Adoption Beat

May 31, 2009

It must be hard to love an adopted child

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 1:40 am
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Bonnie Miller Rubin, who I have been told is an adoptive mom, writes in the Chicago Tribune expressing how adoption advocates are offended by a tagline promoting a new Warner Bros. movie, Orphan.

Read the article here:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-talk-adoption-moviemay30,0,663858.story

”Particularly offensive, say advocates, is the tagline in the trailer: ‘It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own.’” Adoptive parents are worried about how their children may react to seeing this trailer in theaters.

It’s hard for me, as an adoptee, to see how people get so up in arms about the suggestion that somehow adoptees are, possibly, not so lovable. After all, if we ask questions about how we came to be adopted, we are shushed and sometimes called “ungrateful” for our privileged status because we even ask such questions. And I have to wonder why Rubin does not cite the reaction of anyone who is adopted in her article. My initial reaction to that omission as a journalist, much less as an adoptee, is that her reporting is incomplete. It’s not like there aren’t millions of adoptees over the age of 21 that she could have asked to comment.

Movies are a make-believe media. The newspaper is not. And yet, adoption most often makes its way into the news or op-ed pages of the newspaper when adoption is a factor, contributing or not, to some drama. Or it is presented as a warm, fuzzy story about creating a happy family without being counterbalanced by the fact that one family had to be torn apart to create another. Other warm, fuzzy stories tell of adoptees and families of origin who search successfully but rarely hint of the resistance searchers face, and never tell that search was necessary only because the truth is not available to most adoptees and never to the family of origin in sealed records states.

I have to believe that most of us grow up with loving adoptive families who accept us as we are and do not try to make us over in our adoptive parents’ image. But I know of situations where that is not true. So do we all. Just like the “thousand stories in the Naked City” there are thousands of adoption stories, some of which are horror stories.

The orphan in popular culture has been an object of pity and ridicule long before movies were invented. In praise of such stories, they usually feature the adoptee perspective. The classic children’s fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling,” tells the story of a swan, who somehow comes to be hatched along with a clutch of ducks only to be teased unmercifully by his siblings as ugly and awkward until adulthood transforms him into a beautiful swan. My friend and colleague, Dennis, wrote his doctoral thesis on this subject. Not surprisingly, he grew up in foster care after a failed adoption.

But the angst felt by persons who are transported into alien cultures by way of adoption is grist for the screenwriter’s mill. My favorite was the Star Trek character Worf, a Klingon orphaned by war and rescued by the Federation equivalent of a GI, who, with his wife, reared Worf as his own child. I’m sure that some future Star Trek will explore the development of an Intergalactic treaty that forbids the adoption of alien offspring outside their native culture. I often wonder if the writer who developed that story line was a transracial adoptee. I prefer Worf to the Ugly Duckling because Worf has post adoption issues that make him more believable as an adoptee in my experience.

Humans as a species have very ambiguous feelings about adoption. I like to start with Jesus of Nazareth who was adopted by his mother’s husband, Joseph, and raised as his son but with full knowledge of his ancestry. Indeed, without knowledge of his paternity, Jesus would probably not have followed the path in life that led him to be crucified. I have always found it puzzling that the Roman Catholic Church has been so insistent on keeping secret the true origins of a child adopted through its social service arm. But, of course, the children for whom they arrange adoption were not born to virgins. I guess that makes a big difference.

None of the church-sponsored adoption agencies escape censure on this point, not even Jewish Social Services even though it has an example of Moses, whose Egyptian adoptive mother did not hide from him the fact that he was a Hebrew child and, if Cecile B. DeMille can be believed, she followed him out of Egypt.

Society has generally regarded adopted children as some kind of second-class child substitute. If a Royal couple adopted a child, he or she would not inherit the throne. If you apply for admission to a prestigious genealogical group such as DAR, you must be related by blood to your Revolutionary War ancestor, no matter who reared you. We are indeed separate and unequal.

While I give credit to adoptive parents for pointing out how wrong it is to have a movie slap us in the face with evidence of how society regards us, I would rather they all worked alongside us to change how we are regarded legally. I would rather they insisted on enforceable open adoption. Adoptive parents are not legally bound to have our names changed when we are adopted so we could be allowed to retain our own identities, or at least given a choice when we are older.

May 20, 2009

Write a letter to the editor

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 7:58 pm

That’s what I did today. My goal is to do something, however small, to foster a better understanding of adoption and, thus, hasten reform, everyday! Today it was writing a letter to the editor, well two letters, actually.

The first was a comment on an article that appeared in Traverse City Record-Eagle in Northern Michigan, a state with a troubled history of adoption secrecy. The article, which you can read here: http://www.record-eagle.com/northernliving/local_story_136221807.html detailed the story of an adoptee whose enterprise resulted in her being reunited with her family of origin was headlined: Northern People: Daughter tracks down mother.

A headline like that makes me see red before I read another word. But the story was well done by reporter Vanessa McCray vmccray@record-eagle.com. I loved the story. It was balanced and fair and, for readers who know adoption from the inside, it was nuanced.

But I hated the headline. It makes adoptees that want to know their history seem predatory; we are not. We just want equal treatment under the law, to be able to know or origins, something anyone not adopted takes for granted.

The reporter did such a good job with the story that I guessed the page editor wrote the headline. I jotted a quick letter to the editor which concluded “Thanks for covering the story, but please remember we are not hunters tracking prey.”

I got a response almost immediately from the Record-Eagle saying they regretted that they could not use my letter because I was not located in Michigan. And that may well be their policy but, when a newspaper puts up a website which, by definition, is available to the world, they should probably either say they are not interested in what people outside Michigan think or accommodate those reactions on the website, at least.

Providence Journal (Rhode Island) takes the latter approach and invites reader’s comments, posts them quickly on their website and/or in the print version of the newspaper. You only have to register. And you can decline the things they are offering free or for sale.

Today they published an editorial that has rapidly been passed around the adoption reform community. And for once, we were all thrilled with the content. The newspaper endorsed open records legislation. You can read their editorial here: http://www.projo.com/opinion/editorials/content/ED_adopt20_05-20-09_8CED503_v43.3d9b1af.html. If you haven’t, do. You’ll love it!

I wrote a reaction and it appeared online within minutes.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You probably cannot imagine how refreshing it is to read media that “get it!” So often triad members seeking equality under the law lament that the media just doesn’t get it – they don’t understand. But you clearly do. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I’m a 56-year-old adoptee who has been working (for perilously close to 30 years) to change the status quo with regard to adoption law and practice in the USA. I am now six years into reunion with my family, which has afforded me access to health information that would have been more beneficial when I was in my twenties. When young adoptees search they only want the truth of their origins. For many of us, that would be more than enough. But as we grow older, we do understand the importance of genetic history with regard to our health, and that can only be achieved by developing some sort of relationship with our family of origin.

Yet governments have tried to substitute programs under which they will find out what we need to know on our behalf. Hogwash! Hearsay is not admissible in court, it’s not a satisfactory standard for reporting news and it is totally unequal to the task of giving individuals a sense of self denied when the facts are hidden.

I hope that this bill is passed soon and speedily signed into law. Thank you for your very important support.

I heard from colleagues in Rhode Island a short time later. In fact, my letters are what have connected me with many soldiers in the adoption reform “army” over the years. I could suggest that they recognize my brilliance but I know it’s just that they appreciate being validated. Sometimes the struggle seems lonely although there are thousands of folks out there who believe as I do that equal access is the only right course of action even if the law has yet to recognize it universally. If we ever to achieve honesty and accountability we must have access.

On the news pages, the media can and should play an important role in presenting the facts and allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. On the op-ed pages they are entitled to their opinion about adoption secrecy. When they come down on our side, we should at least say thank you!

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