In a recent post on [Birth Mother,] First Mother Forum, I was struck by the repeated use of the word “lottery” in the quotations used in the post as well as in the comments. What does it mean to say adoption (or foster care) is a “lottery”? And what does it mean to imply that this “crap shoot” works in both directions? Are we the result of a simple “spin of the roulette wheel”? Flipping that around, are our adoptive parents?
Link to post: International Adoption: The Abuse Continues
Ultimately (and probably obviously) the lottery idea relates to notions of fate and accident. We adoptees (and those a-parents) live in a world of mere happenstance…the wheel of fortune rolls around and here we are. This metaphysic is a corrective to a rigid predestinational view that puts adoptees in their circumstances because of a karmic requirement, the consequences of a past life, or the life of our parents.
It does not bother me to think it was an accident that I ended where I did, a lottery draw. I think in some ways that it was probably an accident. My brother was killed in a car accident and my life was changed while his was snatched away. When I met my first mother I was startled (even though she is Nisei) that she is part of the University women…which my amother loathed but was both from her father and her husband (both university professors). Her sense of humor was like my amother’s. I felt a mystical relationship.
To me lottery connotes randomness.
The way adoption worked back when I was adopted (don’t know how it works now), was a prospective parent was sent a brief (amazingly, stunningly brief) history of a child with one image and they had to accept or reject the child based upon only that. Sight unseen. No opportunity for any relationship building. (The child didn’t get a photo of the potential parents, by the way – we literally went into total strangers’ arms) I had only been in Holt’s care for six weeks when my paperwork shows my father had already viewed my photo and accepted the orphan, Suh Yung Sook. Given that it took up to two weeks for air mail at that time, multiply by each direction and it is clear I was immediately processed for adoption upon arrival at the orphanage.
I often wonder, was there any matching of me and my family at all? Or was it completely random?
I asked my mother how she came to adopt. She had seen advertisements in magazines to sponsor children and had wanted to do something charitable. I can’t remember if they actually did sponsor or not or if they sponsored me. I have a letter written by my mother inquiring to someone about it. She was forwarded to Holt. There is no more mention of it and all the other correspondence is about adoption.
In Deanne Borshay Liem’s story (from her movie, First Person Plural) her parents sponsored a child and developed a relationship with her, or so they thought. Actually they were developing a relationship with a case worker who fabricated all the childish letters. When her parents decided to adopt the child they thought they were in love with, the girl had already left the orphanage and Deanne was substituted in her place.
I often wonder, was what we thought to be random actually malfeasance or fraud? How often did this kind of thing occur? So many adoptees have the same names, were born in the same district, had the same abandonment or relinquishment story…I don’t think it was a crap shoot. I think there were a dozen templates and we were churned out by the thousands. If my photo had been rejected, a dozen others would have been ready for the next airmail plane.
As a child growing up I read HI (Holt International) Families every time it arrived. There was always the section called, “Some Children Wait.” In that section you could choose the disability of your choice, or the malformation you could live with. I felt a strange mixture of pity for the children and disgust with myself for shopping, trying on each child with each of their challenges, determining if I could live with them or not.
I wondered, why didn’t my parents adopt one of them instead, a child who REALLY needed care so much more than I did?
I wondered, what if I had gotten another family instead? Later, as my father’s love grew to inappropriate heights, I wished to turn back the clock and spin that roulette wheel. Later still, having met so many adoptees who have been verbally, emotionally or physically abused (so many never go public) I wondered what, if any, good that wish would have produced.
Today I wonder, what if – like many adoptees who have experienced adoption dissolution or being sent away or subjected to controversial and dangerous therapies – what if I had exhibited Reactive Attachment Disorder? What if my write-up just happened to leave out some important information about grief and anger behavior? What if I had a serious mental condition? Templates tend to do that; only have room for what fits. That also includes the template for the parents, only that template is too large and almost anything fits within.
To me it is a lottery if you are looking at it in the sense of the fabled adoption as a prize. But to me it is not a lottery because it is not a prize, but just something different. Neither is it fate because the lottery itself is a construct. We were not fated to be orphans or adoptees, as the vehicle had to be created for that purpose first. I think you should ask the casino what they think, though you know what they’ll say, as they own the house.
The interesting thing (if “interesting” is the right word) is the extension of the lottery concept. How is adoption a different lottery than birth itself, and so I think there’s really something to Girl pointing out that the game is likely rigged.
In other words, the metaphor of a lottery–which I find hard to distinguish in an adoptive or non-adoptive scenario–may function as a cover precisely for the rigged quality of the “game”. If adoption is “by chance” then culpability for it gets hard to assign. For me at least, since I’m not seeing much difference between the “chance” of adoption versus the lottery of which womb I come out of, I don’t see why “lottery” isn’t the normal metaphor for the unfairness of birth in the first place.
Although, I did say in a previous post that to the extent that life, precisely, is not fair in that you never know which womb you will pop out of (notwithstanding karmic theories of reincarnation), then there’s a perverse unfairness that gets introduced when we, as adoptees, are cheated of that “essentially human” injustice (of who our parents are). Instead of being allowed to “spin the wheel,” we get thrown into a fixed game. And if me pointing out the unfairness of not being allowed to “suffer” the unfairness of not having any part in who our parents are, then the seemingly paradoxical nature of that is resolved by pointing out the fixed character of the game in the case of lottery. And that will be true, whether there is active, positive corruption as Girl documented in her post or simply in the very fact that someone trafficks us. That’s the house advantage on the roulette wheel of life.
Calling adoption lottery, then, points to a disingenuous attempt to normalize it, to make it seem like the “normal unfairness” of who one gets born to. In a context of karma, it makes adoption not into a lottery but unambiguously into outright robbery.