Friday, September 17, 2010

Thoughts about adoption

At one point, nearly 20 years ago, I considered adoption. I had two options - one was adopting from the US, from a state where abortion is illegal and many babies are put up for adoption each year and the other was adopting in Israel, which was likely to involve a six year wait in order to get a baby. When I thought about it, I knew that I wasn't ready to accept just any baby. I wanted to know that s/he was healthy, that the mother hadn't used drugs or alcohol during the pregnancy, that the baby was normal... and then I thought that if my demands were so high, I just wasn't ready to adopt. That adoption should mean a willingness to accept any child who needed a home.

I did sign up for adoption in Israel and went through the entire initial process, which included many meetings... but I hoped that by the time they called, I'd be able to say that they could just call the next person... that I was no longer eligible (because I already had a baby of my own). I got a "checking-in" call when I was about 5 months pregnant with Hadas and I don't remember ever hearing from them again (perhaps at some point they contacted me and I told them to take me off the list, but I don't remember). And while I was going through the process, I had no doubt that I could love the baby as my own. That I would always feel that s/he (and I had no preference for gender) was an incredible gift that I was given to love and take care of and help become an independent individual...

Now, having my own biological children, I wonder. I wonder how I would feel about extremely violent behavior, for example. Or a child being terribly destructive. I wonder if it is easier to accept genetic predisposition to undesirable behavior when you know where it came from. Or when you know that later in life the parent was able to overcome it. What if the adopted baby grew into a person who had a really addictive personality and I had to spend years of my life struggling to keep the child on the right side of things? Would I resent that? Would I at some point question my decision to have become an adoptive parent?

I think before I had kids I believed that nurturing a child was incredibly powerful, able to overcome nature... Now I think that nature has quite a lot to say about who we are deep inside. Of course we have the power to change things, but in order to change, you have to have the willpower... and that, it seems, is also highly determined by nature...

Something else I may have missed then (back in the early 90's) was that babies grow up and become people. I know it sounds incredibly trivial, but when you're trying to conceive, your goal is a baby. A child of your own, but, when you were going through infertility (or if you are now) how old did that child ever get in your imagination? I don't think mine was ever beyond 2 or 3. And incredibly cute and lovable. I mean, you don't really picture a little (very lovable, of course) terror who's climbing on the counters and flinging the silverware out of the drawers and then finding that one pen you accidentally left somewhere and using it to write all over your fancy new white dress... (and if you did, I'm impressed. I was not that creative.)

The last thing I missed was the connection to family. Where does this new person, who probably has a background very different from my own, fit in with the whole family tree? Is it like someone who marries into a family? If my kids had an adopted cousin, would it seem just like a regular cousin, even without that genetic link? And a few generations down the line - what does this person have in common with a distant cousin? I'm not trying to say there isn't a connection, I am just wondering if it is the same as having a genetic bond, no matter how small...

I’m prepared to be flamed and to hear how wrong / na├»ve / insensitive I am. I never adopted, I really don’t know what it’s like.

All thoughts are welcome…


ErinM said...

Since I have both a biological son and an adopted son, I can share my experiences. Just for reference, I'm also a geneticist by training (though not by practice now), so I definitely believe genes are important.

First, I don't think that being open to adoption means being able to parent any child who needs a home. The recognition that adoption has its own challenges that are NOT present when a child is biologically yours means that you're already starting with issues. We weren't prepared to parent certain medical conditions through adoption but if we had a child by birth with those conditions, we'd certainly figure it out. We didn't feel prepared to deal with major medical issues on top of adoption-related issues.

Now granted, my younger (adopted) son is very mild-mannered and laid-back. However, he had and continues to have developmental delays. I've never found myself wondering if those problems are genetic, but I have thought that they're probably due to malnutrition...not nature but nurture. We deal with them however he needs because we're his parents.

My biological son has had some serious rage issues in the past. When he was going through those, I also didn't wonder if they were genetic. I wondered if it was something in the way we were raising him...again, not nature but nurture. And we dealt with them because we're his parents.

What I can say is without a doubt is that my youngest is as much mine as my oldest, even though we have no blood connection, even though we didn't meet until he was almost 16 months old. Having now been through the attachment process by adoption, I can say that going through that, simply being mom (or dad) to your child forms the attachment as deeply as biology does.

My kids' cousins (no first, but extended family) and other relatives don't seem to treat them differently. The kids especially are completely unaware of a difference between my kids--because really, other than blood, there's not one.

What I think you're missing is that you come to love who that person is deep inside regardless of whose genes created "deep inside". Whatever genes are in my youngest son may be the reason he is who he is, but I love who he is because of him. Because of his beautiful personality. Because of the way he makes jokes. Because of the way he climbed into my bed this morning and just wanted to be cuddled. Because of how much fun I have been having over the last 2 1/2 years watching him develop into the special little boy that he is. The harder parts of parenting (which so far seem to be the same through biology or adoption) are just accepted as part of getting those wonderful parts. Whether any of that is based on his genes or based on how he's been/being raised is up for debate, but it's really not important in the grand scheme of things. What's important is the person he is becoming, however that's coming about.

What if you knew that you had someone with really violent behavior in your family, and then your child displayed those traits? What if that person never outgrew it, and you knew that your child might never outgrow it either? Would you regret having given birth to that child because you knew it might have come about? Or would you have known it was a possibility, have taken the chance, and prepared to deal with it when it came up?

Honestly, I don't think most parents who have biological children ever think through risks like that. I know we didn't. But we did when we were going through the adoption process.

Perhaps those who are suited to become adoptive parents have thought through these and have recognized that there's risk when you have a child (by adoption AND by birth), but that they're willing to take it. Ultimately, what they want is to be a parent, and they recognize that there are children who need families.

miriamp said...

I have adopted cousins. We just consider them cousins, even though they're not biologically related -- I never thought about it as being different than the biological cousins. And my adopted cousins happen to be a different race from me, but that could happen without adoption too, so it never really made a difference.

I would assume that once a child is adopted, then they belong and you stop thinking about it on a daily basis, (it only comes up when necessary like for medical reasons) but then, I haven't tried it either.

Bea said...

I think it's common, when dealing with difficult behaviour/other problems to question, at some point, just about anything. If adoption is part of the family history, then that would be fair game. But possibly no more so than anything else you could think of, such as what you ate during pregnancy, or whatever.

As for family ties, I know in my extended family, blood ties have little to do with anything. Some of my "closest" "cousins" are barely related to me, or related only through marriage. It's more about turning up and forming a relationship. (My grandmother was introducing a "new" relative at a recent family gathering. She explained that the woman was so-and-so's daughter, and so-and-so is married to thingamebob, who is third cousin once removed to such and such... or is it whatsit? I think it was whatsit... She summarised by saying, "Anyway, the point is, she does technically count as family. You don't have to remember the details.") So I don't think that would bother me personally, having been surrounded by that attitude throughout my own life.

I do agree with you on the nature vs nurture part - you ignore nature at your own peril! Nurture too, of course. But Erin makes an interesting point about coming to love the person directly, regardless of where their nature came from or how it relates to yours.

I do think I would find it hard to take if somebody had willfully harmed my child through abuse or neglect before they came into my care (either before or after birth). That would take a lot of getting over and I would worry about the effect of my anger on the child.

How did I imagine my potential future children? I do remember trying to follow it through, at least to adulthood and independence. I figured I had to want the whole package, because babies don't last (also I'm truthfully not that fond of babies... so maybe that was what had me thinking further ahead rather than any wisdom or thoroughness).


Sara said...

I think you're right about extended family. My father is part of a blended family, with step-siblings, half-siblings, and full siblings. My aunts and uncles all feel exactly like aunts and uncles, no more and no less, regardless of their parentage and actual relatedness to me, but the cousins? Totally different story. I'm much closer to the "full" cousins and "half" cousins than the steps. It's partly because of age, since the steps are all much older, so we didn't really grow up together, but if I'm being honest, I can acknowledge that there's more to it than that. I do love them, but I don't feel the same connection to them that I do to the others. Having said that, though, my great-aunt adopted her kids, and I always forget about that when I'm with the cousins resulting from that relationship. So I think that it varies. When I've thought about that, I've thought about it more from the child's perspective, though. How will they feel about being embedded in an extended family in which the genetic relationships are absent? Will they cringe when they hear stories about e.g., the great-grandparents that they never knew? Since the connection is based on personal relationships, rather than genetics, will they actually feel any connection at all to people that they didn't or don't know?

I did (and do) imagine potential children as adults, and it's kind of paralyzing, since how they will feel about things as adults is unknowable. Some adults are happy about being adopted, while others resent it. All you can really do is hope for the best, I guess.

Good post!