Does anything anyone say about adoption hurt you anymore?

This is the seventh question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following question originally appeared on Yahoo!Answers:

Does anything anyone say about adoption hurt you anymore?

Answer: The original question was speaking of the “pain” of those adopting when they hear adoptees speaking out. But I want to turn this around, because the question is not valid. It’s like a plantation owner being upset by being called a racist—there is an inherent power differential that needs to be revealed.

This claim of a kind of “victim” status in this way does not stand. More importantly, I think it is important to understand where the “hurtful” accusation is coming from. We know that adoption is a violence, based in inequality; it is candy-coated to make it seem about family and children, but it is an economic and political crime, a treating of symptoms and not of disease; it is a negation of families and an annihilation of communities that are not seen as having an intrinsic human value equal to that of those adopting, for reasons having to do with race, with class, and with a preconceived notion of what makes for a “valid” life in this world. In this light, adoption is in and of itself the “hurtful” act, with any reminders of that act being in and of themselves “hurtful” in turn. This is known. To circumvent this Truth, an attempt is thus made to turn tables.

For many of us who are vocal concerning adoption and what it truly represents, it is problematic when the response to carefully (or angrily, emotionally, scientifically, or literarily) expressed statements concerning the subject at hand are not met with proper responses, or rebuttals, or arguments, or any kind of discussion, but instead with dismissal, personal invective, insinuations, accusations, or as here, an accusation that what we say is “hurtful”. The problem is much deeper. The problem is not what is said, but the fact that what is said reflects inherently the initial violence and rupture of adoption. Just having the discussion is “hurtful” to many of us, but we are told to check our words, which make those who adopt “wince” as stated here. Hearing “that is hurtful” puts many of us in a place where we are fearful of another rejection, when what is sought is simply understanding and empathy.

On some level, those who would parrot the dominant discourse on adoption know that this pressure and weight is on their side; that the slightest offhand remark or casual dismissive word in fact carries the full punch of adoption’s original violence in terms of dislocation, uprooting, rejection, and annihilation of family and community. In this light, the accusation of “hurtful” directed against us is yet another weapon in an arsenal used to keep us quiet. This makes such minor reflex actions all the more reprehensible, because there is no adequate defense against them. The power differential here is not on our side; we are playing on the downhill side of an uneven playing field. If everyone simply stands still and keeps quiet, we lose all the same.

Personally I have chosen to no longer reply in the singular. Alone I don’t have the energy to go up against such a prevailing force. And so I seek out not just those in the same situation, but those whose voices are not even considered as being valid, that we too, because of our acculturation, might likewise dismiss or ignore. For the amount of time due to those who have remained silent for too long—mothers whose babies have been taken from them, the adopted who had no say in the matter, the communities missing their most vulnerable members—is infinite if you ask me. If the debate were one-sided for the next thousand years this might only start to equalize what has been one-sided in the other direction for far too long.

We are not living something new, and it is vital to understand this. The history of the dominant discourse is one of trying to stifle, co-opt, buy out, assimilate, or purge any and all resistance discourse. The label “hurtful” is used to do just that. Note that it is a remark about form, not content. What we are saying is not even being heard. This is the sign of someone thinking like a child, not like an adult. This is an immature and, dare I say it, narcissistic statement to make. An adult in a debate defends his or her position. A child slings epithets, or claims “hurt”. In other words: We are being told to “shut up”. This is the same kind of stifling that takes place when a Black American is told he or she is being “uppity”. It is to be told: “Know your role”.

Ignored is the “why”. Why should there be a resistance discourse in terms of adoption? It isn’t about personal “hurt”, but social injustice. We need to make this clear. And sometimes we have to borrow the tactics of those who would silence us, as much as this might run counter to how we usually act. Those who would ignore us need to understand what that discourse is—whether they want to hear it or not, and whether they like hearing it or not.

Only when the other side of the story is fully heard can the dialogue move on to address and hopefully fix the problem. We have yet to hear a valid defense of adoption; only exceptional cases that cannot be used to validate a position; emotional accusations that we are the heartless ones. Where are the adoptive parents who might stand up and admit, at long last, what we know and what they know to be the truth about adoption? What we are witnessing now is an attempt to spin wheels, to run in neutral—to crush the discussion before it can even take place.

The problem is made worse if we take this to heart. Because to soften the blow—to make of it Pabulum—is to further weaken one’s already unequal position; it is to undermine oneself. And so the only reply must carry the full weight of the original statement: There can be no middle ground. To pull one’s punches is not resistance, but compliance; it is not defiance, but complacency. My adoption story does not focus on me personally, but reflects backward to the greater injustice that was its source, and which had an impact on more children than I can sometimes bear to think about. I may have a great amount of empathy with someone who cannot have children. But I also have empathy for those whose families are destroyed as a result of such “First World” problems. And if I have to choose sides, it will be on the side of those downtrodden, those who are silent, those who have no Voice. Because their “hurt” is infinitely beyond anything that most can imagine living day to day.

And so in an attempt to respond in an equivalent manner, every time someone punches me with the phrase “get over being adopted”, I will say: “get over being infertile”. Every time someone uses the word “adoption” I will respond: “abduction”. Every time someone tells me, “you were chosen”, I will correct: “I was procured for a tidy sum”. Every time that I hear that adoption is “God’s plan”, I will state: “To even conceive of such an ignoble, spiteful, and heinous God is the work of the monstrous; the arrogant; the conceited and narcissistic; the infinitely vain, and that those who espouse such a God do not deserve children.”

And every time someone suggests that I have no feelings for these children, I will respond: “I am these children; and I have returned to live among these children; and I dare you to live my life, where I am living now, and see what I see every day; to live the wars, and the poverty, here in my land of birth, among the to-you non-existent strangers who, beyond all expectations have welcomed us home, and to fathom what I know of my orphanage, and of the plight of thousands of children who passed through its halls and to experience it, and see if you can bear this, the fruit of your far-off day-to-day life and decision to adopt, for one single solitary second. I dare you.”


Wittgenstein and Justice, by Hanna Fenichel Pitkin.

The Grammar of Politics, edited by Cressida J. Heyes.

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, by Leonardo Boff.

Debate Tactic: There is much pain in adoption, as well as what leads up to it. We can talk about what is “hurtful”, or we can focus on what the source sickness is. Healing belongs to all, not to those who have a leg up in terms of life’s advantages. Remove the personal; reveal the narcissism inherent to the discourse of adoption; reverse the power differential of the discussion; qualify/quantify “hurt”.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in Q&A and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Does anything anyone say about adoption hurt you anymore?

  1. Gina Bailey says:

    I want YOU on my film production team! We NEED a counter narrative NOW in the visual form….I am looking at funding avenues—–Thanks for this POST—–I am a first/birth mother and would say the same……..Let me know if you are interested in being part of a widely distrubuted Doc that is more political-economy than ‘personal’—–yes, personal will be in it but people do NOT understand what is behind the ‘curtain’——–

  2. Denise says:

    You say it like no one else can Daniel. Thank you.

  3. Deb says:

    Gina, you’re not ready to do any sort of film about harvested mothers and their trafficked offspring ! Using a degrading offensive term eg ‘birth mother’ shows your level of awareness is severely limited.

    • Gina Bailey says:

      Aloha Deb, I totally agree with you being offended by the use of the term ‘birth mother’ (not with the film, however). Language is an organ of perception and therefore very important. This was a huge topic in Melbourne last year when I attended the Australian adoption conference (were you there? Maybe we have met?). There were people from all over the world and all using different terms—we all understood each other but, nonetheless, every term was offensive to someone. A group of us finally got together (all Ph.D.s and deeply involved in adoption issues) to discuss the discourse around ‘adoption’ (I even abhor THAT word as well) and decided that we would stay in touch and write about the fact that we STILL cannot find ‘language’ which reflects the realities of the pain and injustices…..ALL language, to us anyway, has been appropriated and whitewashed…….I think you most likely feel/think the same given your response? I welcome all input re: language as it truly is a problem area…….
      I also agree with Daniel about ‘slack’—–it was so necessary in Australia as it is here (Hawaii)—-So, if you would not mind, could you reply re: terms you prefer and how you help educate others about the fact that language is indeed an organ of perception and how we go about creating dignified terms which reflect reality on a global level? Aloha and Mahalo——Gina

  4. It’s time I think to cut each other some slack. We swim in the muck and mire of adoption discourse our entire lives, and when we finally stand up and speak, someone says to us: “Look! You’re still covered in mud!” This is not helpful, and is counterproductive to any common cause. I can find old posts of mine where I formerly said “birth mother”. I’m not proud of that, but hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. We live and learn; equally we should live and teach.

  5. I think that when people, the general public, adoptive parents in particular, call an adoptee’s other mother a “birthmother” this negates what she truly is: that adoptee’s mother. Having said that, I want to share that yes, I am still hurt by what others say about adoption. Beyond the hurt are the truths that are ignored. People continually use the words they hear in conversation, they inflict those words onto me. I correct them. No, I say, I do not have a “birthmother” or a “first mother”. My MOTHER died when I was an infant, I tell them. My MOTHER was replaced by another woman. And my FATHER was replaced by another man. These two people became my adoptive parents, and as such, they are the ones who deserve the adjective in front of the words “mother”, “father” and “parents”. These two people are my social parents. They are my legal parents, but the two people who sired and gave birth to me are my parents. Period. When I approach the topic in this way, in one-on-one conversation, with boots on the ground, I can tell you that people receiving my words are truly shocked into reality: this woman’s MOTHER died and that’s why she was adopted. The expressions on their faces tells me that they understand. They then say to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss. How tragic.” Yes. The death of my mother is tragic. And so is the punishment I received: removal from my family of birth because my father was too poor to keep me. And let me add another variable into the larger discourse: religion. A Catholic priest so compassionately reminded my father at my mother’s funeral that “the baby needs two parents” that my devout Catholic father followed exactly what his parish priest suggested. My grieving father relinquished his youngest child to a closed adoption because that was a better solution, better than asking for help to keep his family together, better than having his second wife take care of all of his children while he went to work. It must have killed him to come home each day to his older children, filled with grief and despair. He had kept his family together by getting married very soon after his first wife’s death, but at the cost of giving up his newborn daughter, a choice he told me decades later that he regretted. So, when people tell me their joys of adoption, I am hurt. And then I tell them what adoption did to me. My broken families are not the only truth I hit them with. I slam them with the truth that my real birth certificate is sealed and that every single adoptee in America is issued a falsified birth certificate. People are just not aware. … sorry for rambling. Just in a rush today.

  6. Deb says:

    Beautifully stated Joan.

  7. Deb says:

    The very notion of ‘adoption’ is another bug-a-boo. Many young pregnant girls were targeted for harvesting and their newborns harvested for trafficking to certified married infertiles on a long waiting list served by the very SW’s who were mandated to provide services to the mother-to-be. Infant-adoption all too often was in reality ‘harvested and trafficked’ all tied up nicely in a pink or blue bow. These trafficked persons were never legally available for infant-adoption. These crimes have never been addressed and will never be addressed while they remain under the fluff and mislabeling. I see the entire ‘harvest and traffic’ as an atrocity – young fertile women and girls forced into sexual reproductive slavery and their offspring too enslaved.

  8. Maxens says:

    Honestly arguments about perceived age are as shitty as “this is hurtful” arguments and often used for the same reasons & in the same way to shut up revendications (notice how when people agree with younger people, they don’t mention their ages to wave off their revendications?)
    Plus you attribute something said by an adult to a child or teenager, because children and teenagers are useless and bad and not insightful and less valuable. Just get that adults aren’t always the greatest thing around for fuck sake. People associate children and teenagers to negative things and then use these associations to wave off abuse, and then people do the same thing when they care about children which is hypocritical. It also assume children’s words about their feelings and health state or how they’re being treated are automatically invalid or less valid or even dishonest. Something is not bad because it is childlike, that’s too easy. Saying “it’s hurtful stop talking about that” is wrong because it places the emphasis on the feelings on the person who is privileged in the situation or protecting the status quo and detract attention from your revendications and problems, it’s not your role to protect their feelings after all, not because it’s “childish” or something a child could say (and many adults say, and sometimes only adults say the things qualified as childish which makes it even more ridiculous, often people say it’s childish, immature, and it’s something you only ever hear adults saying or doing!)

    • I don’t mind being corrected when the case warrants, but here I would point out that you are ascribing motives to me that are not valid. When I say that an adult who resorts to claiming “hurt” is being childish, I did not imply any of the negatives that seem to be much more prominent in your mind than in mine.

      I was reversing the roles which often have the adult adoptee living a perpetual childhood, and treated as such. I was trying to “invert” this, which I do think carries the negative implications you bring up; a pointing out of the hypocrisy of that “stage-setting”, if you will.

      In the October run of posts, I was discussing the 10 years of my return, and I said something along the lines of “I am 50 years old and I am 10 years old, and I vow to act my ages.” I am more in tune with “childishness” as a virtue than anything negative. I hope that helps set the record a bit straighter.

  9. janmarie says:

    “For many of us who are vocal concerning adoption and what it truly represents, it is problematic when the response to carefully (or angrily, emotionally, scientifically, or literarily) expressed statements concerning the subject at hand are not met with proper responses, or rebuttals, or arguments, or any kind of discussion, but instead with dismissal, personal invective, insinuations, accusations, or as here, an accusation that what we say is “hurtful”. The problem is much deeper. The problem is not what is said, but the fact that what is said reflects inherently the initial violence and rupture of adoption. Just having the discussion is “hurtful” to many of us, but we are told to check our words, which make those who adopt “wince” as stated here. Hearing “that is hurtful” puts many of us in a place where we are fearful of another rejection, when what is sought is simply understanding and empathy.”

    I may have been silenced by the smiling progressive foxes over at npr this morning having had my comments deleted from a discussion about wisecracks that were made on some talk show about a photograph of the Romneys and their 20 or so grandchildren, one little baby, a transracial adoptee in a sea of blonds.

    To me it seems far more racist to pretend that the baby does not stick out in the photo. It is also racist to assume that the baby is fortunate in his position as an adopted member of the Romney clan.

    But I may not continue to try to get my point across because I fear that they will damage me by twisting what I say and make me into the racist when what I’m looking for is empathy and understanding for the little baby on Mitt’s knee.

Your thoughts, comments, remarks, additions....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s