The Adoption Option

May 1, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m on my way to another baby shower today. It’s a celebration, but as Lisa at Sociological Images pointed out a couple of weeks ago, how you view a pregnancy depends on where you are in the society. Lisa was responding to the recent PSA video by Bristol Palin (see the video and Lisa’s comments here .) Lisa’s take is that while the ad is telling teens to be cautious about sex, it also makes the point that the consequences of teen pregnancy are much harsher for girls who have little financial or social capital.

For me, the ad was a reminder of how different my own world is from the world of the intended audience of that ad. One obvious difference is abortion. For the cosmopolitan, educated, relatively well-off women I know, abortion is always an option. Not so for the Bristol Palins.

But there’s a cultural difference regarding adoption too.

Alice Eve Cohen’s memoir, what I thought I knew, gives a personal, poignant example. It’s a very complicated story, for as the title implies, everything that the medical experts tell her about her own fertility turns out to be wrong. She is told she can never conceive because she is a DES daughter, but in her forties, she becomes pregnant. Then she is told that the baby will have severe physical and mental defects, but she does not know this definitely until late in the pregnancy. A late-term abortion would be risky.

“I think adoption is the right path,” she writes, but her husband, sisters, and friends all disagree.
In this liberal, Upper West Side community, where abortion is accepted as a woman’s inalienable right, giving up a baby for adoption is inconceivable. . . . Where I live, I’d be more harshly judged for giving up my baby for adoption than for having an abortion.
[Full disclosure: where she lives is three short blocks from where I live, and we’ve known each other for 17 years.]

The debate about abortion – pro-life vs. pro-choice – may have something to do with religious beliefs. But, at least for those most deeply involved, as Kristin Luker pointed out a quarter-century ago in Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, the debate has a strong subtext: clashing ideas about the position of women in society. Should a woman be more honored for success in her role in the family or her success in the world of work and career?

Luker’s explanation may be less useful for understanding the culturally different views of adoption. Adoption is not so much about the role of women; it’s more about the role of babies and children. For some women, babies are a gift from God, and the gifts just seem to keep on coming, even to those who are unmarried and who took abstinence pledges (see my earlier post on this here.) There’s no shame in sharing with people who have not been similarly gifted.

But here on the Upper West Side, the more typical woman’s plight is not so much that she didn’t want to get pregnant but did. It’s that she wanted to get pregnant but couldn’t. For these women, babies are rare and precious. You’d no more give one away than you would (forgive an extreme analogy) give away a winning lottery ticket.


Mirah Riben said...

As a researcher (for more than 30 years) of adoption and those whose lives have been touched by it, I agree and disagree with you.

You are totally correct that finances, marital, social, educational status all effect who is deemed "deserving" to be a mother (despite marital status or sexual orientation) and who is reviled for the same human desire.

Like white privilege, educated feminists need to be aware of and fight against women's inhumanity to women and the exploitation of lower earning, younger, less educated women for their own profit - in this case the want of a child.

A child is NOT a "gift" though they are all too often treated by the adoption industry as a commodity. With the exception of paid surrogates, women do not become pregnant with the INTENT to give their child to another. That would be a gift (albeit for the payment involved in surrogacy which often renders it exploitive of women of lesser means).

Gifts are given freely, willingly, not under duress or because of lack of the option or support needed not to give something precious and wanted away....or something that you might you think you want to give away and have not second to change your mind once you actually SEE what it is your are losing.

"There’s no shame in sharing with people who have not been similarly gifted."

"Sharing"? A child is not shared when it is adopted. Even in the most open adoption, the original/natural mother - and father - relinquish ALL of their parental rights. Legally, they and their child are strangers to one another and they have no enforceable right to visitation. This is hardly sharing.

Mothers who lose children to adoption have been documented to experience LIFELONG irreversible grief, guilt and shame. It's a limbo loss with no closure and no ritual. Mothers experience PTSD, depression and a multitude of psychological and physical effects that ripple out to their extended families of birth and their formed and attempted relationships.

The adoptee experiences lifelong feelings of rejection and abandonment as well as in the the vast majority of states no access to his own birth certificate...ever!

Adoption should always be a last resort and should not be pitted against abortion while leaving out the third option: helping mothers receive the resources they need (as did Bristol Palin) to remain an intact family. It's no fun for Bristol NOW, but life is too long to have regrets FOREVER and ever!

Women need to stop putting in orders for others' babies which creates a demand which in turn necessitates a supply - often leading to children in Guatemala, China, India and elsewhere being kidnapped an stolen for black market child trafficking.

Infertility needs to be treated with education as to its many preventable causes - starting in H.S. health classes. Infertility is sad, but no woman OWES another her child any more than anyone owes their eyes or organs - while living - to one in need of such.

We need to stop and reverse this trend lest we wind up fulfilling Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. We are very close now with baby farms and wombs for rent world wide.

Mirah Riben, author, "The Stork Market: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry"

Rebecca said...

Not all adoptees feel life-long feelings of abandonment and rejection. I don't. I feel grateful that my birth mother gave me up. I have had the advantage of a stable and loving home in which I was not exposed to the abuse my birth siblings were.

And I think that the decision to knowingly bring a child with severe mental and physical problems into the world and then release it is a selfish one. Will she be tracking her child's journey through foster care or group homes? Unless she has an open adoption and is able to find willing, able, and loving parents for a child with very special needs, I guess it's out of sight out of mind.

Von said...

Just goes to show what hard decisions there are to make in the adoption world and how the many strands will go on endlessly causing disagreement when the big issues are still at how to halt a profitable business in the adoption industry,how to stop baby trafficking, how to get birth rights etc.