Today is the first day of student orientation to me so I am recreating the balance between blogging and teaching. As a commitment to this project I wanted to get something new up–and then it’s back to my perennial quest to keep up with comments.
A couple of recent writings about adoption have been on my mind. There’s this article from the Wall Street Journal. Obviously a lot of substance and much to think about here. The vast majority of adoptions (95% by some studies) in the US are now open adoptions–which means that the birth family and the adoptive family know each other. (Or at least, they can have contact with each other.) While this does not help the generations of people adopted at an earlier time, when the preference was for closed adoptions, it’s an important step forward for future generations of adopted children.
At the same time, as one expert notes, “open adoptions makes families more complicated.” No doubt this is true–both from a legal point of view and a social one. The same expert (Harold Grotevant from UMass Amherst) goes on to say:
“In the old days, you were adding a child to an existing family; in open adoption, you are really transforming your family to incorporate your child’s birth relatives,”
This doesn’t mean that the child’s birth parents remain legal parents–they don’t. But obviously there’s a more complicated family structure.
I do not mean to suggest that this complexity is bad. Many modern families are quite complex, as you surely know if you follow this blog. But the law hasn’t exactly kept up here and the narrow insistence on one legal mother/one legal father (or even the slightly more flexible insistence on two legal parents of any sex) doesn’t capture the reality out there. It makes me think again about the monolithic nature of parental rights and it brings me round again to a question I’ve pondered: Should there be a recognized legal status for those who are genetically related to a child? (Of course, posing the question like that masks about the sameness/difference of birth parents and gamete providers. That’s a topic that’s been discussed at length in the past. I will skim by it for the moment.)
It seems to me there’s a gender question lurking here, too. Look at the terrific photo at the top of the article: Katy Katzenbach with her birth mother (Jennifer Peterson Bordean), her adopted mother (Sue Katzenbach) and her birth grandmother (Nancy–but the last name isn’t given.) It’s taken (I’m thinking by the adoptive father from the photo credit name) at the birth mother’s wedding.
One thing that is striking to me is that it is all women. Similarly, the lead in the story is about an agreement that a child will retain contact with her birth mother. In fairness, the article also notes that the Katzenbachs are also close to the birth father (Jeff Bakula) of Katy’s brother, Kevin, as well as Bakula’s parents. But even so, it seems to me (really from a large batch of anecdotal evidence) that there is greater involvement with birth mothers than birth fathers.
This isn’t really surprising–I’m sure several things to into it. Birth mothers are necessarily present when the child is born. Birth fathers may not be. I’d guess it is more likely that the child will be placed for adoption when the birth father isn’t around/involved. And of course, there are instances we’ve discussed here, where birth fathers are cut out of the adoption process. My point right here is just that the gender thing seems to me to interesting. If we are creating these new and more complex families (in fact if not in law), the participation of men and women in these families may be somewhat different. Just something I think about, I guess.
There’s more to say about the WSJ article and I’ll see what develops in the comments. Meantime, I wanted to flag this brief posting from yesterday’s Motherlode column in the NYT. This, too, gave me food for thought. Are our children destined to be our children–no matter how we become parents? That lengthy last quote has really struck with me. I’m not sure what this matters for my topics here, but it seems to me it’s worth a few moments thoughts.