Adoption Is Not Charity

A recurrent theme for adoptees is the notion we should be grateful to our adopters and to whatever private organization procured us from our families of origin and delivered us to our adoptive parents. I have been thinking about this a lot of late, and the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada reminded me of it yet again in his recent acceptance speech when he referenced his own adoption and talked about how it was an example of the superiority of a private system based on charity as opposed to a government funded system. The latter was a bit odd. There is the foster care system, and of course, there is Canada’s not all that long ago child snatching of Indigenous children in an attempt to annihilate their cultures. But the state merely regulates adoption. Adoption is largely a private industry, and it is in no way socialist or benevolent.

In my own family, my parents adopting four children was viewed as generous, loving, and even brave. Everything about the gushing my extended family has done in terms of praising my parents for adopting us is insulting and maddening. My adoptive parents were infertile. Adopting babies was the only cure available to them. There was nothing altruistic about what they did, and had they been able to have biological children, that’s what they would have done. They never would have adopted us at all.

Society’s reliance on adoption via agencies and private lawyers is a business model being utilized to avoid supporting women, children and families in general who are in great need. It’s basically the privatization of one aspect of public safety net.

When I was born in the early 1960s, there actually was a federal program that provided financial assistance to mothers and their children. Teenage girls and young women were not routinely told this was among their options when trying to decide what they wanted to do in terms of dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. My own mother desperately wanted to keep me but her family deliberately cut her off financially to force her to relinquish me for adoption. Two years later when she was pregnant again with my brother, and single again as her short, ill-advised marriage had ended in tatters, she knew far more about her options, and she didn’t allow a lack of money to force her into giving up another child even though her family, again, put pressure on her to do so.

Adoption agencies and lawyers, who handle private adoptions, are businesses. Babies are the commodities they acquire, market, and deliver. Adoptive parents are the customers. In this light, it’s really difficult to find heroes and saviours, which is why they re-frame this into a narrative designed to lift themselves up in the eyes of society and coerce gratitude from adoptees. Couple this with that fact that babies and young children have really no choice but to depend on the adoptive parents.

The dissonance for adoptees as they age, and begin to really think about what happened to them and their families of origin, leads to justification narratives and deciding that though some people have horrible adoption stories, they are the exception to the rule. In terms of adoption narratives the rule is that natural mothers were unfit is some way so relinquishment was in the best interest of the baby. However in reality, the rule is most natural mothers would have kept their babies and been fine parents if only they’d had the support they needed, which a systemically misogynistic society simply wasn’t interested in supplying.

Adopters need to believe that satisfying their desire to be parents is a no hurt no foul situation. The “where did I come from” stories they make up for their adopted children are fairy tales designed to pacify and bind someone else’s child to them while shoring up the narrative that the natural mother and her family were unfit.

I was discussing this with my adoptive mom the other day. I always knew I was adopted. She couldn’t remember when she told me, but she did so against the wishes of my adoptive dad, who felt it was better I didn’t know.

“You always asked a lot of questions,” she said. “Do you remember what I told you?”

I remembered a book from the library she would read to me about a girl named Ann, who was adopted. That book made many visits to our house. So many that when I discovered it as an older child of about 11, I was shocked to discover the little girl’s name was Barbara and not Ann.

My adoptive parents had a lot of information about my natural mother, her family, my natural father. They even knew her name and the name she gave me. My adoptive mom never told me much in comparison to what she knew. Superficial things and mostly the same narrative adoptee gets.

“She loved you, but she couldn’t take care of you. She wasn’t ready to be a parent.”

Of course, this wasn’t true. Not when my adoptive mom told me it and not when other adoptive parents tell similar things to their adoptive children. It’s a fiction adopters and the the adoption industry agreed upon because it promotes and serves their needs.

As a society, we should be looking at something better for pregnant teens and women in crisis than a system to steal their children from them and denies those children their origins. More of the same is only going to get us the rather unsatisfying and often damaging status quo we’ve had for decades. It doesn’t surprise me when conservative government and parties push for the status quo in glowing terms, but it should be called out for the bullshit it’s always been.

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