Until recently, I’ve been a concealed blogger – really, it’s ironic that I was writing so much only to keep what I’d written hidden from public view. If I’d not been blogging, maybe it would be more reasonable, but given that the nature of blogging is to communicate with a global network, keeping a low profile seems counterintuitive. I haven’t actively pursued a readership by any stretch of the imagination.
A few readers, friends and relatives mostly, encouraged me to make the blog more visible, especially after I responded to Scott Simon’s book on adoption: Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption. My husband posted In praise of honesty: The complexities of adoption on a few adoption list serves, and thanks to Melissa McEwen at Shakseville, many others interested in the issues found my blog. In the conversation about adoption, and international adoption specifically, engaging in an honest discussion is an important step.
The discussions happen in cyberspace, but they happen in person, too, in groups that meet to consider the roles of adoptive parents. I participate in an adoptive parents group at my place of work, and though the group forms and reforms, and meets occasionally, it provides an important point of contact for parents who are negotiating a variety of issues related to adoption, domestic and international.
Our discussion today focused on birth parents, and mothers specifically, since they tend to play a more prominent role in the adoption process. What becomes apparent in these discussions is the depth of care, concern, and searching that adoptive parents are doing as they attempt to maintain an open and comfortable space for their adopted children to ask questions about the circumstances of their births, about the lives of the birth families they may not know, and about their own desires (or lack thereof) to know, search, connect, or fill in the blanks. Parents in both open and closed adoptions, at least in my small group, are wrestling with what to reveal, how to reveal it, how to be sensitive to the needs and desires of the women (and families) who gave birth to the children who are now being raised by adoptive parents.
The questions are deep – do the birth mothers desire a connection? Do they desire privacy in their “new” lives? Do they need help, financial or otherwise, and how do we engage with them in an honest discussion about this? In same cases, there is little or no information about the adoptive parent. The onus of the searching may be on the adoptive parents, who for the moment, and until the adopted children are ready, act as a library of information that can be accessed later.
Our discussion meandered, as it does, and we wandered down the path of the adopted children (in our group, many of them quite young) who seem to desire a connection – and visible symbols of that connection – to adopted parents. Children who, at some level, know they are not biologically connected to the parents and extended family they live with, and even to other siblings, seem at this stage to seek outward signs that they belong. The signs can take the form of insisting on using the name given by the adoptive parents, rather than the name given by the birth family. It can be a desire to note similarities in physical appearances between the birth parents and child and, it can be a desire for physical reassurance of belonging.
Moments of clarity about belonging are, even for those of us with biological connections, sometimes rare. Even in my own biological connections with my siblings, I wonder about the effect of DNA and the effect of environment, or nurture, on our personalities and our life choices. Genetic connections do not equal a bond – and bonds that are strongest are often those chosen rather than those assumed because of DNA.
At Thanksgiving, my brother joked, “How did she [Gorilla Girl] end up with my genes?” We’d been talking about Gorilla Girl’s recent spate of injuries at school, and her energy was evident on our visit to my brother’s home. I had just explained her chin and cheek injury (see Wear it proudly), and he said that at least he wasn’t the only accident prone one in the family. His normalization of Gorilla Girl’s connection to him was perhaps in that moment more meaningful to me that to her. It did suggest to me an opening of the meaning of family, of our notion of family. One of the positives of adoption is this restructuring of our connections – a restructuring that holds hope for finding ways to open the whole of the human family to this level of belonging.
These issues of belonging have long divided us – human being sort and categorize, and often prioritize relationships based on blood-lines and genetics. However, the reality is that the human family is connected via many similarities and traits that cross genetic boundaries.
Gorilla Girl’s tendency to run fast, her exuberance, these things are genetic, but they are also universal, and my brother’s experience with physical play connected him to her. In this family, if Gorilla Girl is to have the confidence, the grounding, the understanding and trust to search for her own answers when it come to a genetic reality, she will need to experience the belonging that can happen in the absence of genetic connection.
The connection, like one I have forged in writing – and by coming out from under the covers – is one filled with possibilities.