Friday, July 24, 2015

Positive and Negative Adoption Language: Who is Making the Rules?

I came across this list on my Facebook feed today, and felt really compelled to write about it.  I will admit that I generally do not read adoptive parent blogs (with one exception being this one) and I also do not take part in adoptee support groups where I am instructed to use or not use specific words such as "birth parent".

In some circles, birth parent  is seen as negative and in others (like this list, for example), suddenly birth parent is positive.  Personally, I find the term birth parent as neutral; however, I will say that the adoption industry uses this term to separate a mother who relinquishes places her child, from a mother who adopts a child.   However, the term, birth parents has long been accepted as a way for adoptees to differentiate which mother they are speaking about at any given time.  I would not necessarily deem it positive, though, and it has always bothered me that there is a separate holiday for birth mothers (the Saturday before Mother's Day) from other mothers.

I have written about the term real parents before; however, depending on who you are speaking with and who they view as their "real" parent, this term could be viewed positively or negatively.  I would agree this terminology may be more on the negative side. If nothing else, "real" is confusing because you never know if somebody is speaking of a biological or adoptive parent. It also implies that the other parent(s) are unreal.

The word reunion is in no way negative in my opinion and "making contact with" just seems so sanitized.  When people are separated and they see each other again years later, reunion perfectly describes it.  Is the writer of this list attempting to minimize reunion?  That wouldn't surprise me.

The central theme I see going on in this list is somebody making the rules about adoption language (and they forgot to call and ask my opinion!).  Although I understand education is important and one of the main purposes of my own blog, categorizing words into positive and negative is probably not the best way to go about educating.  Why? Positive and negative are mostly based on opinion.  What I see as negative, you see as positive and vice versa (Example: "Adoption is a loss and a separation of mother and child" versus, "Adoption is all rainbows and unicorns and beautiful and wonderful!") -- you get my drift.

Adoption Triangle?  Today is the first time I have heard this term, I must admit. I have heard grumblings that adoption triad is no longer p.c., but I never really understood why.  Maybe it is outdated; I honestly don't know.  This writer states that the term triad implies equality in adoption; however states correctly, due to power imbalances, that equality is misleading.  She states:

"...the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are a triad.  Executive, Legislative and Judicial are a triad.  Peace, Love and Hope are a triad.  But there is NO TRIAD IN ADOPTION."

I guess my first thought when I saw this list at all, is that how in the world can one person deem certain words "negative" or "positive" without placing those words into context?  For example, the fact that my child is adopted is not negative at all. It is factual.  Further, she was adopted at a final adoption hearing.  There is no positive or negative to it.  What I suspect is going on with "is adopted" being deemed negative is that certain people in the adoption community do not want to acknowledge that adopted people are adopted for life.

There is one word that screams to me when I review this list and that word is:

  1. a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

I truly believe the point of this list is to water down what actually happens in adoption and make it not only palatable to the general public, but to make it seem better than it actually is.  In addition, this list is acting as a form of "word police". 

I believe every word on this list is acceptable to speak or write if placed in proper context.  What I would like to see instead of a "positive/negative" list is one that looks like this:


* where are your real parents?
* where did your parents get you?
* Why do you not look like your parents?
* How do you feel about being adopted?
* How do your parents feel about your reunion?

A similar list could be made on what not to say to adoptive parents; however, as adults, they should be able to handle the general public's ignorance about adoption language.  Kids should not be put in awkward positions because of somebody else's curiosity.  

So, if you take anything positive away from this list, I hope it is this:  think before you speak, do not ask inappropriate, personal (is nosy too negative?) questions to adopted children or parents, and it's o.k. to use both positive and negative terms when speaking and writing, in appropriate context and places, of course.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Spike of My Little Pony -- an Adoptee in Search of His Roots

Top (Rainbow Dash), middle left (Rarity), (Twilight), (Applejack), (Pinkie Pie), front (Fluttershy and Spike)

In honor of Trotcon 2015 that was held this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio, my daughter (a HUGE fan of the show) gave me the idea of writing about Spike, the adoptee of the My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic series (created by Lauren Faust).  This is hands-down one of the best series out there teaching about lessons of friendship. The music is top notch as well.

Elements of Harmony

In Season Two, Episode 21, "Dragon Quest," Spike's story is explained more thoroughly.

Spike, is a purple and green dragon.  (not to be confused with the purple and green dinosaur) who was raised in Ponyville, not knowing his original parents.  In one scene, Spike is speaking with several of the Ponies.

Spike does not realize at this point he does not act like a "real dragon"  He is seen wearing a pink heart apron.

Rainbow Dash tells Spike he is "lame".

Rarity replies, "Spike is unique -- he doesn't have to look like other dragons"

Twilight adds, "Or act like them."

Rarity replies, "My little spiky wikey is perfect the way he is"

Spike looks distressed and asks, "I don't act like other dragons?"

The Ponies go on to tell Spike he is so cute which results in Spike becoming increasingly upset (he is turning red and angry)  and states emphatically,


These series of events ignite Spike to question where he came from. You see him laying in bed asking Twilight:

"What am I?"
"Where am I from?"
"Who am I supposed to be?"

Twilight yells in frustration, "I DON"T KNOW! For the last time, Spike, you were given to me as an egg!"  I don't know where they found you!"

Spike:  "That doesn't tell me anything about WHO I AM! I need answers!I feel like I'm looking at a complete stranger!"

Twiilight: " Oh, Spike, why don't we do some late night research and see what we can find out."

They start looking through mounds of books at the library and find nothing because "ponies know next to nothing about dragons" and "dragons are too rare and scary to talk to and look at."

Spike cries and then finds his strength and proclaims, "I WILL DISCOVER WHO I AM IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO!"

Spike decides to leave Ponyville to go on a quest to discover who he is.  He plans to follow the dragon migration.

The Ponies try to talk him out of it, but then later become supportive.

During his travels, Spike comes up upon dragons much larger than himself who harass and bully him.

The other dragons do not believe he is a real dragon so they challenge him to "prove it".  They put him through numerous tests and begin to accept him.

Nearby Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Rarity are hiding in a Dragon costume spying on Spike and the other dragons.  They overhear Spike proclaiming that he would like to stay with the other dragons forever.

The group of dragons decide to travel to the Phoenix nest to steal eggs.  However, when Spike finds a defenseless Phoenix egg that fell on the ground without cracking, the other dragons pressure Spike to smash it and he refuses.  Before the dragons can retaliate against Spike for taking a stand, the ponies reveal themselves and Twilight teleports them to safety.

Teary-eyed, Spike proclaims to the other ponies,  "You are more than friends, you are my family"

You see spike penning a letter toward the end of the episode:

Dear Princess Celestia (the ruler of Equestria):

Seeing the great Dragon migration, made me wonder what it meant to be a Dragon, but now I realize that who I am is not the same as what I am.  I may have been born a Dragon, but Equestria and my pony friends have taught me how to be kind, loyal and true.  I'm proud to call Ponyville my home and to have my pony friends as my family. 

Yours truly, Spike

What themes do you see in this episode that are familiar?  Do you believe that the writing confirms what many adoptees feel after their searches?  Or do you, like me, feel that a few important elements were left out of the story (i.e. where did Spike come from and who were his parents?). . . . .

Although I doubt the intent of the writers was to minimize search and reunion, I feel that this episode confirms the mainstream idea that only the people who you grew up around are your "family".  Some of us may come to these conclusions after search and reunion but many of us will believe we finally found our family within reunion.

Many of us learn that by loving our biological families and incorporating them into our identities, it only adds to the love we already feel about our adoptive families. You see a hint of that when Spike admits he would like to stay with the other dragons forever and appears to feel more complete upon his arrival back to Ponyville.

I do wholeheartedly embrace the idea that your friends can become your family. Because that has been true for me within the adoption community.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Narcissism and Adoption -- Very Likely Bedfellows

A pattern I have noticed when speaking with my fellow adoptees is how narcissism (narcissistic parents or just narcissistic thinking) can easily creep into adoption.  In fact, the adoption system is a minefield of narcissistic thinking.

What are you talking about, Lynn?

Stay with me here.

Let's start with a brief definition of narcissism.  I am not going to quote the DSM here -- we will leave that to the psychologists and social workers.  I am going to talk about narcissism in plain English.  These traits are common in narcissistic people or systems:

* lack of accountability, abuse of power and lack of transparency
* sense of entitlement
* lacking in empathy and ethics
* secrecy
* magical thinking 
* all about the image, not about the truth
* making friends with people in high places
* lying
* corruption/greed
*objectifying others for own gain

In studying narcissism over the past 20 years, I have noticed many parallels to adoption that it is quite mind-blowing.

Closed adoption.  Closed adoption historically had a lack of accountability to both adoptees and birth parents.  It was simply expected that an unmarried woman would relinquish her child, no questions asked. Coercion, guilt and shame were heaped upon mothers to persuade them they were inadequate to raise their own children.  Most were ostracized by their own families and places of worship and sent away from home to protect the family image.  Children were then handed over to "appropriate" adoptive parents (think money and status) and a large fee or "donation" was expected.  Adoptive parents told all of their friends in high places where the best agencies were and the cycle repeated.  Lawyers saw the potential of money to be made and some actively engaged in the lying and corruption, sometimes changing mother's names on legal documents.  Churches were also notoriously heavily involved in ruining family's lives through abuses of power.

But Lynn, what about all those beautiful children who found forever-families via a church adoption agency?

I would have no problem with church based child placement if there was accountability to those they served.  Unfortunately, even today, those same church-based adoption agencies are still covering up their past sins to the families they helped separate. A friend recently contacted me and is completely calling off her search for original family because of the nasty way she was treated by a church social services.  She unfairly carries the shame that the closed adoption system placed on her head.

Once mothers relinquished, they were expected to not call or write and to just go on with life as usual.  There was no accountability on the part of the adoption agencies to provide any proof or information that they did what they promised to do---find a loving family for the child.  Mothers were discouraged from asking questions and a shroud of secrecy covered what exactly happened to that child. It amazes me to think that the agencies of the closed era did not have the forethought to provide mothers with updates about their child's progress if for no other reason to give them peace of mind.

The lack of empathy for relinquishing mothers astounds me to this day.  However, there was a good reason for not empathizing with the mothers.  The private agencies existed not as a place to help children, but as a business to make money off of children.  The image was to "help foundlings" but the truth was, greed motivated these agencies.  It was no accident that a socialite founded my adoption agency (She wanted to find a baby for her sister) and it's no accident that Georgia Tann, corrupt baby broker of Tennessee, paid off judges to falsify documents so adoptions of (stolen) children could be finalized.

The adoption agencies then and now still have a lack of accountability, transparency and an abuse of power. As an adoptee, I am still expected to pay money to get just basic facts about my life that my agency is holding for ransom. I was desperate in 2006 and forked over $500.00 just for the chance to find out who my mother was.  There is something really wrong with that picture.

There was very little sense of empathy on the part of the agency that I was destined to grow up without any knowledge of my family and the reasons for my relinquishment.  They believed I was a blank slate because that suited them.  They lied to adoptive parents and told them what they wanted to hear ("Your child is just like a biological child").  I have the baby booklet they gave to my parents and I read it cover to cover.  The level of denial is mind-boggling.

Many birth parents carried a deep shame and had symptoms of PTSD, resulting in a domino affect of pain and secrets that affected their subsequent husbands and children -- and later, the adoptee, in reunion.  These consequences were not of any concern to the adoption agencies.

There were no follow up services by my agency except for one early visit to my parents from the agency.  No thoughts of providing updated medical information or informing my family that post-adoption services even existed (rare, but actually available through my agency). All the cost and responsibility for gathering information about who I was born to and the circumstances of my relinquishment and adoption was placed on me, the still-paying customer.

 I marvel at the detailed record my agency kept about my mother when I was recently told by a social worker that their belief in the the closed era was that NOBODY would see that file. Some agencies allowed gifts or letters but notoriously did not pass along the gifts or letters to the birth parent or adoptee.  But who knew?  Lack of accountability--they literally had nobody to answer to.

Closing and sealing files is an abuse of power on the part of government and agencies in order to continue to keep secrets and corruption hidden.  Many adoptees have figured out 50 years later that no adoption ever even took place after being told they were adopted.  Others were never told they were adopted and led to think they were the biological children of their parents.  Lying and secrets was a main staple of closed adoption with a side of magical thinking that everybody in adoption morphs into somebody else:

Adoptive parents give birth (according to the birth certificate)
Adoptees are "as if" born to (again, according to the birth certificate) and
Birth parents are absolved of their pasts and can start a new life

Joan and Christina Crawford
Adoptive parents with mental health issues

Narcissism affects many, many adoptees.  I have lost track of how many adoptees have told me their mothers or fathers were unfit to parent any child, let alone pass a  home study to raise other people's children.  But it happened.  All.  The.  Time.

There is a theory in the adoption community (and may be even proven by studies which I don't have at my finger tips) that women who are infertile and do not grieve the loss of potential biological children, are not in the healthiest position to adopt and should not adopt until their infertility is grieved thoroughly.   The reason for this is that any child placed in an infertile parent's home will serve as a replacement for the hoped-for biological child and heaps of unrealistic expectations will be placed on that child, who may look or act nothing like his parents.

Then there is another category of adoptive parents with money, status and a sense of entitlement that believe they deserve children.   There is a huge leap between "I want to parent a child in need" to "I NEED to parent a child for my own ego-driven needs and wants".

The latter is what narcissism is all about.  The child raised by narcissistic parents will never be seen for her own gifts and abilities. In fact, he will never be truly seen at all.   She will always be seen through the lens of what the parent wants and needs.  This is parentification at its worst.  The child literally morphs into an extension of the parent and will never be seen as the beautiful, unique person that she is.  If mom wants a child to be a famous actress, then the child will be pushed and forced to take acting lessons.  What the child wants and feels will never be considered -- only the parents' wants and needs.

It's a terrible way to grow up and you can just turn on your T.V. and see examples of it all over the place.  The reality T.V. shows with stage moms come to mind.  But most narcissistic parents are so secretive that even the neighbors have no idea they are child abusers.  They deserve an academy award for their ability to "play the part" to friends, family, congregants, and of course, adoption agencies.  They usually have friends in high places and many of them paid off doctors and lawyers to get what they want.  It still goes on today as there is a lack of accountability and transparency within private adoption, and now days you can even advertise on Craigslist for a baby.

I especially wonder about doctors who have taken an oath to do no harm who had no problem after being slipped some cash, to place a child in harm's way out of their own greed.  Or the Judge's who signed off on corrupt adoptions to make a few extra bucks.

photo credit:

Recently someone asked me what I thought about the term "Gotcha Day".  I immediately said, "I don't like it."  The person's face became confused.  I added, "It feels objectifying".

What does that mean exactly?

Well the root word is object.  Whenever I hear "Gotcha Day", I picture this kid on a shelf and somebody picking him up and yelling, "Gotcha!".  It's a similar visual when I hear "chosen" as if a bunch of babies were lined up side by side in cribs and a parent decidedly points at one and says, "I'll take him!"

There have been so many times I have felt like a pawn within the adoption system.  On any given day, the following roles are projected on me; however, they do not really speak to who I truly am:

*a beloved hoped-for daughter
*someone to make somebody else look good
*a family secret
*adult child of an alcoholic
*the kid who had the wrong father
*a minority but without the "protected class" to go with it
*the sister who will be ignored
*the sister who has "adoption issues"
*the token adoptee in the room

I'm sure you could make your own list -- many of these categories make me feel objectified as if I am not seen for the person that I truly am.   So what does this have to do with narcissism?  Narcissistic people and systems project an unreal idea of who you are on to you based on their own wants and needs.

So for example, you are just a regular guy who also happens to be adopted.  You get your original birth certificate in the mail from Vital Stats with your birth mother's name on it.  You decide to start searching for your original family.  You find them.  You open the door and then suddenly, you are bombarded with labels and assumptions placed upon you by the adoption system.  You will have people on all sides of the triad telling you how to feel, how to conduct your relationships, and that you are selfish or ungrateful for just seeking the truth.  You may get yelled at, shamed, or be hung up on or lied to. Your adoptive family may turn their backs on you.  You may be forced to pay lots and lots of money to your agency for information and to DNA testing companies just to learn the truth.

That, my friend, is the fall-out of narcissism and adoption in action.

Despite Reports, A Child Dies

Takoda Collins The morning of Tuesday, January 7, 2020, was my first day back from a trip to Orlando, Florida.   I was happy to be sle...