Adoptee Matthew Salesses wrote a wonderful response to adoptive parent Ann Brenoff's article, My Daughter's Baby Picture, featured in the August 8, 2012 edition of Huffington Post. I strongly urge both adoptees and adoptive parents to read Matthew's calm and compassionate words about the journey an adopted "orphan" is launched into once he asks the self-identifying question, "Where do I come from, and what are my roots?"
In brief, "My Daughter's Baby Picture" is an adoptive mother's perspective of search and recovery, as it is experienced when (adoptive) mother and (adopted) child return to the child's birthplace, (or as I like to refer to it, the scene of the crime). It's her version of what takes place in the mind and heart of an adoptee when that 'chosen orphan' is given the opportunity to revisit her own past, and make sense of an entire adoption story and experience. As many of us who have "been there and done that" already know, the quest for peacemaking enlightenment post-adoption-placement may bring more dark complex questions than simplistic answers, especially if the route to discovery was paved and planned by less than ethical members of the international adoption industry.
As mentioned in my own piece, Adoption Myths and Realities, when corrupt, fraudulent adoption practices meet-up with unscrupulous orphanage directors/workers and equally money-motivated government officials, it's not that uncommon for a foreign-born adoptee to learn his or her "home", place of origin, or circumstances surrounding "child abandonment" are just a few of the many mythical mysteries that surround an entire question-filled adoption story.
Enter the adoptee's POV on search, reunion, and what being adopted really means to those seeking good in a less than ideal, chosen situation.
In Matthew Salesses' piece, Answers for Adoptees? An open letter to @HuffPostParents, he wrote,
I can’t say whether meeting one’s birth mother would give real answers—maybe it would. I haven’t been able to find my birth mother, and wouldn’t be able to even if I tried harder. Probably. I was abandoned and found by an orphanage as a baby, where I was raised until I was two-and-a-half. Or so says the orphanage and the adoption agency I came through—though I learned recently (an important lesson), from an adoptee who eventually found her birth family, that these organizations often lie. Or did during the time when I was adopted, in the mid-80s. Maybe things have changed since then. Maybe things are different in China.
Sadly, not much has changed in Adoptionland since I myself was sold through intracountry adoption services, over forty years ago, and I believe adoptions from China offer ample example of how easy it is to dupe the unseasoned AP into believing the poor adoptable orphan child found under a bridge or at the steps of a police station, was in fact abandoned, as claimed. Tragically, in many cases, the story about the healthy thriving orphan "miraculously found" under a bridge or at the steps of a police station is as false and fictitious as the (falsified) birth certificate that goes with it.
It's unfortunate so many PAPs are selectively blind to the shady ways of the adoption market, especially when it comes to falsified and fictionalized birth certificates and other so-called "legal documents" needed to make an adoption plan final. Taking advantage of the emotionally charged nature of the adoption process itself, unethical orphanage directors and government officials familiar with the adoption process will do what it takes to meet the demand of foreign adopters agreeable to added-on fees. In many cases, that demand is healthy children, under the age of five, with no history of sexual abuse. It should come as no surprise, then, that it's almost impossible to tell, immediately, which adoption facilitators are catering to the wants and desires of foreign adoptive parents (who agree to pay exorbitant fees for a child) and which child-care providers are doing all they can to help fulfill the most basic needs of a new foundling/child.
These are important facts and distinctions each foreign PAP ought to consider and remember, especially when they are told by agency reps the birth date of the "abandoned" child, ("chosen" for adoption), had to be guessed and may not be actual.
In fact, in this day and age, any time an agency representative claims an infant or toddler was abandoned and found in a rural town or bustling city, a huge red flag should be raised in the mind of the chosen parent-figure called to adopt (and pay the ever-growing orphanage fees). This is especially true if the little foundling is healthy and free of signs of neglect and abuse. The suggestion here being, there's a good chance the healthiest children "languishing" in an overcrowded orphanage have been kidnapped/stolen, and brought to the orphanage so they may be sold through ICA services.
Impossible to imagine?
Let's consider the many media reports and written articles written about Guizhou Province, in China. This is a region where children have been kidnapped or stolen and then sold through orphanages/adoption services to either more affluent individuals in a more affluent provence, or sold to foreigners seeking to adopt an "abandoned orphan languishing in a dismal orphanage".
Between 2003 and 2005, there were almost no families in Zhenyuan County who had kids out of compliance with the Chinese policy who could afford to pay the fines, which were in the upwards of 40,000 Yuan (US $5,882). Shi said, “If they cannot pay, we will seize their children to compensate for the fines. Once the baby was taken into the welfare home by the birth control office, they remain there indefinitely or until they are adopted.”
Evidence suggests that the seized babies have all been labeled as orphans by the Zhenyuan County Welfare Home. Each child when adopted, usually by a foreign family, leaves at the maintenance cost of $3,000, which adds up to 900,000 yuan income for all the babies adopted.
In Zhenyuan County, Tang Jian, the head of the Bureau of Birth Control Management, Discipline, and Inspection, said during an interview, “We have investigated and found irrefutable evidence that those babies have been forcefully seized from their parents, sent to orphanages, and then adopted by foreign families.”
[From: China Welfare Home Seizes Babies to Put Up For Adoption, 2009]
Similar reports came from Gaoping county, Hunan Province in 2010 and Longhui County, Hunan province in 2011.
Since these cases have been proven to be true, both adopters and adoptees of modern-day adoption have good reason to re-think what search and reunion really means in today's Adoptionland... especially if the Motherland happens to be China, or any other country where females have very little value or worth, and an oppressive militant government reigns.
I know if I knew what I know now, back when I tried to get more information about my birth family and adoption story, I would have aborted the search mission, and spent that time and energy working on myself in attempt to heal the wounds a poor adoption placement brings an adoptee.
This is where I need to insert my personal opinion about the APs who decide a young adoptee is emotionally equipped and ready to delve into his or her own adoption history.
There are too many complex legal matters that require AP acknowledgment and attention before any AP decides to jump into a fun visit to the old orphanage and touristy tour of the child's Motherland. Whether adopted, abused, and sexually exploited by one or more members of the adoptive family, or adopted, loved and cherished by all new family members, in either case, when an adoption is rooted in lies, very difficult questions present themselves as more and more disturbing details are revealed and discovered . These unexpected discoveries can easily make even the most emotionally mature and stable adoptee fall to his knees in sadness, loss, grief and even disbelief. I was in my early 30's when I opened myself to this very emotionally draining journey. I'll be blunt and honest, had I uncovered the lies and half-truths I discovered, when I was 14, and still living under the same roof as my APs, I am almost certain I would have been more aggressive with my suicide attempts made later in life.
And so I find Matthew's written phrase, "I can’t say whether meeting one’s birth mother would give real answers" very haunting and revealing in the sense that many adoptees may say they want to meet their mother, but maybe what they really mean is, they want to learn the truth... the real truth behind their adoption story and family facts, like their previous placement in a given society, and how their own physical appearance made the adoption process either harder or easier for that particular child. [Yes, even us Pound Pups recognize appearances, like physical attractiveness, (or physical deformity), matter and even help determine a child's place in this world.]
Putting aside all the emotional components that go with meeting one's mother after abandonment/relinquishment, or in some cases, a crime, like kidnapping, birth-family meetings are never easy, especially since so many of us now live in a culture that celebrates single-parent adoption, but still shuns and discourages unwed mothers.
Given what we know about corruption within the adoption industry, how can any foreign adopter or adoptee be certain and sure about the validity of documents sent about a healthy "adoptable" child living in an orphanage? Given the unsympathetic and cruel ways some government workers in war-torn regions operate, how can any foreign adopter not suspect a crime was committed against parents, and that crime is what led a wanted and loved child to a so-called "legal" adoption? In this day and age, how can any foreign PAPs look at the photo of their soon-to-be adopted child and not wonder what was done to "their" child and the child's parents, so that child could be sold to an American (or other foreigner)?
With that, when it comes to assisting an adopted child with the filling-in-the-pieces of a broken past, we need to be honest and ask, how many APs are willing to consider the possibility that their adopted child was never abandoned, or neglected, or abused, as imagined, but was in-fact loved and wanted, but kept from his/her own God-given family for reasons that have yet to be discovered? How many AP's, launching themselves and their adopted children into a family search and reunion, are willing to admit international adoption does NOT put the needs and best-interest of each cared-for-child first. ( In fact, if the needs and best interest of children put in-care were served by and through adoption services, PPL would not exist.)
In fact, I think all too often, when it comes to core adoption-issues and making peace with oneself, APs frequently put their own emotional needs and wants before those of the child before them, and I think this point is poignantly made when Ann, in her own words, wrote the following:
Later, when we visited her finding spot in a village on the outskirts of the city-- led there by a map provided by the orphanage -- I caught my trouper of a daughter staring into the faces around us. Unable to help myself, I asked if she was looking for her birth mother. "No," she said, "You're my Momma and I've found everything I came looking for," she said.
I looked at her baby photo and thought: "Me too."
I was happy to see in Matthew's written response; his remark says this image spoke to him, too, even if it's not the response an angry abused adoptee might think or say, in private or public.
I know that your daughter loves you. I am glad of it. I love my mother and I would tell her the same. But I would tell her that out of love. I wouldn’t want her to worry that I hadn’t learned enough. I might even use my love of her as an excuse not to figure out more.
On this point I wholeheartedly agree with fellow-adoptee, Mathew. Many times we adoptees say things to our APs out of love and sensitive kindness, knowing what we are saying is not the whole truth, but it's what the insecure AP wants and needs to hear. We may want much more for ourselves and from our parents, (both biologic and adoptive), but as adoptees, it's as if we are programmed and conditioned to accept less, without appearing ungrateful or unappreciative.
So let's take a leap and ask, what if the adopted daughter confessed, "Yes, I am looking for my mother, and anyone else I may be related to"?
Would such a response be so utterly horrible?
Is wanting a different reality a crime -- one that deserves some form of punishment or admonishment?
While I understand "My Daughter's Baby Photo" was written for fellow adopters, from an Amother's heart, I do wish the Amother's story about adoption discoveries took a brief detour from the stereo-typical tone most Amother's take when sharing adoption-stories... that tone being, "this story is about my adopted child, but it's mostly about me".
It would have been refreshing to witness a self-less moment in which the Amother seeking praise and recognition from others released her own emotional baggage and put her own emotional needs aside, and looked at her daughter's adoption, from the adopted daughter's POV.
What is it like to stare at the faces of what used to be your own people, your own culture, your own family history; what does it feel like to be taken away from it all, simply because you were born the wrong gender, or not born into a family of wealth? What is it like to be so completely rejected as a native, but so welcomed as a paying tourist? Even if the adoptee turns out to be very lucky, and truly loves her final placement in the world, that doesn't mean what's done to parents and children, in the name of money and for the sake of the adoption industry, is right and humane, and putting a child's basic wants and needs first.
For the many AP's considering a visit to the Motherland, so unanswered questions can be given a more accurate response, I ask you to keep the following message in-mind: As adoptees, we can love the people who adopted us, we can love the theory that goes behind a loving and ethical adoption, but we can also truly hate the reality ICA really brings, and in turn, we can (and often do) wish dramatic change would take place within the child placement system, so no child has to go through the hell a documented orphan has to go through. It's my hope more and more of today's more educated adoptive parents will agree with sentiment and help adoptees work on child placement reform, even if doing so will mean more attention and care will go towards domestic programs, making ICA an option from the past.
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