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.
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.
Broken Bonds: The undeniable connection between slavery and adoption
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
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