Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feministe Asks Some Questions on Adoption and Feminism

Brigid at Feministe wants to know if adoption is a feminist issue.  Brigid asks:
How can or should we view adoption as a feminist issue? As a class, race, or disability issue? Whose rights stand to be compromised when adoption is or is not an available option?

Does every child have a right to be raised by the people whose genetic material helped create them?

Does every genetic parent have a right to raise their genetic children?

Do people who are unable (though biology or circumstance), or do not desire, to conceive children have a right to raise children?

If you believe adoption is problematic, what circumstances would make it less so?
Yes, adoption is a feminist issue. Its structure of power regards one mother as being less worthy to parent than another because of her marital status or her income. Unmarried, pregnant women in the 50′s-70′s were scolded and ushered into maternity homes where their babies were taken from them. See “Wake up Little Susie” by Ricki Solinger and “The Girls Who Went Away” by Anne Fessler.

As feminists, we rightfully criticize how poorer parents are seen as lesser entitled to reproduce and parent children. Yet we fail to see the connection and the powerful presence of this stigma behind vulnerable pregnant women flipping through "Dear Birth Mother" letters written by prospective adoptive parents whose photos from the latest vacation and their four bedroom home are on clear display. A common practice today.

“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis [in adoption] has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year . . .” United Nations, Commission on Human Rights, 2003.

Feminists tend to see the "mother" role in adoption but forget that adoptees are women too, further marginalizing us. Heated debates take place about the privacy, needs, and desires of the parties in the "parenting roles" while forgetting to attend to the information and autonomy needs of those in the "being parented" role. Although we grow older each day, to society we remain as perpetual children, always too young or ill-informed to join the table for serious adoption discourse.

Ableism, sexism, classism, racism, all are huge issues in adoption. I have a blog because there's simply too much to say in one post or one answer on an internet forum. Adoption simply should not be trivialized like that.

Yes, every single child has a basic human right to be raised by his or her own natural (meaning biological) family, according to UNICEF and the UN’s “Rights of the Child.”

“Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible. UNICEF believes that families needing support to care for their children should receive it.” — UNICEF

Yes, every parent has the basic human and constitutional right to parent their own child. This does not mean that children should grow up in abusive households. This means that the right of families to stay together should be respected when and if at all possible.

Prospective adoptive parents have the right to be treated equally in the adoption process. Children who do not have parents and a family that can care for them have a right to receive a home and a family/caregivers who can. But no, no one has a "right" to adopt.

There are aspects of adoption that are incredibly problematic. What would make it less so? The billions that are spent on adoptions being put towards preserving families that can and wish to stay together. Adequate social welfare programs in place so that orphanages are not used to manage dependency. Domestic adoptions promoted as a way to provide truly needy children with homes. Encouragement to adopt one of the 120,000 children legally cleared for adoption in the U.S. foster care system who cost little to nothing to adopt. Appropriate adherence to ICWA and respect for indigenous tribes and their families. And resolution to a number of legal issues such as adoptee deportation, sealed records, and "re-homing," and largely unregulated practices such as internet facilitated adoptions. This is not an exhaustive list, just some thoughts to start.


LilySea said...

Number one: take all profit out of adoption. ALL. Period.

There are lots of additions after that, but it would be my place to start.

Anonymous said...

Anything that is a human rights issue and involves women and their children is a feminist issue. Adoptism sadly is often practised by those who call themselves feminists and who put their own rights before that of children.Von

Anonymous said...

Amanda, you have such a clear way of cutting through the BS and getting to the heart of the matter. I agree with what you have written on this post. I am trying to formulate a post for my blog (even though it has mostly been about autism) TRYING to explain my thoughts and feelings on adoption without focusing on regret, if that makes sense. Kris

maybe said...

Outstanding response!

maybe said...

Just had to come back here to tell you I'm about halfway through the comments on Feministe and they are incredible. You, Rox, anonadoptee, and others have done a great job!

And I'm starting to get the feeling that "Azalea" is some sort of adoption worker. She claims to know MANY/DOZENS, etc. of women who gave up a baby and never regretted it or gave a hoot of any kind. Sounds like typical adoption agency BS to me.

(Cross-posting this comment on Rox's blog.)

Robin said...

Adoption and feminism make strange bedfellows because the buzzword in feminism is "choice" as in women should have the choice to give their children away or the choice to adopt. I don't think anyone has the right to a child that is not biologically theirs. Also, feminism is all about careers and opportunities for women which I wholeheartedly support. However, mother nature has other ideas and women really are designed to have babies before the age of 40 (if not 35). I think that one of the issues that needs to be addressed is that training especially for high falutin' careers such as law and medicine take place during a woman's most fertile years. This often puts women in a double bind when they marry in their late 30's and then try to start a family and face infertility issues.

Overall, this was a superb post that covered all the bases.

Btw, Azalea obviously didn't talk to my first mother. She could have told her what it was really like relinquishing a child. My fmother was the antithesis of "didn't look back and barely gave a hoot". That sounds like propoganda to me.

dawn said...

I saw the thread (obviously) and thought your post was a good post and a really succinct accounting of how adoption is and needs to be considered a social justice issue. And I think that the presence of so many adoptees and first moms did help keep the discussion centered there despite all the derails.

Robin, I do think agree that there is a tendency to center the wants and needs of more privileged women, especially in terms of children and career, in mainstream feminist thought and organizing.

But I don't think adoption reform and feminism are at all inherently opposed. I've found feminism and social justice (esp. reproductive justice as formulated by women of color) to be immensely useful for coming to an understanding of adoption as an industry/practice and also of myself and my place in the world as an adoptee.

I think adoption reform needs to have an anti-sexist, anti-patriarchal core since it is an industry and practice so heavily built on the oppression of marginalized women and interlocks with other global and local inequalities.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how it is possible not to see this: as a feminist issue. WTF.


Anonymous said...

Great response! I agree with everything that you said. Thank you for mentioning foster care. My husband and I adopted older children through the U.S. foster care system and we really wish more people would consider it.

Cindy said...

Hi, I like what you have said here.
Personally I want to tell you a bit of my thoughts on the matter.

I think as well as all you have stated, I had to place my son in adoption because people don't care about me.
Well, not that they don't care about me entirely, they just obviously don't care about me enough to help me.
It's been this way my whole life.

I find that certain people, the people that end up making more money, having more friends and such, they have better lives just because PEOPLE LIKE THEM more, more than they would me.

I think being rich is mostly a reward for being popular. Yes, it's about hard work, but mostly, people get hired for good jobs because they can make a good impression, because they are friendlier than maybe someone like me.
Not to say that I'm unfriendly, I'm just LESS friendly than the popular people.

Yes, I am a first/birth mom because of a lack of money, as well as a lack of people who actually care about me, and it's probably my fault I'm so unlovable.

My opinion, it is the woman who are loved less that feel they have no options and no hope.

ms. marginalia said...

I think you've done a fabulous job in pointing out the flaws and entitlement issues wrapped up in the ardent cries that adopting someone else's baby is a feminist cause.

I get equally angry when some of the same people claim adoption as a "reproductive choice." Really? A choice? About reproduction? No, it's about parenting, and given inequalities of power, it's usually not a choice. But we know that few people in that camp buy our cries about coercion, inequality, trafficking, etc.

I read some of the comments over at Feministe and became disheartened by what I, too, interpreted as industry shills. They abound. It remains important, however, to remind people that there are so many points of view erased and scuttled when adopting an infant (and its attendant entitlement--"I get to PARENT, everyone else be DAMNED!") is claimed as "feminist."

I am a woman and an adoptee. I am a feminist. They don't get to speak for me.

Brava, Amanda.

anonadoptee said...

I've been posting in the comments at feministe and I'm surprised (shouldn't be) how many non-adoptees and non-first mothers think they are right because they supposedly know hundreds of women who don't agree with every single adoptee/first mom commenting there. Sigh. I'm tired of it.

I'll keep commenting but I think we are all just so used to having our voices shut up by others.

maybe said...

I understand Cindy's thoughts about feeling unlovable and how that could lead to a lack of support when we are most in need.

But we need to remind ouselves that we ARE lovable and deserving of support. We need to repeat this to ourselves as often as possible.

As far as riches being a reward for being popular - I think there is an element of truth there, but also remember that being rich can also be a reward for just being an old-fashioned snake oil salesman who finds a way to profit off the misery and gullibility of others.

I like to think I'm in much better company by being part of the un-rich.

Cindy, you are lovable! Please visit us at if you haven't already.

ms. marginalia said...

I went over there tonight and couldn't stop myself from commenting. I don't know if any of my comments are going to make it past moderation, though. I just know that Azalea works for an agency. So frustrating. I hate it when people carry their torches and fight for those poor women who want to live in closets. Really.

And I was sad also to see arguments made for queer family building in the closed adoption tradition because dammit, that's what they want! And adoptee rights? Who cares about them! So very, very sad. We get lost in the equation, over and over and over.

Many, many of my friends are trans and queer but they are thoughtful about their families. Those who have used gamete "donation" here in the Bay Area used the bank that does not even ALLOW anonymous donation, so that's a start. My trans friends listen to me about adoption issues and think it's fucked I can't get my OBC. They don't bash me over the head with their own shit. I guess I have good friends. Some have thought about adoption, but they at least ask me for my advice and opinions. It's not pretty.

Anonymous said...

“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis [in adoption] has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child."
As far as the feminist aspect goes, that is probably the most prominent factor to me. Adoption is one way for women to satisfy the need to procreate without men. Women have different options now. They decide that they want children by themselves, without a husband, when they've spent to long focusing on their careers and are no longer capable of having children, or with gay partners. I have no problem with any of these scenarios in theory, except for the fact that it does create this terrifying need to adopt a child before it's too late. And that makes it about the woman, not the child. I am personally unable to have children and am counting on adoption. I'm only 27 years old and I'm unmarried, but I tell myself that by 35 if I don't meet anyone I'll just adopt on my own. Because it's so great that women have that option these days, right? But I'm not expecting it to be that easy. For me or for the child/ren I end up hopefully adopting. And part of it will be because by 35 I will be feeling the pressure of so desperately wanting a child.

Unsigned Masterpiece said...

In 2010 I attended the ASAC adoption conference in Boston. One of the most upsetting sessions I attended went along the lines you are discussing. At the time, it felt like I was the only one who disagreed so vehemently with what was being said. (I wish you guys had been there)

I blogged about it on Unsigned Masterpiece and here is the link My post was called Facebook, Blogging and Biology - Saturday at the ASAC.

The upsetting session was called "Recovering Jocasta: Bio-essentialism and Agency in Discourse about Birthmothers". You have to scroll down the post a fair bit to find it. The right to be raised by your own family - that's called bio-narcissism. You're a birthmother and you say you made the wrong decision well that's because you are too afraid to say really you don't care. I think this is where people are coming from on Feministe. Whenever I hear someone say "This is about who has the "right" to raise a child," I am pretty sure that that person thinks they do and I, birth/first/natural mother, do not.

As I said to one of the "feminist" PhD's in the audience "This just sounds like the latest theory to separate us from our children."

LilySea said...

Amanda, what you say about feeling obligated to heal your parents of their infertility is one reason I am grateful every day that I never even tried to get pregnant. I will never have to give my kids any story that places them--or even seems to place them--second in our hearts. I can't do much for their adoption loss, but at least that's one less burden for them.

Also, in spite of not being as well-versed as we later became on adoption ethics, we lucked into a reasonably ethical agency and reasonably ethical (at the personal, if not a bit at the societal, levels) adoptions.

I do often cringe when I read about women going through infertility and I can feel the sense of anxiety and desperation and need for that baby--however it arrives--and I worry about the baby. However, there is no telling how the baby and parenting will "convert" someone.

Even someone who tried for nine years might smack her forehead the minute that adopted baby is placed in her arms and think "why did I put myself through all that? THIS is perfect." (As far as being a parent goes. I don't mean adoption is perfect.)

Even though I never tried to get pregnant, the first night I held my first child in my arms I kept thinking "wow, there's no way my body ever could have done a better job than this." And all I could think about was how terrorized she must feel, after a precipitous birth (outdoors) into a Chicago winter, and then being taken from her mother and waiting even only three days in the hospital nursery with no contact with someone who treasured her the way her mother would have and the way we now did. She had little nightmares in the first week of her life. Poor, poor baby. I pretty much held her tied to my body for the first year of her life to comfort her and accustom her to a new family.

All this is to say that actually becoming a parent can cause a revolution in your heart and an upending of your priorities and even people who wanted to go to China and adopt for fear of open adoptions are sometimes heading back to China and searching their butts off for a trace of their children's families because love for your child can make you see everything more clearly.

Don't mean to downplay the bad examples, but this is such a complex issue and people are such complex beings.

P.S. SOmeone above said feminism was about having a career and stuff. Feminism is actually the very simple notion that women are fully human. Housewives who believe they are fully human are just as feminist as corporate lawyers who believe the same. men who believe women are fully human and treat them as such and advocate for their treatment as such, are feminists too.

Thanks for all your writing. I find it addictive. You do it very well and say so many extremely important things--not to mention helpful things for an adoptive parent to read.

LilySea said...

P.S.S. please don't take what I said about "even someone who tried for nine years..." to be a denial of your experience or of your mother's experience. I just meant in general--someone might fell a certain way--not that I know better than you do how you or your mother feels.

Anonymous said...

I went to therapy for a full year before we even started the process to adopt from foster care. I needed to mourn that imaginary child we would never have so I were more free to love the child who was placed with us. Looking back almost 9 years ago, it was the best thing I ever did for myself in this process. I also learned more about grief and loss that eventualy benefited my child. Between getting our foster care license and my work in therapy, we really learned about honoring those deep losses and the positives in keeping connections. Our agency offers free counseling for families who adopt thru foster care with an therapist who is a specialist in adoption - the one we worked with was very pro-open adoption and very keen on helping document early memories so our child didn't lose them. When people talk about profits, we always chuckle b/c I'm sure we were a huge negative on their cash flow between extra classes and workshops plus two years of therapy (two over a four year period). This can be done ethically and honorably but it takes a lot of work and honesty. 

Aiping Wang said...

I salute all the parents out there who managed to adopt a child for them to take care of, some mother, even if not impotent they still manage to adopt a child just to give love and proper care for them. I really have an high respect to those kind of person. Thank you very much for sharing this very informative post, I myself wanted to adopt a child. after reading your post I am now ready to do so. Thank you so much, keep sharing