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.