We’ve all heard that joke about the famous river in Egypt. You know, the one that goes “De Nile is not just a river in Egypt.” Well, there is so much denial in adoption, I could cry me a river. When an individual or couple adopt they must accept that the child will be very different from them. And they need to honor and cherish the child’s differences and support the child being who he or she really is. So much of who we are is genetic. This is obviously the case with a person’s looks, but people raised in their biological families know that there are particular mannerisms or quirks, as well as talents and interests, that are common throughout the family.
There was too much denial in my era (the 1960s and ’70s) of the difference between being adopted and being raised in one’s blood family. Certainly it was better than denigrating any child who was born out of wedlock, but the “new thinking” about adoption still wasn’t even close to reality. The pendulum had swung too far in the opposite direction. Some of the new ideas about adoption that were coming into vogue then, and are still being touted now, are really quite hard to believe. But ever since they got a foothold, they have been next to impossible to shake. And it makes me wonder if even now adoptees have freedom of speech.
Adoptive parents, especially of the Baby Scoop Era, expected the child to be just like them, to fit in perfectly and to have no issues with being adopted, or more accurately, with having been relinquished by their natural parents. They were encouraged to believe that their family would be exactly the same as a family composed of two parents with their biological offspring. But an adoptive mother cannot just glide in and take the place of the natural mother with the child being none the wiser, or at least without the child being profoundly affected by the substitution. And saying how you love the child as much as you would love a bio-child, remarking on how a child looks like adoptive relatives–which if s/he does is purely coincidental–and not allowing the adoptee the freedom to express his or her real feelings about being adopted doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse. But this is what the adoption industry, especially for us baby scoopees, wants people to believe. And judging by the endless number of celebrity adoptions, it doesn’t seem that much has changed in this regard.
But all the way back in 1964, right around the time when many of us baby scoopees were coming into the world, an adoptive father of 4 named H. David Kirk published one of the earliest works that tried to dispel the myth of adoption called Shared Fate. As a result of his research and his own family experience, he came to the conclusion that, as difficult as it may be, families that deny the differences between biological and adoptive families have the most problems and the most difficulty in building a rewarding family life.
But Dr. Kirk’s view doesn’t seem to have taken hold. There is still so much support from the media to promulgate the denial. One well-known conservative pundit even said in an interview that adopted children never even think about the fact that they’re adopted. And she knows this, how? I guess all those people searching for their natural parents, all the articles, all the bills being introduced to the different state legislators to open the sealed original birth certificates, all the television shows featuring reunion, have never come across her radar. And not only the adoptee, she says, but the adoptive parents never think about the fact that the child is adopted, either. I wonder how that comes into play when said adoptive parents have to take the child to the doctor. In other words, let’s deny adoption. It’s a non-issue. It’s never even thought about! Uh-huh. Right! Yep, reminds me of that river in Egypt.
This conservative spokesperson even devoted an entire chapter of one of her books to blaming single mothers for every problem that besets modern society and praised adoption as the slam dunk solution, while, of course, leaving out some very important findings on the effect of being given up for adoption. In her cherry-picked studies, she discovered that we adopted children are not as good as children being raised by their biological parents, we are actually better. Well, I, for one, am glad to hear that. And now that I’ve been so informed, let me just wait till my heart catches up with my brain. She also found that adopted children do better on all measures and have been found in particular to be more empathetic. Well, that’s something I can believe. Adoptees, as a whole, probably are more attuned to other people’s pain. Usually people who have been through some type of trauma are more sensitive than those who have had an easier ride through life. In my opinion, that finely tuned sensitivity is a product of bitter experience, or what is more commonly referred to as, “it takes one to know one”. It doesn’t do anyone any good to cherry-pick studies to “prove” that adoption is a painless non-issue for children, because in reality it’s a very complex life situation. Adoptive mother and originator of the Primal Wound theory Nancy Verrier* found in her research that a high percentage of children found in special schools, juvenile hall and residential treatment centers are adopted. She also found a large number of adoptees among those who have the most difficulty both academically and socially, despite the fact that adoptees represent only a tiny percentage of the general population.
Yet given the way the conservative agenda promotes adoption, maybe everyone should give their children to others to raise. Yes, giving one’s child to strangers is the perfect solution. It will solve every problem of the natural mother, the adoptee and society as a whole. I just hope those strangers don’t turn out to be Jerry Sandusky or Joel Steinberg. But I digress.
Or maybe not; because when adoptive parents turn out to be abusers, or worse, murderers, there are always outcries that “children raised by their biological parents suffer abuse too.” However, it is important to remember that the purpose of adoption, as marketed by its practitioners (social workers, attorneys, adoption agencies), is to ensure the child of a better life. The crapshoot of who a child is born to is not in the same category as a purposeful, volitional act to place a child in a family other than the one s/he was born into in order to improve his life. For that reason arguments that bio-parents also abuse or murder their offspring to minimize the issue of adoptee abuse and murder is a red herring. It’s comparing apples to oranges and, yes, another example of De Nile.
To be continued…
*Nancy Newton Verrier, The Primal Wound: Legacy of the Adopted Child, The Effects of Separation from the Birthmother on Adopted Children, 1992
Kirk, H. David, Shared Fate: A Theory and Method of Adoptive Relationships, 2 Rev Enl edition, Ben-Simon Publications, April 1984