Seeking Birth Parents-Does Gender Matter?

As is so often the case, yesterday’s Style section of the NYT included a fine little essayin the Modern Love column.   It’s by Kerry Herlihy.   

Herlihy is adopted.   In the essay she considers her relationship with the woman who gave birth to her.   They made contact ten years ago but did not forge an ongoing relationship.   In the essay Herlihy chronicles her struggle over whether to use new technology to re-contact her birth mother.  It’s worth a read.   There’s just one relatively small point I wanted to comment on.  

It’s clear reading the essay that Herlihy’s hopes and expectations with regard to the woman who gave birth are complicated and substantial.   I suppose this is not necessarily remarkable–I’ve read frequently of the quest of an adopted child for the person typically called a “birth parent.”  

But Herlihy’s quest is so clearly focused on the woman who gave birth to her rather than the man who participated in her conception.  Indeed, he is granted only a brief and passing mention in the essay.    

For me this raises a gender question I’ve frequently wondered about.   Is it more important to adopted children to locate birth mothers than birth fathers?  Is the decision of a woman to give up a child for adoption generally different from the decision of a man?  

There’s an obvious reason why this might be so–the woman who gives birth has been pregnant for nine months or so.   The man whose genetic material created the child has not been.  He may have been involved with the process of pregnancy, but he need not be.  

So this really just comes back to a central question in my consideration of  parenthood–are men and women similarly situated?  Does pregnancy matter?   It seems at least in this case that it does.


2 responses to “Seeking Birth Parents-Does Gender Matter?

  1. It does seem like a lot of people look for the birth mother first. I personally believe there’s a connection there that began during pregnancy, so that might be the first connection an adoptee looks to establish — a need that’s partly instinctual.

    Also I think there’s a stigma that’s often attached to birth fathers — a belief that if he had been doing his part, the birth mother wouldn’t have been in a position where she’d have to make that decision. I’ve met several adoptees who want to know their birth father, and many birth fathers who have a deep longing to know their relinquished child, so I definitely would not discount their connection. I just notice, like you do, that the initial search is often for the birth mother first.

    • I wonder if there’s any research out there to back up our shared intuitions? And I wonder, too, about what implications these intuitions might have. It seems to me that they are closely related to a conviction I hold that men and women are, at least sometimes, differently situationed as parents–as mothers and fathers.

      I tend to think that over time, as men and women perform the role of parent, those differences fade. But when an infant is placed for adoption, neither the man nor the woman continues to perform that parental role, and thus the initial differences between mother and father are sort of frozen in time.

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