In Response to Today’s NYTimes Ethicist Column

“What if I Don’t Want to See the Child I Gave Up for Adoption?” — you talk to an adoptee

I respectfully invite Mr. Appiah (and other readers) to contact me in response to his recent adoption advice piece.

Mr. Appiah has an impressive resume and I’m kind of jealous of his prolific publication and research experience. His life story is also fascinating.

But missing from his bio (which includes a lovely family history) is anything related to adoption. Mr. Appiah, correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look like there’s been much formal research into adoption. I dug up two other adoption-related advice pieces, but they seem to miss the mark. If I’m mistaken, I will happily stand corrected.

Today’s column rankled many adoptees and rightfully so. Some adopted adults are struggling with identity issues, living with significant pieces of their personhoods missing. This goes beyond biology; our creators, our parents, were either forced to relinquish us or unable to care for us. When adoptees wrestle with abandonment issues, trauma, and grief, they naturally seek meaning: Why? Why were we not wanted?

Mr. Appiah states that “the child’s mere curiosity probably wasn’t a good-enough reason to break the [privacy] covenant.”

Here’s the problem with that statement: It firmly reinforces parent-centric adoption rhetoric, forcing adoptees to silently accept their relinquishment. Mr. Appiah likely didn’t recognize his transgression. The depth of adoption’s complexities are only now being openly discussed.

Mr. Appiah believes that children aren’t “entitled to” contact with their birth parents, defining contact as “an act of generosity.” This is a slap in the face for adoptees who’ve been seeking more than just medical records (which, by the way, we’re not patiently waiting for the human genome project to obtain). Adoptees are human beings who have the right to know their parentage, even if it makes their creators a little uncomfortable.

However.

I’m a fairly balanced person and I understand a birth parent’s decision to decline contact. That’s well within their rights and adoptees need to respect that.

However.

I’d insist that a birth parent also respect their child’s right to know. While relationships cannot (and should not) be forced, every human being deserves a reason, an excuse, a photo. Something. Anything.

Mr. Appiah, I’d love to have a conversation with you about this, on behalf of myself and all adoptees who are lost in this battle. As someone who’s “a child of mixed ancestry, his mother from the English landed gentry, his father a Ghanaian barrister and statesman — both from families socially prominent and politically active — Appiah is a veteran at migrating between alien cultures,” you seem open to hearing our perspectives.

According to your site, you’re local to me and have credentials that could help our cause. Let’s chat so we can broaden our views and develop a new culture for an age-old practice.


Sunny writes about transracial adoption, race, and the American family. She also contributes to Intercountry Adoptee Voices, an adoptee-led site supporting research by intercountry adoptees. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Edit: The column was from yesterday, not today. Welcome to the Internet, the Land that time forgot.