I had an interesting encounter today. A complete stranger shared a very personal part of her life with my sisters and me. It was kind of like the movie Rashomon...I had 4 different views of the same topic. I don't think anyone didn't say something that wasn't mildly offensive to someone else, and yet there was no real distress because the atmosphere was one of sharing and learning.
The topic? Adoption.
The participants? My oldest sister(OS) - the fertile one, my second sister(2S) - adopted two girls from China, me - not quite infertile/not quite fertile, let's go with ART survivor, new person(NP) - birth mother.
NP was discussing the topic of education and preparation of kids for real life. I guess she felt pretty comfortable in our family circle (although she seemed like the type of girl who doesn't feel uncomfortable anywhere), because she detailed the story of how she was pregnant at 20 and was pressured into giving her child up for adoption. The story was both sad and hopeful at the same time - because from a certain perspective you could see the hand of God or fate or what have you in all of her descriptions. However, even though she wanted an open adoption (or maybe a semi-open adoption - I'm not sure about the particulars), she hasn't been able to have one. Because the adoptive parents were Evangelical Christians, details of her lifestyle became unpalatable to them, and they have obstructed contact between NP and her daughter. She may have downplayed her lifestyle, but it sounds fairly typical of a 21 year old living in a new (and big) city. It sounds like she wants a bit more involvement with her child (and the birth parents), but it didn't sound like a huge imposition - perhaps an email account where she could receive updates and pictures. It was clear that she understands that not being able to have your own children is painful, but this pain is ephemeral to her. It's not real, and she can't process the depths of despair that infertility can bring. I think the most interesting point she made was when she was discussing the selection process, and how all the prospective parent could do was describe what things they could give the potential child. I can understand how difficult it must be to try and translate how much you will love a child into a sales pitch for a birth mom.
OS made a couple of the kinds of comments that infertiles hear all the time, that are really annoying, but understandable from someone whose procreation was relatively easy. It was pretty easy to tell that this was of interest to her, but she has not experienced anything that would make this comprehensible to her.
2S had mentioned reasons for adopting from China in the past, such as low disease rates. However, today, she said the main reason they chose China over domestic adoption was because they didn't feel they would be able to cope with the option for birth mothers to change their minds about the adoption. They were not capable of giving back a child that they had opened their hearts to love. Then 2S told a story of one of her patients, who was accompanied by both birth mom and adoptive mom on an office visit. She said that birth mom and adoptive mom were actually arguing over the plan of treatment.
I jumped in there with my insensitive comment about how birth mothers really have to know themselves very well before deciding on open adoption. They really shouldn't have the right to interfere in medical treatment, in my opinion. If you can't give up that kind of control, then you either need to parent your child, or step away completely. Otherwise, it makes it seem like you're treating the adoptive mother like a nanny who is taking care of your child while you're busy with your life.
My mom was also there, and while she is normally very judgmental, her only comment was to wonder why NP had opened up so completely with us. I think I may have taken the wind out of her sails, because I told her that while I was surprised by the openness, I thought it was great. NP's situation was not ideal, but it was nothing to be ashamed of, and maybe if more people were open about adoption the way she is, it would be a much smoother road for both birth parents and adoptive parents.