“But aren’t you grateful to be alive”?
That’s a question adoptees like me are often asked when we speak out against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Like other adoptees, I hesitate to answer, feeling the pressure to respond as we’ve been trained to by society, “Yes, I’m grateful, so very grateful.”
Adding anything else opens the door to the complexities of adoption that few people are willing to hear: that adoption isn’t a happy ending — it’s one family being torn apart to piece together another. And that adoptees are being used as pawns against reproductive rights while their own rights are denied.
A footnote in the Supreme Court’s decision alluding to the dwindling “domestic supply of infants relinquished at birth or within the first month of life and available to be adopted” enraged the adoptee community. It speaks to the return of the gilded age of adoption known as the baby scoop era, when there was an abundant supply of adoptable white infants.
As a child who was adopted, I have come to know the inner workings of this system. And they aren’t pretty.
At its core, adoption is an economic transaction — and the United States has a supply and demand issue that needs fixing. The profitability of adoption as a multi-billion dollar industry is indisputable, with the cost of a domestic adoption reaching as high as $45,000, though white infants command nearly twice the price as children of color.
While potential adoptive parents and the agencies serving them may be happy about the prospect of an influx of new “product,” what happens after the transaction goes unrecognized. Birth parents get little or no counseling after surrendering their child, nor do adoptive parents grieving their infertility and their “own” child that never was. And few adopted children get trauma-informed care for their separation from their origins.
Adoptees may be the most unheard members of this triad. Only recently has the separation from one’s birth family been acknowledged as a serious issue, though it’s one few counselors are competent to address. Some adoptees battle with lifelong mental health problems, leaving them four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adopted children.
And it’s difficult, if not impossible, for many of us to access family medical information. When I tried doing that during a high-risk pregnancy, I was denied access to any familial medical information. I was also denied access to my own medical records from my birth until my adoption. That the rules of the adoption industry took precedence over the well-being of my child and me emphasized what it means to be a commodity.
Adoption doesn’t remove the shame some mothers carry over putting their children up for adoption. And it gives their children a scarlet letter. That “A” means they have no access to their own birth certificates, medical history, or even ancestral origins. Denial of adoptees’ medical history puts their lives at risk by withholding crucial cues to potential and possibly preventable medical problems. While audiences fetishize televised reunion stories, for most adoptees finding their roots is nearly impossible. Most states still deny adult adopted people the right to their information and history. Instead, they are forced to try and piece together their stories from distant matches on DNA testing sites and the kindness of those strangers willing to share information.
The Supreme Court offered up adoption as a clean solution to a messy problem. It isn’t. Standing among those celebrating the overturning of Roe v. Wade were prospective parents with meme-worthy signs stating “We will adopt your baby”. Reading between the lines of that message reveals the actual meaning. Yes, they’ll adopt your baby, though what the sign doesn’t say is that the mostly acceptable “we” is heterosexual married couples. Many states still don’t allow LGBTQ+ people to foster or adopt children.
But if no adoption takes place, there is often little interest in the child or its future. Single parents receive little support if they struggle to raise a child alone. Many of the same political leaders who fought to end Roe v. Wade also oppose policies such as the child tax credit and paid family leave.
And yes, they’ll adopt your baby, but only as a newborn. Older children in need of a family struggle to find placement with a permanent family or remain in foster care for years. While Idaho was quick to pass a bounty on those seeking abortions, state funds are being reduced to help children in foster care and families in need.
Efforts to restrict access to contraceptives only solidify the message: children from an unplanned pregnancy are either a boon to the adoption industry or a burden to society. The endgame is not what is best for the welfare of the child, but to maintain a highly profitable business.
Adoption should not be seen as a default solution in the battle for reproductive rights. Adoption is not a simple or easy alternative to the difficult choice of terminating a pregnancy. As state courts and legislatures now grapple with the post-Roe reality and debate the right to this essential care, the voices and lived experiences of adoptees need to be heard — now more than ever.
Laura Goetz is a Wisconsin-based social worker and adoptee.
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