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
DILEMMABy Jackie Allred
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!”
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
of some larger turmoil within her. In the very depths
of her soul, and even though she didn’t know it then,
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
mother and father. I refer to Marissa’s birth mother as her “natural” mother rather than her
“real” mother. I have always been particularly sensitive to the use of that term to describe
Marissa’s natural mother, because in my mind I am her real mother. I thought doing this
research would help me better understand my daughter’s feelings in order to better assist her
in some of the difficulties she is experiencing. Because of the problems we have experienced
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
perspective of the adopted child and, to a lesser extent, the birth mother as well.
All three participants experience similar feelings with varying results and reactions
to the initial event (Verrier). From my participation on several different adoption forums,
I have discovered that for every positive experience there is a corresponding negative one;
whether you look at it from the viewpoint of the adoptive parents, the birth mother, or
the adopted child. For every disapproving and unsupportive adoptive parent, there is a
The intensely personal writ-
ing style of this paper makes
the work more profound
to the reader, because the
author feels and writes
so passionately about her
The Adoption Triangle
Here the author begins to
play devil’s advocate.We
start to see that there are
two sides to the adoption
dilemma.This feature makes
an argumentative paper, like
this one, seem well rounded.
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
tactics, such as pictures of surgical scissors and graphics of a fetus being sucked out
of a womb with a medical instrument to convey their point. These groups often use
terms such as “unwanted” rather than “unplanned” pregnancies, which is a much more
politically correct term to refer to the birth mother’s predicament. One article by Dr. &
Mrs. J.C. Willke, suggested that a world where abortion is legal rivals Hitler’s Germany
(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
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
The politics of language is
analyzed in the text.As an
example, we see the differ-
ences between “unwanted”
and “unplanned” pregnan-
cies. Depending on who is
speaking, we can encounter
either word, but each makes
a specific point in its use.
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
way to express their bewilderment. I know this was the case with my daughter, Marissa.
For most of her life she has been unable to make connections to the people that she has
wanted to connect with the very most—her family. Yet she has been unable to express her
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
sooner. In my heart of hearts I have always
known there was something missing between our
daughter and us. We have always felt a sense of
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
Facts are related to a real life
situation, making the text a
more valuable asset than a
text based on a hypothetical
The author undergoes self-
discovery through writing this
piece, which gives it a refresh-
ing quality that the reader
picks up on.
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
that adoption itself is not a concept. In fact, it is a very real situation that affects real people
who have intense and deep reactions to it on all sides of the issue. James Gritter explains in
his hope-filled book, The Spirit of Open Adoption:
We must be careful not to sanitize, sentimentalize, or even glamorize the pain
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
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.
Though the work begins to
end on a sadder note, the
author injects a positive feeling
into the end, and in effect
leaves the reader with a sense
of hope regarding adoption.
“Alternatives to Adoption.” 23 Feb. 2003 MSN.com-Google. 23 Feb. 2003. Keyword:
Adoption Alternatives. http://www.abolishadoption.com/alternatives.html#a
Carangelo, Lori. “Killer Adoptees: Don’t Shoot the Messenger.” 20 Feb. 2003 http:
CherylAnn’56. Online chat – archived. “My Views About What None of Us Un-
derstand (Very Long).” 3 Feb. 2003 http://www.adoptionforums.com/
Christophercorb. Online chat. “Aparents Rejecting Me Cuz Im Searching for Bparents.”
10 Feb 2003 http://www.adoptionforums.com/showthread.php?threadid=94
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
Verrier, Nancy Newton. The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. Balti-
more: Gateway 1991.
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Abortion. 24 Feb 2003 http://www.abortionfacts.com/online_books/love_