March 20, 2009

Three Nothings and a Something

First, doesn't it seem this month like everyone is too busy to blog/taking a break from online stuff/missing from Twitter? You guys, I think we finally broke the internet.

Second, yesterday morning we visited a preschool we're considering for Puppy in next year. A wonderful time was had by all and Puppy returned brimming with excitement about the school. Yesterday afternoon, Puppy peed his pants twice (super unusual for him at this stage), then climbed into Firefly's highchair and asked me to feed him Cheerios and baby food. It's like I'm living inside a freaking child development textbook. Independence--exciting--yay! Independence--scary--regress!

Third, Firefly invented her own sign for "yes." It is, hilariously, the same as the actual sign for "head," which we hadn't taught her yet. Which means we have a lot of conversations that go something like, "Firefly, would you like some more food?" "Head, head, head, head, head!"

Fourth, there was a lot of blog buzz this week about a provocative post by a first mother at a popular progressive blog: Breaking the Silence: On Living Pro-lifers' Choice for Women (language NSFW, depending on where you work). If you read it earlier, it's worth going back to read the author's addendum in which she talks about the response to her piece. (For the record, I do want to acknowledge that there exist people who identify as pro-life, but who are also strong advocates for adoption reform, including many wonderful commenters and readers here. That in no way invalidates her points; I just wanted to put it out there.)

The piece reminded me again of just how apt the mantra "the personal is political" is in adoption, specifically voluntary relinquishment and infant adoption. And here I'm not talking about the way it is sometimes waved as prop in abortion rights debates (and both sides of that debate oversimplify adoption). The experiences we have as triad members, which on their face seem so personal, so private, are often instances of broader inequality, of sexism and racism, classism and pronatalism. They tell us something about the ways we collectively assign worth. Our decisions (and options) are informed by everything from the economy to workplace structure to the status of reproductive freedom to social stigmas. Adoption is a feminist issue, it's a matter of reproductive choice, and it's tied up in broader issues of social justice and equality. The writer of that post isn't just a woman struggling with her personal history, she's a pinpoint example of how myriad social issues intersect in adoption. Each of us is.

I think framing ethical adoption as a justice issue changes the way we talk about it and expands who can join the conversation. It forces the point that anyone who claims to care about social justice needs to care about the way we practice adoption. We all have a vested interest, even those not directly involved in an adoption. Often ethical adoption--especially open adoption--is approached as a matter of compassion, with the argument that the players involved deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and as little unneccesary pain as possible. Which, yes, absolutely. I am all for compassionate adoption practices. But keeping the conversation at that individual level--even if it brings about certain needed reforms--doesn't help us address the larger social issues that surround every reliquishment and placement, whether or not we realize it.

Whether we like it or not, the choices we make along the way--especially as adoptive parents--are in some ways political statements. Not blue or red statements, but statements about the definition of family, about the value of single parenting, about the extent to which one's personal moral values should be made universal. It's not that politics should dictate our choices, nor that everyone must make the same choices. It's that we need to see how our individual choices feed into and reflect the larger social landscape. Not everyone who adopts is going to agree with me about that. But I'd argue that once we've put ourselves into the web of interpersonal transactions adoption requires--no matter how many steps removed we may be--we're either reinforcing or challenging the way things are.


luna said...

heather, thank you for this thoughtful and eloquent post. I think you are absolutely right. wish I could say more, but I'm still mulling it all over.

I will say this, at the risk of wishing I didn't...
even as someone who works for social justice and equality every day, I am somewhat relieved that the biggest issue behind our expectant mom's decision to place concerns her age. it's not that there aren't other issues involved -- there are of course, and we try to be mindful. but there are so many other challenging issues I anticipated facing that have not arisen for us, yet.

anyway, thanks again for articulating some great food for thought.

Lavonne said...

Completely agree with your last statement. Lately I've been surrounded by too many adoptive parents whose actions and beliefs continue to perpetuate the myths. It's really hard to be the minority in these groups. I struggle with so much of what adoption is and yet I find myself adopting. I believe in the blessing it is but strongly believe in the need for reform. But too many people shrug off these concerns. Anyway, thanks for this thoughtful post.

susan said...

Hi Heather--longtime lurker here, I've found your blog very thoughtful and interesting. I am a mother of a five-week old through open, domestic, transracial adoption as well as an older biological child.

I spent a lot of time with your post as well as the one on Shakesville. I certainly agree that ethical adoption is a social justice issue. My husband and I chose open domestic, transracial adoption and our specific agency over international adoption or infertility treatments partly based on political and ethical beliefs.

I found the post on Shakesville to be really provocative. I certainly agree politically that presenting adoption as an "easier" or better alternative to abortion is problematic to say the least. I am not at all surprised that firstmothers who have also had an abortion found the adoption to be much more emotionally difficult. And I appreciated the poster's caveat that she doesn't mean to be anti-adoptive parent, and the adult adoptees who posted to say that they were mostly happy, but thought and worried about their birthmothers if they didn't have contact.

But many of the comments on the original post, many by people who are coming to the site for political content rather than adoption-related content were hard to read (e.g. the theme of "I know three adopted kids and two of them are unhappy) and the idea that this post may be widely circulated as part of the abortion debate is problematic. I'd hate for one woman's experience to be used to stigmatize adoptive parents or adoptees in any way

I think we need to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible and work to make ethical and open (for birthmothers who chose openness) adoption the norm; but one certainly does not exclude the other.

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