I recently came across this article from the Atlantic. I think the title is a bit over-wrought, but the essay by Jennifer Gilmore certainly describes a wrenching journey and no doubt one that had many sorrows along the way.
After failing to conceive via fertility treatments, Gilmore and her husband decided to adopt. They decided on domestic adoption in part because, as Gilmore says,
The adoption would be open—the birthmother and perhaps father would know us to whatever degree we all decided on, and they would know their biological child as she grew.
Gilmore notes that the idea of open adoption was frightening. It raises a host of questions.
Would this birthmother one day want her child back? Would she come for him? How large a part of our family would she be?
But even with those fears, Gilmore and her husband chose this route and they did so for the best of all possible reasons:
Ultimately my husband and I realized that the approach to adoption should be about what is best for the child. If the children know their birthmothers, they don’t grow up with the fantasy of who their parents were or might have been. They do not have to make the life- altering decision in adulthood to try to find their birthparents or to forever forgo the idea. And so my spouse and I came to believe that the transparency of open adoption was best for everyone, not least of all the birthmother, who needs and deserves a way to handle her grief.
The rest of the essay recounts the difficult path they travelled and it seems clear to me that it was all the more difficult because they had chosen the open adoption route. This left them open to terrible heartache, as you will see when you read the essay. To have chosen a more traditional (but probably now more unusual?) adoption route–one without contact between the prospective adoptive parents and the birth parents–would have been a safer course. It might have spared them some pain.
But it wasn’t the right thing to do–for exactly the reasons that are set out above. It seems that to become an adoptive parent in the best possible way is to take the risk of terrible pain.
As I thought about this, I thought that perhaps this is a truth that all parents confront (or at least, it’s there, whether or not you actually confront it.) To become a parent is to take a terrible risk. It is to expose yourself in all sorts of unimaginable ways.
When I think about some of the things that bother me most about ART–say contracts where intended parents make efforts to completely control surrogates–I think it’s another part of the same picture. If I’m right that being a parent means risking all kinds of pain, then it isn’t hard to see that one response–and a common one, I would think, is to try to have as much control over things as you possibly can. To minimize or control the risks. And that’s what the intended parents are trying to do.
And here I suppose I am of two minds. On the one hand, it’s understandable and predictable that many prospective parents–and many parents–will try to minimize the risks by exercising as much control as possible. But on the other hand, you cannot win. You cannot protect yourself. To be a parent is to be at risk.
Not the fact that you cannot protect yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I do see that this doesn’t follow. I wear a seatbelt even though I know that riding in a car is still dangerous.
But I do understand that there is always risk and I wonder if parents need to understand that–to face their exposure–as Garner and her husband did. Because sometimes acting to protect yourself is not what is best for your child.