Thursday, September 04, 2008

Every Child a Wanted Child

That used to be the pro-choice slogan and it still resonates for me. Every child deserves to be a wanted child. In this age of the pill and the condom Bristol's story reminds us that before contraception and feminist liberation every child *wasn't* a wanted child. Women in Margaret Sanger's time exhausted themselves bearing child after child. Media stories about huge families of happy, healthy, loving siblings were balanced out by real life struggles over food, clothing, education and space like the one an old friend told me about how they were so poor that they couldn't seat everyone at the same time at the table so "the ones that worked" ate first and most while the younger or female non working ones ate second and least.

Sorry if I go long on this one. David Kurtz has a piece up at TPM about a cute little anecdote that John and Cindy McCain like tell about how they adopted their little girl from the orphanage. It goes like this:

Karl Rove this morning told yet another variation on the story of the McCains' adoption of their daughter Bridget. In his version, like the others I've heard, Cindy didn't tell John in advance that she was bringing this child back with her from abroad. She just did it, a fact which usually gets a hardy-har-har from friendly audiences.
Kurtz asks if this strikes anyone as creepy? Yeah, I'll say it does. A child is not a puppy. you don't adopt a child "on impulse" and you don't bring a new person into your home on a whim. Bringing a child half way around the world and adopting her without the full knowledge and consent of all other family members involved is a recipe for disaster and a cruel trick to play on the child. Recently my husband's brother met this disaster head on. My SIL and BIL adopted a 13 year old boy from DHS, where he'd been bouncing around in foster care since the age of seven, and struggled for two years with his intransigent social and intellectual and emotional problems and with their own lack of true love and commitment to him. They've just placed him back into foster care. Legally he is their son, but he is now right back where he started. I can't tell you how angry I am over this situation. Much as I love these people I thought the decision to adopt ill considered under the circumstances. I want to stress that these are wonderful people, wonderful parents to their own biological children, and that they had the best of intentions. They are also committed christians and republicans, rigid, authoritarian, narrowminded and not used to deep reflection on their motives or their lives. The end result was a hasty and ill considered decision made to help this child has ended up hurting him. They spent almost three years offering the child every imaginable social and health care and educational advantage but they couldn't give him the one thing he wanted: knowledge that he was loved. I can't imagine what he is going through.

I thought when they decided to do this that no good deed goes unpunished and that they were naieve about what this child neeed and what they could offer. But at least they made the decision to adopt together and I'm sure they got plenty of good advice and help--I know they worked with every kind of doctor and social worker and therapist to get themselves and this boy the help he needed adjusting. But in the end one fundamental thing was lacking. True love. Love that can surmount this kids very real difficulties. Love that some people naturally feel for their own biological children, love that some people feel naturally for the children they have welcomed into their lives through adoption and foster care. But however it comes you don't adopt a child without that deep, sincere, devoted emotional attachment. My own brother adopted too, as have many people we know. Almost all of them speak of that moment of bonding that occured, sometimes just with a picture of that child, which is identical to the feeling I had when I gave birth to my children. That love doesn't have to be earned, and it can't be thrown away or lost. It just exists, or it doesn't exist. So, yes, this story of Cindy and John McCain is really creepy. Here's a guy who essentially threw over his first (adopted) family entirely and allowed Cindy to produce a trophy second family for him. In her case, famously, she is the second biological child of a man who rejected and abandoned his first biological child--a woman and a family with whom Cindy feels no kinship. How is this adoption of this little girl, now a teen, any different from both these wanton histories of abandonment and new families? The adoption of this little girl was done, seemingly, spontaneously and without thought and planning. Maybe its worked out well, but considering how well hidden that daughter has been from McCain's "base" I doubt it.

More to the point, both McCain and Palin want to bring about a world in which the decision whether to have a child or not is taken out of our hands and placed into the hands of fate, doctors, and the state. That's as damaging to the women who are forced by circumstance to give birth and give away their children, as to those who are forced to give birth but don't give their children up for adoption. I've got no problem with Bristol Palin's pathetic unplanned pregnancy. And if she wants to have the baby, and keep it, more power to her. Motherhood is a great thing and babies are a great thing. But what if she doesn't want this pregnancy, this baby, or this husband? What would the Palins do then? Under Palin's law presumably she'd be forced to have the baby and give it up for adoption, or hand it over to other family members. These are not unlikely scenarios--just go back a few years before Roe v. Wade and that is exactly what choice society forced on teenage mothers. As for the rest of us, they'd turn the clock back to pre-birth control days when families beggared themselves with children, or turned and placed those children temporarily in orphanages.