Sunday, April 13, 2014

No voice .....

My first adoption was finalized in 1960, approximately 18 months after going to live with my grandparents.  Since I was only three at the time, no one consulted me on the decision and, honestly, I don't think there's anything inappropriate about that.
My second adoption?  Well, the circumstances of that event were much different.
It was at dinner, sometime in 1968.  As we sat at the table, my uncle said "How about we adopt you?"

Horrified, I responded, "No!"

He asked for my reasons.

My inner child was shouting:

  • I feel guilty about "replacing" my grandparents, whom I consider my "real parents".
  • I feel an intense desire to return to the Midwest, which I consider my "real home."
  • I'm being bullied by my peers at school.
  • I'm being emotionally abused by your wife.
  • I'm being physically abused by your wife.
  • I'm occasionally being physically abused by you (and your leather belt).
  • I just don't feel like I belong this family, this school, this town.

But all I said was:
"Because I don't want to."

This would have been the perfect opportunity for my uncle (and his wife) to reassure me by saying something like:
"We love you and want to legally make you part of our family."

Instead, my uncle's wife sat, eyes averted ..... stone-faced.  And my uncle, the attorney, said:

"If we adopt you, then if I die intestate, you'd still be able to inherit."

I was stunned and silent.
There was more -- much more -- but I no longer remember the specifics.  All I know is that at some point, under duress, I said "OK."
But I didn't mean it.
I didn't want to be adopted at that moment, or at any time thereafter. 
Over the years, I've wondered whether a home study was even conducted prior to my adoption.  Surely one was done when my younger brother joined the family, but it's hard to imagine that my uncle and his wife would have been approved 10 years later.
On paper, they were ideal:  he was a professional, she was, too (when she worked), they had a large, lovely home in a high-income community.
But she drank -- a lot.  And she wasn't a good enough actress to convince a social worker that she wanted me to be her daughter.  They'd shipped off their older son to a state institution for the mentally retarded, and their younger (adopted) son had recently been remanded to a juvenile psychiatric facility.  And, of course, I'd already started contemplating suicide.  *I* certainly didn't WANT to even be living in this house, much less be adopted into the family.
I've read the memoirs of other people who were adopted at approximately the same age, and each one recalls speaking to a social worker and/or appearing before a Family Court judge and being specifically asked if adoption was what s/he wanted.
No one in authority asked me what I wanted.

Where was my voice in this life-altering decision?
Let me repeat that.
I never met with a social worker.  I never spoke to an adoption attorney.  I never went to Family Court.
As I've since learned, it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway, because in that state the "age of consent" (with respect to adoption) is 12.  My adoption was finalized in August of 1968 -- six months prior to my 12th birthday.  Legally, my opinion wouldn't have made a difference.  My uncle, his wife, and the courts could do as they pleased with me.
The law said that my needs and desires were unimportant, and I was allowed no voice in my own future.