New research highlights challenges of adoptees in Israel

Many have sense that "anyone could be my mother" due to small size of population, says sociologist.

April 29, 2010 05:33
3 minute read.
New research highlights challenges of adoptees in Israel

ethiopian adopted baby . (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Israel’s small population and its cultural diversity provide a unique set of challenges for women who were adopted here as babies, a ground-breaking new research project published earlier this month has revealed.

According to the project’s author, sociologist Dr. Hila Haelyon, a lecturer of family studies in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the College of Management and Academic Studies (COMAS) in Rishon Lezion, one of the main difficulties facing adoptees in Israel stems from the country’s intimate population – 7.5 million, with 5,726,000 Jews. This leaves adoptees with a permanent sense that their biological parents are close and that “anyone could be my mother.”

“The ethnic groups and divisions are also very clear in Israeli society,” Haelyon, who will present her findings for the first time Thursday at a conference at COMAS, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview Wednesday.

“One of the big questions in Israel is always ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘What are your family’s roots?’” said the mother of four, herself adopted here as a baby. “When asked that question, I’m always faced with the dilemma of telling people that I belong to my adoptive family’s roots, which are not really my own roots, or telling a total stranger the private detail that I am adopted.”

Haelyon, who says she has been researching this topic for much of her adult life, carried out a quantitative study, interviewing some 20 women who had been adopted here as babies under the age of one. She questioned them in detail about their childhoods and adult lives, focusing on those who had already entered into motherhood and their sentiments toward building their own biological family.

“I decided to focus on the motherhood, because from my own personal experience, I found that the most reflective moment in an adopted woman’s life is when she becomes a mother herself,” said Haelyon, whose book The Adoptees: Experiences of Women Adopted in Israel was published by Pardes a few weeks ago.

“However, many of the women I interviewed told me that they’d had reflections like this their entire lives, from when they were tiny children until they themselves became mothers,” she said.

Among the issues raised by many of the women were feelings of abandonment, of not belonging anywhere, of being physically different from their adopted families, and of arousing suspicion among neighbors and peers over exactly who they were.

“It was important for me to allow the women to speak for themselves,” said Haelyon, who believes this is the first time such social research on adopted children has been published in Israel, as opposed to clinical research, where experts and doctors analyze the process.

“This research allows us, for the first time, to understand the lives of adopted women and how they view the world,” she continued. “Many people speak on their behalf, and they have very little opportunity to speak out for themselves. Many times they keep their feelings silent, afraid that this will only highlight the fact that they are different from their adopted family and the peers around them. Speaking out about it makes them once again feel like an outsider.”

In her research, Haelyon also noted that once they reach motherhood, women adopted as babies become very overprotective of their own children.

“One woman I interviewed told me how she slept in the car the first night after bringing her baby home because she thought that if something went wrong, she wanted to be ready to take the baby back to the hospital,” recounted Haelyon. “They are either very afraid someone will take their babies away from them, or they want to prove that they can do a better job than the mothers who gave them away for adoption.”

Although the number of babies adopted each year in Israel is fairly small, between 100 and 120 on average, Haelyon said that more than 500 people put in requests to adopt children each year, and the waiting lists for local adoption were very lengthy.

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