I mess up idioms. I have often been caught saying, “I’ll see it when I believe it” much to my husband’s derision. I also have a habit of saying “5 and 4” instead of “4 and 5”. I chalk this up to not having English as my first language during my formative years. As much as I love the English language and finding new ways to say things, I do find that talking about adoption has made me even craftier. Words matter, they always have. After all, it was words that made me feel less than others and it is words now that make me feel I have competency.
I keep hearing the term “threading the needle” lately in our national political discourse. I think it is perfectly fitting in adoption work and policy too. On the one hand, being adopted does not qualify me in the category of “special needs,” and yet, I do believe being adopted is special and there are needs we adoptees must have in order to feel safe and secure and belonging to our adoptive families. On the one hand, adoption is just like every other way of forming a family except when it’s not, when the “adopted child” of a said couple is excluded by that adjective distinguishing him from all other children in the family. On the one hand, adoption is permanent and yet we have been challenged again and again when a child is rehomed, sent back on an airplane or when the country where the child was born claims her as theirs. Different, the same, just like, as if…I realize I am threading the needle of descriptives to try and accurately address our community.
It came to a head for me when I read Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article. This article cannot be read while you are eating, your body will reject the food by sheer gag reflex. Ms. Joyce’s plain and simple words will make you cry as she gives voice to children who have experienced the horrific and survived and others who have perished. Yet as I was reading this article, I was thinking of David Pelzer and his memoir “A Child Called It.” Mr. Pelzer was not adopted and his story, among many others, are equally horrific. I add this because, as thorough as Ms. Joyce was, I found myself threading the needle of understanding the complication adoption naturally breeds. What stuck out for me was the paradox of how horribly wrong adoptions can go and yet the need for it. On the one hand, there are families who should never have been able to adopt a child and yet it was another adoptive family who said yes to that same child and loved deliberately so that he/she can begin to heal and know what it means to have a family. On the one hand, adoptive families are “forever” and “just like” all other families and yet we demand oversight, progress reports for decades, statistics and a level of lifelong scrutiny no other family must endure. On the one hand, we expect adoptive parents to claim their child as their own and yet are mistrustful that they will. On the one hand, adoption agencies/facilitators/attorneys aid in the creation of a family and yet are given no legal recourse to say “no” to prospective adoptive parents. When I was an adoption social worker in placement, I would have loved to have them sign an affidavit that says that they will not say racist remarks to their children, they will not spank their child, they will move to an area with more diversity, that they will honor their child’s birth/family, that they will seek assistance and support when things are getting rough.
Why does this matter?
When I finished reading David Pelzer’s book, I found myself honoring Mr. Pelzer’s courage and survival with a tsk tsk and judgment of his mother as mentally ill. When I read articles of abuse of adopted children, there is a wholey different lens from which I read it. When I read these articles, I don’t get the sense that I am reading about the survival and courage of the child, but rather an examination of the adoption system.
What’s the problem with that? I think one reason is that there is a fundamental truth we keep not wanting to say. Adoption IS different from giving birth to your child and parenting your child. It just is. I keep going around and around and it comes down to this admission.