This post is probably going to get me in trouble, but I'm going to write it anyway. I'll start with a quote from a recent BlogHer post:
I've learned that "I can't have kids" comes with its own set of questions ("What happened?" "Have you considered adopting?").... — Julie Ross Godar, Yes, Childfree Is Normal: Why I Moved From "Can't" to "Won't" TodayThere it is, that question: "Have you considered adopting?" How quickly it rolls off the tongue. How little, I suspect, are its full implications understood by many of those who ask it.
Can you imagine living in a culture in which it was not the norm to automatically leap to a parenting-at-all-costs strategy, perhaps even a culture in which infertility was interpreted as a call to do something meaningful with one's life other than parenting?
No? Me either. We're pretty far from that place. Even the very notion of "living childfree" is a difficult one for some to embrace.
Though the United States is making progress in terms of seeing women as more than just the sum of their reproductive parts, the stigma surrounding childlessness is still alive and well. Women who don't have children are still largely viewed as an anomaly at best and at worst, sad and selfish. — Jessica Valenti, Smart Women Not Having Kids, or Getting Support
Childless women are accused of being self-centered, afraid of commitment, and more interested in pursuing a career and having fun than the responsibilities of child-rearing. — Amanda Marcotte, Why Parents Need Childless People Like MeI do understand that deliberately choosing a childfree lifestyle is very different from wanting children and being unable to have them. I understand that many who have suffered infertility and miscarriages have experienced real pain. I don't mean to diminish that. Loss is loss.
But we need to stop responding to that loss with the question, "Have you considered adopting?"
Why? Because there simply aren't enough babies who are truly in need of adoptive parents. And the supply and demand imbalance, in a context that involves for-profit adoption agencies, results in pressure on expectant mothers to relinquish. As someone who has struggled with post-adoption issues myself, and who has witnessed those struggles in others, I cannot view adoption as a benign solution to infertility. One family is created, but another is torn apart.
I'm not necessarily saying there should be no adoptions (though some would, and their reasoning is worth consideration), but I do believe we should at least be working toward fewer adoptions. And that simply isn't going to happen until there are fewer prospective adopters. As things currently stand, demand is driving the infant adoption industry. Too many people are interpreting infertility as a call to adopt rather than as a call to engage in some other kind of meaningful life work. For some, that call may be valid. I have my own opinions about who should or should not answer it. I have met adoptive parents, online and in person, who seem ideally suited to support an adopted child through the various challenges he or she will face. I often find myself thinking, "Wow, if adoption has to occur, I'm glad there are people like this who are doing the adopting."
Some of you are my regular readers. If you are an adoptive or prospective adoptive parent who has found your way to this blog, chances are you are someone who supports real openness and an end to secrecy and closed record. You may be working for adoption reform within the system. You may be someone who went out of your way to seek out an ethical agency or who stands besides adoptees at adoptee rights demonstrations. You understand the complexity of the adoptee experience and you are always educating yourself, seeking the best tools to support your adopted child. I don't want to minimize the importance of what you are doing; it matters.
But I also can't ignore the imbalance. Too many adopters. Too few babies. Something has to give.
I acknowledge that a need truly does exist for people who are willing to adopt older children from foster care, and this month, National Adoption Awareness Month, is a time to raise awareness of that need. As I have mentioned in the past, I would like to see our society devote more resources to strengthening vulnerable families in an effort to keep kids out of care in the first place, but there are kids in care now who would benefit from adoption permanency. I'm not certain that adoption from foster care is what first springs to mind when a person dealing with infertility hears the adoption question, but some may end up there eventually. If so, good for them. What kids in foster care really need, however, are caregivers with an understanding of trauma and a willingness to stick with them through the rough patches as they move toward healing. That caregiver's reproductive history is not the most relevant factor.
I was pleased recently to read the following by Jenn, an adult adoptee blogger who is engaged to be married:
Rudy and I have decided that if we are not able to have children of our own, we would not feel comfortable adopting.... We’ve both decided that if we can’t have kids, we’re going to be the fun married couple that spoils everyone else’s children and then go home at the end of the night and do things that we couldn’t do if we had children. — Insert Bad Movie Title HereI realize that considering infertility as an abstract future possibility is different from confronting it head on after trying and failing to have a child. But I also really appreciate that Jenn and Rudy have had this discussion before marriage, and I found myself wishing more couples would follow their lead in terms of opening up the discussion early on. If Jenn and Rudy do end up without children, chances are they'll be pretty happy:
Robin Simon, a sociology professor at Florida State University and researcher on parenting and happiness, told The Daily Beast in 2008 that parents "experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers. In fact, no group of parents--married, single, step or even empty nest--reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children," she said. "It's such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they're not." — Jessica Valenti, Smart Women Not Having Kids, or Getting SupportIs it time to question some of our cultural beliefs and to curtail our knee-jerk response to childlessness? I think so.
Note: I thank all who have read and commented on this post. Though I have closed the comment section below, I invite you to leave a comment, should you so desire, at the follow-up post: Clarifications and Additional Thoughts.
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