The Stigma of Adoption

A senior newspaper columnist recently asked me about the stigma of adoption.

Reporter: “There are many social stigmas associated with adoption. The unwed mother feels guilt and culpability for her actions. Family members shame her, openly disapprove of her actions, and may even ridicule her. Friends perceive her condition as regrettable and unfortunate. The stigma is even worse when she puts her child up for adoption and gives it to a stranger to bring up. Don’t you agree there is a certain amount of lack of respect for people in these situations? You were adopted. Did you feel the stigma of being adopted when you were a child?”

Adoption Detective | Judith Land | Stigma of Adoption

“Can you feel the pain the phrase ‘relinquishment of a child’ carries? The centuries old stigma of ‘unwed motherhood’ is archaic in some cultures but it remains pervasive in many others. The stigma of being unwed and pregnant seems to be lessened when the mother is ‘engaged’ to be married.” —Judith Land

Judith: “I occasionally experienced the stigma of adoption as a child. I was painfully embarrassed when strangers called attention to my skin tone and hair color, which were different from my parents. Comedians occasionally made condescending remarks about redheaded stepchildren and that sort of thing. It stung when my aunt rudely referred to me as being adopted with the negative undertone of being less deserving and behaviorally challenged. I had deep-seated feelings and concerns about being adopted that continued into adulthood but any sense of pity and misfortune that I experienced were largely suppressed. My fears and emotions largely paralleled how other teenagers feel about acceptance by their peers, achievement and social status, physical appearance, and how others perceive them. The pain of humiliation for many adoptees causes them to suffer an enduring lifelong mental anguish, heartache, and discomfort; feelings that often simmer below the surface like a magma chamber of molten lava. They are saddened, confused, and troubled by the blatant alteration of their life’s trajectory. The sting of abandonment, banishment, and the lack of a true identity agonizes them, feelings that never seem to go away. People are more accepting of adoption issues in recent years but some adoptees will always feel tortured by the stigma of adoption; sentiments that never go away regardless of how much external love and therapy they receive.”

“Unmarried pregnant women are no longer shrouded in so much secrecy as they were in the past and the stigma of treating unwanted pregnancy as a deplorable act has somewhat receded from the public consciousness but disapproval for such behavior is still viewed as disreputable by many people. Judgments about single parenting, adoption, biracial dating, same sex partners, open adoption, and other complicated social and personal circumstances don’t carry the same stigma and degree of humiliation as they once did but vestiges of prejudice and loathing still exist in many countries and punishment for these actions remains severe in some cultures. A Pew Research Poll in 2011 showed that Americans are increasingly tolerant of all kinds of families, with one exception—single women raising children alone; almost 70 percent believe that single women raising children on their own is bad for society.”

“When we engage in the act of judging others and intentionally shaming and hurting them by dragging their reputations through the mud our actions carry the same social stigma and negative feelings of hatred, disrespect, culpability, consciousness of wrong, and humiliation that they always have in the past. The stigma of adoption has declined but we still have a long way to go before a change in social acceptance is fully mainstreamed. Younger people are more tolerant than previous generations primarily because they are being taught that bullying others for the sole purpose of shaming and humiliating them is in and of itself a disgraceful and disrespectful act.”

“There has been a correction in the social pendulum and a societal change in the consciousness of wrong. The reduction in the negative stigma of adoption is worthy of attention, but it certainly hasn’t disappeared—I’m curious to know how other adoptees feel about the stigma of adoption? Thanks for asking.”

Judith Land





About Judith Land

Judith Land lives in Colorado and Arizona with husband and coauthor Martin Land. Judith is a former nurse, retail shop owner, college instructor and avid outdoor person. Her book "Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child" is a true story detailing the journey of Judith Romano, foster child and adoptee, as she discovers fragments of her background, and then sets out to solve the mystery as an adult. She has reached readers in 192 countries. "Mothers and fathers everywhere in the world need to understand that children are forever and always." --Judith Land
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