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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7 Comments

Filed under Deep Thought

7 responses to “The ethics of not adopting

  1. Brooklyn Mama

    Thanks for continuing this conversation in a thoughtful way.
    I guess I do think that one should keep one’s rationales to oneself. I mean, to use my own analogy, I am sure that there are people who don’t adopt African-American children because of their own prejudices. It is a good thing they don’t, too, because if they can’t make the leap then they wouldn’t be the best parents to a black child. But would they tell others that they just couldn’t love a black child? Probably not. And they would likely expect to be soundly criticized for saying so. Is it any different, really?
    I don’t think anyone wants to consider themselves biased, but we all are. There is tremendous bias against adoption – on a societal level and a personal level – and I would like to call it what it is. I believe that if a person simply can not adopt – and would go to great lengths to avoid adoption, then they are biased against adoption. They may have valid reasons, and they certainly have every right to feel that way and make their own choices. I can even understand why someone would feel that way – there are a lot of challenges in adoption and a great societal expectation to have bio kids etc etc. But it is a bias. A prejudice. And perhaps most importantly – it makes those of us who are facing the challenges inherent in adoption feel like our families are viewed as second-best.
    To be continued?

  2. Brooklyn Mama

    I would like to add that I would never expect anyone to adopt, nor would I frame my choice to adopt in a way that is derogatory toward other choices.

  3. I’m at work and not thinking about this with enough focus but…I think the circumstances that Brooklyn Mama describes are true in the vast majority of cases. Not to say there aren’t people who feel the way you describe genuinely and that’s obviously their choice but a) technically they are still biased even if they’re not offensive about it and don’t ever come into contact with any adoptive family and b)they’re a minority and sadly, we can’t always debate in an all-inclusive way. Modern society often tries and it just ends up in a big mess. It’s a good intention but it often doesn’t work.
    I’m a minority amongst adoptive parents in that it was my first choice over biology (and I know our biology works)and some of the debates that go on have no resonance within my experience, but the debates still need to go on because the issues are big and important. I even grit my teeth and listen to debates that include phrases like “Smug Fertiles”, even though it makes me want to punch someone, because the underlying point is often something that is illuminating for us all(just as you are doing here). I think what I’m trying to say is yeah, there are people like that but Brooklyn Mama wasn’t talking about them! Phew…got there in the end. You can have your nice, shiny new blog back now!(Btw, just watched Lost 2 1-12. Cool.)

  4. Jo

    Can I add – I’m not suggesting that minorities shouldn’t be listened too! That’s the opposite of what I believe. I do think some conversations just need to have a line drawn somewhere or they never get off the ground. I work for a charity and we’re all so bloody polite and inclusive and considerate that we permanently circle issues on which we should be making a stand. You can’t please all the people all the time. I’m rambling…

  5. Brooklyn Mama

    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?
    But – why would a person NOT love an adopted child?

  6. I’m also a first-choice adopter, Jo.
    I do think that the world would generally be an easier place to move through if more people thought “gee, how would it be different if I thought that way instead?” or “here’s my perspective, there’s your perspective, what can we learn from considering them together” more frequently.
    But so often people toss off their choices as thought the rationale is so universal. Or pin on adoption fears that may be simply about children (most people I know who have more than one child worried that they wouldn’t love #2 and up the same way the loved #1; I was worried, in a way, that I wouldn’t love my child–not because she was joining us by adoption but because I worry about these things. And my best friend worried the same about the baby growing inside her.
    Brooklyn Mama, I’m with you: I don’t understand how someone could not love an adopted child. But I remember that my first spouse had a cousin by adoption and his entire family referred to B. as “our adopted cousin” even into adulthood. She never seemed to get accepted into the extended family on the same footing. I thought that was weird, too. And sad. (this wasn’t an issue for her parents, btw, just the cousins).
    I guess I’d like the people who say “oh, I could never adopt” to examine the rationale and prejudices there, to see what drives the thought, rather than stopping with the assumption that it’s a perfectly fine conclusion.

  7. Ali

    Wow.
    I’m sorry, I can’t be as nice as Brooklyn Mama and say that GEM raised a thoughtful discussion. Because, as I see it, saying that anyone should have the right to express their boundaries/preferences/choices in life to anyone else is wildly insensitive IMO. Especially, ESPECIALLY, when it comes to the most personal of choices, ones family, whatever the hell that may mean.
    Because, and it seems a bit obvious to me which is why I am so irrate, sometimes these expressions of personal choices and viewpoints can be just plain rude. I mean, I wouldn’t quite feel right telling the lovely mamas that I know that sometimes more babies just seem like more ravaging little rats devouring our ecosystem, and it’s not something that I particularly would choose… I mean, that’s kind of rude, no?

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