Adoption ain’t got no soul.

I can’t think of a good reason for adoptees to hang out on so-called “triad” support forums, unless it’s to help other adoptees who wander in find real adoptee support and resources elsewhere.

The implication behind the idea of the “adoption triad” or “adoption plane” or “adoption tesseract” or whatever the latest model is that lets us think about adoption without thinking about actual people, is that there are these different roles in adoption (adoptive parent, natural parent and… um… oh yeah, adoptee), and that the people in these roles will somehow benefit from talking to each other. This, frankly, is a crock, and adoptees need to stop pretending that our role in “triad” support will ever be anything other than providing the support by placating and reassuring the other vertices and keeping the darker aspects of our experiences to ourselves. Business as usual.

The most powerful thing we can do, both in terms of healing ourselves and changing adoption, is to tell our stories, as publicly and thoroughly as possible. There is no such thing as too much information. The adoption industry status quo, the culture of adoptive parent narcissism, the denial of our rights to our own identities, and every other thing that we find appalling about adoption or being adopted, all depend crucially on one thing: adoptee silence.

Most adoptees turn out okay, they say. Well, maybe they do. It’s all a matter of how you interpret silence. The silence of contentment. The silence of quiet desperation. The silence of ignorance. The silence of shame. The silence of the stiff upper lip. The silence of the grave. We don’t know. We can’t know. Closed records have seen to that.

We have to end the silence. We have to tell our stories. The more of us who tell our stories, the more of us will hear them, and want to tell their own stories. But we can’t hold back. We have to be able to tell honest stories, and we have to tell them with adoptees as our intended audience, or at least without worrying about what anyone else will think. The more we tell, the more commonalities of the adoptee experience will emerge and the more idiosyncracies will be identified as such.

This can’t happen on “triad” support forums. This can’t happen as long as adoptees have to continue to avoid offending others with the unpleasant facts of our lives. And, in fairness, it can’t happen if we are not open to adoptees with nothing but positive experiences to talk about. However, we need to speak on our own terms and in our own spaces, not in forums run by adoption agencies, adoptive parents, or adoptee Baby Toms who’ve become adoptive parents themselves.

Yes, we want our voices to be heard by others in the “triad”, but if the chorus grows loud enough there won’t be any need for us to go to them. There are an estimated 6 million adoptees in the United States alone. The whole world will hear us, if we can find our voice.

Here’s my favorite example. I wish I could get to San Francisco to see it this Thursday.


20 Responses to “Adoption ain’t got no soul.”

  1. 1 Lisa June 19, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    Hi, my husband and I are currently in the process adopting. I think your blog is very interesting and informative for adoptees (and a-parents). Though your adoption was closed, do you have any thoughts on open adoption as it is practiced today? Do you think having contact with your natural parents (or at least your mom) throughout your life would have been helpful? Do you have any advice for adoptive parents (aside from the obvious things like not telling the “wrong tummy” story (ah!) or composing horrible poems)?

    Anyway, thanks for writing. It’s good to talk about these things.

  2. 2 iBastard June 19, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Lisa. As I have said before, I am not really “anti-adoption” though I definitely have some problems with it. What I know about adoption comes primarily from my own experience, and secondarily through the experiences of others. I really don’t know how I feel about specific adoption practices that I haven’t experienced. I hope adoptees who have grown up under those circumstances will start telling their stories, if they haven’t already.

    I think the most important thing to understand about adoption of any kind is that it’s not the same as having your own child. Now, I know many adoptive parents really get upset when anyone implies that the child isn’t “theirs”, but what I mean by this, and what I wish they would understand about it, is that the child has a history that precedes becoming “theirs”, and that this is very real and can’t just be swept under a rug.

    In any case, yes, I think having some kind of contact with my mom throughout my life would have been helpful. I think seeing someone who looked like me, and not having this weird sense of having fallen out of the sky, and possibly hearing the story of my birth and about what it was like to be pregnant with me, instead of having nothing more than the story of how I was brought home in my a-dad’s old Oldsmobile and how long they had to wait for me, would have been good for me. I think so because having a little bit of that now has made me realize how much I felt incomplete for not having it, how disconnected I felt from other people.

    The only advice I really feel comfortable giving to adoptive parents is this: do not shy away from the ugly stories and the unhappy adoptees. Don’t pretend for a second that it’s completely wonderful. Something can still be a good thing to do without being a wonderful part of God’s plan or whatever. Adoption may or may not be such a thing, I really don’t know. I won’t tell you that your decision to adopt is a good thing or that you will make good adoptive parents. You have to decide that for yourselves. There’s no adoptee stamp of approval.

    But do keep reading, and read others’ stories as well, whatever you decide.

  3. 3 suz June 19, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    We have to end the silence. We have to tell our stories. The more of us who tell our stories, the more of us will hear them, and want to tell their own stories. But we can’t hold back.

    I completely agree. As a mother of loss, this is my personal position. Even amongst those who tell me to shut up and go away and that my story is the exception and not the rule.

  4. 4 Theresa June 19, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    “It’s all a matter of how you interpret silence. The silence of contentment. The silence of quiet desperation. The silence of ignorance. The silence of shame. The silence of the stiff upper lip. The silence of the grave.”

    For me it was the silence of invalidation too. That falls along the quiet desperation / shame path but when I slowly started to speak up and say, hey, um, I don’t think I like this all that much, and get immediately slapped down with the standard ‘You do know your real parents are the ones who raised you, right?” and all the other related nonsense, after a while I just shut up.

  5. 5 m June 19, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    “baby toms”???? Holy crap, that’s a new one on me.

  6. 6 Possum June 20, 2007 at 3:32 am

    Very glad you’re here.
    There are more and more of us.
    We are getting stronger.
    For me – it’s hard to break free of the gratitude and guilt – and being shot down for the way I feel – it’s totally demoralizing.
    Great post.
    Poss. xx

  7. 7 elizabeth June 20, 2007 at 5:08 am

    A most excellent post. I really enjoy your writing. Also, like Joy said, your blog cheers me up.

  8. 8 Michelle June 20, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Lisa: ask yourself if you would have preferred growing up with strangers and not allowed to know or have contact with your parents. How about a law that prevents you from knowing who you are, who your parents are?

    Adoption is not about creating families. A child that is taken from their mother, father and people is a tragedy. Adoption should never be marketed as a means to build a family. We do everything in our power to help a child remain with her or his family or extended family. If that doesn’t work, then others may step in as the short or long-term caregivers. People who take in another family’s child, should do so because that child needs a home, not a family and not because they want a child to call their own.

    So, is open adoption better than closed adoption? It’s the lesser of two evils. We make sure first, though, that the child has no one in their immediate or extended family who can raise them. Never change a child’s name – and if circumstances change for the family of that child – then they go home.

    The biggest problem in adoption is that us adoptees have been used to sustain an industry that profits from others’ misery and misfortune – we have been taken from our mothers and families so others can steal that title and role. It’s actually celebrated, which is no longer acceptable. Adoptees are just like everyone else – we too want to be with the people with whom we are related. We are not some special creation designed to fulfill the needs’ of others.

  9. 9 Julie June 20, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    iBastard, if I don’t tell you every single day that I am thrilled you are here in the blogosphere and I love the way your mind works, well, you can assume that it still is true. You could do a whole post on the different kinds of adoptee silence. I’ve suffered under many myself but I am proud to be, now, among the outspoken and no longer the adoptee Baby Tom (LOVE that!) I was for 44 years. Would that we could all contribute to creating a dull roar!

  10. 10 Lisa Marie June 20, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    iBastard, Im so excited to read this post. seriously. As one of those AD’s who is also an adoption educator.. its essential to me that I make certain that i have other places where I can address the pain and silence I hear from my peers and address the outright crazy things that AP’s and others say in these forums. There is only so long we can educate on other peoples terms. At some point we have to break out and make sure we are healing ourselves. I think its really powerful how over and over i breez through forums and adoptees are silence or kicked out, or continuously told they are angry and ungrateful. It makes no sense. and for the record – my voice is yes – for some AP’s to hear me – but its about the other little girls and boys whose lives are forever changing because of being moved through one space or another without their best interests in mind.

    and thanks for the shout out. I hope I can come to your town soon!

  11. 11 pigletsa June 20, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    You commented on my blog. Your comments were lacking explanation and, I believe, they require them. You made a generalization and I’d like to know why you made/make it. You said, “If you think about it…” and I have and I still don’t understand what you’re saying, but I’d like to. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog and your story, but I’m looking forward to understanding your position more. I hope you will either address this in a post or another comment on my blog.

  12. 13 Lisa June 21, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Hi, thanks for your comments iBastard and Michelle. I completely agree that an adoptee has a whole history that pre-dates their placement and that this information needs to be shared and embraced. My husband and I decided to pursue open adoption because it leave this link open for the child. I do not, for even a second, think that open adoption is some kind of panacea to solve all adoption issues. I do think that it is probably the best we can do given the circumstances. I will continue to listen to both positive and negative adoptee stories – I think this is valuable for becoming a compassionate adoptive parent.

    Michelle, I am not adopted, so I cannot speak to how I would have faired growing up in a home with people who were not related to me by blood. I do disagree with laws that prohibit adoptees access to their medical and family information – everyone has the right to this information. We obviously have different views on the issue of whether or not children always needs to remain with their biological families. To me, adoption is a tragedy — a family loses a child and a child loses a family — but an adopted family is a family none-the-less. I don’t think we’ll really come to a common ground, and I don’t share you experience, so I can’t really offer any more intelligent comments on the subject.

    Thanks again.

  13. 14 Michelle June 21, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Lisa, I think where the problem starts is thinking adoption is a viable option for building a family. Women are coerced, bullied, manipulated, drugged, and many other terrible practices to insure she surrenders her child. Perhaps pre-adopters aren’t aware of what goes on behind the scenes (in some caes they are have gone as far as to sue a mother for keeeping her baby), so they believe that the mother was not coerced, that she was totally aware of what she was doing. How can any mother possibly know all the ins and outs of adoption, and the long-term effects of separation for her and her child?

    Mothers are vulnerable – any mother – but a woman who has stepped into the world of adoption is ten times more vulnerable – she may be without effective support and is not educated on the resources available to her. The adoption agency wants her baby – the pre-adopters want her baby. Her flesh and blood is others profit and gain. Open or closed adoption – never expect a woman to hand over her child until at least six months after giving birth. PAPS should not meet the mother (a sense of obligation can evolve and the mother may have been convinced by the agency that she wouldn’t be able to parent her child – which is a terrifying feeling).

    People shouldn’t use adoption as way to create a family. Instead, adopt the mother and her child.

  14. 15 iBastard June 21, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    For me, adoption is a story that needs to be told and a phenomenon that needs to be understood. What “should” happen is debatable, when we don’t really know what does happen. The point of this blog isn’t to attack adoption, but to present the reality of it. Reality ends where “should” begins, which is why I try to refrain from offering advice or presenting arguments about what anyone should or shouldn’t do.
    There are two things I like to focus on, here: my personal experiences with adoption, both good and bad, and the larger discourse about adoption, which includes the marginalization of the adoptee voice and the deeper meaning of some of the things people say about adoption. I don’t mind if people want to leave pro- or anti- comments, but I think the pro-/anti- dichotomy (and conflict) winds up getting in the way of a lot of actual, useful discussion.

  15. 16 John June 22, 2007 at 2:05 am


    Enjoy your last comment on this post. I’m amazed how many of us are trained to throw people into a box and there are only two to choose from, pro or anti. Adoption is far more complicated than this. Where exactly do I fit? I’m a reunited adoptee (closed records in CA), adopted son of a reunited adoptee (open adoption in the 1920’s) and I’m an adoptive parent of twin boys (international adoption). I’m politically conservative and capitalistic in my business. Am I a Democrat or Republican? Am I pro adoption or anti-adoption? Adoptees – let’s stop pushing these black and white agendas of pro and anti and get to the issues. We’re in this no matter what we like. Adoption is not going to go away. It’s too lucrative for foreign countries, gypsy adoption agencies, lawyers and social workers with no conscience and who knows how many others I did not name. If we as adoptees speak up about the particular issues as one voice, we’ll open the eyes of those who can and will step up to bring reform. Absent the generalizations, we can win many of the battles. I personally am asking people to tell me their adoptee stories. Consider this an open invitation. I would like to compile “real” adoptee stories and spend my efforts getting them published. My story is bizarre, but there are more bizarre ones out there on the subjec t of adoption that we all need to hear. Hell, the world needs to hear. All they hear is the gushy warm and fuzzy stories of the media. Let’s show them the real side of adotpion. Send me your stories and let’s put up the good, the bad and the ugly for the world to see the true face of adoption! Reform doesn’t happen until the need for reform has been acknowledged. Let’s rally the troops and get on with it!

  16. 17 Justice June 23, 2007 at 6:50 am

    I just love the title of this post. It resonates as some other reference to soul never did.

  17. 18 Valentina July 5, 2007 at 9:44 am

    I agree. Triad support forums are of limited usefulness. You’re bang on that adoptees are expected to placate and reassure there. (And even in their own blogs.)

    It bends many people’s minds to consider the points-of-view of adoptees and original families, and it’s difficult when one’s thoughts and deeply-held beliefs are challenged. Sharing our experience is key. People can listen to us or read our words, and seeds of understanding are planted. After all, that is how I learn from people who are sharing an experience I cannot have or have not yet had.

    I’ll ask in this comment in case someone comes along and knows the answer: Did the archives of AIML get saved anywhere?

  18. 19 Kev Minh August 19, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    I know I’m weighing in late on this post, but it’s spot on. I, along with a couple of other adoptees, was asked to participate on a listserve for adoptive parents of Vietnamese children and it got ugly real quick. The moderator (mistakenly) thought that our voices would give prospective a-parents something to think about and hopefully lessen their feelings of entitlement. In fact, it did the opposite and the members of the listserve soon saw us as intruders on their happy playground of “family building”.

  19. 20 Julie August 20, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    OH, Kev! Ugh!! Same old story.

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