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Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
“Anti-Adoption Advocates”: How Should We Respond?
"Editor's Note: In response to feedback received on the original article concerning the narrow scope of the work of Bastard Nation and similar groups, Heidi is working on a follow-up post concerning birth-certificate unsealing/restoration and how it affects those on all sides of the adoption triad. We hope to be able to publish it next week."
Now that the election is over, one of the most chilling prospects of the future administration is the president-elect’s determination to sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA). The implications of this – both financial and moral – are staggering, for it means our tax dollars may be used to snuff out the lives of millions of children. To be truly pro-life, then, is to seek ways to ensure that the need for abortion is eliminated, as far as we are able to do this.
Adoption gives those in crisis pregnancies an abortion alternative that saves the life of the child and relieves them of the unwanted responsibility of parenthood. Adoption also provides an opportunity for couples to have a child they might otherwise never have, and for the child to have a “forever family” that will love him or her for life.
With foster-adoption, children who have already been born – often to parents with such serious issues that the children may have been better off had the “adoption option” been chosen from the beginning – are given a second chance. Sadly, many of these children – especially those who are part of sibling group, have special needs, or are “older” (four or more) must wait months and even years for a loving, permanent home. There are simply not enough suitable families willing to open their hearts this way.
The situation would be dire enough … Now grass roots, anti-adoption advocacy groups such as “Bastard Nation” and “Adoption: Legalized Ties” are seeking to discourage adoption, choosing rather to advocate for disgruntled adult adoptees and “natural parents,” including those whose children were taken from them because of abuse and neglect.
Anti-Adoption Advocates: Biased “Truth”
The dynamic of adoption is often described as a “triad,” with 3 sides representing the birth (or first) parents, adoptive parents, and adopted child. By and large, anti-adoption groups have vilified both adoptive parents and the agencies that mediate the placements.
Recently, however, the attack has expanded to birth parents as well: Under the “Unsealed Initiative,” adult adoptees and others are lobbying government agencies in New York and other states (successfully, in Toronto) to release sealed birth records in order to gain access to the identities of birth parents who may not desire contact, and who were promised anonymity upon relinquishment. In the minds of the adult adoptees, the “best interest of the child” trumps all – when in fact the “child” is no longer a child, but an adult whose “right to know” is no more important than the other party’s right to privacy.
This growing trend is even more alarming, given the unabashed pro-abortion stance of the Obama administration. Women in crisis pregnancies who are considering adoption may have second thoughts when faced with the very real possibility that their “past” may come knocking on their door twenty or thirty years hence, disrupting their lives with demands and recriminations. Unless the records are truly sealed with a “suite lock” – one that can be opened only by mutual consent – the real danger is that these “unwanted” children will simply be aborted.
Catholic Anti-Adoption Advocates
Recently I was appalled to discover that these “anti-adoption advocates” are making inroads even in Catholic publications. Last September the National Catholic Register ran this article (accessed through my EMN blog) by self-professed “anti-adoption advocate” Melinda Selmys, who writes about encountering teenage adoptees who were acting out – though the adoptive parents were “kind and loving people.”
Rather than consider the real possibility that the teens had been damaged by circumstances that led up to the adoption, or that adoption may indeed have been their best chance at a bright future, or that these kids were just like others teens who have difficulties making the transition into adulthood, Selmys concludes that the adoption itself was the true source of the problem. She writes:
Healing the Wounded Heart
Now, much of what Ms. Selmys says sounds reasonable. Foster and adoptive parents are well aware that our children have challenges and issues originating with their “first families” – behavioral, mental, emotional, and medical among them. Sometimes it’s genetic. Other times challenges come from the child’s pre-adoptive environment. Not a blank slate … a heart wounded by bad choices and negative impulses of broken people.
It is also true that no adoptive environment is “perfect” – just as no parent is perfect. Ideally, children thrive best when they are raised by their natural parents, joined for life in the sacrament of matrimony. Sadly, as a society we have fallen woefully short of this ideal, and the only question that remains is how to mitigate the damage inflicted on innocent young lives.
There are situations in which adoption is truly the best (though not perfect) choice: Children born to young teens (especially those who have neither the inner resources nor long-term support system necessary to parent); children of parents with unresolved substance abuse or domestic violence issues; and children of abusive and neglectful parents. In each of these cases, little wounded hearts heal best when they are no longer in close proximity to the source of the pain. Sadly, this can mean removing children from birth parents voluntarily or (when parents demonstrate neither the willingness nor the inclination to fix their own messes and put the children’s needs first) involuntarily.
Adoption gives children wounded by the choices of their first parents a second chance to heal. Granted, it does not completely shield the child from the consequences of her first parents’ choices. There is no way to shield the child entirely – that is the nature of sin. On the other hand, pressuring unwed teenage mothers (and other at-risk mothers) to keep their babies even when they are demonstrably not capable of parenting produces more difficulties than it resolves – down the line, when adoption is no longer a viable option.
Adoption, the “Pro-Life” Option
The sad reality is that the older the child, the smaller the pool of potential adoptive parents. In the U.S. today, more than 500,000 children are in need of temporary or permanent homes … the vast majority are part of larger sibling groups, special needs, or “older” (age four or more).
Because the pain of adoption is real, the adoption choice represents true self-sacrifice on all sides of the adoption triad: Birth parents put the best interests of the child ahead of their own needs, adoptive parents agree to invest themselves entirely in a young life they did not bring into the world. The child may also suffer in ways they cannot fully understand until they are much older – and may have difficulties accepting even then. And yet, when the choice is literally life and death, this kind of self-sacrifice is the pathway to hope … if we allow it.
Will these mothers come to regret their choice? Undoubtedly there will be times when they will wonder if they could have chosen differently. They may yearn to re-establish contact with that child – and should be able to leave the door open for this, should the child (ideally, with the blessings of the adoptive parent) seek her out. But as with many significant choices in life, once the choice is made we cannot see clearly “the road not taken”; because of the unknown variables that stem from that choice, it is illusory at best. We can only learn from our choices, and move on.
On the other hand, through adoption (even open adoption, in which the birth parents maintain a level of contact after the placement), a child is helped to make the most of their own natural giftings and eradicate the worst of their natural weaknesses. The birth parent is then able to tend to his or her needs without inflicting even greater damage on the innocent. And the adoptive parents are presented with an opportunity to invest their lives in a way that produces rich spiritual fruit in the life of parent and child alike.
In Search of the “Phantom Parent”
Books such as The Adoption Mystique, by anti-adoption advocate Joanne Wolf Small, MSW, remind us that some children never completely recover from the losses of adoption – no matter how much love and attention they are given. The sense of abandonment can run deep, and visions of “real” mom and dad can tantalize even the most outwardly accommodating child – especially those in the throes of adolescence and into young adulthood, when the natural desire to separate from Mom and Dad is most powerful, and the quest for identity strongest.
While the release of some information – such as medical histories – has objective value, and could be released without depriving the first parents of their right to privacy, it is imperative that the concerns of all three sides of the adoption triad be given equal weight. Birth parents have the right to remain anonymous (unless they choose to relinquish that right); adoptive parents have the right to raise their child without undue interference; the adopted child has the right to a safe and nurturing environment. The adult adopted child has the rights of any adult – but not access to the confidential records of other private citizens.
In the section entitled “Anti-Adoption Media Bias,” Ms. Small offers a revealing quote from “The San Francisco Examiner” (1999, February 22):
“Anguish is everywhere in the adoption equation …. The birth mother … adoptive parents …. Adopted children haunted by phantom birth parents who, they may feel “abandoned” them – beings … they cannot know. Phantom limbs on the family tree (par 10).
At age eleven, my younger sister experienced phantom pains when her leg was amputated. The nerves at the amputation site, which connected the missing leg to the brain, did not immediately die. And yet, Chris did not to let the amputation define her or limit her in any way, and in time these pains diminished. She became first a cheerleader, then a wife and mother. If she had chosen to concentrate on the pain – instead of healing – she would be a very different person today.
I realized just how complete the healing had been when, a few years ago, an over-zealous “street healer” offered to pray for her leg to grow back and she refused. “When I get to heaven, I’m going to get my leg back – and you better believe I’m looking forward to that. But right now, for whatever reason, this is God’s plan for me, and I’m going to accept it. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself – I’m going to live.”
Wise words that can be applied to many situations – including adoption. The “phantom pain” of adoption must be acknowledged – and yet, reunification may not always be possible or even desirable. The adopted child must recognize the reality of the adoption triad; each part of the triangle of birth parent/adoptive parent/adopted child has both rights and responsibilities, some of which cannot be assumed by the child until he or she becomes an adult.
It is in adulthood that many children – adopted and biological alike – discover something essential to their future happiness: Some things in life are chosen for us by the adults in our lives, based on the information at hand, which have both positive and negative repercussions. If we continue to blame our parents for those choices, we remain in a state of “arrested adolescence” and keep ourselves from realizing our God-given potential. This is true of adult children of adoption – and of many other children, too.
We cannot change history; we can only acknowledge and learn from it, grieve our losses, forgive those who have hurt us … and move forward. The loss adopted children experience is real – just as my sister’s loss was real, and she had to work through those feelings, the loss was necessary if she was to survive. This is the story of adoption: a story of painful choices made in the present, in order to secure a better future.
Copyright 2008 Heidi Hess Saxton
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