Adoptees Find Their Voices: What We Learn From Listening

adopteeAn article appeared recently in the Washington Post about Sandra Bullock’s recent adoption of a three year old African American girl from foster care “Sandra Bullock adopted two black children.  Don’t call them lucky.”    The article asks the questions:

Are adopted children allowed to express a range of emotions, including feelings of loss? Can transracial adoptees call out racism without feeling they are alienating their parents? And: Must adoptees always feel grateful?

These questions serve to highlight recent debates that have been sparked perhaps as a result of adoptees finding their voices as they come of age.  Some of these adoptees are from foreign countries such as Korean adoptees who are now returning to Korea as reported in the New York Times by an adoptive mother “Why a Generation of Adoptees is Returning to South Korea.”   A variety of adoptees, both American and foreign-born, contribute to the the blog,  Lost Daughters, which recently produced a youtube documentary, Flip the Script.  say more….Closure is another documentary about a transracial adoptee who finds her birth mother whose family did not know she existed, including her birth father. The film looks at the complexities of trans-racial adoption, and the importance for many adoptees of finding closure to their many questions and feelings. posted an interview with Angela, the adoptee in Closure and in the interview Angela stated:

I think my family’s outlook was similar to that of many adoptive families, in that they recognized my need for a birth family search in the context of some safer topics, like learning my medical history or obtaining my original birth certificate — but they didn’t understand the emotional component of my need to search. But I truly felt a need to see my birth family and foster family, to learn the circumstances around my placement. And, when these moments actually happened, I felt a lot of relief.  Although some of my reasons for searching were difficult to verbalize, my family began to understand and appreciate it. My mom said that she put herself in my shoes at a certain point during the search, and realized that she would want to know these things too.

In the lead-in to the film Adopted there is a quote by Cheri Register, Author of Good Intentions, and the mother of internationally adopted children:  “The Joy and Tragedy Coexist. That is the paradox of adoption. And we are all caught up in it.”  Register’s book examines the ten mistakes adoptive parents are at risk to make while raising their internationally adopted children:  “Wiping Away Our Children’s Past,” “Hovering over Our ‘Troubled’ Children,” “Holding the Lid on Sorrow and Anger,” “Parenting on the Defensive,” “Believing Race Doesn’t Matter,” “Keeping Our Children Exotic,” “Raising Our Children in Isolation,” “Judging Our Country Superior,” “Believing Adoption Saves Souls,” and “Appropriating Our Children’s Heritage.”

These are not easily examined realities particularly for those of us in the adoption triad:  adoptive parents, adoptees, and adoption professionals.  But, the necessity for examining these issues in all their complexity is imperative.

The U.S. Department of State issues international adoption statistics each year.  416,256 children have been adopted from foreign countries by U.S. citizens between 1980 and 2013.   Statistic Brain Research Institute, citing its source as the  report “Adoption USA : National Survey of Adoptive Parents, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services” published in 2009 based on a survey of adoptive parents conducted in 2007 which presents findings from the first nationally representative survey of adoptive parents in the United States, indicates that 677,000 children have been adopted privately and 661,000 have been adopted through the foster care system.  According to Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute there are over 6 million Americans in total who are adopted.

These stories can be difficult to hear for someone who is considering adoption. They can be even more difficult for someone who has adopted.  For adoptive parents, the feelings expressed by their children whom they adopted can be disappointing leaving them feeling confused or unappreciated perhaps even fearful of losing them.  Perhaps the most complex feelings revealed are those of adoptees from abroad.  In the documentary film Adopted, the documentary focuses on a young woman adopted from Korea by an American family, now in her late 20’s or early 30’s and an American couple in the process of adopting a toddler from China.  The film documents the emotions and difficulties that the Korean adoptee expresses.

All of this is heavy and it’s complex and it’s not upbeat and it can scare people but here’s the deal – if we lean in (i know what you are thinking- “lean in” seems to be a cliche these days but “leaning in” is really what this is about), we can find opportunities for discovery and even more deep and fulfilling parenting experiences.  If those who are touched by adoption the most – that is, the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees) as well as those who are close to this triad such as family, friends and siblings, then we can make some genuine and really fantastic headway and turn this around.

Understanding that adopting a child – providing unconditional love, support, a safe and secure home, and education – still does not justify telling a child that he or she is ungrateful for having these feelings.   Adoption is a journey and it is a journey that all of those in the triad must be  prepared to walk – TOGETHER.

Gay Adoption in Florida

lgbt_img2The History of Gay Adoption in Florida

The good news: Gay Adoption in Florida is alive and well. It wasn’t always this way. During the 70’s Anita Bryant an anti-gay activist lobbied and succeeded in getting legislation passed that strictly outlawed adoption by “homosexuals”. But all that changed in 2010 when a Federal court ruled that the law banning adoption by gays and lesbians was unconstitutional. However, before 2015 when gay marriage was not recognized in the State of Florida, the only way that both partners in gay and lesbian couples could obtain parentage rights to the child was by means of “second parent” adoption rather than the more streamlined all in one adoption procedure which recognized both spouses of a married heterosexual couple as adoptive parents in one proceeding. Before gay marriage was recognized in the State of Florida, gay couples wishing to ensure the parentage rights of both partners was in place, had to go through a legal process in which one parent adopted the child and then the second partner had to adopt through a process known as “second parent adoption”. This process required more paperwork, including a home study by a licensed adoption agency or social worker, and thereby was more costly.

Florida Gay Adoption Today

After the recognition of gay marriage in the State of Florida in June of 2015, gay and lesbian couples have the preferable and less costly process of “step parent adoption” available to them. This is an important leap forward for gay and lesbian couples who are raising children together. In the case of divorce, death or incapacitation, the other spouse will retain parentage rights. The significance of this may not always seem immediately apparent. Some examples of why this is an important legal protection are as follows:

1. A lesbian married couple have been raising a child together since birth who was conceived by using the eggs of one of the spouse’s. Should this couple divorce, the spouse who is not biologically related may lose custody and all parentage rights in a divorce. In the emotional tumult and turmoil that can happen in divorces, the consequences of one spouse losing parentage and custody and visitation rights can have a devastating impact on both the losing spouse and the children who are caught in the middle of the battle.
2. A lesbian married couple in which the biologically related parent dies or becomes incapacitated and unable to parent. Without a court order of adoption, the rights of the non-biological parent could be at jeopardy. Family members of the biological parent could assert rights that a court could possibly uphold.
3. A gay couple who used the sperm of one partner and a surrogate who divorce or the biologically related parent dies or becomes incapacitated as in the examples above. The non-biological partner could lose all rights to the child he raised.

Gay Adoption: Why Marriage Isn’t Always Enough

With the legal recognition of marriage, many gay and lesbian couples are under the false assumption that marriage protects their parental rights. After all, isn’t that the way it is for their straight married family and friends? The unfortunate answer is “not necessarily”.  Parentage rights do not always flow from marriage. The laws of parentage are expressed by each individual state and these laws are completely separate from the issue of marriage. In fact, some states are working on legislation designed to undermine the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage. Michigan recently passed a law allowing state-funded adoption/foster care agencies to deny services to certain people wishing to adopt or become foster parents based on religious grounds – these organizations target gay people. Other states have similar laws allowing discrimination based on religious grounds and other states are proposing them. So, a gay couple living in one state where they are protected legally could move to or even just travel to another states where the legal framework is not supportive of gay issues and these couples and their children can find themselves in legal quagmires.

Gay Adoption: The Birth Certificate Quandary

Many gay couples wrongly assume that names appearing on a birth certificate is proof of parentage. This is not always the case. Legal parentage is usually determined in the framework of each state’s law on parentage. While one’s name may be evidence of parentage, it is not a final determining factor.
Florida, like Texas, is also behind the curve of the times. Florida Currently, Florida is not allowing a biological mother to put her wife’s name on the child’s birth certificate. That means the biological mother’s wife has no parental rights when their child is born even when she is married to the biological mother. Note: this is different than opposite-sex married couples. A man married to a woman is presumed to be the biological father when the woman gives birth. This issue is currently being litigated in Florida

In some states, such as Texas, the birth certificates only allow for a “mother” and a “father” to be listed on the birth certificate. Therefore, only one parent is listed on the birth certificate. Some state officials will drag their feet and more than likely it will take litigation to force the hand of bureaucrats not eager to make the changes.

Gay Adoption: The Protection of the Court Order

Under the U.S. Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause, states must give recognition to other state’s judgments. This is why attorneys who are knowledgeable in gay family law issues recommend that LGBT couples who have children obtain court orders of adoption. It is the strongest protection available. Once there is an adoption decree in place, if the couple travels or moves to a non gay-friendly state in which recognition of the non-biological parent’s rights are not likely to be recognized, the court decree obtained in another state will be upheld. This can become immensely important in divorce situations or if the biological parent becomes incapacitated or dies. The rights of the non biological parent to retain custody in a divorce or to make medial decisions on behalf of the child if the biological parent becomes incapacitated or dies are protected.