November is National Adoption Month, sometimes referred to as National Adoption Awareness Month. It was instituted as National Adoption Week in 1984 by Ronald Reagan and extended to National Adoption Month in 1995 by Bill Clinton. Its original purpose was to bring attention to the children in foster care in order to find permanent adoptive homes for them, but it’s often used as a month-long celebration of all adoptions. It’s been taken over by adoptive parents and agencies who profit from placing newborn babies with adoptive families to celebrate this method of building a family.
What if I told you that infant adoption isn’t something to celebrate?
I do not celebrate a child losing their family. When a child is adopted, they don’t just lose their mother; they lose their father, their siblings in many cases, their grandparents, their aunts, uncles, and cousins. They lose their ancestors, their genetic history. International and transracial adoptees lose all of this, as well as their culture, language, and heritage. They lose their entire family. Even if they reunite with their first family later, the bonds and relationships they would have had are irrevocably changed. Even if their adoption is open and they have contact with their first families, the bonds and relationships they would have had are irrevocably changed. Losing a family is not something to celebrate.
I do not celebrate a person’s birth certificate being sealed and replaced with a legal document containing biologically false information. When a person is adopted, their original birth certificate is sealed and filed. The adopted person is issued an amended birth certificate that lists their adoptive parents as the parents who gave birth to them. In some states, an adopted person can request a copy of their original birth certificate once they’re adults, but many states do not allow adopted people to obtain this document under any circumstance, and many of the states that do also require additional paperwork and fees in order to obtain a sealed birth certificate. Adopted people have fewer legal rights, pay higher costs, and must invest more emotional labor than non-adopted people. This is not something to celebrate.
I do not celebrate a system that takes advantage of expectant parents to turn a profit. The adoption industry, which centers around infant adoption, is a multimillion dollar business. The supply of infants is significantly lower than the demand for infants, with some estimates that there is only 1 available baby for every 36 prospective adoptive families. When an industry operates within such a shortage of product, it often turns to unethical practices in order to satisfy demand. The adoption industy has been exploiting expectant and new parents for generations.
In the early 1900’s, Georgia Tann normalized the business of adoption – she kidnapped children and sold them to other people. She had a network of police officers, attorneys, scouts, and doctors working with her. Her network doctors would often tell new mothers that their babies had died when they were actually given to Tann to be sold. She didn’t just steal more than 5000 babies – around 500 died while in her “care”. The unethical practices she employed, such as having new mothers sign paperwork to relinquish their parental rights while still affected by drugs from labor, calling potential adoptees “gifts”, changing children’s names, and charging exhorbitant fees to prospective adoptive parents, set the standard for adoptions occurring today.
Tann’s focus on eugenics, cutthroat procurement practices, and shaming of young and unwed mothers led to the rise of adoption post World War II, during a period in U.S. history called the “Baby Scoop Era”. Between 1940 and 1970, over 4 million newborns were adopted from unwed and young mothers, many of whom were sent to maternity homes by their families in order to hide the shame of their pregnancies from family, friends, and neighbors. They provided free labor to the facility until their babies were removed from them after they were born and placed with adoptive families unknown to the mother. Adoption facilitators and doctors preyed mostly on white women during this time, convincing them that they were mentally unsound because they had become pregnant outside of marriage; in reality, the demand for white newborns was high, and obtaining the commodity of a newborn in the numbers needed to bring in the most money and satisfy the most customers meant relying on coersion and lies.
Today, adoption agencies and prospective adoptive parents use the allure of open adoption and the promise of a better life for the child to persuade expectant parents to relinquish their children. When these parents are financially unstable or lack family support, they see these promises as a way to provide more for their children. This is coersion, and these parents aren’t given all of the facts before signing the irrevokable document that severs their legal rights to their children. Facts like how the separation of an infant from their mother causes lifelong trauma in the preverbal brain, how just $500 can provide the financial stability they need in order to provide for their children, how there are numerous groups and programs poised to help with physical and financial support, how adoptive parents are still just people and they can experience financial loss and divorce and addiction and are capable of abusing and neglecting children. This history and its persistence is not something to celebrate.
I do not celebrate infertility. Around 12% of women and 8% of men are infertile. Some are able to use infertility treatments and assisted reproductive technology to have their own biological children, but these treatments do not work for everyone. Desiring a family and subsequently discovering infertility or losing multiple pregnancies is devastating and traumatizing; these people are dealt a terrible hand.
Some people struggling with infertility turn to adoption to “complete their families.” They work with adoption agencies or attorneys (often, both) to advertize themselves to expectant mothers in crisis, hoping that one will choose them and give them a baby to raise. Many assume (or are told) that mothers considering adoption don’t love their babies, don’t want their babies, or are drug addicts, though this is almost always not the case. They often aren’t told and don’t consider the pain a mother feels when she surrenders a child, a process emotionally similar to losing a pregnancy and one that leads to high rates of secondary infertility (meaning the birth mother can never have another child).
In addition to infertility, around 10% of the population does not identify as heterosexual or participate in heterosexual relationships. Many people in same sex relationships also turn to adoption to have a family. Though not necessarily infertile, their situation is similar to infertile people in that fate/biology as opposed to choice finds them unable to bear biological children.
The inability to produce biological offspring despite a strong desire to parent is a genuine tragedy, and it’s only natural to consider using adoption as a means of growing a family. Adoption is suggested by infertility specialists, religious leaders, and the general public, because it’s regarded as a way to save or help a baby in need. But no one has the right to raise children, even if they have a strong desire to do so. Adopting a child cannot heal the deep wound of infertility. Rather, it takes that wound and spreads it to the family from which the adopted infant is born, and to the adopted person as well. These losses and their inherent trauma are not something to celebrate.
I do not celebrate unethical businesses. We generally do not support or celebrate other industries and practices wrought with ethical concerns. We don’t accept big banks taking advantage of consumers. We protest war. We boycott companies using child labor. We join class action lawsuits when social media companies misuse our private data. We abolished slavery. The adoption industry is a long-standing bastion of unethical practices: shaming and guilting expectant mothers rather than supporting them, promising high-demand commodities to high-paying customers, pre-birth matching of expectant mothers and prospective adoptive parents, providing inadequate education and resources to both expectant mothers and prospective adoptive families, removing children from their families, and telling those children that they should be grateful they were “given up” and given a “better life”. I see nothing worth celebrating here.
But adoption isn’t black and white. I am adopted, and I am so grateful for that. There absolutely are thousands of children inside or skirting the foster system like me, who need a loving family to care for them or to protect them from a dangerous first family. Those are the children that this month of awareness is supposed to be about. I acknowledge the trauma that these children experience, advocate for appropriate mental health and emotional care, and celebrate when loving and capable families are able to provide the permanency and stability that all children deserve.