***I'm still on medication. Please forgive me if this post derails or doesn't make sense. Please point out mistakes or areas that need clarification. I don't want you to ignore my mistakes. I want you to help me make them better***
In discussing the "right-ness" or "wrong-ness" of adoption I've discovered a trend. People tend to speak directly for children when children cannot speak. It's not uncommon to hear people say things like "your baby wants to be raised by you," or "all a baby wants is to be loved." In the former I'm paraphrasing statements I've heard from people who are pro-parenting/anti-adoption and the latter pro-adoption/anti-parenting depending on your person taste for terminology. I take serious issue with this proclivity even though I don't doubt that I've been guilty of it myself. These statements are troubling because of the processes one must go through to make them.
At first glance it looks a lot like compassion. To speak for the child one places him/herself in the child's position and attempt to understand the fullness of that experience. From that exercise s/he then speaks from that experience on behalf of the child. The ability to put oneself in "the other guy's shoes" is fundamental to compassion. That exercise has many practical applications and generally keeps humans from treating one another poorly. Unfortunately in the adoption related debates I've encountered that is this tool has been turned around. Instead of compassion it is used to fan the flames of conviction. This may be due to the strength of the emotional experiences encountered when applying this tool to adoption.
Most people, in my experience, involved in adoption debate have been involved in an adoption plan. The parties involved are typically a member of a first family, adult adoptees, current or prospective adoptive parents, and on rarely adoption workers. In these situations everyone has an experience to bring to the table. On the part of first families those experiences are, uniformly, emotionally intense and often traumatic. On the part of adoptive families the experience is often one of great joy muddled with the pain of infertility and loss. Very often both sides of the adoption equation have lost children yet that commonality is rarely discussed. That is something I wish to address, but not now.
After all, the point of this post was discussing child centered adoption, right? So where's the child in all of this? Well that's precisely the problem. Adults are jumping through a lot of mental hoops trying to understand the experience of the child in order to speak for their experience. Bringing their own experiences into the process of imagining the experience for the adoptee adults have amplified reactions. Before the adult can attempt understanding the adoptee experience s/he is typically overwhelmed by his/her own emotional experience. That's when people start speaking for themselves through the voice of the child. That is not only disrespectful to the adoptee experience. It disallows for adoptee experiences that differ from the adult's perceived experience. I consider that malicious behavior.
There's another level to this. The question of how a person does compassion is important. I described the exercise of "putting yourself in the other guy's shoes" as fundamental to compassion. It is a necessary step. Compassion doesn't stop there. That's how we teach compassion to children. An adult requires an adult understanding of compassion. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" isn't what I'm talking about. The real point is abstraction. Early compassion says I know your experience and I will behave how I wish others had behaved toward me. Abstract compassion says I don't know your experience and will behave with respect and kindness toward you.
Why can't I know your experience? Why must I assume I'm ignorant? Because there are billions of neurons and billions of discrete experiences that separate my experience from another person's. I can never know the full subtlety and depth of another person's emotions, thoughts, or choices. This is why I try to speak only for myself. When I do speak for others I attempt to do so in terms of probabilities (Billy probably doesn't want cockroaches in his sandwich, birth fathers probably aren't universally jerks). I do this because I believe no one has the right to speak for another in positive terms. At the very best we can make guesses but must do so with full admonition of our ignorance.
How does this apply to child centered adoption? It means in the often heated debates about whether adoption is right or wrong I put a few lingual filters in place. Let's take my paraphrases above as examples. When a first family member says "your baby wants to be raised by you," I hear "I wish I chose to parent." When I encounter the same statement from an adult adoptee I hear "I wish my first family had chosen to parent me." These are very valid statements that cut to the quick of the emotional experience they represent. There are more reasons than I can imagine for a person to have these desires and they are legitimate. Similarly "all a baby wants is to be loved" from an adoptive parent arguing against openness says to me "I wish my love is all my baby ever needs." This, too, is a legitimate desire. Wanting things and experiences, if honest about the needs they're attempting to address, is perfectly healthy. Knowing desires are often terribly unrealistic is also healthy.
I can feel my brain starting to fog over, so I'll wrap this up quickly if, perhaps, tangentially. No doubt you, the observant and critically engaged read that you are, have noted that I've not spoken to whether adoption is right or wrong here. That's intentional. I'm not concerned with whether adoption is the correct choice or a morally abhorrent choice at the moment. My concern is how we speak about adoption and how that reflects our attitudes toward each other. Adoption is polarized on many levels and I'm growing tired of seeing people turning their past injuries into weapons to further injure others. It feels like an east wing versus west wing cancer ward battle to the death. We've all been taken by surprise*. We've all been hurt by the same thing** and are in various stages of healing. A little kindness doesn't seem like so much to ask for. I suggest you be a trend setter. Tell someone that you don't understand, but you care anyway. Tell them you'll never fully know, and you love more deeply because of it.
*Whether it be unplanned pregnancy, infertility, unethical adoption workers, or even being raised by "the wrong family" and encountering stigma externally and internally everyone involved in adoption has encountered a situation in his/her life that s/he would not seek.
**Adoption hurts people. So does chemotherapy. No one wants it, even if s/he needs it.