Thursday, February 02, 2012

Lies, Infantilism, and Lack of Ethics

There has been much buzz in blogland about recent discussion of DNA, searching, and adoption on Diane Rehm's show on NPR, with some focus on the contributions of a bioethicist from American University, Dr. Kimberly Leighton. Leighton is a philosopher and an adoptee, who has searched and found her natural family. While wearing her ethicist's hat, Leighton, given the benefit of the doubt, must have wanted to take the broadest view possible. It was tiresome, however, to hear the same, worn-out  terms that are not value-free.

When Leighton said that adoptees were using DNA to search for "connections," I could agree with that. But when she said, "When adoptees go searching, they're opening up Pandora's boxes of other people's lives," it is as though she believes adoptees go in, selfish and naive, doing thoughtless damage to otherwise "happy" families. Unleashing evil, as Pandora did, despite being told not to do so.

I did a tremendous amount of thinking and weighing of consequences before initiating anything through the CI system and paying my $1,000+ for someone else to represent me (and apparently, badly). I didn't necessarily expect anything different when I contacted C myself, once I knew her identity. I thought very carefully about what C's level of discomfort might be; I addressed that in a letter, and told her that I didn't want to hurt her. In the end, I did hurt her, but if I had done nothing, I would have been hurting myself.

I don't think it's ethical to expect adoptees to bear the burdens of the pain of the entire natural family, just to keep secrets that were promised by unscrupulous agencies eager for womb-fresh infant flesh, promises of perpetual anonymity that weren't even LEGAL.

It's a matter of weighing another person's burden against your own, and being willing to deal with the consequences, knowing that you might hurt that person. Knowing your limits, and theirs, and being willing to communicate those boundaries.

I don't think that C was promised perpetual anonymity, but she misspelled her name on my Pre-Adoptive Agreement. That didn't deter me; it just made finding her a little bit harder later on. The agency lied to HER about the care I would receive, and she was very, very sad about that. She was not told that I would languish in the NICU for six weeks and not be placed for another four. She was told that I would go home the day following my birth with my aparents. LIES.

None of this is ethical. The agency lied to my aparents and told them that C had received prenatal care throughout the pregnancy, from the time she told her parents about me. Which was, uh, let's see: maybe 10 days before my birth. Another LIE. My aparents wouldn't have cared either way. They just would have liked to know the truth about prenatal care; apparently, the truth was considered "too much" for them to handle. Nice.

C is one of those mothers who truly didn't want to be found, although that has since changed. It's been a long process. She said that she is glad I didn't give up, and that God obviously had other plans than the ones she had made for herself. Our lives are richer for knowing each other, per both of us, and it's been a relief, she says, to be out of the closet. Had I been "ethical," and run away, and played the "good little adoptee," our relationship, and our peace, would be unknown. I know each situation is different, and we all have our limits, and what we are called upon to do and say with family members changes by the minute sometimes. I am not saying that anyone should follow in my footsteps. But at the same time, I think it's ridiculous to say that there is an absolute need to heed the manufactured promise of "privacy," "anonymity," or whatever you want to call it, in order to protect women, especially when this crap was made up by agencies to suit their need$. In my opinion, and it's only my opinion, my mother internalized the guilt and "need" for anonymity that society and the agency placed upon her to such a degree that it made her life, and her acceptance of me all that much harder later on. She is a warm, loving, wonderful person whom I treasure as a friend. The wall that went up inside her was unnecessary, and I despise the industry for putting it there.

There are definitely those women who still don't want to be found, never want to be found, and never want relationships with their children. They don't need laws or other artificial things to protect against this. They can 1. communicate this to their placed children, and they SHOULD. It's hard to say, but they need to own it, not have another person do it. 2. if they need something stronger to protect themselves from stalker-type behavior, there are restraining orders. Use the laws we have in place. DO NOT stigmatize adoptees any further with paternalism.

I have immense compassion for women who do not want contact. It must be hard for them to feel trapped by overtures from their placed offspring, but they should not have the ability to call the shots on other relationships their placed adult adoptee has with other family members. Sorry, no. It's called free association, and all adults enjoy this privilege.

At one point when I first contacted C, she went to an attorney to see if she could get a restraining order against me, but shown the letter I had sent, and the one measly phone call I had made, the attorney said there was no case. I am sorry that I stressed C out, truly, but my existence cannot be helped at this point. I was able to approach other people in the family, and with time, she felt more comfortable, and things changed. I am fortunate, in that regard. I think that if she hadn't changed her mind, I would have come to terms with her lack of interest, although it would have been very difficult for me. I am one of those who doesn't see the point in bringing a life into the world for which you have no love. Thank goodness that was not my burden, in the end.

One final point: there are people who like to roll their [virtual] eyes when we say that babies, in adoption, had no choice in the matter. "Well, duh," the snide ones say, as though we are completely stupid. We are making a broader point, people! See if you can follow: when we are placed, we are infants. No words, no choice. But we don't remain infants forever. We grow up. We become autonomous human beings, although within the confines of many of our claustrophobic familial relationships, we are still treated/named as infants. To wit: C's mother asked about me recently, and I am "The Baby." She always refers to me as "the Baby." Never mind that I have a name, that I am 42 and have two sons of my own. I play the role of the placed baby in her mind, and will forever. Refer to me by name, and she says, "Who? The Baby?" Get it now? Adult adoptees remain voiceless children, without agency, in too many situations. I think that is unethical.

As ADULTS, by contrast, we should enjoy the same autonomy and opportunities to make decisions as other adults in the constellation. We can decide to make contact, or not. To reciprocate when found, or not. To complain when treated badly, etc. We should have access to our OBCs because we are grown ups, just like everyone else. And yet adoption forever infantilizes us, and many, many rude people enjoy taking the opportunity to talk down to us and be supercilious, to scold us and tell us what we can and cannot do. To make fun of our feelings and even the words we use! I understand that I am "too intellectual" for some of them, which is quite a feat for a baby.

It would be socially unthinkable to treat any other group the way we're treated, except perhaps those with cognitive disabilities or the mentally ill, and even they get Public Service Announcements telling people to be nice to them. We stand up for ourselves, as we should, and then the holier-than-thou say we're bullies. LOL It never ends.

So yes, we need to be thoughtful about the feelings of others, but adult adoptees don't need protecting from our own identities, and we don't need to protect others at the cost of ourselves (been there, done that, haven't we?).

Oh, and agencies lie, frequently. Why didn't Kimberly Leighton point that out? Maybe we need DNA testing because our non-identifying information is all made-up bullshit, as my own recent DNA testing showed. Why is she assuming that adoptees are the influence of wrongdoing, and the agencies/sperm banks/etc. are ethical? The system is broken, and asking adoptees to back off isn't going to fix it. IMO, Leighton's focus is on the wrong part of what's rotten.

Amanda wrote a beautiful open letter to Dr. Leighton pointing out many of the flaws in the argument for "protecting" the privacy of natural mothers on her blog. I agree with her that it's a shame it pits one person's sense of security against another's, but I do not believe that it's the duty of the adoptee to give in, every time. What we give up, in the balance, is immense.


Von said...

Whow Mrs M!!!!So agree with every word. I too spent a great many years thinking it all through very carefully and wanting to do the right thing.In the end my mother contacted the Dept in the same month I did in a neat piece of synchronicity, considering I was almost 50 and she 24 years older!I'd had her name since I was 32. Several years ago once my father's other children had been found they said 'What took you so long?'
Too many assumptions and so sad coming from an adoptee.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Great thoughtful post, considering all you went through.

Kimberly Leighton, ethicist with head on backwards, made me so mad I wanted to spit. She she fell into the same group as the hard-hearted legislators we deal with all the time--what about the birth mothers?--I always want to scream--what about the ones who did not want anonymity?

I hope you don't mind if I post a link here to our take on Leighton's comments regarding adoptees right to search for birth parents over at FMF:

When adoptees' Right to Know becomes a philosphical debate, adoptees lose

Third Mom said...

"One final point: there are people who like to roll their [virtual] eyes when we say that babies, in adoption, had no choice in the matter."

I also don't get this, because it seems like a self-evident fact to me.