Archive for June, 2007

Every Good Bastard Does Fine

Don’t worry about those troubled adoptees on the internet. Your adopted child will turn out just fine, because most of them do. Absolutely fine. How do we know this? Well, we have done extensive research on this matter. We are, after all, a socially responsible industry and would never condone drastically altering the lives of millions of children without extensive, methodical, controlled research to make sure there are no ill effects.

The first step to any scientific population study is a randomly selected representative sample and a control group. This is why adoptees who talk about their own experiences don’t count: they are a self-selecting group, and are therefore a biased sample. Now, what they have to say would be relevant if we didn’t have better data, but of course we do. Unlike those poor, bitter adoptees on the internets with their “blogs” and “interweb pages,” we have statistically sound data obtained from randomly selected, representative subjects.

How, you ask?

We hired a crack team of ninjas to break into every county courthouse in the United States and compile a complete list of adoptees so we could (1) obtain a sample group of adoptees that is demographically identical to the US population and (2) make sure that no one in our control group was adopted.

Self-reporting and interview data are highly unreliable for social psychology research. How do you know if people are telling the truth, one way or the other? You don’t. They could be lying, or they could be genuinely unaware of problems buried deep in their subconscious minds. That’s why we hired thousands of TV psychics to follow our test subjects around, reading their most private thoughts, tasting their inner turmoil, and reporting back in realtime to our 24-hour call centers where transcribers were ready to enter all of our subjects’ mental activity into our database.

Of course, we could not let the observer’s paradox skew our data, so not only did we violate every human subjects research protocol–not to mention numerous federal, state, and local laws–by spying on our subjects secretly without notifying them that they were even our subjects, we also utilized cloaking devices like the ones on Star Trek or, where those were not available, invisibility cloaks like the one used by Harry Potter, to make sure that our psychic field workers remained unseen. A few times we were in short supply of both and we had to use elven cloaks like the ones Frodo and Sam wore outside the gates of Mordor, which were less than ideal for our purposes, but we’re pretty sure nobody noticed.

Having gathered and compiled terabytes of transcribed thoughts, emotions, daydreams, and mental images, we used a massive supercomputer cluster to simulate the behavior of all adopted and non-adopted individuals in a shared, realistic virtual environment similar to The Matrix to perform controlled tests of adoptee and non-adoptee mental states under a variety of carefully modeled conditions. Added together, the subjective times of all these simulations exceed the estimated lifespan of the universe (and we mean the heathen scientist version, here, which is really, really long, trust us).

The result? Well, you won’t be very surprised. It’s what we’ve been saying all along. Yes, overall, we found that adoptees had more trouble than non-adoptees. But, as you might have expected (and had every right to), it’s only the ones who were raised poorly (or just poor), who were not loved enough, whose parents did not have at least 30 credit hours of parental training at an accredited institution, whose birth mothers abused drugs or alcohol while pregnant, or who–tragically–just happened to carry bad genes from their impulsive, fast living, irresponsible birth parents. And you can rest assured we are working on solutions to all–I repeat, all–of these problems.

Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Adoptive America, the kids are alright. Like all scientific research, ours is not without its flaws (those darn elven cloaks still vex us terribly!), but we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In science, we must use the data we have, not the data we wish we had.

So, the next time you read some internet bulletin “blog” or web chat forum “post” from some angry, bitter, tragically maladjusted adoptee claiming that adoption is anything less than sunshine, sparkles, and frolicking unicorns, ask yourself this: Who has the best data? Sure, the self-reported experiences of adoptees would have great value if we didn’t have better data. Ask any anthropologist or ethnographer and they’ll agree. But, as you can see, science is clearly on our side.

Sad, mad, or just bad?

I haven’t made it all the way through The Girls Who Went Away yet. I’m stuck on the “Search and Reunion” chapter. I just can’t get through more than a page at a time. Not because it makes me sad, necessarily, but because my mind wanders so easily. Like a disproportionate number of adoptees, I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, so focusing always hard. In this case, though, it’s because every reunion story makes me think about what my reunion might have been like. I’ll actually daydream about this a bit, and it only makes me sad when I realize what I’m doing.

I have been feeling a lot of anger about adoption, though. Not just my own, but adoption in general, and adoptee rights in particular. Some of it is triggered, like when my wife relayed some comments someone had made about thinking of adopting to avoid having to go through pregnancy, childbirth, and the first 8 or 9 months again. Yeah, outsource the parts you don’t want to do yourself, okay, whatever.

But a lot of it I actually seek out now, on blogs and forums, and that worries me. I’ve been telling myself it’s important to be part of the larger social discourse about adoption, and I really do think that’s true, but I’m not entirely sure that that’s all that I’m up to. Am I making myself mad to avoid having to deal with grief? Or am I trying to turn my grief–and my inability to do much about it, since I still know so little of the woman for whom I am grieving–into something productive? I sure would like to think it’s the latter but I worry it’s more of the former.

Or maybe it’s the mean little part of me that likes confrontation and takes joy in mocking others. That’s always fun–while I’m doing it. I’m usually rather heartsick at the consequences, unless I feel that it was really deserved. That’s actually fairly rare, though. Most of the time, I go too far. I haven’t on this blog, yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Apologies in advance, in case one of my future victims reads this. Never mind, screw you people, you probably deserved it.

I’m really having a lot of trouble thinking about anything other than adoption. That’s starting to become a problem because I have a lot of things to do. I have a whole life that can’t be put on hold indefinitely. But it’s so hard to think about much else. I worry that my mom’s death still hasn’t sunk in fully. I worry that it’s going to sink in fully and I’m going to fall apart.

I’m thinking of trying therapy. Not just for grief, but for adoption in general. I can’t tell for sure, but I think there are a lot of ways that adoption messed me up that I never realized until a few weeks ago. Before that, I was always very resistant to the idea that being adopted had really had all that much of an effect on my life. I don’t know if there’s a way to tell for sure. Is the “adoption fog” starting to clear, or am I just grasping at something to explain my problems?

The personal and the political.

I started this blog with the intention of focusing on my personal experiences as an adoptee, specifically regarding search and loss. Part of my motivation was therapeutic, because telling my story to others who might understand (adoptees, mainly) might help me come to terms with finding my mother eight years too late to meet her.

I was also motivated by the desire to help provide the resources that I had found so profoundly lacking. I know it’s dumb to turn to the internet to deal with your personal problems, but it sure is easy, and all I really wanted was to hear stories of others who had gone through what I was going through, just to know I wasn’t alone in it. Instead, I found a few blog entries written by someone who had found a grave over ten years beforehand, reassuring me that I would get over it. Well, that’s nice, but I already knew that, and such cheery reassurances along with actually mentioning the “bright side” of at least having answers struck me as rather inappropriate. I think she had very good intentions but was writing too far after the fact to provide the validation that someone just starting the grieving process needs, especially in the rather bizarre circumstance of mourning someone you have no memory of.

(Since then I have also found Found and Lost Support, which is a very helpful and supportive community, but I still think it’s important to have stories out there for others.)

I started this blog with these goals in mind, and so I was rather surprised by the degree to which I was writing about adoptee issues in general, criticizing (and occasionally lampooning) things said by adoptive parents, and taking interest in the culture of adoption. Yes, adoption has a culture. It has its own literature, it has its own language, it has an internal social order, it has clear ways of distinguishing members from non-members, it has its own history, it even has its own poetry and music (all of which is horrible or funny or both).

I was worried that I had deviated too far from the very personal and support-oriented function I had intended for this blog. I had even started to write an entry stating that the nature of this blog had changed so much that I was considering splitting it into two blogs, one for adoption commentary and one for dealing with first family loss.

But then I realized that everything I had written in this blog was part of my personal experience as an adoptee. My response to thoughtless adoptive parent remarks was the result of me seeing those remarks and being offended by them as an adoptee. My lampooning of bad adoption poetry was the result of reading bad adoption poetry and being disgusted by the way it cheerfully glossed over the unavoidable central tragedy of adoption, of my adoption. Closed records laws have hurt me personally, by preventing me from meeting my mother while she was alive (a meeting she wanted, too), and could have hurt my daughter by preventing her from ever knowing that her grandmother died of breast cancer, a disease with an established genetic link.

I have also realized that a great deal of dealing with the loss of my mother depends on dealing with being an adoptee. There are so many ways that being an adoptee has affected my life, but I had remained oblivious to many–perhaps most–of them. I guess people call this adoption fog. On some level I was aware of them, but I think I was depending on someday reuniting with my natural family, especially my mother, as the way things could be fixed. That was enough to keep me going without worrying about them terribly much. It probably wouldn’t have worked out that way, but it doesn’t matter now.

In any case, dealing with being an adoptee requires dealing with adoption. That means I have to write about adoption in this blog, and I have to read up on adoption and discover all kinds of things that will probably have me on blood pressure medication shortly, and I have to read what others are saying about adoption because it would be a terrible mistake to be a part of a culture (which adoption is) and not be a part of its discourse, which is how the culture constantly reshapes itself.

So I have to talk about adoption, and this is where adoption would turn into a big hairy mess if it wasn’t one already. Adoption is not an isolated issue. It’s tied to plenty of other things that are also big hairy messes. I can see why politicians are reluctant to take on adoption issues other than repeating the prevailing mantra of how wonderful it is and then ducking into the limo. You simply cannot talk about adoption without talking about class, about patriarchy, about race, or about globalization. No wonder nobody wants to deal with it.

Strangely, the one issue I feel you can (and should) leave out when talking about adoption is abortion, but that’s the one everyone wants to bring up first. So we can’t even leave that one out, really.

Considering all this, it’s amazing to me that my blog has remained even remotely connected with the issues that prompted me to start it. But of course, those issues are the ones that I can’t stop thinking about. And they’re not really “issues” in the sense that that word tends to depersonalize things. They’re just my thoughts, my problems, in my head every day.

I miss my mom. I missed my chance to meet her and now she’s dead. It hurts, every day. It is a sadness that lurks behind every joyful moment, every day. And that is so screwed up. Nobody should have to go through this. Or if they have to go through it, then they can at least go through it without people writing godawful bad poetry about how joyful it is, or putting goddamn countdown widgets on their blogs to celebrate the impending tragedy. If we have to have adoption, then we can at least give it some dignity.

Maine love.

Maine knows how to party
Maine knows how to party
In the city of Bangor
In the town of good ol’ Brunswick
In the city, city of Portland
We keep it rockin’, we keep it rockin’

Thank you, Maine. Thank you for recognizing the civil rights of adult adoptees. I promise to buy more lobster and consider Maine in my vacation plans. I really mean that.

Truth in advertising.

Now, who’s next?

The Girls Who Went Away

I am in the middle of reading The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler and it is just blowing my mind. Not so much the adoption part (though that’s definitely very powerful, too) but just the degree to which things have changed in my lifetime alone. It is astonishing to me that women were treated so horribly and that there was so much ignorance about sex and birth control just a few decades ago. In some states it was actually illegal for married couples to obtain birth control until 1965, and illegal for single men and women until 1972!

But what’s really affecting me the most about this book are the stories, over and over again, of women who were torn apart by relinquishing children, who never got over it. And the things people said to these women… how unfit they were to be mothers, how much they had shamed their families… horrible, horrible things, done largely in the name of getting that baby! For the child’s well being, of course.

Everyone should read this book. It’s due out in paperback today, so it’s cheap. I don’t know how anyone could be involved in adoption today without reading these women’s stories. I’m sure some things are different now, but the terrible pain of relinquishment has to be a human universal. While the specific circumstances may differ between 1950s suburban America and modern rural China, the terrible pressures imposed on women must be every bit as hurtful.

Reading this book has been surprisingly therapeutic for me. My mom’s circumstances were a great deal different than ones I’ve read about so far, but it still helps to understand the times, the views of women, and the tremendous amount of pressure used by adoption agencies and social workers, as part of having a greater understanding of what her frame of mind might have been like when she finally decided to relinquish me. While I can’t ever know for sure what she was going through, it’s very helpful to me to understand what was possible.

Anger and betrayal.

It’s always depressing to see one oppressed group sell out the rights of another. Well, unless you’re the one oppressing them, I guess. So I bet the boys of the far right get a pretty massive woody every time groups like the ACLU, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood screw over the civil rights of adult adoptees in a misguided attempt to protect the “privacy” and “reproductive rights” of first parents.

I’m not going to go through the arguments here. If you don’t know them, it’s pretty simple: adoption is not a reproductive rights issue, and nobody has the right to be anonymous from their offspring (unless you would like to overturn every paternity suit ever filed). By taking adoption as a reproductive rights issue, pro-choice groups are playing into the hands of the pro-lifers. By opposing adoptees’ efforts to pass open records legislation, these groups, along with the ACLU, have actually allied themselves with the Family Research Council, the American Life League, and Pat Robertson, for crying out loud. Thanks a lot, you dumbasses.

The thing is, I had known about the ACLU (which always struck me as a rather shady organization, in spite of agreeing with them on most issues) selling me down the river, but I hadn’t thought about adoptee activism in quite a while and I was completely unaware of being sold out by pro-choice organizations that I had been actively supporting. Recent events with my own search renewed my interest in adoptee civil rights activism, and what a shock it was to find this out.

Today, actually. Man, do I feel stupid.

The Unitarian Universalist church of which I am a member collects money on a fairly regular basis for Planned Parenthood. I will be campaigning against that until they change their position on adoptee rights, as it goes against the first of the 7 principles covenanted by the Unitarian Universalist Association: the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Why am I taking this so personally? I circumvented my closed adoption to discover that my natural mother died of breast cancer at the age of 51. Breast cancer genes can be passed through fathers. I have a little girl. That information could save her life, and these groups that claim to support women’s rights would deny her right to have it. They would deny her dignity and worth.

Pictures of a lost childhood.

My favorite picture of my mom is one from when she was 18 that was taken at an angle that suggests she’s looking down slightly at the camera. She is wearing a smile that I would describe as amused and patient. I would describe it that way because I have the same smile when I am amused and patient.

It’s hard not to imagine being a little kid and saying, “Hey mom, look at me!” while doing some goofy kid thing and getting a look like that. My daughter does that kind of stuff and I am sure I look at her exactly that way: I love you and you never cease to amaze me but seriously, what on earth are you doing?

Of course, she was a too little young in that picture. She was 22 when I was born. But it’s probably not too far off. A young mom, a kid doing goofy stuff, and an amused, patient, loving smile. I think she’s about to remind me that it’s time for lunch.

I miss all these things that never happened.