Dear Adoption, Goodbye
How sweet and well-intentioned your name is, like a puppy, like a helium balloon delivering a pink- or brown-skinned baby wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. The child, placed in a crib in a pretty nursery equipped by loving adults, has everything to ensure a happy, healthy life. The End.
Now, let’s get real, Adoption. It’s all in the language.
Adopters Adopt, that’s what they do. Many Adopters are good people who, like my parents, were in some way infertile, and Adoption allows them to have the family they always wanted. But Adoption doesn’t have much to do with me, the Adoptee caught in Adoption’s net. In fact, I’ve stopped using the word, “Adoption,” because it doesn’t describe my story as an Adoptee at all. I now say I was Relinquished into Closed Adoption, which puts me, my birth mother, and what really happened back into the narrative. These words address the complexity that Adoption obscures.
It’s all in the language.
I sometimes even call it “State-Sponsored Closed Adoption” because without the support of governments, Adoption as we know it wouldn’t exist. Our birth mothers, deemed unfit to parent by society because they were poor or single women, were covertly or overtly coerced into Relinquishing their offspring to Adopters. Then the state-sponsored secrecy machine permanently sealed our records thereby stealing our true identities; or neglectful agencies, public and private, “lost” or never gathered our vital identity information. In Relinquishment, our kin were banished from our lives forever. In the records-sealing process of Closed Adoption, our identities were stolen.
Pay attention to the language.
We Adoptees are not Children, we’re Human Beings who spend a fraction of our lives as children and decades living with the brutal consequences of Relinquishment and Closed Adoption. Every cell in our bodies knows that we have another identity besides Adoption and longs to know it but we face barriers.
I’ve lived over half my life in Reunion with my biological kin. I was so fortunate to meet and form relationships with both my birth parents and my six half-siblings and their families. My identity as a Reunited Adoptee is a thick braid of my adopted family, my birth families, and the family I created for myself. Without that critical Birth family identity, I wouldn’t be the whole person I am today.
I call myself an Adoption Abolitionist* because there’s no good reason for Adoption to continue.
In today’s world, instead of ostracizing single mothers, we embrace the idea of Family Preservation. We support affordable, accessible birth control, and we believe in the rights of women to run their own lives. There’s no reason anymore to engage in the trauma of Relinquishment and Closed Adoption, which are two chapters in a very long book entitled, Who Controls Women’s Sexuality? Let’s help write the next chapter, “Women Worldwide Take Control of Their Lives.”
And let’s stop using language that cloaks old-fashioned Oppression.
I’m finally Recovered from Relinquishment and Closed Adoption! What a journey, fifty-nine years of talk therapy, body therapies, Adoptee Support Groups and friendships, spiritual seeking, and 12-step programs that provide a framework for Recovery anyone can use.
As Adoptees, we can build our Birth identities with persistence, creativity, and Wild Courage to trust that the Universe will restore to us, somehow, that which was taken. In my humble opinion, this Journey is worth whatever it takes.
So, Goodbye, Adoption. We don’t need you anymore.* We don’t want you anymore. Goodbye.
*Yes, a small percent of the Relinquished, especially those in the foster care system, will always need strangers to love and care for them, but the primary purpose of these Relinquished is not to fill the empty cribs of needy adults who feel entitled to parent despite infertility. And no matter what the circumstance of birth, including Artificial Reproductive Technologies, these young people should never be deprived of their Birth identities after age eighteen. Never. Enforced Secrecy is a Human Rights violation. Aren’t Adoptees Human? Shouldn’t we have Rights too?
Nicole Burton is the British-born author of Swimming Up the Sun: A Memoir of Adoption. Also a playwright, her plays include Swimming Up the Sun, Fred & Frieda, Dirty Questions, Last Call at the Marble Bar, and Starman, Wish Me Luck. They’ve been produced at venues as diverse as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Source Theater, Round House Theatre, MetroStage, the University of District of Columbia, House of Ruth Homeless Shelter, Oak Hill Youth Reformatory, and the U.S. Capitol. Her newest book, Adamson’s 1969, a coming-of-age novel for adults and young adults, will be published in 2017. Read more at her website, Nicolejburton.com.
Having known someone who was raised by a mother who never let her forget that she was unwanted, I must add my comment. Why doesn’t everyone support Right To Choice ie., abortion. ( Now there’s an example of linguistics.)
that wouldn’t it make it better, that would end the life of your child more guilt to the mother. the church and maybe government should love her and find her help but Abortion is not that. My best friend was not in the same case but a little like it, and she wouldn’t want to be dead and have no life like Abortion does and i wouldn’t have a best friend that I’ve had since a kid.
True that “we wouldn’t want to be dead,” but of course, if we were dead, we wouldn’t know we were dead! And a life of trauma and suffering is not necessarily to be preferred over no life at all. I believe that abortion is one factor in family planning that should be ultimately at the discretion of the mother in consultation with her doctor. Not ultimately any one else’s business, especially not government or religions. When birth control is available and affordable, women worldwide limit the size of their families because every mother knows she shouldn’t bear more children that she can afford to feed and educate. When birth control is available, abortion rates decline. As you can see, it’s complicated.
Thank you for a well-written explanation of the whole abuse of closed adoption. I felt your pain, because I was forced, at 16, to give my baby away to strangers. My daughter will never know what it was like to grow up in a big Italian family with her aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. She will never really know of her heritage, or her identity. The first thing she said when we found each other, was, I wish I had been raised in an Italian family; yes HERS! My big heartache, is that she lost this birthright. And, she chooses not to get involved with me. Such are the ravages of forced, closed adoption, and adoption, in general.
What do you feel about truly open adoption, where a child is able to continue an actual relationship with her biological parents for her entire life, while being parented by adoptive parents?
Thank you so much for your time and response.
A good question about open adoption. Like everything having to do with relinquishment and adoption, it’s complicated. My first thought is, “Does open adoption really exist?” My understanding (I don’t have tons of experience with open adoption) is that legally, the adopted parents hold ALL the cards and that the “open” part of the adoption is entirely at their discretion. Many adoptions that started open are closed when the adopted family moves away and deliberately leaves no forwarding contact information, which is heartbreaking. The birth parent is powerless (this is my understanding, does it vary by state?) to do anything to continue the relationship, no matter what promises were made. Alternatively, the birth parent may choose to close the adoption because the ongoing pain of parenting and not-parenting her child is too profound to sustain; I have a friend who is the adopted mother of a young person in this situation and it’s been devastating for all. So, open adoption could be a partial answer – though I’m against relinquishment altogether – IF there were a legal framework in place to make the situation more balanced and if there were experienced counselors and social workers to deal with the inevitable emotional disturbances of being raised by at least two families. Remember, just because a couple adopts someone, doesn’t mean their marriage will endure or that they will be a great parent! It’s complicated and there’s no right answer but clearly, open adoption is not a panacea for the trauma of relinquishment; family preservation is the answer. Thank you for asking. I hope others with more experience with open adoption will chime in. Cheers.
Thank you for your question.
I am strongly convinced that adoption as institution ought to be disregarded, and must be replaced with a humane option such guardianship. Adoption makes you the owner of a child. Guardianship makes you the guardian.
“William, from the Australian Adoptee Rights Action Group, concludes that “Adoption is the legal severing of that child/adult and their future generations from their family tree. It is the issuing of another birth certificate to say that genetic strangers are their mother and father”. There are many reasons why families can’t care for their children for one reason or another, for the child to be outside of the natural parent family unit for part or all of their lives. The way to get it right is to fundamentally rethink how to provide safe homes to all children. “We believe the ideal approach to a stranger care non biological model is one of Stewardship where the child’s welfare is paramount and the personal history transparent. “Stewardship is the responsible overseeing and protection of someone considered worth caring for and preserving”. As a concept we believe Stewardship to be a modern, realistic framework for moderating the lasting impact of detachment and grief while providing the child with an honest, happy and fulfilling life. We believe adoption is one of the most damaging forms of care, to cut and traumatise a child from their flesh and blood parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, it’s heritage and Identity”
You can just cram it. I was raised by a mother who hated me. She was forced to keep me by her parents and felt forced to marry my father. I spent every day being told that I was a worthless person who had ruined my mother’s life. She had plenty of money, both my parents had well paying jobs, they could easily afford me. But they didn’t want me.
So yeah, I would have much rather been taken in by a “baby-buyer” who actually lived me and made me feel wanted. I’m now in my mid-30s and still have horrible self-esteem issues from 18 years of mental abuse. I even lived homeless for a year so I could get the hell away from my parents.
Do me a favor and stop making YOUR experience the voice for everyone. It’s not.
Dear Rori, I’m sorry for your experience. I am sorry. Our trauma as Relinquished into closed adoption doesn’t diminish yours or those of others who experienced childhood abuse, which you evidently did. But relinquishment is a crapshoot; you would have had even chances of ending up in a better or worse home than the one you were stuck in. It IS possible to recover from childhood abuse and neglect (whether relinquishment is involved or not). Don’t give up on yourself. It’s hard work. None of us wants to look at the part we may have played in staying stuck as victims when we became young adults. The upside is that once we have looked honestly at our part with the love, encouragement, and support of a trusted other (e.g., therapist, religious leader, 12-step program sponsor), we can begin to put the wreckage of the past behind us and embrace all that’s good in life and even help others. I urge you to look into more sources of healing and if you’ve tried everything else, go to open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. They’re free and they’re everywhere. There you will find other people from abusive households, who have been through the ringer, yes, homeless even, and come out the other side happy, joyous, and free. The key to opening the door is willingness. Best wishes to you on your journey, NB.
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I can’t say I agree. I live in South Africa where the situation is very different. A large portion of babies needing new homes were abandoned by their mothers. Some were literally left on a dumpster. Adoption here though is not as easy as the US for example. Adoption is seen as a last resort. Focus is put on counseling and support for the birth mothers.
I myself am trying to adopt. As a single asexual man this is proving to be difficult. I agree that women shouldn’t be forced to give up their children, but if there’s a child out there that needs a loving home, I’ll be it.
Hi Acewizard, Thank you for your comment and for sharing about South Africa. It should never be an either/or, either the Relinquished are forcibly re-homed and forever lose their identities, or they are neglected and languish without love. Many children in the world need more love than they get. I hope you find a way to be someone who supplies it 🙂 Cheers.
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So I’m an Adoptive mom of twin girls, we’re in an open adoption situation with the birth family but why should a woman be forced to decide to keep the child she doesn’t want or kill them when adoption is an alternative. I understand you had a bad experience with being an adoptee but I don’t think it has to be that way. When my husband I expanded our family through adoption we didn’t just expand by two children we expanded by an entire family. This new family includes their birthmom, half sisters, and half-brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins which we’ve all met and spent time with even though they do not live in the same state as us. Sure our situation isn’t like everyone else’s but if we change the idea of what adoption is, that it isn’t about needy adults feeling entitled to be parents. I’m infertile, and yes I wanted and even needed a child but me adopting my daughters wasn’t just for me, it was for them and their birth family who wasnt able or willing to care for them. We gave them what they needed and I can’t see how that’s a bad thing.
Thank you for your reply. I agree wholeheartedly that an extended guardianship-type arrangement that you describe in which the adoptee’s extended biological family is welcomed and incorporated is a terrific solution. The only downside that I’ve heard about in “open adoption” is that the arrangement is largely at the pleasure of the adopting family and if they want to terminate the openness, they legally can. Sometimes, it’s the birth mother who wants to terminate the open relationship because it’s too painful. Either way, the adoptee is reduced to an object without rights, not the human being she is. Relinquishment into closed adoption is very different than what your family sounds like and I’m glad you’ve found a way to do it better. Blessings to you.
Just from your picture I knew I was going to be reading the words of a strong and beautiful woman!