Let me be 100% transparent here, I never felt like I was standing in a place of privilege when my husband and I were pursuing adoption. If anything, I felt the exact opposite. There were so many obstacles to overcome in order for us to grow our family. Why couldn’t we grow our family with as much ease and control as others? Why were fertility treatments so expensive? Why was the adoption process so difficult? I look back now and realize that while my feelings were valid, they don’t tell the whole story. During that season I couldn’t see past myself and my desires. I could only see me, my husband and the void in our family. I didn’t see the stories of the other sides of the triad and that was a privilege that I needed to come to terms with.
Privilege is one of those words that can automatically make people feel defensive, but please hear me.. this isn’t to make anyone feel guilty or ashamed. I have studied privilege in the past and still I found myself willingly ignoring the benefits of my privilege in my triad. In truth, we all have had privilege in some way or another. Whether it’s your gender, race, sexuality, able-bodiedness, or socio-economic status. Acknowledging your privilege will hopefully help you to begin to understand the journeys and perspectives of people who’ve lived a different life than you.
I want you to consider just a couple of ways in which adoptive parents (APs) and hopeful adoptive parents (HAPs) have privilege in this journey. I am just going to scratch the surface on a few topics, but it is my hope that recognizing these will better help you serve your triad and jumpstart a passion to learn more.
If you’re already an AP think for a moment about why your child’s birth mother (for the sake of this piece I’ll use expectant mother/birthmother, but I recognize that often there are other people involved in the biological family) decided to make an adoption plan. If you aren’t an AP yet then just use your imagination. The reason an expectant mother (EM) might be considering adoption is complex and there might even be several factors to consider. For many EMs finances play at least a partial role in their decision to place. They may not have the financial resources to provide their child with everything they feel they need, so they choose a family that they feel can provide these things.
The fact of the matter is, adoption is expensive. So typically those that pursue it either have the financial means to do so OR have some financial support from those in their community. If a family can’t afford adoption fees on their own, which often range from $20,000 - $40,000, then they may fundraise or apply for grants to help with the costs. This is a privilege that EMs simply don’t have. Most likely, no one is giving them grants to help them parent their child and no one is going to be throwing garage sales or spaghetti dinners or organizing a GoFundMe for them. Sure, there may be short term resources that mothers can take advantage of… but often these simply aren't enough. But, what if your child’s birth mother had an extra $40,000, do you think she still would have placed? Maybe. But I think there are definitely situations where that kind of money might have changed things.
I say this to say, your financial status is a privilege that a lot birth mothers didn’t have when they decided to pursue adoption. Also, know that you don’t have to be a millionaire to have privilege. If you have a steady income and never have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, or how you’re going to pay your bills this month, or where you’re going to sleep tonight… then you’re better off than a lot of people. Not only are you financially stable, but you likely have a community around you that may be rallying together to help you out even more. Own that. I know fundraising can be a hot button issue in the adoption community, but if you're going to fundraise or take advantage of grants then be transparent about it. EMs deserve financial transparency, especially because it often plays a part in their decision to place.
Another huge advantage that HAPs & APs have is their social privilege are the way AP stories are presented. While the views of first families and birth mothers are changing for the positive, there are still a lot of negative stereotypes that follow them around. More than once I’ve been asked why our son’s birth mother “gave him up”... “why didn’t she want him?”, “was she on drugs?”, “was it because of money?”, “I bet she is really young.”, “Did she know who the father was?”. I’ve been asked all of these questions, and more. But I’m not surprised. The way the world treats women who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy is shameful. I don’t have personal experience on what it’s like to be an EM or birth mother, but I hear the way people talk about these women, and the assumptions they make about the women who choose to place their child for adoption. I do think the narrative is shifting, due to some awesome birth mother voices on social media, but it’s long overdue, and frankly not happening quickly enough.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, HAPs and APs get things like... “You’re such good people!”, “I could never do what you do.”, “The world needs more people like you!”, “He is so lucky/blessed!” and my favorite… “He’s so much better off with y’all.” There is so much wrong with this narrative. For starters, what a burden to put on our son. We are not his “saviors” and he owes us nothing. Secondly, we really aren’t that awesome. Painting us (or any AP) as “better than” is just wrong. We are just normal people who chose to adopt. The real issue here though, is how these narratives serve the other members of the triad.
Women in crisis considering adoption might not find themselves getting the support they need, and want, because of the negative stereotypes I mentioned above. An EM might be less inclined to advocate for herself if she feels these judgements. As humans, if we hear something about ourselves enough, good or bad, we start to believe it. These narratives also put a lot of pressure on adoptees and make our love seem conditional. Adoptees may feel added pressure to express gratefulness to their APs because they were “so blessed” to be adopted. They also might feel like they can’t ask questions they have about their birth family because it might make them seem ungrateful.
Feeling supported and heard goes a long way in any circumstance. EMs, birth mothers, and adoptees all deserve to have their voice heard. Make sure that as an AP you are supporting communities and agencies where adoptee and birth mother voices are advocated for and NOT silenced. It’s also your responsibility as an AP to shut down the negativity you hear surrounding biological families and to educate others on ethical adoption. Can it be exhausting? Oh yeah! But, it really does make a difference in the way people approach adoption.
Privilege of Power
Once an adoption takes place the sole source of power belongs to the APs. You are the link to the adoptee’s past... to their whole biological identity. You are the teller of their story. You are promise maker and you are promise keeper and/or breaker. Sit with the heaviness of that responsibility for a moment. The craziest part is that there is nothing to make us honor the promises we’ve made to our son’s birthmother. There is nothing she could do if we decided to cut her out completely. Nothing. That is terrifying. If that’s not privilege, I don’t know what is. We decide everything for our son, and his adoption, until he’s old enough to do it himself.
I can’t imagine how scary this knowledge must seem to EMs and birth mothers. Knowing that at any moment, for any reason, your child's APs could just decide to drop all contact. The sad thing is, I read about it happening way more often than APs would like to admit. I’m sure sometimes it’s out of necessity, but a lot of times I think it’s out of a desire to assert control or power. We are all human and we are all capable of having our feelings hurt! I know I am. So before you make a huge decision in regards to your child and their adoption or their relationship with their biological family, be sure to come to terms with WHY you’re making the decision you’re making.
Y’all, these are not easy things to talk about and I am so grateful for a space to share my heart. I have poured over these words for weeks in an effort to speak truth onto this page, but to also avoid sounding sanctimonious. I’ll be the first to tell you that we will all make mistakes. We will not walk this path perfectly. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ll continue to make them too. The goal is not to strive for perfection, but to strive to continue to learn and grow. Always. The more we talk about the hard things, the more we think critically about them, and the more we try to open our eyes and hearts to the experiences of others… the better we can serve our children.
- Written by a guest blogger, Carey Shofner
Carey is a wife, adoptive mom, foster mom and blogger!