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American parentage is culturally based on shared blood, and, more recently on shared DNA. The basis for “real” parentage has produced ambivalent feelings towards adoption.

While Americans have long adopted, early adoptions were typically within the extended family or were highly guarded secrets with all records sealed. These early adoptions were frequently the result of out-of-wedlock births, which were socially taboo. In recent years, closed adoption has become a hotly contested issue, with advocacy groups like Bastard Nation seeking to end closed records. The search for birth parents and for biological children is a frequent topic of television talk shows. Highly publicized cases in which adopted children have been returned to birth families have led to a mistrust of domestic adoptions for most Americans. Open adoption, in which the birth parents may remain a part of the child’s life, provides a new, highly demanding option, but one limited in numbers.

Moreover, identity politics, combined with an emphasis on blood relationships, have made transracial adoptions very controversial within the US: the National Association of Black Social Workers has publicly condemned such adoptions. This controversy is combined with a rising national out-of-wedlock birth rate, as well as a declining rate of adoption to make the process more difficult. The ability to determine paternity through DNA testing has made the termination of biological parental rights more problematic.

State governments and the social services establishment are less favorable to adoption, even while the American fosterparent system is coming under attack.

These obstacles, combined with the apparent rise in infertility, have forced more middle-class white couples to seek to adopt privately or internationally. Private adoptions are typically handled through lawyers and are quite expensive. Advertisements for healthy white infants, who are in high demand, appear in college newspapers across the county, illustrating the growing demand for these adoptions. Although international adoptions are not new, the search for infants has expanded from Korea (in the 1950s and 1960s) to China, Russia, Yugoslavia, as well as Latin America and other parts of Asia.

Transnational adoption has also sparked the debate on the unequal power relationship between the first-world adopting parents and the third-world adoptees.

The cherished ideal of the nuclear family with two biological children has come under assault as single parents and gay parents turn to adoption as well. Like the blended families resulting from divorce, these new family forms do not correspond with popular views of what a real family is in America. Adoption is becoming one of the important elements in the redefinition of the American family. The “triad” of relationships resulting from adoption—the adoptive parents, the adoptees and the birth parents—represents new forms of American kinship informed both by the longstanding cultural logic of biological relationships that define what constitutes the American family and the reality of new social relationships that produce something different.

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