In adoption circles, it is frequently said and widely accepted: adoption causes trauma. Every single time I read that it strikes me as incorrect. And I was wondering why I see this so differently from many of the people that I respect. I think I finally figured it out.
My adoption perspective is shaped by my background in animal welfare. The process of sheltering animals has three distinct steps. There is relinquishment – when a lost animal arrives, or more commonly, when a family intentionally brings an animal to a shelter hoping the agency will find it a new home. There is care taking- when an animal lives at the shelter hopefully receiving adequate food, water, exercise, attention and medical care. There is adoption – when a match is made and the animal goes to its new, hopefully forever, home.
In human adoption we tend to refer to this entire process as “adoption.” Still, my head always breaks it down into those three components. The trauma in human adoption comes from relinquishment, possibly what happened before relinquishment, unfortunately sometimes what happens in the care setting, and rarely from the actual process of adoption. That is not to say that joining a new family is easy and without its own form of trauma, but comparatively, and usually, the joining of the new family is the start of something good. While it doesn’t erase the previous traumas, it does provide a path to a potentially great life.
I am treading on eggshells here. I am being oh-so-careful not to say “a better life.” A “better life” would be a giant assumption on my part and is not at all what I necessarily belief. A better life makes the assumption that you know what the child’s alternative life would be. Did you assume the child would be in a care center? on the streets? with his/her family of origin? dead? The fact is we will never know for any specific child what the exact alternative would have been. We do know many kids live on the streets, starve to death, spend their whole lives in care centers or wind up suffering in a family that is not equipped to care for them. We also know that many women who did not think they could care for their children, find a way to get by, providing their children with everything they need and more. Furthermore, I do not want to make ANY assumptions about the circumstances leading up to the relinquishment. In fact, I often feel at odds with other Ethiopian adoptive families over this issue. I feel that as a community we over-simplify the causes of relinquishment. Yes, poverty. POVERTY. Extreme, life-threatening poverty. But not exclusively, and not always.
I am not looking to let adoptive parents off-the-hook. When you enter into a complex paradigm that results in completely altering at least one human being’s life without his/her consent, you must be educated, conscientious and extremely aware of what your actions intentionally, or even unintentionally, contribute to. Too many adoptive parents go into adoption with only their own needs guiding them, thereby opening the doors wide for unethical practices.
However, I contend, with a thousand caveats, that it is not the “adoption” part of adoption that causes trauma. There are kids that need homes. Millions less kids would need homes if we harnessed the political will and resources to correct the extreme imbalances in our world. And I have seen many adoptive parents working towards that goal. Still, there are kids that need homes. The needing of the home is the tragedy. The tragedy creates the trauma.
The finding of a home is actually a cause for celebration. It doesn’t make you a hero. The adopted child does not owe you gratitude. Remembering the important fact that he/she did not ask to be in this situation in the first place and had no control over any part of it, the child deserves understanding (but not pity). But a family coming together to move forward into the future as a team – that is a wonderful thing.
Fellow adoptive parents – fully conscious, sensitive, aware, concerned, adoptive parents – it is okay to celebrate your adoption.
(And if you are asking yourself – who is she to give that permission? – I humbly respond, absolutely no-one, just a woman with an opinion and a blog. You also might want to hate me for daring to compare human adoption to animal adoption.)