I saw this video on Upworthy about a month ago. I typically like the progressive and politically motivated videos shared on that site. This video, titled “I Like Adoption,” was different. It is probably one of the most disturbing pieces on adoption that I have seen. I am an transnational, transracial adoptee from China, and I am tired of the media simplifying and glorifying adoption as the “ultimate act of love.” While love is abundant in this family, the video ignores the less harmonious elements of adoption including all of the losses: loss of biological ties, country, culture, and language. It skips discussing the discomfort in not knowing one’s origin and being presented with racism that white parents have never had to face. Adoption means isolation in thoughts and feelings, division between two countries and two families, confusion in seeking self, loss upon loss, and grief and sadness about all of those losses. This video, and the media in general, romanticizes adoption by presenting a rosy, picturesque scenario in which no depth of the true emotions involved are shown.
One of the first grievances in this short film is when the father quotes his wife saying, “I found this child who needs x and y and z. And all we have to do is fly over the ocean, give funding, connect this dot to here, and it’d be done.” However, adoption is a lifelong process; it isn’t ever simply “done.” In an article entitled “Lifelong Impact, Enduring Need” by adoptee activist and researcher, John Raible, he says: “Adoption, by itself, is a dramatic, life-altering event, which incurs lifelong consequences for families. Adoptions that cross race lines add a complicating overlay of issues pertaining to difference and discrimination on top of the core adoption issues, making the ongoing support and education of transracial families crucial to their well-being and happiness. For this reason, I contend that parents, adoptees, and their siblings need and deserve ongoing and long-term postadoption support.”Assuming that the process of adoption is over once adoptive parents have come back to the United States with their children is unrealistic because adoption issues will continuously come up over a person’s life, and it can be extremely damaging if an adoptee’s parents aren’t prepared to deal with complex emotions, hindering the adoptee’s ability to grieve appropriately as these issues occur.
At one point in the video, Sharon says, “It’s true, we had no experience and didn’t really know how to raise them, but you see what happens with unconditional love. You give a person unconditional love, and they blossom.” While some adoption advocates like to believe that purely “good intentions” and “unconditional love” are enough, they’re not. Without understanding and support for adoption-related issues or concerted efforts in maintaining a connection to the child’s original culture, “unconditional love” is essentially meaningless. I think having an attitude of “love being able to conquer all” is one of the biggest mistakes that adoptive parents can make. Adopted children have had to face many traumas in their short lives that “unconditional love” in an adoptive family can’t simply cover up. Alternately stated, the presence of love in my adoptive family does not negate all of the painful emotions brought by adoption and the absence of my biological family in my life.
The father goes on to say, “The pure joy that will come from a rescue and a ransom of a child’s life is probably the most satisfying thing you can imagine.” These are perhaps some of the most disgusting words I have ever heard come from an adoptive parent. Children should be brought into a family to be a family member, not a humanitarian aid project. Connoting that parents “save” their child makes the adoptee feel forever indebted and eternally grateful to their parents in an abnormal way. How can a “normal” relationship develop if one party has to feel constantly appreciative for their life? In the case of this video, many of the children were alternately abled, and so there are other complications within the adoption system. But for fully-able-bodied children being adopted, people with a “save the children” mentality need to question what they are saving these children from? A life of poverty which would lead to little education? Why should poverty be a justification for separating families or disallowing people any other options? Keeping the discussion ofadoption at a “divine” level, and ignoring the actual political issues surrounding it ensures that the problems which drive adoption will continue. Instead of asking “would this child have lived a better life here or there?” the question should instead be, “what caused this child to be relinquished in the first place?” The truly compassionate act to take would be to work on medical advancements and social changes within these countries so that children may be able to stay in their original families.
Mr. Dennehy also says, “You know, being born into a family, you don’t even decide that. That kind of happens biologically. But when you’re adopted, your parents looked out at the whole world and picked you.” He is correct that children don’t decide who they’re born to, but children likewise don’t decide to be relinquished and adopted either. Additionally, children don’t have a choice about what family they’re adopted into – adoption is a series of choices made by adults on a child’s behalf. The child is a powerless pawn in the process. And in most situations the prospective adoptive parents have no say in what child becomes theirs. They simply specify that they want an infant – that doesn’t make a child specially chosen, it makes them merchandise.
It is clear that George Dennehy, adopted from Romania, has been indoctrinated by a rhetoric that he has been saved. His father says, “You think that they don’t really know the gravity of them being rescued or saved. Then you’ll see them in an external setting, like one of them was in front of 300 people last Friday night, and he tells people that he probably wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t been adopted by his family.” While what George says about the cultural intolerance for deformities in Romania at the time of his birth is realistic, it is unrealistic to want an adopted child to feel eternally grateful to their parents for their adoption. It doesn’t allow a person to fully express the pain over the losses in their life if what has been given to them is supposedly “so much better” and their parents are also their saviors. How do you tell the person who “saved” you that you miss your birthfamily or you just feel sad and don’t know why. Secondly, being critical of systems is how we improve them. If an adoptee is supposed to be simply grateful for their adoption and not acknowledge any of the negative components, how will the system ever improve?
- HOLMBERG: Ashland family with nine children from six countries (wtvr.com)