Sunday, February 10, 2008

Biology 101

Had a bit of a rant on the weekend. One of my Buddha-zilla moments where I rant about the hypocrosies of life. The utter unfairness of it all.

The abandoned baby girl left to die in a freezing stairwell of a mall in Ontario. The children who froze to death because their dad passed out drunk while carrying them outside in a blizzard.

I saw the Oprah show regarding young adults whose biological fathers were sperm donors. Some were content to just find out who they were and a couple were adamant about having the right to know who their fathers were and ideally wanted to have a relationship with them or any other siblings. They felt "incompete" as to their own identity.

These young adults knew their biological fathers were just sperm donors whose motivation was not to father but to make easy money and yet they still felt compelled look for them. What had their lives been like growing up? Did they not have non-biological fathers who raised them? I wanted to hear from the mothers of these kids. How did they feel? What did the fathers who raised them from the minute they came into the world feel? Would they make the same choices again?

Then I read an article in the paper about a woman convicted of murdering her husband(her child's father) who will be permitted to keep her child while she is incarcerated. It mentioned in the paper that she had had a very difficult life, being abused and abandoned as a child, raped as a teen, her substance abuse, and that she has 3 other children that had been removed from her custody. During her sentence, she will be living in a separate unit with its own kitchen and a park nearby, all the while being surrounded by a fence and prison guards.

A baby being raised in prison? Okay, it's not something I would have thought of as being a "good" thing for a child, but what do I know? Is it the ultimate act of compassion for a federal institution to permit this? Will this inspire the mother to become a better mother and person? With any luck, she won't be in jail for more than 4 years. What kind of playpen do you have for your child? Oh.... FEDERAL....

I saw a 20/20 show about a young Chinese couple whose daughter had been "coerced" from them under shady circumstances and how the American couple who attained custody of the child fought to get them deported out the country and away from the child. Eventually, the biological parents prevailed and they were awarded full custody of their 8 year old child. Then ironically, the American couple were allowed to keep in contact with the child and now they want the Chinese couple to be alowed to stay in America. There were several things that bothered me about the people involved, notwithstanding their breathtaking hyprocisy, but never mind. Don't get me started.

Then there is the issue of adoption, with the attachment issues, "primal wounds" and all that. My point is this: the issue of biology is extremely compelling. When people say, oh, why can't you just give up the dream (hello, Oprah), if you really want children you can always just adopt, or whatever, I know they don't really know what the fuck they're talking about. They don't really know what it's like to really want to have your own children and pursue all sorts of options, specifically repeated IVF procedures. Not to mention the grief suffered from infant loss, repeated miscarriages or destroyed marriages. There are no "oops" factors, no forgot to use birth control that one time, no hey, why don't we just have a kid sounds like a great idea at the time kind of thing. And then there's the whole mental and emotional shift to either the wild world of adoption or a child-free life.

The biological connection of child and parent. It's why we consider open adoption to be the best circumstance for a child, so they you have acess to medical and/or genetic information as well as an emotional connection. For the sake of the child. But there are always strings attached, sacrifices made. It comes at a cost that people are willing to pay for apparently. To love and raise a child in this world. Will their care and nurturing be sufficient for that child or will they find their completion in the biological connection? Will my child ever look me straight in the eyes and say, "No, I want to know my real mother and father?" I guess what I'm saying is that will I have the wisdom to know what that means or will I feel that my parenting was just a substitution for the real thing?


cityprof said...

I hear you on the pull of the biological, and ambivalence about adoption as a result. It's a tough topic, and you are right that most people who say "just adopt" have no freaking clue. And most of them either don't (yet) have kids or have "oops" bio-kids but would never consider adopting themselves. They only want the infertile to give up on the dream of being biological parents, and expect us to do so without complaint or even grief.

Anyway, thanks for your post, it captures a lot of what has been on my mind re: adoption, even though I don't know yet whether that will be a path we take to parenthood. Good luck with the process.

loribeth said...

Your post touched me on so many levels. First, I too was horrified by both the stories in your second paragraph. When I was a little girl I lived in Saskatchewan for six years, about an hour away from the reserve where the two little girls froze to death. I know what a Saskatchewan winter can be like, so it felt especially close to home for me.

And all your points about adoption & biology are very valid. It's such a complex subject -- no matter how wonderful the players are and happy everyone is overall with the arrangements. There are always going to be questions and uncertainty. It adds another layer of complexity to an already complex situation.

I worked with a woman who was adopted, who used to joke about wondering whether she was conceived in the backseat of a car, and when she had her own first child, said what a cool thing it was to have someone else in the world who looked like her, because she'd never had that before. That was something I had never thought of before.

MLO said...

Having worked in child welfare - and knowing both law enforcement and medical personnel involved, knowing people who have and are adopted - I can't agree that biology is all that compelling. From what I have seen, every circumstance is different.

Wordgirl said...

I could've written this post -- I think about this often -- in part because of my step-parenting role -- I think about how much I love W., how the love for him has allowed me to open myself in all of these unexpected ways to all of the people in his life who love him. People always assure me that in adoption it's very different -- because you ARE the mom, and I think that's true...but I do spend a lot of time thinking about what biology actually means.

I've always been a very sensitive person -- but lately the news has just overwhelmed me -- the child left at the hospital, the three year old found dead in his cousin's house -- I feel such sadness. And anger at the unfairness of it all.

And Oprah -- is it me or is Oprah really reluctant to embrace a wider vision of these topics? I was interested -- but I found myself asking the very same questions.


Teendoc said...

I think that if you are moving toward adoption, you need to adopt (pardon the pun) the language that is helpful. The first thing is the concept of "own children." Zara is my own child. I didn't give birth to her, but she couldn't be any more mine (as much as you can possess a child). When people ask me whether I want to have children of my own, I let them know that my Zara is my own child and always will be. She will also have a connection to her firstmother, but I am her mother.

I am the one she reaches for when I walk into the room. I am the one who instills giggles when I blow belly farts on her tummy. I am the one who rocks her to sleep when she is fussy. I am her real mother.

Mothering is an active verb. My own Evil Mother believed that because she gave birth to me, that automatically conveyed a mother-daughter relationship. But giving birth did not convey a relationship. We had to work as adults to develop a relationship since she never ever worked at mothering while I was a a child. Zara will never ever feel like I did as a child with my own biological mother.

Now in the case of the Oprah show, remember that many of those on the show were raised by single mothers who used donor sperm to get pregnant. Thus the majority didn't have a father of any sort, and thus their curiosity.

My own father dropped out of my life when I was 3. Though I had a stepfather, I still had curiosity about my biofather. But mostly my interest in him was my fantasy of him rescuing me from my Evil Mother.

But enough about me. If you are going to adopt, please take the words like "real parent" and "own child" out of your vocabulary in the context that you used them in this post. Adoption is not easy, but it does work and does allow all parties to benefit. (She says after having my recent drama a couple of weeks ago!)

Pamela T. said...

These are all the questions we asked, too, around pursuing donor gamete treatment vs. adoption. In the end we decided that emotionally we weren't equipped to take on all the various identity issues that come with donor gametes and adoption at the same time fight the systems that made getting a child that was not biologically ours so onerous. After waging all the battles and raising the child, assuming we were successful, would we have the stamina to help a child who felt the insatiable desire to learn more about his/her biological roots. Sigh. There is no such thing as "just adopt" or drop by the donor egg/sperm agency for the baby of your scientifically assisted choice...I have great respect for those who have the emotional depth to parent in such circumstances.

Deathstar said...

Wow, I had a feeling that post would touch nerves. It certainly touched mine. It's all part of the journey, the doubts, the fears, the hope. I know that the child I raise will be my own, I wouldn't have it any other way. And when I see Teendoc's little angel, I can see why she feels the way she does. All your perspectives are valuable input.