I’d like to pick up on the discussion in the item “Adoption as House Arrest” [ link ] where we were discussing whether formerly children might have been “better off” in an orphanage. My adoptive father’s parents and uncles were brought up in orphanages in New York City, and I think this was a core part of his desire to adopt. Because of the beatings they received, my great uncles were never quite “right”, as we used to say in the family.
But expanding on this. I remember how disturbed I was when I was shown the registers of my orphanage here in Beirut going back to 1900, and noticing the repetition of the word written down in beautiful calligraphic penmanship and red ink, superimposed over the announcement of arrival: “Décedé(e)” (deceased). Most of these children were seen as “unadoptable”, given mental or physical handicaps.
This haunted me for months until a fellow adoptee brought to my attention the Butterbox Babies [ link ], the story of minimal care given to children not adopted in a maternity home in Nova Scotia, referred to now, out of historical context, as “murder”.
I consider this to be the Great Unspoken of adoption and of orphanages, namely, the role of the orphanage in terms of social policy directed toward the poor, forced to conform to minimal norms of ethics and morality (“feeding” sugar water to babies), yet functionally bent on literally ridding the population of those unable to “make the Darwinian grade”.
So much of adoption mythology (salvation, being “better off”, ideas of being “lucky” or “chosen”, etc.) revolve around this idea of having survived something so horrible we can’t even bring ourselves to speak about it. I post this without judgment, in the sense of not blaming orphanages or those in control of them, but rather point my finger at an economic, cultural, and political system that might lead up to such a state of affairs.
I’m wondering if this kind of thing is evident in other orphanages in other countries, and how it manifests itself. I’d also propose that the virulent pro-adoption stance of groups such as “Reece’s Rainbow” stems from a kind of unconscious cultural guilt that needs to project onto others what the dominant culture itself historically has always done without so much as blinking an eye, much less a coming to terms with its own actions.