For some reason, I’ve recently come across a whole bunch of personal essays on various topics relevant here. A couple of recent ones that I’ve talked about have been about adoption, both written by adoptive mothers. (There was an earlier account of a surrogacy I wrote about and there are other personal essays on other topics that I just haven’t gotten to yet.)
Now I think the personal essay is valuable and can be a thought-prov0king read. They offer us insights that are important. But they can also be idiosyncratic and unrepresentative. I don’t think you can take them as representative of the typical experience–after all, the person who chooses to write publicly about personal topics isn’t exactly typical to begin with
Neither do I present them to you all so that we can judge the authors worthiness, though this often seems to be the first reaction (and I’m sure I fall into that myself sometime.) I present them because I think they do offer interesting and specific insights and sometimes they teach us to think about things differently–to broaden the range of experiences/reactions we consider. I know that all of this is rather general but has been on my mind as I read the comments to the two earlier posts.
Anyway, there are two other recent pieces about adoption that I think warrant mention. Neither is a personal essay so they add a different dimension to the discussion.
First, there is this essay from Nina Easton. It’s also timed as a Mother’s Day piece. I’m just going to quote the lead sentences as I think this pretty well sums up her point.
In today’s America, a single woman facing a surprise pregnancy is likely to consider just two options: abortion or single motherhood. The third choice, adoption, carries such a social stigma that domestic placement of infants has plummeted
The main idea here is that giving up your child for adoption is seen by many to be a shameful choice and therefore fewer women choose to do that. The author considers this view of adoption–that it is shameful–to be a cultural bias.
It’s an interesting point to consider. One thing it highlights for me is that the judgment of what it means to give a child up for adoption is culturally constructed. So for example, as being a single-motherhood becomes more acceptable (not to say that it is easy), giving a child up for adoption is less acceptable. There’s no real firm right/wrong here. It’s all about how we view things–what we, as a society, view as better/worse behavior.
Which actually brings me back to the observation I made earlier–about how willing we are to judge people based on limited knowledge of specific actions. I think that’s an unfortunate tendency, really. Generally we cannot know whether it is right or wrong for a young woman to give her child up for adoption, because we do not fully know/understand her circumstances, her perspective and her life.
There are two other things that strike me here. One is that we often over-estimate the extent to which having options means having freedom of choice. Here, too, I have written before. Choices are constrained by social circumstances. Women may be free to give their children up for adoption, but there may be substantial pressure not to take that option. That’s what this essay is all about, really. On the whole, it reinforces my inclination to be wary when people invoke the rhetoric of choice. At the very least, the context in which choices are made deserves a closer look.
The second thing is really a question. Is Easton right in her description of things? Is giving a child up for adoption stigmatized these days? The emergence of the organization mentioned in the essay suggest it might be, but I honestly don’t know. Certainly some of the rhetoric here–referring to adoption as abandonment, say–suggests that it might be so.
And one last note on a different topic. Some time ago I listened this interview on Fresh Air. (Regular readers will have figured out that I’m a big fan of Terry Gross.) Kathryn Joyce has written a book about the impact of the evangelical movement on overseas adoption. It’s called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption. The disturbing thesis is that as promoting overseas adoption has become a priority within the evangelical Christian movement it has lead to increased demand to adoption which in turn has fueled less-that-laudable practices in some countries. (It’s that whole “if there’s a demand we need a supply” thing.) It’s worth a listen and, as I say, it is troubling.