worry and fear than is raising boys.

I humbly disagree.

My daughter, already confident and self-possessed at age eight, will have full control over her own body by the time she is a teenager.  She can – with my support – start taking hormonal birth control when it becomes appropriate for her to do so.  Should that birth control fail, she can – again with my support – obtain an abortion.  Conversely, she will also have the option to continue her pregnancy and raise her baby with my help and encouragement.  The world is her oyster.  Her reproductive decisions are her own.

My son, on the other hand, as sweet and loving as he is, is sure to cause me many more sleepless nights as an adolescent.  His choices are so limited, and the opportunities for him to get screwed – both literally and metaphorically – abound.  Should his partner become pregnant, he will not have any say over the outcome.  If she refuses to abort (a decision that is and ought to be only her own), he could find himself becoming a father despite his wishes to the contrary, and worse still, if she falls prey to the adoption machine, he could be facing a lengthy legal battle for custody of their child.

Consider for a moment the case of Benjamin Wyrembeck, who fought for his son for almost three years before finally bringing him home.  More than a decade ago, Dan Schmidt faced a similar battle to gain custody of his daughter, Anna.  In the years since I began studying adoption issues, I’ve encountered many other fathers put in the same position – and put through the wringer financially and emotionally – in an effort to prevent their children from being adopted away.  Some have succeeded, and some have failed.  All of them have made me fear for my own son.

As if I needed anything more to worry about, the rise in popularity of Putative Father Registries certainly warrants consideration.  These registries require men to file paperwork whenever they think that they may have fathered a child, otherwise forfeiting their right to contest an adoption and raise that child.  They certainly give new meaning to the phrase, “every sperm is sacred.”

The icing on top of my slice of fear-cake takes the form of the popular but ill-conceived state-sponsored “safe haven” laws.  Allowing new mothers to anonymously surrender their infants is a terrible idea for a lot of reasons, but the circumvention of father’s rights is a big one.

Of course, these adoption-related pitfalls, as well as the risks of STDs and unwanted pregnancies, are things I will be discussing with my son as he gets older.  He will have the benefit of being informed (and the benefit of a large supply of condoms in the bathroom drawer). Even so, I feel much better about my daughter’s reproductive options than I do her brother’s.

Maybe this mom needs a gun to clean when her son’s dates make an appearance at the house.  Or maybe, we just need more family preservation and less adoption in our laws so this mama can sleep at night.

Posted in Activism, Infant Adoption | 2 Comments

Some Choice Words About Adoption

Being both anti-adoption and a pro-choice feminist has put me in touch with a lot of women who view adoption as one of three choices a woman can make when faced with an unplanned pregnancy (the other two being abortion or parenting).  These women often don’t understand how I and others like me can identify as pro-choice while believing that adoption should not exist.

There are a couple of ways to respond to that argument.

The simplest response is that the term pro-choice was never intended to cover every decision a women could possibly make in her life.  It was coined as a description for people who support a women’s reproductive choices (which would logically include abortion, the use of birth control, and the decision to birth a child and thus, become a parent).  By the time an adoption can take place, the choice to reproduce has already been made.  If anything, adoption should be described as a parenting choice.

The second argument I would make against regarding adoption under the pro-choice umbrella is that it simply isn’t practiced as a choice at all.  Women who surrender their infants to the adoption industry are not making informed, rational decisions.  They are often coerced by agencies, anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers, would-be adopters, unsupportive family members, and various others.  In many cases, those pressuring the mother (and sometimes the father as well) have something to gain if she surrenders her baby.  In other cases, they are misinformed, operating under the delusion that a woman can walk away from her baby without scarring herself and her child in the process.

In order for adoption to exist as an actual choice for women facing an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, coercion and deceit would have to be removed from the equation.  Instead, expectant mothers would be counseled about the lifelong issues they and their children should expect — including deep regret, symptoms of PTSD, attachment disorders, feelings of loss, and other psychological issues.  They would be advised that most open adoptions are closed by the adopters at some point, and they would be told that they will have no legal right to reclaim their children if and when that occurs.  Rather than being fed overwhelmingly negative stories about the hardships of parenting, they would be directed to resources intended to make parenting easier for single parents with little support.

Of course, if those changes were made, adoption may be able to be correctly defined as a (parenting) choice — but it certainly wouldn’t be a choice that any woman in her right mind would make!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the Adoption Alternatives blog, a project of Adoption: Legalized Lies.  This blog will feature adoption related news, commentary, and calls to action from an anti-adoption perspective.

When I first became involved with the movement to eradicate adoption, I was still in high school.  Since then, I’ve graduated college, given birth to two wonderful children, written numerous articles, given presentations, and published Unlearning Adoption: A Guide to Family Preservation and Protection.  I’ve answered probably hundreds of questions about adoption, reproductive rights, family preservation, and the alternatives for children who really do need care outside of their families — questions presented to me by adults, children, and everyone in between.

In this time, I have certainly evaluated and re-evaluated what it means to oppose adoption, and every time, I come back to the same conclusion:  adoption is not an ethical, healthy or necessary institution.  It can be done away with, and it should be.

If you’re new to the movement, hanging onto the idea that adoption is a viable or even beneficial social program, I hope you’ll read this blog with an open mind.  Respectful questions and discussions are always welcome and appreciated.

If you found this blog while looking for help or advice as an expectant mom or dad-to-be, please check out our links and feel free to email me directly for support or information.

Welcome, and enjoy your visit!

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