I wanted to adopt and was devastated when our adoption did not work out. It is a long and very painful story in itself—one that others judge me for, and some of my friends became my enemies. … Embryo adoption gave us a chance to adopt again but avoid the trauma of mother-child separation from a traditional adoption—which clearly did not work for us. I did not consider egg donation because my goal was different; I wanted to adopt an embryo that was already created. …
I chose an anonymous adoption, and the embryo had been frozen for a little less than four years. … He is now 17 months old. … I do not consider my youngest child adopted, even if he is genetically not mine—because he is biologically mine, 100 percent. After all, I carried him for nine months and gave birth to him; how much more “biological” can it be?
Roelie works with integrity and empathy. She is the only civil servant that families of adoption-loss trust to protect children. She has the knowledge and expertise. She must be allowed to work on children´s rights, so that families are protected and laws are kept-because children’s rights are Human Rights.
My name is Janine Vance and I am one of the Vance Twins. When my sister and I were sent to the United States from South Korea in 1972, the pioneering adoption agency gave our adoptive parents a document called “Certificate of Orphanhood.” This piece of paper gave the impression that we were orphans. Because this document implied that we had no Korean family, we wore whole new identities without question and never thought to look for people who we were told did not exist. The idea of a Korean family did not enter our consciousness while we were young.
It was not until my sister and I were 32 years old that we learned that most children are not truly orphans but were merely giving the label of orphan in order to be processed overseas for intercountry adoption. What?!? We felt like we had been living a lie for more than three decades! This discovery was the catalyst that motivated me to investigate intercountry adoption and how exactly children are obtained by so-called “ethical” adoption agencies.
“Poverty is no reason to take children away. Poverty is NOT a disease and international adoptions are NOT the solution.” — Roelie Post, Former EU official
After a decade of listening to numerous accounts from global families of adoption-loss—families who have been unnecessarily separated for adoption (but dismissed and ignored because of the public’s love affair for adoption), we’ve met one woman who has truly fought for the proper implementation of children’s rights for the European Commission since 1990. The name of this hero of ours is Roelie Post, civil servant of the European Commission since 1983. She is someone, we—adopted people and parents of loss—can trust to truly protect children from being trafficked for intercountry adoption. We applaud Roelie’s work specifically for the stand she took in respect of Romania’s Child Protection.
Devastatingly, a ferocious adoption lobby made up of adoption agencies, lawyers, NGOs, adopters and their allies have given themselves the authority to decide the fate of vulnerable families worldwide. Adoption facilitators have ignored the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) a legal binding agreement that was originally created to protect the natural-born rights of children all over the world. Perfectly fine methods set forth within the UNCRC such as temporary care and guardianship care, sponsorship, step-parent adoption, kinship care have been ignored for too long – methods that would keep children with their families.
This “adoption lobby” has even built their own legal agreement—a modern day cemented and sanctioned freeway—that has taken precedence over the fate of children from other nations and people. These agenda—driven individuals have enforced their own ill-conceived belief system—their own definition of Child Protection and The Best Interest of Children (intercountry adoption) via the Hague Adoption Convention (HAC) onto innocent families who could have cared for themselves if given the chance. The victims and survivors of this system—trusting and naïve families who still live and grieve parent/child separations every single day—have no recourse to seek justice.
Adoption trafficking continues at an alarming rate and no one except for Roelie Post has been courageous enough to fight against the lobby. In fact, she has been followed, her home office was broken into and ransacked, a plastic gun was left on her doorstep and strange men gestured toward her as if drawing a gun! Despite being intimidated, she continues to fight for children’s rights. Roelie Post needs to be held at the highest regard and protected!
Today, foreigners can apply for a license, enter a nation and then expedite precious children overseas before allowing them to be cared for by extended family or the people of their birth community, culture, and country. Perfectly fine methods set forth within the UNCRC such as temporary care and guardianship care, sponsorship, step-parent adoption, kinship care have been ignored for too long. Huge amounts of money are crossing hands, children are sold at varying prices depending on the child’s race, and children are photo listed on western websites like little pups on online catalogs. How dehumanizing! No child – not even your own – is safe from being targeted and processed overseas.
Today more than 200,000 Korean children have been sent to foreign families. And they are NOT living “cosmopolitan” lives like assumed by many Koreans. Rather, they live daily with losses, misunderstandings, feelings of doubt and abandonment by the very country that could have protected them—but didn’t. Intercountry Adoption only ADDS to the problems a family already has. Intercountry Adoption does not solve a family’s problems. The best preventative medicine is to counsel families by organizations who do not have a financial agenda. We all know that when history is ignored, it is bound to repeat itself.
For every “forever family” created by adoption another family is forever torn apart.
All of this can be stopped!
We need Roelie Post to continue to work within the European Commission on Children´s Rights and trafficking, so that she can continue to protect children’s rights like she has done successfully during the accession process of Romania into the EU and while working for ACT- Against Child Trafficking.
My sister and I applaud Roelie Post for having the courage to carry out her job properly. She is a child’s right expert and a hero to many of us. Being “saved orphans,” we understand and appreciate the challenges the European Commission had to fight in Romania for children’s rights against a determined force.
Roelie works with integrity and empathy. She is the only civil servant that families of adoption-loss trust to protect children. She has the knowledge and expertise. She must continue to work on children´s rights, so that families are protected and laws are kept-because children’s rights are Human Rights.
Despite all evidence to the contrary we still think this is simply a “war of words”; a simple changing of minds. It’s not. The “adopter narrative” is morphing and adapting in order to silence us; it is stealing the power of our words and the weight of our tropes in order to render us harmless and pointless. And the correct response is not just more words, but, at long last, union; and beyond that, words that form a framework for praxis; for action. When all is said and done, when our silly hashtags are forgotten on the dustheap of history, there will be an accounting of our accomplishments, and how successful we were in “scripting the flip”; in paving the way for a revolution of all those displaced, dispossessed, and disinherited. For it begs the question: if not now, when, exactly, do we see this happening? – Daniel Ibn Zayd
An exclusive first look at Fusion’s newest investigative series, ‘The Traffickers’ By Fusion | November 3, 2016
From Asia to Africa and beyond, journalist Nelufar Hedayat goes under the radar tracking down black markets in Fusion’s newest series, The Traffickers, to learn how guns, babies, even human organs are bought, moved, and sold to the highest bidder.
In this exclusive look at the first episode, Nelufar begins her journey in America, which adopts more children from overseas than all other countries in the world put together. But ominous forces lurk beneath many of these joyful unions.
When Adam was adopted, the U.S. government did not provide automatic citizenship to internationally adopted children. Adam’s adoptive parents never got him U.S. citizenship.
A federal immigration law requires that anyone who commits a felony and is not a U.S. citizen is subject to deportation–including adoptees. Adam committed felonies. He served his time for them.
None of us condones the commission of crimes, but it’s an outrage that the United States is deporting international adoptees, brought to the U.S. legally as children by U.S. citizens for the purpose of becoming the sons and daughters of American parents. Two governments–in this case, South Korea and the United States–sanctioned all the paperwork.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On October 24, 2016, Immigration Judge John C. O’Dell ruled that Korean adoptee Adam Crapser would not be granted relief for cancellation of removal and will be deported to South Korea. Adopted at the age of 3 by U.S. citizens and surviving two sets of abusive adoptive parents, Mr. Crapser is being deported to a country where he does not speak the native language, does not know the culture, and will have great difficulty securing gainful employment and integrating into Korean society.
Adam (the father of young children, married, living in Oregon) is one of an estimated 35,000 intercountry adoptees who do not have U. S. citizenship. Introduced in November 2015, the Adoptee Citizenship Act will close a loophole in a 2001 law and grant citizenship to these adoptees.
[Someone explain to me how this is not human trafficking… It’s known and documented that adoptees have issues (primarily emotional trauma or long-term PTSD) and add to that, Adam suffered abuse at the hands of adoptive parents (TWO SETS), then was reassigned adding more trauma. He needs our help, not deportation. LT]
Ava Duvernay secretly filmed a documentary about systematic racism… ‘The 13th’ was selected as the first documentary to ever open the New York Film Festival, and makes Duvernay the first black woman to open the festival. READ HERE
The movie takes its name from the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery but included a loophole that exempted those guilty of crimes from freedom. The 13th, which will debut in theaters and on Netflix on October 7, uses archival images from before emancipation through the Jim Crow era and the civil-rights movement, as well as contemporary footage of police brutality against black men, and is threaded with interviews with scholars, lawmakers, prison-reform activists, and the formerly incarcerated. READ
Finks: I had not heard that word in a million years! Now this!
When news broke that the CIA had colluded with literary magazines to produce cultural propaganda throughout the Cold War, a debate began that has never been resolved. The story continues to unfold, with the reputations of some of America’s best-loved literary figures—including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, and Richard Wright—tarnished as their work for the intelligence agency has come to light. Finks is a tale of two CIAs, and how they blurred the line between propaganda and literature. One CIA created literary magazines that promoted American and European writers and cultural freedom, while the other toppled governments, using assassination and censorship as political tools. Defenders of the “cultural” CIA argue that it should have been lauded for boosting interest in the arts and freedom of thought, but the two CIAs had the same undercover goals, and shared many of the same methods: deception, subterfuge and intimidation. Finks demonstrates how the good-versus-bad CIA is a false divide, and that the cultural Cold Warriors again and again used anti-Communism as a lever to spy relentlessly on leftists, and indeed writers of all political inclinations, and thereby pushed U.S. democracy a little closer to the Soviet model of the surveillance state.
#93 – Ava DuVernay / Jamal Joseph by The Close-Up on SoundCloud talks about 13th a documentary on mass criminalization and the prison industry. Oct 7th on Netflix.
By Lara Trace
How do we change everything? We can’t; we don’t. We can only change ourselves. If we’re lucky, whatever we learn might be shared with other “like souls” around us.
We create our own world and daily rituals. Create. Smile. Laugh. Invent. Dream. Write. Teach. (even BLOG) (I also recommend put down that g*ddamn cellphone. OMG!)
If you feel joy that joy is like a light and spreads. It’s kinda magical.
There is an amazing writer Donna Carreiro · CBC Newswho is writing in depth about the 60s Scoop. I spoke to her about the anthology Stolen Generations a few weeks ago. Read about her coverage here. If we don’t learn about this child trafficking, we are doomed to repeat it. Horrific history is always a cycle. It’s evident when we see the greed over oil and other resources and those lands (even children) are wanted then taken/stolen. Bear witness to the uprising at the Standing Rock protector camp. Bear Witness to the 60s Scoop and Indian Adoption Projects. Bear witness to the Prison Pipeline, racism and modern day slavery.
Now is the right time for us to be here. We acknowledge we’ve been told lies and deceived too long (see Finks). Humans can demand more honesty, transparency and truth by going to look for it. The world wide web is that place now.
What is real, true, even horrific, is better than a lie. Then I will accept that what happened in the past is still affecting us, including adoptees’ and American Indians lives and journeys. Then I can make my world change.
“When you’re told for 500 years your ways are evil, that damages your self esteem,” says the writer Gyassi Ross at the start of the film. “Showing the beauty of the language is a small dent in reclaiming that self-esteem.” [White Earth was the first tribe to call home its adoptees/Lost Birds in 2007. We are called the Stolen Generations and 60s Scoop for a reason.]
And now the rest of their story where some things never change.
The Indian must, therefore, be taught how to labor; and, that labor may be made necessary to his well-being, he must be taken out of the reservation through the door of the General Allotment Act. And he must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization, so that he will say “I” instead of “We,” and “This is mine, “ instead of “This is ours.” But if he will not learn! If he shall continue to persist in saying, “I am content; let me alone!” Then the Guardian must act for the Ward, and do for him the good service he protests shall not be done—the good service that he denounces as a bad service. The Government [domination] must then, in duty to the public [Americans], compel the Indian to come out of his isolation into the civilized way that he does not desire to enter—into citizenship—into assimilation with the masses of the Republic—into the path of national duty; and in passing along that path he will find not only pleasure in personal independence and delight in individual effort in his own interest, but also the consummation of that patriotic enjoyment which is always to be found in the exercise of the high privilege of contributing to the general welfare.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
John H. Oberly, Commissioner [of Indian Affairs] (1888-89)
To the Secretary of the Interior
[PS… I deleted my author page on Facebook or what I call The FBI-book. I am not happy about surveillance.]
Coming in November, all month: posts by me and other ADOPTION WARRIORS – those who write/blog to change the way the world sees adoption.
“It’s all about the money. Human trafficking is insanely profitable. If you really think about it: You can sell a kilo of Heroin once; You can sell a 13-year-old girl 20 times a night, 365 days a year.”
An estimated $150 billion is made by human traffickers, after the number one crime: drug trafficking…just think about the heroin epidemic happening in your neighborhood and illegal drugs being sold on your street. Trafficking drugs and people are street crimes, highly profitable. And it spreads like a plague: Alaskan Arctic Development concerns
John Trudell calls this trafficking process “mining humans.” The atrocity we are seeing with drugs and human trafficking is a sign we are living in an unhealthy damaged society.
I posted several articles on this topic when this blog focused on human trafficking and modern day slavery, starting back in 2012.
Young men and women must be taught at an early age that women and children are not for sale. These traffickers find new victims every single day and find buyers for them.
In the money game, every human sold becomes a profit machine, so the only way to end this slavery is to stop playing this game and buying sex. Our children need to know that they could be snatched off the street and trafficked, and even killed.
There are an estimated 20.9 million victims of human slavery, with 1.5 million in North America.
Since 1999, Dr. Transchel has been researching modern day human trafficking around the world. Her findings, after interviews with dozens of victims, will surprise and shock even those who consider themselves well-informed. Besides for working as a professor of History at CSU Chico, Dr. Transchel provides trainings for various branches of the military as well as the state department, on domestic and international human trafficking and she also serves as an expert witness on human trafficking from Moldova in Federal Asylum hearings.
Sign HERE: Tell U.S. law enforcement to crack down on $150 billion human trafficking epidemic… you are not powerless… thank you!
Years ago I realized the “version” is what we need to examine as much as the writing itself. It’s very very important to look at WHO wrote it and why. Ellowyn in Pine Ridge, South Dakota shared her tribe’s version of history that differed greatly from American textbooks. That version of my education began in early 1990s in her kitchen.
In Pine Ridge, it’s usually by 4th grade the student turns off and loses interest, Ellowyn told me. (She was a teacher.) The Lakota do not believe what is in the American textbook because their history is left out. She thinks (as do many in her Oglala tribe) that it’s important history is taught at home. It’s oral. It’s not written down. (If you google Oglala Lakota history, it’s generally written by the non-Indian and not accepted by the Oglala.)
My anthropologist sister Dr. Raeschelle Deimel in Vienna Austria and I were also discussing education a few days ago. (She teaches college-level history.) It’s obvious certain “subjects” (like history) are a matter of importance and priority for governments who control our education and what version we get. Not only do they control what we learn but how much, when we learn it, and there is no legal enforcement to measure accuracy or honesty, obviously.
Do parents have a say in what children learn? Yes, kinda. (If you teach at home, choose the version and control the story yourself). (Top Photo: Rae sent me this book and said it’s very important all Americans read it.) I plan to spend my summer reading Zinn ingesting every chapter. I am still a history student on my own.
We in America don’t even recognize the agenda and propaganda in our history textbooks, Rae said.
Sadly too many Americans have turned their backs on history, we decided. Probably too boring. If you went to college you might choose a certain period of history to study in depth. (That would also depend on which professor you get and how good they are.) Now we think it’s a general lack of interest and disgust, as in “what good is history?” to make my life or salary better… or maybe deep down we sixth-sense we’re learning bullshit (?) – perhaps.
It surprised me when I learned from a German journalist Monique in Munich in 2005 that Americans know more about the Nazis than the Germans do. History again is used as a tool, or it’s not used at all. Why would the Germans suppress their own history? She said they don’t have museums to teach any version of their own Nazi history. REALLY! (Of course she told me she and other Germans do learn about it on their own. Many of their parents were sent to the Hitler’s Youth Camps and were indoctrinated with propaganda.) History/story used as mind control? She said yes.
What I learned in my Catholic grade school happened over two straight days watching Germany’s Holocaust films on concentration camps when I was in 4th grade. I now realize how disturbing it was for me to see that as a kid. The nuns warned us but didn’t give us an option to leave the classroom. I choked back tears and nearly threw up. I had nightmares for months.
Much later as an adult I studied WWII and the Nazis on my own, watching documentaries especially. (We called it my scary Nazi phase.) I needed to understand HOW people could be this way and why. It took me many years to see WHO was behind the genocide of American Indians, and Jews, and many other ethnic minority groups and WHAT they ultimately wanted: domination and land, mostly. READ a historic SOLUTION BY GABOR MATE
Today of course I question everything I read. My two granddaughters deserve better than what their history textbooks will teach them. It’s my job and it’s going to have to come from me. Oral history, at home, in my kitchen.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana (16 December 1863 in Madrid, Spain – 26 September 1952 in Rome, Italy) was a philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.
History is so peculiar, right? You can look and look –and read and read — and find only glimmers of truth. “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” It was someone who told me to look at it as His = Story (Chapter 19 Surprises in Zinn’s book is an eye-opener on Indian Country history. I humbly suggest you spend some time this summer with Zinn’s book or watch him on youtube, if you haven’t already.
Read this blog too! Dr. Stuart Bramhall is brilliant HERE
THIS VIDEO simply blew my mind : please take an hour and listen to Biology of Belief:
Dealing with adoption propaganda is also a full-time job for some of us…
The war on human trafficking and adoption ebbs and flows…blogs come and go… and here’s a brilliant post from 2013:
From Transracial Eyes blog:
Elsewhere on the site we have explored the “cost” of adoptee activism [ link ], and we have heard some stories of closed-down blogs and the like. Certain adoptee sites have erased past posts … (My dear friend Von experienced this censorship with Blogger when her earlier site was taken down. FBI, really?)
Taking advantage of poor vulnerable families is a crime. Adoption Agencies are wolves in sheep clothing.
Adoption is really taking children from the poor and giving to the rich. Adoption Trafficking is coercive language that in the end, the person of ‘power’ manipulates the vulnerable parent, typically the mother, out of her child. The end goal is to fulfill the demand of wanting infertile adopters and financially benefiting the industry. The adoption fees are disguised as the costs to ‘process’ the child for adoption and can cost as high as $60,000+ for each transaction. It’s modern day, 21st century, legalized child trafficking. Think of how much that $60,000 could help a community in Uganda, China, India keeping families together. Instead it’s an undercurrent of corruption in foreign countries all happening from the demand of rich Westerners. The middle man (adoption agencies) strips away the true identity of the child and the adopter buys the child, so he or she will become one of their ‘own’. In the adopters minds they may think of it as saving an ‘orphan’ or a ‘solution for infertility issues’, but there is strategic modern day ‘verbiage’ agencies use, social workers, lawyers or counselors (or anyone working for the adoption industry) to manipulate young mothers out of their children and that took decades to perfect.
By Lara Trace (as an independent scholar-journalist)
Years ago when I first moved here to western Massachusetts, I attended a five-college consortium on Slavery in New England. My head was spinning since I had never encountered this much in-depth history as editor of the Pequot Times in Connecticut. (I had published a paper in the Pequot Times about the Genocide and Enslavement of the Pequot by Dr. Kevin McBride and had done my own research.)
Yet, the ghosts of slavery were still hidden, buried, obscure.
The truth in stories probably existed in expensive books that I had not read. I had also done my own research FIRST CONTACT into American Indian slavery and presented my research at a few conferences (2001-2002). Yes, Indian Slavery. For additional help, I posted inquiries on AmerInd H-Net. A few scholars had done bits of research, scattered here and there.
I am happy to report that it took time but there IS more written on American Indian slaves – finally, yes. Read on…
Until quite recently, few modern Americans, even historians, knew that many thousands, if not millions, of Native North Americans once lived and died in slavery. The publication in 2002 of James Brooks’s Captives and Cousins and Alan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade brought the bare fact and some of the dynamics of Indian slavery to the attention of scholars for the first time. In the decade since then, studies of indigenous enslavement in North America have multiplied, as many innovative ethnohistorians turned their attention to a once-unknown institution. Knowledge of Indian slavery has even begun to spread into the mainstream; Slate Magazine recently ran a cover story on the Indian slave trade and on Indians’ enslavement of African-Americans.
One of the bright young scholars researching Indian slavery, Kristalyn Shefveland, spoke last week at my university on the interrelationship between indigenous slavery and gender politics during Bacon’s Rebellion.* Prof. Shefveland’s larger research project examines the relationship between Native peoples and the colonial government of Virginia during the “tributary period,” when Anglo-Virginians converted thousands of Indians either into tribute-paying subordinates or chattel slaves. Among her other observations, Kristalyn noted that many of Virginia’s wealthy colonial families built their fortunes on the trade in Indian men, women, and children, whom they employed as laborers or sold to the West Indies.
Shefveland will be posting some of her findings here on the Turtle Island Examiner this summer, and her book on Indian tributaries and slaves in colonial Virginia comes out this fall. For now, though, let me note just one of many fascinating anecdotes she shared: one of the wealthy colonial families that profited from Indian slavery was that of John Custis, whose 1708 will identified 30 slaves (mostly but not necessarily all African) and six Indians as part of his property. Custis’s descendents capitalized on his investment in human beings, putting the family’s wealth into more slaves, land, and tobacco, so that by mid-century his grandson Daniel Parke Custis had become well-to-do. Daniel died in 1757, but not before passing his fortune on to his wife Martha Dandridge Custis and their children. Martha became a propertied and eligible widow, and, like most women of her class and time, joined her fortunes to those of another gentlemen. Her second husband, a well-connected young surveyor and militia officer named George Washington, had inherited his own legacy of interracial violence from Virginia’s past. As in contemporary Europe, fame and fortune in early America came not from innovation or toil, but from family connections and sheer violence.
* The rebellion’s name probably belongs in quotation marks. As J.D. Rice recently pointed out, most of the fighting in 1675-76 occurred not between white colonists, but between white Virginians and Native Americans.
BIG NEWS: What To Do About The Undeniable Connection Between Elite Universities (HARVARD) And Slavery
WBUR Boston | March 16, 2016 | On Monday, Harvard Law School decided to officially change its seal — the slave-owning Royall family coat of arms will be scrubbed from the school logo by next year. But what does this latest cleansing of university history mean in the larger context of elite education and its racist past? According to Craig Steven Wilder, professor of history at MIT, “The American academy never stood apart from American slavery—it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.”
TOP IMAGE: Vermont State Constitution, circa 1777.
Long before Vermont became our 14th state, its people were known for their independence. They were not excited about joining the new United States; nor did they want to remain a part of the British crown. They liked being independent and made that clear to the other colonies on more than one occasion. Such an opportunity came on July 2, 1777. In response to abolitionists’ calls across the colonies to end slavery, Vermont became the first colony to ban it outright. Not only did Vermont’s legislature agree to abolish slavery entirely, it also moved to provide full voting rights for African American males. On November 25, 1858, Vermont would again underscore this commitment by ratifying a stronger anti-slavery law into its constitution. The harshest treatment for free blacks in New England was found in Connecticut. Through a series of different legislative acts created before and after the Revolutionary War, it became nearly impossible for free African Americans to live in the state. For example, free blacks could not walk into a business without the proprietor’s consent, nor could free blacks own property.
Slavery: perhaps the last, great unmentionable in public discourse. It is certainly a topic that even today makes people very uncomfortable, regardless of their race.
American society has often expressed its internal problems through its art. Perhaps the most powerful medium for important discussions since the turn of the last century has been the motion picture.
For decades Hollywood has attempted to address the issue of slavery. For the most part, films have represented the period of enslavement in a manner that reflected society’s comfort level with the issue at the time. Director D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent drama, Birth of a Nation, for instance, depicted African Americans (white actors in black face) better off as slaves. Griffith’s movie showed the institution of slavery “civilizing” blacks. Birth even made it seem like slaves enjoyed their lives and were happy in servitude.
That wasn’t the case, of course, but it was what white society wanted to believe at the time.
More than two decades after Birth of a Nation, the portrayal of African Americans in films had changed only a little. 1939 saw the release of one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed movies, Gone with the Wind. Producer David O. Selznick believed he was serving the black community with respect — he made sure the novel’s positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan was eliminated from the film, for example. But Gone with the Wind nevertheless treated the enslaved as relatively happy, loyal servants, a depiction that continued to reflect America’s segregated society. History was made, however, when Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as “Mammy.” Still, her part, and the parts of the other black actors drew harsh criticism from major African American newspapers and civil rights groups.
Nearly forty years later, one of Hollywood’s most meaningful attempts to portray the period of enslavement came in 1977 with the television blockbuster mini-series, Roots. Based on Alex Haley’s 1976 best-selling book, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, the mini-series was groundbreaking on many levels. It was a dramatic series with a predominantly African American ensemble that captured a record 37 Emmy nominations — television’s highest artistic award.
And Roots marked the first time America witnessed slavery portrayed in detail. Along with the scenes of transporting, selling, and trading men and women, were scenes showing the brutality African Americans often suffered at the hands of slave owners. The depictions of abuse and cruelty were limited, of course, by the medium and by what American society would accept at the time. In keeping with the series’ marketing campaign, the show focused heavily on the family’s ultimate triumphs. For all of Roots’ firsts, and there were many, it was ultimately a story of resiliency.
Fast forward three-plus decades — American society is undeniably changed. African Americans are regularly featured in movies and television shows. The nation elected, then re-elected, an African American president, Barack Obama.
Drawing critical acclaim today is the movie 12 Years a Slave. 12 Years is a watershed moment in filmmaking. Not only does it feature remarkable performances, excellent cinematography, and powerful direction; it also offers the first realistic depiction of enslavement.
Unlike prior motion pictures and television shows, 12 Years does not retreat from the brutality many blacks endured. The movie is not for the faint hearted, as the violence and cruelty it portrays is not the highly stylized violence found in films like Django Unchained. 12 Years is true to the reality that for years many Americans treated fellow human beings with ruthless brutality — and that reality is harder to face.
The film, however, is not only drawing praise from critics — it recently received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture — but enjoying audience appreciation, as well. With that appreciation comes an opportunity to bring the discussion of slavery to the mainstream.
This, then, is an exciting time for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Among its many virtues, the Smithsonian is a great legitimizer with a long tradition of providing venues for Americans to examine their shared history. One of the over-arching goals of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is to create a place where issues like enslavement can be viewed through an unvarnished lens.
America today needs this discussion and I believe it is ready for it, a sentiment undergirded by a belief in the public’s ability to deal with and care about the issue. The great strength of history, and African American history, is its ability to draw inspiration from even the worst of times. No doubt people throughout the nation and around the world will find that inspiration when they visit the Museum and view our major exhibition on “Slavery and Freedom” when our doors open in late 2015.
Before I close, I want to recommend four insightful narratives written by African Americans during this period of American history. The first is Solomon Northup’s book, 12 Years a Slave. Next is Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs. One of the first books to describe the sexual abuse and torment that female slaves endured, Incidents became one of the most influential works of its time. Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, by Harriet Wilson, is believed to be the first novel published by an African American in North America. Though fictionalized, Wilson’s book is based on her life growing up in indentured servitude in New Hampshire. Finally, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, remains today one of the most important autobiographical works ever written by an American.
“This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s Story and this museum is for all Americans.” –Lonnie G. Bunch III, director
The Campaign to Build America’s Next Great Museum
We need a total of $500 million to build this museum. Given the importance of this Museum to our nation, Congress committed to provide half of this amount. We must raise the remaining $250 million from the private sector, including friends like you, corporations, foundations, and other organizations. Can we count on you to build this museum? We welcome gifts at all levels — from $35, $50, $100 to $10,000 or whatever you can afford.When you make a gift today, you can choose to become a Charter Member and receive a wide array of benefits.
Join us as we build America’s next great museum the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup. 1853.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. 1861
Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet Wilson. 1859.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass. 1845.
“The essence of all slavery consists in taking the product of another’s labor by force. It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that he must get to live” -Leo Tolstoy
In 2009 a Tennessee couple made a life-changing decision. As devout Christians, they decided to open their home to an orphaned girl from Ethiopia, whom they were told had been abandoned. They knew enough from fellow adoptive parents to expect that the process would be long and hard, but as they were waiting for their application to go through, something unexpected happened. A number of Ethiopian staff at their adoption agency were arrested for transporting children to a different region of the country where they could claim the children had been abandoned. (Following a glut of adoption cases where children were said to have been abandoned in the capital city of Addis Ababa, the court had temporarily stopped processing “abandonment adoptions” of children from the city, but were still allowing cases from elsewhere in the country.)
The stories about where the children came from—whether they were abandoned orphans whose parents were unknown, or their parents were poor and had willingly given them up—seemed to change from day to day. Concerned, but by now committed to the child they’d come to think of as their future daughter, the Tennessee family went ahead with the adoption. But, as I wrote in my book The Child Catchers, after they brought the girl back to the United States and she learned enough English to say so, she told them she had another mother. When they called the agency to demand an explanation, the child’s claim was confirmed: their newly adopted daughter was not an orphan.
On a personal level, the news was devastating. The family felt like they’d stolen someone’s child; wanting to find out the truth, they set off on a months-long, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to locate their daughter’s biological mother. But their story turned out to be just one of many: a single example of the numerous incidents of adoption corruption that, in the last several years, have helped changed the direction of a powerful adoption movement among U.S. evangelicals.
At the time of the Tennessee incident, adoption was a preeminent evangelical social cause in the United States. Beginning in the early 2000s, American evangelicals became one of the most powerful forces in international adoption, lining up devout believers to follow the biblical mandate that Christians care for “orphans and widows in their distress.” This call would become a movement that launched major conferences, spawned a small library of books on “adoption theology,” and changed the complexion of many conservative U.S. churches.
In 2007, national Christian leaders like celebrity pastor Rick Warren encouraged their followers to shift their focus from issues of “moral purity”—abortion, same-sex marriage, divorce—to something more positive: helping children in need. More than just “pro-life,” it would be a “whole life” response to the longstanding pro-choice challenge that Christians adopt all the children they wanted to be born. It would also be an extension of existing evangelical engagement with global development and health issues. Promoting adoption would help rebrand U.S. evangelicals, from moral scolds to children’s champions.
The premise of the movement was a particularly American response to global child poverty. It was based on the idea that the existence of somewhere between 143 and 210 million vulnerable children around the world—a number that also includes those who live with one parent or extended family, often in poor conditions—constituted an “orphan crisis,” but that there were also 2 billion Christians who could help. If just a fraction of those claiming to be Christians stepped up to adopt, the movement’s leaders argued, parentless and hungry children, as a category, would cease to exist. As one leader put it, the goal was to “get as many people in the church to adopt, and adopt as many kids as you can.”
Evangelicals responded in huge numbers. Churches began to create adoption ministries, praising and supporting adoptive parents and encouraging new families to adopt as well. Anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers redoubled their efforts to cast adoption as the pro-life alternative to abortion. Evangelical adoption funds popped up, giving grants or interest-free loans to couples hoping to adopt (particularly pastors, whose potential adoptions were viewed as a priority, since they could set the example for an entire congregation). In 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest denomination in the United States, passed a resolution directing all members to consider whether God was calling on them to adopt. A coalition group, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, grew to encompass more than a hundred evangelical nonprofits and denominational groups united around “orphan care.” In 2010 Bethany Christian Services, the largest adoption agency in the country, reported a 26 percent jump in the number of adoptions, largely due to the mobilization of Christians newly interested in adopting.
The stories of how children were put up for adoption began to sound strangely similar, as though there was a global epidemic of children left, Moses-like, in baskets.
The same year, when Haiti was rocked by a devastating 7.0-level earthquake, the Christian adoption movement became a full-blown cause. The movement threw its weight behind efforts to expedite U.S. visas for unaccompanied Haitian children, so they could leave their country and enter waiting U.S. homes. So many prospective adoptive families inquired about Haitian “earthquake orphans” that Bethany Christian Services began diverting applicants to other countries like Ethiopia, which were then undergoing “adoption booms,” thanks to a combination of poverty and lax laws. (The crisis and subsequent response also gave birth to the most notable scandal in the young Christian adoption movement, when a group of Idaho Baptists traveled to Haiti to gather “orphans” off the streets, with the intention of bringing them to an as-yet-unbuilt adoption center in the Dominican Republic. None of the children, it would turn out, were orphans.)
But, just as in Haiti, many of the children being adopted from places like Ethiopia weren’t orphans either. As journalist E.J. Graff has extensively documented, the numbers cited for the orphan crisis are a significant misrepresentation of UNICEF estimates of vulnerable children. Although UNICEF representatives say that no accurate number exists for “true” orphans—that is, children with no parents and in need of a new home—the organization estimates that some 90 percent of so-called orphans have lost only one parent, and many of the remaining 10 percent live with extended family. What that means is that many children who live in orphanages in the developing world (often because of poverty or because their parents have no one to care for them while they work), as well as many children sent abroad for adoption, aren’t real orphans at all. And the crisis at hand isn’t so much an orphan crisis as a crisis of poverty, food insecurity, conflict, and a host of other, less sensational development issues that have rendered children especially vulnerable.
But in the Christian adoption movement’s rush to do good, those complexities were forgotten, along with the children’s families. The movement began to refer to adoption as a means of “redeeming orphans”—saving them just as Christians are redeemed when they are born again—and their families became either forgotten footnotes or ugly caricatures. Adoption agencies, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that referred mothers to these agencies, and Christian ministries often cast domestic “birth mothers” as either selfless martyrs or hopeless, promiscuous addicts—bad influences from whom children must be saved. In international adoptions, birth parents were more likely to be erased altogether, as adoption agencies sometimes wrongly claimed that they were dead or dying. Members of the Christian adoption community sometimes spoke of the children in developing nations as an indistinguishable mass, wherein any child of an impoverished parent was viewed as the equivalent of an “orphan” and was labeled as such. The stories of how children were put up for adoption began to sound strangely similar, as though there was a global epidemic of children left, Moses-like, in baskets by police stations, dumpsters, or fields.
The reality, of course, was more complicated. Many children were relinquished for adoption because of poverty alone. Some families who gave up their children for adoption later explained that they’d thought the child would return when they were older or that the adoptive family was becoming a sponsor of the birth family back home, and would help them transcend their circumstances. On rarer occasions, there were stories of how babies were simply bought or kidnapped.
Ethical problems in adoption didn’t start with this modern Christian movement. In the early days of U.S. domestic adoption, from 1854 to 1929, some 100,000–250,000 East Coast children were taken by workers at the Children’s Aid Society, an early child welfare organization. Children were taken from inner city slums, put on “orphan trains,” and shipped West to be adopted. Sometimes the adoptions took place as one might hope—a child legitimately welcomed into another family—and sometimes they were closer to a form of indentured servitude for the still-settling West. (Almost all followed the rationale of the orphan-train movement’s founding father, Charles Loring Brace. A nineteenth-century progressive social reformer who founded the Children’s Aid Society with support from philanthropists and businessmen, Brace argued that allowing children to grow up in their overcrowded Irish and Italian New York City homes would foster the development of a “dangerous class” of criminals, “growing up almost sure to be prostitutes and rogues!”)
Domestic adoption took on new life from the 1950s to the 1970s. This period saw the spread of maternity homes where millions of unwed pregnant women were sent to live in confinement and deliver their babies in secret—what many of these mothers now call the “Baby Scoop Era”—before relinquishing them to infertile couples. International adoptions gained popularity around the same time, effectively starting in South Korea. Biracial, “mail-order” Korean infants were removed to the United States by the thousands, sometimes to poorly vetted homes that were unprepared to parent children from another culture. (Many of the earliest international adoptive parents were conservative Christians who shared the beliefs of Harry and Bertha Holt, the Oregon couple who pioneered Korean adoptions and whose ad hoc adoption program became the basis for the longest-standing international adoption agency in the world, Holt International Children’s Services.) As domestic adoption declined after the legalization of abortion and the increased acceptance of single motherhood, international adoption expanded dramatically to a wide range of countries. A pattern began to play out in country after country: initial demand followed by an influx of corrupting Western cash and an endgame of coercion, fraud, and often, eventual closure or suspension of the country’s adoption program.
Although American adoption law is complicated and domestic regulations vary from state to state, much of the legal framework for adoption developed over the last fifty years has been tailored to the interests of adoptive parents. This is unsurprising, since those who adopt tend to be more powerful and richer than birth parents. Additionally, a system of tax incentives that subsidize individual adoptions, short windows for birth parents to revoke their consent, and sealed birth certificates that prevent adoptees from learning their biological history reinforce this divide in favor of the adoptive parents.
When the Christian adoption movement was at its strongest in the late 2000s and early 2010s, many of its excesses looked like a condensed version of earlier problems with adoption. As Christian adoptive parents lined up to help, paying $30,000–$40,000 per internationally adopted child (in fees that are divided among agency payments, travel, and orphanage donations), their demand helped create new adoption markets. This was particularly true in African nations, where the combination of poverty, opportunism, and cultural misunderstanding of the meaning of adoption—often construed as temporary guardianship rather than permanent relinquishment of a child—led to children repeatedly being offered, or in some cases taken, for adoption based on mistaken beliefs or outright profiteering. (In an infamous 2009 example documented by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a staff member for an American evangelical adoption agency was filmed leading what appeared to be a mass adoption recruitment effort, asking the assembled residents of a rural Ethiopian village whether they wanted their child “to go to America.”)
The movement built to such a pitch that even those within the evangelical community began to complain about miscarriages of scripture. “I have never understood some people’s interpretation of the scripture James 1:27, where it says, ‘Visit orphans and widows in their distress,’” said Keren Riley, a child welfare advocate and devout Christian who works in Uganda. “By some people’s actions involved in international adoption you would think it said, ‘Visit widows, take their orphans and leave them both in distress.’”
Around 2010, a new set of problems began to emerge. There was the proliferation of stories like that of the Tennessee family, where children said to be orphans turned out to have living family, who, in some cases, expected their return. In the United States, some adoptive families, caught up in the movement’s mission-based call to adopt “as many children as you can,” did so, ending up with super-sized families with sometimes tragic results. Some adoptive children were abused or even killed at the hands of their adoptive parents, like thirteen-year-old Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams, whose case I documented in 2013. A shocking number of stories emerged of children who had been sent away from their “forever families,” either to new, un-vetted adoptive homes, back to their countries of origin, or just cast out on the streets. [rehoming]
To David Smolin, a law professor at Cumberland School of Law, as well as a longtime Christian advocate for ethical adoption reform, these adoption horror stories collectively amounted to a tidal wave of bad publicity. The Christian adoption movement had expected good press and a secular pat on the back for having put their money where their mouth was. The response they received instead came as a shock.
But if the movement grew rapidly, so did its recognition of the systemic problems plaguing adoption. A number of critics emerged, often Christian adoptive families who had come to rethink the community’s unquestioning focus on adoption as a solution to broader issues of poverty and instability, and who challenged leaders to pay attention to their experiences. One couple, Caleb and Becca David, who adopted two Ethiopian children and ran short-term missionary trips for Christians to work with children in the country, told me that, as incredible as adoption was, “we’d be naïve to think that was the only answer… We feel like our eyes are being opened about the importance of holistic orphan care. Because ultimately, it’s not about us having our child.”
Additionally, generations of adoptees came of age and began to organize—starting organizations like Land of Gazillion Adoptees and Lost Daughters—where they discussed their own stories in ways that few adoption advocates could ignore. Other adoptee organizations in South Korea and Ethiopia began to work directly with poor or single parents, to help them avoid losing children to adoption. As these stories have begun to be heard in the last several years, the Christian adoption movement has undergone a sea change. A number of its most prominent advocates, including the leadership of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, have begun to focus on the forgotten half of the “widows and orphans” mandate—the existing families of those orphans.
There’s a practical reason for this shift as well. International adoption as a whole has contracted drastically, with the number of children entering the United States falling by two-thirds since the peak of international adoptions in 2004. Numerous nations slowed or shut down their adoption programs for a variety of reasons. China’s economic development, for example, led to increased domestic demand for adoptable children. Russia stopped sending its orphaned children to the United States for complicated political reasons. Still others, like Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, reduced or stopped adoptions completely following corruption scandals involving children wrongly sent abroad.
As a result, scores of adoption agencies have gone out of business, and this summer, one of the most stalwart international adoption lobby organizations, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, closed shop as well. A 2013 bill drafted by adoption advocacy organizations and initially supported by Christian adoption leaders was designed to dramatically increase international adoptions—what many saw as a last-ditch effort to revive the failing industry—but it gained little support and ultimately failed. On the whole, says Smolin, the infrastructure for international adoption is crumbling. The boom of previous years has begun to look like just that: an unnatural increase that was never sustainable.
Part of the Christian adoption movement’s change in direction, notes Smolin, is simply a reflection of this new reality: it’s hard to continue forcefully advocating for international adoption when the supply has declined so much. “It’s not that [the Christian adoption movement has] admitted being wrong about international adoption,” he told me, “but they just don’t talk about it that much anymore.”
However, Smolin also sees a change of heart among Christian adoption advocates. Starting in 2014, the flagship coalition of the movement, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, began to back away from promoting international adoption at its annual conferences. Movement leaders invited Smolin to speak at their annual conferences as a critical voice from within, and the audience seemed increasingly sympathetic to his concerns. To Smolin, it seems like the movement has at last caught up with modern, secular discourse about child welfare: rather than make a messianic call for white U.S. evangelicals to save “Third World children,” the church has been wading into the thorny, technocratic issues that dominate international child policy debates. Today, he said, it is common at annual conferences to discuss whether orphanages are ever appropriate shelters for children, and how to support domestic fostering initiatives in developing nations. “It’s not the same movement that it was,” said Smolin.
Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, agrees that there’s been a significant shift in the movement’s emphasis. “I’d note a steady ‘maturing’ in understanding and priorities overall. I think there’s still a recognition that there are many children that do very much need families today (both in the U.S. foster context and globally), but also a counter-balancing desire to do all possible to preserve and reunify struggling families and to promote local adoption in developing countries.”
Some Christian adoptive parents who might once have been drawn to the movement have instead led the way in creating small, local organizations in developing nations designed to help broker local adoptions or foster care initiatives, removing the profit motive from the question of child stability. In Ethiopia, for example, one such group has worked to establish daycare centers for the children of working mothers, so that a woman isn’t forced to place a child in an orphanage in order to provide for the rest of her family.
Reunite has to date helped place thirty-five children back with their Ugandan parents or other relatives.
In Uganda, a nonprofit run by Keren Riley, Reunite, helps support and resettle children wrongly placed in orphanages or offered for international adoption with their biological families (often after prospective adoptive families begin to suspect something is wrong and contact Reunite to investigate). Though a small organization funded primarily by donations, Reunite has to date helped place thirty-five children back with their Ugandan parents or other relatives.
These attempts are still small, and don’t yet have the same momentum or finances that the massive effort to promote adoption once did. But on an ideological level, it amounts to a major shift in thinking. Over the course of a few short years, the Christian adoption movement grew to reenact some of the most significant and troubling problems within the adoption industry: its propensity to disregard or demonize birth families, to minimize the significance of adopted children’s heritage, and to participate in a system that too often needlessly separates families for profit. But many of these advocates have begun to recognize those problems and are now trying to make them right. And larger organizations like Lumos, a nonprofit founded by author J.K. Rowling to combat unnecessary institutionalization of children in orphanages, have bolstered the call.
The changes in the U.S. movement haven’t completely solved the problems in adoption. Riley said the pace of adoptions in Uganda hasn’t changed, and most of the adoptive parents she meets are still U.S. Christians. And, as I’ve reported elsewhere, some of the old problems of international adoption have been replicated among vulnerable immigrant communities within the United States. Additionally, for the many thousands of children adopted during the height of the American international adoption boom—whether secular or religious—the decades ahead are likely to bring more questions, and possibly years of searching for the families they left behind.
It’s hard to find words when you examine adoption as an industry. First you think (and you’d be right) that adoption was meant for war orphaned children. Orphans, of course, had no living parent, grandparent or other close relatives. With all the war, conflicts and climate refugees in the world right now, indeed some events do kill both parents, leaving children orphaned, like in Syria. One solution, the SOS Village, was created in Austria in 1949 for this very reason. (HISTORY) That is why SOS Villages were created internationally to house and home the children who are then raised by one dedicated stay-at-home mother and the village school would educate the orphan – again, these children are war orphans with no living parents. (Top Photo) The village (with more than one house dedicated to these orphan children) is a necessary form of care. (These children retain their names and cultural identity, of course…)
Approximately 63,000 children and young people live in 518 SOS Children’s Villages and 392 SOS Youth Facilities around the world. (2015)
There is another dark age of adoption to consider. That is when organized religion stepped in and created a profitable industry of peddling babies and the children of unwed mothers to infertile adoptive parents who were practicing the same religion. I wonder if these religions found the need, or were creating the need, or worse, making judgment on unwed women – intending to create a brand new adoption industry, a baby market called adoption, aka child trafficking (and for handsome profit.)
A child is not an orphan if they have living parents, right? Not exactly. The orphanage industry (like in Haiti and Samoa) became a cesspool of human trafficking. Even in the US today, child protective services could be transferred to this type of SOS Village program to serve the needs of children without a parent.
In 1993, the organisation opened the country’s first two SOS Children’s Villages in Broward County, Florida and in Lockport, Illinois. In 2004, a third SOS Children’s Village went into operation on the South Side of Chicago, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the area. SOS Children’s Villages is an independent, non-governmental, social development organisation that provides family-based care for children in 134 countries and territories and that advocates the concerns, rights and needs of children. More than 140,000 children and young people attend SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, SOS Kindergartens and SOS Vocational Training Centres.
Veronica Smith, calm and charming, exudes a quiet capability perhaps forged by a lifetime in nursing. She lives in a house on the south coast with panoramic views. The sitting room is full of photographs of laughing children. Veronica, now 72, married for the first time in her 60s. Roger, her husband, was a divorcee with three grown-up children and now several grandchildren. “On the first night we went out, I told Roger the truth,” Veronica says.
The truth, the secret Veronica had kept for years, is that far from being childless, in 1964, in her 20s, she had given birth to a daughter, Catherine. What happened after the birth has fuelled an anger in her that refuses to be dampened. “I, and thousands of women like me, were coerced into giving up our children,” she says. “I was a perfectly healthy, capable adult. I’m still angry my child was taken away.” The social, economic and religious pressures that existed at the time are easily forgotten now that the stigma of illegitimacy has been erased and sex without a wedding ring is the norm.
Veronica was a nurse in Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Bognor Regis in 1964, and going out with Sam, when she became pregnant. “There was no abortion. The doctor suggested gins, a hot bath and a douche, ” she says. “I wrote to my sister and she said, ‘Mummy and I are coming to see you.’ My mother was very religious and my father was a lieutenant colonel. She said it would kill him, so he never knew. I was sent to the Catholic Crusade of Rescue. I was a trained nurse, how could I not think for myself? But I was brought up to be an obedient Catholic. It destroyed my relationship with Sam.” She was sent to a Catholic hostel in Brixton, south London. “It was the so-called Swinging Sixties, yet we were made to scrub the floors as penance for our sins. I held my daughter for a week. And then she was gone.”
Earlier this month, Veronica was one of a small and unlikely group of doughty women, in their 60s and 70s, dressed in varying shades of red, carrying placards, who demonstrated outside the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, London. For many, it was their first taste of public protest. The women are members of MAA, the Movement for an Adoption Apology. Set up in 2010, it is an offshoot of the Natural Parents Network that offers support to people affected by adoption. What prompted MAA’s launch was the decision by the state of Western Australia to issue an official apology for forced adoptions that took place several decades ago.
Other states followed, culminating, in March this year, in the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, announcing a substantial support fund and a national mea culpa. “We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamentals rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children,” she said in front of 800 people affected by forced adoptions. “You were not legally or socially acknowledged as mothers and you yourselves were deprived of care. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and, in many cases, illegal.”
The members of MAA argue that adoptions during the same period in the UK were similarly highly flawed. They seek a public apology from the British government for women who were also “coerced, cajoled and conned” into giving up their babies. Earlier this year, an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons for a UK apology attracted 88 signatures, but progress has been slow. Perhaps this is because it’s a challenge now to fathom the ferocity of punitive disapproval for a girl who “got herself into trouble”.
The MAA supporters are hoping the lack of understanding may be countered by the film Philomena, starring Judi Dench, about the forced adoption of a three-year-old boy, Anthony, in postwar Ireland. Hence MAA’s presence at the screening in Leicester Square.
The film, co-written by and co-starring Steve Coogan, tells the true tale of Philomena Lee’s 50-year search for her son Anthony – a hunt helped by the journalist Martin Sixsmith. Philomena had been “put away” in a County Tipperary convent as a teenager, pregnant and deemed a “fallen woman”. She worked without pay in the laundry, seeing Anthony for an hour a day until he was given to an American couple from Missouri in return for a “donation”. Mother and son repeatedly returned to the convent for information about each other, but the nuns kept silent. Anthony – now Michael – finally left his mother the only clue he could, his tombstone in the convent’s graveyard. The film, Steve Coogan has said, “is about tolerance and understanding”.
When I first met Veronica and other MAA supporters, several months ago, it transpired that it was action not tolerance that they seek. Initially, it’s hard to see how a government apology is appropriate when their stories are of such profound personal loss. In the 1950s and 1960s, an estimated half a million women became unmarried mothers. Their experiences are a television staple. The drama of lives lived in reverse has a powerful hold, beginning with the mourning for the loss of a child and ending – at least on the TV screen – in celebration at the birth of a new relationship.
However, as I met the women of MAA, they revealed the extent of the stain of secrecy and internalised shame. For some, there were also the complexities of reunions; the negative emotions unexpectedly triggered as deep-frozen memories thawed; the impact of families reshaped and the joy but also the fresh wounds that sometimes prove impossible to heal.
Helen Jeffreys became pregnant at 17 in 1965, in Harrogate. She gave birth to her son in Leeds. “I was 18 and a perfectly competent mother. I wanted to keep him,” Helen, now 65 and a counsellor, says. “My social worker refused to offer any help other than to facilitate adoption. When Adam was two months old I had to leave the mother-and-baby home. I was told that if I had nowhere to go he must be placed for adoption. When I signed the papers not one official asked me if this is what I wanted.”
Adoption then meant a complete break. Helen believed she would never see her son again. Only much later, in 1975, did it become possible for adopted children, at 18, to request their birth certificate. Adam’s birth was also long before legislation that would have given him and his mother a home; the benefits system was limited and the voluntary organisations which offered help did so in the language of sin and moral welfare. Other influences were in play, too, that shaped the ” free choice” of unmarried mothers to give up their babies “for their own good”.
Half a Million Women, an analysis published by the Post-Adoption Centre in 1992, illustrates how unmarried mothers were seen not as victims of bad luck but often pathologised as “emotionally disturbed” and a “discredited person”. (The men, at worst, had to endure shotgun marriages.)
Paradoxically, the woman who gave her baby up for adoption was judged mentally healthy and emotionally stable; those who fought to keep their child were classed as immature and unfit to be a mother. This was a cruel twist as the lack of practical and emotional support might eventually drive a woman to the edge. Add to that the then much stronger influence of religion and the role of society in coercion becomes more of a reality.
“Anna”, a MAA member now aged 75, came from an affluent Catholic family. Training as a nursery nurse, she became pregnant at the age of 21 in 1959, as the result of a rape. Her parents would only consider adoption. “The baby was mixed race so I knew she would be hard to adopt,” Anna says. “For three months I visited her at the foster home. I don’t know why I gave her away. I still can’t answer that question. It makes me ashamed. On the appointed day, I told my daughter, ‘I’m going to find you one day.’ That was my goodbye. I hate the church for what it made me do and how it’s made me feel. It’s hard to disentangle your own identity from the idea that you are somehow ‘unfit’.”
In 1968, the peak year for adoptions, 16,164 children went through the system, three out of four under the age of one. By 1984, the colloquial term “bastards” had been banished. Official documents referred to “births outside marriage”; contraception and abortion were available, the social mores were changing dramatically. The number of adoptions in 1984 had fallen to 4,189, only 43% of whom were babies. But the cost to many of the unwed mothers of the 50s and 60s proved high.
“I lost my son for 29 years and it had a huge effect on me,” Helen Jeffreys says. “I went through a period when I drank, I took drugs. I have underperformed for my entire life. I am no good at relationships. On the day Adam was adopted, right until the last minute, I was hoping for a reprieve, for clemency. It was like a death sentence.”
Jean Robertson-Molloy, 77, is a retired social worker. She is open and effervescent, a founder member of MAA who is also active in the Green Party. Her life has also been moulded by that one decision. “My story,” she says wryly, talking at her home in north London, “is a very downbeat Mamma Mia.” In 1963, aged 24, she travelled to New Zealand, and in a short space of time she had had sexual encounters with three men. The first was Keith, who raped her. The other two, Andy and Don, were consensual partners. “Don and I drove up the west coast in his little Fiat,” she says. “We had a tent and camped for four or five days. I enjoyed it. He was a lovely man.”
Soon, Jean realised she was pregnant. She arranged to have her baby adopted in Australia, telling her parents that she was sightseeing. “Later, when my mother learned the truth,” Jean says, “she was in tears. She said they would have helped me to keep her if they’d known. I never held my daughter,” Jean adds, eyes brimming. “I was so afraid to hold her in case I had maternal feelings. Of the three men, I chose the one I liked least, Keith, as the probable father. Ever since, it’s almost as if I want people to accept the worst things about me. Years later, when I did find my daughter, I realised that the lovely guy, Don, had to be her dad.”
Jean married in 1970. Her husband was 10 years younger. When their children, Johnny and Caroline, were four and five, “he waltzed off so I ended up a single parent anyway”. Twenty years, later, in 1991, Jean traced her daughter, Amanda, who had been raised by an affluent Australian family. “I pretended I was travelling around Australia and asked if I could see her. I think I overwhelmed her. She said we could meet for three hours.” Amanda was happily married to an architect and had three daughters. “She was very ambivalent,” Jean says. “Worse than anger is anger you don’t express. We never talked about our feelings.”
For years, contact consisted of two or three letters a year. Then, in 2010, Amanda saw a newspaper photograph of Jean in the Green Party. “She said she felt a twinge of connection.” Amanda came to London and stayed with her birth mother for two weeks. “I said all the wrong things,” Jean says tearfully. “I was trying to cram in 40 years of advice. I asked her, ‘Why do you always wear black?’ I didn’t mean it critically.” For the last few days of her visit, Amanda moved into a hotel. “She said, ‘We are two very different people.’ Back in Australia, Amanda told Jean that she didn’t want to have any further contact.
Jean hasn’t heard from her daughter since. “The apology isn’t so much for me,” she says, “but for the many women, still silent. It might make the unspeakable speakable.”
Veronica is one who kept her secret until she had a breakdown in 1989. “All the grief that I had locked away came tumbling out.” Aged 58, she then began to look for her daughter. Catherine was eventually found, aged 24. “She didn’t want to know me,” Veronica says. “I was devastated.” She had to wait another 10 years before Catherine resumed contact, prompted by the arrival of her own child. “Catherine’s adopted mother died recently and we’ve become closer,” Veronica says. “Feelings are bound to be complicated if your child has been rejected. I just want her to be happy.”
Linda Jones, 63, like Philomena, raised her daughter, Carly, until she was three. Then, Linda’s mother arranged an adoption. “My mother was respectable and found the idea I wasn’t married difficult. I was finding it hard to cope,” says Linda. She subsequently married and had a second daughter. Now divorced, it was her younger daughter, aged 29, who traced Carly, 34, through Facebook. “The sisters are in touch, but I have a very strange relationship with my older child,” says Linda. “It’s a lifetime of grief and yearning because she belongs to someone else. Then, when you meet, you realise you will always be half a mother.”
Helen Jeffreys found her son in 1995. Adam, now called David, was 29. Helen, who had married, divorced and had a second son, says: “I had a feeling David needed to be found. Doors opened as if it was meant to happen.” He had been an only child. His adopted mother had died when he was 12, and his adopted father at 18. “He is part of my extended family now,” Helen says. “He gets on really well with my father, which is ironic. My dad said, ‘Why was he adopted? But he was the one who told me to leave the house.
“When I met David it was as if he was an old friend. We went to music gigs and drank a lot of real ale. He was a bit lost. We talked and talked.” Helen is a Buddhist and now David is, too. However, Helen’s second son no longer speaks to her, although he is friends with David on Facebook. “He said he felt displaced. He told me, ‘I look at this bloke. I can see he’s my brother, but he’s a complete stranger. It does my head in.'”
“It’s not always been easy with Helen,” says David, who is now 47 and has been happily married to a younger friend of his mother’s for 13 years. “But I am glad I know her. I don’t feel resentment. My mother says hardly a day went by when she didn’t wonder what had happened to me. She never wanted to do it. That’s a big burden for any mother to carry.”
Many who gave up their children for adoption in the 50s and 60s did so willingly and without regret. For others, MAA insists, a government apology, backed by funding to help those women who have silently fallen apart over the years, is vital. It is unlikely to happen under a coalition government, but MAA has more faith should Labour win power. A public acknowledgement might appear a superficial gesture to younger generations, but for the redoubtable Jean and Veronica and friends, it offers atonement, and that is beyond price.
For information on MAA, email MAANPN@gmail.com. The film Philomena was released internationally.
[I have suggested that tribes adopt this type of village in South Dakota where social workers still remove children at alarming rates, despite the federal law called the Indian Child Welfare Act… Solving and ending tribal poverty in 2016 and beyond could change everything for children… Lara Trace]
This is in response to the “call for replies” to a recent article inThe Atlantic. This type of “false equality” in terms of discussion leaves out certain basic premises that cannot be so easily overlooked.
There are some huge glaring problems inherent to the discussion on adoption as you are positing it. Primary among them is the mythology dating only from the 1950s that adoption is about family creation. The history of adoption is one of social engineering, deracination, extirpation, dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance. In this light, to speak of the adoptee as having “issues” is to gloss over what is truly being manifested: A healthy resistance against an alien and alienating society that has seen fit to destroy not only the adoptee, but her family and community as well. Because the audience of The Atlantic is made up of those in the adoptive class, reading between the lines of this story gives us a different take that might go as follows: “You, the adopting parents, are not responsible for the failure of your children.”
That this maps on to every loathsome trope of “feral children”, failed blank slates, reverting to form, degenerate DNA, “bad seeds”, etc. ad infinitum and then some should give us great pause. It was Charles Loring Brace who, as the founder of the Children’s Aid Society, and describing the children who would be sold as chattel into indentured servitude via the Orphan Trains, referred to these “orphans” as “street Arabs” of “the dangerous classes”. The vestigial aspects of adoption practice thus carry forward and taint anything done in its name. It’s time for the adoptive classes to right the societal inequalities that allowed them to adopt in the first place. Anything else is just so much running in circles. Adoptees, as well as our original families and communities, are growing increasingly tired of listening to discussions that so willfully and balefully miss the point.
“The narcissism and egotistical God-delusion of certain adoptive parents is very telling. You haven’t saved anyone when, like a pyromaniac firefighter, your economic and political class caused the very fires that you then claim to have “saved” us from.
And as our voice gets louder, it can only be hoped that first and foremost, children like the one you castigate here (Sherrie) will find like-minded souls to help ease the punishment of “parents” like yourself. And then secondly, that these, the worst remnants of the voice of the status quo of adoption, the criminal profiteers of adoption, the revelers in adoption misery; these, the vestiges of the 1890s, the Baby Scoopers, the Orphan Trainers, will finally be drowned out. Once and for all.”
[In 2010, Eldridge received the Congressional Angel in Adoption Award from the Honorable Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana. She and Bob traveled to DC to receive the awards.]
NOTE: I ran into her religious rubbish on a yahoo group. She’s authored many books, collected many followers and markets herself as an expert to adoptee and adoptive parents. I call her a dangerous kind of person, propaganda-demonic. …Lara Trace
Human trafficking is a global problem, with the UN saying victims come from as many as 152 countries, and that a third of those trafficked are children. BBC News focused on three countries, talking to people who have been trafficked and also to the traffickers themselves. **Video contains some harrowing testimony**
A few years ago I decided to dedicate more of this blog to cover stories on human trafficking. This 2007 video is horrifying. Supposedly this was produced by actor George Clooney.