The Huffington Post headline last week was certainly catching, to say the least: Abducted Versus Adopted: For 1.5 Million of U.S. Adoptees, What’s the Difference? The article by adult adoptee Jennifer Lauck, author of the adoption memoir Found, likened US domestic adoptions to the case of Carlina White, the 23 year old woman who was kidnapped from a hospital in 1987 when she was 19 days old, raised by the woman who abducted her, and recently reunited with her parents.
Children don’t always get an ideal adoption
Ms. Lauck believes her adoption was similar to an abduction. She writes: “My mother, seventeen-years-old, was told she had no legal right to keep me. The Catholic agency who facilitated the adoption also told my mother that, with their help, a good family would raise me. The doctor who delivered me told my mother she would not be a good mother and would not allow her to hold or even see me when I was born.” Ms. Lauck’s adoptive mother was ill and died when she was seven; her adoptive father died when she was nine. Although she doesn’t describe in the article her subsequent growing up years, they apparently were pretty dismal.
Ms. Lauck doesn’t deserve what happened to her. She, like every child, deserved to be valued and nurtured by parents who are emotionally, physically, and financially able to care for a child and to love that child unconditionally. This didn’t happen to her and from this article (I haven’t read her memoir) it appears that she blames adoption. She may be right.
There is no universal adoption experience
She takes it a step further, however, and that’s where I disagree. She extrapolates from the tragedy that happened to her, to all adoptions. If I have learned one thing from the interviews I’ve done over the years with adult and teen adoptees it is that there is no one universal adoption experience. This makes perfectly good sense to me since there is no one universal human.
For example, the following letter was printed in the Dear Abby column in Dec, 2010:
DEAR ABBY: I would like to say something to my mother, but the truth is I don’t know who my biological mother is. I was adopted when I was a baby. I have looked for her online over the years, but have yet to find her. I have asked myself many times what I’d say to her if I met her. Because I know it may never happen, I’m asking you to print my message:
“Mama, I don’t know the circumstances of my birth, and I don’t really care. All I know is that two loving parents adopted me and helped to shape me into the person I am. Today I am a successful professional with a loving spouse and wonderful children, to whom I try to give the best. I imagine that is what you wanted to do for me. Therefore, I have decided that I don’t really need to find you and say, ‘Thank you. You made a good choice. I am doing fine and I love you.'” — HER THANKFUL SON
Thankful Son’s experience is no more valid than is Ms. Lauck’s. Each adoptee will experience life and adoption in a different way. It’s the nature of being human. It is also human nature to assume that our experience is universal. It is not.
Focusing on living
A few years ago, I interviewed a 34 year old woman adopted from Korea as a toddler. She said the following:
I hear of some adult adoptees that are angry that they were adopted. This is not my experience, but I try to understand where they are coming from. It’s hard not knowing your own history. This can create a feeling of always having to prove your self-worth. Also, not everyone was adopted into a nurturing loving family that was willing to love unconditionally. I think the angry outcry of these adoptees is a cry for attention and validation. They get a lot of attention because they vent their hurt publicly. The reason that the rest of us “contented adoptees” [said with air quotes] don’t get as much attention is that we are busy living our lives. We’re not focused on the past and playing the blame game. We’re focused on living.
The importance of acknowledging the negative
Her point about validation is important. For many years, adoption professionals and adoptive parents minimized the negative experiences of some adoptees and first mothers. We believe so much that adoption can and should be a positive experience that is it hard to hear that it isn’t always so. It’s also hard to live with the knowledge that our joy is built on someone else’s pain. Because even when adoption is clearly in the child’s and the first parent’s best interest, it is still painful.
Those of us who care about kids and care about adoption as one option for children have an obligation to hear—really hear—all the experiences, the good and the bad. We also have an obligation to do all in our power to make sure that expectant woman who are considering an adoption plan know of all their options and are fully supported with counseling when making this decision; that poor families in foreign countries have options other than adoption when struggling financially or emotionally; and that adoptive families are fully screened and educated pre and post adoption.
Ms. Lauck laments that we “have sanctioned adoption as a moral act and have given it legal and even religious support.” She cries out that she and her mother “are two of hundreds of thousands of separated mothers and children who struggle in near silence to regain dignity, identity and wholeness. There is no justice surrounding our story and even less recognition of the injustice done.” At the very least, we can hear her cries and recognize that an injustice was indeed done.
Image credit: missmonet