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Open Adoption Is Not Slavery

Today I quit two online adoption groups. The quitting of one has been a long time coming. Microaggression after microagression after macroaggression. It was only a matter of time before I left. The other was a surprise. It was a birth mom support group. I loved having other moms like me to talk to. Obviously no one’s story is exactly the same, but it was nice knowing there was this group of women who “get it” and I don’t have to explain or educate them about what it’s like to be a mom like me.

Last night someone in that group said something that bothered me and I decided to let it go. To not debate or question to just pretend it hadn’t happened.

This morning I saw it again and it still bothered me. In fact the more I thought about it the more it bothered me. I wasn’t offended, I wasn’t hurt, but I couldn’t just let it go.

That something was comparing open adoption to slavery.

Open adoption = slavery for the mother.

if you say or do anything that causes you to fall out of graces, or you disagree, or open your mouth with any kind of opinion, you run the risk of the adoption closing.


Can’t be authentic.

The AP’s hold your most valuable asset, your offspring.

As both a Black woman and a mother who relinquished and is living open adoption I object to this metaphor. I consider it unnecessarily hyperbolic and in the same sphere as those who refer to abortion as genocide or anyone they disagree with as Hitler. It diminishes any chance for productive conversation about the very real flaws present in adoption.

However, responses to this criticism were of two varieties:

  1. She’s too sensitive so lets not discuss this
  2. yes it is it’s exactly like slavery

Well, thats not entirely true there was one person who reframed it as emotional slavery, but she was shouted down.

I was asked “How is it not like slavery” however as I was about to respond I was met by the ultimate one two punch in whitesplaining:

  1. My black friends says
  2. But not all slaves are/were black

Nope. I’m done. I’m not going to get into a “discussion”, where an acceptable response is “but my Black friend” not going to do it. I identified it as a racist tactic and I left the group.

However, I never did get to answer the question so I’m doing so here.

How is Open Adoption not Slavery?

Coercion happens. State initiated TPR happens unfairly. Both these things happen, they happen more often than most want to admit. But that is not the same as slavery.

Yes there is a power differential. Adoptive parents are the gatekeepers to the children we love until they grow able to have independent relationships. Some adoptive parents use that power in controlling and unfair ways. Some adoptive parents go back on their agreements. But that is not the same as slavery.

If a first parent feels they must walk on eggshells, put up a facade, or pretend to be someone they aren’t to maintain their open adoption that is wrong. It is a bad match. It is bad communication. It might be lack of education and commitment on the part of the adoptive parents. But that is not the same a slavery.

Slavery reduces people to property (which ironically enough this person did by referring to our children as assets) and removes their humanity. Slavery is never ok. There is no good way to practice slavery.

Open adoption describes the relationship of people. Open adoption can be ok. While it is not perfect it can be practiced in good ways.

There are no reforms that could make slavery good. There are reforms that could make open adoption good.

Open Adoption is not slavery.

Let’s let go of the hyperbole and focus on reform.


Had the person asserted that some adoptees feel there are parallels or referred to the child trafficking that occurs in some types of adoption or even accepted the reframe of emotional slavery we’d’ve been having a very different conversation.

Also I don’t care what your Black friend has to say as far as I know we haven’t elected a spokesnegro we all are still entitled to our own points of view.



Comments on: "Open Adoption Is Not Slavery" (41)

  1. Thanks for this! I’ve been saying adoption is not slavery and not comparable to slavery for years, and usually get slammed for it. Adoption also is not the same as the Holocaust, nor worse than the death of a child, nor any other hyperbole that is put forth as gospel by anti-adoption fanatics. These comparisons hurt people, trivialize the suffering of slaves and others, and hurt the cause of adoption reform. I understand why you quit that group rather than berate the obvious with people who cannot see past their own experience and generalize everything in overblown terms.

  2. I’ve never heard this comparison before (I’m not very connected, I guess), and can hardly believe it. They are NOT similar, and I agree with maryanne that to say so minimizes slavery and it’s ramifications to all of us.

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      I’ve seen it in the past referring to how adoptees feel, but usually if not always as a metaphor this was the first time I’ve seen it used to refer to first moms as slaves. and the only time i recall there being push back that it was literal and not metaphorical

  3. “Slavery reduces people to property.” Very interesting. My son’s adopters who lied to and conned him out of me via bogus open adoption promises sure treat him like “property” they “own”.

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      I’m sorry your son’s adoptive parents treat him like property. My purpose is not to dismiss the real experiences people have. I am merely venting my experience in this situation it was the straw that broke the metaphorical camel’s back. Additionally where the slavery metaphor truly broke down is this person was saying it was us first mothers who are the slaves, which ignores if not appropriates the very real issues that can be experienced by adoptees based on their adoptive parents treating them like property.

  4. Very well said.
    The way I see it is that adoption is open to abuse, but slavery is abuse per se.
    People who insist that adoption is the same as slavery are ahistorical ignoramuses at best.

  5. Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    A mother speaks out……

  6. Head -> desk. I am so sorry. We white people can be Big Dumb sometimes.

    And for the record, you are right. “There are no reforms that could make slavery good. There are reforms that could make open adoption good.”

    Thank you for speaking your truth. I am sorry you go shouted down.

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      Thanks, although i think i’m being reminded of why i only blog about once a month or less

      • I know. Some people may never understand white privilege and how it blinds us to why things are offensive and hurtful. It took me time to learn how to just be quiet and listen to what my sisters of color have to teach me about everything from adoption to xenocide. Perhaps others will eventually learn to do the same.

    • Why do you think that there are reforms which can make stealing a child’s legal recognition of the filial ties which are his or her birthright and forcing it to accept the legal fiction that strangers are his or her real parents “good”?

      • Let me rephrase that. There are reforms that can make adoption less wretched for all involved in those instances where it might be necessary. “Good” is perhaps too strong of a word.

  7. Barbara Calchera said:

    Obviously, you are not very well cultured. Not all slaves are black. TRUTH. And since when did you get cart blanche on talking about slavery? Are you, or were you a slave? So unless you are African American, Haitian American, African, African Australian, Aboriginal etc…etc… your voice and opinion are just fodder?

    Maybe check out human trafficking sites on adoption and how they feel. Maybe be a critical thinker and write down the reasons why this mother of loss felt this way.

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      Of course there are and have been non-Black slaves. However, when the phrase is used in conjunction with “but my Black friend” in a predominantly white space to dismiss the opinion of the Black person it’s a microagression, which is based in racism.

      As i said in the post if they’d been talking about how it can feel from the adoptee point of view or about the human trafficking issues we’d have been having a whole different conversation.

      Also if you’d like to become a more cultured person perhaps you should check out writings about microagressions, the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy. bell hooks is always a good read.

  8. Barbara – perhaps read more than one post on a blog before you make assumptions and ignorant comments…might save you some embarrassment…or perhaps you do it anyway…

  9. Mrs Montano said:

    WheN you buy something you own it.
    I know for a fact that a large Number of AP view the children they have adopted as property.
    You have to LISTEN to what people say and WATCH their actions. They always give themselves away.

    People adopt out of fear that they’ll lose the child that was never their’s to begin with.

    why adopt do people adopt?
    to give a child a chance
    To show love
    To help their community

    People in reality adopt to fill a selfish need

    If people really loved these children they would not ADOPT they would become legal guardians.

    People ADOPT out of fear and to want ownership
    Fear that the BM OR BF will wake up one day and realize that their a parent and actually want their baby back. With legal guardianship
    These BM and or BF actually have a legal chance to get their kids back…..and God forbid if that happens.
    if you really want to help a child if you really want to help your community and then you wouldn’t adopt you would do legal guardianship you would help mothers and fathers and children stay together not do everything in your power to keep them apart.

  10. Mrs Montano said:

    I just read my post sorry its a little choppy using One hand

  11. Mrs Montano said:

    I once was fooled by the hype of adoption
    You really truly have to stop and listen you have to really think. I promise if you really do your research you will Become appalled By adoption
    You can help children
    You can help guide a child to a better future

    You don’t have to adopt
    You don’t have to pay for a child

    You can become a legal guardian

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      I have done my research. I’ve never adopted. I do not have any current plans to adopt. I am not fooled by the hype of adoption. I firmly believe massive reform is needed.

  12. Mrs. M, it is not using one hand that hampers your attempts at communication, but using half your brain. Legal guardianship is a good alternative to adoption that works in some situations, but not all, and it is not a replacement for legal adoption. As to calling adoption slavery, as the original poster said, adoption can be made better, slavery cannot. Getting rid of sealed records, coercion of mothers, and the profit motive in adoption would go a long way towards fixing the injustices in the system. Ethical adoption is no more ownership of a human being in the sense that slavery is than is the kind of power biological parents who raise their children have over them. That ends when the child becomes a legal adult. It does not make the child a non-person like slavery does.

  13. Barbara–the blogger African American. As soon ad my computer is fixed I will respond at length. Adoption is not slavery. And people who say it is are ignorant and a menace to adoptee rights.

  14. There are some similarities between adoption and slavery. Both involve money changing hands for ownership of human beings. Both involve changing names. I don’t think adoption can be corrected. There is no situation where a child’s parents are not their parents anymore. Adoption is not the solution for children that cannot be raised by their families. No one deserves to have their family legally erased.

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      I agree that no one deserves to have their family erased, where I disagree is that I think that is part of what can be reformed about adoption.

  15. “There are some similarities between adoption and slavery. Both involve money changing hands for ownership of human beings.”

    Actually, that is not entirely the case. Adoption only confers parental rights. The problem with parenthood is that some people think it means they own their children–both natural and adoptive parents. The huge power differential between children and parents can lead to abuse and sufferng. I concede that some types of suffering may be more prevalent in adoptive families because of 1) PAPs who were unprepared and unfit to adopt, and 2) unaddressed racism in transnational adoptions, a huge problem.

    “Both involve changing names.”

    To a greater or lesser degree. Also, it’s not even true that slaves took the names of their owners, even upon being freed. This is a geneological misconception. Roman slaves didn’t even get a last name. As for adopted children, some do retain their partial or full names. This is something that can be reformed–much like issues involving faith. I don’t think any kid begond the age of 11 or so should be forced to follow the faith of the APs. We need to be a lot more flexible in our idea of family when thinking about adoption.

    “I don’t think adoption can be corrected.”

    That’s because your hatred for the institution blinds you to any possible good it could offer specific children (I did not say “all”). You won’t be happy until adoption is obliterated. This attitude also hurts the reform movement.

    “There is no situation where a child’s parents are not their parents anymore.”

    Sure there is. Parents lose their parental rights all the time. There is no situation in which a child can ever be not born to someone but, like it or not, parenthood is both biological and social.

    “Adoption is not the solution for children that cannot be raised by their families. No one deserves to have their family legally erased.”

    Two separate things. The legal erasure of identity was the reason why groups like Bastard Nation started. It is–or ought to be–the core issue. Unfortunately, today it’s been crowded out by junk psychology and anti-adoption extremism. However, adoption also remains a solution for children whose parents cannot or will not care for them. That has always been the most legitimate reason for adoption and there is no reason to think it no longer is one. Are adoption practices corrupt? Absolutely. Should adoption be rare? Probably. Are there other configurations that might work like legal guardianship? I think so, especially for teens who need supportive, transitional adult figures who won’t insist on playing Mommy and Daddy (or Mommy and Mommy, etc.). Is open adoption really hard? I gather it is. I have nothing but respect for the people who make it work, and great sympathy for anyone who’s been thrown under the bus. This is another huge area for reform and legal protection.

    I hope Marley does weigh in later in more detail. I’d be interested to hear what she says.

    • “There is no situation where a child’s parents are not their parents anymore.”

      Sure there is. Parents lose their parental rights all the time. There is no situation in which a child can ever be not born to someone but, like it or not, parenthood is both biological and social.

      To me, parent is a biological term. I understand there can also be a social parent, but to me that is false. In my life, as an adopted person, I’ve never felt that the people who gave birth to me are anything less than my parents, my mother and father. No paperwork or court proceedings can change that bare fact, whether I like it or not.

      My ancestors are their ancestors. The loss of a connection to that has caused me a great deal of pain. I don’t know why it’s necessary to completely erase the connection that children have to the people who bore them, even if they are bad people.

      I don’t know what adoption is without changing a persons very identity. What would adoption be without that? Sounds like something else entirely.

      But this will not change because of money and desire. Infertile women desire children, and rich men will buy them. And someone will make money from that.

  16. All parenting–even natural parenting–is a mixture of biological and social impulses. I am stuck with the biology my parents passed on to me, but I can choose to parent in a way that is a result of what I have decided to become. Why is social parenting false? Do you think every parent acts out of genetic impulses 24-7 when raising a child?

    • You can choose to parent any way you want, but you can never change your DNA. My mother and father created me. No one else did. Other people cared for me, but I can never be related to them biologically.

      I did not choose to be separated from my parents. Just because other people said they were my parents did not make it true. Even if the courts and society agreed with them.

      I never signed anything releasing me from my family. In my mind, they are still my parents. Of course, they feel differently. My adoptive parents feel differently. My children and I feel that we lost an important thing when my parents choose adoption for me.

  17. Adoption is not about changing anyone’s DNA. Adoptees have two families, biological and psychological parents. Different, but both real parents in their own way. People not related to a child can raise that child and be the child’s emotional and social parents. Many adoptions do not work out well, and many adoptees wish they were raised by someone else. Many people raised by dysfunctional natural parents also feel that way. Biology is not the only way we relate to people. You may choose that narrow definition of what makes a parent, but that does not work for the rest of us.

    Yes, adoptees lose an important thing in sealed record adoption, and even in open adoption, but that does not make adoptive parents not parents. There is much wrong with adoption, but rigid literal definitions of parenthood are not helping.

    • I beg to differ. Biology is the only way that we are truly related to other people. An adopted person can never inherit the throne. It’s just a fact, nothing to be afraid of. Biology is indeed destiny.

      • That is just a sad way to think, “biology is the only way we are related to other people.” What about love, friendship, companionship? Biology is important, but it is not destiny, it is just one part of what makes up who we are. Human life is much more complicated than your mechanistic view. In a broader sense, we are all “related” biologically as the human race is descended from a few early humans out of Africa millions of years ago.

        Most of us, and our children, have no throne to inherit so do not have to worry about that:-)

        • It’s not sad to realize that being related to someone biologically is important. If a white couple adopts a black child, it doesn’t make the child white. That’s what biology is destiny means. Social parenting can’t change biology.. An adopted person cannot join the DAR based on social parents. It’s bloodlines, bloodlines, bloodlines.

          You can feel you are related to everyone, because we all share a common ancestor, but that won’t get you into the DAR either!

          And you misquoted me, I did not say “biology is the only way we are related to other people.” You left out a key word. Real. Real, actual, physical.

          Of course I understand other relationships. I’m just talking about reality. I know who my mother and father are, and they are not the people who raised me. No one is going to take that away from me, ever again.

  18. The attack on Katja has deliberately chosen to ignore the fact that in her words and actions she demonstrates and confirms her maternal commitment to her son. She is a participant, not an onlooker. Someone who can and does make choices and acts on them.
    That’s the opposite of being a slave. Slaves do not have that freedom.

    A problem in identity politics is that sometimes the personal takes over from the political. I wonder at the resentment of those who are unable put a distance between their own experience and that of others.

  19. Freud never claimed that “biology is destiny” in order to tear down the potentially close relationships of the non-related through blended families or adoption. He only meant, writing in his time and culture, that men and women were compelled to behave a certain way because of their biology. Today, he might retract the statement because we also know that what is biological can often be overridden through choice. Problem was, women didn’t have many choices in Freud’s day, which was why there was so much negative focus on women being prisoners of their anatomy.

    All in all, it never was a warm, fuzzy idea and I don’t get its relationship to transracial adoption, the success of which depends so much on environment and whether or not the APs are clued in to the core issues.

    • Motherhood is not transferable.

      As an adopted adult, I lost my connection to my mother when I was 5 days old. I did not see her again until I was 48. She never stopped being my mother. If I formed close bonds with my caregivers, it was because I had no choice. They were all I had.

      No matter how much my Ap’s understood core issues, they could not take the place of my parents. Sure, we all pretended, but it could never really work.

      Maybe this is something the non adopted cannot understand.

      We are our family, and they are us. Biology can be overridden through choice? How so? Black becomes white, men become women? Tall becomes short? This seems very wrong.

      My biology is my destiny. you should see my mother! She is beautiful, and I look just like her, nothing like the parents who I bonded with. Somehow my mother’s choice not to raise me did not turn me into someone else.

  20. […] Therapy Is Expensive […]

  21. marilynn said:

    People will take on a minor temporarily without having to have the title of Parent with naming rights if the state foots the bill (foster parents), but people are unwilling to take full financial responsibility for a minor if they won’t have the official titles of Mother and Father and won’t have naming rights over the minor. There really is no reason in the world that a person should have to change their whole name and family identity just because their parents can’t raise them. Someone else could easily take care of a minor leaving them with their birth certificate and identity intact and simply refer to that person’s parents as parents whether they are absent or not. Every situation is different but there is no reason why a person could not just be raised by people other than their parents who have been legally granted authority over them while they are minors. This happens all the time with aunts who raise their nieces and nephews or grandparents who raise their grandchildren, they have no interest in being referred to as the parents of their grandchildren or nieces and nephews despite performing the function that is normally performed by parents. People could take on that responsibility without having to be referred to as mother and father but they’d be more likely to accept that awesome responsibility if they got to have the legal right to rename children in their care and also had the right to be called parent of whatever child they are raising. States do financially underwrite the care and upbringing of children whose parents are financially insolvent. The state will look for any opportunity to offload that burden to individuals who are gainfully employed and financially stable unlikely ever to require state assistance raising children. So the state wields its authority to strip minors of their true identity in exchange for the ability to offload its financial burden for raising minors whose parents are likely to require state assistance raising children to adulthood. Essentially adopted people are earning their food and shelter and clothing by pretending to be the children of the people paying for their upbringing. Other minors don’t have to earn their keep by giving up their identity but adopted people and donor offspring do. Worse yet their debt to the rearing parties is not extinguished when they turn 18 and are no longer receiving financial assistance – they remain in service pretending to be the child of those who raised them for the rest of their lives. They are never able to reclaim their identity and legal membership in their own family. Stripping people of their identifying paperwork in order to keep them in service to their employers is a violation of the 13th amendment on slavery. Adopted people’s true identifying records are withheld so that they will forever legally be required to serve those who fed them and clothed them as children.

    Being a parent has nothing to do with raising children it has to do with having offspring and parents have an obligation to be identified on their offspring’s birth records. That naming is not about ownership, it’s about personal obligation to the individual whose life we cause to exist. It’s a responsibility for sustaining the life you create it is not a pink slip on a car that is transferable to another person.

    I do not mean to diminish the horrid conditions and physical abuse of the north american slave trade by drawing this parallel to slavery. The physical abuse is all but absent in the majority of American adoptions however please note that reducing the rights of one individual in order that another individual should enjoy control over the other person is objectifying human beings to transferable property and is not in the least bit akin to parentage. It is dehuminizing and demeaning to tell a person that they have fewer rights than the rest of the population and that their relatives do also have fewer rights just because their parents could not financially afford to raise them or because their parents were on some level physically or mentally unable to meet the challenges of daily child rearing. This is a most deceptive and insidious form of slavery as on its surface it appears to be in the loving best interest of the enslaved who are pampered and well kept like birds in cages with clipped wings.

    Guardianship without name changes without birth certificate altering is not slavery of the person being raised. Adoption, is though. It just is and I work hard to reunite adopted people donor offspring and any separated family for free out of love and a deep desire to just help remove obstacles that keep family apart. I say mother and father for anyone with offspring and adoptive mother or adoptive father for those who adopt, not to be disrespectful but to be clear. So many times I’m finding kids for parents who refer to themselves as birth parents and I’m like you can’t use those terms if you want me to help I know your the mom or your the dad and nothing you or anyone else can do changes who you are to your own kid. And after a while they like not having to pretend not to be parents in service to those who raised their kids for them. It’s bad enough they carry the guilt and shame of being absent whether they blew it or it was forced on them – they can be grateful for the help without being demeaned by having to pretend they are not parents of their own children just to serve the ego of those that helped them. Mother and Father are not matters of opinion or choice or something that is up to the individual to decide for themselves Mother and Father is a cold hard fact and anyone that would force you to pretend not to be who you really are so that your child could have clothes and a meal is cruel and insensitive even if they are not whipping and beating.
    Adoption involves the stripping of identity of individuals in service to those financially responsible for them which is described exactly in the various forms of slavery covered by the thirteenth ammendment yet nobody has been successful at equalizing the rights of adopted people in this country. The judge presiding over a TPR hearing works for a state that has a financial interest in severing ties between a financially insolvent family and the children they struggle to care for.

    I know you said your black and much more horrible things happened to black people in this country than being adopted into cush circumstances, but please expand your understanding of what constitutes slavery beyond the abuses of the north american slave trade to the deep injustice of stripping people of their rights as repayment for feeding and clothing them while they are minors. It’s not right to do that to people its not respectful to them or their families. This is slavery on a technicality and those enslaved are all well cared for but they are not free to be themselves and go home at 18 either. Now I sound dumb but I’m pressing send anyway. Your the only mom your kid will ever have. If you don’t know where your kid is I’ll help for free. Please forward me anyone who needs help as well.
    Hope your whole beautiful family is constantly surrounded with love and happiness.

  22. yep!! you have made some valid points,,they are really catch-able…

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