Thursday, June 4, 2015

Recognizing my privelege: Adoption teminology and the idea of "God's will"

      This is a post about what I have learned about the language of adoption. In reading adoption message boards written by bioparents, adoptive parents, and adopted children, it becomes obvious that word choice is incredibly important. Different people will have different terms that they prefer, so I wanted to do a collection of some of these and discuss how we have come to choose what language we most prefer.


    Bio-mom vs birth-mom vs emom vs natural mother
   There is a reason I have chosen to use the term bio-mom (or bio-parents) in general conversation. I have learned that many bio-mom's find the title "birthmother" to be coercive and minimizing. In being labeled as a birthmother while pregnant, the expectant mother is being told that her only role in this child's life will be to give birth to him/or her. It is implied that this is her job, that she will place the child (i.e., that from this point on she cannot change her mind), and that any future relationship with the adoptive family or child will be put in the box of "this is the person who gave birth." Many people use the term "expectant mother" or emom, which is fine while she is pregnant, but it doesn't set any tone for the relationship or interactions after birth. There is a newer term that I have seen used quite a bit on message boards and forums: "first mother." The idea is that the biomom was the mom for the first 10 months of the baby's life (pregnancy), so the adoptive mother is the baby's second mother (in terms of timeline).  My only concern with this (from my standpoint-- I acknowledge that I am viewing this situation differently than the biomom) is that some people who have used that language have said that as the child gets older, it can become confusing to them. When you talk about things like "our first house" or "our first trip to Disneyland," you are referencing an event or situation that they remember participating in. When referring to the bio-mom as the "your first mother," they don't have any context for that, or it can create feelings of concern: "If she was my first mother and that makes you my second mother, does that mean that one day I will have a third mother?"  I realize that this term is often the most accurate reflection of how the bioparents see themselves, and I do not personally object to it and will be happy to refer to the biomom who chooses us with that title if that is her preference. I just don't know if it is a term that I will be comfortable using in front of the child as they get older. Finally, there are some biomoms who prefer the title "natural mother." Again, I recognize that my standpoint is different than theirs, but this is not a title that I personally am comfortable with, coming from my perspective. "Natural" creates a comparison: this one is natural, that one is unnatural (or fake). The idea that someone would consider me to be my adopted child's unnatural or fake mother is not okay with me-- especially since we also have a biological child. Because, if I am our bio-child's natural mother but our adoptive child's unnatural/fake mother, that also implies that our bio-child is our "real" child and our adoptive child is not. Obviously, that is a problem and could set the stage for lifelong insecurities and comparisons. Maybe I am over-thinking that, but my profession has caused me to become hyper-aware of the devastating impact that careless language can have.
   So, I have chosen to use biomom. It doesn't put a limitation on the scope of the relationship like birthmom does. It acknowledges the role that she has in the child's life: you made the child, you gave birth to the child, s/he has your genes, s/he has an unbreakable connection to you. But, it doesn't do so in a way that creates an unnecessary dichotomy between us in terms of our roles with the child (i.e., "natural" vs "unnatural"). However, we do plan to ask the biomom who chooses us what title she prefers. If she wants to be called birthmom or firstmom or some other title, we will honor that and refer to her in that manner in her presence-- no one has the right to have a label placed upon them without their feedback.

  Placed for adoption vs gave up for adoption vs surrendered for adoption
   We have made a conscious effort to use the phrase" placed for adoption" instead up "gave up for adoption." You give away old clothes, you do not "give up" a baby. "Give up" sounds so casual, so inconsequential, so thoughtless. I have never put more than 30 seconds of thought into "should I keep this shirt or put it in the 'give away' pile?". The phrase "gave up" feels wrong from my perspective, I have learned it is often highly offensive from the biomom's perspective, and it can be devastatingly hurtful from the child's perspective ("someone gave me away"). Many biomoms who reflect on their adoption situation as coming from a particularly desperate period in their lives often use the phrase "surrendered for adoption." The term "surrender" carries with it the connotation of a difficult decision made due to a lack of other viable options. You surrender to preserve your life, even if you don't necessarily agree with the thing/people you are surrendering to. In times of war, people don't surrender because they realize that the other side is right, they surrender because they realize this is the only way to avoid destruction. If the biomom who chooses us feels that this phrase best describes her situation, it is her right to describe the adoption using those words and I will not be offended by that. In reflecting on language that would be best to use around the child, however, I would be concerned about that phrase. I would worry that as the child gets older, "surrendered you for adoption" will sound an awful lot like "gave up on you." So, we are choosing using the phrase "placed for adoption" when describing the situation to our families and friends, and that will be the phrase we use around the child, as well.

God's will

      I have had the first part of this post done and in my draft folder for weeks now-- that was easy to write. This part has been harder to get out of my head. I read something on a message board a few weeks ago that I have been having a difficult time processing: an adoptive parent referred to her child as a blessing from God, and said something about it seeming like God's will that they be put together (in the context that maybe that is why He allowed her to be infertile in the first place, to bring them together). There was a pretty huge backlash from readers who had placed a child for adoption, as apparently that idea is very offensive from that standpoint. Some of the comments were along the lines of: if you are saying it was God's will for you to have this child in your family, you are also saying it was God's will that I became pregnant at a time in my life when I was not able to be a parent (or, that I would coerced into adoption) and would have no choice but to surrender my child; it was God's will that my family would be separated so you could have yours; it was God's will that I would suffer indescribable pain so you could have this baby; it was God's will that I would be raped so that I could become pregnant because you couldn't carry a child. (None of these are direct quotes, as I didn't bookmark that message board and wasn't able to find it again, but that was the spirit of the conversation).
   This was hard for me to read. I am a woman of faith, and I do believe that God puts families together. I do believe that God will bring the child into our lives that He intends to be a part of our family. As a Christian, how could I possibly think that something as huge as adding a child to our family is happening outside of God's will? And I have heard people who are not Christians convey similar ideas without involving God: We were meant to be together; now I realize that is why I was infertile, so life could bring her to me.
   How do I balance these? It made me think of how hard it was for my husband when he was on a rotation where he was assisting with transplant surgeries. Sure, there are times when a healthy person is donating one kidney or part of their liver to a loved one, but that isn't the norm. The usual situation that a transplant surgeon is working with involves a reasonably healthy person dying in some sort of trauma, such as a car accident-- dying in such a way that their transplant-able organs are not damaged. As technically interesting as those operations are, my husband did not enjoy those months. Most days, he would come home seeming discouraged, defeated, and just plain sad. At first this was hard for me to understand; after all, he was part of a team who were applying some of the most advanced medical techniques to save people's lives everyday. But then he found a clear way to convey what was bothering him: "Someone has to die for me to help the other person. We were only able to save this person because we couldn't save that one."
    I believe that the God who I have come to trust and love can create blessings out of pain, but how can I separate the fact that us praying for another child inherently involves us praying for an indescribably difficult situation to be placed upon someone else? All adoptions are created by loss, by pain, by desperation. I get stuck here. I know this child will be a blessing to us, and I know God will bring us together. But, I also know another woman will experience heartbreak that I could never imagine for that to happen.
   Maybe it doesn't matter if I am never able to sort it all out in my head. Maybe this is something that is supposed to be muddled and complicated, if for no other reason than to prepare me for interacting with the bio-mom with sensitivity, understanding, and compassion. Even if I haven't been able to wrap my mind all of the complexities of this, I do have a better understanding of what I shouldn't say out loud to the bio family or on any public adoption forums.
    For us, this child will be a blessing from God. For another, this child will the the catalyst of immense pain. These realities coexist. Saying "this was God's will for our family" doesn't negate this paradox.

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