I’m really interested by…

I'm really interested by how Catherine and Janet read Harriet's work as so hostile to adoptive parents -- I just didn't read it that way. I took it much more as saying something like, "So far, the public discourse of adoption in America has been hugely dominated by this story of happy, joyous adoptions. And under cover of that story, pain is being denied and erased -- which facilitates ongoing, unnecessary damage, to birth parents and their families, to adoptees."

When she says that adoptive parents should understand that that post and conversation isn't about them -- especially happy adoptive parents -- I didn't read that as a simple exclusion. But rather that she was deliberately creating a safe space for unhappy adoptees and birth parents, for marginalized groups to speak about their pain. In exactly the same way that we create safe spaces for women, or for people of color. Because the overall cultural discourse is so hostile to those groups.

It may help to keep her background in mind -- what I gather from reading some more of her posts are two things. One, is that most of the site focuses on rape issues; she was a teenage runaway, who ended up in a violently abusive relationship for years. So her site has a strong focus on creating safe spaces, deleting / banning folks who would derail the conversation, etc. That's the mode she operates in. And then professionally, she works in domestic foster adoptions, which as Catherine noted, is a particularly tense and difficult field of adoption services, and understandably leads to some specific tensions around international adoptions.

So the framing she sets up, saying that post and comments aren't for happy adoptive parents, I think it's analogous to saying, "Hey, this is a safe space for rape survivors. And if you have a loving relationship with your wife, and you have fabulous sex all the time, that's great for both of you, but please don't come into this discussion and talk about it, because it's going to be seriously disruptive to the conversation we're trying to have here."

For that post, which focused on international adoptions, she was saying that there are some serious issues here that get heavily glossed over, in part because there's a lot of money in the mix, and in part because people don't want to face the possibility that these children's parents may have been coerced or forced or simply had their children kidnapped. That's tough stuff to handle, and I have to imagine really difficult for international adoptive parents not to get defensive about. So she's trying hard to head off that defensiveness, which maybe means just plain excluding them from the conversation.

For what it's worth, back when Kevin was firmly no-kids, I seriously thought about adoption. Started doing research, started saving money. I was initially leaning towards international adoption, not because I was scared of domestic adoptees and their "problems" (I didn't really know anything about that at the time), but just because I thought it would be easiest on the child if they shared my ethnic background, so I was looking at first Sri Lankan adoptions (no luck, because they require you to be married), and then Indian Tamil adoptions. I didn't get very far down that path, because Kevin changed his mind.

And it was only after we had Kavi that I started reading some of the birthmother / first mother blogs, and became aware of just how often domestic birthmothers were coerced or outright forced (by family, by friends, by seriously unethical adoption agencies) into relinquishing their children. I know there's a book on the subject, which I've been meaning to read, but I'm blanking on the title right now. It's more of a historical text, but I gather practices haven't improved all that much recently. Some.

Anyway, I'm not saying any of this would stop me, or should stop anyone, from adopting. I don't think Harriet's saying that either, given that she works for adoption services! But Kev and I have talked on occasion about maybe fostering some older kids, once our kids are grown, if we're not utterly exhausted by then. (We'll be about 55-60 -- I don't even know if they let people that old foster parent). And I feel like I'm just starting to learn about the whole complex of issues surrounding the subject. If we do eventually go that route, I just think we'd have to do the best we could to do it as ethically and humanely as possible.

In the meantime, I think it's worth thinking about Harriet's point that for the money I would have spent on an international adoption ($20K or more), I could have donated funds such that several birthmothers who actually wanted to keep their kids, but were facing serious financial barriers, might have had a better chance at managing it. Of course, then I wouldn't have a child to raise myself, and I'm probably not that altruistic. But it's worth thinking about.

I'm pro-choice. I believe that if you get pregnant, and want an abortion, that's your decision, and shouldn't be stigmatized in any way. I don't weep about it either -- I'm not sentimental about fetuses, even after having two kids of my own. But at the same time, I think that if you get pregnant, want to stay pregnant and then raise the child, and are facing financial and social barriers to that choice, then as a society we should be helping you. I think whether you're pro-choice or pro-life, helping people who want to keep their children keep them is a purely good thing. (Excluding abusive parents, of course, where staying with their birth parent(s) would be an actual danger to the child.)

I read a lot of infertility blogs too, and I'm always really happy for the women who eventually choose adoption and end up with happy families as a result. And I suppose a consequence of what Harriet's discussing might be that there'd be far fewer babies available for those people who want children, but for whatever reason, can't have their own biologically. But maybe that's a worthwhile price to pay, to make sure that every parent who wants to keep their child and raise it well has the resources to do so? I don't know. Hard stuff.

7 thoughts on “I’m really interested by…”

  1. (Note: I am not the Catherine referenced in this post)

    The interesting thing is that the pro-life movement (I am both pro-life and pro-choice, even though a lot of people feel one negates the other, both have valid claims) is doing a lot towards helping women have their babies and get a good start with them. The group in church, for example, has a baby bottle drive every year to raise money for a center that helps mothers have their babies and keep them (or apparently also facilitates adoption if that is the route the mother chooses).

  2. Catherine N. — I have mixed feelings about that sort of thing. It mostly sounds great, but I admit, I wonder how neutral the church group is about the woman’s options.

    What I’d like to see is counselling that is really neutral about the various choices — just completely honest and supportive, whatever the woman chooses to do. It’d be great if a church group could offer that, but it’s not what I’d expect!

  3. Oh, I agree totally. We need more neutral places. Both sets are skewed differently, unfortunately. The pro-life groups are skewed towards protecting the pregnancy, but the pro-choice places have their own issues too. For some people abortion may be an easy choice, but for me it definitely wasn’t. Particularly when it looks like I will never have my own kids. I do regret it. Part of my problem was, at the time, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, and when your mind is in such a whirl, its a really hard choice to make.

    And it IS a loss. And I did grieve it. But that is taboo, interestingly, on both sides. If you open up some of these health books, ‘our bodies ourselves’ for example, it doesn’t say that abortion affects each woman differently, and some people do feel a supreme sense of loss, and grieve. Some of the stuff Rachel’s Vineyard claims is correct, at least it was for me. I’m not sure to the extreme they claim… but to have neutral counseling would be amazing! (almost typed Godsend! hehe)

  4. Just briefly responding to the first few comments: while doing some research recently, I learned that Denmark has a) liberal abortion laws and easy access to abortion during the first trimester, b) one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, c) good sex education and easy access to contraceptives, d) universal government-sponsored healthcare and generous social programs, and e) one of the lowest abortion rates in the world. Go figure.

    As for your question about why I interpreted Harriet’s post as I did, part of the reason was that I came into the discussion having read only a small part of what she had to say, and that colored my reaction to everything else she had to say.

    The reason I thought (and still think) that the post was blaming adoptive parents for adoption problems is that she equates “adoption” with the breakup of the birth family. In some cases there is a direct connection (often a tragic and shameful one), but in most cases there is not. She continually conflates the tragedy of the breakup of the birth family (or the tragic circumstances that led to its breakup) and the many institutional problems with the process of adoption. And yes, there are many — when Matt and I were trying to figure out which path we wanted to take to adopt, I commented to a friend that it was “an ethical thicket.” This “what should have been” business is like saying that if your spouse dies or you divorce and then you remarry, the new marriage is forever tainted by what “should have been.” I know this is an imperfect analogy for lots of reasons, the most obvious being that children don’t choose their adoptive parents, but do you see what I mean?

    Even though she says that there are happy adoptees and awesome adoptive parents, it’s hard for me to square that with “Everything About Adoption Hurts” and “I would rather this child lived in a world where his biological parents were able to raise him. Compared to that, every other option is crap.” I don’t think this is nuanced, I think it’s self-contradictory and incoherent.

    Also, for whatever reason, I’ve had a lot of interaction over the years with people who think of adoptive parents as selfish, egotistical people who are only looking for “trophy babies” and who cannot be real parents to their adopted children (all adoptive parents are Madonna). Or who think that, of course, if you’ve been struggling with infertility and decide to adopt, then obviously you should adopt an older “special needs” child and if you want to adopt a healthy baby (not unnatural when a baby is what you’ve been hoping for and dreaming of for years) then you’re not fit to be a parent because you are rejecting a child who isn’t “perfect.” (They don’t seem to have considered that there is a huge difference between parenting a disabled child as a twist of fate and deliberately choosing to parent a disabled child.)

    I was involved for a while with an unhappy interracial adoptee (you probably know who I’m talking about, Mary Anne), who once likened adoptive parents to Nazis.

    Another common meme is that adoption is “an act of charity,” which is just as noxious in its own way. This reflects an obvious contradiction: You will not be a good parent if you think of what you’re doing as a sacrifice — it has to be something you’re doing because you think it will be a good thing for you, that parenting a child is what you want to do. But at the same time, having any needs or desires as a parent is unforgivably selfish.

    Maybe it’s just that I’ve spent a lot of time in a progressive community in which international adoption and to a certain degree any interracial adoption is seen as just a form of colonialism. But of course if you’re white and you adopt a white child, you’re racist.

    I could go on, but I hope that gets the idea across.

  5. “helping people who want to keep their children keep them is a purely good thing”

    Purely? At any age and maturity? I’m standing outside this as someone who was part of a village that rallied around a 19yo who engaged in unprotected sex with an unstable (mentally) partner and didn’t realize the results until things were far along. This is hard to pin on society, except the part of society that romanticizes operating heavy machinery (our bodies) under the influence of powerful drugs (sex hormones mixed with adrenalin of doing something wrong) while the logical parts of our brains are still very malleable. This is beyond unplanned pregnancy, this is playing with fire and calling up an insurance company when you got burned.

    Being a parent is difficult, with or without social and financial resources. it requires maturity, an understanding that the flip side of freedom is responsibility, that abortions suck more than not getting to have sex with that cute boy. If you can’t prevent yourself from doing things that are known to cause major life upheaval, how are you going to control taking out your anger and other hormonal feelings on those children?

  6. I read the original article, Mary Anne’s comments and everyone else’s comments. I’m an adoptive mom who has been involved in pregnancy counseling and adoptions and worked with the adoption triad for almost 15 years.

    As an adoptive mom I loved the blog. I was not the least bit offended with the disclaimer ‘against’ adoptive parents comments. She’s right. There are a lot of places for adoptive parents to vent and get their feelings out but not as many for birth parents or first parents. (both terms can be wrong depending on when/how the child was adopted – that’s a whole other blog entry and can of worms).

    There were points in the blog where I felt understood and heard. This woman actually ‘gets it’. I would come up with a ‘yeah but’ and upon reading, it was addressed well. She really did a great job.

    I LOVED the first blurb you included Mary Anne. That really summed it up for me. I read it in the blog absolutely agreeing throughout it all.

    I don’t know if my kids will be screwed up teens and adults. But if they were our biological kids, they have just as much chance of being screwed up teens and adults. One friend told me her friend’s teen told her he hated her and wished he was never adopted by her. I laughed and told my friend I knew my kids would most likely tell me one day that they hate me (don’t most kids tell their parents this at some point) and wish we had never adopted them. I told my mom I hated her and wished I HAD been adopted. Seriously, there is not winning with raging teen hormones and angst.

    One pregnant girl we interviewed said, “Now, this baby will probably have to wear glasses and will have allergies and have ADD because we do.” I chuckled and told her that if we had given birth to a child, he’d likely have allergies, ADD and need to wear glasses.”

    Life is messy.

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