Why Are We Reluctant to Face the Painful Truths of Adoption?
Perhaps there aren’t many of us who had a good experience with a social worker, but I’ll claim one. Her name was Sister Anthony Marie and she changed the course of my life. It was 1965. I was 17, and in a home for unwed mothers. “Sam” as we all called her, was all of 25, vivacious, and very kind. She obviously was not a mother and knew no more of what my future held than I did. She was going by the book and the espoused the philosophy of the day.
I was impressed enough by “Sam” that I decided to follow her footsteps and become a social worker. I did not feel compelled to become a nun, however. I recognized through our encounters, that ‘standing witness’ with humans in emotional pain, was to be my calling.
It’s rare to find a woman from my era who has had a positive experience with a social worker. We were shamed into placing our infants for adoption, resulting in life-long trauma. It is understandable to hold the “professionals” who gave such erroneous information at least partly responsible.
Why were women told that they would go on with life and forget their experiences Because it was the professional wisdom of the day! No one knew the long-term effects of relinquishment. Just as many societies hold all Germans culpable for the Holocaust, I believe relinquishing mothers from the 50s and 60s hold similar views toward social workers. I judge them less harshly because I wear the shoes of both.
Even 6 years later when I joined the ranks, social workers had no idea the cost for a mother who lost her child to closed adoption. Going by the ‘training manual’ of the day, social workers interacted with young women during pregnancy and birth. There was no follow-up with the women 10 or 20 years later when the loss had not lessened. They observed the gut-wrenching pain at the time of relinquishment, but like all grief, they assumed it would lessen over time. Social workers ended each adoption, observing the joy of the adopting couples. It is no wonder they saw adoption as a positive event.
So if we can cut those “old gals” some slack and understand it was by misguided training they pressured women towards adoption, what about today? I am often dumbstruck by how little information many of today’s social workers have. They learn nothing about the psychological issues surrounding adoption in their graduate training. In addition, numerous agencies employ workers whose only credential is being an adoptive parent. This results in many adoption professionals who provide guidance with no more education than the general population. Those of us within adoption realize that society remains woefully out of touch with the inherent complexities in our world.
At a training I offered less than two weeks ago, I was approached by an adoption attorney. He shared that he’d never told his 10-year-old son that he was adopted because he didn’t want to traumatize him with his early history. So now he has two potentially traumatic events to share with his son. (#1 That he is adopted #2 That he had a traumatic early life.) At another seminar I heard a similar story from a social worker regarding a cousin in his late teens. How can this still be occurring? In the two examples I cited, information was withheld from the adoptee. If professionals do not comprehend something as basic as telling a child they were adopted, how could they possibly grasp the probable issues of a mother placing a child?
Why are there still so many in society and within the profession of adoption who don’t “get it” when it comes to the complexity of adoption? My belief is that adoption has become institutionalized in the world, much like racism. The myths of adoption are widespread and widely accepted without question. We focus on the benefits of adoption, but continue to be reluctant to address the most painful truths that accompany it. The billion dollar adoption industry has had little incentive to become more candid. In some form, adoption will always exist. Personally, I don’t think those contemplating adoption will be discouraged by the facts. We all fare so much better in life, with proper education and preparation.
I’m doing all I can to educate adoption professionals and there are many folks like me around the world. It is not time to rest … just yet!