Monday, March 26, 2007

Once upon a time is upon us

You've probably read this news elsewhere, but Disney's first black princess is finally in the works. (The Lion King's Nala did not count.) I like to think it's because of my Rant of the Week and the complaints we lodged during our Disney trip, but instead it's just about d*mn time. I'm delighted the time is coming, even if it is 2009, but "voodoo spells?"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Don't Ask (don't tell)

Tonight at dinner our server asked, quite abruptly, "Was she adopted?"
"No she was not," little bun answered before dh or I could respond. "She grew in Momma's womb." (he accompanied this with gestures to the appropriate region). I'm not sure what to make of his response, other that that he is exhausted by how different we are to other people, however much she calls him "my brotha" from sun-up to sundown.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Burning Building Test II

On Mia's blog, Rob writes:

Abebech: the burning building test is interesting, but how does one make that determination? Should it really be the PAPs duty to assist the natural family with their decision? Talk about a conflict of interest!

I don't see it as a conflict of interests, but as a painful conflict of desires: to parent a child (soon) after perhaps years of waiting and hoping, and to be sure that we are becoming parents in the most ethical way possible.
If a prospective adoptive parent is to be involved before the termination of parental rights, then I do believe that she takes on a responsibility to ask questions --"Has anyone helped you try to make a parenting plan first?" -- and tell truths -- "The pain of your loss may never go away" and "You might be able to parent." Setting the expectant mother aside, I would have owed it to my child to have treated her mother with whatever kindness, honesty and integrity I am able to bring to my relationship with my child. But I cannot set the expectant mother aside.

In my view, PAPs (especially infertile couples) should have nothing to do with a natural family’s decision.

On this we may agree. Maybe paparents should only become a consideration (profiles, dvds, meetings) after the decision to place is firmly made. In most cases, I do not believe that the decision can be firmly made until (well) after delivery. One option, then, is for paparents to have no contact with expectant mothers until then. I am not convinced that the advantages of a relationship established during pregnancy outweigh the general costs of a system that encourages "matching" and adds the emotional pressure of the knowledge that a mother might disappoint a pafamily.

But come to think of it, here, I think I understand the entitlement issue better…

This is one of the best possible outcomes of the discussion at Mia's.

When we met with a mother who selected us, my only intention was to get to know her and to show her that we were going to be amazing parents to her child. I never thought about the “burning building.” She never made me feel that I needed to.

Perhaps it wasn't relevant in your case -- I don't know the circumstances.
But let's talk about a hypothetical match for, say, me. I imagine that a woman would see paparents as the unlikeliest sources of encouragement to parent, and so would not seek that. She hasn't heard it yet (probably) from her counselor, sw'er, family -- why should she expect it from me, a woman who waited for years for the chance to parent another child? But does that mean that I shouldn't offer it? I do know aparents who at the very least asked, "Are you sure?" despite their very real fears that she might say "No, I'm not," and that their hopes would be dashed again. Those who haven't gone through the adoption process may not recognize that question as an act of emotional bravery, but I do.
But we can't not do it just because it's hard, or because she hasn't asked us to: Can the obligation to remind me to behave in an ethical manner toward a person fall to that person?

The first real problem with the "burning building" approach is that it is an IMAGINARY one, invented to help us set our limits. I doubt that we can objectively determine what constitutes a burning building in advance. I can say subjectively that single parenting in an economically fragile circumstance doesn't really cut it for me -- I know lots of wonderful people who have done it -- but if there are additional factors, a woman might decide that from her subjective position it does. Better for me to be more conservative about what it might take to place than risk pressuring a woman into relinquishing a child she could have parented.

The second is that it risks paternalism. My planning to sit down and say "Parent! You really should, you know," was very m/paternalistic and perhaps even a bit condescending, as if I in my ten years greater wisdom knew in my heart of hearts something she did not. But better risk that offense, don't you think, than the offense of omission?

Back to the issue, how many potential adoptions did you refuse based upon this test before you found the woman in the burning building?

I'm not sure why the number is the issue. Quite frankly, we didn't give it that long.
We started out by telling our sw'er that we were only interested in post-birth scenarios, in emergency placements. However, we were contacted about a few situations by our agency and another. In one case we told our sw'er that if we were to meet the woman we would have said "Parent! You can do this!" Perhaps someone told her her building wasn't burning, or perhaps they helped her put the fire out, or perhaps she found reserves she didn't know she had. In another case we declined to meet; she chose to place. In another, the building was (quite objectively) burning, and I hope someone has helped her put it out. She chose to parent, and I think about that momma and little boy often.

Over time, we realized we didn't want to find a woman in a burning building. We adopted the most beautiful toddler girl in the world nine months ago, and are confronted often enough with ethical questions about international adoption (including waiting children):

Doesn't that just encourage the problems to continue/feed into the system?
Isn't it cultural genocide? The new imperialism?
Isn't it an abuse of power/a demonstration of (white) western privilege?
Didn't you take her away from her country, her culture, her family for your own gain?
Do you think you're a rock star?
(H*ll, yeah, to the last)

Don't worry. Here at newflower, we know we're not immune from critique. And we know it stings like anything. But we're trying to make some good use of it.

The Burning Building Test

I mentioned the "burning building test" on Mia's blog.
Here's another time I wrote about it, far too simplistically as I read it now.
Rob asked good questions about its application, and about whether prospective adoptive parents have a moral obligation to discourage women from placing their children for adoption.
I'll respond more completely later, but for now, I'll say yes. Yes we really do.
But I'd like to hear what first mothers and adoptees think.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Miss I has mastered polite conversation. "Hellooo," she says, drawing out the o's. "How are you?" She waits to be asked "How are you?" in return, so she can say "Oh, I fine." But it sounds like "tine."

How am I?
I've been hobbled. I've been sick for a few months, as I've said before, but I've been recovering. Then I stupidly took a fall and I'm hobbled again. Not badly incapacitated, just a bit unsteady and a lot sore. And I'm closer to buying a new house this week. I have two major deadlines coming up (they are actually just past, if we take MidMarch literally). And I'm a wreck. But that's nothing in comparison . . .

I've sent you over to Mia, as I often do, because she's positively brilliant and I am sure that you will love her as much as I do (even when what she has to say is hard).

Something has happened and it isn't quite fair. Mia, bless her, was willing to continue what has been the hardest conversation about adoption reform in a long time. Hard because it was impossible from the outset because on some level aparents want to accept adoption and its associated losses as a necessary evil and because in general it might not be. Difficult, too, because the burden of sharing that basic truth has fallen to adoptees and first mothers. Again.

I started a list of non-radical things I'd like to see, as an aparent, and something more radical and far less possible -- finding a process that rehumanizes us all. But then I read Nicole's most recent post, in which she posts links to her writing on the possibility of and specific steps toward reform. So I'm reading hers first. I hope you read them, too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I'm not sure if it's such a good thing to know how people are googling me. Because it can be scary. Bt those who found us for the right reasons, welcome! I hope you hang around.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Second Choices and Best Chances

I held onto this too long, saving it in draft until it wasn't really worth saving. I waited 'til the moment passed. Still, it clarifies some of what I was thinking, and it points you to a really great blog (you can just skip to the link if you like) . . .

When I went into preterm labor at 23 weeks, people actually told me that “it’s God’s will” and that “God’s will will be done.” Supposedly these things were meant to be reassuring, but they were horrifying. Why on earth or in heaven would Anyone will preterm labor/preterm birth? Wasn’t it, rather, a condition of a broken world that some wombs are broken? (I’ve written about this before).

But if I'm completely honest I do like the idea that it's "meant to be" when it’s convenient. Had I been perfectly healthy I wouldn’t have planned a pregnancy while dh and I were in school. But because I wasn’t, I did -- and I cannot imagine my life without my son. In that sense, then, it feels “meant to be,” even as I am aware that I choose to believe that it was meant to be in order to protect myself (however unsuccessfully) from the painful realization that it might have been otherwise.

Adoption makes us (re)consider the already problematic use of the phrase “meant to be.” Why was it meant to be that my daughter would tragically lose her first mother? Why is it meant to be that African women die at an unimaginable rate from preventable infectious diseases, during childbirth, from AIDS? How could she have possibly been “meant to” lose her mother in order for me to parent her?

That she suffered so much loss, that Africa suffered so much loss, is a product of the sin built in the system, not by preordination. But that once she incurred those losses she came to be mine? If I accept that THIS was “meant to be” then it covers over all the anxious “what ifs?!” like what if my social worker had turned her paperwork in on time? What if it had been later? What if we had chosen a different agency? or What if her family had chosen a different care center?

But why is it meant to be for a young woman to be discouraged from parenting her child alone? Why is a young woman meant to give birth to a child she can’t (or thinks she can’t) parent? How could she possibly have been “meant to” lose her child? Yet once it’s happened, it’s no wonder why adoptive parents would choose to assert that their child’s placement in their family was “meant to be” – it makes it liveable, and it prevents us from imagining the unimaginable -- that it could have been another way, that we could have lived our lives without this child that seems so necessary for the family to live and breathe. But it also makes a place for the child; it makes shape out of the chaos.

Once an adult, their child (my child) will rightly realize the flaws in this assertion, the emptiness of its promise that everything that happens to her will be okay, that every occurrence is providential rather than accidental . . .

I’ve been prompted to write recently about my ranking as the fifth best parenting option for my child (in theory) in response to posts by Sster and Thirdmom, but in those postings I’ve tried to make it clear that my daughter was never and would never be second choice. I’ve done so because all along I’ve wondered if she’d feel this way, on some level (particularly if I can accept that I wasn't the first choice for her).

Paula O., brilliant adoptee and adoptive mom and beautiful soul, says this is so, and you must read this post.

One defense against my daughter's potential hypothetical assertion that she was “second best,” is that I did have another viable option. I could have had another high risk pregnancy. Would having a healthy pregnancy have been my first choice? I honestly don't know. It just wasn't a live option. Adoption was our first choice for our second child.

There are several problems with this defense. The first is that it does nothing to change how a child will perceive things, how that child-perception will remain in the adult as an unnamed insecurity.

What if a parent had preferred adoption, if a bio child or an attemt at a bio child had not preceeded the adoption? Would this help? Saying "Adoption was our first choice” (as I wrote below, I read this frequently now in adoption postings, and I'm not sure if it is a disclaimer, as in "I can't speak to infertility and adoption," or if it is the parents' belief that their child will experience adoption differently as a result) puts a child in a lonely place and in the position of having to accept the parents’ ethic that led them first to adoption as best in order to legitimate their choice (whether this is a progressive politic or an evangelical Christian ethic) or having to allow it to ring hollow. It also functions as an unintended criticism of parents who adopted after infertility, some of whom are the most introspective, articulate and authoritative adoptive parents for reform.

But the other problem is more confounding and far more important:

No matter what I do, or what we assert, it may well be that my daughter will feel (someday, sometimes, but I hope not most days or most times) that she was second choice for our family. (She has the good fortune of having enough information to know definitively that her first parents had no choice -- if only all adoptees had so much information). But perhaps she’ll return, consciously or unconsciously, to that moment when we went for a consultation about a pregnancy, or to the fact that we did have a biological child first.

Maybe I’m hoping that by focusing on adoption’s wrongs, by laying its weaknesses bare, I’ll be saving her some of that effort, and some of that pain. Maybe I'm hoping it'll just help me support her effort.

For being the family we’ve always wanted to be, adoption was our best chance. And for having the family she needs, it was hers, too.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bedtime Brawl

Miss I will not go to sleep. For three hours she's tried everything she can think of to stay awake, including comedy, violence, and comic violence.
We're trying to teach her to "use her words," to say "I'm angry," or "I'm sad," rather than tantruming. This effort has met with some success, so when I felt like tantrumming I used my words, and said "Miss I., I am angry and I am tired and I am sad."
She paused before responding.
"High Five!" she yelled cheerfully, her hand held in the air.
I didn't reciprocate, so she high-fived my forehead.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Me: Miss I., how did you get so smart?
Miss I.: Elmo.

Ranking, for file (or In a Perfect World?)

I commented on ThirdMom 's "Unranked" that I'd post my response here:

I thought that I posted in a more complete way about the notion of transracial/transcultural adoption as fifth-best already, but a search of my archives proves otherwise -- there's only the briefest reference in reaction to Madonna's adoption of David from Malawi (To be honest I'd almost forgotten about Madonna, until someone asked for the first time if my daughter was from "Madonna's son's country" rather than "Angelina's daughter's").

The idea isn't my own. I tried googling the original author, but I haven't been able to find her. Someone might know of her, or might find her with the following information: she's a therapist who tours (toured) with a show geared toward helping transracial/transcultural adoptees access feelings about difference at their young age. She's also an adoptive mom.

I read of her notion that transracial/transcultural adoptions were the fifth best option for children in the abstract when we had just begun our process of transracial (but not yet international) adoption. To be honest, I was offended, and I was defensive. We'd read the books! We lived in a diverse neighborhood! We knew other multiracial families (via adoption). We were academics! And already excellent parents! Surely we weren't the fifth best option. And adoption creates beautiful, and beautifully diverse, families. How could that even be second best?

When I was less defensive, and really ready to hear what she meant, I was also ready to understand what might matter to my child -- that each of these moves among the "ranks" indicates a profound loss, that each loss should be imagined as preventable when we make personal and national decisions regarding adoption ethics and reform. (The Hague attempts to address some of this, though the success of this -- and not merely increased delays in attachment -- will take time and smarter people than me to examine).

I can say definitively that my daughter isn't second-best to me. That we are a multiracial family isn't second choice to me in anyway.* But the key here is that I had a choice, and she didn't, her first parents didn't, Ethiopia didn't. So someday if she feels that in the abstract transracial/transcultural adoption is not preferable to other choices, I'll get it. I hope that she's equipped through her childhood to feel that our family is at least as good as traditional families -- but that's less a matter of argument than it is parenting.

The theoretical "rank" list, then, is as follows:

1st Natural families
2nd Kinship care
3rd Same race, same country adoption
4th Different race, same country adoption
5th Different race, different country

I can say to her that I can see why, but that I still think in the specificity of each family, we see first-rank beauty and profound joy. (But I won't go so far as to say that that's all that matters, because it isn't).

This points to another matter for debate:
Are conventional families/genetic families/natural families in the scheme above, really natural or are they naturalized? Particularly in late capitalism and beyond (is there a beyond?) it is so necessary for us to ask ourselves these questions about all relations -- natural or naturalized associations? The Stevens article Shannon and Sster write of wants, at base, for us to question our assumption that families of genetic tie are "natural" and not elective (hence naturalized).

As a critique of culture, I can see the value(s): A defense of the nontraditional family on the grounds that the biological nuclear family is no more natural and an argument that no protections be granted the second that are not granted the first. Better to my mind (but then why not cut to this chase?), she argues that with national health care (among other things), we wouldn't need those further protections (or to deny those protections -- I think one of the principle reasons states are denying same sex partnership full legal status is because it would cost money, and that in fact if it would be tenable, the government would roll back benefits extended to married heterosexual couples as they don't fit current economic circumstances).

But these arguments do not need to be made through a denial of "genetic privilege" (which I find increasingly less privileged given the multiplicity of family forms and the decline of the two heterosexual parent + bio children in the same household form). I do believe what science tells us about genetics and temperament (while also acknowledging that yes, mathematically, there is very little distinguishing any of us encoded in our dna). I believe, more importantly, that it isn't a cultural misunderstanding or a mistaken belief in a biological "origin" that leads adoptees to search for some of their histories in their natural parents: in the tilt of their heads, or the way they fold their hands, in their eyes, or their very beautiful, black, full eyelashes.

To me those connections are natural, not naturalized, and an argument to de-naturalize seems to come from a place of insecurity. In order for us to be a real family, we do not have to deny the "natural" in natural family. To me, as much as this does not serve my personal interests, in a more "perfect world" (which we also must recognize as theoretical) these relations would be less- rather than more elective. At the same time, as I have said, I do believe that love is a choice, that we choose to love, and that we renew this choice everyday. That it is by choice doesn't make it any less real. Knowing that it is by choice gives us more freedom and power and wonderfully paradoxically makes it permanent, and perfects it.

*Lately I've been reading posts and board messages that imply that differences in perceptions of adoption, the adoption process (including financing), and willingness to consider alternatives relate to fertility, as in, "Well, this doesn't speak for me, as adoption was our first choice . . ." and while sometimes it clarifies the author's writing-position, I'm really uncomfortable with the implications for our conversations and for adoptees, burdened alternately by their families "choosing" them and parents' infertility or worse, burdened simultaneously by them. How on earth do we begin to address that?

House and Home/New Chapters

With all the changes we've been through this year, I'm hesitant to change anything else, yet if we don't move (neighborhoods, not cities), we'll be paying tuition to send our son to a different public school (we knew this day would come, but four years ago it just seemed so, well, four years away). Quick calculation tells us that it would be wiser to put that money into a house, and rent this one. So I started house hunting, and I fell in love with a disaster, but I keep waffling.
Little bun, who had insisted that he never wanted to leave this house (why would he? He has the biggest room!) and has never done well with change, has this to say: "You know when you're reading a chapter book, and you finish a chapter and can't wait to start the next? It's like that."
So we may or may not be starting a new chapter.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Potty Party

There's nothing worse than spending two and a half hours at the pediatrician's office trying to obtain a urine sample from a two year old without catheterizing, running with her into their bathroom everytime she says "Po-po!" (all 13 times) only to have her refuse at the last second and hold it in. (Every child will eventually go, they tell me. You don't know this child I tell them).

Nothing worse except sending her home with Daddy and a collection cup and saying "Good luck!" only to learn that all dh had to do was tell her to go (as if I hadn't thought of this).

(The potty overflowed because she'd held it for more than three hours -- I told them they didn't know that child).