Comments, Assumptions, and Questions

The following chapter was intentionally omitted in the final edition of Forbidden Family. It is reprinted here for further information.

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Comments, Assumptions, and Questions

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It was natural for me to sift through layers of information to find the family or person or thought I wanted to focus on. This wasn’t split personality, nor did it indicate severe psychosis. These were normal responses to extreme and prolonged stress. For me, dealing with a car repair, a crabby boss, the loss of a job, or a death of a loved one was complicated with the added stress of coping with identity confusion, traumatic hateful abuse on top of adoption separation and reunion. Over time, I ended up fearing people, even those who posed no threat.
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As the years went by, and I tried to deal with the here and now, but my confusion caused me to take time to figure out who, or what, I needed to call up in memory. By the expressions on the faces of other people, I could see that I appeared to be ‘slow’ or ‘stupid.’ I struggled before I could speak. The life-long psychological effects of being adopted and suddenly trying to adjust to new relatives, new information, and being shunned for who and what I am, created constant mental exhaustion. People expected me to be a fully functioning person, but I didn’t meet their expectations, nor did I follow a normal course of life. The accumulation of these effects took their toll on me emotionally and physically.
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Since 1974, new people in my life often argued with me because they didn’t comprehend the truths of my life. Some people were curious, some mean in their response to my reality. While I lived my dual identity, others were overwhelmed by the biological facts, legal incongruities, and the complexity of moral, ethical, and spiritual dilemmas my life represented. My very existence challenged and threatened their beliefs.
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When I met people for the first time, I explained my unusual family background. The usual get to know you questions of “Tell me of your parents” had me hesitating, then answering, “I have two mothers, and two fathers, and a step mother.” Or the question, “Do you have any brothers and sisters?” brought my answer, “I’m adopted and grew up an only child, but was found by four older siblings I never knew and, now, I know I have two step sisters, two step brothers and a younger half-brother.”
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Responses varied. Some people were startled, others were very cruel. I heard every discouraging remark, including, “Your mother didn’t want you so why do you want to have anything to do with her?”
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In turn, my defensive response was touched with pain, “You assume my mother didn’t want me! She died and my despondent father relinquished me because he thought he was doing the right thing.”
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People who heard that were shocked as my reality didn’t match what they thought they knew about adoption. “Oh, well that’s different!”
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But if it had been a mother surrendering her baby (a far more common situation) that still didn’t say anything bad about the mother. And nothing about the mother implied anything bad about the child. These points were lost on most people.
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Inevitably, the finger of blame pointed to my father for giving away his daughter. “How could he do such a cruel thing? You should be glad you weren’t raised by him!” Then, hostility originally expressed toward my mother was now unleashed toward my father. “Obviously, he didn’t want you. No real father would give away his own child! So why do you want to have anything to do with him?”
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I explained that he did want me, but was faced with a difficult situation and that I long ago forgave him. The expectation was that I’d hate my father. This misconception was as true in 1974 as it is today, with only a handful of individuals sympathetic for my father’s dilemma.
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Interestingly, in a society that believes it a selfless act for a young mother to give up her baby so the child can have a “better” life, people were horrified that my father surrendered me. People then questioned what they thought they knew of adoption: Teen parents should give up their babies, teen mothers don’t want their newborns, and the baby would be better off with adoptive parents. These assumptions didn’t hold up when I presented my father’s circumstances of being a recently widowed father giving up his baby. “Oh well, I guess I never really thought about it,” was the response. Some people expressed sympathy for the five of us kids who were left behind, particularly for the newborn. Our situation was like a Dickens’ novel about 19th century orphans. I was the real half-orphan who had lost her entire family. “Oh, well, then, of course you’d want to know the truth. I would if I were in your shoes.”
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These contradictory attitudes were, and are, very prevalent in our culture. They it go hand in hand with society’s refusal to accept the blame for denying social and financial help to parents so that they may keep their children. People were quick to judge my father, but were unwilling to find solutions to the problem. They asked typical questions: “Didn’t your father have any relatives to help? Where were his parents? What about your mother’s extended family who could have temporarily taken you in?” These questions implied that my father didn’t try hard enough to keep his family together. In fact, he did. Extended family on both sides were unable to help due to their own problems of ill health, such as his parents being too old to take care of a newborn as well as the four older children, or other relatives with newborns of their own in addition to several young children in their homes. There was no help from Catholic Charities or Social Services. The Catholic Church was eager to aid in the separation of our family by first removing me, the newborn, and then leaving my father to fend for himself with the rest of his children.
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There were no direct services to help: no crisis financial aid, no in-home care, no grief counseling for my father in the loss of his wife, no grief counseling for my siblings in the loss of their mother, no grief counseling for our father in the loss of his fifth child to adoption, and no grief counseling for my siblings left behind in the loss of their sibling to adoption. Whenever I point this out, people then realize the consequences of not helping to keep a family together.
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Over the years I’ve faced turmoil over the condemnation of a married, widowed father who gave up his newborn daughter, yet heard praise for young mothers who make the “courageous” and “self-less” decision to give up their newborns at birth to strangers.
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Then some people comprehend how I could be so accepting and forgiving of what my father “did” to me.
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Another compounding problem was the common but erroneous belief that all adoptees were illegitimate and that legitimately-born people would not be adopted. People were often shocked to find out that I was not illegitimate. As they churned these discoveries over and over, people then were upset because adoptees aren’t supposed to know because the records are sealed, but here I stood before them in reunion. People argued with me and then rationalized that because I was born to married parents it was okay for me to be in reunion—my legitimate birth legitimized my need to know. Then, as well as now, once people learn I’m legitimate, they begin to treat me like a regular person with respect that, in their eyes, “illegitimate bastards” don’t deserve.
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If someone didn’t know my personal situation but knew I was adopted, they might assume there was something wrong with me; the erroneous belief being that illegitimate children grow up to become illegitimate adults who have “bad blood.” I once faced this humiliation at age 21, when my 21-year-old boyfriend broke up with me because his father didn’t want him to get serious with an adoptee. “Birds of a feather flock together” was the father’s motto; meaning that I came from “bad blood” and would turn out “just like my mother” and that all my friends must be other bastard adoptees. This negative assumption from the father soon influenced how his son viewed me. Though we had known each other for several years, in the end I wasn’t fit for a permanent relationship leading to marriage because my pedigree was in question. It didn’t matter that I knew my natural family for three years and that my true ethnic, religious, and medical histories were known. Nor did it matter that I was conceived within the “approved” setting of a marriage and was raised by “good, middle-class adoptive parents who provided a stable home.” I was still an adoptee and unfit to marry this young man of upper middle class social stature. It was assumed that because I was adopted, I must be illegitimate and, therefore, must bear the stigma of being of a lower class. More to the point, adoptees who were born of unmarried parents don’t deserve the stigma either. The child is worthwhile, deserving of respect and equality with anyone else, regardless of the circumstances of the natural family. I often wondered, where do orphans fit in? It seems that orphans fall through the cracks of an adoption system obsessed with the sexuality of single parents, particularly the not-married mother.
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Year after year, I thought of myself simply as an adoptee who had a reunion in a different way than adoptees who searched for their roots. When asked, “Are you searching or did you find your natural mother?” I’d answer, “No, I didn’t search, I was found.” This almost always was a letdown to other adoptees who seemed to be indifferent since I didn’t have to fight The System. Now, though, with more natural mothers searching, many more adoptees today are found. And with the Internet, thousands of adoptees are being found by their natural parents and siblings, but in the 1970s and 1980s, I was in the minority.
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Since I was aware of my differences from other adoptees, I was also aware of society’s insensitivity toward “adoptees in search” who were seen as ungrateful, selfish and maladjusted. I was labeled as such, until I said that I was found. Then, it was okay for me to be in a reunion. I didn’t search for my natural family, so the reunion was not my “fault.” Someone else dumped this on me and was to “blame.” I was cleared of the “crime” of actively searching for my natural family.
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Negative attitudes toward adoptees still permeate our society. They infiltrate our subconscious with contradictory meanings. One example of this is that people tend to think all adoptees are children. Year after year people said to me, “Well, I suppose you adopted children have a point,” or “As an adopted child, you should….” Statements like this are offensive, particularly when the people who say them don’t catch the meaning of their own words. From the time I was 18, through my young adult life, and now at age 59, people look me straight in the eye and address me as “an adopted child.” No, I’m an adoptee.
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Some people say that this is just semantics. They point out that a man can be his mother’s son even though the mother is dead and the “boy” is 62. And a woman can say, “Hi girls!” to her sisters when every one of them is a grandmother. Somehow, these examples are accepted in society, but when an adoptee is continually addressed as “an adopted child,” this carries substantial emotional weight. The implication is that the adoptee is immature, or is actually a child, or does not have the rights of an adult. Most people don’t recognize that adoptees do become adults. We are still adopted but we aren’t children. Some question this.
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A further example can explain why adoptees are never free from being adopted. When a person divorces, the status of being divorced stays with that person. I am still divorced, even though I left my husband 20 years ago. So to, I am still adopted even though that legal status occurred 56 years ago. The Final Order of Adoption and my falsified birth certificate are legal documents that give me the legal status of being the only “child” of the parents who adopted me. I inherited their property, they are my parents, and I am their daughter. My children and I carry on my adoptive father’s family name.
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Prejudices I’ve encountered since 1974 haven’t changed much. Though I’m a half-orphan, I’m perceived as the illegitimate bastard. Though I’m a found adoptee, I’m accused of being an aggressive searching adoptee, causing trouble. With so many movies, stories, books and fantasies based on the mythical abandoned baby who grows up to change the world, it will be nice when that foundling, orphan, or illegitimate bastard gains respect in the real world.
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How many times have you heard someone angrily cussing because she stubbed her toe or the hammer missed the nail smashing his finger? You might hear, “Rotten bastard!” or “You fucking bastard!” How about, “Some bastard ripped me off!” Then there’s, “What a sick bastard!” and “He’s a sneaky bastard.” It’s more fun to put down a whole group, “Those bastards got away with it!” This quickly disintegrates into insulting accusations, “You lying bastard!” and “You ungrateful bastard!” On the other hand, praise tinged with envy is expressed with, “You lucky bastard!” Personal accolades abound also. Some laid-back slackers announce, “I’m a lazy bastard today.” But my personal favorite is, “I’m just a horny bastard!” That guy didn’t last long as dating material.
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Cussing out bastards is common-place. Listen closely to language on sit-coms, radio and television talk shows, and movies. Even news anchormen blast away at bastards. Bastards are well-hated; yet, people sure want to adopt them. How many adoptive parents cuss into the air without making the connection of the B-word to their adoptee?
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My young-adult daughter told me of how she first heard the word “bastard” and understood its meaning. She was in the 6th grade when another girl chatted about the popular girl, the beautiful one with the perfect personality and flawless looks, the one who thought she was cool. My daughter’s friend told her, “She’s not so great after all. She’s a real bastard! Her parents weren’t married when she was born so she’s really worse off than all of us!’” This is how 12-year-old girls talked in 1997.
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Flippant, derogatory language implies that bastards are inferior. How do you think real illegitimate bastards feel to be the brunt of society’s contempt throughout thousands of years of human history? Think about it. People say the B-word without knowing what it means. Just because you’ve always said it doesn’t mean you have to keep saying it when you know doing so is hurtful. Be mindful of your words for someone within earshot just might be a bastard, or have given birth to one, or have fathered one. The only people who can claim the B-word are bastards.
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Excuses are endless. It’s even in the Bible. We all know (sarcasm here) if it is in the Bible, it must be true. Deuteronomy 23:2—“No bastard shall enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”
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But the Bible defends orphans. Exodus 22:22—“Do not exploit widows or orphans.” Job 29:12—“For I helped the poor in their need and the orphans who had no one to help them.” Deuteronomy 27:19—“Cursed is anyone who is unjust to foreigners, orphans, and widows.” Psalms 10:18—“You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so people can no longer terrify them.” Proverbs 23:10—“Don’t steal the land of defenseless orphans by moving the ancient boundary markers.” Isaiah 1:17—“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.”
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Think about it. It’s time that bastards and orphans get more than cursed or rescued.
Now that you have a little background information, let’s get comfortable with the A-word. Say it slowly: a – dop – tee. Take in a deep breath. Exhale. Say the word again: a – dop – tee. Again, faster: a-dop-tee. Feel the meaning as we all say: adoptee. Again: Adoptee. Let the word flow. Feel the essence of the word fill your being as you say: “I am an Adoptee.”
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Here are other common questions I’ve been asked throughout the years and their answers.
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  1. Nature vs. Nurture: you must belong to one or the other. Which is your “real” family?
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    I don’t belong to one or the other. Both families are real.
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    People marry and become part of their spouse’s family. They enjoy the love of both. No one raises eyebrows, so why should an adoptee having two sets of relatives be different? Blended families are real. Ex-spouses marry new partners, each having children of their own. They have children together, too. Their children have two parents with partners and other children. There is no stigma. It is okay for children to love mom’s husband and dad’s wife and to acquire another set of siblings.
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  2. You were really better off with your adoptive parents; they gave you everything, didn’t they? What kind of a life would you have had with your father? The kids were shuffled around from one place to another. They didn’t have stability. You had a stable home life and two parents.
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    Of course my adoptive parents gave me everything—so much love and material comforts that I should be grateful. Wrong! I’m no more grateful than I would be if I were born to the parents who raised me. Nurturing doesn’t demand the offspring to be grateful or feel better off here than there.
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    What kind of life would I have had with my father had he kept me? This implies that he would have provided an inferior life. The implication is that my natural family was not as good as my adoptive family; that my adoptive parents were better. There is simply no contest here. The natural family is the child’s family! Conditions of poverty, hardship, parental death, or unmarried parents, don’t make a family “bad.” The adoptee isn’t “saved” by the adoptive parents. I didn’t have the “better life” society assumes adoption provides. This assumption is the picture my siblings had of me, which is why they were jealous of me for having what they did not. And me, I missed out on having them, and our father, and the truth.
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  3. If given the chance, would you choose to be with your natural family or your adoptive family?
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    The answer to this forced-choice question is moot. I cannot go back and rewrite history. I cannot deprive myself of one set of parents in favor of the other, nor can I annul my relationship with either set of parents. I cannot pretend that I don’t have sisters and brothers. But that’s just me. Many adoptees now are annulling their adoptions because they don’t want, for example, pedophile or abusive adoptive parents on their legally falsified birth certificates. Many adoptees are being adopted back, as adults, by their natural parents, for varied reasons.
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  4. Didn’t your parents give you a good home? They deserve your loyalty. You should be grateful they took you in.
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    Yes, my adoptive parents gave me a good home. That doesn’t erase an adoptee’s need to know the truth. I’m not disloyal because I had a reunion. I love all of my parents and value their differences from each other. But everyone knows adoptees don’t search when they’ve had a good adoptive home, so I’m told. This is nonsense. Searching and wanting to know your roots is normal human nature. No, I am not grateful they “took me in” because I didn’t need a home; I already had one.
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    Is an adoptive home a good home if there is willful deception by the adoptive parents to give an adoptee a childhood full of lies? Is an adoptive home a good home if there is purposeful manipulation preventing a growing child from knowing her own siblings who live six miles away? Is an adoptive home a good home if there is continued arguing and belittling directed toward the adoptee for simply being an adoptee trying to adjust to constantly changing information about herself?
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  5. Since there were so many traumas in your life, wouldn’t it have been better if your adoptive parents never told you that you were adopted? If I were an adoptive parent, I’d never tell my kid. Like the old saying, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”
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    There were so many traumas in my life, not because I knew I was adopted, but because situations grew completely out of control. The consequences of secrecy and lies were only part of the problem. All of the key people in my life had traumatic pasts themselves.
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    What if I didn’t have siblings or anyone else to search for me? What if there were no other people to “come back and haunt” my adoptive parents or “track” me down? What if my adoptive parents burned my adoption decree? Under these circumstances, I probably would never find out about being adopted.
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    That doesn’t make it right. These possibilities make it worse.
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    Many adoptive parents told me in the 1980s (and many do now online) that they adopted foreign-born babies because it was easier to “get a baby” and “the fringe benefit” of having red tape so thick was that “there would never be a chance for a reunion.” Don’t these adoptive parents know that lies breed mistrust, fear, and anger?
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    Knowing the truth gives people the dignity and strength to do what they choose to do, not what someone else decides for them. It is okay for an adoptee to choose not to search, but the choice should be made with full disclosure of the truth. And adoptees who do not want to search should not be held up as examples of “the good adoptee” to adoptees who want to search. The “good” versus “bad” adoptee comparison is getting old.
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    “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Oh, really? Emotional and psychological issues, genetic and medical conditions, and social implications impact all of us. What we don’t know is hurting us! Adoptees have no freedom of choice and no informed consent and neither do siblings left behind.
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  6. You and your siblings don’t get along, aren’t reunions supposed to be happy?
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    No we don’t get along, and who said reunions have to be happy? My sisters are not the only people I was reunited with and I do have positive relationships with a few relatives on both sides. Even if there is no reunion, natural family are real, they exist, and somehow are dealt with consciously or unconsciously.
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    Upon reunion, my siblings were jealous of me, my house, my yard, my private bedroom, hand-sewn clothes, private education and college. According to them, I had all the luxuries they did not have. When their step-mother died, they went into an orphanage and foster home. They saw the stable home I grew up in as a luxury that they did not have, so, they picked on me, called me a spoiled brat, and said that “all I do is complain about being adopted.” But they had each other. I was raised without them in the illusion of being an only child. I was lonely and alone. As the years of our reunion went by, my sisters became more strident: they are pro-adoption and I am anti-adoption. They see adoption “saved” me. I see adoption as the process that broke our family apart, caused extended family to spy on me, slander our father, and glorify adoption.
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    The setup had been made long before our reunion. I was sequestered, isolated from my siblings in a different world. After reunion, my world was both shattered and joyful. Reuniting with blood kin while in shock at having been deceived was too much of a burden to place on an 18 year old. I was the only one willing to learn about adoption and how it affected us. It would have been better if my natural family (and adoptive family) supported me in counseling and if they went to counseling, too. They refused to read articles and books about adoption psychology or attend support groups or conferences. Not one single person in my natural family ever picked up a book about adoption psychology or an adoptee’s memoir.
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    No one, except an adopted aunt and her immediate family, took that step. No one but an aunt who married into my natural mother’s family accepted me and loved me while I was missing from the family and from the moment I was returned back into the family. Her love for me never changed. While the key people in my nuclear families criticized and attacked me for “being obsessed” with adoption, I learned; they did not. And the constant abusive attacks serve no purpose other than to further erode my self-esteem and to drive a wedge deeper and deeper.
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  7. Your natural father gave you away, yet you’re not resentful for that. Your adoptive parents took you in and raised you, yet it seems you resent them for adopting you. Do you?
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    Yes, I do resent being adopted. I especially resent the government confiscating my true birth certificate and issuing a falsified one. I lost my entire family and I’m not supposed to be resentful? I resent being lied to and for being treated with contempt for accepting being found. I resent my adoptive mother for instigating and perpetuating her dream world of having a daughter that belonged solely to herself. I resent my adoptive parents, and over half of my relatives, for not educating themselves on the true nature of adoption. I must add here that my extended adoptive family was split almost down the middle. Most of them resented me for being in a reunion and the others were either supportive or neutral on the issue.
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  8. You know everything now, so what’s the big deal? Why are you an activist? Aren’t you satisfied? You’ve had a bad experience. I know plenty of happy, well-adjusted adoptees.
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    Define “bad experience.” Most people who say that to an adoptee have no knowledge of the adoptee experience. Reunions are traumatic enough without the careful thought and planning of the searcher. Irresponsible searching and contact is wrong. Adoptions and reunions are traumatic enough without the interference from relatives who inflict their judgments onto the adoptee.
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    Happy adoptees may not want to know. That’s fine. If they are found, they need to know help is available. Adoptees who profess to be happy may simply be biding time. Adoptees are taught that the parents who raised us are our only parents. Many are brainwashed by expressions such as “put the past behind you” and “don’t go looking to open Pandora’s Box as you may be sorry for what you’ll find.” Adoptees need validation of our thoughts and feelings, not denial and contradictions and attacks.
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    Many adoptees need to adjust their way of thinking. We’ve been beaten down by a society that demands us to have only one set of real parents, so even adoptees who are searching or who have found their natural parents often can’t see the mistakes in their thinking. When adoptees themselves say, “I already have parents, I don’t need another mother, I just want to know her as a friend or to ask for medical information,” they’re missing the point. Adoptees need to accept that their natural parents really are their parents, too. When this is realized, adoptees can then put the circumstances of their lives in perspective.
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    No, I’m not satisfied. I’m an advocate and activist because I care that American citizens are denied their birthrights and natural families. I won’t stop my activism until all adoptees have 100% unconditional access to their certified birth records and until our government ceases its practice of falsifying and sealing birth and adoption records of its citizens.
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    The big deal is about looking beyond the subjective and into the objective. There is a larger picture to see, understand, and change.
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  9. Are you against adoption? Are you anti-adoption?
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    Yes.
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    Before the Civil War, trafficking of humans was called slavery. Today, it is called adoption. Yes, there is the sex-trade, and many children are sold and bought into adoption by pedophiles. But even “normal” adoption holds aspects of slavery.
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    It is easy to reject the all-American apple-pie institution of adoption when one sees its destructive forces. Adoption is not what it is assumed to be. If it were, adoptee and social worker, Jean Paton, would not have founded Orphan Voyage in 1953, which was the beginning of the adoption reform movement in America. Jean Paton interviewed adoptees in her support group and published The Adopted Break Silence in 1954, which was the first book of adoptee narratives. If adoption were as sweet as apple pie, then adoptee Florence Fisher would not have posted her ad in a New York City newspaper looking for other dissatisfied adoptees who, under her leadership, formed the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association in 1971. If adoption was as squeaky-clean as it is believed to be, then angry natural mothers would not have banded together in 1976 to form Concerned United Birthparents to say they never wanted to lose their babies to adoption. These mothers were intimidated into adoption, and many were de-babied at the moment of birth—drugged, chained to the bed while in labor and birthing, and their newborns were taken away. They were scorned by nurses, doctors, nuns, and social workers. If these mothers did not make the decision to sign away their babies, other people made it for them. There would not be an international movement against oppressive adoption practices if adoption really was that feel-good innocence people in denial believe.
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  10. I was interested in adopting a child, but you make me afraid to. What do you think of that?
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    Good. If I made you think, I’ve done my job.
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  11. What about open adoption?
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    Meant to end secrecy, semi-open and open adoption are social arrangements, not legal ones, and aren’t enforceable. They still result in losses for adoptees, natural parents and siblings. Adoptive parents verbally promise to keep communication open, but often find ways to prevent contact, even moving out of state. Most importantly, adoptees’ birth certificates are still sealed and falsified.