I read this essay a week ago via Harlow’s Monkey and have not been able to shake it from my mind ever since. I’m not going to summarize it here, because it would be impossible to convey the profundity of Jane Jeong Trenka’s essay in short paragraph form. Go read it for yourself, and come back.
Adoption is a beautiful thing. Sometimes. But in many ways, perhaps in even more ways than not, it is complicated, tragic, and ugly. It is a result of inequity, desperation, privilege, and money, among other things. The thing is, though, that the people who have the shitty luck and the desperation and the poverty often lack a voice. If they don’t have money for food, shelter, and medicine, then they most likely don’t have money for a computer on which to keep a blog devoted to their side of the adoption journey, or edgy t-shirts with messages like this.
There are times when I am appalled by the blindness of the adoptive parent community. I am disturbed by the dehumanizing Madonna/whore depiction of “birthmothers” who have carried, birthed, breastfed, loved and cared for their children; the innumerable ways in which APs desperately try to claim every aspect of parenting *including pregnancy* for themselves ( “paper” pregnancies, sonograms of foreign countries, “Born in My Heart!” accessories); and the rewriting of the adoption narrative, transforming it from a complex process of loss and grief to a simplistic act of gift-giving between a grateful “birth” mother and an eager “real” mother.
As an AP I understand that adoption can bring a tremendous amount of joy. The process itself can be exciting and overwhelming, and sometimes the lack of excitement and understanding from those around us as we are in a long process filled with unknowns leads to overcompensation at the expense of the very same people who make our adoption possible. I’ll admit it: right here, on this very blog, I once titled a post “Paper Pregnant.” It was my way (and I think this is very common in AP-land) of indicating that we were waiting, and that our wait was for something very exciting and valid. Did I intend to hurt the feelings of the women who are pregnant with children that they are placing for adoption? Of course not. But it still did not give me the right, especially after I realized the problematic nature of the saying, to use the language. Along with the other parts of the adoption process- the unknowns, the excitement, and so on- comes the obligation to educate one’s self about all aspects of adoption. As an adoptive parent I can never stop reading, listening, and learning; it’s part of the job description. So I learn, I change, and I use the information I gain to be a better parent.
I don’t understand the complete and total lack of perspective that is so widespread in the adoptive parenting community. I’m baffled by this inability to step into the shoes of another member of the adoption triad for even a moment to consider how hurtful and ugly their “celebration” of adoption can be. It’s hypocritical for adoptive parents to demand that everyone respect their feelings and their families when they can’t do the same for the first families of their own children.
We don’t celebrate “Gotcha Day” in this house. In fact, we didn’t really celebrate the anniversary of our adoption. We acknowledged it, with a fair amount of ambivalence all around. It some ways it was a happy day last fall when we met Sula and Dawit. Happy for us, anyways; we got to meet the kids whose pictures we had been staring at for months…and that’s pretty much where the joy stopped. Dawit remembers feeling excited, but was also nervous and nursing a bad cold. Sula doesn’t remember, but she was frightened and confused and didn’t want anything to do with us. Looking back, I guess it probably did feel a whole lot like “Gotcha Day” to Sula, who viewed us as abductors more than parents. I’m no kiddy snatcher, but if I were, I’m pretty sure that the word I’d utter upon capturing a child would be “Gotcha!”
It’s an ugly word, with ugly connotations, and it- along with all of the other ridiculous phrases that have come to be associated with adoption- should be banned. Our children may not be able to “hear” the voices of the parents who gave them life, but they can hear ours, and we should not use our powerful voices to denigrate their life histories with fantasies that suit our needs as adoptive parents.
My children are people, not flowers that blossomed or Ethiopian princes and princesses that grew in my heart. They were not a gift from an impoverished donor to our relatively wealthy family. They are a blessing to me, but I recognize that this blessing was the result of a tragedy. I am their Mom, but I share that title with another Mom who also loved them. This is not a zero-sum game. We are both “real” mothers. We both love our children. Only one of us has a voice. I will be careful how I use mine.