National Adoption Awareness Month: Ally or Antagonist?

19 11 2010

I swear I am an ally for adult adoptees.  Hopefully I am an ally to every person in the adoption triad.  But here I go again, sounding more antagonistic than synergistic.  To steal an expression recently used by one of my favorite bloggers, I guess I didn’t drink enough of the adoption Kool-Aid.

I just finished watching Adopted For The Life Of Me on PBS.


What to think? What to think? What to think?

Or should I say, what to admit about what I think?

Basically it is a documentary about sealed adoption records in the United States.  Did you know Kansas is the only state that never sealed their records?  I live close to Kansas.  But this is not a game of guess where they actually live (with no Costco that is close to Kansas).  No, this is where as a new adoptive mother I say something profound about the pain felt by adult adoptees whose records are sealed.

And I am really, really trying to get it.  I am.  But I don’t think I do.

Okay, I get some parts of it.  I get that some people really feel an emptiness or disconnect and they believe that knowing who their biological parents are/were would help with this.  I get that.

I also get that when an authority who has your record RIGHT THERE says, “Sorry, YOU can’t see it.”  Well, that is just stupid, ridiculous, infuriating.  I would come unglued if that happened to me.  I would be blinded by my need to fight authority, and would probably forget that while that is legitimately MY record, it is also legitimately my BIO-PARENTS record.  And I do not know whose interests take priority.  I just, honestly, Do. Not. Know.  I know it is most politically correct to say it is the adoptee’s interest.  And I know I would never participate in a “closed” domestic adoption.  But that still doesn’t answer the question about records created in a different climate, years ago, that might still affect the lives of unsuspecting people.  And this film in no way cleared up this question for me.

I think in the past adoptees had to rely on the emotional arguments of “I just really have a need to know.”  And that is a legitimate argument, but probably never held much weight legally or with power-hungry bureaucrats who like to protect the status quo or even with people who see themselves as pragmatists.  So now adoptees have a new argument, based in science, which may be perceived as somehow more legitimate: the medical argument, the genetics argument, the DNA argument.

I don’t get the medical argument… not nearly as well as I get the “need to know” argument, which is strange considering I have a BS in biology and my husband has a PhD in molecular biology.  It’s not like I don’t “believe” in biology.  But I don’t believe that DNA holds all the answers.  And the adult adoptee the film features to make the medical case was 90-something-years-old and looked really great (although they did say she died before the film was completed).  In my opinion she was a lousy choice to make the argument, “I need to know my bio-parents medical history so I can take the proper precautions to ensure my own health.”  Ummmm, I would say it is likely that YOU will live a good, long life regardless of your bio-parents histories based on the fact that YOU ALREADY HAVE.

I admit to having a bias on this issue.  I think the intense scrutiny of our relatives’ medical histories is a bit of a scam.  I can’t figure out who is perpetrating the scam.  So far I think it might be the paper companies because they make all the millions of forms you have to fill out.

When I fill out those forms about my parents I just want to laugh.  Do your parents have hyper-tension?   I say Yes because they are medicated for hyper-tension, but my parents say No because the medicine keeps their blood pressure in the normal range therefore they honestly believe that they no longer have high blood pressure.  Does my father have heart disease?  Yes, but unlike my father I do not eat red meat, drink cheap vodka or smoke really cheap cigars.  And, I actually eat vegetables, green ones, not just deep fried potatoes.  So yes, my father has heart disease but I have common sense.

Here I come, back from that tangent and more focused so I can say something profound.  Please bear with me.

This was a documentary with a STRONG point of view.  In my opinion it was less convincing because it was so one-sided and created more questions in my mind than answers.  While I am sure the director wanted me to have questions like, “Why are these records still sealed?”  And, “What is my congress person’s email so I can send him/her a letter right now demanding they change this law?”  Unfortunately, the questions I was left with were of a different nature.

At one point in the movie the camera person/producer/director tells one of the adult adoptees who’s been searching for his parents for many, many years, “Yes, your records are still sealed but I have a friend who was able to track down information about your birth parents.”  The film provided no insight into how they were able to get past the insurmountable red tape.  This was very confusing to me.  I still followed his story.  I still felt for him.  But, wait, can you rewind a second?  If the records are IMPOSSIBLE to get to, how did they get to them?  That is the kind of question I was left with.

A few things I do get:

Many of the people featured in this film waited to search until their adoptive parents passed because they were afraid of offending or hurting their adoptive parents.

The adult adoptees in this film were NOT ungrateful, unhappy, whiney or demanding.  I think they wanted information, probably for a multitude of reasons, and had spent year after frustrating year trying to get it.

I think there is probably another side to this story:  the bio-families’ side.  And there are probably some bio families who really, really want records to remain sealed.  Do they have a right to that?  I’m not sure.  It is too bad that they could not interview any of those people.  Yes, the records are sealed, but clearly they had “friends” who could get around that in certain cases so I am sure they probably could have located some of these people and interviewed them in silhouette with voice distorters to protect their identity.

Lately I seem to be picking a fight with “adult adoptees” (I feel like “adult adoptees” should be said in a loud reverberating voice.)  Maybe this is just how I celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month.  No, wait, that’s not it.  It is what I said before, here, it is over-simplification that I have an issue with, not adult adoptees (as if that title encompasses the entire group of people who were ever adopted).

Getting beyond the over-simplification bug-a-boos (see how you can make it sound like a “cute” problem by giving it a cute name?) the important question is can an adoptive parent of a toddler really learn anything from adult adoptees?  Are the opinions of adult adoptees even relevant when the circumstances around my son’s adoption are so different than the circumstances of a closed domestic adoption that took place 50 years ago?

Hell yes, it is relevant.  Maybe I don’t get “it” but I do understand how “it” can make me a better parent to my adopted son.

This film reminded me that my priorities might not be the same as my son’s.  And it is my parental duty to try to help my son fulfill HIS priorities.  If I can’t predict exactly what they will be, I need to make the effort now to ensure that I can help him later whatever he decides his priorities are.  And if I want help predicting what his priorities might be, well I better be listening to adult adoptees.

My son will have no access to medical records from his bio-family.  This does not seem that important to me.  This might seem very important to him (a point this film drives home).

Maybe I can’t find out what illnesses ran in his family.  But I can find out if birth certificates were even issued in his village in 2009 and if death and medical records are kept on a regular basis in his birthplace.  I should know what the true life-expectancy is in his area of the country and what are the common causes of death.  I still won’t be able to provide him with all the information he might want, but I may be able to provide him with a context that makes the lack of information a little less painful.

My job is not to tell my son (or any adult adoptee) what should or should not be important to him.  My job is to bring him up to understand that there is more than one side to every story and that there is almost never a completely right or completely wrong side to any issue.  My job is to make sure he knows that I will never stand between him and his history.  My job is to ensure he knows that our love and our bond will not be broken by his relationship with any other person, including bio-relatives.  My job is to help my son understand as much as he wants to know about HIS story.


Because if you made it through that you deserve to see a picture of the kids that are being raised by this antagonistic ally.




5 responses

19 11 2010

Perfectly beautifully clear and simple and dead on! I wish everyone understood and REMEMBERED, that there is NEVER a ‘clear’ right and wrong on ANY issue.

20 11 2010

This is one of my favourite posts EVER. Anywhere.

21 11 2010

Came to you through Tonggumomma’s Sunday linkage and LOVED this post, which was so beautifully articulated. I have raised an adopted child–my daughter–from the age of 7 months old to adulthood (she is 18). I love that you reiterated that there are two sides to every story and myriad ways to look at issues in adoption, particularly those highlighted by adopt adoptees. While my daughter’s attitudes will likely change as she gets older, what I know now is that she is her OWN person, an amazing young woman who is completely confident in who she is. Her life does not center around her adoption (though she is very proud of her ethnic heritage), partially, perhaps because no one has ever pushed any agenda on her. We have found her birthmother on Facebook, and while I would love to contact her, my daughter does not have any interest right now. Even though her biological mother, the woman who gave birth to her, who gave her life, is just a mouse click away. And that’s just fine, because this is my daughter’s life and her story. And all adult adoptees, including my daughter, have their own unique stories to tell.

21 11 2010

Oh, I totally get this. Thanks for fleshing out your thoughts. I am discovering that I have read so many accounts of what adoptees might feel that I am sometimes projecting them onto my own son, who has expressed very little interest in knowing anything about his bio family. I know this can change and that it needs to be fluid and centered on what he wants, but sometimes I have to temper this body of knowledge I’ve gained from reading adult adoptee accounts with what is most important: what my own son needs and wants.

21 11 2010

You are so smart.

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