Glasnost means openness. Mikhail Gorbachev saw its inevitability and decided to get in front of the parade. Those who today patrol outdated walls that oppress people would do well to follow Gorbachev's lead. People like NJ Governor Chris Christie, NY Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein and others who have dedicated themselves to preserving walls built on a foundation of shame are well-advised to study history and consider their own legacies.
Even though the Berlin Wall fell suddenly a quarter-century ago, hastening the end of the Cold War, in hindsight we were not all that surprised. Historically we note that of course people eventually throw off shackles. Of course the human spirit cannot be contained forever. The human spirit is hard-wired to reach for light, to yearn for freedom, to crave openness. And settle for no less.
So today, during National Adoption Awareness Month, I make a bold prediction: the walls that still exist in adoption will fall not gradually and softly but in a rush. A shocking, thunderous rush, just like we saw nearly 25 years ago in Europe.
It's coming -- mark my words: openness in adoption will be here within the decade. We'll wonder how we ever tolerated anything less.
So what are these walls in adoption? What has been erected as the legacy of fear and shame since the start of the Baby Scoop Era, post-war, in the 1940s? For one, many people think it's unnatural or "weird" that my children's birth parents are part of our extended family. Some are shocked we would let into our lives a "crack whore birth mother" or a "scary birth father" -- both said tongue-in-cheek. Coming from a place of fear and duality, some think there should remain a wall between our family and our children's birth families, lest our children become confused (Jim Gritter, a pioneer in the open adoption movement, says about such confusion: "Is it your experience that to be fully informed is to be confused?").
But coming from a place of love and wholeness, inviting my children's birth parents into our lives as respected members of our family seems as natural as keeping in touch with my own parents and just as important in helping my tweens integrate their identities. "Adoption creates a split between a persons' biology and her biography. Openness is an effective way to help heal that split." -- that's the premise of the book I've written with my daughter's birth mom, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.
As I speak at adoption agencies around the country and connect with people who hope to or have become parents via adoption, I see an opening, a softening, an understanding that openness -- with or without contact -- is as vital to an adopted child in her identity-building as food, shelter and showing up at soccer games are to satisfying the lower levels on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
The second and more oppressive wall is the one guarding original birth records from their rightful owners -- adult adoptees. By circumstance of birth, my children belong to a class of people whose civil rights are not fully recognized. I can go to my county clerk and get my original birth records and you can go to your county clerk and get your original birth records (unless you were adopted), but adult adoptees in 41 states plus the District of Columbia face a practically insurmountable wall between them and their own vital records, their very identity.
Why? Why the need for such a wall?
Closed systems rely on fear to sustain them. In adoption, this fear is rooted in shame -- the shame of being caught in an unplanned pregnancy; the shame of being infertile; the shame of being a "bastard" born to unmarried parents. Isn't it time to vanquish shame in adoption?Let's examine the parallels between this practice of closing birth records and the Berlin Wall.
- Elites make decisions on behalf of the common people.
- Walls are not for the benefit of those walled in. They are for the presumed benefit of the Elites and those the Elites deem in need of protection.
- In a repressive environment, large expenditures are needed to repress, diverting funds that could be spent actually helping people. Organizations that are behind efforts to keep records closed could be spending their wall-preservation lobbying funds on something more nourishing to those they claim to serve.
- In a repressive environment there is secrecy, and corruption is therefore difficult to detect. Without the possibility of someone shining light in an environment, corruption and rot can flourish.
- Repressive systems cause people to find ways around it. When support for the system erodes, black markets are created and people find ways to skirt the wall to get what they feel they should have access to.
- "Facts are not a key part of the equation," says Tim Urban of his recent trip to North Korea (admittedly, not European fallen Communism) on Wait But Why. "Everyone lies about everything all the time," he says of state-sanctioned lies, which is what many adoptees' amended birth certificates contain.
- It's human nature to resist resist the tyranny of Elites.
- Repression is not eternally affordable or sustainable.
- When any system fails to meet the fundamental needs of its people (such as the right to know one's identity), civil unrest is likely to follow.
- The Internet is a great destabilizer for Elites. It facilitates connections, joins voices, and democratizes light-shining into previously well-guarded nooks and crannies.
What may have seemed all right yesterday often looks very different after the fall of a wall. The shooting of would-be defectors by East German border guards was justified by the Elites. But post-openness, those shootings were treated as acts of murder by reunified Germany. How will history judge those who repeatedly act to violate the civil rights of a group of people? How will history remember those who refuse to "tear down this wall"?
Fifty years ago, John F Kennedy said at the Brandenburg Gate, Ich bin ein Berliner. In solidarity with my children and others whose civil rights are violated right here in the 21st century, I invite you to say with me, Ich bin ein Adoptee.
To get involved in the demolition of adoption walls, visit the Adoptee Rights Coalition.
More info: Vital Records, a short film by Jean A. S. Strauss