Where is the compassion in adoption?

I was fortunate recently to spend time in person with an online friend. She is an optimistic, energetic, positive and inspiring woman. Being around her is like being around an intense shot of firey, bright sunshine.  She is also a mother who relinquished her child for adoption. As we sat in a diner on a cold afternoon sipping hot, comforting beverages and swapping stories, I found myself wondering why the most basic human compassion is so often not offered within the context of crisis pregnancy, infertility and adoption.

My friend conceived under not-ideal circumstances. Taking in her words and seeing her tears as she spoke so honestly with me, I couldn’t help but note that while not-ideal, her circumstances had not been horrendously dire or insurmountable. A little bit of basic human compassion–a simple offer of help, a word of encouragement–could have empowered her to overcome the barriers. Those offers of help and words of encouragement were never offered, however. Instead, her deepest fears and insecurities were confirmed repeatedly by adoption agency representatives and she relinquished her child.

My heart broke for her as I thought about how I conceived my first child under the most ideal circumstances and still felt many of the same fears and insecurities she expressed. But because I was a married homeowner with a steady job and family support system, my fears and insecurities were met with words of encouragement. You can do this, people told me. You’ll be a great mom, I heard. You are exactly what your child needs, I was assured. For us adoptees, these are not the words that many of our mothers heard. You can’t take care of a baby, they were told. You can’t be a good mom right now, they heard. These other people who are unable to have children of their own can give your child what you can’t, they were assured. The same fears and insecurities that are calmed and discouraged with mothers who conceive under the “right” circumstances are instead confirmed and encouraged with many mothers who conceive under the “wrong” circumstances.

That afternoon in the diner, I told my friend that I’m so sorry that her fears and insecurities were encouraged. I told her that she would have been a great mom and that her child would have been just fine with her. And I wondered what would have happened if just one person had offered those same words to her all those years ago. I also wondered what would happen if we changed the more common societal responses to the fears and insecurities experienced by others involved in adoption.

What if we asked an expectant mother in crisis “What do you need? How can we help you?” instead of “How do you plan on caring for this baby on your own?”

What if we told an expectant father “We support your right to raise your own child.” instead of “You don’t matter.”

What if we told couples facing infertility “We acknowledge your struggles. This must be really hard for you. We’re listening.” instead of “Hey, you can always just adopt.”

What if we told adoptees “We know that losing your family and identity is hard. What do you need to feel healthy and whole in your sense of self?” instead of  “You should be grateful. You don’t deserve to be treated the same as non-adoptees.”

What if we asked all of these people “How can we support you?” instead of telling them to “Move on and get over it.”

Adoption is so often considered to be the answer to a multitude of fears and insecurities. The truth is that adoption as it is currently practiced–with falsified birth certificates, large sums of money changing hands and unenforceable contact agreements–is actually the source of a far-reaching and long-lasting perpetuation of fears and insecurities that go unresolved and unacknowledged. Current adoption practices are part of the problem, not the answer. The adoption industry does not operate in a manner that is compassionate to those involved. After all, there isn’t much room for compassion when the supply of human babies isn’t meeting the demand or when it is legal and acceptable to charge thousands and thousands of dollars in fees in exchange for a human being.

We all need to consider what would happen if those experiencing crisis pregnancies, those who are facing infertility and those who have been adopted through a uncaring industry were to demand compassion. Perhaps radical compassion would force the need for more ethical and respectful adoption practices.Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160Compassion is a verb.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

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Birth Certificates & Adoption Legal History: Spotlight on Connecticut

Like many adoptees in the adoptee rights movement, I have been informed on more than one occasion of various reasons why our rights to access the accurate records of our births should not be restored. I always find the rationales for treating us as less-deserving than non-adopted citizens to be rather interesting. People often make generalized statements without the benefit of being fully informed about the history of adoption law in the United States. More specifically, many people have an extreme lack of knowledge when it comes to adoption laws as they have existed in each individual state. Some are under the impression that our original birth certificates have always been sealed when the truth is that in many states, the sealing of adoptees’ birth certificates is a relatively new practice.

I was born and adopted in Connecticut. At the time of my birth and adoption, the state was treating adult adoptees equally under law to non-adopted adults. You see, I was born in 1971, four years before the original birth certificates of adoptees were sealed. And yet, the arbitrary sealing of original birth certificates in 1975 was, of course, made retroactive and applied to adoptees born in years prior. Suddenly, Connecticut had decided that adoptees were second-class citizens despite this having not been the case at all up until the bill was passed rendering our original birth certificates classified material. Respect and equality for adopted persons had been replaced with discrimination and inequity. And so it has gone for the past few decades.

Fortunately, there is currently a bill slated for hearing in Connecticut’s Public Health Committee, SB 59,  that would restore the original birth certificate access rights that Connecticut once afforded to all adult adoptees born in the state. Unfortunately, Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz has recommended that only adoptees born after the bill would become law in June of 2014 should be allowed to access their original birth certificates upon reaching adulthood. Apparently, she feels that some Connecticut-born adult adoptees should have the right to obtain their original birth certificates but not all. Which is somewhat perplexing considering the state took the exact opposite approach when it sealed the birth certificates in 1975 with a sweeping measure that encompassed all of us. Obviously, her recommendation would only serve to continue the decades-long practice of treating Connecticut-born adult adoptees differently under law from all non-adopted adults born in the state–even those of us who were born and adopted at a time when original birth certificates were not sealed.

History demonstrates that Connecticut is entirely capable of enacting laws that would ensure equal treatment for adult adoptees. As such, it is now time to right a decades-long wrong and restore the equal access that existed prior to 1975. Not just for some adoptees as Ms. Katz suggests with her marginalizing and discriminatory recommendation. Not just for those born after 2014. Not just for those born between 1975 and 2014. Not just for those born prior to 1975. We all deserve to be treated equally under to law, not only to each other but also to all non-adopted citizens born in the state. Connecticut need only glance to its neighbors Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island to see what equal access for all adult adoptees looks like. It looks fair, respectful and honest.Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160You’ve probably heard about Connecticut’s “still revolutionary” campaign. I’m sure areas of Connecticut Government are living up to that moniker but when it comes to adoptees’ rights the Connecticut Department of Children and Families has been anything but revolutionary.

~Paul Schibbelhute, legislative adviser to Access Connecticut, an advocacy group for adult adoptees, in a letter to the editor published in the Hartford Courant.

Catholic Group Supports Adoptee Rights

What a difference a few days can make. It was just one week ago that I mentioned how the Catholic Conference of Ohio has historically maintained a stance that adult adoptees are not deserving of their own original birth certificates. Well, I am pleased to report that on Wednesday, March 13, the Catholic special interest group offered its endorsement of  HB 61, which unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee. With this exciting–and perhaps a tad bit overdue–change of heart, the Catholic Conference of Ohio joins Ohio Right to Life in supporting equal rights for adult adoptees when it comes to original birth certificate access.

For those of us in the adoptee rights movement, this is a significant development. Two organizations that have staunchly opposed restoring original birth certificate access to adult adoptees have now changed position. And if they can do so in Ohio, the counterparts to these groups in other states can do so as well.

This development is significant for me on a personal level as well. I was born of a Catholic natural mother. I was adopted through Catholic Charities. I was raised Catholic by my adoptive mother. I’m married to a Catholic. My children attend Catholic school. And I’ve tried so hard to embrace the Institution of the Catholic Church. Alas, last year I finally decided that I am no longer willing to entrust my faith to an Institution that considers me to be less deserving than non-adopted adults. This decision was not easy for me. I’ve never had an issue with the Catholic faith. It is a beautiful tradition that has enriched my life in many ways. The Catholic Institution is another issue, however, as it operates adoption agencies while actively opposing the rights of adult adoptees to be treated equally under law to non-adopted adults. Until now, of course.

Fortunately, there are other traditions that are more welcoming and respectful of adopted persons–ones that don’t operate adoption agencies. And I’ve found a new home for my faith with a religious institution that I feel is more deserving of my trust and respect as an adopted person. Will the decision of the Catholic Conference of Ohio regarding adoptee rights change my own heart and feelings toward the Catholic Church? I honestly don’t know. It might be a “too little, way too late” circumstance for me personally. But if there is a chance that adopted children who are currently being raised in the Catholic faith might one day grow up to feel honored and respected as adult adoptees by the Church, my heart would feel so full.

To the Catholic Church, I ask, is the Institution willing to do this?  Can it step back and consider the adoptees sitting in its pews? Can it stand up for those who had no say in the matter of their adoptions and support legislation that will help adult adoptees realize equal treatment under law?

Apparently it can.

Endorsement of HB 61 by the Catholic Conference of Ohio

Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160“We all have a desire for connection with the man and woman we came from,” he said. “But the law is really saying that has no significance.”

~Bill May, president of the San Francisco-based group Catholics for the Common Good, quoted by a reporter in an article focused on a bill that would allow two people of the same sex to be listed on a child’s birth certificate. 

 

Right & Wrong Speech in Adoption Reunion

In the Buddhist tradition, Right Speech (also known as Wise Speech or Virtuous Speech) is one of the five precepts for ethical conduct as well as a component of the eightfold path of practice. The description of Right Speech practice is very clear in intention. It involves abstinence from false, malicious, and harsh speech and idle chatter. The positive takeaway is that we should be mindful of what we say and strive to speak what is true in a purposeful way that promotes harmony and kindness. Easier done than said. Especially the idle chatter part. That’s why coffee pots and Bagel Fridays exist in my office.

When it comes to adoption, emotions are the most colossal hindrance to maintaining a practice of Right Speech and often causes much more heated exchanges than mere idle chatter. It seems to me that everyone struggles at times and allows their emotions to speak for them. Adoptive parents might insist to an adult adoptee in reunion that they are the only “real parents.” In the heat of the moment, an adult adoptee in reunion might tell a natural parent “I wish that I’d never found you.” A natural parent, so traumatized from the loss of a child, might tell an adult son or daughter once in reunion “I wish you had never found me.”  All of these words arise from a place of deep emotion. These feelings are not wrong. But the words are offered in a way that is hurtful to another person.

Instead of turning our attention toward the adoption industry and taking a critical look at what causes those involved with adoption to feel such intense emotion, we so often aim our confusion, hurt and pain toward each other. This is hardly productive or healing. Perhaps instead of inflicting each other with hurtful words, we should stop, pause, take a breath and examine what has caused us to feel so emotional. All adoptions begin with a profound loss. Parents lose a child. A child loses his or her parents and identity as documents are falsified. Others feel sensitive knowing this to be true but hoping that somehow love and care might erase these harsh beginnings. Maybe instead of lashing out at each other, we should try to practice more Right Speech. I know this is often a major challenge for me and therefore an area of focus. Just today and yesterday, I have felt very angry and protective of a few adoptee friends who were the objects of some seriously Wrong Speech that was intended to be hurtful and cruel. As such, I engaged in some Not-So-Right-Speech myself.

How about we all engage in an exercise to identify examples of Wrong Speech as initiated by the adoption industry? Is it right for adoptive parents to be told by adoption agency representatives that “all of the money you pay are simply ‘fees’ to cover the costs of adopting?” Is it right for natural parents to be told by adoption agency representatives “you can have a fully open adoption” when open adoption agreements are not legally recognized in any state? Is it right for a state government to tell an adult adoptee “you are not deserving of equal treatment under law or your own birth certificate because you were adopted as a child?”

Uh oh. I feel some Wrong Speech of my own coming on. Time to find a comfortable seat on my meditation cushion.Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160Do I speak at the right time, or not? Do I speak of facts, or not? Do I speak gently or harshly? Do I speak profitable words or not? Do I speak with a kindly heart, or inwardly malicious?

— AN V (From The Patimokkha, Ñanamoli Thera, trans.)

 

When Pro-Life also means Pro-Adoptee

There is a lot of encouraging energy in the world of adoptee rights legislation right now. This past week offered those of us in the adoptee rights movement perhaps a small glimpse of things to come–an example that positive change just might be possible. On Wednesday, March 6, a pro-life organization that has traditionally opposed restoring the rights of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates, Ohio Right to Life, testified in support of an equal access bill currently slated for hearing in the Ohio legislature.

“For faulty reasons for decades, Ohio Right to Life opposed opening adoption records to adoptees,” stated Stephanie Krider, Director of Legislative Affairs for Ohio Right to Life.  “…because they believed birth mothers had been guaranteed rights of confidentiality and the measure would protect adoptees from potential embarrassment about the circumstances of their birth or from unwanted contact from birth parents. Frankly, these are outdated concerns.*

Krider went on to testify that Ohio Right to Life does view adoption as an alternative to abortion and stated that “if we had any reservations about this bill and the effect it would have on chances of women choosing abortion over adoption, I would not be standing before you in support of the measure today.*”

These statements mark a distinct shift in the messaging promoted by other groups with a pro-life stance. What Ohio Right to Life has done by reconsidering the issue, and deciding to support, adult adoptees is send a very clear message that theirs is an organization which is truly pro-life and pro-adoptee. Based on the organization’s opinion that adoption is an alternative to abortion, this message makes a lot of sense. Ohio Right to Life is now making it very clear that it truly values life. The organization values life, and stands behind its mission, so strongly, that not only would it prefer to have a child born and adopted, it also believes that the adoptee’s life is fully worth equal treatment under law.

This is in sharp contrast to other pro-life groups, such as the Catholic Conference of Ohio, that have historically maintained a stance that the lives of adoptees are not worth enough to be deserving of equal treatment under law. It is truly my hope that this most encouraging step taken by Ohio Right to Life will perhaps turn the hearts of those involved with other pro-life organizations that oppose equal rights for adopted persons. Regardless of my personal feelings concerning abortion and women’s reproductive rights, I’m sincerely hopeful that there will come a day when pro-life also means pro-adoptee for those involved in the Right to Life movement.

Perhaps those who consider themselves to be pro-life might consider what this view truly means to them. If one values the right of the unborn to live a conscious existence so much that one would rather have that life be born and adopted than aborted, is that person prepared to then stand up for the rights of that adopted person? Are those who identify as pro-life prepared to stand on the side of life so solidly that they would turn to an adopted person and say that they fully support the adoptee in life and in law?

*Source, The Hannah Report 3/6/13Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160The humanity of all Americans is diminished when any group is denied rights granted to others.

~ Julian Bond

 

 

Rejection of Pain in Reunion

I recently read a comment regarding natural mothers who deny contact or withhold  information from their relinquished son or daughter. According the commenter, when faced with such circumstances, an adoptee should remember that his or her mother is rejecting her pain and not her son or daughter. After my inner adopted child got over her own initial defensive reaction to this concept, I took a few large, adult steps back to consider the pain and hurt that arises when an adoptee is reunited with his or her natural parents.

My observation has been that even with the most positive and emotionally healthy reunion experiences, pain and struggle must be acknowledged in order to press on, progress and eventually heal. Unfortunately, not every party to a reunion is able or willing to take on the enormous task of processing the pain that has most likely always been there, but went buried, ignored or denied in order to survive post adoption. One party might choose to continue rejecting the pain and, in turn, also reject the possibility of healing. The result is often that the other party feels personally rejected right along with the rejector’s pain. This is yet another example of the emotional fall-out wrought by the adoption industry, state governments and the persistent practice of secrecy and lies that pervade in adoption. Because of this secrecy, there is plenty of pain to go around. Emotions held close come fast to the surface when two parties, once separated by secrecy and falsified documents, are brought back together.

Upon reunion, an adult adoptee and his or her natural parents must face the very painful truth that they are simply not the people they would have been had adoption not entered their lives. It is my feeling that this painful truth is the common ground on which the battered and bruised reunion parties can meet. There they can find shared pain from which they can begin a process of mutual understanding, growth and eventual healing. Unfortunately, reunions can often devolve into a circumstance where one party’s pain is deemed “worse” than the other party’s own struggles. My heart feels so very heavy when I think about how so many adoptees and natural parents are feeling so much hurt that they are unable to open their hears to the other.

The truth is that this hurt is magnified quite a bit simply because the pain felt by adoptees and natural parents often goes ignored or unacknowledged. Society paints a rather rosy and only positive image of adoption. This is something I’ve never understood. Adoption is complicated and messy. Parents lose their children. Children lose their parents. This is how adoption begins. In order for a child to be available for adoption, something traumatic must occur. Some people don’t like it when those in the adoption reform community dare to mention these “negative” aspects of the practice. They only wish to view adoption as happy and positive. This outlook does not help those who are suffering. Adoption is neither all positive nor all negative. It just, well, is–good, bad and ugly.

Of course, the adoption industry and the state governments would prefer it if the messier side of adoption would stay sealed away like an adoptee’s original birth certificate. This is because legally, adoptees are relieved of their original identities and provided with new ones via our original and amended birth certificates. And this is supposed to take all the pain away. Secrets, lies and denial are the very foundation of our current legal adoption practices. Additionally, all adoptions start with a profound personal loss of some sort. Yet, society insists that there should be no pain. Society expects the wounded parties to “go on with their lives” and feel fine about it all. Which often results in parties who should be working together toward healing projecting their hurt onto each other instead–because there is simply nowhere else for the pain to go and holding on to it is too much of a burden once in reunion.

We need to ask ourselves, what can we do as a society to help prevent the traumatic separation and loss of child and parent? If an adoption must occur, how can we as a society help those in pain? What can we do as a society to change the adoption industry and legal practices so that there is more transparency and respect for those who may hurt?Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.

~Bob Dylan

 

Secrecy in Adoption

This past week has been rife with the impact of secrets in adoption. I have played witness and shoulder to a couple of my adoptee friends as they faced the challenges of legally- and personally-held secrets that are barring them from  fully realizing the truth of their life’s narratives. The lengths that some individuals and state governments will go to keep the truth buried and out of reach to the person who needs it the most tugs at my heart–because this is evidence of the suffering endured not only by the adoptee but by those holding on tight to the secrets. Yes, I am actually attempting to view even the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with compassion.

State governments have backed themselves into quite a corner when it comes to secrecy in adoption. Granting adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates means drawing attention to the fact that the documents are altered in the first place. It also means acknowledging that the legal lies generated by state governments are the very foundation on which every adoption is built. These state governments need our help in realizing that admitting a wrong and correcting it is deserving of respect. Until they do so, however,  state governments will continue to quite literally alter the truth and put forth a new, false version of the facts surrounding an adoptee’s birth. And for some reason, many people take no issue with this course of action. Adoptees are expected to accept the fabricated version of their beginnings and the denial of access to their own truths. State governments go unchecked as they create legal fictions of people’s lives. From an ethics standpoint, I am not sure how anyone justifies the fact that the legally recognized birth certificates of adoptees are lies and that there is not even an indication that an adoption took place. Not only are adoptees denied access to their original birth certificates, they are not even afforded the legal right to know they were adopted.  The states of their births are instead fully encouraged by society to keep the truths of their origins a sealed secret.

These secrets sometimes persist in their non-legal adopted lives as well. Many adoptees discover that for some of the people in their lives, keeping secrets is more important than what the adoptee needs to feel whole and secure in their identities. This is, of course, the secret-keeper’s own perception of what he or she wishes the truth could be and the priority often becomes one of protecting this personal need to deny reality. In contrast, the adoptee is almost always in need of those around them–those who claim to care about his or her best interests–to release any long-held secrets like a bird from a cage so that everyone can be free of them. Human nature plays tricks with us there, however. The secrets often become the truth to the person or entity holding them close and their need to continue suffering under the weight of this false sense of reality is supported by society. As such, the adoptee, who is not keeping secrets, ends up suffering as well. It is then reinforced by state governments and some of the people in the adoptees’ lives that adoptees are simply not worth the truth. They are not worth enough to society in general to warrant equal treatment under law or even personal respect.

We all need to ask ourselves why secrecy in adoption is so widely accepted as ethical practice and why society is so unwilling to show compassion to the adoptees who must navigate their own journey of self-discovery with the weight of other people’s secrets holding them down.Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

~Robert Frost