' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why Is Adoption Like Slavery?

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Why Is Adoption Like Slavery?


When adoption reformers such as myself make the connection between adoption and slavery, some people--adoptive parents in particular--get very upset. I can understand their objection. When I made the connection the other day in an earlier post, we received a couple of comments objecting.

After all, adoption is not slave labor, incarceration, and inhumane treatment, though such troubling adoption stories do bubble up now and then--as they do with biological children. But slavery involves the buying and selling of human beings against their will. Slavery treats the slaves as lesser human beings, not entitled to free will. Adoption is not like that, right?

But save slavery, there is no other contract in the world in which two parties (the birth/first mother and the state) enter into which so affects and controls the current and future status of a third party--the one who is adopted--without any input from her or him. The contract between the birth mother and the state destroys the legal and real identity of the individual in most states for all eternity. The contract does not have a term limit, nor can it be changed when the adopted individual becomes an adult. The state upholds the contract, considers it a legal document that must take precedence over any desires of the third party, the one about whom the contract was written. How is this not like slavery?

If the third party, the individual over whom the contract is made, was older and could speak at the time the contract was drawn up, is it likely she or he would knowingly and willingly agree to this state of affairs? That a contract be made over them in which they have no say-so? That such a contract is made, how is that contract not similar to slavery?

International adoption further perpetuates the slavery model, as the child is taken from one's culture and brought to a new and different one, again, without ever being asked if this is what they want because they are too young to be questioned. From various sources, we have become aware that many children from poor countries are outright kidnapped and sold to unscrupulous adoption brokers who run agencies that make the transfer of child to new parents--sometimes with forged DNA documents, with fake release papers from first mothers, or none at all--seem like an act of kindness and good will, when it fact the child transfer is nothing but legalized kidnapping. This is not in all cases, but in enough cases that all who want to adopt from poor nations, where kidnapping and child-selling is common, should be suspicious of young, healthy babies and toddlers "available" to be adopted. As it is now, poorer countries, in effect, have become child mills for an industry that is rife with corruption. Even a single child that is bartered for money is one too many. Would-be adoptive parents should read Mirah Ribin's excellent book, The Stork Market.

As I write this I can hear the agitations of many adoptive parents who have adopted children from foreign countries. I know many such parents, as regular readers know, and we have such adoptive parents as readers here at Birth Mother, First Mother Forum. The ones I personally know are good, loving parents doing their best by their children.

Certainly the homes they provide, and the love they give, are nothing like the conditions of slavery, but I ask you to isolate that and simply look at the contract through which such a child is transferred from one situation to another. That contact is not unlike the contract that bound slaves brought to this country against their wills. The only difference is, the child is a child and can not speak for him or herself.

To those who have adopted in their own country, can you not see how the contract is, at bottom, on a par with a contract that kept a man bound? Closed adoption contracts as they are written today, and open-adoption contracts that have no force of law, intellectually and emotionally bind the third party, and deny that individual right equal to the rest of us: that is, the right to know who one was at birth. I take this to be an indelible and basic right that is the hallmark of a free man.

First mothers are always asked to be mindful of the feelings of adoptive parents; the culture and our own proclivities hammers this into us. Legislators are sometimes sympathetic to first mothers, but only to the ones who would stay anonymous from their children--the very ones who entered into this inhumane contract with an unthinking government. Those of us out of the closet who argue that the contracts under which our children were adopted are abhorrent and should be abolished are looked upon as aberrant. So since we make the attempt to be mindful of your feelings, can you not understand our rhetoric too?


And so I say again, until all adoptions are completely "open," and that tenant of the contract legally enforced, adoption contracts unequivocally and completely control the fate of a third party who was never asked to be part of such a bad bargain. In their own way, these adoption contracts are pacts of indenture, agreements that perpetuate emotional and psychological enslavement of a person who was never consulted. Like the imagery or not, this is a form of slavery.

--lorraine


PS: Some comments to the previous post further discussed here were inadvertently rejected. And as to the question of whether an editor has the right to make "contrarian" choices and publish in "anti-reunion" story, as did editor Lesley Jane Seymour at some unnamed magazine, we of First Mother Forum have a right to voice an opinion when she makes light of our plight and uses that as a way to self-aggrandize herself. We do not aim to please all here. We aim to air our opinions.

Furthermore, to those who ask, her letter to the editor in the current (June.2009) issue of More magazine made no further mention of adoptee-birth mother reunions. The last point I would make is that when one writes an essay whose point is "why I don't want to meet my birth parents," it sets down the concept as final. I have heard too many stories of adopted people later changing their minds and embarking on searches for their first parents to buy such a story without questioning it. My own daughter's brother for years insisted that he did not want to search; later, when he was married and about to have children, he did.
____________________
FROM FMF:
Broken Bonds: The undeniable connection between slavery and adoption

READING
Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery 
After the Civil War, African Americans placed poignant "information wanted" advertisements in newspapers, searching for missing family members. Inspired by the power of these ads, Heather Andrea Williams uses slave narratives, letters, interviews, public records, and diaries to guide readers back to devastating moments of family separation during slavery when people were sold away from parents, siblings, spouses, and children. Williams explores the heartbreaking stories of separation and the long, usually unsuccessful journeys toward reunification. 


"[A] fine new book. . . . A broadly ranging study. . . . Help Me to Find My People. . . provides opportunities for remembering that the continued existence of slavery for centuries depended on whites learning to rationalize guilty feelings by pretending (or even believing) that African Americans did not feel family separations deeply."--Women's Review of Books 
 ORDER BY CLICKING ON TITLE OR BOOK JACKET
 

23 comments :

  1. Lorraine, my apologies if this got posted twice.

    “Slavery treats the slaves as lesser human beings, not entitled to free will. Adoption is not like that, right?”

    I think you're conflating a bunch of things. I'm not especially offended or upset, by the way. It's a really interesting idea. If you want to call me a slave owner, go ahead. I've been called worse.

    Slavery is one person being owned by another person. This, unfortunately, is the natural state of childhood. All children are some to degree held in bondage by their parents. The law says so, society says so, and religion says so. Formerly, children were chattel, the property of their parents (probably their fathers, actually). It may be crappy and lots of bad things happen to children because of their lack of power but it's reality. No child has input into anything of consequence unless his or her parent decides he or she may. Moreover, the fundamental powerlessness of child affects all, whether bio- or adopted.

    Since children are not able to exercise their free will in such matters, natural parents are supposed to be exercising theirs during adoption. The way adoption is practised frequently falls short of this purpose, but this does not equate adoption with slavery.

    The corruption you mention that has seeped into international adoption is real and egregious, but this too does not equate adoption with slavery. Baby-buying, trafficking, kidnapping—all are bad; all should be exposed and outlawed. But they are what they are. They don't need to be made any worse by calling them slavery.

    I agree with you that the right to know oneself and one's origins is a basic human right. The fragmentary information I have for Simone about herself isn't much to go on but one day maybe we will obtain more. Luckily, neither she nor I has to live with a forged birth certificate. There simply is none. I would argue, however, that the forged birth certificate definitely represents a kind of crime (though not enslavement). It's the crime of doctored history for the purpose of maintaining a new fiction. Cannot be justified in any way.

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  2. I raised the slavery thing with one of my raised daughters and I got the "you're nuts" response. Definitely people do not see the profound loss in adoption.

    When I was a graduate student at Duke University in 1964-65, idealistic northern students tried to convince the black workers who cleaned our dorms, served our food, and so on to support civil rights. The workers usually ignored the would be do-gooders but occasionally a black worker would object to the meddling and assert that things were just fine. It may have appeared so for these black workers because they had steady jobs, decent pay for a black person in the South, and made extra money doing chores for white students like ironing their clothes. To these workers, civil rights was a pipe dream that would not happen and agitating for civil rights would only jeopardize what they had.

    Similarly, many women opposed the women's rights movement of the 70's. I think adoptees who are vocal about opposing searching are sort of the Phyllis Schlafly's of the adoptee rights movement. These adoptees may feel, but don’t admit, that searching would only antagonize their adoptive parents or worse destroy their adoptive families without any guarantee that they would find their birth families or be welcomed if they did find them.

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  3. Perhaps mine was one of those posts that were inadvertently lost.
    My objection was based on the way you equated the adoptee in question with a slave who was opposed to emancipation - simply because that adoptee did not want, at that time, to meet her first mother. Which, I'm sure you'll agree, is not at all the same as saying that there aren't parallels that can be drawn between adoption and slavery. However, parallels are one thing. Equivalency is another. 'Like' implies more than just parallels.

    What makes adoption and slavery different is that slavery is abuse per se, whereas adoption is open to abuse. Closed records are, IMO, the most egregious of these abuses, and the one that underlies most of what is wrong with adoption today.
    However, in most other respects, adoption is not 'like' slavery at all. An important difference difference between slaves and adult adoptees is that the latter are afforded all the other rights of citizenship.
    If this were not so, adoptees would not be allowed to lobby to change the laws.
    A slave, on the other hand, is a slave is a slave is a slave.
    I think it must be distressing for those whose forebears were indeed slaves, in the full sense of the word, to hear adoption compared to that condition.

    The ethical doctrine of anticipated consent is an important aspect of human rights. But it applies not only to those children who could and should have been successfully raised by their biological parents, but also to those who, where it not for adoption, would otherwise have no family.
    If children who need homes can be matched up with loving and honest prospective adopters who want to raise them, both parties benefit.
    It's not a 'saviour' or a 'better than' thing.
    It's commonsense.
    Clearly, the first choice for anyone would be to be raised within their natural family.
    But where that is not possible I find it hard to believe that *most* people wouldn't opt, given the choice between being raised in an institution or being adopted into a suitable family, to choose the latter.

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  4. The fact that I cannot reclaim my biological identity now that I am an adult adoptee, is saying that my adoptive parents bought the copyright to me.

    I should be able as an adult to go to the vital records department and be handed a copy of my original birth certificate. I should be able to reclaim that identity and seal the fictional "amended" one.

    Adoptees are treated as "goods" and our rights aren't equal to non-adoptees in 44 out of 50 states.

    Slavery is treating other human being as "goods". Just because there are no visible chains around my ankles, doesn't mean that I'm not bound in someone else's biological family aka my "forever family".

    I want what every non-adoptee has: my original birth certificate. My heritage, my ethnicity, my biological history are mine and no one has the right to take that away from me or any other human being.

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  5. "It's not a 'saviour' or a 'better than' thing. It's commonsense."

    Agreed.

    Here's a portion of my post I left out because it seemed to be going off-track.

    A little thing you seem to gloss over now and then is the kid sitting in the orphanage. I'm not talking about the one whose parents visit. I'm talking about a truly abandoned youngster or someone with an unfit parent. There is no social remedy to reduce this number of children to zero. Adoption in this instance--in addition to longer-term solutions--is actually the only ethical alternative. This means that your comparision of adoption to slavery applies in this instance too, where openness may not be possible, at least, not at first. Is it apt? I say not. I doubt that most people would say it is.

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  6. I can't help but wonder, if as an adoptee I went around saying, "My (first) mother sold me into slavery" if you would not take exception to that.

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  7. All children are some to degree held in bondage by their parents.

    "BUT" WHEN THESE CHILDREN BECOME ADULTS THEY HAVE RIGHTS, THAT AODPTEE'S DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASSOCIATE AS AN ADULTS

    ADOPTEES AREN'T AFFORDED THIS RIGHT, IT WAS TAKEN FROM THEM AT THE TIME OF ADOPTION.

    Natural parents exercising free will in adoption?

    Coercion and fraud in adoption is obvious, when the lawyers that represent, the adopters, and the natural mother, just who do you think will get the best representaion there?

    When vital information is witheld from mothers, telling them just what their rights are, I had this happen to me, social worker, was not working in my behalf. Just as those who adopt get representation, and criminals, get representation SO should mothers, they should have every right to an attorney.

    Corruption, is anywhere, where there is someone making a buck off of another human being, hmmm, sounds like slavery to me, buying and selling human flesh, to highest bidder, without the third party agreeing to anything.

    adoption is corrupt when records are changed to make truth, a lie, and altered records, become truth.

    Anytime, another human is used for the purpose of making money, that is a form of slavery. It binds the individual to something or someone without any choice, in the matter, thats why there shouldn't be any sealing of the true records, and falsifying of the new records.

    some kind of crime? sealing records, should be a criminal act, but only in adoption money speaks and our legislatures listen, even when adoptee's grow up...

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  8. Anonymous--oooooh, there you are again. Please read my post more carefully.

    Indeed, it is in how adoption is practised that it fails. It is practised in a way that invites panic, coercion, hasty decision-making. None of that leads to especially great outcomes. This does still not equate adoption with slavery; this says adoption needs to be reformed.

    My last paragraph touched on what I considered to be the worst aspect of adoption--the inability of adoptees to access their real birth certificates and facts surrounding their birth and relinquishment. Still, this does not equate to slavery. I suggested it was akin to another crime, though. Do I accept this? Clearly not.

    Slavery is not just *treating* people as goods. Slavery is the institution that allows people to capture, hold, and purchase other human beings, force them into slave labour, and deprive them of civil rights. Your comparison of adoption to slavery is offensive in the extreme and so is every other instance of this comparison on this blog. Nobody is disputing the very real problems with adoption. It's too bad y'all had to go here.

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  9. And I realize I just contradicted myself. Now I'm offended.

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  10. Osolomama raises the question: What about the kid sitting in the orphanage, a truly abandoned youngster or someone with an unfit parent? Most of the children in this situation are not adopted but end up in long term foster care which does not provide security or permanence.

    The best answer for all children whose natural family cannot care for them is guardianship. A guardianship is a court (judge) supervised arrangement where a mature adult (preferable a close relative) assumes the responsibility of raising a child. The child retains his name and identity and may have contact with birth relatives. Court records are open and no amended birth certificate is prepared. In the event the guardianship is unsatisfactory for some reason, the court can terminate it or place the child with a different guardian.

    We don't hear about guardianships over children much these days but in the past that was the way people with means assured care for their children if they were unable to care for them, usually through death. I understand guardianships are more common in Australia which has very few domestic adoptions.

    Informal child care arrangements have, of course, existed for thousands of years. Adoption is a modern invention created in the mid-1800's to assure that children placed with non-bio families were treated fairly and had inheritance rights (as if born to the family). Severing the bond with the birth family as an element of adoption is a recent invention, developed in the mid-20th century, primarily to assure adoptive parents that the child would be theirs, and only theirs. Since obliterating natural parents have proved impossible, the adoption industry has created open adoptions, which allows limited contact between natural parents and their child but retains many aspects of closed adoptions including amended birth certificates.

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  11. Analogies to ultimate evil are almost always inapt. Bush, as bad as he was, was never "like Hitler." Even Saddam Hussein was not "like Hitler." The mechanic who overcharged me on car repair did not "rape me." 9/11 was not "like the Holocaust."

    The greatest injury from these analogies is not loss of credibility for the analogizer (which is a real danger!), but in diminishing the evil of Hitler, rape, the Holocaust, and slavery.

    If every bad thing (and many things about adoption are bad, including closed records) is compared to slavery, we diminish the horror of slavery. Diminishing that horror -- slavery is only as bad as adoption? -- allows the horror to flourish.

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  12. I doubt guardianship would be a plausible solution for society at large.

    I'd like to take note of what Joy said:

    "I can't help but wonder, if as an adoptee I went around saying, "My (first) mother sold me into slavery" if you would not take exception to that."

    Interestingly enough people do not see my mother in me. They see my adoptive mom only. If I were to say anything bad about my adoptive mom, I'd get scolded. I'd be told that I should be appreciative that she wanted to raise me.

    IF, however, I were to say anything negative about my TAIWAN Mom, people will agree. People will jump and say "Yes that is right, she is a bad person because she gave you up, she is a 'less than' person becaues she does not live in a 1st-world country, she is a 'less than' mother because she did not raise you."

    They will not want to "defend" my Taiwan mother - only seek for the fastest way to pass on judgment.

    Sadly, even though my adoptive mom has always been supportive and respectful, she even seems to think that my upbringing in Canada was better than anything or anyone could have given me in Taiwan. It's subconsciously hidden, but it's there, primarily in the e-mails.

    Eg. This is where I got that impression from...

    Me: *uploads the pictures of their district*
    Mom: Where is that?
    Me: The street nearby their home.
    Mom: Ohhh... please don't venture out on your own yet. Please please!!
    Me: I want to go out and buy food, explore.
    Mom: Well I don't like the looks of the street.
    Me: ... what's wrong with it?

    Later, online:

    Me: Mom says she doesn't like the way the street looks. What's up with that?
    Dad: Because it's not [our address]. (Translation: It's not 1st world.)
    Me: ... it's just a freaking street.
    Dad: But it's not [our street]. Just - don't mind her. She'll get over it.

    Subconscious white privilege, folks.

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  13. we may be writintg to the converted here, sort of thing, but please see the unicef approved link >

    http://about-orphans.blogspot.com

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  14. Guardianships are a great idea but they cannot entirely replace adoption. A guardianship would not likely ever be an option in a country where children are being clandestinely abandoned, for example. Moreover, guardianships end at 18. But the other interesting thing about these arrangements is that they still give the guardian a great deal of power over the child, including the power to raise the child without interference from the parents. Redress here would involve going to court. Is this a preferable model when it comes down to it? Personally, I think just continuing to support women to keep their babies is probably the better way; adoptions are way down now in North America anyway. But none of this negates the plight of children who have no one to care for them.

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  15. (I'm so glad that the other anonymous and I agree with each other!!!!)

    ADOPTION = PROFIT FOR THE ADOPTION INDUSTRY.

    HUMANS FOR PROFIT = SLAVERY.

    IDENTITIES ERASED = SLAVERY.

    TREATED AS A LESSER CITIZEN = SLAVERY.

    TREATED LIKE WE SHOULD BE GRATEFUL = LAUGHABLE.

    HUMAN BEINGS TREATED LIKE CHATTEL = INHUMANITY AKA ADOPTION.

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  16. Jane said, "I think adoptees who are vocal about opposing searching are sort of the Phyllis Schlafly's of the adoptee rights movement."

    Well, yes, but as far as I can see this wasn't about an adoptee who actively opposed searching. It was about an adoptee who said she didn't want to meet her mother. There is no indication that it was anything other than personal inclination. Or that she felt others should share her sentiments. There simply isn't enough information to pass judgment.

    While my own feeling is that both parties do have an ethical obligation to the other (especially mother towards child) when it comes to contact, there can be no compulsion and I don't think it should be assumed that because someone feels this way about meeting that they always will.

    Anyway, I simply do not accept that an individual's reluctance to search or meet is analogous to having a slave mentality.

    I have heard many mothers make allowances for other mothers who resist meeting their children - that they are traumatized, dissociated afraid of revealing their history to their family, etc.
    I don't see why the same kind of latitude shouldn't be extended towards adoptees.

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  17. Malinda wrote:"If every bad thing (and many things about adoption are bad, including closed records) is compared to slavery, we diminish the horror of slavery. Diminishing that horror -- slavery is only as bad as adoption? -- allows the horror to flourish."

    I agree. Adoption has some things in common with slavery as Lorraine has written, but it is not the same or equivalent, as Kippa points out, and comparing the two more often ends dialogue than advances it.

    Jane said her daughter thought it was "nuts" to equate adoption with slavery. This is a common reaction, and it is one that is followed by dismissing the very real problems with adoption. If something is nuts, exaggerated, compared to something much worse, the whole idea that adoption is problematic gets dismissed. Equating adoption to slavery does not lead to understanding of adoptee rights, or of what is really wrong with adoption. People just stop listening and angrily dismiss the speaker and her cause.

    Adoption is not really just like slavery, or the Holocaust, or murder. Adoption as it is practiced is bad, but it is not the worst that human beings can do to each other. A sense of scale and proportion is needed to be able to convince those not involved with adoption that we have legitimate complaints and a just cause. Hyperbole does not help.

    Shocking comparisons may seem clever and feel righteous, but they do not educate or persuade.

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  18. Do I believe adoption is slavery? Yes I do. This is why. Infants are bought by families that cannot give birth to their own biological children. The next step to is buy an infant and pretend it is theirs. The child is a product of slavery because he/she does not have his/her family name. The name is changed by the adults that purchased the child. Non-kinship adoption is now illegal in Austrailia, and hopefully the world will eventually mature to the point in time in which keeping family's together will be more important than buying children that do not have any right to decide who they are. Adoptees are living a lie.

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  19. Anon, Jan, 2013,
    Is that true, that non-kinship adoption is now illegal down under?

    I'd be pleased if that were true.

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  20. I'm an adoptee and I've made the same comparison and I agree with it fully.

    I see a lot of people protesting under the grounds that in an ideal world it would not have these questionable elements (such as forging of papers, transfers of money especially in large amounts, lies). That might be so but we do not live in an ideal world. We must judge based on what the situation *is*, not based on what we *wish* it was.

    The fact that adoptees could've, would've, should've had better rights does not at all detract from the fact that most still do not have those rights and few States show any sign of changing things.

    The fact that adoption shouldn't and couldn't [under law] bypass parents rights and exchange large sums of money doesn't change the fact that it's been widely known practice for agencies to do this for the last couple decades.

    And while many insist that these events exist on the fringes of the adoption spectrum, it seems to be all evidence to the contrary. While no one can ever say conclusively that all adoption is bad nor will anyone ever have a complete picture of global adoption statistics...there is a preponderance of evidence that there is something very very wrong in a very large portion of adoptions. And when you really start to dig you begin to see that a very large portions of adoptions did not need to occur and occurred purely because of legal technicalities or misandrist laws lobbied for by adoption lobbyists.

    Remember, *most* of the worst human atrocities in history were done under the banner of 'civilized legality'.

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  21. ...the abolition practically of the parental relation, robbing the offspring of the care and attention of his parents, severing a relation which is universally cited as the emblem of the relation sustained by the Creator to the human family. And yet, according to the matured judgment of these slave States, this guardianship of the parent over his own children must be abrogated to secure the perpetuity of slavery.

    --601 F. 2d 1225 - Alma Society Incorporated v. Mellon

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  22. same cite as above:

    ...the abolition practically of the parental relation, robbing the offspring of the care and attention of his parents, severing a relation which is universally cited as the emblem of the relation sustained by the Creator to the human family. And yet, according to the matured judgment of these slave States, this guardianship of the parent over his own children must be abrogated to secure the perpetuity of slavery.

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  23. I just want to thank you for speaking out. Adoption is a type of slavery. It is about being treated as property, rather than as an autonomous being with a right to choice. Any child would choose to be with his or her mother, we are biologically programmed to do so. Adoption has taught me to be meek, subservient and to people please, to lie about my needs and to accept that my identity and needs do not matter. I don't feel I am alone. To be a concerned parent surely is about wanting to give your child confidence and security and love, and freedom. I struggle to understand how anyone can feel that taking a child by force is doing this, and I believe all babies feel they are being taken by force. Adoption is a lonely road, and to make a child walk it is not about love, it is about need, which is something else. Find a way to reach out to the parents of the child, to involve them. If you have money and they do not, why not give them some? Why not support them to support their child, have them over to tea, keep a strong and open connection, co-parent with them? Because you want a chattel, not a child. Good luck with that, it will bite you back later.

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