I can think of few fields that mine so many aspects of our culture and beliefs, and, respectively and accordingly evoke so many visceral emotions as adoption. To varying extents for each individual involved, no matter from what angle he or she may be involved — parent of any variety, adoptee, extended family members, friends, and so forth — this is a medical issue, a social issue, a financial issue, a religious issue, a trust issue, a legal issue, and about a dozen other stripes. It might very well be the most intense experience — if by ‘experience,’ we mean a lifelong, ongoing incident for most — in the lives of the parents who bring a child into the world and then trust virtual strangers to love and raise that child, the parents who are chosen to do so, and the child to whom all of this happens, long before they have a literal and figurative voice with which to speak their piece.
I don’t have all the answers. I’ve never claimed to have all the answers. I can speak from my experiences and those in which I’ve had personal involvement. And as a general practice, I try not to judge the actions of others, particularly when they are in the throes and coping with the impacts of an experience as intensely beautiful and/or terrifying as adoption.
But in such throes, folks lose their damn minds, to speak the South Side English of my upbringing. And when we additionally factor in the social implications of internet discourse — in which anonymity breeds artificial testicular fortitude and a flawed sense of self-importance, followed by the moral flexibility of a keyboard contortionist — and we run across some absolute insanity. Not afraid to call a duck a duck on this one.
So in this first installment of a two-parter, I want to fire off some of the adoptive parent insanity I’ve come across in the course of two domestic adoptions. They’re just snippets, but they indicate the extremes to which some couples will go/run/sink in their quest to build a family, in the process ironically losing sight of the strength of character they have invariably promised to a young woman considering placing a child with them. You’re not a jerk just for thinking of any of these. Our minds go to crazy places during intense experiences. But I’m not shy about saying that you’re probably a jerk if you’ve DONE any of these things. If you need explanation as to why, I’d be happy to extrapolate.
- Meticulously making medical stipulations and specifications, in a misguided attempt to essentially catalog order a perfect (white) baby. We were fairly uncomfortable with the profile questionnaire to adopt, in which we were asked to specify which medical conditions, for example, we ‘would accept’ in our baby’s birthparents and extended family. Raise your hand if you have cancer anywhere in your extended family. Okay, put your hands down. How about heart disease? Asthma? Allergies? Hm. Who in their right minds would look at these near-universal family medical situations and seize a sense of omnipotence, in the form of pseudo-eugenic box-checking? Unreal. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll come clean: we weren’t comfortable with a baby born to HIV+ parents. We couldn’t fathom having to say goodbye so soon. But beyond that, we reasoned that virtually all of the conditions listed were feasible for a child born to us biologically, so we’d be jackasses if we tried to edit it out of an adoption situation.
- Haggling and bargain-shopping for an adoption agency. I realize as much or more than anyone that financing an adoption is a logistical reality, and many couples struggle to figure out how they will pay for the path to adopting they have chosen. But flipping that script, so to speak — choosing a path to adoption based on what it costs — is pretty horrifying. If you feel in your heart and your guts that you want to adopt from foster care, DO SO. There are children who need and absolutely deserve loving families. But to say, ‘Private adoption is too expensive; we’re just gonna adopt from foster care,’ is to brush under the rug the unique foreground needs of children coming through foster care. And that’s just one example. I’ve listened as couples narrate their reasoning for one international adoption over another based on price. ‘Price’ is an ugly word just to TYPE in this context. Maybe this is shameful, and maybe it’s not, but neither my husband nor I could tell you what we paid in total for each of our sons’ adoption processes. And we’re not rich. We’re a teacher and a firefighter. But we chose how we were comfortable adopting, set a vague budget according to what we had and what we could reasonably borrow, and effectively lost track from there.
- Breaking open adoption agreements. Shame on the states who have not yet made adoption agreements legally enforceable. But even more shame on the people who capitalize on this. What possible justification could adoptive parents have for refusing to send pictures and a quick letter or email, to update a birthmother on the life you promised to give her child? How on earth could you sleep at night if you promised a woman you would treat her with respect and honor her in your family, and then promptly relocate or change contact information? Cutting off a birthmother without documented justification for the safety of the child — and these cases are few compared to cases of adoptive parents just fading out — is absolutely unconscionable.
- Being anyone but who you actually ARE in your family profile. I have an entry on this from way-back-when, but to recap, it’s another how-can-you-sleep-at-night issue. False advertising, to essentially mislead someone into choosing you as the people she thinks would be best to raise her child? Do you suck that badly in real life? We bit the bullet and put ourselves out there — tattoos, modest home, lack of overt love for Jesus, and so forth — trusting that someone would see us for who we really are and know that we’re right for her baby. To do otherwise is lying, for starters and to say the least.
- Borrowing or renting a car and/or switching license plates when driving to meet an expectant/potential birthmother. F’real, Jason Bourne? She’s gonna track you back to your Volvo sometime down the line?
- Using only cash to pay for lunch at the aforementioned meeting. There’s nothing wrong with paying in cash — waitresses definitely fare better when you tip in cash — unless you’re doing so to prevent the birthmother from seeing your name and/or stealing your identity. I might as well come out and say this now: I don’t get hiding the last name from the expectant/birthmother. First and foremost, she’s going to ‘give’ you her child. And you can’t give her your name? Now there’s an imbalance of trust if ever I saw one. I know people will disagree. I might have disagreed five years ago. But I’ve looked into the faces of two women at the most difficult moment in their lives. Trust means different things to me now. And second, she’s already copied down the VIN number on your Volvo, so your last name is incidental, really, isn’t it?
I’m forgetting a few. I know I am. I might also have succeeded in coming across as a jerk to a few people. I can live with that. It’s better than pretending that I don’t know people do these things, or worse, being lumped in with them as an adoptive parent. If there’s advice embedded here, it’s that we should all do a hell of a lot of soul-searching. We should know who we are, what we seek, and why. Some of the worst choices in the history of the world have been made out of fear and ignorance.
Ah, but we’re not alone! I’ve also been lucky enough to have multiple, multifaceted run-ins with the anti-adoption brand of crazies, over the span of the past five years. And if anxiety-ridden potential adoptive parents act badly out of fear and ignorance, I can’t begin to imagine the myriad fuel sources for the few, the loud, the anti-adoption internet warriors. Next post….