Why the adoption establishment annoys me….

I was challenged with the task of trying to put to words the reasons for the title of this post.  Here is my first go…

I can think of very few professions where having the experience garners so much currency and title of “expert” than when being an adoptive parent in the adoption establishment.  It qualifies one to determine how adoptions are viewed and conducted.  In turn, there are still fewer areas of expertise that cause more doubt, skepticism and worry than being an adopted person in the adoption profession.  At every turn we are judged on our story and how we deliver that story according to a group of people who are not adopted.  I am confused and crazed all at once.

My annoyance tonight is the elephant in the room that keeps getting ignored.  At what point are adoptive parents going to admit to their complicity in the dangerous directions the adoption establishment continues to go?  The concept of the establishment being a building with a bunch of social workers finding babies for a married couple who are wringing their hands waiting for the call about “their” baby is becoming less and less a reality.  Instead, to me, the establishment is becoming more the prospective adopting parent(s) coming with questions in hand shopping for a person or agency that will give them their baby in the fastest, least instrusive manner.  These adoptive parents claiming a stake in “victimhood” heading the charge trying to illuminate unethical adoption practice feels completely hypocritical.  It seems that they have dipped into the dirty money and now that the end result did not turn out the way they expected, they are screaming ethics.  Whom are they fighting for?  Because it feels like I am hearing a cry against their injustice of not having the child they had dreamed of, the family they anticipated.

In pointing the finger at adoptive parents, I am in no way exempting agencies, facilitators, lawyers and legislators.  After all, agencies have mostly been created, founded, operated and funded by adoptive parents.  The idea that the big bad agency is an entity all unto itself making crazy decisions is preposterous.  The agency is a people.  Too, most adoption attorneys, facilitators and current legislators advocating for adoption are adoptive parents.  How is it they can objectively promote adoption in an ethical and diligent manner?

So, let’s just cut to the chase and call it what it is – people making selfish altruistic decisions.

I feel dirty writing this though.  My indignation feels cowardly.  Because, there are tons of parents out there who are amazing people and caring for their adopted children unconditionally doing what parents do best – loving their children.  And there are hundreds of thousands of adopted children and adults who are in loving, caring, beautiful families who could potentially feel like I just decimated their entitlement to happiness.

So, while I write this piece to illuminate some sad truths about the business of adoption, I hope there are more people who will respond to completely disagree with me.

Sitting in my seat though, spending hours and hours with adopted people opposite me, I keep getting dumbstruck by how little our experience is viewed with the same amount of merit, outrage and pursuits for change.  For those of us who continue to dare to change the system, it seems our reputation as someone with an axe to grind preceeds us.  Like most marginalized groups, we even turn against ourselves and judge each other for playing into the system.  The second guessing I do before speaking my mind baffles me forcing me to carefully construct sentences to not wound the parents who seem to have all the power.  This awful dance I do in order to assure that I get to continue to work with a child feels like I am playing right into the establishment.  In the 15 years since I have been in this field, there have been books, films, documentaries, art installations, blogs, workshops and countless panels of adopted people challenging agencies and adoptive parents to do their due diligence, be more tolerant, open their adoptions and acknowledge they cannot undo or whitewash the past.  It is exhausting and exasperating to see that children coming home today are still being pushed and cajoled to forget their past, forget their birthfamilies, attach, bond, be grateful and change the way they see themselves and their view of the world.

The idea that the adoption process needs more transparency feels like a hall of mirrors.  The very people demanding more are the very people who have benefitted from knowing less.

25 thoughts on “Why the adoption establishment annoys me….

  1. Pingback: Not much left to say … « International Adoption Reader

  2. Brilliant Joy.

    Thanks for this. Our children need us to take responsibility for the circumstances they are in. There will be gains and losses. We try, and I’m sure rarely suceed, in taking responsibility for the love in our family and the pain we have generated.
    Thanks for this.


  3. Brilliant Joy,

    thanks for this – I think its very true, and extremely important that all adoptive parents look squarely at the complex realities of adoption and their participation in the instutions as well as the day to day life as an adoptive family. We cannont take credit for the gains, pleasures and joys of parenting a child if we do not also look squarely, and struggle to take responsibilty the pains and losses we have generated as well.

    I personally, still have no idea what to do about the unfathomable gulf that existed for me (and I suspect for many others) between being a prospective parent, and being a parent. There was data that I hadn’t been given, that I didn’t know to look for, and that perhaps I also simply wouldn’t have understood untill there was a real baby, with a real history and a real set of needs that I wanted to be as accountable to as possible.

    I think adoptees first families and allies have made great progress in the past decade getting their narrative out into the world, and for what it is worth, I see many more prospecttive parents today struggling with the real bio–psycho-socio-economic-ethical considerations around adoption than ever before.

    Thanks in large part to people like you, and blogs like these.


    • Right on M. I know that to be true, the gulf between those who want and those who have is one that I can’t seem to navigate. But we need to keep talking. I know that there are agencies and people who are still doing their adoptions in thoughtful ways. But I am sad to see that the policy makers and the executive directors are not willing to take the risk to continue the education process in place of the expeditious way. When I worked at an adoption agency, I had created a system to incorporate adoptee panels for every prospective adoptive parent group. It was essential for me to have those who have had both positive and challenging experiences. It remained one of the most impactful aspects of the process for many parents. I still get people telling me how much that meant to them and informed their parenting. Alas, I now hear that said agency not only rejects adoptees who have challenging stories or are unfinished in their telling of their story, but that it is not something that is incorporated as a must for every group. Also, my biggest challenge to get adoptees to speak to parents both in our domestic and international adoption program never came to fruition. The idea that parents who adopt domestically don’t need this information or don’t find it relevant still makes me crazed. Thank you for commenting.

  4. I agree, this is a great piece, Joy. Recently I find myself struggling to find steady ground to stand on as an adoptive parent…can’t explain why I didn’t look at all these issues before, feel rather ashamed that I’m only doing so now, and feel a strong desire to make it right, if that’s even possible. Find myself arguing back and forth in my head a lot, looking at it one way, and then the other. The issues are extremely
    complex, but I have reached one conclusion that is beginning to almost sit comfortably with me: adoption is profoundly paradoxical. Within the triad, there is at once great joy and tragic loss. I guess I always knew this on some level, but only now am I really beginning to get it. Very grateful to have people like you to listen to and learn from. -Jane

  5. “This awful dance I do in order to assure that I get to continue to work with a child feels like I am playing right into the establishment.”

    But you’re not. You’re speaking here, and your words are traveling and are respected.

    Such a wise post, and so spot on logical and accurate. Thank you.

  6. You have expressed this so powerfully. I wrestle with this dichotomy: having “benefited” from the system as it is, it rings hollow for me to turn around and question the very process that gave me the joy of raising two incredible kids. It wasn’t until I knew those kids as real individuals, not as abstracts or as personalities imagined from photographs, that I really started thinking about the reality of how they came to be in my care and the layers of injustice it involved. I don’t like what it says about me that I didn’t think more deeply about these issues BEFORE I became a parent through adoption. . . but the choice now is to stay silent and tacitly approve of a world that should have served my children better, or to add my voice to those calling for change.

    Having said that. . . I also think it’s important for us adoptive parents to acknowledge that we aren’t the leaders in this fight. We need to insist that adult adoptees and first parents be recognized in that role. We can and should be allies. It is our fight too. But what “adoption reform” means, and what adoption would look like in practicality after reform needs to be determined first and foremost by adoptees themselves, second by first parents.

    • Im no social worker but here’s here’s an ultra-simplistic solution from this adoption worker, lawyer and individual adult adoptee sick of how we tolerate this really poor model of IA:

      1. Strict foreign fee caps to prevent orphan finding, harvesting and laundering.
      2. Total separation of TPR, relinquishment and investigation of abandonment from child referral to avoid improper influence upon mothers.
      2. no direct/private aid to orphanages or directors in exchange for referrals.
      3. a transparent numbered waiting list of applicants that favors no applicant or agency other than according to official laws (ex, expats of country or strong ties to it preferred)
      4. better pp services but I admit this is harder to to solve

      I know that it is more complex than this but if changes were instituted we could have a lot more confidence that no child;s history was false, forced, improperly influenced Not perfect but would eliminate a lot of incentives for the worst of abuses IMHO.

      Watch the profiteers pull out as soon as adoption is no longer a lucrative business.

      • Thanks for your comments. I would agree this is very simple and I wish it to be true. The reality is that on paper, most of this is out there and you would find few who would disagree with this list Just one take on your number 2…there is not an agency or organization who would ever say they are in a country in place of acquiring more referrals. but does beg the question, why would they be there??? which brings me to the idea that is beginning to get legs – universal accreditation. Will be putthing those thoughts down soon enough.

  7. as an adoptive parent who has benefited from ‘the system’, i would echo the sentiment of feeling ambivalence, guilt, confusion, delight in my situation. i thought i did the necessary research before we embarked on this journey, but it was 25 yrs ago, pre-internet, and i was not asking the right questions then. i did not even imagine the questions i would later learn are central to this discussion. i feel for me and others of my ‘generation’ we must put those questions/issues that joy raises here and others raise elsewhere out in the public eye so that this generation of prospective adopters can ask them….and to partner as allies with the adoptees who are doing much of the asking. clearly there is much work to do.

    • I agree with you, Cynthia. I am grateful that there are people like Joy and Kevin, and so many others, who are sharing the truth about what they have experienced. When we adopted I understood that my kids were facing a difficult and sad loss, but I did not grasp that the loss was, in fact, tragic. To quote Kevin at Land of A Gazillion Adoptees: “No agency had a class to teach me how to tell my parents that the experience that was one of their most joyful was one of my most painful.” This is a difficult truth for AP’s to absorb, to accept, in large part because it is hard to believe that something that has made US so profoundly grateful and joyful is at the same time a source of unfathomable pain to first mothers and first families, and their children. But I realize that to pretend this is not true is a profound disservice to our kids, it only compounds the loss and the pain to have their reality denied. I am grateful to the adoptees who speak out and tell us the truth, and I’m also grateful that ap’s like Martha, Margie, Deb, and Cynthia share their ideas about what we as AP’s can do to advocate for the education and the reform that is so desperately needed. I think Deb has it right: adoption reform needs to be determined first and foremost by adoptees and then first parents, but we ap’s need to join their ranks as committed, vocal, lifelong allies.

      • Thank you for the nice comments, jmrose11211. I just wanted to clarify that the LGA quote came from LGA’s co-editor Shelise Gieseke, who in all honesty is a much better writer than me. At any rate, thanks!

    • thank you for your comment Cynthia. I am struck by how humble and honest you and many other adoptive parents are being about what they didn’t know. I am also struck by the notion that most parents do little in the way of prep to become parents in general. How many thousands of books are out there about parenting and how many do we actually read before we embark on parenthood? We all want to believe we are good students and will do our homework, but when it comes to being a parent, we really fly by the seat of our pants and when we are stuck, we read or ask for help. The divide between pre and post-adoptive parents is huge, but so are all the blissful pregnant women out there just creating life and not wanting to hear that delivery sucks and that parenting is exhausting and an uphill daily grind. To that point, I know I am the last one to tell a future parent – just wait, it only gets worse. Who needs that? I am not backing down from my high horse of wanting better quality of education for pre-adoptive parents or my disdain for those who try and circumvent the process by not dealing with it or getting educated about it, just cutting a little slack I guess. In the broader scope of parenting, we really are always lagging behind our kids.

  8. Pingback: Why the Adoption Establishment Annoys Me – Final Thoughts | Land of Gazillion Adoptees

  9. I never comment on blogs, so please forgive me if this is rambling.

    I want to let you know how powerful I think this post is for adoptive parents. I always feel guilty at the amount of knowledge that I need to be an effective adoptive mom; because it is knowledge that I can only acquire from adoptees. What an unfair burden to place on adoptees! Thank you for writing this. Your honesty allows me to be a better adoptive mom.

  10. Pingback: Why the Adoption Establishment Annoys the Heck Out of Me |

  11. Reblogged this on OhmMG… and commented:
    I really identified with this: “It seems our reputation as someone with an axe to grind precedes us. The second guessing I do before speaking my mind baffles me, forcing me to carefully construct sentences to not wound the parents who seem to have all the power.”

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