' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: The Adoption Contract vis a vis Slavery, Continued

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Adoption Contract vis a vis Slavery, Continued

As the movement in America (both Canada and the US) is towards open records for adoptees, running a magazine story (see previous post) that is counter to that--while edgy and gives a great cover line (I Don't Want to Meet my Birth Mother!)--is also running a story that goes against the tide. The people I've encountered who are not interested in meeting their biological families are typically somewhat antagonistic towards adopted people having the right to their original birth certificates. They are not quite neutral; they seem to find the concept somewhat threatening.

Just as would running a story about the Phyllis Schlafly ladies, or the women in Boston who organized against women getting the vote (they did!) or...running an interview with a well-cared for house slave (quite possibly the offspring of the "Massa" of the house) who might voice an opinion against emancipation (and having to find housing and sustenance) would have been counterproductive to the opposite movement, the More editor's (Lesley Jane Seymour's) aggrandizing comment in a recent issue (June, 2009) about her choice to run a tough piece about why someone would not want to meet her first mother is counterproductive to adoption reform.

Sure, everyone has a right to an opinion, and so does an editor have a right to make the choice to run an story that goes against the tide. But then, so do I have the right to point out that one has to go back to slavery to find another contract between two parties that so controls the identity of a third party for that person's entire life, as per yesterday's post. Since I have been long aware that the slavery analogy seems overblown, and thus likely to weaken one's argument, that is how I make the case when writing to legislators, that is...that you have to go back to slavery to find a contract that has power over a third party who was never asked if said contract was in their best interests for their entire lifetime. If anyone has any examples of other contracts with the same kinds of binders over third parties, please let us know at First Mother Forum.

And no, adopters are not "slave owners," and as I made abundantly clear in yesterday's post, there are huge differences between the conditions of slavery and the conditions of being an adoptee. But closed-adoption contracts that have no opt-out clause for identity disclosure of the adopted individual upon reaching the age of reason have aspects of "owning" another person, no matter how you deconstruct it.

Yes, I do mean, the age of reason. Say, eight or twelve. I am talking about letting an individual choose the right to own the information of her or his birth, no restrictions, and as soon as they are old enough to ask for it. There exists no valid reason why that right ought to be limited or restricted until one is old enough to vote. Yet as we are all aware, under the current rules, that is, the current contract adoptive parents make with the state, adopted individuals do not have the legal right to make their own decisions about this most personal of matters. The state has taken this choice away from them.

Yes, the pressures of some adoptive families upon the adopted to be "loyal" to them will cloud feelings and decisions about whether to ask for that information. This would be especially true of younger individuals. But a different contract would at least offer a choice. And adoptive parents, knowing that such would be the case, would eventually come to see the curiosity about one's roots as a natural part of growing up. It would not, and should not, be seen as a sign of disloyalty to the adoptive family.

One time when my daughter spoke of having made her adoptive parents aware from a very young age that she wanted to search for me, she added that her adopted older brother's not wanting to know was a "gift" to her adoptive parents. Later he did want to know, but as far as I am aware, was unsuccessful in his search to learn his original identity. He is now in his late forties, still bound by a contract in which he had no say-so.

Of course in cases where there is no information available...there is no information available. And no contract, or emancipation, or Adoptees Bill of Rights, can fix that.

PS: Incidentally, to those who asked, More magazine's Lesley Jane Seymour, in the same editor's letter that began this discussion, revealed that she has three children; and her picture indicates she is of the age where her friends who would have gotten pregnant by mistake would most likely have had abortions. So the likelihood of her having birth mothers in her circle is small; adopted mothers, high. To judge by my own experience in the publishing world: VERY high.)


  1. Lorraine,

    I too believe that adoptee's should have a right to know who they were born to. EVERY, human should have that right, its a human right in my opinion.

    I can remember my son telling his adopter, after she played, the stab in the heart card, the loyalty card, I didn't want him card, he DECIDED as a man who was 26 years old and able to drive, drink and go off to war for this country but not allowed to know the truth of his birth? He told his adopter she knew "her" mom and dad, of course, she wasn't adopted, but that didn't matter to her HE WAS and she thought she could control his reunion with her own selfish desires.

    I had found him, in a closed, adoption state, sealed records, and all. Thankfully, I found an adoptee who accessed vital records, paid her $250 of "blood" money and he was found in less than 4 days.

    Anyway, thank you for standing your ground on this slavery thing, it is like slavery, it hurts those bound by contracts, that abuse the rights of the individual who is caught in the middle of the contract. Although, in order for a contract to be made there has to be a meeting of the minds, between two people, I never had that meeting with anyone, no lawyers, judges or courts. Hell, I didn't even get the CONTRACT, isn't that an illegality if I WAS entering into a contract at all? Most of us know this to be true. So at almost 17 years old, I was coerced into an adoption, a contract, or meeting of the minds, without any paperwork or court room appearance. And this was good old U.SA. that's what was allowe to be done to mothers who were pregnant, without support. WE weren't even given a criminal's right to a lawyer, and as far as I knew I hadn't commmited a crime. If I had I would have had my rights, to a lawyer, a judge, paperwork, and full justice. There is not justice when it came to adoption, and no I was even interred in a maternity prison, either, can't imagine that scenario but have heard reports of the loving religious members of these homes abusing, young women, because they could.

    one more thing I would like to say to Joy and Mei Ling, seems you two think your mothers sold you into slavery, I can stake my life on it that they didn't get anything, from signing you away, just misery and pain, while others got profit and a baby over that transactions, I mean contract. yeah, right...
    I can tell you mothers DIDN'T KNOW the lifetime of pain they would be living after surrendering and you know what those who were making contracts, knew, they just didn't care after all who does adoption hurt the most the dyad mother and baby. Wonder how much money was paid for my son?

    ps and of course those involved in adopting wouldn't like the comparison I wouldn't either, but I have been compared to an unfit mom, and my son's so called mom, told him, I didn't WANT him...wonder where she got that message, by the mere fact she was able to adopt him. hello, she was one of the those that knew what happened to girls when they go pg, she being 9 years older than I, she knew, but still had to hurt him, by saying, that about me, in truth she was not so much hurting me, as she didn't KNOW if he would tell me, he did, though and I responded, not to nicely early in our reunion. For a person to say that after getting not one but two kids, that's just cruel and inhumane, just like adoption is its all about love, and finding a baby for a home. Not the other way around, a home for a baby.

  2. What I'm curious about is, has anybody actually *read* the original story, the one by the More Magazine reader who didn't want to meet her mother?
    I'd like to read it for myself, and would appreciate any suggestion on how to get hold of it. I can't find anything remotely connected on the web edition.
    Which issue is it in ?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

  3. Just today there is an article in the Toronto Star referring to our adoption law and how reunions can go bad. Again, it is interesting that the angle featured was not positive. Three adult adoptees are interviewed, all of whom successfully contacted their first mothers and within months, communication was shut down for reasons most of them couldn't pinpoint except one mother said she just couldn't tell her family. (The damned article isn't in the online addition, and I'm summarizing this from 2 minutes at the dentist's office.) One mother relinquished three kids and it was implied that she could not cope with the reunion (the siblings all found themselves first). The article ends with one adoptee, a social worker, recommending that people think hard about why they are searching and go into it with an open mind.

    I mean, it definitely wasn't a feel-good story and probably persauded some people of the value of not searching, or confirmed them in that prejudice. I wouldn't have called the article a disservice to anyone though. The adoptees interviewed were incredibly compelling.

  4. Here's the original reference
    though no leads to the actual story, which must be published somewhere else.
    'Treacly' aside, the headline, "Get out your handkerchiefs' is clearly meant to be ironic.

  5. Back to the slavery example for a minute, though. You asked for other examples of third-party contracts binding over a lifetime. Only one I could think of remotely similar would be an arranged marriage in which the wife sold off would also have few if any rights. Whether this would be literally binding over her lifetime is also an issue.

    As a parallel to slavery, I actually find that marriage in general, especially as it was practised in the past, has more in common with slavery than adoption. The particular piece of the adoption process that you are focussing on is the erasure of identity and non-consent. Here I would still argue those injustices reflect only a fraction of what's so bad about slavery (as Malinda and Maryanne pointed out) and so the example is not all that useful.

    Instead I think it might be more useful to think of the seizure of birth identity by the state as a form of totalitarianism. Totalitarian regimes are also characterized by the rewriting of history. I just think this example is less incendiary and might provoke more people to examine their actions, particularly state officials with a misplaced hang-up on privacy.

  6. There is only one person standing between adoptees and their birth certificates in New Jersey. That person is the Speaker of the Assembly, Joseph Roberts from Camden. He needs to hear from a few hundred birth parents that they have no interest in privacy. Go the the New Jersey Legislature website, and click on Joe Roberts from Camden to tell him what you think about adoptees having a right to their identity.

  7. No-one is disputing that there are parallels that can be drawn between adoption and slavery.

    But pointing out to legislators that "you have to go back to slavery to find a contract that has power over a third party who was never asked if said contract was in their best interests for their entire lifetime" is an entirely different matter from ascribing a slave mentality to an adopted person who doesn't want to meet up with her mother.
    Especially when said adoptee hasn't even had a chance to be heard.

    If you want to say that about someone, then you owe it to them to back it up your opinion with a reasoned critique of *their words*.
    Otherwise it's speculation and hearsay, and comes across as 'sound and fury, signifying nothing'.

  8. Kippa is right in that there is no indication where the original story that the editor referred to was published--in effect, it does not make any difference because we know there are always stories like that because they do make interesting reading. Not that long ago we wrote about one such story that appeared as on Op-ed in The New York Times. If anyone is interested you can probably find that by searching firstmotherforum for Ellen Ullman, who wrote the piece for the Times.

    And just as a personal note, Sunday I'm going to a brunch at a friend's house and one of the women present will be someone in her Sixties, like myself, who did a halfway search--in fact, she hired someone to find her first identity--and then pulled the plug on the search many years ago. She is someone I like and consider a friend, if not a close one, but when the discussion of adoption reform and open records came up at another event with mutual friends who are not personally involved, she was quick to add that adoptees WOULD NOT HAVE TO ASK FOR THE ORIGINAL BIRTH CERTIFICATES IF THEY DID NOT WANT TO. Caps here intended, as that was her tone and intent at the time.

    But I expect Sunday to be an adoption-free day. Hooray!

  9. I can't resist one more comment regarding adoptees who don't want to search. Paula Bernstein, the co-author of "Identical Strangers," a memoir by identical twins who were adopted by different families and learn about each other 34 years later, wrote an article for "Redbook" about searching. She stated she had no craving for biological relatives and no desire to meet her birthmother. "The way I see it, I've got enough loving friends and relatives."

    After meeting her twin, Elyse, she agrees to join her search for their mother who it turns out is deceased. At the end of the book, Bernstein writes: "When I was younger, I believed that blood connections were insignificant. But that changed after I met Elyse. I initially resisted the pull of our bond, but now it is impossible to deny."

    I've read similar statements from other adoptee memoirists -- Sarah Saffian, Katie Hern, Tim Green -- and from the many adoptees I've met through AAC, CUB, and Origins.

  10. "one more thing I would like to say to Joy and Mei Ling, seems you two think your mothers sold you into slavery"

    Actually, no, that's not what my previous comment was about. I won't claim to speak for what Joy was implying, but I don't think she was saying adoption was like slavery. She was saying: "I wonder, if I were to go around saying my FIRST mother had sold me into slavery, if you would not take exception to that" (since you know, she was relinquish and all that jazz)

    My mother didn't sell me into slavery.

    But I find it interesting at how quickly people are willing to pass judgment onto those who have relinquished.

  11. I don't know where my friend picked up this piece of info, but he claims that the term "given up for adoption" as it relates to adoption as a business, began around the turn of the century when orphans were sold to the highest bidder. The child would stand on a block and the auctioneer would yell, "Male child, 7 years old, up for adoption!"

    In 1971 one of my brothers (he was nine) was on a Toronto TV show called All You Need is Love where children would go on stage and people would call in to adopt. No one called in to adopt him, though. Doesn't sound much different than standing on a block being "up for adoption".

  12. Just a quick note, and I am sure that you are already aware of this, but there is no such thing as an Adoption Contract. To be a contract there must be met and exchange that is beneficial for both parties, and the adoption agreement doesn't meet that criteria, since the mothers get absolutely nothing out of the deal. It is, therefore, not a contract. It always bothers me a bit when people refer to the Adoption Contract, as a lot of people assume that the mothers were somehow enriched by this loss.



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