15 December 2008

Choosing Adoption

I was reminded of Shannon's Pregnant? Considering Adoption post when I read today's post over at Mama PhD (which is an excellent group blog at Inside Higher Education. I'm purposely not linking to the post I read today because I don't want to stir up commenting trouble on a blog I lurk at). I left a long comment over at Mama PhD, but the post has stayed on my mind. My thoughts are rambling here, but I'm going to put up my musings.

edited to add: adoption changes lives, in all kinds of ways. There's the obvious: someone who had a child, doesn't live with that child anymore. Someone who didn't have a child, does. But adoption can change much more than that. My own thinking about the relationship between birth families and adoptive families has gotten so much more complicated as I've read more, listened to CG more, talked with other mothers (birth and adoptive). I come at this post from where I am today--six years ago, while I was then very respectful of CG's first family and birth families in general, I liked to think, I couldn't have written this post. Six years from now, things will be different, again. So I want to be gentle with the writer of the Mama PhD post, even as I clearly want to move in a different direction.


I'm haunted by Curious Girl's birth mother. I've been reading Ann Fessler's The Girls Who Went Away, a fabulous, heartbreaking history of women who placed children for adoption via maternity homes in the 1950s and 60s. Story after story tells of women who were pushed away by their families, coerced in various ways to relinquish their children, and who didn't stop thinking about, loving, and missing their children. I'm thinking, as I do every day, about CG's first mother, who has literally no voice in adoption literature. In our adoption paperwork, there's a handwritten relinquishment letter whose language is so oddly formal that it must conform to some legal specifications. It hardly feels like a personal letter, and it won't answer most of CG's questions when she sees it. I've looked some at academic studies of adoption, and I don't see much scholarship on women who place children for adoption in Eastern Europe (just as there's not much written that gives voice to poor women in this country. When Shannon, Dawn, Jenna, and I had the chance to speak at an adoption conference last year, Shannon's talk was partly about the ways in which her children's first mothers have no public voice.)

I don't know what forces led CG's mother to relinquish her to state care. I used to think that what I would say to her, if I were ever to have the chance to meet her, would be "thank you." But thank you strikes me as precisely the wrong thing to say. She didn't give me CG, and CG wasn't, literally, a gift (although she certainly is one metaphorically). These days, I would say, "hello" and "isn't CG splendid?" (although were I to have the chance to meet her, I'd likely be speechless with emotion). The post that's got me thinking here asks women who are pregnant to consider potential adoptive parents and the joy that adoption brings. It's true: referral calls bring shrieks of joy. Five years ago today, in fact, I was sitting at home, looking at photos from our just-completed first trip to meet Curious Girl, just starting to think that I might really become a mother. Adoption has brought me such joy: being a mother is one of the best things I do, day in, day out. I love it. I love CG. And I love parenting with Politica.

And yet day in, day out, I think about CG's first family. I grieve her loss--and I know CG grieves, too. These days, she's thinking hard about the siblings that likely exist out there somewhere. She's processing the fact that maybe, someone else might have adopted her, or she might not have gotten adopted and might have stayed in her orphanage. She's trying to understand why she's small, and not tall like I am. I wish I could take all this away from her--but her shadowy past is her own story to live with, and so I answer her questions, I talk to her about what she imagines and what she feels, and I hope I help her heart fill with love and hope.


The Mama PhD post is a request, of sorts, for people to consider adoption as a good option. For some women, adoption might well be a good option. But I thought I'd repeat here a piece of my comment on that post. Much as I love how my own family is formed, I know from my perspective within adoption, as an adoptive parent, how complicated navigating grief and loss is. That must be even moreso for women who relinquish their children. So here's what, in my view, women who are pregnant and considering adoption might do (Shannon's post, and Jenna's blog more generally, on the subject is a big inspiration here, I should say at the start):

1. Do your best to find someone to talk with who has YOUR interests at heart (many adoption professionals have their interests aligned more with adoptive parents than with women considering adoption).

2. Talk with other women who’ve made this choice. Relinquishing a child for adoption is a difficult choice, a choice that causes grief and loss. There are birthmother blogs now; there are organizations like Concerned Birthparents United.

3. Consider what support you might have for parenting. You may want to place a child for adoption, but being young, being not quite financially settled, being untenured, being surprised by a pregnancy are not necessarily reasons to relinquish. Take your time and carefully consider the option of parenting your child.

4. Know what your legal rights are (childwelfare.gov offers state-by-state overviews). You are the parent of your child until you relinquish.


I love my daughter, who joined our family through adoption. Yet I am haunted by the thought that her birth mother might have relinquished her due to coercion of one sort or another. I love my daughter fiercely; I can’t imagine loving her more. I know she is happy here and now-but I know she, too, grieves the mother she never had the chance to know, and the other family she can only imagine.


Those of us who adopted internationally have little chance to communicate with the other mothers of our children (although increasingly, some birth parent contact is possible. There's a yahoo group or two for searching adoptive families). Precisely because I know so little about CG's birth mother, I write and think about her a lot. I wonder about her, for GG. In writing here, even when there is little to say for or about her, I write to note her, and to honor her. I don't know her--except for what I see of her in CG--but I don't want her, and the other women around the world who have placed, or lost, children to adoption to be forgotten or elided.


I love my girl. And it breaks my heart to listen to her talk about the family she may never know. She loves me, and she loves the family she has here. And we all of us have to come to terms with grief and loss. But I got to wait a little longer before dealing with such big emotions. She hasn't. She's doing a great job, little processor that she is.


S. said...

You know, today I saw a picture Z. made of her family (post coming soon) and in it, nestled in among grandparents and her moms, is her Uncle Donor. We tend to think of our family more as a birthfamily than an adoptive family, because A. was Z.'s intended parent from before the time we approached Uncle Donor to do this for us. But the legal fact is that adoption gave our family recognition, and Z.'s relationship to Uncle Donor is akin to an open adoption relationship. I am grateful that she knows him every day. You remind me not to take that for granted.

Dawn said...

Oh my lord, thanks for linking that. I posted a comment and sent an email asking some other like-minded folks to weigh in.

susan said...

S., interesting that you mention that. I've encountered a couple of families in which a child conceived via donor insemination was unaware of that fact. It's got me wondering what similarities there are around family storytelling and birth storytelling for DI and adoption.

Sounds like that's one picture to save for the archives! And also a reminder that Z's sense of family and your and A's sense of family may not be entirely the same--tons of overlap, of course, but she's got her own self to create.

Wordgirl said...


This is such a beautiful, thoughtful post.

I still think very much about adoption, and so these posts help me think about all of the channels of navigation.

Thank you.

Songbird said...

That's a good post, but the adoption story is not so black and white as some of the commenters want to make it.
As always, I'm grateful to read about your thought process and your sensitivity to CG, which give me a better insight both into what my adoptive mother might have been feeling/thinking and also what never occurred to her because of the brainwashed perspective of the time.

ppolarbear said...

As someone just dipping my toes into international adoption, I appreciate your post. I'm confounded by this swirl of thoughts--that something I want so very much would come because someone else would experience such a loss....sometimes it's too much to contemplate.

Thanks for your always articulate and thoughtful opinions.

Tall Kate said...

What a beautiful post, Susan. CG is lucky to have a mother who's so thoughtful about these issues.

Third Mom said...

You are being incredibly generous and kind to the author of that post. I feel a little less so; I guess I would have expected a more reasoned, fact-focused post from a blog written by academics.

I definitely agree with you about the learning curve APs experience, gosh knows I have gone through many changes in my thinking about adoption over the years.

Thanks for an excellent post.

Arwen said...

My elder birth sister was always part of our family; every year we celebrated her birthday, and talked about her and hoped she was doing well. My mom was always glad of the decision she'd made. It was and is who she is. At the same time, she was also nervous that she'd made the right choice. Was her baby well cared for?

When we met my birth sister years later, my mother's biggest ongoing response was relief; my big sister was only really motivated to put her name out there for biological curiosity sake, and her family was a close one.