As I poked about WordPress today, I found a series of posts in Empowering All that seeks to explain “Adoption and related psychological issues.” Beyond the obvious issues of an automatic presumption that adoption and psychological problems go hand-in-hand (perhaps sometime I’ll post on my research and ponderings of how the Library of Congress Classification System indexes texts on adoption…), there are some base assumptions in her posts that need to be queried.
Bear in mind that, as a psychological counselor, Empowering All is using a psychology-shaped hammer and, therefore, finds lots of psychology-shaped problems (aka nails) everywhere she looks. This is true of most people — we see what we look for (myself included). The primary difference from my Cultural Studies perspective is that I seek to be aware of my biases, to indict them as appropriate and, most certainly, to help make sure my readers recognize where my particular leanings may be informing my comments. I also work to qualify what I say as, in my view, nothing in human existence is so simple as to be able to be universally generalizable.
One of the most basic assumptions about adoption is that there is, in all cases, a sense of loss involved for all members of what is commonly referred to as the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted person). While the triad itself is highly simplistic (some, including Signe Howell, have proposed an adoption spectrum to be more appropriate as it can take into account the role of the state, of adoption organizations, of society…) the loss/absence/”primal wound” is not an automatic part of adoption and the idea that it is is a social construction that, I believe, serves to harm all those involved in adoption and the cultural views of adoption overall.
Many adopted persons never experience a sense of loss, never “miss” what they never knew, never have a desire to search. In fact, such adoptees often believe there must be something wrong with them because they are happy since society dictates that adopted people MUST feel loss, MUST be traumatized, MUST be unhappy. What an incredible disservice to these people that society should work to force them to be displeased with their lives!
And the belief that all people who bear children wish to keep them and that, therefore, all birth parents feel a sense of loss is inaccurate. All creators/bearers of children always wanting to parent all children is a romanticized concept that, like the views of reasons for adoption discussed below have never been the only experience. Some people find themselves in circumstances they did not anticipate and make the choice to carry the child to term and place them for adoption without ever looking back, feeling inadequate, feeling like they are missing something. This does not mean that all birthparents feel no loss — quite obviously they do. Neither is a universal experience. Indeed, some people bear and raise children that they never actually attach to so why should it be different for some people who do not raise their biological children? Of course, if society constantly tells you that all good people feel guilt and regret when surrendering or placing a child for adoption, many will feel it who may not otherwise. Especially when you consider that, if they don’t, we will likely ask what, the heck, is wrong with them!?! (Which isn’t to say that question isn’t asked of birth parents anyway. They can’t catch a break!)
Very many people adopt children by choice regardless of ability or inability to bear biological children. For these people, there is no loss. Many people choose to adopt because the cannot bear children, but do not experience loss because they never bought into or placed all their value as parents in the myth of biological reproduction as the sole means of making a family. (DM and I fit somewhere in this overarching category. Don’t know if infertility would have been an issue for us because we never really felt a need to check anything out since we were planning to adopt all along). The presumption that adoption comes from (and usually only from) a struggle with infertility has, in fact, never been the case. As long as adoption has existed, there have been people who have chosen to adopt — whether as the first means of creating a family or in addition to biological familial additions.
I know many people find it difficult to believe, but sometimes (in fact, more often than not) families formed through adoption and those people involved in all the various parts of adoption are just fine. Fine doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean always happy. It means fine — good days, bad days, happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, elation, joy, things we know a lot about, things we have to ask for help on, things we have no idea how to handle. It means being people — in families, in groups, in communities, in societies — who just are.