The Adoptee’s Untold Story, Part 2
This is the second part of an interview with adoptee Angela Barra,* for National Adoption Month. Part one, found in the November 15 issue, includes some of Angela’s personal history and helpful information for adoptive parents. In this second half, Angela continues to share her adoptee perspective
Why do you use the term natural parent?
History with respect to adoption language is really problematic. I studied Psychology in my undergraduate degree at University and understand how language shapes perceptions. I believe there are a lot of euphemisms in adoption which do many of us a disservice. In Australia, I participated in a Senate Inquiry. This link explains why I use the term Natural Mother: Senate Inquiry Report.
The Senate Inquiry report also discusses the sealed records. The national history project notes, “These babies were kept in a separate room and the mothers were not allowed to see or hold them.” The basis of this practice was the ‘clean break’ or ‘blank slate’ theory, which advocated early, uninterrupted bonding between the adoptive mother and the baby to establish an attachment. It was assumed the ‘clean break’ would save mother and child from social stigma. Incorrectly, it was thought mother and child would forget each other and ‘move on’ with their lives.” More information can be found here: Forced Adoption Practices.
What do you want natural (birth) parents to know?
I personally prefer to use the term ‘natural parents’ and I shy away from the term ‘birth parents’. However, I recognize it’s a difficult landscape to navigate and I think it’s up to the adopted person and their family to define the language they are comfortable with.
In terms of what I want them to know? This is a difficult question to answer because there are so many reasons parents relinquish their child. Personally, I want them to know I don’t believe poverty or other structural inequalities should be the driver that separates them from their children.
What would you like to say to your fellow adoptees?
It’s okay to express complex feelings associated with being adopted, whether positive or negative. There are adult adoptees fighting against the inequalities we face as a minority group. I want them to know there is an international movement to collectively raise our voices. I want them to know they aren’t alone in their complex feelings and they aren’t an anomaly.
Tell us about your original birth certificates being inaccessible and why it’s so important to have access to this information.
I don’t know of any other group of people who are collectively denied access to their original birth certificate! It’s bewildering that this practice was ever deemed okay or humane. According to research, and for the closed-adoption era, the sealing of our birth certificates and associated secrecy was deemed to be in our best interest.
This antiquated practice denies adopted people their fundamental rights to know their lineage and original identity. Hiding this tells me that my birth is shameful and the truth should be shrouded in secrecy. this practice was never in my best interest so why is it still occurring? There are multiple reasons adoptees should have access to this information. Aside from our basic human rights, there are other factors that people who know their biological roots take for granted: ethnicity and cultural identity, medical information and ancestral history.
Do you think an open adoption (not necessarily direct contact) helps the adoptee accept and understand things?
I was raised in a closed adoption so it’s difficult to answer this from my personal perspective. What I can say is this: my roots, culture and original identity are fundamental to who I am. Open adoption appears to offer the best of both worlds. However, I fail to see why it’s necessary to legally sever an adopted person from their natural parents, and issue a new birth certificate and name. In that vein, open and closed adoptions appear to be two sides of the one coin. The relationship to their natural families (including siblings and extended family) is still legally terminated and the adoptees are disinherited.
I believe there has to be a better and more inclusive way. For example, I recently became aware of the practice called ‘simple adoption’ which on the surface appears meritorious.
What is flip the script?
The #flipthescript movement began as a Twitter hashtag headed by Rosita González at Lost Daughters. It originated in the beginning of November 2014 for National Adoption Month. This movement was instituted as a counterbalance to the dominant adoption messages during this time whereby celebrities, lobbyists, and adoptive parents dominate the discussion. According to Lost Daughters, the goal was to facilitate a welcoming space for adoptees irrespective of their feelings towards adoption (e.g. positive, angry, sad or ambivalent) and ensure the representation of adult adoptee voices during National Adoption Awareness Month.
Why do you think people call adoptee activists dissenting?
I love that you’ve asked this question. Honestly, we shouldn’t be considered dissenting. I’ve used it in the past to illustrate the reception that some activists, including myself, have received when discussing adoption from our perspective. In my experience, the voices considered meritorious in adoption are typically media commentators, adoptive parents and celebrities. When adoptees talk about adoption issues, we’re met with disbelief and shock. People generally seem to lack awareness that adoptees may not all be grateful and living a fairytale. Adoption is generally viewed as a win-win scenario and it’s difficult to challenge this dominant discourse. Adoptive parents are often held up as altruistic saviors and adoptees who speak out ungrateful anomalies. Having our voices heard is incredibly difficult. As with any minority group, we continue to be marginalized. Our grief and loss isn’t recognized in the broader community hence the term ‘disenfranchised grief.’ The issues around our inequality aren’t well understood. This is why I speak out. I hope eventually it’ll be common knowledge and people will support and demand our voice and our rights.
It’s very disempowering that everyone is advancing adoption using the pervasive phrase in the “best interests of the child” yet many don’t care about adult adoptees like me who speak about issues and our rights. I think people fail to remember adult adoptees were once the babies society deemed in need of saving. Adoption is a lifelong experience; it doesn’t stop once the child has been adopted. I continue to learn about myself and adoption, and this will continue to evolve.
What can people do to help promote/support adoptee rights?
They can read and engage with diverse (some say dissenting [see above]) adoptee platforms and blogs, such as: I AM ADOPTED, Adoptee in Recovery or Dear Adoption. They can investigate adoption practices and read books that shine a light on the broader issues within the adoption industry. They can get in touch with legal advocacy agencies such as ADOPTEE RIGHTS LAW who are fighting for adult adoptee’s unrestricted rights to birth certificates.
Thank you, Angela, for speaking about your feelings and experiences as an adoptee. It takes great strength to speak out about such an emotive subject, especially when your thoughts and feelings are not well-known or understood. Your time and thoughtful answers are much appreciated.
If you would like to connect with Angela directly, visit her Huffington Post blog: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/angela-barra
* Angela’s answers and viewpoints do not reflect those of all adoptees.