16 January 2006

10 by 10, the fifth, about adoption

Tonight I'm not staying up too late, because Politica will be home! And I'm turning the computer off early. So I'm getting my next set of ten in before lunch, thinking about adoption today. I have a post in my head about adoption ethics, and while I'm working it out, let me tell you a little about me and adoption:

41. Curious Girl was born in another country. Many people choose international adoption to avoid "birthparent entanglements." We aren't among them. We chose international adoption for admittedly selfish reasons--we liked the predictability of the timeline and process--but we have grieved from the start that there is such a gulf between CG's first family and first culture and our own.

42. I think about her birth parents--particularly her birth mother--almost every day. And despite my birthday-loving self, I get a little sad around CG's birthday, thinking and wondering about her birth, and who said what, and who did what.

43. I talk about CG's birth family pretty regularly. Because of the reading I've done (things like Cheri Register and Joyce Pavao's books, the discussion at International-Adopt-Talk, and some birthmother blogs), I vary the terms I use for her birth family. Sometimes I use first names, sometimes I say first family, birth family, HomeCountry family or just family. CG has started to use first names when she asks. I'm glad she asks.

44. And I'm glad that she often picks her lifebook--my book about when i was a baby, she calls it--as bedtime reading, and lately she's been wanting to read it to me. She runs her finger over the words, points to the pictures, and makes up her story. Last night when she told it, her birth mother and father talked to each other and asked each other to have a baby together. I don't know anything about the formation of the relationship of her birth parents but I love that she imagines them talking to each other.

45. We chose international adoption over domestic adoption and pregnancy as a way to form our family because it was a story we felt we could tell and live with, and help our child to grow into (in addition to the timeline factor). This all sounds trite as I try to find the words, but we like to travel. We care about social injustice. We are interested in how other countries structure their governments, policies, communities. When we thought about adoption, we thought that we could parent a child who would need to think, probably, about her relationship to two cultures, two countries, two families.

46. I wish for a world in which international adoption wouldn't happen, where most children can be raised in the families they are born into and where communities and nations can take care of their own children. But that's not the world we live in, and whether I/we had pursued another type of adoption, pregnancy, or chose not to have a child, there would still be millions of children living in orphanages. It's a collective action problem: individual choices don't matter in fixing the whole system, even if individual choices are the only ones I can make. Don't get me wrong, I don't view adoption as a means of saving a child (although I did think, there are children in the world who need a home. I choose to make my family with those children in mind.) Curious Girl--like all of us--has had a mix of some very rotten luck and some very good luck. I'm not saving her, I'm parenting her. I hate it when people tell me how lucky CG is.

47. I felt very weird making choices about the adoption. And there are many choices: private/public; domestic/international; country A/country B/country C; age of hoped-for referral; name; timing. But people make choices about pregnancies, too. People make choices about partners. But it feels very weird to make adoption choices. I hated choosing X knowing it ruled out Y. But I like the fact that I see the complexities of all these choices. And I'm grateful that the birthmother blog ring is now active, that there are online communities and blogs bringing together families who chose adoption as a first choice, and families who chose adoption for whatever reason. Making relationships is hard work, and I need good smart company as I do it.

48. I'm not a mystical person, so I never felt the hand of destiny connecting me to my child out there in the world. All through the adoption process, I kept a distance, not wanting to get too attached to the notion of an ideal child out there, and not wanting to appropriate a child who was not, in fact, my child. We travelled with a family who planned to meet a child whose mother had come to the orphanage to visit while we were en route to the orphanage. That visit made the child ineligible for adoption for a certain period of time. The other family was devastated. While I was glad that wasn't happening to us, I also thought but maybe the child will get to live with his mother. That would be good. Now that Curious Girl is my child, I can't imagine mothering someone else. But I grew into that feeling, and it's an honor and a privilege to claim that feeling now. I didn't want to have that feeling before the adoption.

49. There are lots of controversies about international adoption and lgb families. It's a hard issue, thinking about how homophobia may play out in other places. We chose a process that allowed us to be truthful throughout the process, although it also involved a fair number of 'don't ask, don't tell' situations. Was this respectful? arguably. Was it ethical? arguably. Was this the sum total of our respect and ethics? No way. Throughout the adoption process I've seen other parents dissing the food, culture, legal systems, birth parents, orphanages and every other aspect of other countries (including our own). We wrote entirely truthful statements in response to all legal requirements, and we travelled in CG's birth country with an open and admiring attitude (along with awareness of the political and social difficulties and limitations in her home country). We were curious and respectful travellers and we are absolutely committed to fostering a curious, fond, and respectful connection between CG and her home country. We are all flawed people--people there, people here--and on the whole, we did our best.

50. I should have divided up my 9 facts above so that I had something left over for #50!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your perspective. I realize that I very clearly was carrying some prejudice and baggage regarding international adoption: I would have been one of those who said "CG is a lucky girl" - for cultural and economic reasons, I think. It's hard to utterly parse what I would have meant by that, now that it's been pointed out to me.

This, even though I know someone whose birth mother (a 17 year old native girl) was told that her child had died. That child (my friend), was adopted into a white home of privilege: but although she's been economically lucky in some sense, I also know the work she does in order to bridge the cultures. And, of course, the sense of dislocation when she learned her birth mother's story.

I remember my mom getting angry at a sponsor-this-third-world-child commercial (I don't remember whom). A well fed white man was standing in a family's tin constructed shack, and the white man went on about the horrible conditions and how awful this was. My mom got angry because she saw that woman, that mom, having her blood sweat and tears work so utterly disparaged. Not that my mom thinks that those with more shouldn't try to share: but not from a place of utterly scorning what exists. I sometimes forget this lesson.

Anonymous said...

Which is all to say that CG IS a lucky girl, but it's because she has parents who think and feel their way so much through their parenting decisions and are open to explaining their decisions....
So you still get the compliment!

Anonymous said...

thanks for your perspective.

susan said...

That's some story, Arwen. The deceit and pain that's wrapped up in some relinquishment/abandonment/child stealing stories is almost too much for me to contemplate.

The issue of being respectful of other cultures, other situations, is really tricky. It's irresponsible not to make judgements of some sort about the world, and I don't want to romanticize elements of CG's background. At the same time, I don't want to paint them all with the worst-case scenario (although generally speaking, I am assuming that people relinquish their parental rights only b/c there are problems in their economic, social, familial, pychological set up). So I need to balance it all, too.

Anonymous said...

I still think that orphans are in orpahanges. Isn't it sad that the mothers have to leave their children there because they are poor. I hate international adoption because the way it is set up for most of them there is no contact between the mothers and their children. It seems very backward to do it that way, have closed adoptions I mean. Fancy being devestated because the mother visited, I would track her down and see if i could sponsor her and her child and then adopt a real orphan. So much needs to be made better with adoption, it's still set up in a way that is so disrespectful and disregarding of the natural mother and family. Not saying you are just the way it's set up needs enourmous changes.