Triad Rights Are Human Rights

by Barbara Free, MA, LPCC, LADAC

     Within the adoption reform movement, we hear about adoptee rights, birth-parent rights, and adoptive-parent rights. We hear about the right to know, to right to privacy, the right to security. Occasionally, we hear about sibling rights or adoption-agency rights. Sometimes, one person’s or group’s rights are set against another person’s or group’s rights. Popular media attention tends to set up adoptees’ rights as being in direct conflict with birth parents’ rights, and preys on everyone’s fears and grief. The media also portray birth parents and adoptive parents as having totally opposing agendas. These presumed conflicts may sell magazines and draw viewing audiences, but they are a distortion of the truth, and deny the common ground that all of us with adoption connections share.
     The rights of all triad members really are human rights, and the movement may do well to begin making this shift in emphasis. We all have the right to know who we are, where we came from, who our parents are, where our family is, and to share our love with those to whom we are connected by birth and by adoption. A birth mother does not cease loving her child just because she has made a difficult decision to release him to someone to raise because she cannot. A birth father does not quit wondering about the child he helped create, however unintentionally. Adoptive parents always wonder how their child will turn out, what biological relatives does he/she look like, how best to answer the questions that arise. Adoptees grow up wondering who they are like, who are their people, were they loved, how will they look when they are older. These concerns, on everyone’s part, are not abnormal, but are healthy and normal. They are about the information that everyone wants to know about themselves and their family. They are human concerns, and the right to such information is a human right.
     The secrecy surrounding closed adoptions and closed records, and even some adoptions that are called open but do not have provisions for personal contact or on-going knowledge, gives a message of shame to everyone involved. The original intent of such secrecy was supposedly to help rid the adoptee of shame, but that was not the outcome, and it certainly reinforced the message of shame given to birth parents and birth grandparents, and ultimately to adoptive parents as well. For if there must be such a cloak of secrecy about the adoptee’s origins and genetic background, adoptive parents are given the message they have a defective child. Many have already been given a message that they are defective by definition, since they are infertile, or unable to conceive children of both sexes. When people accept a message of shame and inferiority, they abandon part of themselves, including the self-concept that they have the same rights as all other human beings. When overtly told “You have no right to information about yourself and your family members,” the covert message is, “You are inferior to others who do have this right.” Triad members are repeatedly told they are wrong even to want such information, and should be content with what they already know, even if it includes lies.
     How long ago was it that people of color were told they were wrong to want the same access to public accommodations, income, education, and knowledge of their history as people of paler skin? African Americans were told they had no history worth knowing, no way of tracing their family trees, and no right to search. We know this is not true. How many adoptees are still told the same thing, in the same words? How many birth parents are told they have absolutely no right to any information, not even to the documents they signed wherein they provided the information? How many adoptive parents are told they have rights only to certain limited information (the extent of which is decided by the state or the agency) and “should” have no desire for more? How many students are assigned in school to do a family tree, with much emphasis put on the importance of knowing one’s lineage and family story, then told to do a false family tree because they are adopted, or because their parent is adopted?
     The message the child receives is he is less than others, and that he is false, or that his legacy contains lies. How does the parent feel in this situation? How many birth mothers debate whether to tell the new gynecologist how many children she’s actually given birth to? She doesn’t want to lie, but she’s tired of getting those shaming looks, and wondering what the doctor is writing about her in her chart, to which she does not have ready access? Adoptees are constantly having to say they have “no medical history” when, of course, they do; they just don’t have access to it, and neither does the adoptive parent, who feels enormous frustration at not being able to provide the information that might help their child.
     It is interesting that there is more access to family-tree and medical history for some dogs and horses than there is for adoptees. Of course, if one gets a dog at the pound, that might not be true. They would be in the same position as many adoptive parents. That would also mean birth parents are in the same position as dogs whose puppies are placed at the pound. We have instructed birth parents in the past to “forget” the child they relinquished, as we assumed dogs forgot the puppies taken from them. Perhaps dogs do not truly forget, and certainly human birth parents don’t.
     All of the secrecy of closed records and closed adoptions seems to be about fear, and it is always fear that motivates society to deprive persons or groups of persons of their human rights. These fears are rarely based on reality. When we look at the fears that motivated the introduction of amended birth certificates and closed records, we find those fears were based on other fears, of defectiveness, of being “found out” and further shamed, of birth parents kidnaping their children (although if they were as incapable of loving those children as they were portrayed to be, why would they want to take the child back?) and depriving the adoptive parents of the child. These fears also were largely unfounded. Yet, all these fears still exist, and continue to motivate certain groups, including state legislatures and some members of Congress and the Senate, to restrict triad members’ access to information that other people have about their families. Laws are passed to grant some access to adoptees, for instance, but not to birth parents. Then others lobby to restrict even that access. Not much is said about exactly how access to information about oneself and one’s family would really cause disaster. Fear survives better when cloaked in vagueness. It also survives better when one group can be set against another.
     Perhaps the best way for the adoption reform movement to make headway is to stop thinking and speaking in terms of adoptees’ rights versus birth parents’ rights versus adoptive parents’ rights. How about removing the “versus” and seeing everyone’s rights as human rights, and getting that viewpoint out in the open, in the media and in person? We’re all human and we all have the right to information about ourselves and our families.

Excerpted from the July 2000 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2000 Operation Identity