Saturday, March 03, 2007

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?


Beags said...

Hi, just found your blog through Third Mom. It's always nice to find fellow overthinkers.

>> 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... 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. <<

I've been uncomfortable with the use of the adjective "birth" in referring to natural family members, but have been unable to articulate why. But you've nailed it for me - in order for natural parents and adoptive parents to discuss adoption productively, each side needs to feel recognized. Each side needs to feel that they are on the same level in familial hierarchies. As an adoptive parent I like my family's authenticity being defined by the *active choice* of love everyday. It helps me focus on what I did and still do to create my family. Reducing the role of the natural parents to just the birth doesn't make my family any more legitimate. It only serves to suppress discussion between natural and adoptive parents. And the children are just caught in the middle, between "Even though you didn't raise me, you're still my parents" and "Even though you didn't give birth to me, you're still my parents".

abebech said...

Thanks, Beags. I think your comment states it more clearly than my post. So glad you came by!

Beags said...

Oh, I meant to add that your description of the author of the original ranking sounds like Jane Brown.

I haven't been to one of her playshops then but I've heard wonderful things about them.

Nicole said...

Oh my goodness, the more I read of your blog, the more I love it.

You NAILED it. This is an amazing piece of writing. "Denaturalizing..." yes, that's exactly what those arguments attempt to do--to something that IS natural. And yes, the arguments that genetic ties are naturalized, not natural, definitely seem to come from a place of insecurity--from a defensive stance.

You articulated this so, so well. Thank you.

abebech said...

I've recently received traffic on this post from owlhaven's ethiopia adoption blog, and I welcome new readers. But I think this misrepresents the above post a bit --
"In it she shares the idea that international transracial adoption is the 5th best option for children" -- in that my whole goal in the post is to indicate that each level indicates, perhaps polemically or even hyperbolically by virtue of being in rank form, a profound loss a child's parents must comprehend. Indeed, my point is not that my family is the fifth best option, nor do I suggest that those earlier options were even available to her (and I believe if they were, it would not have been an ethical adoption).

I agree very much with the posters who suggest that same race different country is a lack of "the list" as articulated here. My dh, after reading this post when it was written, said "where's same race, different country," because we had very much discussed it, and African Americans adopting Ethiopian children are a very important part of our community, often overlooked by white parents adopting Ethiopian children. Thanks for calling that to our attention again. The debated accuracy of a notion of "race" are, imo, irrelevant, as race as a social category will determine others' responses to our children and our family composition.

I would have commented on the source blog, but see that I would need to be registered to do so, and figure if you are interested, you shall read my response here!