Adoption Beat

September 10, 2009

God Bless McClatchy Newspapers!

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 10:33 pm
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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:

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.


Tired of warm, fuzzy coverage?

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 12:44 am
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Recently several eye-opening articles have breathed fresh air in media coverage of adoption among them is an article in The Nation entitled “Shotgun Adoption” by Kathryn Joyce, which appeared on September 14.

Articles like this one mark a distinct departure from the typical coverage of adoption and they do not appear with any frequency. According to the magazine “Research support was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.” Those who have long lamented the media’s superficial coverage of adoption issues were gratified by the coverage but the question remains, why should a private charity be needed to underwrite journalistic enterprise.

Read the story at:

The typical media treatment of adoption is more likely to be a saccharine story of an adult adoptee locating his/her family of origin. Not that these stories are not touching; and they do serve to make a case for adoption reformers’ contention that women who surrender a child to adoption were never promised confidentiality and most did not want it. A typical story of this ilk can be found at full of reportorial errors and lacking balance because a general assignment reporter does not do his homework.

Writing in The Nation, Joyce masterfully employs narrative as she describes a 32-year-old pharmacy technician, pregnant and unmarried who sought support from Bethany Christian Services, a faith-based organization that has found adoption to be such a profitable undertaking that it is the nation’s largest adoption agency. Masquerading as concerned Christians seeking to support young women who must make difficult decisions, Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) prey on women at a desperate time coercing them into choosing adoption.

CPCs offer of free housing and medical care is, to pregnant women willing to sign away their children. Bethany christian Services is not the only CPC to emply techniques akin to those of abusive spouses, namely to isolate the pregnant woman from friends and family. Bethany placed this young woman in the home of a “shepherding family” whose job it is to reinforce her decision to place the child for adoption, a decision that allows Bethany to profit.

CPCs that have sprung up around the country in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade are, today, funded largely by $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds, a legacy of the Bush administration’s payback to right-wing Christian groups who supported his election. Despite the fact that a number states have rejected this funding because of the strings that come with it and despite campaign promises to stop federal efforts to impose a religious agenda on Americans financed by their own tax dollars, the trend continues.

Joyce writes: “The National Abortion Federation estimates that as many as 4,000 CPCs operate in the United States, often using deceptive tactics like posing as abortion providers and showing women graphic antiabortion films. While there is growing awareness of how CPCs hinder abortion access, the centers have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to “choose life” but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.”

Bethany promised this young women that her medical bills would be paid but never mentioned that they were not planning on shelling out the money. They helped her to apply for Medicaid to make those payments. Guess what? She could have applied to Medicare without the agency’s assistance and without surrendering her child.

A child that is still an abstract concept is very different than one that is a reality. This mother’s maternal instincts kicked in after she gave birth. She had second thoughts, intensified no doubt by the fact that South Carolina is not one of the 17 states that recognize open adoption in its statutes. When she wavered Bethany swept in to the recovery room coerce her into going through with the adoption. And they rushed her through signing relinquishment papers, scooped up the child and took the mother out of the hospital before she was even discharged.

Once Bethany had the child, the mother was discarded. Joyce recounts that after weeks of trying to reach a Bethany post-adoption counselor she finally reached the woman who had “shepherded” her into surrendering her child only to be brusquely dismissed.

Lest the reader think this is an isolated case, Bethany is ranked poorly by birth mothers on a website that rates agencies: Since the article appeared in The Nation, the website has gone offline but the information can still be found cashed. Not only did mothers who surrendered a child give it a thumbs down but several adoptive parent observed that these (birth) mothers were subjected to coercion.

This is not a new phenomenon. Anyone who has been paying attention can tell you that instances of coercion in adoption stretch back to approximately the same time period that records were sealed in many states – the late 1930s and early 1940s. Adoption historians refer to the period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s as the “baby scoop” era. For more information about this period of adoption practice in the USA, see Ann Fessler’s, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.

“… Single motherhood was so stigmatized that at least 1.5 million unwed American mothers relinquished children for adoption, often after finishing pregnancies secretly in maternity homes. The coercion was frequently brutal, entailing severe isolation, shaming, withholding information about labor, disallowing mothers to see their babies and coercing relinquishment signatures while women were drugged or misled about their rights. Often, women’s names were changed or abbreviated, to bolster a sense that ‘the person who went away to deliver the baby was someone else’ and that mothers would later forget about the babies they had given up. In taking oral histories from more than a hundred Baby Scoop Era mothers, Fessler found that not only was that untrue but most mothers suffered lifelong guilt and depression.” [Quoting from Joyce’s article]

When Maryland reform activists first began to lobby the state legislature for adult adoptee access to their own records (a matter of course before January 1947 when records were retroactively sealed) an experienced social worker testifying before the judiciary committee reminded the legislators that adoption was about “finding a home for a child who needs one, not about finding a child for a couple who wants one.”

In reality, adoption has not been practiced according to that standard in the USA since the late 1930s. Roe v. Wade might have signaled a kinder, gentler industry since unmarried pregnant women might have gained more power in the process except that, at about the same time, birth control became widely available and single motherhood gained social acceptance. The result was a shortage of healthy white babies available for adoption, the commodity that fueled a profitable and largely unregulated industry.

Why is it then that it has taken 30 years for the mainstream media to recognize that there is a story here? Or that it is potentially as big a story as Enron, Blackwater or the Downing Street memo? Child trafficking is, after all, a momentous social issue. Why is it that adoption is distorted by being used to describe the purchase of a Cabbage Patch doll or euated with rescuing a pet from the animal shelter? The issue is far more complex and the media has done a substandard job, in the main, of covering this aspect of life in America.

The Nation, the Puffin Foundation and Kathryn Joyce have done a stellar job of putting adoption in perspective.

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