WRITING, RIGHTING AND RITING ADOPTEES’ IDENTITIES:
AN ORGANISATIONAL RITE OF PASSAGE
(written on behalf of IdentityRites), see www.identityrites.org
Abstract: IdentityRites is a group of adults who are adopted. We formed a group to find commonalities in our own experiences and to give a voice to Adoptees. The National Apology for Forced Adoptions brought to our awareness the lack of understanding in the nation for the depths of despair that can be part of our lives as Adoptees. The current debate about making adoptions easier, concerns us greatly, and is based in the mythology that adoption creates ‘normal families’. Where a society has increasing needs to find alternative care for children, the causes of family breakdown should be examined. Increasing adoptions is asking children to carry the burden for a society that cannot nurture healthy parents. Adoptees in turn often have difficulties with their own abilities to parent because of their adoption experiences. This paper looks at the needs of adult adoptees from the forced adoption era. We call for research to be undertaken to understand the lived experiences of Adoptees.
Keywords: Trauma, Separation, Identity, Adoptee research, Adoptee experiences, Adoption costs, falsified birth certificates.
WRITING, RIGHTING AND RITING ADOPTEES’ IDENTITIES
AN ORGANISATIONAL RITE OF PASSAGE
IdentityRites is a newly formed group of adults who are adopted. We formed the group to give a voice to Adoptees who are
• Deprived of knowledge of identity, heritage, and medical information
• Issued with false birth certificates
• Denied public acknowledgement and awareness of the lifelong impact of separating us from our blood families.
We seek to quench the yearning for the dignity of genetic and ancestral connection.
The National Apology for Forced Adoptions resulted from the lobbying for a Senate Inquiry into the Forced Adoptions and was the culmination of many years of work by mothers who were dispossessed of their children. The process brought to our awareness the lack of understanding in the nation for the depths of despair that can be part of our lives as Adoptees. It also highlighted our isolation as individuals; services provided within the adoption industry in our State appear to specialise in family tracing and reunions, as if they are our only issues. Services in our State run groups in a particular way that does not encourage us to find our voices or enable us to explore our core issues. Our stories are invisible in the popular media and some of our members experienced hostility through interactions as an Adoptee on the internet. The Apology helped us understand we had disappeared from our mothers’ stories, and have yet to appear with our own. Through IdentityRites and this paper we are seeking to emerge as a distinct group of people with recognition for the particular issues at our core.
The current debate about making adoptions easier, concerns us greatly. We do not support using adoptions to privatise foster care for children whose parents are unable to care for them. These debates do not consider the costs of adoption to the adoptive parents or to adoptees over their life-time, because they are private expenses the individuals themselves have to meet. The costs to government and their legal liability are reduced when foster care numbers are reduced. There is no incentive for governments to improve foster care so that children do not have to experience numerous placements. Most importantly there is no incentive for governments to strengthen family networks that are fragmenting or disintegrating in a market based economy, which is creating bigger divisions between those with wealth and educational opportunities, and those in poverty. Governments need to alleviate the poverty and provide the education and infrastructure to deal with affordable housing, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems and intergenerational child abuse. When children are asked by the media, whether they would rather have been adopted instead of fostered, the children are responding to a mythological presentation of adoption; that adoption will provide them with security in a happy family without problems. There is little research available to show the ongoing impacts and outcomes for Adoptees. The children are never asked if they would prefer that their parents get the help they need to be able to successfully care for them.
Our experiences are mostly about being adopted as babies, soon after birth or after a period of institutionalisation. We would like our lived experiences as adult Adoptees to be part of the current discussions on adoption, and assert that further research into the lives of Adoptees is essential. Research for the latest study was based on self-selected respondents to an Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) survey. This approach misses out on the number of Adoptees who did not survive childhood, those who have mental illnesses including depression which makes them unlikely to respond to surveys, or those who are in prisons, and others who have already suicided. Those who did respond reported life-long effects of adoption, yet many of these people like most of us, are probably Adoptees who have had ‘good’ adoption experiences. Research done in the 1970’s showed higher proportions of Adoptees were in mental institutions or prisons than the general population. Recent US research has shown young Adoptees are about four times more likely to suicide than young non-Adoptees. Two celebrity suicides reported in the media recently were Adoptees. The point we want to make is this; we do not know if there was a link in these cases but it is worth exploring. Therapists often don’t make the connection between symptoms of mental illness and adoption and Adoptees themselves are often equally unaware that the way they feel about themselves may well be linked to their adoption experience and separation at birth. We recognise it. If the two women who committed suicide had ever embraced their adoption stories and met with other Adoptees, their lives may well have found a safe anchorage. Where other people may have the resilience to weather the storms of life, Adoptees often find it difficult to do so.
IdentityRites believes Adoptees have needs which are not recognised by most current service providers or by the idealised adoption industry.
There is evidence that children separated from their mothers at birth suffer complex trauma. A significant scar remains, which can be opened by subsequent life events. Because of our birth experience many of us never experience the safety and security of a strong attachment to another person later in our lives; our lives and relationships are built on an insecure foundation. We live with the ongoing presence of a ‘Primal Wound’.
It is our position that Adoptees need service providers located outside the adoption industry, and who are able to recognise our needs as they often conflict with those of other parties to adoption. One agency cannot truly support all parties fairly. For example:
One of our members wanted to write a letter to her biological mother. She wanted information about her father because she had escalating medical problems and doctors were asking for family history. The service provider agency helped her write the letter, asking for information about her father. Before sending the letter they added a paragraph of their own, offering her mother confidentiality. When the mother responded they were unable to tell the Adoptee what the mother had said, defeating the purpose of writing the letter.
They could not explain their actions, other than by providing copies of Policy Statements. They could not explain what they saw as their purpose in writing the letter, if it was not to act on behalf of the Adoptee who wanted crucial medical information. They could not explain what they were going to do with the information other than to file it away confidentially. The Adoptee was denied access to the medical information she had sought repeating the pattern of her life; her personal information was not available to her and she felt disempowered once again.
The agency saw the need to protect the mother and see her as a potential client, even though the mother was not asking to be a client. And the agency could not act effectively for the Adoptee as the primary client in this instance. Should the agency continue to be funded to provide adoptee services?
We believe this continuing disempowerment is because the trauma of separation from the mother, and the resulting wound to the child is not recognised. Yet this scar is always present; this birthmark is not visible, but results in a profound sense of loss and grief, doubts, fears and anxieties. The services offered to Adoptees do not always address our basic requirements. The non-recognition of our trauma can result in us being marginalised and becoming re-traumatised.
IdentityRites advocates that greater consideration be given to the following matters to address the needs of Adoptees:
Research. Our lives have been impacted by a social experiment (adoption), and the results of this experiment have not been adequately researched to fully understand the impact of separation of a baby from its mother at birth over the long term. More Adoptees than other groups combined responded to the AIFS Forced Adoptions survey, suggesting they have the greatest need to be heard and understood and the greatest need for services. Limited research means there is very little literature to draw on and our group would like to see more research focussing on these aspects:
• We want research into the lives of children after adoption to inform adoption debates. Longitudinal studies of Adoptees lives are needed, which include drop-out rates due to death from all causes including suicide, and to incarceration and institutionalisation. We hear from birth mothers who have eventually discovered their children did not survive childhood.
• Data collection needs to be done, at the very least in combination with the harmonisation of records – but more appropriately data could be collected through sources such as the Census.
• Data collection needs to include childhood illnesses including grief and depression plus physical illnesses. Most members of our group consider themselves lucky to have survived childhood.
• We rely on many Adoptee writings (anecdotal evidence) to understand our own being. More often than not we make sense of adoption mainly by interacting with our adopted peers and recognising that they have similar core issues because counsellors and the government departments we have to deal with usually have no understanding of what adoption is like for the Adoptee.
Recognition as a distinct group. We have distinct core issues that are not recognised in a society that lauds adoptive parents as our rescuers and saviours. Our needs are overshadowed by the needs of prospective adoptive parents, who drive the continuation of the adoption industry. These societal values are embedded in existing adoption services.
• Services for Adoptees need to be separate from other adoption services to avoid a conflict of interest.
• Independent peer support groups need to be supported as Adoptees obtain some of the greatest benefit from peer interaction.
• We want a national day of rituals recognising the losses imposed on Adoptees by adoption.
• IdentityRites members have found some of the greatest help comes from outside the provided services by sharing stories and support among our peers. In contrast many service providers contribute to exacerbating existing trauma.
Birth Certificates. IdentityRites does not support the issuing of what we believe are fraudulent birth certificates. We are born to one mother, and by definition this is the only mother whose name should appear on a birth certificate. The sperm donor should be named as the father. Adoptions are not normal, and our society has to find another way to resolve the issue of closed adoptions without creating false identities. Adoption should be recorded on an ‘Adoption Certificate’, which does not change the original birth certificate. We believe this is the only honest solution.
Medical services costs. The recent AIFS study found that there were long term consequences for Adoptees, including lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of psychological distress, including issues of attachment, identity, abandonment, and the parenting of our own children. These consequences come at enormous costs to Adoptees and their families, in direct financial costs and reduced ability to remain in stable employment and relationships. Health costs put a huge demand on personal resources.
• Adoptees need assistance with medical health costs, such as a Gold Card.
• Our on-going mental and physical health needs should be covered by Medicare by including ‘adoption issues’ as a valid referral category to various psychological services’
Appropriate therapies and counsellors. Research needs to be conducted to establish appropriate therapies for disturbances of core identity and trauma issues caused by adoption. Until then:
• Counsellors need to be professionally trained in trauma counselling specific to Adoptees.
• Counsellors need to understand issues of abandonment and rejection and be able to work with Adoptees and their core issues.
• We have found most counsellors are not experienced in Adoptee issues, and instead we have had to educate them at the same time as seeking help from them.
Legal advisors and advocates. We currently rely on government employees and support service workers for what information we get. We never know our rights because we are told different things by different people at different times (sometimes all on the one day).
• Our identities are legal (and sometimes illegal) fictions and we need access to specialist advocacy and legal advice.
• Current services give primacy to the rights of others, to the exclusion of our needs.
• When contact is being sought peacefully in cases where there is no veto, Apprehended Violence Orders have been threatened and we do not know our rights.
• IdentityRites considers free specialist legal advice and advocacy for adoptees should be available through the Community Legal Centres.
Costs we don’t want to incur anymore
• Costs for all legal matters relating to our adoption
• Birth certificate (fraudulent and original). A person should only have to pay for one birth certificate because they were only born once. We should receive reimbursement for payments already made.
• Medical costs including DNA testing/profiling
• Adoptees living in regional areas should be supported to access services
• Costs related to searching for family and family history
In summary, our lived Adoptee experiences mostly support the AIFS Report findings – that:
General services are very poorly informed about the impacts of adoption, and generally shared the same myths and misunderstandings about adoption as the general public, but give these misunderstandings an air of professional certitude (2012).
Rather than gaps in the current service system our experience within our own State is one of systemic inadequacies as we have outlined above.
We seek to have our voices heard. We seek support in balancing the myths and assumptions prevalent in society (and promoted by many service providers) that the earlier a child is ‘transferred’ the less damage is incurred. We want services to recognise that separating a mother and child at birth always results in trauma, and that trauma shapes a person’s life and makes them vulnerable to difficulties at all subsequent stages of their life.
We want to be recognised, acknowledged, validated, seen and heard. We want to be enfranchised.