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.” Continue reading
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.
Sorry–ended up taking a couple of days off there. I’m back now.
My just finished discussion about Utah has made me focus again on language, and in particular, on the use of the term “natural”. There are several places in which you hear this in a parentage context and they are sometimes contradictory. It’s worth thinking about.
Sometimes a person is referred to as the “natural parent” of a child. It’s a trifle archaic, I think, but you do still hear it. It means (at least as I think about it) a person who is genetically linked to a child. So the natural mother is, barring use of ART, the woman who gives birth to the child. The natural father is the man who had sex with the woman resulting in pregnancy.
Put less nicely, it is the parent of an illegitimate child. I do think the term is almost exclusively used with regard to unmarried parents. Thus where a married woman gives birth to a child, her husband isn’t referred to as the natural father of the child, even if he is genetically related to the child. He’s simply “the father.” Indeed, I went and looked it up in one of the on-line dictionaries and “natural father” is defined as “the father of an illegitimate child.” Continue reading
So if I’m on my second post on a topic, can it really possibly qualify as “news in brief?” Just have to wonder. But in any event, this is continued from yesterday’s post which is really background leading up to this.
To sum that up, birth certificates generally state who a child’s legal parents are. They are revised as legal parentage changes–thus, upon adoption, a new birth certificate is issued (the old one is generally sealed) showing the adoptive parents in the slots for “parents” on the certificate. Birth certificates therefore d0 not tell you, as a matter of fact, who actually gave birth to the child.
So here is the Louisiana situation. (One early report on the story is here, but you can also find other coverage of it.) Two men, a gay male couple from California, adopt a child. The child was born in Louisiana and the woman who gave birth to the child agreed to let the men adopt it. (This appears to be what is commonly called an “open” adoption.) The adoption was finalized in California. At the end of the process, both men are legal parents to the child. Continue reading
I feel like I’m starting a game show here. What is the difference between A and B? (Or perhaps Sesame Street?) Perhaps this will be a standard feature now. We’ll see.
Background first. I care a lot about articulating and examining differences. I start with a general principle that we should/do treat like things alike. Thus, if we treat two things differently, it should be because they are different in some meaningful way. Otherwise, we are likely looking at some sort of fairness problem.
But of course, simply identifying some difference isn’t enough. There are two further points. First, we generally agree that some differences are not legitimate bases for differential treatment. Think skin color or ancestry. Second, the identified difference has to somehow justify the difference in treatment. The mere existence of a difference doesn’t make it okay to treat people differently. Continue reading
My post from yesterday made me realize I should address the question of language in a more systematic way. I’ve worked hard in my scholarship to be careful with my use of language. In general, I think what we call things matters.
That’s already come up here before. But it especially true of the way we use the word “parent.” Perhaps it is the very importance of the claim to be a parent that leads us to have so many subspecies of parents–adoptive parents, biological parents, natural parents, genetic parents, step-parents and so on.
But if we use terms without reflecting on their meaning, we can make life more complicated than need be. We can muddle our arguments if we’re not careful. Continue reading
Posted in family law, language, parentage
Tagged birth parents, child, egg donor, family, father, language, lesbian mother, mother, parent, sperm donor, surrogacy
A conversation about the “motherhood outsourced” post has started me thinking. It seems to be fairly common for adoptive children to seek out their “birth parents” at some point. It’s pretty much a stock situation in films/books/TV. (I always wonder when I hear about these cases whether there’s any difference between the desire to find what is typically called a “birth mother” and the desire to find a “birth father.” It seems to me quite plausible that there is a difference. The birth father may have had no contact with the child at all, not so the birth mother.)
In what I guess is a modern variation on that them, increasing numbers of people seem to be seeking out their sperm donors. One instance of someone successfully locating a donor using the internet was documented a few years ago. A Google search will turn up all sorts of stories as well as services to help you make your own search. And the donor sibling registry maintains a very elaborate website where individuals can seek others conceived using the same donors.
It’s interesting to think about why people track down (or want to track down) their sperm donors. Partly it can be important for medical information. But it seems quite clear that that is only a part of it. In addition, it has something to do with seeking one’s roots.
Now I don’t intend to argue that wanting to know where your genetic material came from is irrational. I’m not really in a position to say. But it does seem to me that a sperm donor is not the same as a birth mother. Continue reading