The Truth About Adoption

Amid all the discussion and numbers, are there any overarching truths to be had?

Sonia Billadeau April 15, 2014
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Searching for universal truths about adoption? At first glance, it might appear that there aren’t any.

It is estimated that there are somewhere around 6 million adoptees in the US alone. Adoptees have parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more, both in their adoptive and biological families. Do the math. Adoption touches more than 50 million of us in very direct – and different – ways.

But universal truths?

For the more than 30 million Americans who make up the triad (adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents), there is an equal number of stories. No one’s experience is a carbon copy of another’s. Add to this the emotion generated by our individual and collective issues, losses, gains, joys, guilt, shame, or anger, and the cacophony is deafening.

Is all that noise our universal truth?

Generalizations Don’t Work

Many of the misconceptions that exist today seem to stem from the mass generalizations made about adoption as a practice and about each segment of the adoption community as a group. Efforts to apply certain “truths” about adoption have failed miserably. For example:

  • Adoption considers the best interests of the child as primary.
    In her “Critical Assessment of the Uniform Adoption Act”, law professor Ruth-Arlene Howe suggests that adoption law and practice have been moving away from putting the interests of the children first, and toward serving the interests of others.
  • Birth mothers need to be protected from their biological children.
    This suggestion, by opponents of open records access for adult adoptees, is vehemently denied by many birth mothers and supported by others.
  • Adoption is needed.
    The very concept of adoption is disputed. Adoptees, the supposed beneficiaries, express opinions ranging from thanking their birth parents for the choice they made, to those who believe adoption should be abolished, at anti-adoption Web sites.

There are, of course, facts about adoption that apply universally, including these:

  • Legal fact: Adoptees are parented by neither or only one of their biological parents.
  • Economic fact: Adoption costs money, sometimes a great deal of money.
  • Social fact: Whether Americans have a direct experience of adoption or not, we do not all understand it or support it.
  • Numerical facts: Many groups and organizations compile adoption numbers; however, it’s important to keep in mind the sources of the numbers used, the sizes of populations sampled, and the methods under which the numbers were compiled. For example,
    • The number of children adopted each year from the US foster care system is reported by each state. Reporting is mandatory; states must report these numbers in full.
    • The number of adopted children under the age of 18 reported in the 2000 US Census is based on a sampling of families, and is dependent on accurate reporting and accurate tabulation. Therefore, these numbers are “best estimates,” and the census report itself includes “error factors.”
    • The number of children adopted each year from other countries is based on the number of “orphan visas” issued by the U.S. State Department. While some of these visas may be issued to children who are not being adopted, most are.
    • The number of children adopted each year in total by American families is an estimate only. The number of adoptions of children who are not adopted through the US foster care system is not reported (except on a voluntary basis), and private adoption professionals have no mandatory reporting procedures either.

But universal truths?

Issues abound, but we certainly don’t agree about them.

  • Open records for adult adoptees is being debated in state houses across the nation.
  • Adoption by gay men and lesbians has been banned in some states and approved in others.
  • Searching is an enormous issue. Tens of thousands of searching adoptees and birth parents are listed on the many national registries and listings; however, many never search at all, and some don’t want to be found. Some adoptive parents take the lead on behalf of their children, while others struggle with fears.
  • The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance even claims discrimination against obese people by adoption agencies.

No universal truths here, and we haven’t even touched on ethics, best practices, open adoption, transracial adoption, single parent adoption, adoption by persons over 50, and many more.

We Are Uniquely Diverse

For every birth mother who was coerced or shamed into placing her child for adoption, there is more than likely another who relinquished with full consent, full understanding, and a belief that she was doing what was best for her child.

For every birth father who knew of the pregnancy, there is one or more who did not.

For every adoptive parent who, from a sense of insecurity or from shame or embarrassment over the words sterility or infertility, didn’t tell an adopted child the truth, there are hundreds of thousands of adoptive parents who gave their children an understanding and awareness of their adoption from the very beginning.

And for every adoptee who feels twinges of guilt or betrayal– or even fear– at the thought of learning a birth parent’s name, there are thousands waiting in line to know.

So, What Is The Truth About Adoption?

Is it our collective noise? Is it our individual losses, gains, joys, guilt, shame, or anger?

Whatever our personal truths might be, the Internet has become an enormous source of shared community for the adoption constellation.

  • Advocacy and activism have a very effective Web presence.
  • Adoption professionals have easy access to research and studies from around the world.
  • Expectant parents making an adoption plan and those seeking to adopt are discovering new ways of finding each other.
  • Adoptive parents and their kids can take virtual heritage tours.
  • Photolisting promoting the adoption of waiting children abounds.

And the Web is full of articles, opinions, and historical perspectives that help promote better understanding among members of both the non-adoption and adoption communities.

As we move out onto the Web to learn more about others in this unique family unit, perhaps we will come closer together. Perhaps the Web will be the catalyst that enables us to establish a universal truth:  an appreciation of and respect for our differences.

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Sonia Billadeau


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