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.


Overwhelmed! said...

Well, I've been a bit out of the loop with blog reading lately and it seems as though I've missed an important post at Mia's. I'll have to check it out.

For Snuggle Bug's adoption, we met his first parents 5 months before he was born. There were times I asked her, "Are you sure?" and said, "We know you'll have to make this decision all over again after he's born. We'll respect your decision either way."

This is such a tough issue to tackle. No matter how it plays out, you can't help but wonder if you influenced their decision.

We're leaning towards adopting through the state this second time around. I like the idea that the State's first goal is to reunite the child with their biological family and that they try to give the parents tools to become better parents. And if it's determined that this won't work, then we can adopt.

Sorry, just processing out loud here.

Thanks for making me think!

reedster said...

My wife and I were in an interesting scenario when we met the first mother who chose us to parent her child.

Her mother was there with her. And, her mother appeared to be the quiet type who was supportive of whatever decision her daughter made, but -- in hindsight -- I think her mother was hoping that her daughter would keep her baby.

I hear you with your points. BUT, I still think that it is best in the agency's hands.

Really, in this meeting, I was fumbling for words... I was fumbling to try and find the right things to say. In the end, it was all about just getting to know each other... and, surprisingly to me, really enjoying each other.

The BUSINESS of adoption and really the adoption itself became sideline to the idea of us getting to know her on a personal level so that we could provide these details to our potential, future child.

I think getting into the "are you sure?" defeats the substantial purpose of the meeting.

The agency, in fact, did their job. Before the meeting we were told that the mother was having hesitations, so we didn't even think to follow up.

I felt -- and still do -- that a mother's decision to relinquish should always be her own, and that a PAP's place is not to get into the why and what UNLESS there is an appearance that the mother is having reservations or is incredibly uncomfortable (i.e., it looks like she completely does not want to be there).


" 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."

That, it most definitely is... and, yes, my cowardice might be an unconscious reason that I didn't ask that question. I don't know.

"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!' "

Man, that is incredibly noble. If I am honest, I don't think that *I* (and most PAPs, for that matter) have that in them. I *MIGHT* have been capable to do something like this after, say, a dozen personal meetings with mothers considering.

But, with one or two? There was so much going in my head about the impending conversation that I just took for granted that since this particular mother CHOSE us (and, therefore, presumably, the meeting only occurred BECAUSE of the mother's decision), then our "cheerleading" for her to parent was inappropriate.

In the end, this mother decided to keep her baby... and that was a real emotional roller coaster ride for my wife and me, I can tell you.


And, I totally empathize with the rockstar thing. I'm still holding out hope against hope that my rock stardom is only days away. ;)

abebech said...

OW, I knew you were one of the paparents who asked. I was worried that I had offended you and lots of other great aparents.

Reedster, I'm not noble, and believe me, we wanted a child as much as anyone does. Not every thought I had was generous.

It does sound like your agency did their job in that case, or that she had the fortitude to make her own decision anyway. I know that our agency had on many occassions encouraged women to think about parenting first (why we were more comfortable with them). But this was a case where I would have really wanted to make sure that they had.

The fact is, though, that there are paparents who _know_ that the expectant mother (or mother who just delivered her child) was hesitating and they saw the agency's job as making her stick with the plan. I read one such blog, and I wish them well in parenting, but am not at all comfortable with the way they saw each person's role as making sure she did what she said she would, rather than making sure placement was her ONLY option.

We didn't want to meet with a woman who was showing hesitation. This was one part ethical, one part self-preservation.

"and that a PAP's place is not to get into the why and what UNLESS there is an appearance that the mother is having reservations or is incredibly uncomfortable"

True. It may not be my business why a woman was choosing to place. But I think I should probably assume she is uncomfortable and having reservations unless there is evidence to the contrary, or unless the circumstances are _clearly_ overwhelming/insurmountable.

Of course these conversations would be uncomfortable and everyone would be fumbling for the right thing to say. But is it the right thing to say in order to make it less uncomfortable, the right thing to say to make her committed to choosing you, or the right thing to say . . . these are different things. I certainly wouldn't have said "You can parent" in a tone that indicated "What's the MATTER with you that you think you can't parent?!" but hopefully one that would have indicated that I KNOW that it would be a lifechanging decision for her and for her child, and that she could make the other choice, to parent.

And as I said, I'd be likely to get rid of those meetings entirely. If you are meeting, it's at least a bit open, and if you are to share a child, you have the rest of your lives to open up and get to know one another (if she is so willing).

It's difficult to behave ethically when we are so highly invested. This is why we need to decide in advance what we would do, and stick to our plans.

Nicole said...

I hear you with your points. BUT, I still think that it is best in the agency's hands.


Noooooooooo. Not the way many agencies operate today, no, it's NOT best left to their hands.

You, the potential aparent, might fumble and struggle for words... but at least you would be ATTEMPTING TO SAY THEM. The agencies? Many of them not only don't say the words, they actively seek to obliterate them, because they WANT women to place.

If you have a perfectly ethical agency with good, competent, qualified staff helping the expectant mother (read: masters' or doctorate level counselors; real attempts to put together parenting plans; dissemination of parenting resources) then yeah, leave it to the agency. But most agencies aren't that good. Most agencies aren't really trying to help expectant women.

So unless you're willing to accept that you might be adopting the infant of a woman who was never fully informed, you MUST take the responsibility on yourself, to find out if she's informed.

Perspective from a first mom...

just me said...

I have encouraged moms that we were matched with to parent. Then our daugthers mom came along and she was not able to parent. we discussed it a LOT.

I think we will adopt domestically again and I think we may be the only line of defense for some women who are being pressured by society to place when they are perfectly able to parent. HOPEFULLY we will have some failed matches because we are making parenting an option to women who can make it work.

mia said...

It is really late but I saw this post and wanted to thank you for the reply to Rob. I am very glad it's in capable hands!!! I will come back when I can see better and read through everything. My eyes are starting to blurrrrrr. xoxo