Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Adoption and Second Chances (repeat)

Don't you hate summer reruns?

Recent visitors have been looking for these posts, so I've copied them here for ease. I should put the frequently searched posts in the sidebar, but I'm not as good at that as the rest of you smarties:

March, 2007:

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.

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).


Michelle said...

As an adoptee I can't say that I felt second choice for "my family"....rather, it was just a feeling of being given away and not someone's first choice.
It really had nothing to do with the a-family I was with, just a deep, deep feeling of not being good enough for anyone. adopters never made me feel less than anyone was a feeling that hovered over simply grew inside of me the longer I was separated from my mother, father and people - it has effected, in one way or another, all my life decisions.

abebech said...

Thanks so much for your very important response. You're absolutley right, Michelle, to point out that some of/much of this pain has nothing to do with me/us as adoptive parents (something difficult to accept because that means we can't do anything about it, something recent discussions have really brought to the foreground). We can't prevent it, but as aparents we sure have the power to make it worse (particularly by negating it).
My daughter is fortunate to have information that it could not have been another way, so I imagine that she might think about her relinquishment differently, but I think from reading so many adoptee experiences that it might not impact how she _feels_ about her relinquishment and consequently, about herself.

One of the hardest things as an aparent is to wish with all your heart that being the light of your life would be enough, and knowing that it can't be. I think that's where the problematic "chosen child" thing comes from -- desperately wanting to fill a hole that can't be filled.

Michelle said...

You know, it wasn't until I finally heard my mother's voice and listened to her telling me herself what had happened, that I was finally able to let go of some of the negative feelings (I was 34), because I realized it was my mother who had been abandoned by society, she didn't "give me away." No matter how much people told me my mother loved me and gave me a chnace at this that or the didn't was third-hand information with no faces or voices to back it up. Do you see what I mean?

Up to that point my mother was a fantasy, a ghost who I dreamed about - was anngry with, was hating and loving at the same time. But it was all in my imagination....and no one could have prevented this because I simply had no contact with my mother, father or life before adoption. It's was like I had been tossed into outer space blindfolded....and I had to somehow find my way back find the truth and see the life I was taken from...