This post was inspired by Mei-Ling’s recent post on her blog, where she spoke of a person who adopted who hoped that Mei-Ling would “find closure.” One more adoptee gets patronizingly fed this line, once more.
How many times have we heard that, over and over again?
This continual reiteration to adoptees and natural parents about closure, when i hear it, admittedly pisses me off. it invariably is from someone who has never experienced adoption separation/trauma/loss. someone whose only connection with adoption has been GAIN.
“Closure” is a word thrown around a lot in “adopto-land,” and I sometimes wonder if it is such for one reason: Because if adoptees or natural moms get “closure” then maybe the two parties in the adoption transaction that “gain” from adoption do not have to feel guilty as they would feel if the “losers” in adoption are “still hurting”? No-one with any conscience wants their joy to come at the lifelong expense/pain/torture of another person. So, there is the hope out there that we will get “closure” somehow.
The problem that this ignores is that “closure” is closely tied to such factors as whether a loss is finite or ongoing, simple or complex, ambiguous or complete, sudden or expected, traumatic or voluntary, etc.. I held my father’s hand in the hospital as he died peacefully in his old age — that was a nontraumatic, unambiguous and completed loss with closure, finality, resolution, completeness. But adoption loss is ONGOING and overwhelming. If a loss is continually compounding, how can there be closure? It hasn’t ended yet! Every compounded loss of a day in life lived “elsewhere,” every birthday apart, every moment separated, all the years and minutes apart … and the ties that are not ties, family that is not family, ambiguity of family boundaries in our society that only recognizes “what is on paper” as being valid … and always the hope/chance/dream of eventual “having my child/parent back again” because after all they are still breathing … no closure means unresolved grief, ongoing pain, ongoing loss.
But, if you’re not there in the middle of it, if you’ve never experienced it, then can you truly understand it? That glib line about closure, I just wish they would stop trying to foist it onto us, and then imply that we’ve somehow got some psychopathology if we don’t achieve it.
(Note: This post is not directly adoption related, but pertains to another issue close to my heart, the mistreatment of First Nations peoples in Canada)
There are no words to describe the magnitude of the horrors that occurred during the 150 years of the residential school system (they were instituted in the 1840s, started winding down in the 1950s, and the last one only closed in 1996).
Some people who went to them talk about having “positive experiences,” but the horror stories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that took place in these “prisons for children” are overwhelming in number. Not only were children forceably taken from their families and forbidden to speak their native languages, but it was all part of a “cultural genocide” which had the purpose of trying to “eliminate Canada’s Indian problem.”
“I want to get rid of the Indian problem. Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed. They are a weird and waning race…ready to break out at any moment in savage dances; in wild and desperate orgies.” – Duncan Campbell Scott, Head of Indian Affairs, Canadian Government, 1920.
The researcher, activist and former minister Kevin Annett is a controversial figure, but no matter how you feel about him, I very much recommend his documentary “”UNREPENTANT: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide” (January 2007). ” on his site “Hidden From History: The Canadian Genocide — Telling the Untold Story of the Genocide of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada”
It went beyond abuse — to murder and the withholding of proper medical care. At a time when tuberculosis was being successfully treated, some of these schools had a huge mortality rate. John Milroy, author of A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, has data indicating that at it’s peak, from 24% to 42% of the children in some residential schools died of it. This is quote from a small article in New Scientist (reprinted here)
” In 1907 Peter Bryce, a chief medical officer for the federal Department of Indian Affairs, recorded that 24 per cent of pupils at 15 schools had died of TB over 14 years. At one school, 63 per cent of the children died… Other documents show that officials knew death rates were high until the 1940s, Annett told New Scientist. They record children being admitted with active, contagious TB, with no quarantine or even ventilation in their rooms, the only ways to control TB before antibiotics. Former students say they slept in crowded dormitories with sick children, and were often hungry: hunger lowers immunity and exacerbates the spread of TB.”
But did news articles about a possible 28 mass graves found at residential schools ever made it into your local newspaper? (The list of locations, as compiled by the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared Children is available here). (Annett writes about it here).
But, just like with adoption, a child and a parent were separated, often against their will. Sometimes parents talk about willingly sending the child to residential school as they thought it would help the child get a good education and good care. Sometimes former residential school students speak about having had a good residential school experience. But, just like with adoption, we must listen to the stories of those who suffered at the hands of people in positions of trust and authority who forcibly separated families against their will, those who were abused, those who suffered trauma for which there may be no recovery.
And, to quote the dedication on the T&RC website,
“For the child taken. For the parent left behind.”
1) Further reading: “‘Aggressive Assimilation’: A history of residential schools in Canada – FAQs on residential schools and compensation,” CBC News, June 14, 2010.
2) The end of residential schools did not spell the end of the en masse removal of First Nations children from their families. As they closed, the “Sixties Scoop” began, lasting well into the 1980s. For more information, see “Stolen Nation,” “Aboriginal Justice Inquiry – The Sixties Scoop,” “The Sixties Scoop: How Canada’s ‘Best Intentions’ Proved Catastrophic,” Native Children and the Child Welfare System by Patrick Johnston, and Stolen From Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities by Ernie Crey and Suzanne Fournier.
Especially to all mothers who have lost/surrendered/placed children for adoption. May this day be blessed for you! Remember, you deserve respect as a MOTHER!
Happy birthday, my precious first-born! I never imagined we’d be reunited for 10 years, 1/3 of your life. Plus i feel far too young to possibly have a son who is 30! Come on, I’m not nearly old enough for that!
I still remember that clerk in the furniture store, when we were buying stuff for your/our apartment, referring to you as “my brother” and when i said with a smile that you were my son, she stated in surprise “How old were you when you had him — four?!?” We had a great laugh over that one!
Anyway, happy birthday, honey. I hope we have many more great years together, back together, where we belong. We have come a long long way in only 10 years, restoring everything we could that was taken from us. But we will never get those 20 long years back, and I think we will both always grieve that loss.
I want to share with my readers how you described to a classmate today the reason why you belonged to Origins: “I was adopted, and it was the most painful thing that every happened to me.” Your words are echoed by so many other adoptees I know. I will forever try everything I can to take away your pain.
(Related post, for visitors who have not read how this all began: February 20, 1980)
I recently responded on another blog to a mother (I consider her to be a mother, but she calls herself a “birthmother” i.e. a non-mother) who expressed that the loss of her two children to adoption had brought guilt, grief and self hatred to her — and yet she was convinced it was her choice and she was not “bitter*” about adoption.
As she spoke about pain, guilt, grief, self hatred and tears — my heart went out to her, as those are the same words of many mothers who were forced to surrender against their will, yet who considered it to be a “choice” that they willingly and happily made.
My sincere belief is that the concept of “choice” is one that a mother internalizes from being given repeated social messages about adoption, social attitudes, and the refusal of Western culture to even consider the possibility of coerced surrender. Why? Because the dominant discourse about adoption is controlled by the adoption industry and it’s customers. And, the repeated message in this discourse as unquestioningly accepted by society is that women choose to give away unwanted babies, right? Half-right. Adoption WAS created to find new homes for orphans and unwanted children. However, exceedingly rarely were our children even unwanted, As we held them in our arms, or saw them after their birth, and fell in love with them — how many of us actually emphatically phoned up the adoption agency weeks after birth to demand “Take away this bastard — I feel nothing for her! I have no interest in keeping her!” You see, that is the situation that adoption is actually intended for.
The mother-child bond and relationship is so important that there are recognized rights that all mothers inherently possess, for the sole reason that we are human beings. One of these is the right to all the support you need in order to raise your child without fear of an “unstable life’ (i.e. missing support system). Check out Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Coercion takes many forms: It can take the form of agencies, family members, clergy, hospital staff, etc. pressuring the mother to surrender her baby or telling her that adoption is a fantastic option (making her feel she would be selfish for wanting to keep her baby). It can take the form of carefully-researched methods being applied to mothers to increase the chance they will surrender. It can also be systemic financial coercion when governments withhold vital financial support from mothers which leave them in fear of dire poverty with no guaranteed income, housing, etc. The latter is, yes, intentional, and according to adoption researcher Reuben Pannor is the leading cause of surrender. It is also preventable. Why does Australia have a mere handful of surrenders each year while the U.S. has tens of thousands? Because Australia protects mothers against ALL these types of coercion.
There is a checklist of common coercion methods here, but human rights violations including poverty also count as coercion. So does open adoption practices where mothers meet or “bond with” adopters prior to birth or prior to signing surrender documents. That has a huge risk of emotional coercion. And again, a coerced surrender is not a “choice’ at all. The choice of adoption not only must involve (1) informed consent (obtainable only once the mother has taken home her baby and found out first-hand what she will be sacrificing and with having been given full disclosure regarding the psychological risks (unresolved grief and loss, depression, PTSD, secondary infertility, future relatioship and parenting difficulties) but (2) as it is such an important decision also must be freedom of any form of coercion as this nullified freedom of choice.
Ignoring the fact that abortion and adoption are NOT related events in the slightest, the fact that this mother states regarding surrender that she “did not want to do it” and yet considers it to be a “choice,” is a huge contradiction. Only in adoption is the phrase “forced to choose” considered logical.
Let’s follow the logic: You wanted to keep your baby, you did not want to surrender: So what made you do it? Something made you surrender against you will. That “something” is called coercion. A coerced “choice” is not a choice at all, the coercion by the fact of existing has eliminated all freedom of choice. So, in essence, you did not “choose” to surrender your babies.
That’s why i’m saying that mothers who love their babies don’t “choose” to surrender them. Adoption was created in 1851 as a disposal mechanism for unloved and unwanted children, not for children were were loved and wanted. It’s the rise of the adoption industry, convincing mothers to surrender babies, that has made it into such.
You had the right to keep your baby. Your babies had the right to the support they needed in order to keep YOU.
Post-script: I have also realized that although the grief from the loss of my son has been crippling, I have never felt guilt, regret, anger at myself, or self-hatred from it. I think that this freedom has come with knowing that it was not my ‘decision’ as I had never been given a choice. A coerced ‘choice’ is not a choice at all. No decision can be made when there is only one viable option given. I wish that every women who has unwillingly surrendered a child they loved to adoption could also be free from these emotions.
* I am not “bitter.” Never have been. “Bitter” is a derogatory term used by society to describe someone they considered to be unjustifiably angry at themselves or because they did or did not do something. On so many levels this is just totally unapplicable to how many natural mothers feel: justifiably angry at the adoption industry for taking their babies via coercive adoption practices and working to end unnecessary adoptions and coercive adoption practices. If it were not for righteous anger at injustice, civil rights, human rights, campaigns against genocide, and the vote for women would not exist.
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This is a post about human rights. Rights that we all enjoy because, well, we are human beings and not tadpoles, buttercups, or granite slabs. We are born human, and in a special position in the world even if we share most of our DNA with a host of other similar creatures.
Humans have the ability to commit both magnificent acts of good and terrible acts of evil. In the mid-20th century, the world was recovering from a horrific world war and related events of genocide and destruction, which had ripped apart families and left much death and suffering in their wake.
A coalition of “civilized” nations swore that this evil should never happen again, and worked to create what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations ion December 10, 1948.
Included in the Universal Declaration are rights that are belong inherently to all living human beings. They include rights to dignity and equality, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to equal protection of the law. Also included in the Universal Declaration are rights that protect even the most vulnerable of our citizens from systemic cruelty and exploitation. Rights that our governments try to conveniently forget.
A mother and her child together are one of the most precious and yet are often the most vulnerable families in any society. Vulnerable, that is, because in some cultures, they are rendered without protection from external forces that work to separate them. In many patriarchal nations, a mother is often only certain that she will be able to keep her baby if: (1) she is married and thus financially/socially protected by a man, or (2) she has sufficient status in the employment market such that she can independently support her baby by herself.
Men and women are equal, but due to biology they are very different, an example being when two people of the opposite sex make love. The man can walk away from his responsibility for any resulting child — he may not even know he is a father. The woman cannot walk away. She must deal with the consequences in a directly personal way. During her pregnancy, social sanctions limit not only her options, but stigmatize her into solutions that society either provides or withholds from her. A baby is a part of her body for nine months, and that experience is one she can never walk away from.
To be a woman means the inherent capability (or implied capacity) to create and give birth to a child.
“Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone
Human rights factor into the experience of every woman who becomes pregnant. Firstly, human rights are universal, guaranteed to all human beings. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration states:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Article 16 states:
“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” A mother and her child together is a family. There can be no doubt, and no argument, about this. They thus have the right to protection by society and the state.
But perhaps most explicit is Article 25, which states:
“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. 2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
This explicitly provides every family — every mother and her child — with the support and means required to keep them together, as a basic human right. It also means that women have the right to social protection, the right to keep their children, without having to be the “social property” of a man (did you know that until very recently, in many areas the birth certificates of the children of unmarried mothers were stamped “Illegitimate”?). It means that marriage is not required to “legitimize” a woman fulfilling the natural function of her body, a natural function of being a woman: giving birth to her child. Marriage or at least a long-term parental commitment from both partners is indeed the ideal situation, but for many mothers it is just not feasible or possible.
This Declaration agreed to in 1948 protects all mothers and their children. It provides mothers with rights such that no mother need be forced by poverty, coercion, or social pressure to surrender her baby for adoption. Every mother has the right to protection and social support for herself and her child as a family unit such that horrific trauma of surrender, the coerced separation from her infant, is not inflicted upon her.
“Almost everyone believes that on some level, [mothers] made a choice to give their babies away. Here, I argue that adoption is rarely about mothers’ choices; it is, instead, about the abject choicelessness of some resourceless women.” (Solinger, 2001).
It is clear that if the basic human rights of ALL mothers were respected, protected, and codified into the laws of each nation, that there would be far fewer unnecessary adoptions. Fewer families would be destroyed, fewer mothers would be forced to surrender their beloved infants, and the world would be a far more ethical and safe place for mothers who are giving birth — mothers left vulnerable to the adoption industry because their human rights have been violated.
* * *
- “Elizabeth Stone Quotes” at http://thinkexist.com/quotes/elizabeth_stone
- Solinger, R. (2001). Beggars and choosers – How the politics of choice shapes adoption, abortion, and welfare in the United States. New York: Hill & Wang.
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