Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Contrary to #FlipTheScript, #ShoutYourAdoption Is All About Shame

Photo by goatsgreetings via Flickr

When I noticed people on my Twitter timeline posting with the hashtag #ShoutYourAdoption, naturally I was intrigued. I’m adopted. Why does anyone want me to shout about it?

Adoptees, don’t get your hopes up thinking this might be another adoptee-centric movement similar to #FliptheScript. It most definitely is not. #ShoutYourAdoption was started to counteract another hashtag, #ShoutYourAbortion, which was created to allow women to speak about their abortion experiences “without the usual frame of guilt, shame, regret, and terror.”

I know something about trying to undo guilt and shame. These are the ropes that still bind my own mother, forty-seven years after she gave birth to me and subsequently relinquished me for adoption, having been given no assistance of any kind that would allow her to keep me. Guilt and shame keep my mother in hiding today, just as she was forced to hide while she was pregnant with me. In 2015, my mother cannot reveal that she gave birth to me—that I am her daughter—because of the guilt and shame she was made to feel when she was sixteen years old back in 1968.

In 1968, abortion was not legal in much of the United States. In Ann Fessler’s remarkable book The Girls Who Went Away, some of the birth mothers who dealt with unplanned pregnancies during the years prior to Roe v. Wade mention abortion:

“I had no idea what I was going to do. I mean, abortions were not legal. The world wasn’t going to accept a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant single mother in 1966.” –Nancy III

“I don’t even think of abortion. Abortion wasn’t legal. I had known friends who had had private abortions. If you had money, you could always get an abortion. Their mothers’ gynecologists did D and Cs, but I was terrified of telling my mother.” –Claudia

It is not likely that my own mother, being raised in a Catholic family, considered abortion in 1968. Yet the pro-life contingent using #ShoutYourAdoption would like me to proclaim my gratefulness for being adopted rather than aborted. If abortion was never a consideration for my mother, tell me again why should I be grateful? And tell me, why should I be grateful not to be aborted just because I’m an adoptee, when in fact every single person alive today was not aborted, including the non-adopted majority? How grateful are you, non-adopted person, that YOUR mother didn’t abort YOU?

The pro-life folks at #ShoutYourAdoption would like everyone to believe that a woman will be more at peace if she relinquishes her child for adoption rather than having an abortion. How then to account for this birth mother interviewed in The Girls Who Went Away:

“You know, a few years after I was married I became pregnant and had an abortion. It was not a wonderful experience, but every time I hear stories or articles or essays about the recurring trauma of abortion, I want to say, ‘You don’t have a clue.’ I’ve experienced both and I’d have an abortion any day of the week before I would ever have another adoption—or lose a kid in the woods, which is basically what it is. You know your child is out there somewhere, you just don’t know where.” –Nancy I

I know because I have talked with my own mother about her experience that her life has been forever altered by the trauma of losing me, her first child, not to mention the crippling shame and guilt she has carried all her life. Did I mention the shame and guilt?

But this post is not about my mother’s reaction to the #ShoutYourAdoption hashtag. This post is about my reaction, as an adoptee, to being used in order to further a political agenda. Because that is what the pro-lifers at #ShoutYourAdoption are doing. They use adoptees to advance their anti-abortion agenda. They would like to present adoption as an option in which everyone wins. Why would you consider aborting your baby when there are people waiting to parent a child?

Here’s a question for the proponents of #ShoutYourAdoption: Would you rather you had been raised by genetic strangers rather than by your own biological family? Think about this: Picture the family that lived three doors down from you when you were growing up. Now imagine you had lived with them your entire childhood and had no idea that your own biological family lived just down the street. Hogwash, you say? Too random, you say? Well, that’s exactly how it is to be adopted. We adoptees were randomly given to strangers to be raised, and we’re expected to be grateful for it.

The pro-lifers at #ShoutYourAdoption want me to acknowledge that if I hadn’t been adopted, I could have been aborted. What they don’t want me to say is that if I hadn’t been adopted, I could have been raised by my own biological mother, or if not by my mother, by another member of my own biological family. And they certainly don’t want me to point out that if I had been aborted, I would not have experienced any of the grief and loss and identity struggle—the chronic pain—that resulted from my adoption.

Let’s not kid ourselves. #ShoutYourAdoption is not only about preventing abortions. It is also about promoting adoption as an option to vulnerable women, so that the long line of waiting prospective adoptive parents might fulfill their wish for a brand new baby. That’s why these folks want to shout about adoption rather than shouting about sex education, or birth control, or assistance for women in poverty, or support for teenage girls to finish high school while they parent. The pro-lifers at #ShoutYourAdoption are not very interested in the lives of grown humans who could use some help to be able to raise their children. They are not very interested in measures that have been proven to lower the incidence of unplanned pregnancies.

And the pro-lifers at #ShoutYourAdoption are not interested in the quality of the lives of adopted people. Their goal is to convince women to relinquish their babies for adoption. In 2015, shame is still the name of the game.

*** For the record, I identify as neither pro-life nor pro-choice.

*** For another adoptee perspective, I recommend this: 6 Reasons Why #ShoutYourAdoption as Push-back to #ShoutYourAbortion is Problematic (at Best)

Karen Pickell was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. She reunited with her birth mother in 2005 and with her birth father in 2007. Her husband is an adoptive father of two children, now grown, from his first marriage, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Karen and her husband live in Florida with their two biological children. She holds a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Georgia; she has published poems, essays, and stories, and is currently working on a memoir. She previously served on the board of directors of the Georgia Writers Association, as editor for the Georgia Poetry Society, and as associate editor of the literary journal Flycatcher. Karen recently founded Adoptee Reading Resource. She blogs about writing, adoption, and other topics at