Friday, December 16, 2011

More Thoughts

I grew up with amazing parents. I mean really, two of the most rock-solid people you could ever meet. They are the base on which I stand. I was loved, I was cared for, I was supported.

But it wasn't enough. I grew up, and I functioned. I passed in the world as whole. But I wasn't whole. I was nurture devoid of nature. I was missing an essential element that I needed for psychological health.

It is true that biology does not make a parent. There are plenty of people in the world who have no biological children of their own yet are amazing parents; my husband is one of them. There are also plenty of people who give birth or provide the genetic material for a child, but, for various reasons, don't seem to know what to do after that.

Angry adoptive or prospective-adoptive parents who comment on blogs (not so much this one, but others I have read), I hear you when you say this. I really do. I also hear you when you say that there are worse things than being adopted. It is worse to endure horrible physical and psychological abuse at the hands of a biological parent. It is worse to grow up without parents at all, raised by strangers in an institutional setting. I get that. I hear you.

But I am also begging you to please, please hear me when I say this one simple thing: if you remove a child from his or her biological family and completely cut off all connection with and knowledge of that family, you are doing harm. You are depriving the child of something essential, something necessary for psychological health and well-being. From the child's point of view, biology does matter.

Now, we can argue all day about where that harm falls on the scale of things, but that's not really the point. I'm asking us to aim higher than "better than terrible." I believe that, whether we adopt or not, the children of the world are our responsibility -- all of our responsibility. I know that many of you share my view. In fact, some of you feel so strongly about this that you have decided to forgo having biological children of your own and to instead devote your energy and resources to taking care of children who are already living: children who need parents, and in some cases, not only parents but parents willing to take on the challenges of caring for children with significant special needs. You have chosen adoption as your strategy, and I am not saying that you shouldn't adopt.

But I also believe that our ultimate goal should be for all children to have not only adequate food and shelter and love and care, but also psychological health and connection to their roots and heritage. If we can love children who are not our biological offspring enough to adopt  them and bring them into our homes and our hearts to be raised as our own children, can we also love them enough to want them to have the whole package?

I think we can all agree on the goal of having happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. Disagreements happen on the level of strategy. I understand that we live in a world that is far from ideal and that my goal is a lofty one. Adoption is a flawed strategy for a flawed world. It is not in itself something holy. It is crucially important for all of us who are connected to adoption to keep this in mind, and to continue to have thoughtful, critical discussions about this human-created institution. Yes, there are many situations in adoption may be the best strategy under the circumstances, but there are also many, many situations in which it is not. Let us please all continue to explore alternatives when they are viable.


19 comments:

  1. I am torn here. I am adopted by my birth mother's mom. I know her but I don't know my birth father. I still feel hurt knowing her. I feel hurt that I don't know him. I don't think that it helps either way. Just not sure!

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  2. And I don't know what it feels like to grow up in your situation. It sounds hard. I do know what it is like to go for thirty years of my life without ever laying eyes on a single person who shares my genetics. That was hard, too.

    Like a lot of adoptees I've experienced many conflicting emotions and have gone through many different stages over the years.

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  3. Thank you so much for your thoughts. I read the posts that you linked yesterday (plus all the comments), and I can't stop thinking about them. I am an AP and I think what you and Lillie are trying to say is very important. But I must confess that I would much rather read it from you. There was something in the way that Lillie wrote that I think her message was lost to the people who needed to hear it. There was a sense of negativism that I think made it easy for people to get defensive. I understand that she was writing from her heart which was good, I just wish people could see past the negative precedent so that they could hear the real message. When you write I don't feel any negative undertones (maybe one reason why your blog doesn't get a lot of "drama"), and I feel empowered to be a great AP, and I want to do everything that I can to help my child heal from losing his first family. I think the fact that you are approaching life as an adoptee, and adopter also helps people relate to you. Thank you for your thoughts, and your dedication to your cause and your blog, I'm sure a lot more adoptees will fair better because of you, hopefully mine included.

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  4. Here here!! Well said.

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  5. My dad was "Baby Smith" and adopted by the Mansbach's at 6 months. He was told that his birth parents were Irish. That was all. He has clung to the hope of being a true Irishman, as that was all he had of his biological self. Who knows if that is even true heritage. Although he will say my birth changed his perspective from anger to acceptance, you can tell there is a huge whole in his heart. I have tried desperately to find his bloodline to no avail. I agree with you, Rebecca. He was not given a choice in the matter. Now, over 60 years later, it's too late.

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  6. Ditto to what woodruffdisc-co said!

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  7. Woodruffdisc,

    Do you think it could be because Rebecca started her post off with qualifying that her parents were the best of the best? It's an honest question because it is something that only adoptees are required to state before they are heard by parents. Parents do not qualify their relationship or feelings about their parents to be heard. If I am on the wrong path my apologies.

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  8. I know there are a lot comments going around about an adoptees gratitude to their APs, and it seems that there is a fine line between feeling like you owe everything to your parents, and just plain being appreciative to them. I have been following Rebecca's blog from the beginning, and she talks about this very issue, meaning that she felt the pressure to say certain things to her APs growing up because she thought that is what they wanted to hear (clarify if I didn't explain that right Rebecca), also from what I've read I think she has relieved herself from that pressure. Rebecca keeps it real by talking a lot about an adotptee's need to have have a connection to their past and if at all possible their first family, and all of the pain (and healing) that is involved with that. I always feel empowered by her writings which makes her an effective tool for reaching out to PAPs and APs.

    Jacquie

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  9. Thanks to both of you for your comments. It's true that adoptees can sometimes feel pressure to portray our a-parents in a positive light, but in this case I actually had a very specific reason for doing so: I wanted to emphasize that even when the a-parents are great, it's still not enough. Nuture alone is not sufficient. This is why it is so important to me to support my daughter's relationship with her biological family. There's something that she needs and she can't get it from me, however much I may love her; she can only get it from them.

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  10. I deal with something similar, on my biological father's side. I know that I'm part Swedish, but what does that mean? Does a fondness for Ikea and Swedish Angel Chimes constitute a heritage?

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  11. Rebeca I always love to read your blogs. As I have said many times, I'm not adopted or an adopted parent, though I do have extended family that is. I could not, and will not even try to pretend to understand what you or any other parent or child could possibly feel.

    I have heard others talk about an emptiness that they feel as adopted children that is so profound and I have read beautiful and heartbreaking stores of mothers who gave their children up for adoption never getting to know what became of them and always grieving for them. I also have know friends who's families were finally completed by an adoption. Though I will say after reading your blog for some time now, I will never look at adoption the same way, as a win/win situation. I now know better.

    What I love about your site and writing and what makes me always come back is that I love how you take the whole child into consideration and ask parents to think beyond their own needs. I think that's why I get so much out of your posts just as mom. Thank you!

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  12. Another great post. It validates all the (sometimes stalkerish) detective work I have done and keep doing to learn more about my daughter's first family. She is a "secret" to all of her relatives, very sadly. It was an adult adoptee who gave me the words to encourage her first mom to tell me her father's name, which she did earlier this year. And just 36 hours ago, I found a photo of him online!!!I have been sleuthing all year. I know how absolutley amazing it was for me to see his face (I am still buzzing over it), to see his features reflected in my daughter's face. It is important to ME to know all that is part of my daughter, it has to be important to HER. I can only imagine what it must feel like to not know your hertiage, culture- to know where you got your nose or eyes.

    Off to go stare at that photo for the millionth time...

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  13. Thanks, Trish. I'll never forget the first photo I saw of my birth mother. It was her wedding announcement, which my a-mom had cut out of the paper for me years before. So bizarre and amazing to see my features reflected in another face for the first time ever!
    I'm sorry your daughter is a secret. I am so, so grateful that my b-mom had told others (and most especially my brother) about me before I showed up in her life.

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  14. Thanks, Kathy! Your feedback is so supportive; it's great to hear that my writing has relevance beyond the adoption world.

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  15. I cannot agree with your statement: “when you take a child away from their bio-family". In today's world (especially in DIA) the children placed for adoption are willingly placed. They are not taken from their "first families"; their "first families" willing gave them away. There is a huge difference between kidnapping and willingly placing your child for adoption because you lack the desire/ability to parent and your family does too. Overall, this boils down to the saying “biology doesn’t make you a parent, being a good parent and parenting the child does”

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  16. Thanks for your feedback. I'm sorry it has taken me a while to reply. I've been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for the holidays. I will amend my statement to"when a child is removed from his or her biological family and completely cut off from all connection with and knowledge of that family, the child experiences harm." Even this will probably strike you as a bold statement, but, as an adoptee, I stand by it. It is my truth.

    I'm a little confused by your kidnapping comment because I didn't write anything about kidnapping. Based on various first person accounts that I've read by birth mothers, it does seem to me that many birth mothers today still experience coercion around placement, just as my mother did more than 4 decades ago. Many still place under extreme pressure, from parents, religious organizations, society, adoption agencies, etc. But that's not really my point.

    In this post I am writing from the point of view of an adoptee, about the pain and trauma that many of us experience as a result of being separated from our biological families. I'm not interested in pointing fingers. I just want people to understand that this pain is part of the adoption equation. It really is!

    I agree with your statement that biology doesn't make you a parent. I said the same thing in the post, in fact. But I went on to add that biology matters _from the child's point of view_. It is the adopted child (or in many cases, the adult adoptee) who experiences the absence of biological relatives as a loss.

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  17. As a foster parent of a child whom I plan to adopt I take a different view of "family preservation" than you're advocating here. Certainly, children should have some access to biological family members who are safe and responsible in settings that are safe. However, foster children who have bonded with their foster families should not be ripped from those families and placed in new adoptive homes simply so that they can have more biological family members in the same household.

    Please realize that this trend of promoting family reunification is literally stalling adoptions for YEARS so that half-siblings or step siblings who have never lived in the same home can be placed in entirely NEW homes together. Please realize that when you choose to emphasize heritage and biological ties OVER exiting from fostercare into adoption, you are undermining of the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) and stalling the most common form of American adoption: foster adoption.

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