Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Just" an adoption, and all the racial issues that go with it

Every now and then I come across a comment on someone's blog that says, "Why don't you just adopt?" The latest one was on this post on the popular blog Motherlode. The post is by a father sharing his thoughts on secondary infertility. Comment #8, John, is the "why don't you just adopt" commenter.

"He couldn't love a child without his genes, no?" Lovely comment. As if the adoption process provided parents with a child whose only notable differences were hidden invisibly in her DNA.

Adoption is not a neat replacement for giving birth. It is certainly not "just" a path of less resistance than dealing with fertility issues directly. Adoption is its own thing. If infertile couples pursue adoption after failing to conceive a child, it's not because adoption is an alternate route to the same result. If anyone believes that it is an alternate route when they choose to adopt, the adoption process sets them straight. Usually.

(I've heard anecdotal stories about perpetually clueless parents who refuse to address their child's identity and issues as an adopted person. This is unfortunate. I can't understand how they do it.)

The first thing this new, hopeful family learns is that the world is not exactly teeming with adoption opportunities. They get to choose the age, gender, and other parameters of their child, but the odds are good that the type of child they want is not available. If they were to give birth, they know what they'd get: "newborn, our race, our inheritable characteristics." Gender and health are still random chance, but if this couple were to request a child like that from an adoption agency, they'd be told that there's a wait. A long, difficult wait. But if the couple would open their parameters a bit...

...for instance, if they would request an older child, any race...

...the adoption agent's face would light up. That's the kind of family she's looking for. That's the kind of match she can make. There'll be hardly any wait, and she'll make sure the paperwork gets taken care of. This family has just opened the door of opportunity for her.

They've opened a door for themselves, too. Quite often, that door is labeled, "Congratulations! You are now a multiracial family."

Once you walk through that door, you become a multiracial family. For the rest of your lives, all racial issues in society will be your issues. Including the really hard, hurtful ones. If this family is afraid of criticism, judgment, and societal disapproval, they'd be wise to think twice - this door leads to all that.

They can always step back and take another route. If they're white, then for a little more waiting time and a bit more money, they can adopt a white child one way or another. And let's face it - nearly all adoptive families facing the interracial option are white. If a nonwhite family wishes to adopt a child of their race, the number of options will narrow, but they will probably still be able to adopt without too much headache.

Unlike giving birth, adoption is an industry. It is directly beholden to the laws of supply and demand. This factor creates a certain cognitive dissonance in the minds of the hopeful family, who would rather think of adoption as a process leading to a child they can hold and love and send to the best school in their region. Instead, they're stuck in endless business transactions, negotiations, and bending to the laws of supply and demand.

Therefore, the family who steps through that door of becoming a multiracial family is quite common. families have different reasons for choosing to adopt a child of a different race. But once they have joined the club, they are in it for life.

It would be nice if interracial families were a big club. Unfortunately, while racial identity can dictate a person's sense of belonging, interracial families may find themselves automatically marginalized. We make our own clubs in order to feel less alone, and to help our children feel less alone. Our worldview changes - news articles about racial tensions catch our eye. Racial equality becomes extremely important - for the wellbeing of our children, which of course is our highest priority in life. We scan classrooms and soccer fields for skin tones that had never interested us before. When we chat with other parents, we put out feelers to find out if those parents' children are experienced with racial diversity. We scour every lesson and eavesdrop on every backyard conversation for signs of intolerance. We endure curious stares in public and field awkward questions. We start to be suspicious of our neighbors, because one of them turned out to be a shameless bigot and we never know when another bigot will show up.

And if we ignore the racism that shows up in everyday society, we leave our children to deal with it by themselves. If we're not vigilant, the problem won't go away. We just blind ourselves to the issues that our children can't avoid. We can promote racial tolerance with all our hearts - in fact, just existing is a form of promoting racial tolerance. We love our kids of different races. As people see that, they'll become more accustomed to the idea. But love alone won't end racism. There's an awful lot of people out there in the world, and not very many of them are looking to you for examples of how to behave.

And no matter what your race is or your child's race is, just the fact of being adopted creates its own issues for your child. Yes, that child is yours. You love her and she loves you. Adoption is for life (usually) and it's for real (usually). (All the recent cases of adoptions gone wrong make me feel like I have to add all these horrible disclaimers.) But the phrase "You're mine" means something slightly diferent when you say it to an adopted child. That different meaning is okay. It's still as sincere and as true.

But don't pretend the relationship is exactly the same in every way as it is to a child by birth. The child knows the differences. The child knows that society knows the differences. If you cannot acknowledge the differences, again, you're leaving your child to deal with it by herself.

I'm not saying that infertile couples should not adopt. (I've heard other people say that. I'm not gonna.)

I'm not saying that adoption is a grueling process that is not for the faint of heart and will beat you in the end. (There are some horror stories, but most of us break through the bureaucracy and find exactly what we'd wanted - a wonderful child who we love.)

I am saying that racial and/or adoption issues will change you, and that it helps to be prepared for that change and to make it willingly.

And I'm saying that adoption is not a morally superior alternative to fertility treatments. Nor is it a carbon copy of giving birth. It is not easy, and there's nothing "just" about it.

But mostly what I'm saying is that trolling the internet, leaving "just adopt" comments everywhere, is reprehensible and decidedly unhelpful. It is a mark of the perpetually uninformed and incompassionate. Adoption is not a decision to be made under the pressure of random internet commenters, but from one's own heart.

Reassure yourselves, random commenters. If the blogger you feel the need to advise is moved to adopt, he or she will adopt of his/her own free will. Or not. No additional justification to you is required.

1 comment:

  1. Man, did you ever hit the nail on the head with this post! Thank you so much!