Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adoptism pt 1.

I was disappointed but not surprised to get an email from Liz late Monday letting me know that we had not been chosen over the weekend. I am getting better, turns out, at feeling calm about being shown and trusting in the choices that these women are making for their babies.

This time, however, the birth mom didn't choose another couple instead of us. Instead, after thinking long and hard and talking to her family she chose herself as the parent of her child. Liz's email told me this using very positive language, and noting that it really is best for everyone for her to come to this conclusion now, before involving potential adoptive parents. And of course Liz is right. I am a firm believer that if there is a way for a woman to keep and raise her own child responsibly that is the very best choice. And I'd much rather have her come to that decision now than after baby is here.

I've been slowly noodling my way through Inside Transracial Adoption, by Gail Steinberg and Grace Hall. A few days ago as I wound down before bedtime I came to the section on "Adoptism." Great, another -ism, I thought. Adoptism is a word that describes the prejudices that are prevalent about adoption. Steinberg and Hall describe different ways these stereotypes and prejudices can affect each member of the adoption triad. I might blog later about what they had to say about adoptism for adoptive parents and children. But what has stuck with me through this weekend and week was what they had to say about the birthmother. Society is not always kind to a woman who has given up a child.

I've already seen it, a little, from dear friends and family members with our best interests in mind. They are skeptical about the level of openess we are hoping for. They are protective of us, of our place as the parents of our child. And there are assumptions we make about women who are unexpectedly pregnant, who are poor, who are not white, who give their babies up for adoption. The assumption is, for many, that this is not a person who you would want in your life, that she is someone who is bad for the child - dangerous even - that we will be "saving" the baby from her. These are easy assumptions to make. The media has told us over and over what to think about poor black women through sensationalized stories about "crack babies" and the movies and television that prop that trope up.

I'm not going to make those assumptions. For me, this woman is already one of the bravest people I know. Her choice to give up a child means choosing a huge lifetime loss for herself out of love for her little one.

Now, this doesn't mean that I think her life will be perfect, or that she will be a saint. (I'll pause here to note that I can't promise her a perfect life or sainthood from myself, either.) I'm sure our birthmother will have issues to bring to her relationship with us. She is a real person whose real life has brought her to this less-than-ideal situation of making an adoption plan. There are good reasons that she will make a different choice than the woman we were almost shown to this weekend, no matter how much she might wish it were different. Our commitment to her will be to parent her child the very best that we can, to care for ourselves and our son or daughter to the best of our ability so she can go on with her own life feeling secure in her decision, and to build a family that honors, respects, and even includes her.


  1. Have you read Dan Savage's book about open adoption, The Kid? I'm guessing you have, but if not you should really pick it up. It's a quick and easy read (like, one can read it in a day), humorous, and it gives an interesting account of his adoption. While not transracial, he and his partner adopted from a street kid.

    Also, I would guess that most people who stereotype birthmothers who choose adoption don't personally know anyone who has made that decision, so they have no context for the choice (like with most -isms!).

  2. I LOVE that book!! I actually read it years ago, at a time when I didn't plan on being married - much less having kids. I think it was pretty formational for me, in terms of being ready to do this when I came to the point in my life when it was appropriate.

    That would be my guess, too. About the stereotyping. Hey - I miss you, woman!

  3. Hi -- I found your blog through Open Adoption Bloggers. Loved this post. We also wanted a fully open adoption and our friends and family were very concerned -- same stereotypes of adoptive parents "rescuing" babies that you reference. We also experienced three failed matches before bringing our son home, which prompted more negative comments from others about women who consider adoption.

    We now have a gorgeous little boy through a semi-open, domestic, transracial adoption. His first mom did not initially want any openness (which was very hard) but we are now in contact and hope one day to have a fully open adoption. I look forward to reading more about your journey!

  4. Hi Sharon! :) Thank you for commenting, and congrats on your little boy. I'm glad you found us.