Until 1980 when I read BJ Lifton’s Lost and Found I felt like I’d been dropped out of the sky like Clark Kent, only without his super powers.I knew I had a “mother” out there somewhere who for some reason couldn’t “take care of me.” I pictured her as a no-nonsense business woman in a brown suit. I have no idea where that came from except the idea revealed itself shortly after I watched Katherine Hepburn in Desk Set. A couple years later, my sophomore year in high school to be exact, I was horrified when a classmate mentioned to me casually, as we lolled against the gym wall eying boys at a school dance, that her parents had married a year after she was born. I was not as much horrified for her as I was for her icky parents who had had sex before marriage. I think I kept my facial composure. I actually wondered what I’d do if I learned my parents (adoptive, I suppose) had had sex before they were married. I was a slow learner. Only later that year did it occur to me that I might be the product of two icky parents who couldn’t keep their pants on until the I Do’s. This thought wended its way into my brain only after I watched Deborah Kerr and William Holden in The Proud and the Profane. See,I ‘ve always related my life to movies, but that’s another story.
This doesn’t mean that I didn’t always–and I mean always–want to know where I came from. Like most adoptees, I concentrated on Mom, but unlike many adoptees I didn’t feel sad or angry or out of sorts when my birthday rolled around. I was a greedy little bastard. Birthday = presents! Now I object to birthdays on the grounds that I’m another year older and still haven’t accomplished much. And gasp! I still don’t feel traumatized by my adoption or anything concerning it. I’m just angry at all the adopta bullshit bastards have to deal with to get what belongs to everybody else for the asking–or not. And the political bullshit adoption has become. At least when I was adopted, adopiton wasn’t a national pastime. or about baby saving, redemption or nation building. It just was. Has anyone ever documented how adoption talk, once limited to the intimate confines of families (adoptive and birth) and close friends has become a reality show–a hooha public spectacle– for the middle class, evangelical Christians, and celebrities? A type of urgent braggadocio usually confined to the WWF or the Kardasians?
One outgrowth of this spectacle-making is the creation of a sub-industry of adoption propaganda. I don’t mean official propaganda spieled out by adoption agencies and baby saving churches. I mean the kitschy kind: Adoption Swag.
Instead of advertising Pentatonix, Taylor Swift (or for the older entitled crowd, Paul McCartney) on their chests, loud and proud adopters and PAPs have a variety of look-at-me items to choose. While one can question the sensibility of parents who dress up babies in “I am adopted, I am loved” onesies, one of the most disturbing trends in adoption swaggery is the misogynist erasure of mothers and biology from AdoptionLand.. In a dystopian commercial aesthetic right out of The Handmaid’s Tale, only women who adopt, are mothers. The “other mother” as birthmother writer, Carole Schaeffer calls her, just doesn’t exist or if she does, is valorized for “doing the right thing, then disappeared off the island. Of course this is nothing new for birthmoms after they’ve “done their duty. And they have little worth on the commerical market: They aren’t about to spend money on a tee reading, “I put my baby up for adoption and all I got was this lousy shirt.,” or “unplanned pregnancy is the new adoption.”
Bastard Nation’s Pinterest page has a fast growing collection of “adoptees as props” These pins include adoptawear for the undiscriminating PAP and AP, “adoption not abortion” pleas, cute babies and toddlers extolling the virtues of their own adoptions, memes, and even table settings for your adoption shower. Below are some examples of these misogynist depictions of natural motherhood and biology in general, with short commentary.
Here are two shirts featured in Adoptees as Props which negate biology’s messy sheets and bloody childbirth. Squeeky clean and smiling. No muss no fuss. No fat clothes .No yuck. Just order up at the store and Baby Bumble will be delivered factory fresh straight to your door. Somebody else is carrying my load.
And this meme equating adoption agency run-around and designated birthmother “misbehavior” to pregnancy and birth. I have no idea what childbirth is like, but it can’t be as bad as waiting for that baby to pop and me to get my hands on it..
I am pretty sure this fetus isn’t ‘shouting out his or her adoption thrill. This ultrasound is one of the creepiest swag shots I’ve seen. It implies that the “future birthmother” has no right to feel or love her child. The PAM (potential adoptive mother) has staked out her claim of ownership. A few years ago, one of the local Right to Life agencies in Northern Ohio featured an ad with a similar fetus waving an American flag. Adoption is patriotic!
Adoption Swag questions the genuineness of birthmother love. Compare the cloying adoptee favorite “she loved you so much she gave you away” mantra
Finally the negation of biology, birthmotherhood, and the pimping of entitlement: The Adoptive Earth Mother and orphan saver:
And an out-of context kitchen tile (of all things) that conflates Biblical allegory with American adoption practice and policy. Go here for various scholarly Biblical interpretations, most of which have nothing to do with literal female infertility or familiy making, and none about the American adoption industry.
Finally, Dads as usual, get the short end of the stick with only special men being called to fatherhood, while deadbeats slirk away back into their holes.
Adoption swag constitutes a subset of adoption mythology–a kitschy version of the “clean slate.” ideology of past decades.It objectifies adoptees, especially children (we aren’t cute when we grow up and demand rights so we don’t even get objectificaiton.) It questions female worthiness and who and what is a mother (a hot topic today in adoption and feminist and gender studies). .
Adoption as a practice in the US today, continues to negate biological parenthood and make our birthmothers psychologically invisible, even if they aren’t physically invisible. I didn’t need anything, except the culture and the era, for me to invisiablize my birthmother and see her as anything other than some vague business woman al la Katherine Hepburn. There are a lot more messages today, even in this age of open adoption, aimed at PAPs and the public, sentimental myths that disempower and negate birthmothers as people. Adoption swag is a commercial gig, sure, and rather stupid, but it’s part of the landscape, and if it didn’t resonate with adoption consumers it wouldn’t sell. Adoption swag, with it’s visions of pure waiting adoptive mothers and sacrificing biological parents insinuates that adoptees are immaculate conceptions–or like I felt–dropped from the sky– to be cuddled, idolized by saviors, and oh-so so special that only the most ungrateful would grow up and demand full personhood. Until the myths stop, the abrogation of our rights will continue.