National Adoption Month and Halloween
It seems more prophetic than coincidental that adoption awareness day, week and month are in November — following on the heels of Halloween.
For those who are adopted, there are many similarities and analogies to be drawn between the two “celebrations” — the biggest and most obvious is that both Halloween and adoption involve pretense and hiding one’s true identity behind a mask and costume . . . pretending to be other than who you really are.
First, what can be more Halloween-like than the adoptees’ “ghost kingdom” which many psychologists and adoptees have written about. It is described as three ghosts who accompany adoptees:
- The ghost of the child he might have been had he stayed with his birth mother. Adoptes may try on, test and sample different personas they “might have been.”
- The mother who bore them, from whom many theorize the adoptee has never fully disconnected, often envisioning her in extremes as whore or princess….but always as a ghost.
- The ghost of the child his adopters might have had, or the child who died. This ghost is like a sibling rival, who the adoptee may feel in competition with, or give up on without even trying.
What could be spookier than walking through life with these ghosts? But there are also some important differences between Halloween and adoption. The first is that Halloween is one day of make-believe. Adoption is life-long.
Another difference is that once you are old enough to talk or even nod, you have some input as to what villain, angel, superhero or other persona you’d like to pretend to be one day each year. And you are aware it’s just a game and you maintain full knowledge of who you really are.
Not so when one is adopted. Adoption is a false identity foisted upon the adoptee without their input or agreement and in many cases before they have a conscious awareness of their original, authentic self, identity, or perception of who they are. Unlike a Halloween costume, this façade doesn’t come off, instead the false identity issued to adoptees totally annihilates any true sense of self.
Some adoptees don masks and costumes seemingly by choice. Because many — possibly most — adoptees feel deep seated fear of rejection, many wear a mask of “the good adoptee” as described by BJ Lifton. The “good adoptee” mask is worn to reduce imagined risk of being abandoned yet again.
Every time adoptees seek medical help, they are operating in a total blind, mysterious vacuum devoid of family medical history. Worse still, in the past adoptive parents were counseled not to tell the child they were adopted. As a result many adoptees have reached adulthood unaware that they were adopted into their families, creating extreme feelings of betrayal when they eventually do find out. Additionally, not being told they are adopted puts them at grave risk of giving their adoptive family’s medical history as their own — which is far more dangerous to them and their offspring than having unknown medical history.
Another cruel game perpetuated on adoptees is the color-blind game. Children adopted into families of races different from their own are not blind. Nor are they deaf to the taunting many are subjected to. For an interracial adopter to pretend to see no difference is maddeningly frustrating gaslighting.
Initially adoption was informal and known to all. If a mother died in childbirth and her husband was unable to care for the infant, a neighbor or member of the parish would take the child in and everyone knew that the Smith boy was being raised by the Joneses.
Sometime around the turn of the 20th Century adoptions began to be conducted in a very clandestine manner due to the stigma society placed on unmarried mothers and their children and also the shame of infertility. As that top secret veil began to lift, all society learned about adoption came from a single source: those who chose to adopt; those who struggled with wanting to be parents and were ecstatically happy to do so at last. We learned of their anguish and struggles and commiserated. The general population saw them as brave to accept — as a last resort — another’s child, unrelated to them. Birthparents became silent, shadowy figures tossed aside like the wrapper of a gift.
By the 1940’s the secretive nature of adoption became law in good part to protect the baby brokers like the infamous and very unethical Georgia Tann. Original birth certificates were sealed and replaced with ones that legalized the secrets and lies and a new “amended” birth certificate that falsely claimed the adopted child was “born to” its adopters was issued in its place. From the very beginning, adoptees such as Jean Paton of Orphan Voyage and later Florence Fisher on the east coast, protested this government lie denying adopted citizens equality, but their protestations held little sway against the powers of the moneyed adopters and those who profited from lucrative baby exchanges. Adoption became a multi-billion-dollar industry catering to those who longed for children and the children became silenced commodities, their complaints muffled by being told how “lucky” they were.
In 1978, Sarosky, Baran and Pannor tried to change the one-sidedness by describing adoption as a triangle or “triad” consisting of birth parents, adoptive parents and child they shared. But those with money, power and agency always control the narrative.
Yet, in recent decades, the long-standing mythical view of adoption as being a happily-ever-after win-win has begun to crumble and the truth is being revealed. More and more adults who were adopted as helpless, voiceless, and choiceless children begun to speak out of the good and bad complexities of adoption. Korean babies were the first to be coveted and taken by Americans and adopters of other Western nations. They thus became the first to reach adulthood and reveal what adoption is like for the adoptee and in particular transnational and transracial adoption — offering a perspective other than that for whom adoption was a joyful fulfillment of a long-held desire to become parents.
Opinions of adoptees on adoption are varied and individual but most agree that they can simultaneously be happy to have the family they were raised in and not happy with the entire process of adoption loss and denial of their true birth certificate. Many condemn adoption as legalized human trafficking.
Adoptees have continued to speak out in books (such as those by Korean born adoptee Jane Jeong Trenka), blogs, podcasts exposing glimpses behind the curtain. The following is a very small sampling:
· elle cuardaigh https://ellecuardaigh.com
· Hearing the Voices of Adoptees https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mirah-riben/national-adoption-awarene_1_b_6180878.html
Investigative journalists have joined in exploring the not so pretty truth of adoption. In 2008 The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry was published. Researchers and critical investigative journalists continued exposing the less than glamorous and not so admirable aspects of adoption, hidden behind masks of secrecy.
In 2009 E. J. Graff wrote The Lie we Love exposing the truth of children adopted as orphans who in fact have family. In 2013, Kathryn Joyce wrote The Child Catchers about the Evangelical push from the pulpit for parishioners to “rescue” babies. That same year Reuters exposed the underground practice of rehoming of adopted children. Most recently, “Adoption Is Not a Fairy-Tale Ending.”
We must ask ourselves if adoption is as wonderful as we are expected to believe it is, why are babies only relinquished out of desperation or taken removed based on accusations of abuse or neglect. No one simply says: “Here take my baby.” If adoption is such an admired social phenomenon why is being used as a tool of war yet again as Ukrainian children are abducted and adopted by Russians. War and natural disasters have always opened the door for exploitation by so-called charitable do-gooders to rush in and grab children labeled (often mistakenly) as orphans.
Environmental disasters are often exploited by to label children as “orphans” in order to grab them up and fill waiting arms. War too, provides a similar cover story, but the truth is far uglier and more obvious. Stealing the children of one’s enemy is a tool of war aimed both at increasing the population of the abductors, but also like rape and torture merely for the purpose of hurting one’s enemies. It is very telling that “adoption” is a form of torture and dehumanization.
Is there any other practice that is perceived as noble, magnanimous and believed to be altruistic that can be weaponized and used to intentionally inflict great harm?
And so let Adoption Awareness allow us to rip off the masks, remove the ghostly sheets and see adoption in the light of truth — as a complex, multifaceted and complicated phenomena. Let us begin with a recognition that every adoption — no matter how loving — begins with the trauma of a daily who neglected to get the resources they needed to remain intact and resulted in the trauma of loss and separation of a mother and her child. A trauma that will impact them forever and let us recognize that adoption does not provide a “better” life — just a different one and too often one that involved emotional and physical abuse, and even death. Let us recognize that being adopted puts children, adolescents and adults at far higher risk of emotional struggles such as with substance abuse or relationship difficulties and a four times higher rate of attempted suicide than their non-adopted peers.
When Halloween ends this year and every year, let’s shed all the pretense. Let Adoption Awareness not be about promoting and encouraging more loss based on myths but about helping those already adopted to find their truth unthwarted by draconian laws that keep their original birth certificates sealed away like dirty little secrets or accessible with restrictions and redactions that do not apply to those not adopted.
Let’s act as if adoption was in the best interest of the child. Let’s leave all the scary stuff and game playing to Halloween and free adoptees from the shackles of masks and falsehoods as well as from societal obligations of gratitude for having lost their kin and heritage. Let’s replace secrets and lies with honesty, transparency and openness.
Adult adoptees are voting citizens who — according to the 14th amendment — deserve to be treated equally under the law, not denied access to their own authentic birth records as even convicted felons have access to. To paraphrase Queen: they are serving a sentence, but committed no crime. Free adoptees from the lies and secrets. Reverse all antiquated sealed adoption record laws. Revoke and abolish them once and for all nationwide with no restrictions that apply only to this one segment of the population for no reason of their making.