Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Response to "HANDMAIDS NO MORE", in the United Church Observer this month

Please CLICK HERE first to read the article in question.

And my thoughts ...

So let me start by saying I have complete and total sympathy for Laurel Walton's experience. It sounds like she had an awful time, lacking in supports at a young and vulnerable age. While my kneejerk reaction is 'Under those circumstances, would have have WANTED to raise a child with so little backup?', I understand completely that she WANTED that support, and not finding it hurt - that there is a mourning process involved in any kind of loss like this - and that it never 110% goes away.

I also want to preface all of what I am about to say with the fact that my perspective is shaped from standing on the opposite side of the adoption divide. I am an adoptive mom (or - if I were to hold the same sensitivities as the writer, 'just a mom'). But I guess that's also one of my first criticisms aimed at this article - at no point does Walton acknowledge that her perspective is shaped by her own personal pain and agony, by her own experiences, in their time and place. So much of the anger this article brought up in me would have been allayed by a simple acknowledgement tha this was speaking both to and from her experience. My words both preceding and following this, I make no bones, come from my experience. Two individual adoptions, involving one couple and one natural mother/birth mother/term of your choice, in Ontario, in 2008-2010. I make no claims to speak for any kind of collective, any kind of 'us' or 'our'. While that kind of language might seep in here in a personal, unedited, unfiltered blog, I'm stating upfront that is not my intent.

So I guess ... all that said ... the first obvious issue I take is taking obviously judgemental, guilt-inducing behaviours from the 1970s and applying them to today. Yours is a story from 40 years ago ... a time I have no doubt when being a single mom - much less one in her teens - was a hammer many were beaten about the head with. Your suggestion of your sexuality and fertility being used by others to determine your future and that of your baby ... well, if I were a more judgemental person myself I could throw all kinds of things out there like 'But you made an adult decision that led to having to make more difficult decisions', 'You gave them something to use' ... but the fact is teenagers have sex and teenagers get pregnant - some might even, with help and support, make for awesome parents - and I won't judge that. And they are entitled to treatment with dignity and sympathy in tough times - which obviously you did not receive. And I am more than ready to acknowledge that today, there are many who feel the same, and experience the same judgement, issues, etc. However, adoption records are more accessible now, and some levels of openness in adoption (from letters to visits and anything in between) are not only allowed but encouraged. When we began our adoption journey, we happened to be open to and agree with that reality, but had we not, I can honestly say I think saying so would have been a setback to the process. It is almost an expectation that adoptive parents be open to openness, even if the 'birth family' isn't. It is a different time and it is far from perfect - but that is based more on individual circumstances than 'the system'.

The idea that adoptive parents are some kind of privileged elite who prey upon poor, vulnerable women, who could be awesome moms if just given the time, support and resources. Again, I can only speak to my situation - and in the vaguest of terms out of respect for my sons' first mother, as I will not ever take it upon myself to share her story - but in terms of Ari and I as some kind of 'elite', at the time of our adoption he'd been working in a call centre for about 6 months, and I was working very ad hoc as a substitute teacher. We drove a four year old used car and lived in a modest three bedroom townhouse. We were not broke by any means ... but neither were we some kind of ruling class. And as to the boys' mother ... please trust me that she would not have, and most likely never will be, capable of parenting. While she was/is young and poor, and I have no doubt taken advantage of by many, at no point was she taken advantage of by the system or us. It is in fact because of Children's Aid that she was able to get prenatal care, she was given opportunities to take the steps necessary to parent, she was given chances to visit and be in touch ... right or wrong, the choices she made were hers. We did not go to a foreign country and prey upon misogenistic laws, poverty, etc. or hire someone as a surrogate - we went through the public system to help a child in need, and to begin the family we wanted. It was a win-win for all concerned. Did the boys' birth mother struggle with her decision? I would imagine so. I know so. But I also know the right decision was made by the simple facts of the situation; from the day we learned he'd been born, we were in the hospital all day, every day alongside him. She, despite strong encouragement from all concerned (and the utmost clarity that she would take priority), never came back to visit upon discharge.

That story is why I am so far against the strength of the law changes suggested in this article as well ... 90 days before any adoption plan is put in place? No connection until well past the birth between birth and adoptive parents? This is only going to succeed in sowing seeds of unfamiliarity, which in turn breeds distrust, between people who ultimately are working together to ensure the child's best interests - a parenting team if you will. That connection, those shared experiences, those discussions, are best to have cleared up before a child is three months old and - yes - has already bonded with birth mother and vice versa, and while adoption may remain the right decision at that point, is all of a sudden a hundred times harder.

And what about Laurel Walton's son himself? Despite her trauma, she describes him, upon their reunion, as a man she was proud of, who'd grown up well, etc. And who was responsible for that? Oh right, people of privilege who oppressed and demeaned her. Perhaps, rather than this evisceration, she owes her son's adoptive parents (his parents) a thank you. Meanwhile, she is married with children she had the privilege to raise herself. While obviously it was a long, painful road for her - and again, I sympathize - maybe this situation didn't turn out so badly for all concerned. And perhaps the 'me me me' pity party could be tempered by a counting of blessings ... and a realization that her story is HER story ... not necessarily ours, anymore than our (admittedly ridiculously blessed and lucky) adoption story is anyone else's.

And all of this 'adoption is so rough, unfair, hurtful, etc.' could potentially damage a system that, while it does hurt some, has SAVED countless families and children - birth families, adoptive families and children alike. In situations where adoption would be the right choice, a purely negative story like this will only serve to discourage adoptive parents - "Oh my God, do ALL birth parents think like this? Do they all have regrets? Are they all going to want to change their minds and carry this around in their lives, and mine, and eventually OUR children's, forever?" - and, more importantly, birth parents who could very well, like Juno, know the right path to take but feel forced to face a baby they know they're going to give up, to strangers they're not allowed to meet, etc. etc. etc. ... this process becoming more difficult could lead to either more abortions on one hand (a valid choice, but if the idea of adoption is to give potential children and parents a future, I'm working on that premise), or more parents who - I'm sorry, in some cases, it does happen - who can't raise their children, attempting to, against others' and perhaps their own better judgement.

In short, this article was not only insulting - both to well-intentioned adoptive parents (you know - most of us) - but to the whole process itself, and the changes made to said process over decades. If you want to attack privileged elites making irresponsible decisions on how to become parents, perhaps we can talk tens and hundreds of thousands being spent on fertility processes ... surrogacy arrangements because biology is more important than taking care of children who NEED it ... etc. There are boogeymen out there - some certainly in the adoption arena - but adoption has also been a blessing for many parents - both biological and adoptive - and children ... and to ignore that entirely is doing a disservice to families created in this special way ... many of which, these days, in Ontario, involve continued bio-ties.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I like your article more. Just sayin ;)