Sunday, November 13, 2016

For Adoptees, the Fight Continues

This month has been difficult for many. In the adoptee community, November is usually spent spotlighting adoptee voices for National Adoption Awareness Month, but for many of us our attention has been turned towards an American presidential election that has turned more unbelievable at every turn. Many of us watched the results in horror and disbelief thinking, maybe the country isn’t as progressive as we thought it was.

It made me think about attitudes towards adoption and adoptees - are things really changing?

On September 13th, I received an email from Al Jazeera about participating in their online show, The Stream. They were searching for transracial adoptees who had decided to move back to their countries of birth. Although I didn’t fit the exact profile they were looking for, they still asked me to submit a video comment. I did, and I tuned in on Thursday, September 29 to watch the show.

Tadesse speaking out on Al Jazeera's The Stream
The show featured three adoptees: Heran Tadesse an Ethiopian adoptee from the Netherlands, Caspar Erickson, a Korean adoptee from Denmark, and Holly McGinnis, a Korean Adoptee from the United States. The three adoptees were also joined by Elizabeth Bartholet, an adoptive mom and the director of the child advocacy program at Harvard Law School.

The host, Femi Oke asked the adoptees a few questions about their experiences growing up, which lead to a discussion about identity. Tadesse said she lost her traditional culture and she had to relearn her language, which is why she moved back to Ethiopia.

Oke then asked Bartholet, the adoptive mom of two, how her children dealt with their identity growing up. Bartholet she said that all children struggle with identity, and she did not that think there were “major traumatizing psychological issues build into the idea of being adopted.” Bartholet went on to say “that are way worse things that kids go through.”

Whoa, I thought to myself. I know that she doesn't represent all adoptive parents, but she was sharing the same platform with adoptees to spout such potentially damaging rhetoric. How many others had consulted with her because they viewed her as an adoption expert? How many adoptive parents had gone to her with their questions?

Later on in the show, I tweeted in and I suggested that parents take the fees from adoption agencies (which can be upwards of $50,000) and spend it on supporting families. Potential adopters (or anyone, really) can support mothers by supporting organizations like Haitian Families First so mothers are not pressured into relinquishing their children in exchange for medical care or a chance at an education.

Bartolett scoffed at the suggestion and said that “it’s not going to happen.” Why? Because it’s not how the adoption system works.The widespread belief is that children living in poverty need new families. For adoptees, biology gets pushed down on the list of priorities, but having your basic needs met and knowing your family history are both important in the development of a healthy child.

As an adoptee who has benefitted greatly from my circumstances. I have never shied away from acknowledging and appreciating everything I have gained through my adoption. But I also won't shy away from lamenting the things I have lost. I can express both of these feelings at the same time. And people still don’t understand that. I try not to read the negative comments on news websites and blogs, but I have been called an “ungrateful bitch” because I went back to search for my family in Haiti. I’ve been told to go back to my “shit hole” of a country if I was so unhappy. I’ve been accused of being a “spoiled little brat” because I wanted to know more about my history. Because I’ve expressed how hard it was to grow up not really knowing who I was. And while these comments are from people able to hide behind the anonymity of the internet, these sentiments reflect the general attitude towards adoptees speaking out - "You're lucky, so be quiet."

With adoptee centered blogs, books, conferences, and documentaries, it seems that we are making progress with how we view adoption, right? Sometimes I’m not so sure.

Like many Americans who felt disappointed and angry with the results of the election, their feelings were rooted in their previous perception that things were changing. But here we are. Still fighting an uphill battle it seems.

Adoptees are still fighting to change the conversation about adoption. We fight it every time we speak up, write a book, host a podcast, film an interview. We challenge the idea that adoptees must stay silent or only express their gratitude. Instead, adoptees should be allowed to express a wide range of emotions when it comes to their adoption experience. And it’s going to take adoptees speaking out and continuing to fight to change the adoption narrative so the next generation of adoptees will benefit.

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she is a published author and supporter of international adoption reform.