Adoptees and Original Parents Speak Out About National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM)

10/29/2016 11:34 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2017

National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM) was originated to bring attention to children in state care who could be adopted. An official description and timeline are available at the Child Welfare Gateway website.

Like all things related to adoption, however, private entrepreneurs – adoption attorneys, adoption facilitators, and adoption agency owners and executives – saw it as an opportunity to hawk their services. Operating as private adoption businesses do, under a smokescreen of do-gooder humanitarianism, they re-appropriated NAAM for their own purposes, flooding the media with elicited “happy” adoption narratives.

Adoptive mother and founder of The Open Nest (a post-adoption peer support independent charity in the UK), Amanda Boorman writes of NAAM:

“It’s that time of year again and National Adoption Week will be promoted on television, radio and social media.
“Millions has been spent over the last few years on recruiting adopters.
“Adult adoptees are not very often invited to the party. Children’s voices rarely appear unless under some government funded project where only the celebratory bits are talked about.”

Put off, and offended, by the one-sided coverage and celebratory nature of NAAM, those most affected – adoptees and their original mothers and fathers – began to seek inclusion and counter the warm-fuzzy happily-ever-after adoption promotion stories with their feelings and their truth about adoption and about the month-long “celebration” of adoption every November. Two years or so ago, several adoptee bloggers began #FlipTheScript, which I wrote about for Huffington Post.

Last month, I put out a request on Facebook for members of the adoption community to share their feelings about November - National Adoption Awareness Month and Day (NAAM). The following are responses I received from those directly affected by adoption - mostly adoptees and some parents who lost children to adoption. Note that those who are identified by first name only stated that they are still getting comfortable with speaking out:

Mary Payne:

“It bothers me that National Adoption Month is used to promote adoption as an ‘option,’ and as a positive thing. Adoption ALWAYS comes from loss. I wish THAT was the focus. I've been reunited for about 20 years, and the loss NEVER goes away. We will never recover fully.”

Janice Nicol:

“As an adoptee, it offends me that people want to celebrate building families by adoption when adoption equally represents the destruction of a natural family and (often lifelong) estrangement from blood relatives for the adoptee. Given the extent of loss for adoptee and natural parents, celebration of this loss seems callous at best. Adoptees lose their parents in adoption....I'm not sure how the rest of society would feel if a month per year was dedicated to celebrating the loss of their parents.”

Theresa:

“I am not a fan of NAAM because as an adult adoptee I feel like a commodity, and I feel that it is not about me. It is about fulfilling the needs of others. In my perfect world there would be no National Adoption Awareness Month, it could be a Family Awareness Month where all family bonds are celebrated and where the secrecy of relinquishment was obliterated.”

Polly Ringler:

“It bothers me that National Adoption Month is used to promote adoption as an ‘option,’ and as a positive thing. Adoption ALWAYS comes from loss. I wish THAT was the focus. I've been reunited for about 20 years, and the loss NEVER goes away. We will never recover fully

Debra Harrington Merryweather:

“I find National Adoption Month and Day disturbing because while finding families for abandoned or orphaned children is good news, during the Baby Scoop Era and potentially now, many infants were rendered ‘motherless’ and made available for placement through deceptive and barbaric coercive ‘counseling’ that instills in vulnerable mothers the false belief that they are not good enough to raise their own infants. Separation of mother and infant at birth breaks a natural, primary family bond. This reality is ignored in feel-good marketing messages.”

Note: BSE stands for the Baby Scoop Era of the 1950s and 60s, when the largest numbers of American babies were placed for adoption. Use of the term, however, creates an image of coercive adoption as a historic event - like slavery in the US. While fewer American women relinquish babies for adoption today, because of access to birth control and a lessening of the stigma of single parenthood, the pressure on those who do is great. Demand for babies is still high, with same-sex couples now competing, and the coercion of expectant mothers and the trafficking of children for adoption continues today worldwide.

Christine Monahan:

“It is a month-long celebration of the worst thing that ever happened to me. It is puketastic propaganda that promotes a multi-billion dollar industry that sold me to an abusive man, sealed my birth certificate and then gave me a false one, artificially bastardized me when I had a father who would have raised me, and it separated me from my siblings and extended family for no reason except MONEY.”

Robert Schultz:

“It sensationalizes the idea [that] adoption is a positive thing, and folks in gen pop should support/invoke current marketing of flesh for cash. … The month is historically and currently an excuse to market adoption by those profiting from it. It's mentally draining and physically sickening. It's a platform for pro-adoption rhetoric, that if shared honestly, would self-regulate said message of a failed experiment. Forever homes for in-need children should be the only message. But… Profit is at its core, leaving everything associated with adoption skewed to that bottom line.”

Renee Davis:

“National Adoption Month (and Day) exists to celebrate something that is, at its foundation, tragic. To normalize something that is perverse. To whitewash something dirty. To beautify something ugly. The constant barrage of “Adoption is beautiful!’ needs no amplification in our society. It's the dominant discourse. I view National Adoption Month the same way I'd view White History Month--beyond ridiculous, since EVERY … month is Adoption and/or White History Month. … I find it downright offensive. To me, nothing about adoption is beautiful. … As an adoptee, I see it for what it actually is: Adoption professionals motivated by profit doing their level best to convince marginalized women they're not good enough to raise their own children so that privileged women may. … I was Plan B. I was purchased to fulfill the desire of a woman who had tried and failed to have children of her own. … I was physically and legally severed from my mother and family, from my identity, from my heritage--and I was expected to bond to a family of genetic strangers because that's what THEY demanded. Despite adoption's claim, NONE of this was for my benefit. My mother was cowed by shame. The agency was in it for profit. My adoptive ‘mother’ wanted to be viewed positively by society. Now tell me: What part of that story sounds beautiful to you?”

Felicia Pirrone:

“National Adoption Month is disturbing and hurtful and troubling personally. As a first mother I cannot applaud the idea that breaking up an existing family - mother and child - to arrange a family someone else thinks is better is disgusting. Why not help the single mom to raise her child - why not provide resources of support and education? It hurts me to know that my daughter was taken from me against my will because I was ill and put into a family that belittled her, denigrated and abused her (including sexually). And they were going to give her a ‘better’ home.”

Abbey Eversole Fluckiger:

“I hate the celebration of the coercive, ecclesiastical abuse that I was put through and that caused me to think giving up my daughter was a good idea. (I'm looking at you, LDS family services.) I hate the idea that all the positive messaging is reaching a vulnerable and scared woman and making her think that maybe adoption could solve her problems, that maybe it is a good idea. I hate knowing other women and their children are just beginning unknowingly on this path of pain because the voices of birth mothers are dismissed and silenced. Because any unhappy adoptee is written off as ungrateful and angry.”

Australian adoptee Angela Barra Oliver wrote why she is Flipping The Switch #FliptheSwitch on National Adoption Awareness Month. She said it troubles her...

“…because unlike what its name implies, [NAAM is] not about raising awareness about the complexities of the adoption experience, it's not about raising awareness about the rights of children and families of origin, it's not about raising awareness about adoptee issues (such as access to our birth certificate), it's not about raising awareness about the need for support services or research on outcomes. Rather, it's all about one objective - glossy adoption promotion dominated by adoptive parents and celebrities.”

Jamie Smith:

“It reminds me of all that I lost. I had living parents, and an entire family and was not allowed to know who they were. My identity was taken, and I was handed over to strangers. I hate seeing this celebrated, like it's great to give kids away and erase their heritage. Plus, I was born and relinquished in November, so triple whammy for me.”

Darlene Coyne:

“…celebrating adoption is like rubbing salt into an open wound. I spent the first 52 years of my life feeling so different from my family but not having a clue why. At age 52 I was told I was adopted, only to be left completely in limbo due to archaic laws which do not allow me to find my birth family… spent the last 10 years trying to find some birth family only to be completely thwarted by the ‘system’ of adoption. I turn 62 this month.
“Many adult adoptees are left out of any genetic connections and medical history for themselves and their progeny.”

Denise Emanuel Clemen:

“Every adoption begins with loss. A child loses its parents. Parents lose a child. Now repeat those last two sentences, removing the word parents. Insert grandparents. Insert aunts and uncles. Insert cousins. Insert family friends. Adoption, both domestic and international, whitewashes the loss. In 1970, the year I relinquished my son in a closed adoption, shame, secrecy, and coercion forced approximately 175,000 young American women to give up their babies. I do not celebrate National Adoption Month. I celebrate my reunion with my son.”

Frank Ligtvoet:

“Adoption is a child welfare intervention of the very last resort. We know that most children with a bit of help can stay with their parent(s), grandparents, extended families, community. Or in many cases can be reunited with their families. We know that adoption is for many children a traumatizing experience, which often shows later in life. We know that mothers who relinquish their children suffer deeply under that loss and grieve for the rest of their lives. Adoption as an institution reflects poorly on the social services in a country, on the way a country treats its citizens. That the US officially celebrates adoption in a month is more than ironic, it is a shame. We should celebrate families, in all the forms they come, instead and celebrate child welfare interventions that keep families together or reunite them.”
“When I see or hear media that portrays adoption as a simple, brave, or noble solution to unplanned pregnancy, I want to step out of the shadows, microphone in hand, and loudly speak three sentences: Never forget adoption begins with a tragic loss that doesn't diminish with time; Adoption should never take place while the mother is still alive and bleeding from birth; All people deserve the right to their original identity just as all mothers deserve the knowledge of what became of their babies.
“I am a birthmother because I was 18 and nobody believed in me so … I lost my baby to strangers. Saying that is like getting punched … It stings and the tears flow involuntarily.”

Holly:

“Adoption Month is just more propaganda. It portrays ONE view, ONE narrative of adoption, that of the adoptive parents’ or prospective adopters’ excitement and joy. It's free advertising for adoption agencies because it portrays adoption as a universal good and emphatically denies every other voice that refuses to kowtow to this narrative. Where are the stories like Erica Parsons? Hana Williams? Candace Newmaker? Or stories like Tina Traster who has made a tidy business portraying herself as a hard-done-by victim writing about the adopted child she 'rehomed' and abandoned? Those stories aren't profitable and go against the narrative, so they're less important than some random couple's quotes about their hopes for adoption. Instead we'll have an entire month, 99% of which is dedicated solely to adoptive parents or those who have absolutely no connection or experience with adoption save for the fact that they HOPE to adopt. Yet their voices and experiences are placed front and center.”

Darlene Denton:

“I have … conflicting feelings about the secrecy surrounding my adoption. I love my adopted family, warts and all. I got the message early on that to ask questions was hurtful to my mother. My adopted father died when I was 2 years old … When I asked innocent questions, her body language would tighten and her look would become intense. I knew I had travelled into some dangerous waters. When I was reunited with my first mother's family … She was devastated. … From her perspective, I had betrayed her. I finally resolved the conflict by keeping my connection to my birth family separate from my adopted family. I am a person with two lives. My adoption life and my real life. I've had to keep my real life hidden from those I love because it brought pain to them resulting in pain to me. Even though my mother long ago passed and I am a great-grandmother, I feel as though I am two separate entities … These thoughts and feeling are always revisited in November when I write a letter in support of opening records for adoptees to the editor of our small weekly newspaper. I still have two lives. I have two emails, one in my adopted name and another in the cradle name given to me by the Gladney agency. I have two genealogies for my families.… ”

Mark Plotczyk:

“Once again, I am reminded that I was, am and always will be in some ways a powerless commodity.....”

Heather Lohbeck Foster:

“It bothers me that the adoption system has become legal human trafficking in children . … No family should have to endure the hurt that mine did. We were told the kids are coming home and it never happened. … Adoption is an atrocity in a lot of cases.”
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