I am somewhat surprised that I am compelled to talk about adoption...again. While I have always had opinions on the matter, it have spent a lot more time thinking and writing about it since I started this blog almost two years ago.
This weekend I read a book called Love in the Driest Season. At it's heart, this book is about adoption and parental love, but it is also about how Robert Mugabe has fucked up Zimbabwe, about the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and about man's twisted cruelty towards other men. It's about how unfair life is. I couldn't put it down.
The author, a journalist for the Detroit Free Press, and his wife were volunteering at an orphanage in Harare, Zimbabwe as the AIDS crisis created thousands upon thousands of orphans. The infant that eventually becomes the couple's daughter was left abandoned by her mother at birth in the high grass in a nearby small village. The tiny girl is not found for a day, and when she is, ants have crawled into every possible orifice. The baby weighed a little over four pounds. By the time she was discovered, the mother was long gone. We never find out whether the mother had AIDS, or had been left a widow by AIDS, or was beset by any number of other problems that are rampant all over Africa.
To summarize very briefly, The baby girl almost dies multiple times, and then finally starts to thrive under the care of the journalist and his wife. During the time that the couple is fostering the very sick baby, something like 18 infants die in the orphanage where she was originally taken. It is crystal clear that the girl would have died had she remained in the orphanage and not been moved to a fostering situation.
Adoptions by non-blood relatives are extremely rare on Zimbabwe, and it is only by luck and the advocacy of an ethical adoption coordinator amidst an otherwise bureaucratic morass, that the family is able to get out of the country before Mugabe made foreign journalists full-on enemies of the state. It is worth noting that if the political climate had not been going to hell in a handcart, the family would have stayed indefinitely in Zimbabwe.
You cannot read this book and feel grateful that this adoption was possible - that among a sea of dying, orphaned children, the love of the two parents triumphed over petty prejudices and lazy bureaucrats.
Before I read the book, I was surfing some anti-adoption blogs and websites last week. After a while I just asked myself why I was doing this to myself, I was getting so frustrated. So I just stopped reading them.
Here is the wall that I run into; How can you be AGAINST adoption? I understand that you can be against your own adoption experience. I can understand that you felt unfairly coerced and manipulated into giving up a child, or that you had a negative adoptee experience because your parents did most things wrong. I can understand that you don't want to personally take on the complications of adoption. But how can you be against adoption philosophically? There are children that need homes, there are parents that will adore them. Not all of those parents will be good, and all will be flawed. But there are a lot of mediocre parents out there, most of them biological. Adoptive parents are no different than anybody else, except they are usually not hardened criminals due to the screening that they have to go through. And as we know, a lot of hardened criminals do have children biologically.
Being against adoption is kind of like saying that what is wrong for you is wrong for everyone else. Everyone is unique, every parent and every child. Every adoption will have it's own unique outcome, as does every parent-child relationship.
It's my biggest beef about the Christian Right. We must accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour, or else we are wrong. And the Christian Right believes that their views on abortion, or gay marriage, or prayer in schools is what should be the law of the land, whether we believe in it or not.
But I digress.
It's not that I am a Pollyanna about adoption. I do believe in adoptee rights and the rights of biological parents. I believe adoptees have the right to any available information that exists. I believe that totally closed adoptions are wrong, but I also believe that there is a huge area in the middle.
In my own case, I do not believe that I was adopted into the best possible family. My mother was flat-out crazy for God's sake. I know that my biological mom was not coerced into giving me up. She was being pragmatic. She was getting rid of a problem; She was a good girl and abortion was illegal. She once told me (in a very kindly way, mind you) that she would have had an abortion, had they been legal. I don't know that my bio-mom made the right decision. She did end up later marrying my birth father for eighteen years, and had another daughter with him. I do know that that my adoption has been intensely painful and complicated for her. But it is the decision that she made at the time, with the information that she had. And that decision made my life what it is. The burden of a nutso mother and the gift of a kind, caring and gentle father. It is my life, and I am who I am because of it. I suppose that it is because I am happy with who I am that I have no issues with my adoption, nor with adoption in general.
I believe that people can blame too much on their parents. I believe that adoptees can idealize what blood ties mean. I know I did. I will not deny that knowing my biological family was undeniably a watershed event in my life. But I am not my parents; not my biological parents, nor my adoptive parents. No matter how much we identify with family, we are our own miraculously unique collection of cells, and we will have different experiences and different beliefs and different relationships than they did.
I believe that blood ties can be strong. I believe that love ties are many times stronger. I believe it is better to focus on what can be done, rather than errors that have been made.(And I'm not talking about suppressing or ignoring the past, just putting it into perspective and context.) I believe that we are ultimately responsible for our own happiness. I believe that adoption is imperfect, like all things in life.
But I also believe that adoption has it's own special mysteries and gifts. And fortunately for me, I know about some of them.
Adoption is not a yes or no issue. It's a reality that can be negative, positive, complicated, imperfect, intense and beautiful. Usually all of the above in equal measure, as "Love in the Driest Season" describes so well. So I will never understand how it can be distilled down to "anti-adoption", as though it is ONE WRONG THING. It just doesn't make sense.