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.


erin said...

well put. I need to read again to say anything more developed, but I especially liked your last paragraph.


Mia said...

This was really good. Very thought provoking.

You know honestly I don't think there IS a way out of the conundrum of being second choice. I think by it's very nature adoption is a second choice for EVERYONE. Maybe the healing comes from admitting the flaw, acknowledging it's presence in the room instead of pretending the elephant doesn't exist? I think the damage comes from people pretending things are not as they really are and trying to make them something they are not. I think adoptees are acutely aware of that whether spoken or simply observed.

I certainly think that choice (first, second or fifth) has very little to do with what sort of parent one is. At the end of the day your child NEEDED a loving home, a loving mother....and you provided that for her. That is the essence of what adoption is supposed to be. The rest can be sorted through as long as everyone is free to be honest about their feelings.
What a great post!!!!!

Nicole said...


What an amazing, insightful, profound post. I feel humbled after reading it. Thank you for posting it.

I found you through Mia's blog and linked to you. Hope that is okay. If not, I can remove you, but I hope it's all right, because people NEED to hear what you're saying.

abebech said...

Absolutely you can link, Nicole (though everytime someone does I find _that_ humbling!) Thanks for coming by.