Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm Such A Nice Person, Part 344

My man Ken over at Popehat got me interested in the NYT adoption blog,

I've been reading it for a while and feel a bit perplexed, to be honest. Or maybe more like "depressed" due to the commentary after the articles. A good number of the comments just remind me in a rather unpleasant fashion how far we have to go in terms of helping the non-adoptive community to understand adoption. For me, one of the most unbearable aspects of public comments toward me and my kid involve the "she's so lucky," "you're so nice," "God bless you for taking a child no one else wanted" kind of insults. And that is just what they are: insults. And the comments on the blog were full of them, from clearly well-meaning people. Let's take them one by one and see if we can't educate our well-meaning friends:

My kid is lucky only in the same way YOUR kid is lucky, that maybe she got some decent parents who love her. ANY kid, biological or adopted, is lucky in that regard. At the same time, the blithe "luck" comment displays a complete lack of understanding that children adopted, especially from other cultures, have experienced a loss. A loss that will have to be affirmed and honored and worked through as they grow up and build their identities as adults.

I'm nice because I wanted to be a mom? Are you nice because you had sex, got pregnant, and had a baby? Is that the standard for being nice now? Becoming a mother? No. What they are saying is that they see adoption as charity, as my good deed for a lifetime, my kid as a beneficiary of merciful charity rather than just being my kid.

God bless/No one wanted:
First, God *already* blessed me--and you're looking at that blessing in her funky preschool outfit. Second, she was very much wanted, certainly by us--and no doubt by her biological parents too. The assumption that a child placed for adoption is "not wanted" is one of the most cruel canards in everyday discourse. Believe me, I went to high school with several biological kids whose parents seemed not to have wanted them. Being placed for adoption is not comparable to saying that your parents didn't want you. Can we all just stop this one in its tracks right now? Can you all promise me that you will stop anyone mid-sentence if they say anything in this regard? Among all the crap that people say to adoptees and their parents, this one is the most cruel. And people think nothing of saying it right in front of a 3 year-old as if they're telling me the sky is blue.

My child is not--and never has been--an unwanted charity case. Which is why I'm going to add in a bonus insult here, which is the "there are so many needy kids right here in America, so why would you have gone abroad?" question. Wow. You seem very concerned about the plight of kids in the US foster care system. How many have you yourself adopted? The question once again speaks to the "charitable" view of adoption, as if those who have biological kids are squared away, and anyone else who doesn't or can't go the biological route needs to be doing some public service on behalf of all the needy children in America. Adoptive parents just want to have a family. That's it. We're not nice because we do, just as you are not nice because you do. Yes, there are people who are in a place and have resources to assist kids. For most adoptive parents, that is not the motivation in the least. So to ding someone who adopted from wherever because it doesn't meet your criteria for what adoption means to you ("second best to biological; 'troubled' kids that 'no one wants' should go to those poor defectives who have no choice but to adopt") is not only breathtakingly intrusive but wildly wrong-headed as well.

I hesitate to add that sometimes adoptive parents can be our own worst enemies in this regard. One of the blog's articles, written by Jeff Gammage, discusses finding the man who found his daughter. It is truly a touching story of helping to identify small threads of his daughter's earliest days. But I felt so uncomfortable reading it, like it somehow wasn't my business to be party to this very personal narrative. I know I've yammered on about this point before and that not every adoptive parent shares my opinion. But I just feel like a child whose earliest information is murky should get the choice of what and how much to tell about that. My opinion comes from a desire to give my daughter privacy and control. Not for the moment but for her future. On the one hand, why does it matter what people know? It's not like where or how or when she was found says anything about her as a person. But as long as curious people seem to feel like it's relevant (as evidenced by the fact that it's generally one of the top three questions people ask, as if being found in a park or in a market or on a bus or wherever offers any information about the person my child is rather than simply the results of adult decisions made beyond her control), I'm going to let Bambina decide for herself.

Who knows? Maybe Bambina will turn 16 and wonder why I so assiduously kept her personal details to myself, like what's the big deal if people know where and when I was found and anything else to do with that day? If so, fantastic. But at least she will know that we thought about it, that we made a commitment, and that we resolved to give control of her story to HER where it belongs.

As an editorial note, notwithstanding my posts on this topic, I genuinely do not spend my waking hours agonizing over being an adoptive parent or worrying about Bambina in that regard. She's just my kid and we're just a family doing what families do on a daily basis. But to NEVER think about or to minimize it (as some of the parental comments on the NYT blog indicate) is a complete abdication of parental responsibility. I want her to know in no uncertain terms that I honor her birth, her birthmother and father, and her very unique circumstances when compared with most of her friends. I want her to know that we worked to find that balance--and it is a balance--between knowing that she is Just Our Kid Just Like Any Other Kid while giving her the freedom to feel anything she may feel in the future, from loss to anger to sadness, should that be the case. Being adopted is not WHO Bambina is, but it's a part of who she is that I don't want to ignore or pretend does not exist even as we go about our daily life, often for weeks on end, (believe it or not) without thinking about the fact that we adopted her rather than birthed her.

In short, I guess I want Bambina and her upcoming little sister to know, when told they are lucky, that we're so nice, that they should be grateful, that they don't have a real mother or father, that they were unwanted:

A) That we are all lucky to have found each other in this universe, but we know not without an emotional and psychic price

B) That the "nice" question they can answer for themselves, with no regard for how we became their parents

C) That "gratitude" hasn't been in our family dictionary for generations..until the grown-up kids have kids of their own and then write it in the margins

D) That they have "real" parents. Four of them. Two who gave them life, and two who love and care for them as they go through that life. That they can talk about their birthparents, ask about them, wonder about them, want to search for them, or not care to do so in the least. We're all real and we're all one family, whether known or unknown.

E) That they were indeed wanted. That placing a baby in a public place to be found quickly is not "abandonment." It's the last, best hope of a loving mother for her child. And "F You" to anyone who has the temerity to say different.

So, as a personal favor to me, if you would all be my emissaries, my child's emissaries, and the emissaries of all children who come to families via avenues other than biological birth: don't let any of the above statements stand unchallenged. Gently offer the alternative, remind them that keeping private family information does not always mean that the information is shameful; it's just simply not your business. And finally, remind them that they are talking about actual children; not philosophical, theoretical, hypothetical constructs but actual children. Help them refocus the emphasis right where it belongs: on letting kids be kids, regardless of their family's journey.

Thanks for being so nice!


Ken said...

Great post, E. Very well put.

"In short, I guess I want Bambina and her upcoming little sister to know . .."


Anonymous said...

Hey there,

My sister and her husband adopted a little girl, too. She is now 6 1/2 and when my sis gets exasperated with her, my neice sometimes says, "Bet you wish you didn't adopt me now!"

What is your take on this? I find it a bit disturbing...or teen years setting in early. (Who doesn't remember saying to our parents, "Bet you wish you never had me!")

Anyway, just wanted your perspective on this one.

E said...

Hi Anonymous,

Hmm...I wouldn't want to even venture a guess. I'm hoping Bambina does not have that in her head at 6 years old, even as a joke. But maybe the family has a different sense of humor than me, which is not a bad thing! It IS a bit of a precocious statement to make. I wonder if she heard it somewhere and is "trying it on" to see if she gets a reaction? I'm as stumped as you, I'm afraid...