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  • 1. from the author I am currently working full time as the assistant to the University Librarian at Syracuse University Library. I have literally been working on my Bachelor of Arts degree for the past thirty years - here a little, there a little. I’ve changed my major three times, due to losing credits as I’ve transferred from one university to another; I’ve been an Art, English, and now a History major. By the end of the Summer ‘05 semester, I will only have five classes to take in order to finish my degree -there is an end in sight! Hallelujah! Over the past two years since I wrote this paper for my WRT 205 course in the Spring of 2003, my daughter has spent quite a bit of time with her birth mother. It has not been as positive for her as she or I would have hoped, but we have all grown from the experience. Most of all, it has given my daughter the freedom to love us as her “parents,” and that is very nice! My son is now beginning to experience some complex emotions, which I think may be motivated by his adoption - he insists they are not. Either way, we will deal with it. We are blessed. - Jackie Allred from the teacher This WRT 205 on-line course focused on rhetorically analyzing sources to research beliefs and values in specific communities. The truly amazing feat of Jackie Allred’s writing is that she manages to allow readers to learn from her experience while treading through an emo- tionally charged topic that has such clear and present weight in her life. In “The Adoption Dilemma,” she weaves literature review with discourse analysis, all the while accounting for her place as the researcher. As we, and she, become literate in adoption and anti-adop- tion discourse, through this research paper, Jackie’s own prevailing voice reminds us that facts become meaningful when they are mediated by real people in real places. - Tennyson O’Donnell syracuseuniversityintertext 1
  • 2. The Adoption The adoption copyright Stephanie Bursese, 2005. dilemma DILEMMA By Jackie Allred 2 intertextsyracuseuniversity
  • 3. W hen my daughter, Marissa, was a toddler, perhaps three or four-years-old, a little girl was abducted, raped, and murdered in a nearby community where we lived in Centerville, Utah. I remember feeling an almost hysterical panic whenever I thought about this event. I reacted by purchasing every book I could find about teaching chil- dren how to guard against abductors and following their advice. I read several books to her, gave her examples of what could happen, and taught her how to “fight” against someone who tried to “take” her away. One day my husband and I were walking out of a large department store and some toy distracted my daughter. She decided she wasn’t quite ready to leave the store. Her most common reaction when she didn’t want to do something we wanted her to do was to revert to passive-aggressive behavior—she would simply become limp and lie down on the ground. We would usually pick her up and carry her wherever we were going without much fuss. On this particular day, when I picked her up and insisted we needed to leave, she screamed at the top of her lungs, “YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER!” Child This reaction and the subsequent odd looks that people gave us as we carried her to the car were funny at the time but, as I’ve since realized, indicative Birth Adoptive of some larger turmoil within her. In the very depths Mother Family of her soul, and even though she didn’t know it then, The Adoption Triangle she meant what she said. Deep down inside of Marissa, there was a piece of her that knew I was not her natural mother and that I would always be her adoptive mother, despite how much we both wished I were the former (Verrier 26). When I first approached this topic, my motivation was somewhat selfish. I have two adopted children – a twenty-year-old daughter, Marissa, and a fifteen-year-old son, Alex*. Both children have known from an early age that we adopted them. Marissa has experienced some very serious emotional difficulties throughout her life, especially over the past three years. We recently discovered that, after searching for six years, she had found her natural The intensely personal writ- mother and father. I refer to Marissa’s birth mother as her “natural” mother rather than her ing style of this paper makes “real” mother. I have always been particularly sensitive to the use of that term to describe the work more profound to the reader, because the Marissa’s natural mother, because in my mind I am her real mother. I thought doing this author feels and writes research would help me better understand my daughter’s feelings in order to better assist her so passionately about her in some of the difficulties she is experiencing. Because of the problems we have experienced subject. in relationship to this issue, I have even doubted the validity of adoption as an “option” for families. Perhaps my husband and I had just glossed over the fact that our family was different than “normal” families, because we were unwilling to address inherent difficulties that came with being an adoptive family (Verrier). Maybe if we said we were the same as everyone else, we would be. The more I have studied this topic and participated in it as a member of the community, the more convinced I am that, while adoption does have inherent difficulties, it is indeed a workable solution to a difficult dilemma for all three parties in the adoption “triad” (Bird). I have come to realize this has been a journey of self-discovery for me as much as it was an attempt to understand my daughter. Because I am an adoptive parent, I can only truly address this issue from my own perspective; however I believe that through this experience I’ve gained a fairly clear understanding of the situation from the Here the author begins to perspective of the adopted child and, to a lesser extent, the birth mother as well. play devil’s advocate. We All three participants experience similar feelings with varying results and reactions start to see that there are two sides to the adoption to the initial event (Verrier). From my participation on several different adoption forums, dilemma. This feature makes I have discovered that for every positive experience there is a corresponding negative one; an argumentative paper, like whether you look at it from the viewpoint of the adoptive parents, the birth mother, or this one, seem well rounded. the adopted child. For every disapproving and unsupportive adoptive parent, there is a syracuseuniversityintertext 3
  • 4. patiently nurturing and compassionate one; for every birth mother who’s heart is broken and bleeding at the loss of her child, there is another one who has dealt with her pain and managed to go on with her life in a positive productive manner; and for every lost and confused adoptee there is an equally hopeful, optimistic person (Adoptionforum.com). It appears, however, that the adoptee reacts most dramatically in almost every situation, and not every adopted child responds in the same way (Eldridge 7). My son’s reaction to his adoption has been much less severe than Marissa’s. I have often wondered if the degree of difficulty their birth mothers’ experienced in making the decision to surrender them has affected the children’s reaction to their adoption in a significant way. Adoption is a particularly emotionally charged issue, and you will find varying opinions regarding it. There are the anti-abortion, pro-adoption groups who use scare The politics of language is analyzed in the text. As an tactics, such as pictures of surgical scissors and graphics of a fetus being sucked out example, we see the differ- of a womb with a medical instrument to convey their point. These groups often use ences between “unwanted” and “unplanned” pregnan- terms such as “unwanted” rather than “unplanned” pregnancies, which is a much more cies. Depending on who is politically correct term to refer to the birth mother’s predicament. One article by Dr. & speaking, we can encounter Mrs. J.C. Willke, suggested that a world where abortion is legal rivals Hitler’s Germany either word, but each makes a specific point in its use. (Abortionfacts.com). As an adoptive parent with very strong feelings against abortion, I found these strategies extremely offensive and counter-productive in their purpose. Rather than discouraging a young woman by honestly answering questions she may have regarding abortions, these methods serve to isolate her from a potentially helpful source of information. You also find the anti-adoption activists who radically oppose adoption and refer to the adoptive parents as “adopters,” a term that carries a much more hostile and negative connotation. One author suggested that adoptive parents actually increase the odds of their children becoming criminals by adopting them (Carangelo). Interestingly, this same author hosts an anti-adoption website, whose main purpose seems to be to sell her books relating to the subject. The problem with this is that for anyone who may have experienced some form of trauma in relationship to adoption, for whatever reason, may find themselves once again being exploited for the author’s own purposes rather than receiving guidance and assistance at a particularly vulnerable time. At the same time, you find birth mothers whose pain manifests itself with bitterness and anger. You have others whose pain is so tangible you can almost feel it as you read their stories; yet their goal is to further understanding and healing for all parties concerned, including themselves (Adoptionforum.com). One point of particular interest was that most of the birth mothers who have come to terms with their grief and loss have done so by going through a spiritual process and discovering a relationship with God (Satterfield). One author, Courtney Frey, hosts a website specifically for birth mothers that encourages young women to choose adoption over abortion. She has written several books and frequently “shares her very spiritual path with readers by including scripture that has sustained her and intimate moments with God which have catapulted her ability to keep going on” (Frey). One of the most painful aspects of this research has been discovering the feelings and reactions of the adopted children. As a parent of one biological and one adopted daughter, Nancy Verrier suggests that virtually every adopted child suffers from something she calls the “primal wound.” She suggests that the connection between a mother and child 4 intertextsyracuseuniversity
  • 5. doesn’t begin at birth, but is “a continuum of physiological, psychological, and spiritual” events that when “interrupted by a postnatal separation from the biological mother” result in feelings of abandonment and cause this trauma to become manifest (Verrier 1). This wound is so deep and so profound that in most cases the adopted child doesn’t even know it exists. All they know is that they feel lost and confused and have no Facts are related to a real life way to express their bewilderment. I know this was the case with my daughter, Marissa. situation, making the text a For most of her life she has been unable to make connections to the people that she has more valuable asset than a text based on a hypothetical wanted to connect with the very most—her family. Yet she has been unable to express her situation. despair, because she could not define what was causing the disconnection in this most vital relationship. Now that I am learning about all of this with a more open mindset, I am able to recognize symptoms in her of a condition that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines as Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD (Psych.org). This condition is so new in terms of research (fifteen-years-old), that it was only defined and approved by the APA Board of Trustees in June 2002. Very little decisive research has been done, but Nancy Verrier found that adoptees “demonstrated a high incidence of juvenile delinquency, sexual promiscuity, and running away from home” (xv). As I looked at the symptoms associated with RAD, I felt like I was reading a description of my daughter’s life over the past twenty years. My greatest regret results from the fact that due to our own feelings of sadness, loss, and inadequacy we did not confront the issue The author undergoes self- discovery through writing this sooner. In my heart of hearts I have always piece, which gives it a refresh- known there was something missing between our ing quality that the reader daughter and us. We have always felt a sense of picks up on. being failures in spite of our desires to be perfect parents and attempts to do all the right things. When we finally did find out that Marissa had discovered her natural mother, my first reaction was to feel hurt and betrayed, exactly the reaction Marissa had been afraid of in the first place. She was unable to tell us herself, so Marissa asked our clergyman to tell us for her. She told him she was afraid we would “kick her out of our home” when we found out. I told myself (and everyone else) that I was more hurt by the fact that she was not able to share this with us herself, but in reality I felt hurt and rejected. I realize now that I was afraid that my greatest fear was coming true—the daughter I had always tried so hard to love enough had found the one person who could give her the love she needed, and perhaps now she would no longer need me. It has taken several months of soul searching on my own part to be able to even begin to attempt to understand things from my daughter’s perspective. My greatest regret is that I did not try hard enough to find out how she felt. Despite this, I understand more completely my own feelings through all of it. I realize now that even though I tried to meet Marissa’s needs, it was an impossible goal. Verrier points out that an adoptive mother cannot “understand the form or depth of [her adopted child’s] grief or the limitations placed upon her as the [adoptive] mother. The infant has missed something which cannot be replaced even by the most motivated” (20). This does not mean that Marissa does not love us and need us; she does and always will. But she needs to be able to know and understand her birth mother too in order to be able to heal. If her syracuseuniversityintertext 5
  • 6. birth mother can provide this for Marissa, then I believe she may finally be free to grieve for her profound loss and begin to accept our love for her to its full extent. The best result of my studies is that a dialogue has opened between Marissa and me. She seems more able to share some of her thoughts and feelings, which is what I had hoped to gain from all of this in the first place. The reality is that the concept of adoption has been around for hundreds of years; we read about it in the “Old Testament” in The Bible. What we need to do is understand Though the work begins to that adoption itself is not a concept. In fact, it is a very real situation that affects real people end on a sadder note, the who have intense and deep reactions to it on all sides of the issue. James Gritter explains in author injects a positive feeling his hope-filled book, The Spirit of Open Adoption: into the end, and in effect leaves the reader with a sense We must be careful not to sanitize, sentimentalize, or even glamorize the pain of hope regarding adoption. of adoption; it really is miserable stuff, and it is intensely personal. It is interior. The pain of adoption is not something that happens to a person; it is the person. Because the pain is so primal, it is virtually impossible to describe. (qtd. in Eldridge 7). Sherrie Eldridge, in writing of her own feelings regarding adoption states, “As with most everything in life, adoption has positive and negative elements. None of us wants to acknowledge the negative, painful side—that is, loss. But the truth is, adoption is built upon loss” (Eldridge 4). The birth parents lose a part of themselves that can never be regained when they choose to surrender a child to adoptive parents. Adoptive parents experience the loss of their biological offspring, the part of themselves they had built all of their hopes and dreams upon. For the adopted child, the sense of loss can be so overwhelming that it can virtually destroy them if it is not recognized and validated as a reality. As Eldridge states, “To deny adoption loss is to deny the emotional reality of everyone involved” (5). But in accepting that reality one cannot dismiss adoption as too painful to choose. If someone were to tell me that I would not have to experience the pain I’ve felt over the past few months with Marissa, but in order to do so it would mean not having her in my life, then I would never make that choice. I would never give up the chance for one day with Marissa or Alex in my life. They are my life. They are my children and will be forever. I love them. There are no guarantees in this life. There will always be a need for good homes and good parents for unplanned pregnancies, and being born into a biological family does not guarantee a life of ease and happiness (U.S. CDC). I personally grew up in an extremely dysfunctional and abusive home, but, through my faith in God and my desire to be different than what I was taught, I have managed to rise above that past. I have even been able to learn to love and accept my parents for the good things they gave me in life and forgive them for the things they didn’t. Ultimately, that is the best we can hope for in life: to love and be loved, whether genetically united or emotionally and spiritually joined together through an adopted family. 6 intertextsyracuseuniversity
  • 7. “Alternatives to Adoption.” 23 Feb. 2003 MSN.com-Google. 23 Feb. 2003. Keyword: Adoption Alternatives. http://www.abolishadoption.com/alternatives.html#a doption. Carangelo, Lori. “Killer Adoptees: Don’t Shoot the Messenger.” 20 Feb. 2003 http: //adoption.about.com/library/weekly/u012102a.htm. CherylAnn’56. Online chat – archived. “My Views About What None of Us Un- derstand (Very Long).” 3 Feb. 2003 http://www.adoptionforums.com/ showthread.php?.threadid_93889. Christophercorb. Online chat. “Aparents Rejecting Me Cuz Im Searching for Bparents.” 10 Feb 2003 http://www.adoptionforums.com/showthread.php?threadid=94 657. Eldridge, Sherrie.Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. New York: Dell, 1999. Frey, Courtney. A Birthmother’s Emotional Truth About Healing, Recovery, and Suc- cess. 28 Feb. 2003 http://www.adopting.org/courntey.php. “Reactive Attachment Disorder: Position Statement.” June 2002. American Psychiatric Association. 14 Feb 2003. http://www.psych.org/archives/200205.pdf. Satterfield, Connie. E-mail to the author. 6 Mar. 2003. United States. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control, Na- tional Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. Trends in Pregnancy Rates for the United States, 1976-97: An Update. 6 June 2001 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr49/nvsr49_or.pdf. Verrier, Nancy Newton. The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. Balti- more: Gateway 1991. Wille, Dr. and Mrs. J.C. “Why Can’t We Love Them Both.” Adoption: Adoption Not Abortion. 24 Feb 2003 http://www.abortionfacts.com/online_books/love_ them_both/why_can’t_we_love_them_both_34.asp. works cited syracuseuniversityintertext 7