Friday, November 28, 2014

Where is the Compassion in Adoption?

I was fortunate recently to spend time in person with an online friend. She is an optimistic, energetic, positive and inspiring woman. Being around her is like being around an intense shot of firey, bright sunshine. She is also a mother who relinquished her child for adoption. As we sat in a diner on a cold afternoon sipping hot, comforting beverages and swapping stories, I found myself wondering why the most basic human compassion is so often not offered within the context of crisis pregnancy, infertility and adoption.

My friend conceived under not-ideal circumstances. Taking in her words and seeing her tears as she spoke so honestly with me, I couldn't help but note that while not-ideal, her circumstances had not been horrendously dire or insurmountable. A little bit of basic human compassion--a simple offer of help, a word of encouragement--could have empowered her to overcome the barriers. Those offers of help and words of encouragement were never offered, however. Instead, her deepest fears and insecurities were confirmed repeatedly by adoption agency representatives and she relinquished her child.

My heart broke for her as I thought about how I conceived my first child under the most ideal circumstances and still felt many of the same fears and insecurities she expressed. But because I was a married homeowner with a steady job and family support system, my fears and insecurities were met with words of encouragement. You can do this, people told me. You'll be a great mom, I heard. You are exactly what your child needs, I was assured. For us adoptees, these are not the words that many of our mothers heard. You can't take care of a baby, they were told. You can't be a good mom right now, they heard. These other people who are unable to have children of their own can give your child what you can't, they were assured. The same fears and insecurities that are calmed and discouraged with mothers who conceive under the "right" circumstances are instead confirmed and encouraged with many mothers who conceive under the "wrong" circumstances.

That afternoon in the diner, I told my friend that I'm so sorry that her fears and insecurities were encouraged. I told her that she would have been a great mom and that her child would have been just fine with her. And I wondered what would have happened if just one person had offered those same words to her all those years ago. I also wondered what would happen if we changed the more common societal responses to the fears and insecurities experienced by others involved in adoption.

What if we asked an expectant mother in crisis "What do you need? How can we help you?" instead of "How do you plan on caring for this baby on your own?"

What if we told an expectant father "We support your right to raise your own child." instead of "You don't matter."

What if we told couples facing infertility "We acknowledge your struggles. This must be really hard for you. We're listening." instead of "Hey, you can always just adopt."

What if we told adoptees "We know that losing your family and identity is hard. What do you need to feel healthy and whole in your sense of self?" instead of "You should be grateful. You don't deserve to be treated the same as non-adoptees."

What if we asked all of these people "How can we support you?" instead of telling them to "Move on and get over it."

Adoption is so often considered to be the answer to a multitude of fears and insecurities. The truth is that adoption as it is currently practiced--with large sums of money changing hands and falsified birth records--is actually the source of a far-reaching and long-lasting perpetuation of fears and insecurities that go unresolved and unacknowledged. Current adoption practices are part of the problem, not the answer. The adoption industry does not operate in a manner that is compassionate to those involved. After all, there isn't much room for compassion when the supply of human babies isn't meeting the demand or when it is legal and acceptable to charge thousands and thousands of dollars in fees in exchange for a human being.

We all need to consider what would happen if those experiencing crisis pregnancies, those who are facing infertility and those who have been adopted through a uncaring industry were to demand compassion. Perhaps radical compassion would force the need for more ethical and respectful adoption practices.

Compassion is a verb.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Julie Stromberg
When the time came to think about college, I decided that my career path would encompass either child psychology or journalism. Fortunately for all the young people out there, I opted for journalism and earned a bachelor's degree in communications. Since that time, I have worked as a newspaper and magazine staff writer, public relations associate, and marketing copywriter. My professional creative efforts have been acknowledged with several industry awards.

I am also pleased to be involved in several writing and advocacy projects outside of the office. As an adoptee, my advocacy work is focused on changing the common, societal discourse on adoption practices and encouraging reform that would place the emotional needs and legal rights of the children involved first.