Monthly Archives: February 2006

Science Myths

Thanks to Julie and co, it is now more widely known than it once was that the belief that relaxation is an effective form of fertility treatment (as in: "Oh, just relax and it’ll happen!") is both inaccurate and exceedingly frustrating for infertile people.  For anyone who doesn’t read the Barren Bitches’ Brigade regularly, then a) you should, and b) here is a quick summary of precisely why "Oh, just relax and it’ll happen!" is one of the many things you should never, ever say to someone struggling with infertility:

1. Since it is in fact one of the many Infertility Myths out there, you will look like a gigantic idiot for believing it.  It really doesn’t take too much thought to realise that if a woman happens to be both infertile and tense, it’s highly likely to be the former causing the latter rather than the other way around.

2. The word ‘just’ in that statement implies that a) relaxation under such circumstances is easy, b) it’s therefore clearly all the infertile person’s fault that she’s going through the agony of infertility, and c) even though she wasn’t smart enough to work this out for herself, she can at least count herself lucky that she has you as a friend/relative/next-door-neighbour/random stranger she met on the train, since you can now solve all her problems by explaining to her that all she needs to do is Just Relax.  All of which is more patronising than anyone should be allowed to be without being beaten about the head and neck with a yoga manual.

Infertile people apparently have to deal with this inanity rather a lot of the time.  So it’s not at all surprising that when some research was recently published that actually appeared to back up the idea of a possible link between tension and infertility, the infertiles of the Internet collectively blew a gasket.  Unfortunately, in the process, the majority of them managed to fall for the classic Science Myths. 

Oh, there were some excellent comments on there as well – from people who’d actually read the study and made informed, intelligent critiques of it; from people who hadn’t read the study but raised sensible queries about possible design flaws; from people who were able to differentiate between the study findings and their interpretation in the popular press.  But the comments were absolutely rife with Science Myths.  And since those are just as widespread, inaccurate and potentially harmful as Infertility Myths, I thought it might be worth discussing some of them.

1. The ‘My Anecdote Trumps Your Data’ myth.  This is also known as the ‘100% myth’, since it appears to be based on the belief that ‘greater probability’ equals ‘100% probability’.  Hence, if a study shows that Group X have a greater probability of Outcome Y, then this is interpreted as a declaration that 100% of Group X will have Outcome Y.  (Any actual percentages mentioned in the study report will be ignored completely, in order to maintain this particular Science Myth.) 

Accordingly, any personal anecdote of things going differently from the outcomes found to be more probable in the study group is considered as proof that the study findings are wrong.  Thus, if a study shows that in a particular group of women monitored for the first couple of weeks after conception, 90% of the ones with high cortisol (a marker of stress) miscarried at that initial am-I-even-pregnant-or-aren’t-I stage, whereas you yourself conceived at a time of high stress and nine months later had a healthy baby, this is interpreted as meaning not that you were one of the lucky 10%, but as meaning that the study was wrong.  Oh, yes, and that the researchers are stupid for having reported facts that differed from the way things happened to go in your personal sliver of the universe. 

Sorry, guys – but that’s just another version of "My aunt’s postman’s dog’s vet’s cousin adopted a baby and then got pregnant, so, you see, adopting obviously makes you get pregnant!"

2. The ‘Research As Malice’ myth.  If researchers come up with a finding that happens to be annoying or upsetting to you, then this obviously can’t have anything to do with them having, say, found out some actual facts that they then reported.  It must be their deliberate attempt to get at you.  Any researchers who dare to do this are mean heartless people who have clearly never been in your position, or they would have known better.  Why, if any of the researchers in this study had ever miscarried and knew just how painful it was, obviously their research subjects would have had cortisol levels much more obligingly in line with a ‘stress has nothing to do with it’ theory!

3. The ‘Causes vs. Cures’ myth.  This is the idea that research should be directed at the latter rather than the former – that, instead of looking at ‘this sort of thing’ (factors possibly linked to infertility and/or miscarriage), researchers should be concentrating on doing something about the problems.  This sounds sensible and practical, but the fallacy here is the idea that the two can be separated out clearly into an either-or.  In fact, they’re inextricably linked.  Finding out the pathophysiology behind disease processes is a crucial part of finding out how best to treat them. 

When looking at a study that gives us only the tiniest fragment of knowledge about a topic as vast as fertility and its problems, the obvious response is to wonder what good that was, and why the researchers were wasting time on this instead of all the much more important issues out there.  It’s only in retrospect that it’s possible to see that sometimes the most apparently abstruse of studies actually give us vital information about the way the human body works, and that gathering as much information as possible and gaining as wide an understanding as possible of problems is ultimately going to help us to manage them better than we would if we just stumbled around taking blind guesses as to what to try.

4.  The most common myth, and the biggest one, which is why I saved it for last – the ‘But Reality Wouldn’t Dare Differ From My Opinion!’ myth.  This is the belief that the accuracy of a piece of research is best judged according to the attractiveness of the result obtained.

We all fall for this one, myself included.  There is no such thing as a truly impartial mind.  Show me a person who believes that their own personal opinions have no bearing at all on their interpretation of the available data, and I will show you someone who is existing in a pleasant haze of self-delusion.  And if any of us wants to see that person, a good place to start is with the nearest mirror.

But some examples of this way of thinking are more blatant than others.  In fact, the sad thing is that most examples of this way of thinking are more blatant than others.  And the debate on Julie’s blog was no exception.  Most of the commenters – and, for that matter, Julie herself – were talking as though the mere fact that this study infuriated them meant that it couldn’t possibly be true.  And the researchers were Really Stupid for having got these results.  Plus, they were ugly and their mothers dressed them funny.

Of course, this is not to say that there may not be perfectly valid reasons for doubting the results of this study, or at least for doubting their applicability to women going through infertility treatment.  As I said, a few commenters suggested several possible such reasons.  The point is not that those reasons don’t exist, but that "I don’t like this result!" doesn’t count among them.  However little a particular research result may suit you, you still need to come up with some actual flaws in the research or its applicability in order to discount it.

While we’re on the subject, I’d like to point out that the reverse is also true.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time learning how to analyse studies, so if I see one I don’t like then I can give you a more informed opinion than the average person as to why it’s a load of rubbish.  If you want a really scientific discussion of why it’s obvious that the researchers are ugly and their mothers dress them funny, then, hey, I’m your woman.  What I have to keep reminding myself of is that this doesn’t just apply to studies whose results I don’t like. 

Due to some crucial differences between human beings and, say, chemicals, it is simply impossible to do a study in a medical or psychological field that doesn’t contain at least some potential flaws to be picked at, exposed, and held up for all to see as glaring examples of why the study shouldn’t be trusted as far as you can throw it, if such is your wont.  But the temptation is to do this only for the studies that give us results we dislike. And part of being fair-minded is applying the same strict standards to a study that tells us something we want to hear as we do to a study that tells us something we’d rather not hear.  How many of us can do that?  Maybe the myth that’s really the biggest is the one that we all secretly believe – that it’s only our opponents who are closed-minded.

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Contented little assumptions

A mailing list to which I subscribe is currently discussing Gina Ford of the Contented Little Baby Books.  Since the mailing list in question is an Attachment Parenting list, ‘discussing’ is a euphemism.  ‘Excoriating’ might be a better term.  Anyone who’s spent time on such lists will be fairly familiar with the kind of reactions that the Routine Queen’s name brings forth, and the conversation this time is going pretty much the way it usually does, featuring such customary phrases as ‘detachment parenting’, ‘poor abused children’, and ‘why did they have kids in the first place?’.  (I must admit to being quite amused by the line ‘I must remember not to judge, I just think that I am right’.)

For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t read such forums, has never heard of Gina Ford, and is wondering what all of this ire is about, Gina is a maternity nurse whose (extensive) experience has left her convinced that – in contradiction to all the popular child-rearing advice of the past couple of decades – babies actually do thrive on strict routines from very nearly the start.  She’s worked out a set of detailed routines for babies of different ages from one week to one year, with equally detailed guidelines on how to tell when a baby is ready to move from one routine to the next.  The routines are worked out according to a baby’s need for feeding and sleep at each stage, with the idea being to meet their needs smoothly and easily as they arise so that they aren’t left awake for long enough to get overtired and upset.  She also recommends getting babies used to sleeping in their own cots in their own rooms from the start to avoid potential difficulties in transferring there later; pumping extra milk on a regular basis if breastfeeding, to avoid upsetting the routines when baby goes through a growth spurt; and controlled crying for older babies with sleep problems.

Feedback from people who’ve actually tried it, or at least from people who post on the Internet about their experiences of having tried it, seems mostly positive.  The majority of reported experiences are of babies settling into the routine fairly easily and thriving on it, and there are abundant comments from parents saying how happy and cheerful their babies seem on it/how miraculous the change in them is since starting it.  Some people do report bad experiences with it, but most of the numerous negative reviews seem to be based on ideology rather than personal experience.

It is possible that you may still, at this point, not be entirely clear on what she’s done to qualify as the Daughter of Satan.  Fortunately, due to the number of mailing lists and other parenting-related forums I read, I have heard numerous rants on explanations of this very point, and am hence able to enlighten you. 

For starters, you see, routines for very small babies – especially breastfed babies – are Bad.  Everyone knows that.  After all, the "feed only every four hours, no matter how much they cry, no matter how much they beg" routines of the 50s or whenever it was were a complete disaster for breastfeeding, so it obviously follows that all routines for young babies must be Bad, and that promoting them is the equivalent of wearing horns and a tail.  As if this weren’t bad enough, however, Gina also believes that in some circumstances it’s appropriate to leave babies crying for a certain amount of time.  And that’s completely wrong.  After all, research shows that regularly and frequently leaving babies to cry while giving them little positive attention in their lives overall is bad for them, so there you have it – proof that Gina’s practice of  leaving babies to cry on a few occasions at scheduled sleep times when they’ve been fed, between waking periods when they get plenty of attention and affection must be inflicting incalculable psychological harm. 

As if this wasn’t already bad enough, she believes in leaving babies to sleep in their own rooms, which is something we could never have got away with in our cave days – why, a baby who was put down to sleep away from other people would have probably been eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger! Admittedly, there probably aren’t going to be that many sabre-toothed tigers padding around the average nursery these days.  But you just can’t take the chance, can you? 

Oh, yes – and Gina also believes that children are just manipulative little tyrants who must have their spirits crushed.  Well, no, not that anyone can come up with any example of her saying  that – in fact, she’s specified that the reason she uses the methods she does is because she’s found that both mothers and babies are happier when using them – but that religious nutcase in the USA who writes baby books believes this and he uses routines and Gina uses routines and so obviously she must feel the same way as he does.  Also, his methods have been linked to deaths from failure to thrive and so obviously Gina bears responsibility for those deaths as well (despite the fact that she has nothing whatsoever to do with Ezzo and, unlike him, has no problem at all with parents feeding a genuinely hungry baby before the set time).

Most of the anti-Gina brigade don’t even seem to have read her books.  Sometimes, I really do get the impression that they think her methods consist solely of shutting your screaming child in a room and spending the rest of the day ignoring him while rubbing your hands and gloating "Bwahahahahaaaaa!  That’ll show you who’s boss, then!  Try to manipulate me, would you?"  For a lot of people, ‘Gina Ford’ doesn’t refer to a person or even a method – it’s a shorthand for every kind of childrearing practice they disapprove of, whether it has anything at all to do with the real Gina Ford or not. 

Nor do they seem to have any particular desire to find out what they’re talking about before talking about it.  They just hear words like ‘routine’ and ‘controlled crying’ and reach for the burning torches.  The trouble is, making assumptions can be easier and more satisfying than trying to find out the facts.  After all, who wants accuracy when instead you can have your very own Hate Figure? 

In case this post is sounding like an ode to Gina Ford, I’d like to clarify that I’m actually not wild about her books.  I do rather enjoy reading her routines – they’re an intriguing glimpse of a fantasy alternate universe in which we would actually be organised enough to have the baby upnappychangedandfeeding by 7 a.m., settledforhisnap by 9 a.m., and the rest of it, and I find this oddly satisfying – but I’ve never made more than an occasional half-hearted attempt towards trying them myself.  Jamie seems perfectly contented without benefit of Gina Ford, so it never seemed worth the trouble.  There are some specific bits of her advice with which I disagree, for various reasons which I can’t be bothered to go into here, but for the most part they’re filed in the ‘Whatever works for you’ section of my brain.  What really bothers me about Gina is not so much her methods, but the fact that she doesn’t seem to have an equivalent section in her own brain.

Gina, you see, is one of life’s OneTrueWayers.  Reading what she has to say, you’re left feeling that any other way of bringing up a baby is doomed to failure and catastrophe, not to mention discontentment.   She simply does not acknowledge that it might be possible for any method of child-rearing of which she does not personally approve to work perfectly well for some babies, mothers, and families. 

In other words, she has exactly the same attitude as some of her bitterest opponents.

My own belief in OneTrueWayism when it came to bringing up children (I knew the perfect one-size-fits-all-children method just had to be out there waiting to be discovered) did not survive a) actually having one, and b) spending time on forums with other women who had done likewise and were willing to share their experience thereof.  Since then, I’ve grown very wary of anyone who does extol a OneTrueWay ™, regardless of whether the Way in question is that of Gina Ford, Tracy Hogg, Dr Sears, or anyone else out there.  It immediately brings out the Devil’s Advocate in me.  Show me the evidence, say I, and while you do that I shall search for the existence of any counter-evidence to see whether your hypothesis is strong enough to stand up to being tested in the fires of truly rigorous scientific inquiry.  Which, in another of life’s little ironies, led me from searching for an anti-Gina website, to defending Gina on the very mailing list I eventually found.

I never did find an anti-Gina website, or at least not the kind of anti-Gina website I was looking for.  What I was after was not just a Gina-Is-Evil rant – those exist in abundance – but a reasoned collection of actual evidence, such as has been collected against Ezzo.  If there’s one out there, it so far escapes me.  But what I did find, thanks to the passing mention of Gina Ford on the home page, was the aforementioned mailing list – a group for parents who like to explore Attachment Parenting and/or green living methods.  I joined it because I like reading about different ways of doing things, and I stayed because it’s a wonderfully friendly, fun list.  We have had our differences, but, with the possible exception of the mother who left the list in a huff when I dared to question some of the evidence she cited in her Evils-Of-Paracetamol rant, everyone there has been completely accepting of the disposable-nappying, fully-vaccinating, Gina-defending heretic in their midst, and even our disagreements have been good-natured.  As much as I may disagree with a lot of what they say, I do like how they say it.

And, on the subject of disagreements – I pointed out on the list that perhaps some of the above-quoted comments might be a little over the top.  The reply I got started out "I have never read GF’s books but I am assuming…"  Somehow, I wasn’t all that surprised.

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Decisions, decisions

Firstly, thank you to all of you who answered my question about how you chose the way you chose to bring children into your family.  It was fascinating reading… all of it.  I love being privileged with these sorts of glimpses into people’s minds and hearts. 

As promised, although belatedly, this is my attempt at answering the same question – in my case, an explanation of why I chose to give birth rather than adopt.  Writing it out like this probably makes it look as though I thought it out at the time in considerably more detail than, in fact, I actually did – I knew from the start that it was the right choice for us, and, since it’s the default choice in this society, it wasn’t one I needed to analyse particularly at the time.  But there were reasons behind it that I can clarify when I think about it, and this, for what it’s worth, is what they were. 

Three main ones, I’d say.  The first was laziness.  I wasn’t naive enough to assume that getting pregnant actually would be the easy way to do things, but I did recognise that if things went as they were supposed to and as they did, after all, go for the majority of people, then doing things naturally would be a lot easier than adoption.  I did spend quite a lot of time thinking about what Plan B would be if I had fertility problems, and, although it was very much a ‘need more information’at that stage, I did feel that adoption sounded considerably more positive than fertility treatment.  But getting pregnant the conventional way sounded a darned sight easier than adoption, and I figured I wasn’t going to subject myself to filling out twenty million forms and answering a bunch of questions from strangers about my supposed parenting skills without at least checking out whether having sex might be a feasible alternative option.

The second was curiosity.  I have always been completely fascinated by pregnancy and birth.  I read extensively on the topics as a child.  I knew more about natural childbirth by the age of ten than most people bother learning in their lives.  (Yes, I am a total geek and weird with it.  Sue me.)  I really wanted to find out what these experiences would be like for me.

The trade-off of that one, of course, is that I lost out on the experiences that come with adoption.  Unless I make a different decision with subsequent children, I will never know what it feels like to open up a packet and see your daughter’s face for the first time, to travel half-way round the world and toss and turn in a hotel room knowing you will meet your child the next day, to file into a room with a crowd of other imminent parents-to-be and wait with pounding heart for your name to be called and your child to be handed to you, to get to know a child who has had months or years to develop as a person already.  And the thought of these experiences fascinates me as well.  It’s why I’m so fascinated with adoption blogs – living vicariously. 

Still, I’m glad I made the choice I did this time around.  Pregnancy and birth weren’t just experiences that happened to me – they were things my body did.  I was fascinated to see how my own body went about the reproduction business.  I know now that so-called morning sickness manifests itself in me as persistent low-level queasiness rather than the more traditional form, that I not only don’t get cravings but get the exact reverse and develop complete aversions to a variety of foods (fish was the worst, but there were others), that I labour with unexpectedly brisk and efficient contractions, that I don’t feel a let-down sensation when nursing.  It’s not that any of this is particularly important or earth-shattering – just that it’s part of me, and I’m glad to know about it and have those memories, those stories.

The third reason was that (warning: we are now entering the realm of irrationality) I somehow felt that giving birth didn’t impose the same standards of obligation on me as adopting would.  One of the hard things for potential adoptive parents is the thought of having their lives and supposed parenting abilities scrutinised by strangers who get the right to decide whether or not you’ll make a fit parent, and I found this just as daunting as anyone else does.  But I also recognised on some level – although it was not something I would have articulated to myself at the time – that the reason I would find it quite so difficult was because they are the representatives of the future child to whom you will really have to justify your parenting some day.  Of course, this is true however that child enters your family.  However, if a child owes me his existence, I could feel I was starting off with a few points in the credit column.  Not that I’m one of those ghastly clich├ęs who expect permanent gratitude for having Brought You Into This World (though, in case Jamie ever reads this, I shall point out that I wouldn’t actively object to that) – it just made me feel more at ease about the possibility knowledge that I’d get things wrong plenty of times along the way.  As the saying goes; you give your kids life, so if you then kill ’em, all you’ve done is break even.

With an adopted child, I wouldn’t be able to feel that way.  I’d be taking a little person who already existed perfectly well without me, thankyouverymuch, and undertaking to give him or her a life that was at least as good as what the alternative might have been.  Granted, that might not be so difficult if the alternative was a foster home or an institution, but it was still more of an undertaking than if the alternative was non-existence – and I’d also be forever aware of the possibility that another, superior, set of parents might have taken that child if I hadn’t been there.  Stepping into the life of an existing child in this way somehow seemed to me to imply a particular obligation to get it right.  Being Good Enough Mum wouldn’t be good enough, so to speak.  I would feel obliged to be Superlative Mum, and I felt a little uneasy about that kind of pressure.

In my last post, I mentioned that niggle of doubt about whether I’d love a child without the postpartum hormones doing the job for me, and I wondered whether I should include that as Reason 4 here.  But insofar as it even was a reason (and I do want to stress that I’m talking niggle of doubt here, not crisis of confidence – rationally, I believe I would bond with any child I mothered the same way as I did in fact bond with Jamie, through the day-to-day process of taking care of that child and seeing what an amazing little person he or she was), I’d say it was a part of Reason 3 rather than a separate reason. After all, it would be the child who would ultimately be hurt.

We’ll be making the same choice for our second baby, although it’s a little harder to define the reasons why – after all, Reason 3 doesn’t sound that logical to me any more, especially not now I’ve proved I have at least some passable mothering skills, and Reason 2 is, as I pointed out, a double-edged sword.  Reason 1 is still true, and may even be more so – I’ve heard that in the UK it can be difficult to get approved for adoption when you have a bio-child.  So, logically, it makes more sense to try the DIY option first.

But it goes deeper than that.  It’s like choosing to go back to the place where you had your dream holiday before.  Yes, the world is full of other places that you might never get a chance to go to – yes, going back to this place means that you could be missing out on a different dream holiday somewhere else.  But sometimes you don’t want to seek out a different dream holiday.  You want to go back to the place that’s comfortable in its familiarity, redolent with rich memories, yet so wondrous that you know you won’t be bored, that there will be plenty of different details this time around even if it’s the same place.  I’m choosing to at least try to have my second child through pregnancy because I’m happy with the choice I made before, and I’d like the chance to make the same choice again.

I say ‘try’, because I do know that that choice is never a given, that I might find that door won’t open for me a second time round.  My thoughts on what I would do if it turns out the clock has run out on my fertility would fill another entire post, and this one’s already far too long.  The bottom line?  I’d opt for adoption rather than fertility treatment.  And I know that if that happens, there will be a part of me that will grieve the loss of the chance to be pregnant and give birth and nurse a child again, and a part of me that backs away in terror and says, no, I can’t do all the things involved in adopting a child, I don’t have what it takes… and a part of me that would leap up and down cheering at the thought that I’d have an excuse to adopt, to have that experience as well.

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We interrupt our adoption discussion to bring you this Public Health Service announcement

If you should happen to be a doctor who happens to have a patient who needs to learn correct inhaler technique, and if you should happen to decide to use the practice’s placebo inhaler to demonstrate this, do bear in mind that this is best not done at a time when you have, only a few minutes earlier, squirted the inhaler mouthpiece liberally with Dettox.

This Public Health Service announcement was brought to you by Idiots With Abraded Lungs’R’Us.  Thank you.

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Some more on adopting vs. not adopting

As I’ve mentioned before, I love getting comments.  I particularly love getting thoughtful, articulate, pleasantly worded comments.  And I really love getting comments that thoughtfully, articulately, and pleasantly disagree with me, because then I have something interesting to think about. 

So, as you can imagine, I was exceedingly pleased to get Brooklynmama’s comments.  And, to update this (I started this post last Sunday and saved it part way through) I was also exceedingly pleased to get Jo’s and Susan’s comments.  I feel I ought to acknowledge them, and I’m finding this discussion highly interesting, but whether I can add anything remotely profound and significant to what has already been said is another matter.

I completely agree that society in general and individuals in particular have a bias against adoption.  I do also think that a personal preference for enlarging your family through birth rather than adoption isn’t necessarily anything to do with bias or prejudice.  But B’mama raised the question of where preference stops and prejudice begins.  I really don’t have any answer to that, probably because there just isn’t one.  When someone’s feelings on the subject go beyond "I’d rather give birth than adopt, if I can" and turn into "Even if I can’t, I’d rather remain childless than adopt", is that necessarily prejudice?  Does it depend on the reasons why they’re saying it?  Somehow, nuances get lost in hypothetical situations.

I do still think (to go back to B’mama’s original post) that a belief that you, personally, could not love an adopted child does not necessarily equate to a belief that other families couldn’t love an adopted child.  One belief is about your own personal capacities, the other is about other people’s capacities.  So, I agree that "I couldn’t love an adopted child" might very well be a prejudiced statement, but I still don’t think it necessarily equates to "And I don’t believe you really love yours."

B’mama asked why someone wouldn’t believe they could love an adopted child.  I think Susan pinpointed the answer nicely – because people worry, in general terms, that they won’t love their children.  I’m going to try to expound on this, but I’m not sure I can do it without potentially offending anyone, so please bear with me until I’ve finished explaining myself and then feel free to administer a swift kick if you feel I need it. 

As much as you may love children in the abstract, the kind of fierce individual personal love that you need to carry you through all those years of day-to-day care is a different matter, and it’s one of those things like romantic love or sexual desire – you just can’t really know what it’s going to feel like until it happens.  How does someone know – really know – in advance that they’ll be capable of that kind of love?  Now, of course, this is true however you go about bringing a child into your family, but (and this is where I know I’m treading on a potential minefield, and I do hope this comes out expressing what I want it to) at least with giving birth you have the fallback of biology.  As someone who chose to give birth rather than adopt, I know that I found it very reassuring to feel that when my baby arrived in my life, a rush of hormones fine-tuned over millions of years of evolution to optimise the bonding process would arrive simultaneously.  I didn’t have to worry about whether I had the kind of character necessary to come up with that kind of love, because I knew my glands would do it if I didn’t.  Logically, I believe that I’d love an adopted child (and I have no doubt at all that there are people who do), but emotionally, I felt better for knowing there was that backup.  This wasn’t really a major reason why I chose to give birth rather than adopt, but I can’t hand-on-heart say that it wasn’t in there somewhere.  I would say that’s self-doubt rather than prejudice.  But am I wrong there?

Anyway – the baby is due to wake up any minute, so here’s where I want to widen this discussion out a bit, and also call for some more audience participation.  At the end of my last post, I talked about hearing people on the subject of how they made a particular life choice.  That’s what I want to do here.  I know Brooklynmama’s already held a similar discussion on her blog a while back, and I found that fascinating reading, but that was specifically for adoptive parents and I’d like to hear from anyone on this topic. 

What led you to make the decisions you made about children?  How did you make the decision to give birth or to adopt, to adopt from one country rather than another, or, for that matter, to have children at all?

I’ll write my own answer in a subsequent post when I get time (I really do have to go get the baby if I want to have any hope of him sleeping at a halfway decent hour tonight, and since we’re away this weekend, I don’t know quite when I’ll get back to this – but I will.)  Meanwhile, if anyone feels like sharing (in the comments section here or on their own blogs), I would be really interested to read what you have to say.  And keep any other comments coming as well – I love this discussion.  Trackback rocks.

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Onwards and sideways, Take Two

I do hope the ether found the first version of this post to be tasty and satisfying. Oh, well. I’m just glad it was only this post that mysteriously and completely disappeared after I wrote it, and not the last one – after three bloody months of writing that one, I would have been distinctly unamused if the internet had picked that one when it got the munchies.

Oh, well. Second attempt at writing this:

I was originally going to write a detailed version of the reasons why I used Blogger rather than Typepad to do my blogging, but fortunately I realised in time that it was actually extremely boring and it wouldn’t have been fair of me to inflict it on you. (Of course, in retrospect, maybe it would have given the ether indigestion. Maybe if I posted that one it wouldn’t have been eaten.) So I will skip directly to the salient point – Those days are now a thing of the past. I have now set up my new Typepad account, and I do hope you’ll all join me over there for continued discussion.

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The ethics of not adopting

On Friday, at work, I was snatching a few hours minutes over lunch to browse the Internet, and figured I’d check out what Figlet was up to these days.  (I mean, look what happened to Jenex when I took my eyes off her blog for a few months.  Blimey.)  The only problem was that it had been so long since I’d checked her blog that I couldn’t remember the precise URL, so I did a bit of googling, and, in the process, found Brooklynmama’s blog, which isn’t one I normally read.  (I may have to start.  Her child sounds unmissably cute.)  In her list of recent posts, I spotted a tirade on the topic of adoption, and, of course, that was far too interesting for me to pass up the chance to read it.

Brooklynmama challenges the attitude of "I considered adoption as a last resort – but I’m so glad I didn’t have to do it, because I just don’t think I could have loved an adopted child as much as one I gave birth to."  She feels that expressing this attitude is

a) prejudiced, in a way analogous to saying that you considered adopting a black child as a last resort but you’re so glad you got a white one because you don’t think you could have loved a black one as much, and

b) rude to parents who have adopted.

And if you don’t understand, she says, you probably never will.  So she pretty much leaves it at that.

I don’t agree with her.  Whether that means I don’t understand or not, I don’t know.  I do understand that it must be incredibly galling to have people talk about a life choice of yours that you are, in fact, overjoyed with, as though it were some sort of second-best that you had to settle for.  (Come to think of it, I’ve had to deal with that kind of crap about my career choice, because, you see, being a GP isn’t being a Real Career Doctor.  It’s… oh, well, never mind, I don’t really want to get sidetracked into an irrelevant rant here.)  But what Brooklynmama seems to be assuming is that if someone expresses a view that they don’t feel they could love an adopted child as much as a bio-child, their subtext is that they see adoption as inferior in general. 

Of course, sadly, one reason why she feels this way is because this very often is the subtext.  I just don’t think that that’s necessarily going to be true in all cases.  I think that it is perfectly possible for someone to believe that the world is full of parents who love their adopted children just as much as birth children, yet also believe that they, personally, would not feel that way about an adopted child.  If someone feels that way, should they feel obliged to keep it to themselves?  Why should expressing a personal preference automatically be seen as a denigration of different preferences?

So, is it fair to compare a personal preference for giving birth to a child rather than adopting one to a personal preference for a child of a particular skin colour?  I don’t know.  When you adopt a child, that child starts out as being someone else’s and then becomes yours.  If someone feels that their heart really can’t make that jump, then to them an adopted child would forever feel like someone else’s – and that’s a much bigger issue than skin colour.  Building a family is such a deeply, deeply personal thing that I just don’t think it’s wrong for people to feel uncomfortable with the thought of doing it one way rather than another.

Then again, all of this is easy for me to say.  I haven’t had to deal with years of people saying such things when what they really mean is "But you did have to settle for the less-loved version of a child.  Poor you, stuck with a child who’s second-best!"  So I guess I can understand how it could become impossible to hear such a statement in any other way. 

Why is the expression of personal choices such a minefield?  Why is it so difficult, sometimes, just to listen to people talk about why they made a particular choice differently from yours and hear it as "How interesting that I now know more about what makes this person tick, not to mention getting another view on the subject", rather than as "This was the RIGHT choice and yours was the WRONG choice, nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah"?

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Bother

I’ve just discovered that it isn’t possible to do HTML on the ‘About’ page.  (Well, either that, or else there’s some way of doing it that I’m too slow to figure out, which is entirely within the realms of possibility.)  I was planning to write a sentence about how I discovered the world of blogging while I was on maternity leave and eventually joined the blogging world myself,thus seamlessly and cleverly providing links to my archives in general and my thoughts on blogging specifically.

Damn.  Now I’ll just never be able to put any such sentence where it can be read by others.  Oh, well.

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Does my blog look big in this?

I’ve spent some time considering what to put in the first post to this blog, on the basis that it ought really to be something suitably witty and incisive and sparkling, not just boring drivel.  Still, after several months of blogging, it’s probably too late to worry about that.  Which is just as well, since what I really want to do right now is check out how it looks so that I can decide whether I was right to go for this design rather than something from the Bold Palettes.

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In which I ramble on at some considerable length about Tricia Smith Vaughan’s adoption article

Many moons ago, an online author named Tricia Smith Vaughan posted this article about adoption.

It offended large sections of the adoption blogging community to the point of spluttering incoherence – I’m tellin’ ya, the Great Parking Spot Wars paled into insignificance beside this one. So, of course, I had to comment. I hadn’t actually intended to be quite this late to the party, but this was not a simple post to write. Under the crust of objectionable views, high-handed tone, and implied homophobia, there lurked some crucial points on which I do actually agree with Tricia. And, as I tried to write a post that had originally been intended to be a few pithy comments pointing out her errors, I faced the fact that the areas on which we agreed were too important to be ignored.

Tricia Smith Vaughan is against adoption. She is against adoption in much the same way that the Pope is against condoms or Germaine Greer is against the patriarchy – with passion, with rhetoric, and with a conviction that brooks any chance of considering the feelings of the opposition. This is, in large part, for a poignant personal reason – she is herself the daughter of a woman who was pressured into giving her up for closed adoption, back in the 60s. It’s a soul-tearing story, and one of the harshest things about it is the realisation of just how many other stories like it there are. As Tricia highlights, there are frightening numbers of women out there who yielded to pressure from adoption agencies or society’s mores and relinquished babies that, given some support or even just the space to decide for themselves, they could have kept.

As important as it is for us to be aware of these abuses, I’m not sure discussing stories and statistics from several decades back was the best way to highlight them. There is too much of a temptation to dismiss such things as being examples of how terrible adoption used to be – but, hey, aren’t we lucky that it’s so much better now? I, too, would love to believe that no-one in these enlightened days would ever pressure a woman facing such an important decision. Unfortunately,that would be a naive denial of the evidence.

What irked me somewhat about the picture Tricia painted of helpless birthmothers exploited by the Evil Adoption Industry is not so much that I disagreed with it, but that it was far too simplistic. There was no acknowledgement of any other face of adoption. Quite apart from the fact that this doesn’t allow for the equally thorny yet distinctly different ethical issues raised by other facets of adoption such as international adoption or adoption from foster care, it also doesn’t acknowledge the existence of women who do decide for themselves, independently and unpressured, to place babies for adoption. There is something a little too patronising in this sweeping categorisation of birthmother-as-victim – I wasn’t sure that it was ultimately much less demeaning than the more familiar birthmother-as-villain or birthmother-as-vessel stereotypes.

However, Tricia is concerned with the treatment of first mothers not just prior to the adoption, but also afterwards. Society’s traditional view has been that a mother who has relinquished her baby for adoption stops being a mother. The damage that this belief does to both mothers and children is now much more widely recognised, but not nearly widely enough, and Tricia is quite right to highlight this. But her concerns are not just with the direct effects on the mothers and children whose most fundamental bond has been denied by society, but with the wider implications of believing that parenthood is revocable. “Today’s mother may become tomorrow’s non-mother. And who decides?” she asks rhetorically.

Tricia Smith Vaughan does, it would appear. Tricia, like so many would-be social reformers, falls into the trap of believing that the behaviour she denounces in others is quite acceptable for her. Tricia is more ready than any social worker or adoption agency to reclassify certain mothers as non-mothers. At least the label ‘birthmother’ allows a woman a qualified degree of motherhood: Tricia Smith Vaughan does not believe we should allow adoptive mothers even that much. Anyone not sharing that crucial genetic link with their child should, she believes, be promptly stripped of all claims to parenthood and demoted to the status of ‘legal guardian‘.

This, of course, is why she incensed adoptive mothers so. Tricia, for her part, seems to have taken the outrage as proof of the rightness of her cause. After all, why on earth would someone object to being told that they’re not really a mother to their much-loved child? Clearly evidence of a guilty conscience, thinks Tricia.

Amidst all the furore, what seems to have gone largely unremarked upon is the premise behind Tricia’s beliefs – her ‘Highlander‘ philosophy of parenting. According to Tricia, there can be only one mother and only one father in a child’s life. End of story. It’s a view that, by its very nature, automatically sets birthmothers and adoptive mothers in competition with each other, such that the debate then becomes over who wins and who loses in the fight for the exclusive, and elusive, title. It’s easy to see how, backed into an either-or choice by this belief, an adoptee might reject years of loving upbringing in favour of a few strands of matching DNA. After all, most of us value the things we feel we missed out on more highly than the things we had the luxury of being able to take for granted.

And that assumption of Tricia’s is what doesn’t seem to have been disputed. Why should we believe that a child can have only one mother and one father? Why does that make any more sense than believing that a mother can have only one child? Given that we easily accept that children can love two parents as much as one and that, all else being equal, they are better off for having the chance to do so, why do we have so much difficulty accepting that they might have room in their hearts and their lives for more than that? Why do we insist on thinking about the parent-child bond as though we were three-year-olds who can’t believe that Mummy could love a new baby yet still keep loving the old one as well? Why do we act as though a child’s love were a limited resource that we need to hoard?

And this is the deepest, most fundamental reason why I disagreed with Tricia’s article. The reason I do not agree with her that ‘adoptive mother’ is an oxymoron is not because I believe that adoptive parents replace first parents, but because I believe they add to them. I believe that an adopted child does have more than one mother and more than one father, and that it is in the child’s best interests if we can accept that and learn to celebrate it instead of denying it. And I find it a terrible shame that Tricia’s view on this topic is so narrow, not to mention phrased so arrogantly, that she offended people too much to make herself heard even on those points where she had something to say worth hearing.

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