Monday of this week, Governor Ricketts proclaimed the month of November as Adoption Awareness Month, urging Nebraskans to consider fostering or adopting a child.
As an adoptee myself, I’m happy to see the issue in the news, but if the governor and other legislators in the state are gung ho about adoption, it’s time for Nebraska and the nation as a whole to take a good look at the practice and the rights of adoptees.
Countless struggles for adoptees stem from norms and structures taken for granted by people raised by their biological parents. Simple questions become more emotionally fundamental, and finding a sense of self and belonging can be incredibly difficult for adoptees. Finding documents like an original birth certificate and medical records can be even more challenging, and sometimes even impossible.
To advocate adoption is one thing, but to advocate for adoptees in a meaningful way is another entirely. To achieve the latter, we must fulfill the fundamental needs of adoptees, which means passing legislation that supports them, improving the societal discourse that surrounds the issue and shifting our collective mindset on the topic.
A fantastic starting point on all three of these facets is the Adoptee Bill of Rights, a list of 12 rights that recognize the basic human dignity of adoptees and attempt to close the gap between us and our biologically raised counterparts. You can read the full list at the link above, but I’ll break down some of those rights, explain what they would mean to adoptees and how we can make progress towards them.
We have the right to dignity and respect.
Your reaction to this might be “of course,” but for adoptees, this is more complicated than it sounds. It means freedom from overt and covert comments that otherize and degrade us. Making jokes about the mental health of adoptees and foster kids, stereotyping us as “problem children” and emotional wrecks and misrepresenting us in the media is unacceptable, yet far too common.
Our life stories do not fit the cookie cutter molds that TV, movies and brochures for adoption agencies attempt to fit us into. We are not all raised by angels among humans, perpetually grateful for them saving us from our tragic backstories. We are not all outwardly, emotionally destructive delinquents. We are normal people, struggling with issues we might have neither the time nor the inclination to explain to you, and that’s OK.
We have the right to know we are adopted.
Growing up with this knowledge can be difficult enough. Finding out later in life can be devastating. Wrestling with the fact that one’s life is a lie, even a lie by omission, is too large a burden to place on an unwitting adoptee, although discouragingly common. Additionally, according to one study, lower satisfaction later in life is directly correlated with how late an adoptee was told about their situation. Children have the right to know as much as they can understand as soon as they can understand it.
We have the right to possess our original birth certificate, our adoption records and full knowledge of our origins, ethnic and religious background, our original name and any pertinent medical and social details.
These are three separate points, but each of them can be solved with a single legislative fix: a federal law making it possible for adoptees of any age to seek pertinent information about their lives from the records of their adoption. Withholding this information has serious consequences. Adoptees and their children are frequently unaware of important pieces of medical data. They could be carriers for certain recessive medical conditions or susceptible to developing others over time. That’s life changing information, and to force individuals to live without it for any amount of time is unfair to them.
We have the right to live without guilt toward any set of parents. And we have the right to treat and love both sets of parents as one family.
I’ve grouped these together, because in my experience they go hand in hand. For many reasons, being adopted can make one feel torn in half, constantly stuck between worlds, not fully belonging to either. We are branches cut from one family tree and grafted onto another, which will always create a difficult dynamic for us. When biological and adoptive families pit themselves against one another, adoptees are the ones who bear the brunt of the pain.
To be clear, adoptees don’t have an inherent right to a perfectly functioning family with no problems or struggles, but they should not be blamed or bullied for things outside their control.
Adoption can be an option for biological parents with unplanned pregnancies and couples that are struggling with infertility, but to pretend that our system is perfect is far from the case. There are fundamental issues with the way adoption works in the United States and worldwide, more than just those mentioned here (increased support for interracial and international adoptees would be fantastic, for instance).
So, it’s great that the institution of adoption is getting a month, but I suggest that we celebrate it in a useful way. I’d ask that, no matter your preconceived notions of adoption, you take a deeper look at the issue and listen to adoptees' voices. Because our adoptions are more than just a side plot of a TV drama or the subject of a feel-good piece on “60 Minutes.” They’re complicated facets of our lives, replete with joy, pain, confusion and growth.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Adoption Awareness Month.
Nick McConnell is an assistant news editor and senior journalism and broadcasting major. Reach him at email@example.com.