The Untold Story of National Adoption Awareness Month
Cringeworthy Headlines, Controversial Omissions, and Crazy Hopes for Next Year
Celebrate and celebration are the most popular words in the headlines of articles about National Adoption Awareness Month. For the month of November I signed up for Google alerts on the subject for adoption, and every day my inbox overflowed with dozens of articles, topped with happy headlines. Adoption! What an excellent solution to everyone’s problems, you might think if you’d fallen to Earth from Mars in November. What is this practice that is causing so much joy and so many smiles? Regular families in every state are doing it, and celebrities are doing it too — in fact these famous people can’t seem to get enough of it. Forever homes for everyone!
The sad reality is that scores of children do end up in foster care, removed from birth families that don’t make it to forever. According to child welfare.gov, only three in five children in foster care will be reunited with their parents or other relatives. That leaves over 100,000 children in the U.S. available for adoption. Roughly a third of them will spend at least three years in foster care. For many of these children, and the new parents who love them, adoption is indeed something to celebrate. Other children will endure the tragedy of re-homing or abuse. Adoption, like being born into a biological family, carries no guarantees, yet the headlines from National Adoption Awareness Month herald only the most heartwarming stories without any mention of the tragic backstory or the checkered history of U.S. adoption itself.
The children who find themselves in foster care and the infants who are procured for adoption from mothers who feel they have no other option did not fall to Earth unscathed and waiting to be chosen. They have suffered life’s most profound and enduring tragedy. They have lost their mothers, their fathers, and the entire circle of family that should hold them most precious. In many cases these ties are permanently severed, not out of necessity, but out of custom. Genetic and cultural histories are lost. Forests of family trees are clear cut, the terrain unrecoverable.
National Adoption Awareness Month reporting lacks awareness of the fact that every adoption begins with loss. Every adoption involves trauma. Go ahead, tell us the happy news of the many happy adoptions, but please give us a couple of lines that recognize the deeper truth. My favorite headline this month came from Australia: “Adoption law should be reformed to give children legal connections to both their families — here’s why.”
This year National Adoption Awareness Month had a historic moment on November 14. New York’s Governor Cuomo signed the Adoptee Rights Bill S3419 into law, unsealing original birth certificates for adoptees at age 18. This legislation was years in the making, and New York joined a mere nine other U.S. states that allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to the document that every other U.S. citizen takes for granted, yet outside of New York this news, even during National Adoption Awareness Month, was mostly ignored.
Next year during National Adoption month, I hope for more awareness of adoptee rights. I hope for an acknowledgement of the loss and trauma inherent in adoption. I hope for celebration and serious consideration of the issues that regard adoption not simply as a joy, but also a tragedy.