Another Adoption Story–A Slightly Different View

I’m now finally getting to some of the comments (there’s still a huge backlog there–sorry) but I also have some things I’ve been meaning to post about.   This is from last week’s Modern Love column.

It’s not a case and in many ways it’s not about law at all.   It’s a another view of adoption and I think it is worth a read.   I won’t try to summarize it because it’s as much about tone as it is facts, but I did want to offer a few comments.

First, the initial (failed) adoption made me think a bit about some of what we’ve written about ways in which people apart from the pregnant woman can invest in the expected child.   Clearly the women in Seattle were deeply invested in the first prospective child.   That’s what makes it so wrenching.   Further, I think we want prospective adoptive parents (and all other sorts of prospective parents) to be invested in just this way.  If they weren’t invested in this way then I wouldn’t feel comfortable having them step into the job.

But the investment they made gave them no rights to the child nor should it have.   That means it is terribly risky.   You put your heart into it and you may find–as was the case in the first (failed) adoption here–that you get nothing.   (To be clear, I do not mean to limit investment to monetary investment.   The main investment here is psychological.)   In any event, investment alone cannot make you a parent, in my view.

Then there is the happier story of the second (successful) adoption.  What strikes me here is the relationship between the birth mother and the prospective adoptive parents.   It seems so clearly a good thing for all concerned–including the anticipated child.   These women come to have a substantial and respectful relationship, one that will benefit everyone if it endures.    Given that it is both substantial and respectful, it seems like it has the best possible chance of enduring, too.    This, it seems to me, is perhaps the ideal we can hope for with open adoption.    The adoption creates and enduring relationship not only between adoptive parents and child but also between adoptive parents and birth mother.

Finally, I see no mention here of the genetic/birth father.   That’s not the point of the essay so there’s no reason why the author should have included it, but it’s something we’ve been talking about here quite a bit recently.    Perhaps I should amend my earlier note about the ideal we can hope for in open adoption.   Maybe the ideal would mean enduring relationships not only with the birth mother but also with the birth father.  But this story seems to me to highlight one of those essential differences between men and women.  He could walk away from the pregnancy, she could not.   As I say, I have no facts.  I don’t know why he wasn’t there.   But surely this scenario–with a present and engaged birth mother but not a present and engaged birth father–does occur.


39 responses to “Another Adoption Story–A Slightly Different View

  1. I’d like to point out that the adopting couple was not invested in that particular child- they were invested in having ANY child.
    In this a prospective adoptive couple before a relationship as been established, differs very strongly from an biological parent. Marilyn who has told us of her own history many times- the birth of her daughter did not erase the loss of her son who died on the day of his birth.
    I’m happy for them that their story has a happy ending- or a happy beginning shall we say. Open adoption can be tricky and I’m hoping they can all work it out for everyone’s benefit.

    • Your point about being invested in the child–you mean in the first instance? I’m not sure. It sounds like they had become invested in a particular child–with a particular time-line, etc. And in the second instance there was a specific child.

      Still and all it is quite true that their investment in/relationship to the anticipated child is different from that of the pregnant woman. But is that all you mean by “biological parent?” What can we say about the investment of genetic father? We don’t have any facts but it strikes me that it could be virtually nothing. Or not. The key thing for me is that the genetics doesn’t tell you anything about it.

      • Sure genetic fathers sometimes walk off. But, when they are invested in the child, it is THAT particular child, not just any available child. The instances of bereaved parents snatching any baby from the nursery are exceptionally rare. To quote marilyn again, there is a reason that we don’t just give any new baby to new mothers getting discharged from the hospital.
        Whereas, if it is not your biological child or other form of kin, until you actually establish the relationship, any healthy child is exchangeable with another healthy child.

        • It seems to me some men invest in children to whom they are genetically related and some men invest in children to whom they are not genetically related. And when men do invest in children to whom they are genetically related sometimes I can see that they do so because they are genetically related and sometimes I’m not as sure. Often a man is genetically related to a child and also in a social relationship with the pregnant woman that promotes a different kind of relationship to the whole pregnancy thing. So I’m not sure where all this gets you. Genetic relationship certainly matters sometimes to some men (and to some women).

          There are many reasons we don’t just hand out the babies born at a hospital to random people. But this is murky because the women you menion are also generally the ones who were pregnant and gave birth. Thus, I don’t think you can say that the practice is guided by our attachment to genetics. Indeed, IVF, which allows women to give birth to children they are not genetically related to, creates quite a puzzle.

          And I guess I disagree about the last statement. I think people do form emotional attachments to specific children even without genetics. It seems to me this is clear from the first part of the story here–that they were invested in that one child and the disappointment was crushing.
          I’m not saying that the investment should have entitled them to any particular status, just that it was real and specific to that child.

          • i read the story very differently than you. They were not invested in that particular child, just that was the particular child that was available. when that didn’t work out, they grieved because they remained childless, not because they missed or had a longing for that particular child. Indeed, that child and her welfare are never thought of again or mentioned in the article. Nor should she be- she is no longer relevant to the story. They went right on to the second child.

            • although agree with you that both genetics and pregnancy create an bond with the particular child.

            • please note! I am not trying to say that they were callous hardhearted uncaring or poor parents or anything like that! Not at all. There is no reason for them to have bonded with t he first child at all and their is nothing wrong with them grieving for their own plight. I expect they will be very good parents to the second child and love her as befits.

    • Right.

    • I see open adoption as kind of similar to the known sperm donor. The difference is that both adoptive parents are equal in their relationship to the child, and there was a legal transfer of rights, usually because the biological mother considers herself incapable of acting as a full fledged parent. Still it is not a simple path with lots of potential pitfalls.

      • I agree that open adoption has some of the same tone as known donor reproduction. See I think that adoption needs an overhaul as well. I see no reason for the child to loose his right to be identified as the offspring of his biological parents permanently I see no reason to terminate his legal recognition as a member of his parents family either because that legal recognition to genetic kin is important to all the members of the family not just the child to the parent. A whole family looses access to information about one of their relatives and also looses the right to recognition as the child’s genetic kin with all the benefits associated with that. It’s not their fault that the parent could not raise the child and that is a situation that only lasts 18 years at most anyway – life is much longer than that if your lucky so the family should not be penalized and made to act as if the connection is not there just because someone else had to raise the child . You could leave the child’s identity alone, the family status alone and someone else could still assume responsibility for the child. They’d just have to be willing to do it without feeling they are owed a whole child in return new identity and all

      • I think there are some clear parallels between open adoption and use of a known sperm donor and this means that there are also interesting parallels between players. What I mean is that being a sperm donor has some similarity to being a birth father. You can even say that being a sperm donor is similar to being a birth mother, but I see many more important differences there as well.

        Similiarity is not the same as identity, however. Nor does the fact that there are similarities mean that the law should treat the two practices the same way. There’s a lot to think through before reaching that conclusion. But surely you are right it is not a simple path.

  2. “He could walk away from the pregnancy, she could not.”

    Yes but in adoption both parents walk away from the child. How ethically that is done varies case to case. Certainly in gamete donation they walk away from their offspring with equal ease. The results are all the same though.

    • I agree to the extent that in both cases you can end up with people who are not genetically related to the child raising the child as legal parents and you end up with the genetic parents not being legal parents. But this similarlity should not (in my view) be allowed to obscure the fact that there are also differences. I think there are notable differences between a woman giving up a child she gave birth to vs. a man giving up sperm. The question, of course, is what meaning to give both the similarities and the differences.

  3. A kid can have the best relationship with their adoptive parents and feel like it was meant to be destined to form a family.

    But that kid could easily have been given to another family that would love them as much and the family they thought was so destined to be would never even miss them would not pine away for them they would not seek her out to see if she was OK because she never would have gotten to know them for them to care about her in the first place. She would not ever have become their daughter, grandchild, sister niece or cousin and they would not care about that they’d care about the child they were given and that would be that.

    But that kid, easily given to any adoptive family is always going to be important to the bio family and will always be their daughter, their sister, their grandchild, niece or nephew no matter where she is or who raises her she will always be someone who is missing from their family even if none of them act on it or actively care she is part of that family no matter where else she goes. The reality is that most family members do seek adopted out relatives it is not all that hard to locate the family of an adopted person – most of the time I find them because they are also looking or at least I come to find out that they’d tried looking in various ways like leaving a note at the agency which I’ve never bothered to check or with the mutual consent registry which I never bother to check either.

    Point is that as invested as adoptive parents can be they will always love the child because they got to know them and the bio family will love them in spite of the fact that they don’t know them at all. They don’t know the name or what they look like still they search because that person is important for who they are and not what has been invested into them. They matter to the bio family despite the fact that there has been no investment to seek a return on they are not anticipating any dividends from that person still they seek and seek and seek because that person just matters for who they are matters because the family owes them something owes them to check on them.

    So they will never matter to the adoptive family like that. They only matter to them because of the time and effort invested in them. They don’t just matter because they exist. They are not just a sister because they are sisters they are sisters because they were raised together and there was this whole investment they had to get a return on. I’m told hugging your sister and knowing your their sister without ever having done a damn thing to earn or deserve it feels really freaking good. That’s why I do it. Gets me high being around all that joy.

    • It’s an interesting point and one that strikes me as deep and metaphysical. It’s like there’s an alternative universe out there where this child was raised by a different family and in that alternative universe that child is also happy and well. No doubt that is true. I think there is a great mystery about children generally. They seem to have complicated personalities from the get go and I guess I do not think that’s all just genetic. (This might be me about to get all metaphysical.) There’s someone there. And how did that person end up here with me? Could they have ended up somewhere else, with someone else? Would they then be the same person? These questions are too hard for me.

      It is true that having a genetic relationship with a child is not the same as not having a genetic relationship with a child. But not everyone loves a child simply because they have a genetic relationship with the child. Not everyone even cares for a child because they have a genetic relationship with the child. And even if they use the word “love” I think the love of someone you have never met but feel some connection to is a diffferent thing from the love of someone you have intimately cared for and have a psychological relationship with.

      I’m not sure where this all leaves me or what it tells me about what the law should be.

  4. i think once a relationship has been established, people become irreplaceable even if they were not, at the beginning.

    • They also care about them for who they really are the child of these other people who did not raise them. They don’t have to be this other person for them to be worthy of attention. They don’t have to take on this other persona be the plan B child the consolation for the bio kid they never had because they are the bio kid these other people had they are not the plan B kid they are their Kid that they failed to take care of but at least they are not substituting

    • I agree. (Always nice to find common ground.)

  5. Sure but that is not the point I was trying to make. To the adoptive family the adopted child could have been anyone and they would have cared about them just the same, there is nothing unique or special about them that made them care about this specific person it happend because the relationship was built. But the bio family will seek that specific individual out despite the fact that no relationship was built just because of who they are and the fact that they are compelled to care about them because its their duty for having caused their existence.

    • I’m not sure this is an accurate way to describe what people experience. I think many adoptive families do believe in a kind of destiny. But I’m also not sure this matters. Surely once the child is in the adoptive family we agree it is no longer fungible–you cannot substitute child A for child B. The child is unique and special. I think I see the point you are making–that a person can search for a genetically related child and might find a specific person while searching for a child to adopt you might come up with many possiblities. I’m just not sure why this matters.

      • I think it has something to bear on cases where unrelated persons contest bio relatives for parental status, such that have come up on this blog before. For example we discussed the man who wished to be a father pending genetic testing. You thought this indicated a flaw in his parental commitment and preferred the mother’s boyfriend. where as others of us saw it as a commitment to a particular child, his own genetic child, a very strong commitment indeed, stronger than a commitment to any random child.

        • I think this depends on how much importance individuals attach to that genetic connection and of course, we know this varies. That’s why some people can totally walk away–it means nothing special to them. To others it is important and does give meaning. I find myself thinking again about why it gives so much meaning to some people and not any meaning at all to others. (Should I specify that by “meaning” I mean “social meaning”? I think so. For some people the genetic relationship is the basis for or creates a social/pscyhological relationship–for others it does not.)

          I have no good answer, but I think it is important to keep the variation in mind.

    • organizedlibrarian

      Most of my deeply Catholic biological family in Ireland thought I was an embarrassment. They felt no obligation or need to seek me out or support me because of this supposedly magical genetic connection to which you keep alluding. My adoptive parents wanted me, plain and simple. I never felt like I had to be the biological child they never had. It is true that other families wanted to adopt me. Why is that negative? It is great! I had so many options. Thankfully, staying with my aristocratic social-climbing and status-obsessed Irish family who would have shipped me off to a convent at the first chance was not how everything worked out. My BM stays in touch with me and occasionally laments how awful it was that I didn’t grow up with my bio family. I don’t want to hurt her feelings and tell her how thrilled I am. Why the supremacy of biological families? What makes them so great other than the fact that most people like in that type of family structure? Nothing. Sorry that I don’t drink the self-hatred adoption kool-aid.

      • I kno you…

      • You are just as likely to find crappy parents at the end of a search as you are to find great ones. But you are entitled to a little consideration and care from your parents not because of a magical genetic connection but because you did not ask to get put on this earth, their actions made you and it was nobody else’s job to take care of you but theirs and they know that – having to rely on other people to handle our business for us usually makes people feel guilty and bad and sad and most people do have a sense of duty when they bring a child into the world and it is not at all unreasonable for you to expect that they’d care because they owed it to you to care. And it is not unreasonable to want to be important to them because your a physical extension of them they put a human being on this earth and how could anyone not care what happens to a person that is their responsibility. So it is not genetic magic but character and integrity and caring about the people impacted by our actions and if you found them and they lack those traits they probably suck as people in all areas of their life and any children they raised might well have notes to compare with yours on how selfish and controlling they can be for those that deal with them day in and day out. You had just as good a chance of finding someone you’d like at the end of your search as anyone raised by their family. Some people are just selfish and inconsiderate and make life painful for those around them. And it sounds like you were raised by people that were awesome and not like that at all – that is great. But that does not mean you deserved to be treated coldly or that you did not deserve a normal level of compassion and consideration from someone who put you in the perdicament of life – we don’t just crash into people and leave them to deal with the wreckage. I am not talking about magic far from it. And if you have not contacted your siblings yet because she has not told them you have waited long enough. You owe her nothing and you should not perpetuate the act of hiding information from people that deserve to know if they have a sibling a cousin a niece whatever. You don’t have to like them to know that they deserve to know about you and your child. Don’t worry about ruining anyone’s life you can’t ruin anyone’s life your a fantastic and fun person and if anything ruins their lives it will be lies and a bitter attitude. Do your part tell the truth and you might find that at least one of them is someone worth your time in getting to know. Maybe one who was also raised by a different adoptive parent. I’ve had one of those reunions too recently where the kept sister was a btch but the two adopted out rocked and so did an aunt. You never know. And you deserve to be treated as the important person you are. Don’t be snarfy about genetic magic. Respect and consideration and responsibility and being important that is not magic its just regular

  6. The part where the second birthmom tells the prospective adoptive parents that they don’t need to worry that she’d change her mind, because “I’d never do that to you”, makes me quite sick. That alone is a powerful argument against pregnant women who are considering giving their baby up for adoption building a relationship with prospective adoptive parents.

    • Right? Now she owes them a baby. Property talk. Its such a fine line between selecting the best people to help raise your child because you cant and giving someone a baby a s a gift or a commissioned item.

    • that bothered me too. as if either the first or second woman owed them her child. As if it would be wrong if she changed her mind. As if their feelings of childlessness are her responsibility.
      I don’t however think that this means there should be no relationship- if there is a good relationship it will be better for the kid.

      • I think it would have been more mature of the adoptive couple not to burden her with their grief. This being said, I appreciate that they are inviting her into their and her child’s life and are sensitive to her loss at least at the end. That shows a lot of maturity. I hope it doesn’t blow up.

        • This isn’t property talk at all. This is “I understand that they hurt you and when I make this commitment I mean it” talk.

          I think the adoptive couple was open and honest about who they were and what they had experienced. I cannot fault them for that.

          • I agree that it is not property talk (though it can certainly be interpreted like that), but it is not a healthy situation. The birthmother committed to giving her child up to people she formed an emotional attachment to, because they had met and clicked. What she could not at that point know is how she would feel after the child was born, but that commitment may have been an obstacle on the road to changing her mind.

            • I think any time we make commitments to people we care about–important commitments that they rely on–we give up some freedom because changing our mind (which we were free to do initially) now has a cost–hurting the person we care about. I think this is a price of being in meaningful human relationships. The woman who is pregnant doesn’t have to form attachments to prospective adoptive parents–she can manage adoption in a different way. If she chooses this route it will change how the choices go as you say. But there is a benefit, too, in that she knows more about where the child will be and has a better chance of a meaningful post-adoption relationship. That’s a trade-off I think she gets to make–but I expect like you, I hope she makes it thoughtfully.

              • Of course it is the birthmom’s decision to make; I wasn’t suggesting legally limiting birthmothers’ rights. It is up to her to decide who will parent her child, and up to her to decide when to make this decision.

                I am merely pointing out that pre-birth contact between adoptive parents and birthparents CAN have very unfortunate consequences. In this case, there was emotional involvement. In other cases, there is financial involvement.

                I would hate to think that a mother may give her child up for adoption because she feels she can’t change her mind after making such a commitment. In fact, she should feel completely entitled to change her mind because her feelings and those of her child matter much more than the prospective adoptive parents’ feelings. Why? Because she owes nothing to the those people, but does to her child and also to herself.

      • A post-adoption relationship is obviously beneficial. It was “nice” (for lack of a better word) that these women invited the birthmom after they already got the child. I don’t think this is common. But if pregnant women see the potential adoptive parents too much, they have too much opportunity to guilt-trip her. The same goes for adoptive parents giving the pregnant woman financial support during pregnancy.

    • Strong language that I confess I do not understand. Commiting to give a child up for adoption is a serious choice and should be viewed as such. Knowing the people who will raise the child will give some women important information. That does mean that you know that if you make a commitment to them they will be relying on you and it might make you think long and hard before you make that commitment. Remember that the law does leave the power to change the decision with the pregnant woman. No matter what she says she retains the right to change her mind. But I don’t see what’s wrong with understanding that there are consequences (non-legal consequences) to changing her mind. It’s true, after all.

      I’m sure not everyone wants to do it this way, but for those who do want the ongoing relationship, it seems to me a fairly honest way to proceed. Not easy, but honest.

      • Placing a child for adoption is a serious choice. Wanting to personally determine who will raise your child instead of you is a good reason to meet the prospective adoptive parents before the adoption. One thing is missing; the birthmother has not yet met her own child during pregnancy. Adoption agreements do not have to be made before the child is born.

  7. It sounds like a very workable situation where they are open to allowing her child to know her. It sounds respectful and not like this mother was selling off her child or anything it sounds like she needed help raising her baby and she got it. My heart breaks for the fact that it severs all ties. Legally anyhow. Not for this family hopefully. It should add people to the child’s life not swap or subtract.

    • still there are a lot of potential pitfalls. Are they going to be upfront to their kid about the relationship, or are they going to insist that she is some sort of donor uncle? Will there be resentment on any side, when they see the child bonding with the other? Will the mother come to regret her decision one day, if her circumstances change? if she is indifferent, will the child be hurt or relieved? or both? If she gives birth to a sibling what will that relationship be? So many variables not for the faint of heart. More power to them.

      • I’m not sure how you insist that the birth mother is a donor uncle. You mean will they tell the child “this is the woman who gave birth to you?” I think there is every reason to believe so. I’m not aware of any open adoptions where the birth mother is presented in any way other than that. I’m not even sure what the other options are.

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