May 01, 2007

New Ways, New Wineskins

Three of the biographies of Jesus tell a story of him being asked why his followers weren't keeping up certain long-standing religious traditions. "Because new ideas sometimes require new structures," he replied. "You don't put new wine into old, cracked wineskins. They will burst, and you'll lose it all, both wine and containers. Instead you put new wine into new wineskins."

For more than a generation now, there have been pockets of people trying to do domestic adoption differently. Adoption professionals standing up in front of their peers and saying that the way they were approaching things was wrong. Adoptees exercising their right to search for and bring their first parents into their lives, refusing to choose between their two families. First parents repudiating those who told them they no longer had any role to play in their placed children's lives. Adoptive parents embracing their children's first families, rather than trying to replace them. Agencies viewing themselves as trainers and facilitators rather than buffers between adoptive and first parents. Social workers approaching voluntary relinquishment as a valid reproductive choice instead of punishment for being young, sexually active, unmarried, and/or poor. People from all sides of the triad talking openly about the struggles and joys that coexist in adoption, refusing to play into the happy/bitter dichotomy.

As T and I prepared to adopt, we tried to learn more about the history of adoption in our country. In no small way, our commitment to open, above-board adoption was driven by our revulsion at the practices of previous generations. What we didn’t realize at the time was how many of those practices still continue today, enabled by laws which reflect old values and social theories. Practices and attitudes are changing, albeit slowly; new wine is being made. But laws and regulations need to be addressed as well, or we are simply pouring that new wine into old wineskins.

I believe the standard of adoption law needs to be raised to the standard of what is moral and just. This is partially for prevention. It is natural to equate what is legal with what is moral. I think this is what happens with many adoptive parents and adoption workers, who really are trying to do what is right. In doing everything we can to meet the letter of the law, we sometimes miss out on the larger justice issues and hurt other people without intending to. And stronger laws would also help prevent the truly malicious from manipulating the system. Sadly, there will always be people who try to take advantage of pregnant women and prospective adoptive parents alike for their own gain. Stricter, more standardized laws would mean fewer loopholes for them to exploit.

But I believe revised laws would have a purpose beyond prevention. Those of us who are consciously trying to do adoption without secrecy and shame need new laws as well. We are making the new wine, focusing on the relationships that are the essence of adoption and trying to ignore the old, cracking legal system. But it is always present, reminding all members of the triad that society still views what they living--who they are--as something to be hidden. We need to be supported by laws which respect what we are attempting to do.
  • No more closed records, giving adoptees have the same standing under the law that the rest of us do and proclaiming that there is nothing that needs to be secret about their history. And so that adoptees not in relationships with their first families will still have information about their origins.
  • Birth certificates which are actually amended instead of falsified, preserving a person’s history instead of erasing it
  • An assumption of openness as the norm in adoption statutes, to be backed away from only if compelling reasons exist
  • Binding open adoption agreements to help first parents and adoptive parents alike remain committed to their original intent for the adoption and provide for mediation if complications arise
  • Voluntary relinquishment laws which provide adequate time for reflection and recovery from childbirth before consents are taken and before becoming irrevocable, out of respect for the existing bond between parent and child and the permanence of the decision
  • A requirement that legal rights and responsibilities be clearly laid out and acknowledged by prospective first parents and adoptive parents early on in the process, so that everyone is equipped with the same information
  • Counseling and education for all adults participating in the adoption, so we have the tools to do right by our children
  • Standardized nationwide regulations instead of a state-by-state patchwork, to make it easier for participants in adoption to research and understand their rights

I don’t want adoption reform because I hate adoption (although there are certain aspects of it it’s impossible to like). I believe that adoption, when done well and for the right reasons, can be an incredible thing. I am a proponent of adoption reform because the current laws are cracked and old. I want new wineskins for adoption. I believe we all deserve them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your viewpoint. Good post.

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