Saturday, October 21, 2006

The General and the Particular

Manuela's loss and the loss suffered by another family in the ET adoption community have impacted me in ways I could not have anticipated and still cannot quite manage. I'll be doing a fairly normal thing -- folding baby laundry, playing with my daughter's hair, smiling at Miss I in the rearview mirror as I drive -- and be caught off guard by new tears or the sense that it can't possibly be true. I haven't met these families, these women, but I loved their baby girls and I feel their absence. If you pray, please keep them in your prayers.

Much less importantly, I'm not sure I handled this well:

We met a couple today who seemed genuinely interested in international adoption.
They'd been talking about it for awhile.
They really feel that it's right for their family.
They want to help.*

*(If I could add sounds to my blog, you'd hear a record needle scratching across a disc. So just imagine it.)

I tried to ignore (the tone of) the last, but it added a bit to the caution I already feel when asked questions by strangers.

"How long was she at the care center?"
"About three months."

"Why was she relinquished?"*

*Sometimes I say, "I'm sorry, but that's not something we share" (let alone with people we just met at someone else's party, surrounded by others we don't know). "That's her story to tell or not tell as she decides when she's old enough to understand that decision."

Sometimes I answer in generalities, and this was one of those times (I suppose because they really do seem to be considering it).

I said: "Many times, children are relinquished after the death of both parents, the death of mother, absence of the father." But as I said this list of very general possibilities, I became teary.

"What about other family?" she pressed on. "Were they just too poor?" She made the conversation more specific again.

I sighed and answered in generalities again, and added (without lecturing, though I'm sure that's how it reads) that Africans have always -- until now -- cared for children within extended family networks, despite decades of poverty and famine. But now, HIV and AIDS have destroyed those extended families, leaving all children vulnerable (hence the sense in the statement that all African orphans are AIDS orphans, regardless of their parents' HIV status).

Her eyes widened, and the most personal question went unasked. But she did ask this:
"Are the children carefully screened for HIV?"

She looked to her daughter, who was playing with mine.

This is how it went:
"Yes," I said. (I would have wanted to know this as we investigated Ethiopian adoption).
"Oh good," she said, almost casually.

Were we talking in generalities or specifics?

This is how it could have gone from there but didn't:
"Oh good that people who are adopting from Ethiopia know what they are getting into, or oh good because my daughter was playing with yours?"

This is how I wonder if it should have gone:
"Are the children screened for HIV . . ."
"Why do you ask?"

"Why do you ask?" is my fall back, and it's been pretty useful.
I wonder if I should have fallen back on it.
I wanted to answer the question factually, but I didn't want to answer the question behind the question -- even if the answer is "she's negative," and it is, that answer is very, very private.

People I meet socially never ask my HIV status, I suppose because everyone assumes I'm negative (and I am). Doesn't a willingness to answer that question (as I just did) when one is negative contribute to the secrecy, shame, stigmatization when one is positive?

But if I answer questions about her background or health because there's nothing to hide, doesn't that contribute to the belief that if someone keeps something private, it's because she has something to hide? If I don't answer, am I implying something by not answering? If so, that's an implication she has to live with, not me.

So -- When to ask "why do you ask?" and when to answer a question at face value?

I bought my GAP (red) t-shirt -- it was sold out online but is back in stores. While I am more than a little cynical about the suggestion that capitalism contains its own solution to inequity ("Can a t-shirt change the world?"), I hear the numbers are already very promising.

I'm sure I'll edit tomorrow - she's up for the fifth time since bedtime, so I have to run. Again.

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