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dear birthmother letters

 

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'birthparents' views on adoption

January 2003

"Choosing Adoption" - Adoption “Choice” is a Feminist Issue

 

 

The beginning of the adoption quadrangle is the unplanned pregnancy, the single mother-to-be and her choices that are limited, determined by the resources she does not have at her disposal. The most obvious of these is an income and related benefits sufficient to raise a child and also maintain a home, keeping herself and her child in a reasonable standard of living for about 20 years.

If she cannot do this, or cannot see a way to do this, then the so-called ‘choice’ of whether or not to raise her child herself, does not actually exist. The single mother-to-be then becomes no more than a cog on the production line of a national or international adoption industry that waits like a huge impersonal monster, for the next ‘unwanted’ baby to roll off the line - at a price. Profit or non-profit, the result is the same for the woman who must lose her child to satisfy the perceived economic ‘problem’ of her fertility.

Thus the adoption ‘triangle’ is really a quadrangle because the money aspect of arranged adoptions has now become the cornerstone of evolved adoption law and practice, particularly in Canada and the USA. Adoption is about money and also about punishment of the woman who did have sex without the resources necessary to raise a child, mainly a second wage earner, previously known as a husband. In that famous slogan of feminist politics ‘the personal is political'; there is no more political situation for a woman than to find herself trapped in a personal situation whereby her future is about to be determined, dramatically, by her present fertility status. Her ‘choices’ are determined by her access or lack of access to resources needed for the survival of herself and her infant. Perhaps the most important of these is the personal resource of self-esteem, a powerful belief in herself sufficient to withstand the disapproval of family, friends and society in general, a belief strong enough to enable her to strike out into a parenthood, alone.

The unbearable suffering of women who have lost children to adoption is currently being documented. Reunion organizations around the world are growing in strength, and sealed adoption records are under political pressure from women no longer prepared to always be the losers in the failed social experiment that is stranger adoption. Mothers are searching for their children - children are searching for their mothers - and fathers. Many are successful and can testify to the loss of identity, the rage and the bottomless grief that adoption introduced to their lives.

But where do feminists stand in this tangle of forged birth records, this pseudo-choice of adoption that is actually no choice at all?. During the ‘second wave’ of feminism that happened in the 1970’s in New Zealand, I took a stand for all single mothers including myself. At the time there was a commonly used expression for the rare event of a woman refusing adoption - she was described as ‘keeping’ her baby. The pretence of ‘choice’ was even then well entrenched in the language of adoption and single pregnancy in spite of the reality of a rare and very limited choice that resulted in the vast majority of babies born to single mothers being adopted to strangers.

Yes, a single woman could ‘keep’ her baby if she could overcome widespread social disapproval, abject poverty with poor housing, associated poor health, an absence of any personal or financial support and somehow maintain enough self esteem to see her through whatever lay ahead; usually more of the same. It was a daunting ‘choice’. It was a farce.

However, with the feminist revival women's fertility was correctly identified as the core cause of gender inequality. If women could control their fertility, the power relations between men and women would change and all women would benefit. Sisterhood was powerful indeed. Education and related career opportunities became available to women who embraced the resulting lifestyle changes. Fertility -and related marriage or less formal partnerships- could be postponed and even put off indefinitely. This truly was choice for the first time, and women, worldwide, embraced the economic chances for gender equality that fertility control had brought.

And then came a previously unseen problem for many of those women who had postponed their fertility too long, a resulting infertility that could not be reversed. Many decided too late, they wanted a child, or children. Where then, do they look for a solution to this regret; a completion of their lives by the addition of a child?. Adoption.

Does the woman who decides to resolve her infertility by adopting really manage to kid herself that the donor of an adoptable child has a ‘choice’?. Would any woman with a choice put herself through nine months of pregnancy and go into labor having made the decision to surrender her child, if in fact there was another way? With the rare exception of surrogacy, carried out for money, no woman would knowingly, willingly do this. Does the infertile woman have the moral right to complete her family with another woman's child? I think not.

Whatever happened to sisterhood, that brave frontier of gender equality where women banded together to fight the monster, that oppressor enabled by a structural inequality that collectively used woman's fertility to keep her oppressed, uneducated, downtrodden, poor. I put it to every woman, that any woman who expects to exercise a ‘choice’ to fulfill her maternal needs with another woman’s child, has herself become that oppressor.

Adoption is the last resort for fertile women too young, too poor, too oppressed to have fertility choices; women lacking in self-esteem, in societal support, and in a belief of themselves. They come from all ethnicities, all cultures, all countries. The woman without choices - surrendering her child for adoption in 2003 - is actually the woman every woman could have been, had the feminist revolution not happened.

Until every woman, everywhere, has the right to raise the child she carried and birthed, the patriarchy is alive and well, still using ‘good’ women to punish ‘bad’ women - through the role of adoptive applicant. The personal remains political; adoption is a feminist issue.

Voices From Exile January 2003 "Adoption ‘Choice’ is a Feminist Issue" Copyright © 2003 Joss Shawyer

 

 

Voices From Exile Copyright © 2003 Joss Shawyer

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