Disclaimer: Although I try to keep myself out of my blogs about media coverage of adoption, my interest is rooted in extensive knowledge of the social phenomenon so it is hard to withhold examples from my experience. I find that this is one of those occasions when I cannot take the reporter out of the story.
Those of us who have lamented inadequate, even misleading, coverage of adoption by the nation’s news media are beside ourselves with joy at the rash of recently published insightful articles.
We are no longer prophets wailing in the wilderness.
John Rosemond, a psychologist, and McClatchy columnist exposes “attachment” disorders for what they are – a malady designed to tap the bank accounts of well-heeled adoptive parents rather than an attempt to actually do something to benefit adopted children. In fact, there are some who have sought to extend this kind of “help” to adopted adults as well.
Read his column here: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/lifestyles/family/s_641589.html
The science is sloppy but effectively preys on people who are already insecure and unprepared for reality. Whenever I read about some of the bizarre therapies that are employed to help adoptees bond with their adoptive families – including a birthing simulation that has resulted in at least one child dying from the procedure – I am appalled not only by the ignorance of some parents but also what might be termed criminal exploitation of these folks by so-called professionals. And I fail to understand how any state board could license someone to practice this kind of voodoo!
Rosemond calls a spade a spade and he acknowledges that health care, including mental health care is an entrepreneurial exercise in which members of the “helping” professions can exploit the reverence we assign to anyone in health care by leading us down a primrose path under the guise of helping us.
Kudos to Rosemond for speaking out. There will be no shortage of practitioners who will vilify him for this. And Kudos to McClatchy for publishing his viewpoint. There are triad members who could benefit from counseling to resolve anger issues and to put the experience in perspective. Regardless of how an adoption situation came about, at some point, those injured by it need to pick themselves up and move on. The kind of psuedo-scientific approach that Rosemond decries is not a positive contribution to the situation.
This kind of professional malpractice occurs because those party to adoption are particularly vulnerable. Whether you are (1) a mother who was shamed, coerced or tricked into surrendering a child to adoption, or who truly made a decision in what seemed to be the child’s best interests, or (2) an adoptive parent frustrated by an inability to reproduce the old-fashioned way or (3) an adoptee with perfectly logical but unanswered questions about your origins – you represent a gold mine to an unscrupulous practitioner.
Decades after surrendering a child to adoption, most women deal daily with regret, shame, and deep sadness. They grieve the loss of their child. Regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us to think about it, a family cannot be created through adoption until another family is destroyed by it. Sometimes, that may be in the best interests of the child. But, in most instances, the child can never know with any certainty that this is the case because the facts of their adoption are hidden.
Couples who have love to give and want a child truly suffer from infertility. For anyone who longs to hold their own child in their harms and provide love and care and watch that child grow into an independent person, not being able to conceive is a terrible disappointment. The overwhelming majority of these couples, understandably, come to adoption as a last resort. A fact that is not lost on a reasonably intelligent adoptee, even when they know that their adoptive parents love them. Adult adoptees can deal with this reality. Teen adoptees may anguish over it.
It is also true that adolescence is fraught with angst. I doubt that even one percent of American children passes through adolescence without conflict with their custodial parents regardless of their biological connection. It is a right of passage in a society that keeps us children long after our bodies have reached adulthood, wracked by the attendant hormonal changes. Regardless of what Dr. Phil says about our brains not reaching maturity until after age 21, you could make a case that young adults are deprived of life experiences that bring wisdom, that consequential experience is what helps them to mature. Mistakes always provide us with more experience that wise choices. As much as we wish to protect the ones we love from the consequences of their own actions, to do so does not necessarily benefit the people we love.
In the case of adoptees, the law views them as perpetual children without the requisite skills to manage their own affairs. Even after they become adults, sealed records means they are denied the opportunity to examine or question decisions made on their behalf when they were infants in most states.
Because society repeatedly inflicts sadness, disappointment and shame on members of the triad over the course of years, it’s probable that this group, as a whole, has a slightly higher percentage of fragile or troubled individuals. But quackery is not going to cure their ills. So I question the contention that wrapping a tween so tightly in a blanket that she chokes to death on her own vomit is going to produce a healthy parent-child relationship.
Many psychological disorders grow out of fear. Children fear not being loved and being different from their peers. Discovering they were adopted when they are old enough to understand what it is gives rise to those fears. Children who always know they were adopted, even before they know what that means, are far less likely to suddenly wonder if they are loved or why the were rejected by their family or origin.
Let’s take the case of a Korean-born adoptee, call her Mae*, who endured the taunts of schoolyard bullies because she looked different from her siblings and everyone else at the small elementary school had reason to feel she was not accepted. Unfortunately, this was reinforced at home where the decision to adopt her was not supported by both parents. Kids are not stupid! They read body language and make comparisons and they know the score. Mae grew up angry and looked for love in all the wrong places. She was not psychotic! But being deprived of love turned her into an even more rebellious teen than she might have been otherwise.
Anger is an issue that frequently comes to the fore in triad members. If you are a triad member, how many women do you know who 30 or 40 years afterward are still angry with themselves, if no one else, that they were talked into signing away their parental rights. While I know a good many women who are happily reunited with their offspring, a number of women of my acquaintance who found the child they surrendered are worse off because of what they found.
Adoptees who were the victims of bad placements – we only know about the ones who speak out – often harbor misplaced anger. My friend, Lee*, was date raped and persuaded that she should surrender the child to adoption in a state several hundred miles from her home to avoid any further connection with the troubled young man who raped her. It was certainly the best course of action for her and her family. She grieved the loss of her daughter and longed to find her. She had no way of knowing that her child had been placed with a couple whose marriage was falling apart because of the wife’s alcoholism. After she finally drove her husband away, the adoptive mother tried to keep the adoptee from going away to college. The adoptee found her natural mother by the most bizarre coincidence when she was 18. Probably because there was no counseling offered to either of them, the adoptee went from joy at finding acceptance with her natural mother to complete estrangement resulting from her anger at being “given away.” She is now pursuing her masters in social work (and that’s a whole other blog).
How about men who never knew they had fathered a child until it was too late? Some of them have fought successfully to reclaim their biological offspring and, in the process everyone touched by the situation has been wounded. Was it love that kept the adoptive parents from giving the child back to his /her parents? And what was it that tempted the adoption agency and the court to make this life-changing decision for the adoptee without dotting all the “eyes” and crossing all the tees?” When this writer was placed for adoption in 1952 no one even bothered to notify the putative father. He was a possible complication that could be avoided. Anyone even marginally affected by adoption sees the folly of that approach.
The parties to adoption need to be protected from profiteers both before and after adoption takes place. Attachment disorder therapists are just one more group that stands in line to profit from human frailties exaggerated by adoption.
* Names changed to protect my friends and colleagues.