Category Archives: Ethics in adoption

Ready or Not, Glasnost is Coming to Adoption

Even though the Berlin Wall fell suddenly a quarter-century ago, in hindsight we were not all that surprised. Historically we note that of course people eventually throw off shackles. Of course the human spirit cannot be contained forever. The human spirit is hard-wired to reach for light, to yearn for freedom, to crave openness. And to settle for no less.

The fall of the Berlin wallGlasnost means openness. Mikhail Gorbachev saw its inevitability and decided to get in front of the parade. Those who today patrol outdated walls that oppress people would do well to follow Gorbachev’s lead. Policy-makers who have dedicated themselves to preserving walls built on a foundation of shame and secrecy are well-advised to study history and consider their own legacies.

We in adoption have seen a movement on many fronts toward openness. More and more, adoptive parents welcome and even seek contact with their child’s family of origin, recognizing the benefits contact can bring to the child. Even in cases in which contact is either unsafe or unwise, adoptive moms and dads are parenting with more openness when it comes to acknowledging their child’s story and their child’s unique needs and being able to talk about these issues. Finally, we see state after state passing legislation that opens birth records to all citizens, no matter their circumstances of birth.

I therefore make a bold prediction: glasnost is coming to adoption.The walls that still exist will fall not gradually and softly but in a rush. A shocking, thunderous rush — just like we saw nearly 25 years ago in Europe. Openness in adoption will be here within the decade, and we’ll wonder how we ever tolerated anything less.

So what are these walls in adoption? What structures have been erected as the legacy of fear and shame since the start of the Baby Scoop Era, post WWII? For one, many people think it’s unnatural or “weird” that my children’s birth parents are part of our extended family. Some are shocked we would let into our lives a presumed “crack whore birth mother” or a “scary birth father.” Coming from a place of fear and duality, some believe there should remain a wall between our family and our children’s birth families, lest our children become confused (Jim Gritter, a pioneer in the open adoption movement, says about such confusion: “Is it your experience that to be fully informed is to be confused?”).

But coming from a place of love and wholeness, inviting my children’s birth parents into our lives as respected members of our family seems as natural as keeping in touch with my own parents and just as important in helping my tweens integrate their identities. “Adoption creates a split between a persons’ biology and her biography. Openness is an effective way to help heal that split.” — that’s the premise of the book I’ve written with my daughter’s birth mom, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.

As I speak at adoption agencies around the country and connect with people who hope to or have become parents via adoption, I see an opening, a softening, an understanding that openness — with or without contact — is as vital to an adopted child in her identity-building as food, shelter and showing up at soccer games are to satisfying the lower levels on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The second and more oppressive wall is the one guarding original birth records from their rightful owners — adult adoptees. By circumstance of birth, my children belong to a class of people whose civil rights are not fully recognized. I can go to my county clerk and get my original birth records and you can go to your county clerk and get your original birth records (unless you were adopted), but adult adoptees in 41 states plus the District of Columbia [see the current count here] face a practically insurmountable wall between them and their own vital records, their very identity.

Why? Why the need for such a wall?

Closed systems rely on fear to sustain them. In adoption, this fear is rooted in shame — the shame of being caught in an unplanned pregnancy; the shame of being infertile; the shame of being a “bastard” born to unmarried parents. Isn’t it time to vanquish shame in adoption?

Let’s examine the parallels between this practice of closing birth records and the Berlin Wall.

  • Walls are not for the benefit of those walled in. They are for the presumed benefit of the Elites and those the Elites deem in need of protection.
  • In a repressive environment, large expenditures are needed to repress, diverting funds that could be spent actually helping people.
  • In a repressive environment there is secrecy, and corruption is therefore difficult to detect. Without the possibility of someone shining light in an environment, corruption and rot can flourish.
  • Repressive systems cause people to find ways around it. When support for the system erodes, black markets are created and people find ways to skirt the wall to get what they feel they should have access to.

Why am I so certain walls will fall in states that don’t already allow unfettered access to original birth certificates to all citizens?

  • It’s human nature to resist resist the tyranny of Elites.
  • Repression is not eternally affordable or sustainable.
  • When any system fails to meet the fundamental needs of its people (such as the right to know one’s identity), civil unrest may follow.

The Internet is a great destabilizer of Elite structure. It facilitates connections, joins voices, and democratizes light-shining into previously well-guarded nooks and crannies.

What may have seemed all right yesterday often looks very different after the fall of a wall. The shooting of would-be defectors by East German border guards was justified by the Elites. But post-openness, those shootings were treated as acts of murder by reunified Germany. How will history judge those who repeatedly act to violate the civil rights of a group of people? How will history remember those who refuse to “tear down this wall”?

Fifty years ago, John F Kennedy said at the Brandenburg Gate, Ich bin ein Berliner. In solidarity with my children and others whose civil rights are violated right here in the 21st century, I invite you to say with me, Ich bin ein Adoptee.

More info: Vital Records, a short film by Jean A. S. Strauss.

To get involved in the demolition of adoption walls, visit the Adoptee Rights Coalition.

~~~~~

Lori Holden in The Huffington PostA version of this article appeared in 2014 on The Huffington Post.

 Image: morguefile

Why I fight for adoptee rights

Did you know that there is one class of citizens that, by virtue of the circumstances of birth, do not have the same rights as others? And that over 90% of all American adoptees will face a life of discrimination unless current laws are changed? If you are (or hope to be) an adoptive parent this issue may very well affect you and those you love.

In all but 6 states*, adult adoptees are not able to have access to their own original birth certificates. Some of the remaining 44 states do allow access, but require high fees and/or intermediaries who can grant permission — or not give permission. Peach calls this “state-sanctioned identity theft.”

Non-adopted people do not face the same hurdles.
Continue reading Why I fight for adoptee rights

Adoption Utopia…what’s it to you?

Adoption Utopia. What’s that like?

If you’re an adoptive parent (or if you will be), Adoption Utopia might look one way.

If you have placed a child, Adoption Utopia might look another way.

And if you are a person who was adopted, Adoption Utopia might look completely different from the other two.

Worlds apart?

It’s a feat to balance sometimes competing needs and rights among the people involved in an adoption triad.

The scope for my answers includes only adoptions where first parents make a conscious decision to place their child, NOT when the decision is made for them by a child welfare agency.

Of course, others with a different experience may weigh in with a different scope (thanks, Joanne!)

Here are my thoughts to some questions I wonder about — I invite you to share your viewpoint, too.

1. What responsibilities do adoptive parents* have for their children’s first parents*, both before and after relinquishment?

Adopting parents accurately portray themselves and what degree of openness they can commit to. Once they commit, it is only ethical that they abide by their agreement, whether or not it is a formal, written contract.

Adoptive parents use only respectful terms when talking with the child about his first parents. This is not only morally right toward the first parents, but necessary for the child to know that his origins are worthy. Denigrating the first parents denigrates the child.

2. What responsibilities should the adoption system have for placing parents?
In Adoption Utopia, expectant parents considering adoption get neutral counseling about both parenting and adoption options. Good adoption agencies provide this, and adopting parents should use one that does (there is enlightened self-interest for doing so: birth parents who don’t feel victimized by The System are more likely to heal and move forward, which is better for all involved, especially the child. “Stuck” is not good.)

Adoption is only ethical if the first parents place with full information and no coercion. All resources for the parenting option are presented.

3. And how does the “best interest of the child” fit in with these responsibilities?
Granted, it’s too early for me to tell yet since my children are still young. But one of the reasons I decided not to put a divide between me and my children’s first moms was so that Tessa and Reed would never feel like they had to choose sides. There is no choice to make if we are all on the same side.

I hear from people adopted in the 1960s that they would never search for their birth parents because of the sense of disloyalty to the parents who raised them. Why would I want to inflict such a burden on my child, saying, in essence, “If you want to satisfy your natural curiosity about your medical history and genetic makeup, circumstances around your birth and relinquishment, and to know how it feels to be around people who look like you and have similar mannerisms — in order to get answers you’re going to have to betray me.”

My children can be true to themselves without being disloyal to me.

So we keep in touch with Crystal and Michele. When open adoption was just a theory to me, this was a calculated move FOR my children. But in reality, I have gained a very close friend in Crystal — someone whose friendship I genuinely enjoy. Channels are open to Michele, if and when she would like a renewed relationship with us.

***

In Adoption Utopia, every woman in an unplanned pregnancy for whom parenting is not a viable option would find the people who long to parent a child. They would be truthful with each other and be true to their word. The child that unites them would suffer only from having too many people love him/her.

What is your Adoption Utopia like? What responsibilities would you like to see?

* normally, parents are parents, without preceding adjectives. But for the sake of this discussion, I use qualifying terms for adoptive parents and first/birthparents.

 

20 Questions: Guide to Choosing an Adoption Agency

When we decided to go the domestic infant adoption route, we were fortunate that through no real calculated effort, we happened to fall into an excellent adoption agency. And by “excellent,” I mean two specific things:

  • An excellent agency counsels hopeful adoptive parent on two fronts: (1) processing grief to heal the wounds of infertility, and (2) living in open adoption.
  • An excellent agency is squeaky-clean in its dealings with both hopeful adoptive parents and expectant parents. Ethics toward expectant parents may not be high on your agency checklist at the front end of an adoption, but make no mistake. It is in your long term interest, and that of your future child, to make sure that your child’s firstparents are also treated ethically.

So plan on doing some research once you hone in on an agency or two. Ask to talk to past customers of adoption services (adoptive parents) and consumers of pregnancy counseling services (firstparents).

20 Questions: A Girlfriend’s Guide to Choosing an Adoption Agency
Needless to say, choosing an adoption agency is one of the biggest decisions you face, because you need to go where your child will be. My advice is to follow both your head and your heart.

How? First, your head. Research the agency by interviewing its counselors and asking to speak with both adoptive parents and firstparents they have served.

Ask the agency

  • What’s the shortest wait you’ve had? What made it so short?
  • What’s the longest wait? Why do you think this couple had such a long wait? What did you do to help them?
  • What is a typical wait?
  • How many couples do you have actively waiting at one time?
  • How many placements did you have last year?
  • How do expectant parents find you?
  • What is your counseling approach for expectant parents? (Information on parenting should be easily available to people coming in for pregnancy counseling. The agency should never push, but rather provide information and support.)
  • How often do expectant parents decide to parent after being matched with adoptive parents?
  • At what stage of the pregnancy do you suggest expectant parents choose adoptive parents? (Many professionals suggest not entering a match until at least 7 months into the pregnancy. Expectant parents go through a lot of ups and downs, and you don’t want to be riding that roller coaster for more than 2 months.)
  • Please explain your fee schedule. (A large portion — up to 1/3 of the total — should be due only after placement.)

Ask adoptive parents

  • How long was your wait?
  • What kind of grief counseling did the agency offer? (Expect some support in healing from infertility so you are ready to parent whole-heartedly).
  • How active was your agency?
  • What kind of after-adoption support is available? (Look for an agency that provides post-adoption counseling or parenting classes as part of the supervision process).
  • What kind of relationship do you have now with your child’s first family?

Ask first parents

  • How did you come by your decision to make an adoption plan? (A good agency will let the expectant parents take the lead and not push them into ANY option. This is crucial to reducing the risk of expectant parents changing their minds. The decision has to be freely made, and I would run fast from an agency that puts pressure on expectant parents to “give up” a baby.)
  • To what degree did you feel supported by the agency?
  • If you had a friend who was pregnant and needed help deciding what to do, would you recommend this agency?
  • How did you hear about the agency?
  • What kind of relationship do you have now with your child’s family?

Look for healthy situations where both parties feel well-served and well-represented by an agency. A good agency will make the adoption process collaborative (with the child as the focus), rather than adversarial (where one side’s loss is the other’s gain).

After you gather the facts, let your heart weigh in on the decision. Sit quietly and find out what your intuition tells you. If you have a “feeling” about an agency, go with that feeling. Adoption — like parenting — is a very intuitive process. Adopting with your head and heart will prepare you to parent with your head and heart.

Image: Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net