Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In defense of Madonna's adoption efforts

I read something interesting in National Geographic this month. The benevolent dictator of Malawi had been concerned about the starvation and poverty among his people. He asked World Bank for a loan so he could buy some supercrop seeds from Monsanto (the famed agricultural megacorporation that makes Roundup and also sells seeds genetically engineered to be immune to Roundup... and is currently in a major legal battle with France over France's banning of genetically modified crops).

But I digress. In any case, Benevolent Dictator wanted his farmers to enter the 20th century with some modern, super-producing cereal crops. After all, these crops saved millions of lives in India, right? World Bank turned him down, claiming that agriculture was an inappropriate way to build up a third world nation. In fact, they had a policy specifically prohibiting loans for agricultural purposes. I'm not kidding. Find a copy of NG and read it yourself.

So what did Benevolent Dictator do? He brought his case to rich celebrities: Bono, Bob Geldoff, Madonna, and the rest of the "Save Africa" crew. They lent him lots of money. He bought seeds and fertilizer from Monsanto and distributed them amongst his farmers. He had irrigation experts come in and build irrigation systems.

And all those struggling Malawian dust farmers began to grow some serious crops. Yup, it worked. As food production skyrocketed, they tinkered with the system, adding legumes to ease their reliance on yearly fertilizer applications, and balancing out their diets.

Rice and lentils provides a complete protein, which makes it possible to eat a healthy vegetarian diet. Same for pasta and fagiole. Having incomplete proteins in your diet is a significant cause of global malnutrition. If you're subsisting on cereal grains, add some beans too!

The NG journalist was interviewing his guide for the article, and the guide mentioned the Madonna Village. See, each of Malawi's patron celebrities had a village named after them. There is, in fact, a Madonna Village.

Madonna, it seems, has had a long-standing relationship with the government of Malawi. She's given them a lot of money. She's gotten to appreciate how much her assistance has helped them.

She didn't choose Malawi out of a hat, or because it was trendily obscure, or because she was too good for established adoption routes. She has personal connections to it. Yeah, it's a tiny country, and most Americans haven't heard much about it beyond Madonna's adoption attempt. Yeah, Madonna is still strutting around like she's a sex object in her 40's. Yeah, her larger-than-life, out-there public image has lost her a lot of credibility as a normal human being in the eyes of us ordinary human beings.

I've noticed that a lot of adoption bloggers and parenting bloggers love to tear her down. I've read 5 or so opinion pieces on how offended moms are by her actions. This is my own fault; I shouldn't read so many parenting/adoption opinion blogs.

But how do these bloggers know she doesn't genuinely want to be a parent to an adopted child? How is it that I can genuinely want this but she can't? Sure, Madonna seems anything but genuine. But does that really extend to her maternal urges too? Really?

So she tried to bribe officials into speeding up the process so she could bring her son home sooner. Wouldn't you? Seriously, who among us, if we found $1,000,000 lying around, wouldn't wave it in the faces of our agents and beg, "Pleeeeeze! Pleeeeze! Just let me bring her home now!"

Especially because Malawi's policy of requiring an adoptive family to spend 6 months in the country is particularly brutal. She has other kids. She has a house (or two or three) to maintain. She has a life. Which of us regular folks wouldn't blanch at the prospect of trekking off to Malawi for six months as part of the adoption process?

Especially because she's given them millions of dollars already. They even named a village after her. What's another million? They can use it to hire 50 more nurses at a rural hospital, Madonna gets her kid 6 months early, and everyone's happy.

And then... the father shows up. And people have even less sympathy for Madonna. Now it looks like she didn't choose an orphan - she chose a child with parents. Parents who want the child.

But wait a minute. That happens all the time. It's why some families feel they can't stomach a domestic adoption and go right to an international adoption. What if the father shows up suddenly? What if the court spontaneously grants the grandparents custody? What if the mother gets out of rehab and proves she's clean? What if you fall in love with a child, and halfway through the process, you lose her?

Those 'what ifs' are a huge initial obstacle to overcome. Some people steel their guts, and sign on with DSS, and adopt a wonderful child through the state with no regrets. Some people... just can't. They mean well... they give DSS some serious thought... but they just can't. They want to go to China or Guatemala or Malawi and come home with a child they cannot lose.

Except sometimes, they can still lose the child. Like Madonna did. Other adoptive families are terrified that'll happen to them. Some consider it a 'worst case scenario'. And yet people are happy to tear into Madonna when it happens to her.

We love to see the great fall, it's said. But, I'm sorry, Louise Ciccone isn't great. She's barely taller than me. Sure, I never published a coffee table book full of photos of myself in dirty poses... but I bet Madonna has never published sketches of an earwig and a house centipede. And neither one of us deserves to be torn limb from limb by the hyper-critical press. We just want to be parents.

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