How the Access to Adoption Records Reflect Patriarchal Attitudes (USA)

There are probably over 1000 books above my desk and I know where I bought each one, even if I haven't gotten around lovingly fingering their mustily scented pages. Unlike people, my books wait quietly for me to attend to them. The ones in-waiting tend to require a single sitting of immersive reading, but others are "meta-books" like Colin Woodward's "A History of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America" and are thus handled regularly as I dip in and out of them.

"American Nations" sheds light on a the history of behavioural quirks in North America.

The American Nations

The American Nations

The region of Greater Appalachia, for example, was colonized by settlers from Northern Ireland, the Scottish lowlands and Northern England. They were rural folk, who had been battling the gentry and the Establishment of Southern England for individual soverignty, and had therefore developed a warrior ethic, disliked hierarchy and were suspicious of authority.

The Deep South was almost opposite in values, since it was colonized by Barbados slave lords, who thrived on oppression, abuse and segregation of the haves, and have nots. Theirs was an impassable hierarchy of white supremacy and patriarchal thinking.

Tidewater was also conservative and held little respect for the equality of others since it was settled by younger sons of the English gentry.

Whats really interesting is that these 11 regions have remained, on the whole, faithful to their earlier spirits and values (according to the author, and corroborated by the political geography of North America).  This book has changed the way I see the world like the best books do. And I recently had the opportunity to apply it to my own activism on adoption (in the charts below).

Yessirree. But let me step back a bit and give you context.

This is not the panacea you've been looking for...


Adoption is not just about the rescue of poverty stricken, abused or unwanted children (although that's the kind of altruistic propaganda spread by the adoption industry who just happen to make BILLIONS of dollars out of it).

Adoption is created and reinforced through systemic oppression and inequality, only instead of redistributing wealth, they redistribute babies. Think about it, no poor, marginalised woman can afford to adopt a baby. And there's not a chance in hell they would be approved. They are more likely, statistically speaking, to give birth to babies which will be relinquished to richer folk who can give the baby a monied upbringing even though research shows that a baby's happiness and healthy psyche depends largely on attaching to its mother. And as the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, so adoption as a business grows ever more powerful.

A poorer family will lack access to healthcare, livelihood and education. It's members are more likely to get stuck in the school to prison pipeline. Like The Handmaid's Tale, the women in these dystopian stories have babies who are given to richer women who statistically will wait longer to try for pregnancy (and don't even get me started on how this has created a surrogate industry in developing countries).

Why do they adopt? Some like Angelina Jolie's archetype believe they are rescuing. Whilst on a personal level they might be trying to help, they are not, they are only feeding the system. Others adopt relinquished babies to satisfy their unsatisfied maternal & paternal cravings due to infertility. Whilst understandably this is a tragic and traumatic situation for those families, from an adoptee perspective, inflicting more trauma upon a baby simply makes three people unhappy, instead of two.

So less privileged women are shamed into giving up their babies, because like it or not there's still stigma attached to illegitimacy. They are persuaded that they cannot properly take care of their child becauase they are immoral/unmarried/poor/young. And fortuitously adoption steps in to save the day, making a nice tidy profit for capitalism in the equation.

And then patriarchal 'moral' and religious values are touted to prevent women's access to family planning services thus providing more babies for the machine.  It's a beautifully crafted, intricately concocted mechanism, although I can't assume that there was some mastermind behind all of it. This money making mechanism is sold to us as a utopia and on top of all that it's invisible, unless you know where to look and what questions to ask.

It's not invisible to the adoptees though, many of whom have lifelong issues of attachment, trauma and loss of identity. And the mothers who go home, never speak about it, but often sustain deeply felt moral injury. Adoptees like me have created a problem. We do speak about it at length... about the cruelty inflicted by the paradigm of closed adoption, about trauma, about our erasure. For us the best solution would be for society to sustain a more egalitarian system, so that those mothers and fathers would be able to to support their own children. It would be to stop shaming and disempowering mothers so that families can stay together. It's true, sometimes babies do have to be given to other caregivers, but ideally in an open and kin-related situation. So at the very least we have less dysphoria when looking in the mirror and aren't permanently haunted by the question 'Who Am I?'

Maybe you don't believe any of this. Maybe this is the first time you're hearing that someone is ANTI-ADOPTION.  But it's true. Adoptees are told to be grateful and happy. We are silenced and even denied access to our birth records. There are millions of us who speak, but few who listen.

In the US, some states have sealed records, and the others have varying degrees of access which all take a very long time to get through, because bureaucracy.

And if you map those states to the nations they once were, an interesting picture starts to emerge. Note that the descriptions of the categories are as follows (in order of access levels):

CATEGORY DESCRIPTION
Unrestricted Access Access for adult adoptees
Access with Restrictions Access for adult adoptees with limits
Partial Access Access for adult adoptees born during certain years
Partial with Restrictions Access for adult adoptees born during certain years, and with limits
Sealed Very limited or no access without, for example, a court order

USA Adoptee Records Access Distribution (% of States)

Half of the records are still sealed, even though the science has been out for 40 years about adoptee identity problems. But the US is not uniform in it's attitudes and this translates into its legislation. For example, in the region formerly known as Yankeedom, the distribution looks like this:

No sealed records in this region.

According to 'American Nations', The Yankees put "great emphasis on education," and had the "greatest faith in the potential of government to improve people's lives, tending to see it as an extension of the citizenry, and a vital bulwark against the schemes of grasping aristocrats, corporations or outside powers."

The Yankees traditionally care about folks' rights. They work hard to integrate immigrants. These were their values back then, and it is still demonstrated by their commitment (or at least attempt at commitment) to some sort of moral responsibility.

Which region has the most number of states with sealed records?

Yup, its the soceity built by slave Owners (or rather their slaves) of course.

The Far West also ranks highly, and the book alludes to a potential reason - due to its alliance with the Deep South in the early twentieth century, and El Norte ranks highly too, a region renowned for its overwhelmingly catholic morals.

I had a look at Tidewater, expecting to see that their conservative hierarchal values would produce similar results, but was pleasantly surprised to find that times had changed - at least here (although 50% sealed records is really nothing to be proud of).

Moving with the times, maybe?

Link to Amazon

However, on closer examination of Tidewater's four states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia) the book highlights secondary influences, because some states don't fall neatly into one region or another. North Carolina is very much influenced by its southern counterpart in The Deep South. And its records are still sealed. Virginia, just North of North Carolina and the next closest, likewise. Delaware and Maryland allow access. And unsurprisingly are geographically farthest away from The Deep South's tentacles right next to The Midlands where the folk believe, like the Yankees that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people. Many of their ancestors fled tyranny. I could go on, but you get my drift.

I once wanted to believe that humanity grows more compassionate over time. That we as a species are moving towards a loving, more nurturing culture. Yet when faced with statistics like these, it seems painfully obvious that underneath it all we are incapable of changing or evolving in the way I had hoped if we remain rooted to the soil we are born on and surrounded by our ancestral prejudices. Maybe I'd have been outraged two years ago in the pre-Trump era. Now it's just a dull thud of soil on top of the coffin of my optimism.

Here's the link to the  USA adoption access status and congratulations to NY adoptees who recently got access.

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