Still hoping for change

A few days ago, I received a surprise email from a new student at the university where I work. Her heartfelt message touched me, and she gave me permission to share it with my readers.

I feel grateful that she wrote to me, because it reminded me that the work I have done over the years in the so-called adoption community has made a difference, at least to some people, which is something I often wonder about.

In her message, this student talks about being labeled as a ‘birth mother.’ She alludes to the anguish caused by the momentous decision to place her baby boy for adoption. She basically thanked me for my perspective that tries to bring to the forefront the frequently overlooked participants in the oppressive system that we have come to think of as adoption.

Now that I’ve given you some context, I will share the message sent to me from this birth mother. We agreed that I would not use her name on my blog, for obvious reasons. (And even that right there calls attention to the injustice created through this oppressive system…)

Dear Dr. Raible,

My name is _____. I recently transferred to the university as a nontraditional college student. I was elated to discover that you work for the university as an associate professor. Here’s why:

In 2014, I was pregnant with my first child. It was an unplanned pregnancy, and the only option I had ever considered before this was abortion. But as you know, things change in an instant.

I was contacted by a nonprofit organization in my town at that time that provides services for expectant parents as well as prospective adoptive parents. I soon learned that even before giving birth to my son, I was seen as a birth mother, and trust me, that is a title no one wants to have. Then one day, I came across a quote of yours (please see attached), and it gave me hope, hope that maybe one day birth mothers and birth parents like me will be respected, loved, and held in high esteem, like their children/our children are. Unfortunately, that has not happened for me yet, but I still love looking at your quote from time to time, still hoping for change.

Anyways, I would love to meet with you if you have some time in the next few weeks. Grab a cup of coffee, or whatever works for you. That being said, I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience!

All my best, ______

She attached the following quote to her email message:

adoption-quote

I plan to ask _______ where she came across the quote. I know that she was not aware of my blog, so I am curious to hear how she found it. I have a few other questions for her, as you might imagine, and I’ll be quite interested to learn more about her perspective and experience.

Anyway, I agreed to get together for coffee, and I will share with her the story of being found recently by my own birth family, thanks to my cousins in California, who took the 23&Me test that finally brought us together.

Damn the agencies, I say. Let’s use the latest advances in DNA science to get around their inhumane policies and the outdated laws they pushed through to keep children from knowing their parents. At the same time, we’ll keep working for justice for adoptees and our first families/birth families.

The power of the pro-adoption lobby that profits literally from the separation of children and parents is intensely hegemonic. The loudest voices in adoption discourse–adopters and those who prey upon them– adoption facilitators, adoption attorneys, and adoption agency executives– make it nearly impossible for us to envision a different way of meeting the needs of children and families in crisis. They make it difficult to imagine how women’s rights, even reproductive rights, include the right to keep and raise one’s children.

Even so, I have come to believe that the days of the pro-adoption lobby are numbered. Mark my words: There will soon come a time when society will eventually awaken to see the adoption business for what it really is: unethical, emotionally and psychologically violent, and essentially untenable from the perspective of human rights. Yet despite their best efforts to maintain business as usual, some of us are still hoping for change.

FOUND

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been keeping busy with other projects, including creating some art. But I want to let my friends and allies in the adoption community– and interested readers– know what has been going on with me in terms of adoption-related stuff.

This week, I made phone contact with a biological relative! Thanks to DNA testing (we used 23 & Me), we determined that our (now deceased) mothers were sisters, which makes us first cousins. This is the first time in my life that I have spoken to a blood relative. Then this kind man, my cousin, sent me a photograph of our mothers together many years ago. In the photo, my birth mom is standing next to her soon-to-be ex-husband (not my bio dad), her sister (my aunt), their mother (my grandmother), and their brother (my uncle).

A year and a half ago, I spat into a plastic tube and shipped off my saliva with a check for $99. To be honest, the whole DNA profiling experience felt sketchy and was definitely anti-climactic. I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know, really. I emailed a few distant DNA cousins that 23 & Me matched me with (allegedly 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins), but didn’t get much back in terms of replies. So the whole thing felt like a waste.

And now 18 months later, comes this huge news: I now know my birth mother’s name, along with her birth date and death date, and where she lived (not far from where I was born). I know her siblings’ names, and how many children and grandchildren she had (lots!). It’s almost unreal to get my head around the fact that I have actual factual relatives walking around, some of whom no doubt look like me, sound like me, maybe even gesture like me. Like Pinocchio, I can say with certainty, “I’m a Real Boy.”

Mostly, I’m feeling pretty excited and even happy to FINALLY learn something about my origins and my bio family. Sometimes I find myself feeling sad, for all the years of wondering and not knowing, for policies and laws that kept me from my heritage and my birthright.

I remember, too, and see in my mind the faces of the countless children and youth adoptees I’ve met over the years, at conferences, adoption camps, and workshops, who live with question marks hanging over their heads. They may never experience the empowerment and relief I’ve experienced these past few days, from interacting with a real live family member who shares their past, their genetic code, and their family history. I want to hug each one of them and encourage them to hang on. Hear this, orphans: One day, it can happen, and you will feel whole, and real, and glad to be alive.

I am fortunate that my adoptive family is totally supportive of my search, and thrilled for me at the results so far. Not all of us adoptees are so lucky. I hope my positive outcome (so far) might inspire my sons to search one day, so that they can find answers to the questions that weigh them down. I also think about their kids, my grandchildren, who will most likely have questions of their own that a DNA test may help provide answers for.

I feel dizzy just writing this. Finding and being found is an almost surreal experience, as I’m sure some of you who have gone through this know from firsthand experience. I’ll post again soon when I have processed some more and think I have something worth sharing.

 

Australia apologizes for adoption pain

Forced Adoption Logo (2)How many of us in the “adoption community,” particularly in the USA, know about the heartfelt apology issued in March 2013 by the Australian government?

I want you to read the short letter from Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Read the ENTIRE thing! In fact, read it out loud. It’s not long. But it does capture the pain and frustration that many TRAs, other adoptees, birth mothers and other first family members, and various adoption reformers (and let’s not forget adoption abolitionists) have been injecting into the dominant pro-adoption narrative. These perspectives go largely unheard or dismissed as “too negative” because they do not “celebrate” adoption.

Deeply moved as I read the apology, I found myself muttering, “Wow” repeatedly. Does it change the material conditions of living people’s realities? By itself, no, of course not. But as a symbolic gesture, the Australian government’s apology is a start in the right direction of dismantling the hegemonic influence of an adoption industry that woefully under-serves children and families. In other words, I read the apology as an act by a collective of individuals who are beginning to hold themselves accountable for participating in a corrupt, harm-causing, hugely skewed system that is rooted in systemic oppression.

PLEASE  DO READ IT. It is short and poignant. In fact, share it with the adoptees in your life, adoptees of all ages. I want my sons to read it. I think they will feel empowered, validated, and recognized. At last. It won’t take away their pain, but I am certain that it will  send a message that they are finally seen, that their experience has been affirmed by people in power.

That’s how I felt, as an adoptee and as an adoptive parent. Allies, I DARE you to read it to younger children and youth. And then ask them what they think. Don’t be surprised if they burst into tears. That should be a lesson. Be ready to bear witness to the accumulated pain from the trauma of relinquishment or abandonment, from foster care, and from adoption. And if you are too scared to share this letter of apology with adoptees, then ask yourself this: “If I am too afraid to bear witness to their pain, as an adult or as a ally, how can I possibly deny them access to and connections with individuals that are making sense of a similar experience?” The least we can do is encourage younger and older adoptees to connect with each other to form supportive relationships.

CLICK ON THE LINK TO READ THE APOLOGY NOW: Nationalapologyforforcedadoptions

Distribute it widely. Let’s have this sort of courageous conversation here in North America. Finally. And thank you, Australia.

Decolonizing transracial adoption

For me, the time we are living through right now is a decolonizing moment. I realize that I need to do more to decolonize my mind from the grip of the global adoption industry. I think we all could use some decolonizing. Our minds have been colonized. In saying this, I mean that the way we think about adoption–even the way we picture kids and childhood–has been shaped and molded. Basically, so that somebody can make money. Transracial adoption will never get better until we decolonize it. This is what I believe: We have to decolonize our minds before we can empower ourselves as transracial adoptees.

It reminds me of watching women become empowered during the feminist movement of the 1970s, when I was a teenager and going off to college. It was a little unsettling, as a male, but I got why women felt they had to talk to each other without men interrupting all the time. Women met together to talk about their lives and their problems, including their relationships with men. By doing this, women were able to get some distance and some space that was free from the male energy that tended to dominate. They weren’t necessarily saying that they hated men—mostly, the women I knew still loved their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. But without men butting in and making women take care of them all the time, women were able to reclaim their power. Ultimately, I think our society benefited and moved forward because of the self-empowerment that women went through.

What’s happening in our transracial adoptee community also feels like a parallel movement to various ethnic studies and identity politics movements, where African Americans, Natives, Latinos, and Asians organized for self-determination. I experienced these exciting movements as a youth. People of color in different communities woke up and said, “You know what? The white people have been in power long enough. Now it’s our turn.” Again, they weren’t necessarily saying that they hated white people, just because they expressed their righteous anger about the way some white people had been treating them over the years. But people of color needed to tell the story of our nation’s history from their OWN perspective. No longer was the story told just going to get told by the winners and the descendants of conquerors and slave-owners. Now it could be told by the victims and the oppressed themselves, the survivors of genocide and slavery and cultural destruction. Incidentally, this is where multicultural education came from, from the need to expand the narrative voices and tell the story from multiple perspectives. While using schooling to advance anti-racism and social justice.

Are we oppressed as Orphans and transracial Adoptees? Absolutely. Does this mean that we hate our adoptive parents? Not necessarily. It depends on whether adoptive parents act like our allies or our oppressors. I don’t blame parents for adopting. After all, I am an adoptive parent myself. But I do hold APs accountable to do right once their eyes have been opened to how unethical and corrupt the adoption industry really is. But regardless of what parents do, transracial adoptees need to acknowledge our oppression for ourselves in order to overcome it. Just as women and people of color did in their respective consciousness-raising movements before us.

Adoptee oppression started when, as children, we did not have any say in what would happen to us right when we  were born. We didn’t vote for relinquishment or to be separated from our birth mothers. None of us chose to be abandoned. We had no say in whether we would get to stay with our birth fathers or extended family. We didn’t decide whether we should be left in a dumpster or go to an orphanage or into foster care or be placed for adoption. All these life-changing decisions were made by adults without our participation and without our consent. These decisions about our fate as little powerless kids set in motion a series of events that we now have to deal with for the rest of our lives.

Remember, Orphans, adoption is a crisis response. Plain and simple. It kills me to see people running around trying to pretty up adoption by making it sound cute and sentimental. “Happy Adoption Day!” Bring home your little angel! “Happy Gotcha Day!” It’s actually quite sickening. Adoption is a crisis intervention. The fact that some mother felt so desperate that she believed that her only move was to give up her baby –her flesh and blood—should give us pause. The fact that this world accepts the widespread separation of mothers and children almost without blinking an eye should tell us something. When we talk honestly about adoption, there is no avoiding this tragedy, this awful moment of relinquishment or abandonment. The separation of a mother and child is painful and heart-breaking. It should be remembered and honored in a deeply serious way. People need to recognize that what we know as adoption is built on this painful, heart-breaking scene, multiplied a million times, over and over and over, all around the world.

One amazing thing to consider is that many people actually benefit from our loss and our sorrow. That’s why I don’t like to celebrate “Gotcha Day” or “Adoption Day.” The winners in the adoption game experience adoption as a joyous event. (I get it. I mean, why wouldn’t they? After all, they got us!) But at whose expense? And why should their happiness at adopting a child outweigh our sorrow at losing our mothers?

Other beneficiaries are the adults who literally profit off our sorrow. Adoption agencies that charge fees (not all of them do, remember), and adoption facilitators and lawyers and others who “arrange” private adoptions make tons of money. It’s criminal, when you think about it, that people can make money off the buying and selling of children. But they don’t call it that. It’s as if the adoptive parents and agencies and social workers all wink at each other as they exchange cash, telling each other that this is for the good of the children. Children are being rescued. Lives are being saved. And adopters get to feel like saints for doing a “good deed.” Like they just bought a rescue dog down at the animal shelter.

Decolonizing transracial adoption means exposing it for what it really is. When the survivors of adoption trauma tell the tale, our perspective as Orphans will never sound like the perspective of the winners in the adoption game. We are survivors, Orphans. I am an adoption survivor. I am a former foster child and an adoption survivor. It is a trauma that I experienced as a small child. Adoption happened to me, happened to all of us.  But somehow we survived, and are still surviving. Thank goodness we found each other.

In stating it so bluntly, I am not saying that I don’t love my adoptive family, because I do. But I lived through something they will never understand as non-adoptees. I live with the aftermath of my relinquishment and my stay in foster care and my adoption every day of my life. It’s all part of one long experience. The joyous moment of adoption—when I got to join a new family—cannot be separated from the whole trauma. Adoption is part of what we have suffered. I don’t celebrate it and I am not happy I had to be adopted. I’m glad I have an adoptive family that loves me, don’t get me wrong. But I am still grieving the loss of my birth family, while missing the connection to my foster family, and suffering the effects from the whole traumatic experience.

Decolonizing transracial adoption also means we have to tell the truth about race. We must use the R word—and talk about racism. Even if it makes the white people in our lives—our families, friends, and teachers—uncomfortable. I will get to that in my next post. Until then, stay strong, Orphans. Stay up. Get on top.