November is nationally dedicated to Adoption. Throughout this month, we will hear conversations around varying degrees of experiences, some focused only on the forever family, others focused on the ones left in the shadow, some who wish to crush the “awareness” campaigns, others who want grow into awareness, some that appear polar opposites, others who hold onto rigid beliefs, and some whom become allies and advocates.
First, we must recognize there are two adoption themes in November. One that has “Awareness” in the title and one that does not. And even the ones that have Awareness in their title are not always advocating for true awareness.
These two adoption themes vary in their campaign goal; the original campaign was focused solely on the act of adopting. It was created to find permanent homes for children in orphanages or foster care. The original week-long adoption campaign in November, started in 1976 by a politician, Michael Dukakis, which was ironically just two short years after the first federal law passing the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974.
This campaign was never about infant adoption. Parents seeking to adopt freshly delivered newborn babies greatly outnumbered infants available. Especially after the unwed mother homes went away. There is and has been a great demand on newborns. Sadly, adoption agencies also use the November campaign to help promote their agenda.
The other adoption month focuses on awareness and the impact, the history, the gender oppression, the ethics, the corruption, the race valuing, the needs of those who have no voice, the systemic racism, the greed, the power, the iniquity, the inequity, the inequality, the support and needs of an unplanned pregnancy (as one politician said, “the village”), the adoptees experiences, and the many changes that need to occur in the adoption industry.
Over the last couple decades, many adoption roles have joined forces to bring awareness.
I recently attended a conference. After the conference was over, I commented on an event page that I attended virtually and asked the presenter, Sharon, how her view of adoption evolved. Since Sharon worked as a social worker and oversaw adoptions in the 1960’s and 70’s and spoke about her advocacy and ethics and systemic racism in the social welfare system, I was curious to learn when and how she came to her new understanding.
I explained how my view has changed since the early days after my relinquishment and that I no longer believed in the “selfless-gift promo” that I shared in my memoir.
To be honest, I started writing my book within two years after my relinquishment which was originally published in 2002. I was still raw and numb. I was still weak and vulnerable. I was incredibly sad and grieving. I was in the process of healing and writing helped me in that process. I was still protecting those who had groomed me prior to giving birth and gaslighted me after.
I needed to believe in the God’s plan. I needed to believe I did the right thing, made the right choice. I needed to believe my son was a gift to be given. What appeared to be the right choice was in fact a façade.
Truth is, I realize now that I never truly wanted to choose adoption. It was my safety net in hopes that I would NOT need it. I knew that I did not want to be indebted to the adoption agency in any way. I was never . Otherwise, I would have never brought home my son from the hospital. When loved ones began to show and express their disapproval and disappointment in my choice to bring home my infant and parent my children, it became unbearable and I wanted to fix it. I greatly needed to feel their support and love and approval again. I had almost lost them when I gave birth to Jaren. Our relationship was hanging on by a thread. With no commitment from my sons’ father nor his family, I had me and me alone to rely on.
“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” Robert Fritz
Even after I republished my memoir in 2012, I did not change the previous chapters. I added a couple new chapters because the most common feedback I got from readers was they wanted to learn more about me, my story, and my childhood. They wanted to understand me better. I also added a chapter at the end because in ten years, there had been some updates to the story that I wanted to include.
Looking back, I had no reference, no counseling, no birthmother support groups to validate my feelings. And I worried about offending or jeopardize my relationship with my son and his parents. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. Birthparents in open adoptions and adoptees in open or closed adoptions are both told they should feel grateful or be thankful or that they are lucky. I heard this so many times over the years from family, friends, and coworkers. People have no idea how this comment makes us feel.
Sharon, the virtual conference presenter responded to my post and question so poignantly:
“Great question! I believe changes occurred as I got to know and really listen to adult adoptees and birth/first parents and hang out with them as well as watching my own children who joined the family by adoption and foster care as toddlers and teens grow through their various stages into adulthood. I also went through a period of heavy grief as I came to understand what was happening. I needed to forgive myself and others! A real eye opening journey I took during the seventies!”
I truly appreciated Sharon’s honesty and transparency.
I recently had a conversation with Jaren after watching this season’s new two hour “This Is Us” episode. I told him I wondered if the Concerned United Birthparents’ retreat had an impact on their producer, KJ Steinberg, who was a guest speaker at the retreat one year ago.
KJ Steinberg sat before a room full of mostly birthparents and adoptees and some adoptive parents. Real people! Real experiences! Real stories! I have to give KJ credit because she graciously and empathetically absorbed our heartbreaking stories.
As the hands went up and the microphone got passed around the audience, I had the opportunity to ask her a question. I told her about my sons and my role, and how both sons identify as Black or African American. And that one son was transracially adopted. I told her that I love the show and that my son and I watch it faithfully and that William is one of my favorite characters.
“This Is Us” told this beautiful story about William that America fell in love with despite his flaws. Why had they not told a story or developed a character of a birthmother? Like Randall’s therapist notated last season, the birthmothers “were cliff notes” to the storylines.
I pointed out, as I looked around the room, that even among our group at the retreat, there were very few birthfathers present. I asked KJ if we might hear more background stories about the birthmothers.
I told Jaren it seemed like George Floyd’s death (which they included in some scenes) and the #BLM movement also had an impact on how they were now telling Randall’s story and how they wanted to represent Black people and Black mothers. I wondered how much #CUB and #BLM impacted the new season.
It seemed like previously, the writers were telling two different stories about Black people. One where Black people in Black communities were poor, struggling, drug addicts, neglectful, and not sexually responsible. And then the story of Randall, a black infant, abandoned by Black parents, raised by white parents, as successful, educated, beautiful suburban home, married, a family man, good husband and father, as if those traits can only be learned and passed down by white parents. It is a grossly oppressive stereotype.
Jaren’s response was precise. He said “Does it matter?”
I was silent for a moment. I had to contemplate it. “Does it matter? Hmmm?”
I replied, “You are absolutely right, Jaren.” I said the most important thing is that when we become aware (whether we had our own awakening or came upon it with the help of others), of an issue, a negative thought or pattern, that we are able to change our perception, our thoughts, and our advocacy.
Whether we are talking about an adoption day, a week, a month, or even throughout the year, how will we support and advocate for those impacted by adoption? How will their stories get told and shared?
My hope is that we support advocacy and share awareness.