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.”
June has been a month of convergence between my two lives, the virtual one and the face-to-face one.
Loch Tess: To welcome the month, reader Caitlin and her adorable son, Sam, invited the children and me to spend the afternoon on her pontoon. Tessa and Reed swam in the lake and, thrill of thrills, they each got to pilot the boat. Caitlin and I chatted happily, snacked and enjoyed the first day of summer break (there may or may not have been a red Solo cup of white wine involved). The combination of friendship, 75° weather (no wind), and well-behaved children made Caitlin and me realize we were having a perfect moment.
Double treat: A few weeks later I got to meet my Twitter friend, Karen.We met for the noblest of reasons — to try out the desserts at the restaurant of the Denver Art Museum (thanks to the recommendation of dessert blog SugarLoco.com). Our children got along well and Karen and I gave each other the happy look when the three of them headed to the gift shop together (our daughters are the same age). Karen is a mom via adoption and a spinner, a fiber artist — hence the references to spider and Arachne in her online identity. It was fun to put a face to her Twitter wit, and I hope we get a chance to get together again.
Three corners: Last week I got to meet adoption-reform bloggers Peach and Cassi. One was coming through town and the other lives in town. I was a bit nervous — as I always am when meeting people from other corners of the adoption triad — but also excited because these are women I’ve long respected for their viewpoints and thoughtful treatment of people and issues.
Me, Cassi, Peach
One thing that came up during our dinner is that members of the triad can have such a hard time putting themselves in another’s shoes. How can a birth parent who was told “it’s best for your child” (and had to believe it for self-protection reasons) really face the loss that said child may feel? How can an adoptee understand the overwhelming desire an infertile person has to become a parent (unless, of course, she has experienced it)? How can an adoptive parent understand the feast that is an unexpected pregnancy when all she knows is famine?
And we must add in the other permutations of understanding — the adult adoptee understanding the viewpoint of the birth parent, the adoptive parent seeing through adult adoptee eyes, the birth parent walking in the infertile person’s shoes. Our familiarity and entrenchment in our own corner of the triangle can keep us from grasping the complexities of the adoption mosaic. This is probably why we sometimes yell at each other.
What made our dinner so amazing was that we three were listening, understanding, and learning from one another. It was refreshingly affirming. I left Peach and Cassi feeling exhilarated. I can’t wait to see them again. Maybe at a future Adoptee Rights Demonstration.
June has been a very rich month, indeed.
Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between.
On the last Monday of each month we engage in mindfulness about something that is right with our world. Everyone is welcome to join. The next Perfect Moment Monday event will begin July 30.
We often have The Today Show on in the morning as my children and I get ready for our day. During the school year we get news stories during the 7 am hour, and during the summer we get features during the 8 or 9 am hours. Often, we are simply served interesting things to talk about — pop culture (“Mommy, why isn’t Miley Cyrus wearing pants?”), history (“The Queen was once the mother-in-law to the fairest princess in the land, but the prince preferred the lady he’s married to now”) and issues (“Yes, Big Gulp-sized sodas are not healthy for people. Do you think we should pass laws banning them? Or not?”).
Yesterday, The Today Show had its panel of experts taking questions from the audience. The panel consists of Star Jones, an attorney, Donny Deutsch, an advertising executive, and Nancy Snyderman, a physician. Al Roker plucked people behind the barriers on Rockefeller Plaza to ask questions like: why do men earn more than women, what is an appropriate age difference in dating, what is the best method for long-term birth control, and — double-take, did I hear that right?? — which is better, open or closed adoption?
Let’s pause for a moment to ask ourselves why we would ask experts in law and medicine and advertising about income inequality, relationship advice and our sexual health (granted, Dr Snyderman gets a pass on the last one, but the other two panelists don’t). Are we so divorced from our own inner guidance that we must ask strangers with no better information than we have how to best conduct our lives? Melissa addressed this recently (and brilliantly) in the realm of parenting.
Delving into the details of this segment: Someone asked a 54 year-old advertising executive who has a 5 year-old daughter by a former girlfriend to tell us about the proper dating spread. Another asked a woman who came in 5th place on Celebrity Apprentice to weigh in on socio-politicial issues. A third asked a head and neck surgeon how The Pill compares to an IUD. All three panelists were asked all three questions, but only the last pairing could claim any matchability between the topic and a panelist’s area of expertise.
I’m not saying that these media personalities shouldn’t have their opinions; I’m just asking what makes them expert enough on these particular questions to give advice.*
Here’s what happened when the question on open vs closed adoption was posed.
Star “has been considering adoption.” Donny “might adopt someday, even as a single dad.” Nancy, who IS an adoptive mom, says, “the biologic mother does not know my identity; I have preferred it that way for 26 years.”
So out of three people being asked a question about open adoption, none have any experience with open adoption and only one has even been in the adoption arena at all. The advice each has to offer?
Star: I do not want to have to have continuous interaction with a birth parent.
Donny: I wouldn’t want to have to manage that. I would want it closed. As a parent, I would want to keep — “control” is not the right word — structure in your kid’s life as much as possible.
Nancy: My daughter has sought out her birth mother. She absolutely has my blessing. But I warned her, it’s Pandora’s Box. You never know what that’s gonna be.
The Open Adoption question comes at 2:15; you can scroll rightward to it after the 26-second commercial.
My son was watching the show with me, idly playing while I was idly working. Our ears perked up at the start of the conversation. Later when my daughter joined us, we told her about the segment and then I asked each of my children what THEY had to say.
Reed, age 9: They don’t really know what it’s like to not look like your mom and dad, do they? If they knew that, they wouldn’t think that way. They would know that having birth parents around is a GOOD thing for the kid, and not a BAD thing for the parent. I think their advice was dumb.
Tessa, age 11: If they really wanted to know what open adoption feels like, why didn’t they ask someone who lives in one — like especially, THE KID??
More salient points from a Facebook discussion that involved people actually acquainted with open adoption:
Monika: Star Jones will HAVE continuous contact with the birth parent whether she initiates direct contact or not in the form of the adopted child or children. You can’t erase biology with a legal form and ceremony.
Danielle: This sort of conversation only further perpetuates the idea that birth families should be hidden because they are to be ashamed of, or are bad.
Harriet: Closed is simply not an option anymore. People will find each other whether parents or lawmakers or so-called experts like it or not. It’s called social media and it’s not going away.
Cassi: Not one of the so-called “experts” spoke from any concern for the adoptees. They spoke out of their own selfish beliefs.
Kat: Should children not have visits from aunts, grandparents, or cousins because they need “structure?” Open adoption is important to the children as they grow and form their identity and self concept.
If only you’d asked the right experts, Today Show.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a yoga teacher to change my spark plugs.
What do Cher, President Obama and adoptees have in common?
This earworm was on the radio the other day and made me think of all three.
Half breed. That’s all I ever heard.
Half breed. How I learned to hate the word.
Half breed. She’s no good, they warned.
Both sides were against me since the day I was born.
I felt sorry for the subject of Cher’s song (this was before I saw the size of her waist and the length of her legs on the video — not mustering up much pity for those traits). Must be awful to claim parts of two cultures but to not have them claim you back.
I noticed the same about Barack Obama during the 2008 election. Wikipedia says his mother was “of mostly English ancestry” and that his father was from Kenya. I’m not the first to bring up the fact that some people consider him black (“the country’s first black president”) and others consider him not black enough. While he has claims on multiple heritages, those groups don’t necessarily fully claim him.
Sadly, sometimes a half + a half ≠ a whole.
For both Cher’s character and for Barack Obama, their two halves had trouble existing in harmony with the world at large, in being fully claimed by either of their sides.
Which can also happen with adoptees. I asked my friend Torrejon, who grew up in a closed adoption, about this idea of halves, and she had this to say about adoptee math.
I think it was BJ Lifton who said that adoptees are “betwixt and between” two worlds like Peter Pan. I always hated Peter Pan, maybe that is why. Other people compare being adopted to having one foot on each side of a road. I don’t think of it like either of those analogies. I’ve got both feet on both sides of the road at the same time. I’m not half here and half there…I’m fully both places at the same time. It is counter-intuitive and impossible. Have you ever heard the expression: “Half is something I want no part of”? It is sort of like that. And the Romani gypsies that I know will tell you that they are Spanish and Romani…not half and half…both things. Those two terms are not mutually exclusive nor inclusive. Not 1+1=0…but rather 1+1=1…adoptee math. However, I do think adoptees can end up with a 0 if they are divided into exclusive halves: ½ + ½ = 0
Whatever analogy or model I try to come up with, (haven’t yet found a perfect one) I always test it against my own kids and me. For instance, I’ve got two kids. I’m not half a mother to one, and half a mother to the other; I’m a full mother to both of them. That doesn’t mean I’m two halves…or two people. I’m simply a mom with two kids. So, by extension, I prefer to think of myself as existing fully in my two families. By the way, I don’t presume to speak for others…we’ve all got our own ideas about how to think about this.
Don’t you love how she reverses the generations to make her point? By splitting the parent between the children we can see the ridiculousness of splitting the child between the parents.
The key for adoptive parents, then, is this: how can we ensure that 1+1 = 1, like the Romani gypsy and not ½ + ½ = 0, like Cher and the President? One reason I advocate so strongly for openness is that I believe it provides a way for an adopted child to experience the first formula. Openness helps two halves become whole by having both families — birth and adoptive — fully claim the person.