We can never, ever truly know a pain we haven’t lived through. We can sympathize, and we can wring our hands, but we can’t say we genuinely understand unless we’ve been there. And that is truth, undeniable.
Sympathy is not wasted, and authentic efforts to better understand the struggles of others are not mere patronization. But there will always remain a clear divide between those who have endured a particular brand of life-altering obstacle and those who have not. Accepting this reality does not exclude us from supporting loved ones in pain, nor does it contribute to any concept of a ranking system for life’s turmoil. It’s just, for lack of better articulation, the way it is.
I will never truly know what my husband feels at a fellow firefighter’s funeral. If it took you six months to get pregnant, I can’t say we share a bond of infertility, either. Those who fight for the rights of rape victims do not process the concept of rape the same way as a woman who has been victimized. We can care about one another from the bottom of our guts — and we should — but the line is indelible and needs to be acknowledged.
When people take up that line, however, and choose to whip it in every direction; or when those who have endured and survived choose to use their survival as an impervious barrier to meaningful dialogue and potential progress; my sympathy wanes, and eventually ceases. I rarely feel inclined to play armchair psychologist; let people lay down their own money (or insurance cards) for professional help when they need it. But it seems fairly evident that shutting others out in a time of pain is a very basic defense mechanism. Aligning only with those who’ve suffered similarly seems a straightforward way of insulating ourselves. And if survivors need a period of self-preservation and relative isolation as they heal, I can respect that. It’s when that shield, that self-segregation mutates into carefully sculpted hostility that I no longer feel compelled to respect someone’s pain, because ‘respecting’ it has evolved into being accosted by it.
If you’ve been the victim of racial, religious, gender or sexuality based discrimination, I will absolutely fight for you. But if you hate me for what happened to you, we’re not on the same side anymore. Frankly, I don’t think we’re even in the same war at that point.
I don’t doubt for a second that there are shady adoptions still happening in this country and around the world. I do not question that some couples sneak past a home study when they are not fit to parent. I am certain that many women who have relinquished babies to adoptive parents wish they could have it all to do over. And that there are those who were wishing this as they signed the papers. As I posted previously, there are adoptive parents who disgrace us all, and they have armies of lawyers or agencies or social workers who may be no better.
I have read a LOT of blogs and articles from those whom we commonly categorize as ‘anti-adoption,’ or whom we could at least recognize as opposing certain aspects of adoption as an institution. I have considered and reconsidered a number of facets of adoption, thanks to the men and women who are brave enough to speak frankly and proactively about much-needed changes to policies and practices — some to which I was completely oblivious, and others I had never examined through the lens of another’s experiences. Thanks to those who speak their truths when it is often initially unwelcome by adoptive parents, I am now an emphatic supporter of open records and legally enforceable adoption agreements. I completely altered my stance on adoptive parents in the delivery room after a beautiful but unequivocal blog posting by a birthmother. I may not agree with every word she says, but I don’t know how any adoptive parent could deny some of the hard truths she is sharing based on her own experience. And she is incontestably doing so — eviscerating the most tender elements of her most difficult experience — to help others better understand the choices and subsequent repercussions in front of them.
And then, by contrast, there are the crazies. If fear and ignorance drive the crazy adoptive parents, then unresolved anger and an overdeveloped sense of precedence or congruity drive this coexistent brand of lunacy. But rather than delve further into amateur psychology, I’ll just share a little of what’s out there, just as I did with regard to adoptive parents. These are a smattering of what I’ve encountered since first researching adoption at the end of 2005, up through some of the more fabulous hate mail I’ve received on this blog. Many more adoptive parents than me have encountered this level of venom and the semi-organized e-deluge that accompanies it. As an anti-racist activist — and a high school teacher — I’m way past letting the opinions of others determine my sleep patterns. But in the interest of balance, and of educating those who might not know that this caliber of animosity exists on the internet, here are some of my favorites….
- Adoptees who love their adoptive parents and/or do not feel compelled to search for or connect further with their biological families are called ‘Baby Toms.’ This is one of my favorites, and not just for its gratuitous literary allusion. The core idea here suggests that adoptees are enslaved, and thus possess a slave mentality that drives them to unquestioning loyalty of and subservience to their adoptive parents — hence the analogy to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But if we are to respect an adoptee’s choice to search and reunite with their birth families, as I believe is their right and choice, then we must also respect their right not to search and reunite, else we defy the concept of choice. This term also seems applicable by its users to adoptees who do not speak out against adoption, or, worse yet, who question or criticize the crazies. It’s divisive, it’s disrespectful, and it’s ridiculous.
- I am clearly an unfit mother for making jokes about expectant mother parking spaces at Babies ‘R Us. Clearly. “This ‘joke’,’ she said, “is not a good indication of being prepared to adopt and care for a child.” Or somebody felt desperately hard-up for something to object about on my blog. Back to the drawing board for me, I guess, because an anonymous internet poster doesn’t appreciate my humor. I’ll alert the social worker.
- Rather than spending money on adoption, adoptive parents should give money to expectant mothers so they can raise their babies with more financial stability. In other words, if we (adoptive parents) really cared about these babies, we would use our apparently limitless financial resources to bankroll someone raising a child, rather than providing a home and family for a child whose mother has decided she is not ready, willing or able to parent. Because, after all, money is all it takes. And we should provide it, because these babies are categorically better off with their natural mothers. No, I’m not kidding. I actually followed this argument on an ancient online adoption community, right before it went down in a ball of squabbling flames. I’m pretty sure the point of the argument was to back adoptive parents into a guilt-ridden corner: if you cared so much, THIS is what you’d do. Instead, the message I received revolved around the small portion of the online community who exert their presence for the cardinal purpose of demeaning others. In the interest of balance in the universe, I strongly encourage ALL parents to donate baby gear, clothes, diapers and funds to their local women’s shelter or similar organization to assist needy moms and families. As a charitable society, we should do what we can to help others raise the babies they have chosen to raise. But other than a sense of karma, this is not because I have adopted.
- Adoptive parents can’t disagree with adoptees or birthparents on issues of adoption, because we can’t know their pain. This one is trickier. As asserted earlier, nope — I can’t know anyone else’s experiences but my own. However, if we are only entitled to opinions on matters in our direct bank of experiences, then I couldn’t have an opinion on war, immigration, gay rights, or countless other matters that do not directly impact my individual life. Back here in reality, though, we educate ourselves on the issues we care about, and we coagulate informed stances on complex topics. These opinions are ideally thought through and mercifully malleable as issues evolve and our knowledge increases. But herein lies the abuse of the aforementioned line between those who have and have not endured an experience. It acts as an at-the-ready conversational killswitch. Someone disagrees with you? Shut ’em down; they don’t know your pain. And the brilliant function of this defensive posture is its catch-all applicability. It’s the rhetorical sludge of the internet age: I, me, my trumps all. It’s also the irony of online communities.
When preparing to adopt, a reflective parent-to-be wants to know all she can about adoption — and not just from the vantage point from which she will experience it. We should do all we can to comprehend the scope of adoption as it exists in our country and around the world before we count ourselves among its willing participants. We should read opinions we find ridiculous, and then read them again just to be sure, and then maybe look at them again down the line to see if there isn’t a grain of challenging truth behind even the most venomous opposition to the institution that will build our families. Often, among the highly human flaws of these and all bloggers, there are facets of adoption we would not have otherwise considered. There are choices and consequences minimized by our agencies, our families or ourselves. We owe it to our children to understand all we can.
Every once in a while, there is just angry craziness, and we can dizzy ourselves trying to make sense of it. These bullies are by far not the first to wrap themselves in a seemingly noble cause as a means to unleash their personal shit on the universe. You can’t fix them; you can’t ‘beat’ them. That’s another beauty of the internet. Every keyboard comes with a sense of infallible entitlement and singular righteousness. A hopeful adoptive parent can blog about how she knows Jesus will intervene and make that pregnant girl give up her baby, and a deeply damaged adoptee can e-writhe over the wrongs of her life and lay it all at the feet of the institution of adoption, and both of them are certain of their Truth. They have only their self-selecting circle of adoring readers to agree with them whole-heartedly — along with the doe-eyed glow of their screens, shedding an artificial light on their own special brand of crazy.