If the curiosity were not natural and normal, genealogists would be out of work, the Ellis Island website would not exist, adopted people would not be hankering for their original birth certificates. Everyone, at some level, desires to know who we are, how come we exist today, what our stories were before we were born. Only someone who has put on blinders to stifle this need denies such basic questions of identity.
I have one acquaintance who has done this--after going so far to hire a searcher but pulled back before he completed the search--and adoption, surrrender, et cetera is something we simply do not talk about. We did once, after she learned who I was--someone who had given up a child. I like her, we have many shared interests, but we can never be truly close. We will remain friends as a foursome--two couples, and we two women will not stray beyond those bounds. Not because she's missing a piece of her identity, but because she choose to shut down this part of her, and because I believe she does not want to be too close to me either. So be it.
Second, there is long story in the New York Times (9/8/09) about single women in South Korea who keep their babies (Group Resists Korean Stigma for Mothers on Their Own) have bonded together to give each other the support society denies them. The Korean society descrbied sounds very much like the one I had my daughter in back in 1966:
Societal pressure drives thousands of unmarried women to choose between abortion, which is illegal but rampant, and adoption, which is considered socially shameful but is encouraged by the government. The few women who decide to raise a child alone risk a life of poverty and disgrace.Okay, abortion was hard to come by in this country in 1966 unless you had a connection or were wealthy. I was neither connected nor wealthy. But how does the South Korean government treat these women today who keep their babies, how does it show an actual preference for adoption?
The government pays a monthly allowance of $85 per child tho those who adopt children. It offers half that for single mothers of dependent children.The single mothers also have trouble finding jobs, and one woman said that she was turned down eight times, and each time that a company learned she was an unmarried mother, they accused her of dishonesty. The story in the Times did not shy away from the brutality of giving up a child. As one woman who chose to keep her baby said:
My brother said: "How can you be so selfish? You can't do this to our parents," said Ms. Choi Hyong-sook, 37, a hairdresser in Seoul. "But when the adoption agency took my baby away, I felt as if I had thrown him into the trash. It felt as if the earth had stopped turning. I persuaded them to let me reclaim my baby after five days."Yet some women persist, and they have found a champion in seemingly the most unlikely of persons: Richard Boas, an ophthalmologist from Connecticut who adopted a Korean girl in 1988. He said he was helping other Americans adopt foreign children when he visited a social service agency in South Korea in 2006 and began rethinking his "rescue and savior mentality." He encountered a roomful of pregnant single women, all around 20 years old. "I looked around and asked myself why these mothers were all giving up their kids," he said. His aha! moment led him to start the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, which lobbies for better welfare services from the state. A Korean-born adoptee who grew up in Minnesota had this to say:
What we see in South Korea today is discrimination against natural mothers and favoring of adoption at the government level," said Jane Jeong Trenka, 37, who now leads Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea, one of two groups organized by Korean adoptees who have returned to their homeland to advocate for the rights of adoptees and unwed mothers. "Culture is not an excuse to abuse human rights."Well, after reading that statement I wanted to cheer. Can we get these two on talk shows to reach out to the celebrity crowd (Madonna, Katherine Heigl, Angelina, to name a few) who seem to think they can save the world by adopting from poor countries? (See 73Adoptee for her thoughts on the Heigl adoption.) and all the people who follow their example.
The story from South Korea reminded me of sharing a bus to the airport in Pittsburgh after the kinship and identity conference two years ago with a Korean adoptee, a PhD candidate here in the United States. She was clearly conflicted about having been torn away from her culture halfway around the world, for the poetry she read the night before at the conference was not celebrating her happiness and bliss about being raised in a foreign land. Quite the opposite. That sunny Sunday morning she was irritated, she said, because the program for creative works such as poetry, prose and film was scheduled late in the evening and held in one of the more distant buildings, pretty much guaranteeing that it would be poorly attended. In fact, the only people who were present were a handful of adoptees, their friends and partners, and ALL the birth mothers (uh, that would be three of us by then, as one had already left) at the entire conference, as the overwhelming participation was of adoptive-mother-academics. They were most interested (or in many cases, only interested) in the kinship their adopted children formed with their new, imposed culture, that of the academic adopter. Everyone was at least marginally polite, but I did feel like a stranger in a strange land there. The academics did not seek me out. I was more of a...um, pariah. But I digress.
What will it take to educate the world that coercing women--through culture pressure, through financial incentives, through some Christian group out to "save the children"--that giving up their children leads not to the warm and fuzzy outcome trumpeted today? Certainly not conferences like that. Certainly not the programs on television such as Adoption Diaries where teary prospective adoptive parents "thank" the young woman who bore a child for her great "gift" as she hands over her baby.
Gift, my eye. Giving a gift should not lead to a lifetime of sorrow and regret of the giver. And unless we are some kind of new senseless automatons, without emotions, that is the outcome.
I cannot rewrite my personal history; I can never have my daughter back, and now, she is dead. But I can rail against the spreading of the lie that giving up a child is a good deed because it makes someone else happy. For two of the parties involved, adoption is always painful.