“Abandonment”: A Disconnect in Adoption

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There is a huge disconnect in public discourse related to the subject of adoption. I believe that this disconnect is directly related to the fact that the dominant voices that “own” the conversation about adoption do not include the voice of the natural mother, when women are kept silenced and invisible in shame and blame for a traumatic event that often they had no control over. The dominant voices belong to others, and others often attempt to speak for us.

A small example of an event illustrating the unintentional but systemic marginalization of the voices of natural mothers (and adoptees) is provided by Lorraine Dusky, in her excellent article on mothers in Korea, who describes a personal experience of marginalization at a conference.

About the program for creative works, primarily attended by adoptees and natural mothers:

the program … was scheduled late in the evening and held in one of the more distant buildings… the only people who were present were a handful of adoptees, their friends and partners, and ALL the birth mothers … the overwhelming participation [at the conference] was of adoptive-mother-academics

And about the conference in-general:

… Everyone was at least marginally polite, but I did feel like a stranger in a strange land there. The academics did not seek me out. I was more of a…um, pariah.

It is no social coincidence that the main body of “academics” at the conference were primarily adoptive mothers — adoption is more popular and accessible among the more educated and “monied” classes in our society, and, on the other hand, mothers are often pressured by poverty to surrender babies.  As well, a career in academia can often entail putting off reproduction until fertility is no longer assured.

This experience will sound familiar to those whose voices are marginalized and disenfranchised, whose voice is not heard in the “dominant discourse.”

And the dominant discourse surrounding adoption (and of course its underlying paradigm) involves the repetition and acceptance of the theme of “abandonment.”

The main focus of Lorraine’s article is about a recently published article about mothers being forced and coerced by lack of resources and social pressure to surrender their babies for adoption. Sounds familiar? Happened to thousands if not millions of mothers in Canada United States, Australia, the U.K., for decades. It was called the Baby Scoop Era. But this latest story is focused on Korea:  “Group Resists Korean Stigma for Unwed Mothers,” where the Baby Scoop Era obviously has not ended. This is tragic, because this systemic coercion of mothers in Korea was also pointed out 21 years ago, in the article “Babies for Sale”(Progressive, 1988, see footnote). Has no-one been listening for the past two decades?

With “Western” governments and society finally acknowledging their human rights responsibilities and providing at least token support and resources to mothers, the demand for babies has moved overseas to other nations where mothers are still vulnerable, where women are still second-class citizens, and human rights abuses and acts of reproductive exploitation go unnoticed and unchallenged. Similar to the Baby Scoop Era in Western nations, adoption serves in placed such as Korea as a “social safety valve” to remove the children of single mothers and provide them to strangers who are judged to be “more deserving” of their babies than they are. I know this feeling all too well — others were judged by society, Victoria General Hospital, and the government social wrecker adoption worker to be “more deserving of, more entitled to” my own beloved baby.

The disconnect?  The dominant discourse surrounding babies for adoption focuses on “abandonment,” exemplified by article such as this one, “South Korea’s troubled export: babies for adoption“:

Thousands of babies are still abandoned every year due to divorce, economic hardship and the difficulty of raising children in a society that sometimes looks on single mothers with scorn.

Now, I would state that a mother who surrenders her baby under pressure is not “abandoning” her baby. Abandonment has many implications: that the parent is performing the act out of genuine free will, that the fate of their child (life, death, injury) is of no concern for them, the child is rejected and unwanted, and is being  “disposed of” like some inconvenient garbage. The parent can freely be reviled and considered to be some sort of inhuman monster — after all, what kind of loving parent would abandon their child? Society justifiably considers child abandonment to be a crime.  Is it surprising that reading this phrase in her adoption paperwork would be upsetting to the adoptee involved?

“For reasons of their own they abandoned the baby…”

But are these the words of a mother who has abandoned her baby?

“I need to see him, and that I wasn’t the one who sent him away … I lost everything when I lost my child.”

These are the words of the Korean mother in the trailer for the film Resiliance.  Exiled from her baby, can anyone truly believe that she “abandoned” him?

As a mother who also lost her beloved newborn baby to adoption, I know what she and other exiled mothers must have experienced, the extreme pain they must feel and likely must still be feeling.  A mother who “abandons” her baby feels none of this. I do wonder:  Would these heartless people actually think that I also had abandoned my baby?

…. a delivery table as flat as an ironing board, my arms strapped down to the sides, feet up in stirrups … a sheet put up in front of my face to prevent me from seeing him. they whisked him away as soon as the cord was cut … not allowed to see or hold my baby. Never told I had any rights …

In Korea:

“After delivery at a hospital, the baby is taken from the mother …”(from “Babies for Sale“)

“Myung-ja Noh had no choice in giving up her baby for adoption. Her relatives took her baby to a hospital, which then contacted an adoption agency that came and took the baby away.”
(from “Resiliance“)

How different is this, in Korea, from what was done to mothers here in North America? How it is “abandonment” when a mother’s baby is taken from her, when resources and support are withheld? When her voice is silenced under oppression from those who have the power to take away her baby and withhold it from her? When someone listens to the voices of Korean mothers, it is not abandonment that is spoken of, it is trauma:

“She initially made contact with over 30 different birth mothers, interviewed six and planned to include three in her documentary. She said that the unifying thread between all the mothers is the devastating impact it has had on their lives.”

On a personal note, is “abandonment” also the rationale that the people who adopted my baby used, in order to feel entitled to “claim” him as their own? Was this the justification they used In order to lay down the law post-reunion that they were his only family, his sole mother and father? Is the assumption of “abandonment” the underlying theme that can be used in order to dismiss the enduring love a natural mother may have for her lost child?

The next time you hear of a baby being “abandoned” and adopted — even if it is in another nation, another culture — consider what this says about the natural mother of that baby.   Think about what happened to her. Did she really “abandon” her baby? Or was she forced to surrender her baby by lack of resources? By her family? By a hospital or an adoption agency?   Read this article about single mothers in Korea.  Read Mei-Ling’s story of how her parents were forced to surrender her in order to save her life.  Read about the crimes committed in the name of “international adoption.” Do you still consider her to be a “heartless abandoner”?

If the voices of natural mothers were actually heard and listened to, instead of marginalized and dismissed, if our experience of the (often violent and traumatic) loss of our babies were acknowledged, would the word “abandoned” be applied to readily, be so much a part of the dominant theme of adoption? The disconnect between the dominant theme, of “child abandonment,” and the experience of the natural mother who has no choice, should be recognized, explored, and eliminated in the adoption discourse.

~ ~ ~

Disconnect [noun]: a lack of or a break in connection, consistency, or agreement (Merriam-Webster). an unbridgeable disparity (as from a failure of understanding) (The Free Dictionary)

Excerpt from “Babies For Sale,” exposing blatant coercion of unwed mothers in Korea:

“‘According to the questionnaire that we distribute at the orientation interview, 90 percent want to keep the babies, says Kim Yongsook, the director of Ae Ran Won. But after counseling, maybe 10 per cent will keep them. We suggest that it’s not a good idea to keep the baby’…. After delivery at a hospital, the baby is taken from the mother.. ” (“Babies for sale. South Koreans make them, Americans buy them,” 1988)

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11 thoughts on ““Abandonment”: A Disconnect in Adoption

    Peach said:
    October 10, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    It is so comforting to an adoptee to finally learn that we really weren’t “abandoned”. We feel like we were, and the stories told to us make us believe it even more. Even when we are abandoned out of love, that hurts like heck.
    My first mom didn’t abandon me. Society abandoned her and she was given no other choice but to succumb to the sad, sad myth of adoption, that it is best for the baby. Oh what a sad thing. For so many of us. I wish we could somehow dispel that myth that is so prevalent and keeps being promoted by the business of adoption. It is abusive, and yet they are not held accountable to give accurate information.

    Myst1998 said:
    October 10, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Fabulous post Cedar. It is time more mothers united to let the world know we DID NOT ABANDON OUR CHILDREN. I am sick to death of being told you can’t lose a child to adoption. Like anyone else would know and can tell us what our story and experience is.

    I KNOW I did not abandon my daughter; my court records prove this much but society still dictates that if you are a mother who has lost a child a child to adoption, then you are an evil woman who has abandoned her child… although whilst you are pregnant you are seen as a saint. It is a huge abuse of our rights as human beings to lose our children and to be lied to about it and then portrayed as “abandoners”.

    Thank you for putting this out there. I wonder how many will actually listen to our voices or block their ears so as not to hear the truth.

    maybe said:
    October 11, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    The use of “abandonment” as it relates to adoption is rarely accurate. The entire language surrounding adoption is driven by the needs of the industry and adoptiveparents (I like Lorraine’s usage!).
    Another example is the insistence that “your mother didn’t want you” making adoptees feel guilty for searching and reuniting.

    As far as the adoption conferences go, they seem to mostly be a circling of the wagons for APs. Seems a bit odd, because other academics are quite happy to debate, critique and analyze each others’ work. Maybe it depends on the field of study and the willingness of the participants to challenge the status quo rather than build a narrative around a group of stakeholders.

    Triona Guidry said:
    October 13, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I think the circling of the wagons has to do with the increasingly public prevalence of mothers’ and adoptees’ points of view, which some APs undoubtedly find threatening. It’s easier if mothers didn’t exist and adoptees didn’t grow up. Instead we are showing up at these conferences and writing articles and blogs about our experiences. Those APs with open minds will be able to handle the knowledge that we are human beings with our own perspectives. Those who can’t… I am hoping there will be less and less of those as time goes on.

    unicorn said:
    October 14, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Words definitely have a lot of power. The adoption industry tries to have “respectful” adoption language which has a bias towards making adoptive parents look like saints and mothers look like sinners beyond redemption.

    “Abandonment” is such a word devised to do that very thing.

    We can fight back with the truth and strip away the sugar coating jargon.

    malinda said:
    October 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I attended a workshop where Korean birth mothers spoke, and I asked what they would want adoptive parents to say to their child about their first mothers. The answer was IMMEDIATE — tell them WE DID NOT ABANDON THEM. http://tinyurl.com/yhxvloa

    Mei-Ling said:
    October 15, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I already foresee a problem:

    Adoptive parents are highly advised not to tell their children they were abandoned.

    Adult adoptees are saying “Well, don’t tell us our mothers gave us up out of love. That’s wrong.”

    The only other answer is to admit that the alternatives were not there. And then that leads to the WHY… why weren’t there any alternatives, why wasn’t there any assistance…

    And then THAT’S going to lead into uncomfortable scenarios…

    Amyadoptee said:
    October 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    God forbid that we take a look at those. Not even adoptees want to look at those alternatives.

    Russian Adoptions said:
    October 30, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    It depends on the situation that mothers abandon their child. Poverty is one of the reason. But still, there are some mothers who doesn’t have the heart and abandon their child.

      Cedar said:
      October 30, 2009 at 4:35 pm

      Hi “Russian Adoptions,” you are missing the point of this article altogether. A mother who is forced by poverty or another circumstance, to surrender her beloved baby for adoption or to place that baby into an orphanage where he/she can be cared for, has not “abandoned her baby.” Abandonment is something entirely different. Otherwise, you can label ALL women who surrender (or “place” to use modern industry white-washing) their babies as abandoning them. Abandonment is often an excuse used by agencies in order to encourage adoptive parents to feel that they have the “right” to adopt the child, that the child was unloved and unwanted and was “heartlessly abandoned’ by his or her “incubator and sperm donor” (what the adoption industry means with its terms “birthmother” and “birthfather”).

      I see that you are with a adoption business based in California. The term that is often used is “baby broker.” Did you post this message on this blog in order to get more potential customers to go to your business?

    lissa said:
    November 3, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Russian Adoptions,

    ‘It depends on the situation’, does it? Which one would that be in your mind? The social wrecker/baby broker/adoption agency who pressured, coerced, manipulated, threatened and lied to an expectant mother? Or, would it be the situation where the mother did not have independent legal advice to protect her rights AND her baby’s rights? Maybe it was the situation where she was not allowed to see the documents she was forced to sign and was threatened with having her baby “placed” in foster care, in order for the baby broker to state her baby was “abandoned”? Perhaps you are referring to the mothers who were abused, drugged, confined and had their child removed from them to another location? You are either blind, or a very dangerous and repulsive individual.

    Mothers who lost their children to adoption did not “abandon” their child. They were forced to surrender their child; that, or received the threat of having their baby taken from them. It is well known that baby brokers go after vulnerable young women. Most Mothers do NOT “willingly relinquish” their much-loved baby. This is done to provide a mother’s wanted and very-loved baby to an infertile couple who had no right to her baby. It was also to provide the baby broker with a profit from the sale of an innocent baby. It is clear that the problem is not young mothers; in fact, it appears that the infertile and desperate couples who will do anything to purchase a baby ‘as if their own’ are the problem. Mothers who lost their children to adoption did not “abandon” their precious baby.

    The fact of the matter is that those mothers AND their child suffer horrible consequences due to being separated from each other. Particularly when the adoption was NOT consented to, and the mother was unwilling to “place” her baby for adoption. No one is thanking the adopter; who in fact is the only party to this type of disgusting transaction who matters in the eyes of individuals such as yourself.

    It is clear you do not give a damn about the mothers; perhaps you should learn what adoption does to a child who loses their family. People who are adopted are not required to be “grateful” to their adopters. I think you will find, if you educate yourself, that most adoptees are angry and hurting… particularly when they discover they were “abandoned”. They have individuals such as yourself to thank for that disgusting lie.

    I would suggest that you do not sell that “abandonement” crap to your potential customers in the ‘best interests of the child’. A child’s best interests is to remain with their true mother – and not forced to live the lie created when their birth records are falsified.

    Are you afraid of losing a potential sale if you cannot convince your customers they are “saving” and “unwanted or abandoned” baby?

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