As you likely know, attitudes towards adoption vary across cultures. I’ve heard, from a friend with firsthand knowledge of both, that Samoan and Yupik cultures are traditionally adoption-positive, whereas I had a Japanese student who wrote a research paper asserting that abortion is a far better solution to an unwanted pregnancy than adoption. (Yeah, that one stood out among my religiously conservative students’ abortion stances.) American attitudes are all over the place, with Danelle experiencing—as she alluded to—much less understanding than we have had. Even so, I have been asked, more than once and usually by strangers, “Didn’t you want your own kids?”
Ron’s response is, “Yes, that’s why we adopted them.” I’ve usually come back with a curt and more defensive, “These are my own kids.” I don’t tend to add the obvious, such as, I’m the one that’s had to tell them no about a hundred times since we walked into this store, right?
Yes, the question has to do with passing on your DNA, or with the reflexive assumption that human narcissism is the only basis on which we love our children. Yes, it implies that adopted kids are somehow inferior—another version of this question, and I swear to God I have been asked this, is, “Do you have any real kids?”
Nope, just these robot ones.
But it occurs to me now that there are more layers to this question than the ones that raise my hackles. Because it’s also a question about exactly how an open adoption works. Or it’s a good segue to that issue, anyway. There seems to be a concern that if kids know their birthparents, they can’t attach to their adoptive parents. Or that they’ll experience some confusion. I can see an analogy to the fear of bringing up a kid bilingually. Won’t they be confused and never speak either language? Remarkably, no—instead, as research shows, you end up with a bilingual person. And this is where Dr. Joyce Pavao’s terrific phrase “complex blended family” comes into play. (I promise to elaborate on this in a future post.)
It also occurs to me that this same question is an even harder one when put to a birthparent, perhaps especially a birthmom. Not wanting to answer it may be a reason that so many birthparents are not “out” about their experiences. But not having an answer to it is one of the things that makes Dawn’s adoption experience so much harder than my twins’. The twins can find reassurance daily, if they need it, that their birthmother loves them. They can reach out to her whatever their mood. She puts up with a lot of goofy videos via Marco Polo, and she also listens when they feel wronged or misunderstood. (As I may have already mentioned, Danelle is the best listener!)
For Dawn, instead, there is a big empty space, one that no one else can fill. We have repeated the story of meeting her birthmom so many times—just meeting the birthmom even once designates an adoption as “open.” We have told her how much she was loved—how the entire decision (to place her with us) was motivated by love. Dawn has a single, wallet-sized picture, from 2007 or so, of her birthmom and half-sister. It’s in a beautiful frame at the side of her bed.
Every year, we send our Christmas card and letter to Dawn’s birthmom. (We’ve never had any contact from the birthfather, although our lawyer reported an effort from him to disrupt the adoption finalization.) Around Dawn’s birthday, I try to get my act together enough to send an additional letter, just about her. We’ve never received anything back, although we said yes to receiving letters and even gifts. We do know, from the agency, that Dawn’s birthmom has received the letters. Once, I sent her my phone number and email, inviting her to reach out. Instead of hearing from her, I got a call from the agency. “Why would you do that?” demanded an irritated voice. Um, because I want this to be an actual open adoption, maybe? I don’t remember what I did say at the time, but I remember her response: “Well, you just let me know, if you do hear from her.”
Sadly, we still haven’t.