#notyouradoptionposterchild

So I’ve had some time off work and I’ve been doing some thinking about the latest adoption-related social media hashtag. Disclaimer: These are just my opinions as an adult adopted person, obvs. I don’t speak for every adoptee, just like you don’t speak for all [insert whichever category conveniently fits into social media hashtags here]. It has also been discussed incredibly sensibly and insightfully on The Declassified Adoptee, so much so that I’m not really sure why I’m writing this post, apart from to say: read that blog, I totally agree with it, and here’s my tuppence (I’m British!) as a somewhat older adopted person who is also going through all sorts with infertility.

#shoutyourabortion

A while back, someone decided to start a hashtag called #shoutyourabortion. I haven’t done a lot of thinking about this, apart from in passing to find it pretty distasteful. Even if you are pro-choice I find it odd that you would want to shout about it – I am British, after all, and we don’t really like shouting about anything, least of all medical intimacies.

I also think there’s a subtle but significant difference between being pro-choice (women’s rights to have agency over their own bodies in negative situations) and pro-abortion (“shout your abortion” sounds oddly celebratory to me). But perhaps that’s just me.

My stance on abortion has changed over time… although I think the general gist has remained the same. When I was younger, I was very pro-choice. It was just the way to be, being brought up in a progressive culture where personal choice is king. There’s something barbaric about forcing people to give birth, and not have control over their own bodies – I get that. But as an adolescent I thought of an unwanted pregnancy framed as a temporary state of physical inconvenience; a ball of cells, not a baby; a life that didn’t really count.

(I recently lost one of those “balls of cells” and I can tell you, it did count. I felt the physical pain of my body expelling those much-wanted cells. My baby. It was a baby.)

As an older adult, one who was active in the manner that might produce a baby at some point (oh, the irony of infertility), my feelings started to change. More as a thought exercise than anything: What would I do if I had an unwanted pregnancy? As a teenager it was easy to say “I’d have an abortion rather than ruin my life” but as an older adult that started to feel naive and simplistic.

Firstly, I wasn’t so sure it would ruin my life. As I grew up through adolescence in the 90s, it became more and more apparent that pregnancy was not the horrific, life-ruining state we were once taught it was. In the 90s UK, “single mothers” became the scourge of the right wing press but it did plant an idea in our growing minds that if “the worst” happened, we wouldn’t be destitute. We’d get looked after by the government. We might even be able to go to uni. I’m not saying that this ever appealed to a properly-brought-up middle-class adopted-girl academic-overachiever (and even if it had, there was a shortage of willing fathers-to-be who wanted to get jiggy with a geeky grungy girl in Doc Martens) but I started to believe that it wasn’t such a simple decision to terminate for quality of life. The quality of life argument doesn’t really fly when you have a welfare state that will make sure you are fed and clothed and sheltered.

As I grew older, I started questioning this even more. Because when you think about it, there is something kind of perverse about terminating a pregnancy. It’s doing something that by dint of separation of a mother’s womb becomes legal rather than illegal. It’s finishing a life that would otherwise have carried on and matured into a viable human being. (In most cases: Here I make the distinction between Termination for Medical Reasons and abortion – to me these are two completely different things even if the mechanics are the same. Of course there is very little reasoned argument against prolonging a pregnancy that will lead to suffering of the baby and/or the mother.)

I don’t know what happened to me during this time but I started to have distaste for the pro-choice lobby. Not because I believe there should be no choice. I always believe a woman should have agency over her own body. So for that reason I still fall within the pro-choice camp rather than the pro-life camp. But I think what a lot of the pro-choice rhetoric fails to recognise is the deep fractures in our culture and society where we have normalised and medicalised termination of children’s lives before birth. There’s something weird about people being so strident about their rights to terminate, that we don’t find this shocking. It’s as easy as taking a couple of pills, or having a minor “procedure”. You could do it in your lunch break.

In addition, we have moved on significantly since Roe vs Wade. Abortion is by choice now, and not for medical reasons or psychological reasons (as a result of abuse or rape). And this is what the pro-choice and pro-life lobbies use: extreme situations to justify their reasoning, when most instances fall somewhere in the middle. We won’t get the exact stats for rape or abuse, but it seems apparent from the commentary that for many pro-choice people, abortion is a lifestyle choice rather than a medical or psychological necessity. And I respect that argument, but call it what it is. Justifying abortion for medical reasons or as a result of forced pregnancy is entirely different from “I don’t feel ready to be a mother right now”. Essentially you are conflating Termination to Avoid Harm with Termination for Convenience.

#shoutyouradoption

As someone who was adopted as a baby, the reasons given being “young unmarried mother [in a country that didn’t support single mothers]” I guess the aversion to abortion was always woven into the fabric of my existence. Because, I realised when I got older that maybe if times had been different that I might have been aborted… because the narrative of abortion and pro-choice / pro-life debates equates adoption with avoidance of abortion.

I call bull on this.

The alternative to adoption is parenting the child. The alternative to abortion is parenting the child. In logic, we call this a logical fallacy of Affirming the Consequent. In other words, it’s a logic fail as an argument.

If Child A hadn’t been aborted, he would have lived (with his mother).

If Child B hadn’t been adopted, he would have lived (with his mother).

Based on this, I think Abortion = Adoption.

See? It’s a bit silly to say they are both the same decision. They are logically different things. And here’s the thing: adopted people had the exact same chance of being aborted as non-adopted people. There is no reason why adopted people should be more thankful for not being aborted than non-adopted people.

Adoption and abortion are not statistically correlated in a way that suggests they are philosophically equivalent choices in the minds of potential mothers. This 2014 article states:

the rates of adoption versus abortion are vastly disproportionate, suggesting that women themselves are not overly interested in the former as an option. Recent statistics show that approximately 14,000 newborns are adopted annually in the United States through voluntary placements, a number that has remained flat for about 20 years. Meanwhile, in 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed—the lowest number in decades.

For those of you of a statistical bent (like me!) there is a very good statistical analysis of US abortion and adoption data here. This shows that there is not a clear cut correlation between adoption and abortion, and hypothesises about the different factors that may affect the data (such as different attitudes towards having sex during the time period… the 70s; the race of the mother; the employment rates; Medicaid funding…). There is a shedload of information in there, but significantly:

We do not find that Roe v. Wade had a significant effect on adoptions, although our results suggest there may have been a negative effect on adoptions of children born to white women.

A lot changed during the 70s and 80s… Not just abortion law, but also economic and cultural changes. When I was born in the 70s, and growing up in the 80s, it was still relatively normal for a mother not to work. The role of women has changed significantly from the 70s until today. I now work in a “typically male” job and I am the main breadwinner in our family… I know many other women who are the same. That’s going to have an impact on our reproductive behaviour. Quite aside from any effect of infertility (which on gut feel appears to have increased significantly over time, but I could be wrong – perhaps just access to fertility treatments has increased). There are many many reasons why women are not mothers, not just abortion/adoption.

Not your poster child

As an adopted person, I feel pressure to pick a side. We already have the angry adoptees and the happy adoptees (another categorisation that adopted people get very cross about… overly simplistic and diminishing of the adoptee experience, if you think about it). And as adult adopted people we are expected to be spokespeople for adoption. To speak out about adoption as an experience, either to support the adoption lobby (primarily adoptive parents) or to support “adoptee rights” (primarily adult adoptees who are critical of adoption).

And as an “adoptee” (I hate that word), I say this: I am not your poster child.

I didn’t pick being adopted – I just was. I didn’t make any choice to be a representation. I am not a meme.

If you scroll through what’s on twitter against this hashtag, #shoutyouradoption has a variety of stories. In many cases it is adult adoptees saying thanks to their parents for adopting them, and to their first parents for choosing adoption rather than abortion.

Wait a second. I think we just disproved that logic up there. Adoption =/= Abortion, remember?

But in a whole lot of cases, we have people co-opting the hashtag and using children and babies to justify adoption. Here is an example…

I find this massively problematic (and there are countless examples of people using their adopted babies and children to make this point). This girl looks young, and she’s been co-opted into making a public statement that she would have been aborted, had her first mother not “chosen adoption”.

Firstly, think how much of a narrative burden that puts on Kaley, a young girl, to have to be the poster child for her adoptive mother’s wishes to justify adoption as A Good Thing.

Secondly, think about how adoption is a many-layered thing, and whilst it is in many cases A Good Thing for adoptive parents, that child has suffered a great loss (of their first family, and of their first culture and biology and everything other people take for granted). That child is destined to live a life apart from any other person they’re biologically related to. That’s a bit bigger than a poster, yes? (And for those of you who say biology isn’t important… Let’s just say I’m going to take away two members of your family and you’re never going to be able to see them again and you won’t get to find out anything about what happened to them and whether they’re alive or dead. Still think it’s unimportant?)

Thirdly, wait: adoptive mom Shawn… You told Kaley she would have been aborted if you hadn’t adopted her?

What?

I really don’t like to be a bitch about this, but I think you just need to go away and think about that for a moment. Please come back to me when you have a plan for your continuing relationship that doesn’t include the words “saved”, “grateful” and “real”. Kthxbye.

This whole hashtag movement smacks of the narrative burden that all adoptees feel, and falls under that pretty darned awful trope of The Grateful Adoptee – the idea that all adopted people need to feel a huge amount of gratefulness for what they’ve been “given” (no mention of what was taken away). It minimises the very real loss that adopted people have and it minimises the huge loss of the first family.

Because here’s the thing: No matter how you want to frame it (young-unmarried-single-mother-poor-country gave-you-up-for-a-better-life), that first mother (and father) has lost something pretty precious. Their child. And the child has lost them in return. The child that you may want to frame as “unwanted” but who was wanted enough by adoptive parents in more affluent situations for them to expend a lot of effort and money in getting that child. So you can’t on the one hand minimise the value of that child (unwanted, could have been aborted) and on the other hand glorify it (saved, grateful adoptee, a gift – NB all things you probably shouldn’t ever say to your adopted child unless you’re keen for them to hate you in later life).

That’s where this whole thing gets messy, when you use your child to make a point.

For sure – I have no beef with anyone who wants to shout their adoption, if they’re doing it because they want to and not on behalf of somebody else. But do not conflate it with abortion. And don’t speak for your children, please. Their story is theirs alone, and in speaking what you think is their narrative, you’re silencing them. You are denigrating their experience. You’re telling them what to think and feel about their adoption, when they’re not even old enough to have processed it yet. You’re seeing it all as a win for you and not as a loss for your child.

And with every time you speak over your child’s narrative, you’re increasing the chance of alienating them in later life. I’ve seen those adoptees and they scare me. They scare me because I know it could have been me… but I’m one of those people who has not suffered more than I could stand. I have [adoptive] parents who love me and who don’t treat me badly so I’m a relatively well adjusted (ha) adult. If they’d have spoken over me, made me hold up signs on social media about how I hadn’t  been aborted, and told me how grateful I should be for having been adopted by them… Well, maybe we wouldn’t be in the same position.

And when it comes down to it: I am not an adoptee. I was adopted but it doesn’t define me, for good or bad. I am me, a human being, with good bits and bad bits – I try for more good than bad. I am totally fine in sharing the fact that I’m adopted. As you may have noticed – I write about it quite a lot. (A lifetime of experience trying to burst out!) But I refuse to be a poster child for adoption, and I refuse to #shoutmyadoption just to further a cause that has been falsely conflated with my existence.

#flipthescript

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22 comments

  1. sewingbutterfly

    I think using your child in any social media cause or protest is a bit weird. That child hasn’t had the opportunity to form their own opinion about the subject. I am grateful my mother never forced her opinion on me about anything, she always told me her opinion but would encourage me to form my own. As for abortion, I would probably sit with you in the pro-choice camp, I believe that a woman should have the right to choose, but even as an older teenager, I was never comfortable with the idea of having an abortion myself. If I had fallen pregnant (I didn’t) I would have worked hard and raised my child, with the support of my loving family and a little help from the government. Also knowing my mother struggled with infertility, that she loved me when I was ‘just a few cells’, just gave me a different feeling on it. I love your blog, you write so eloquently 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nara

      Aww thanks! I agree with you that using kids in any political cause is weird. I don’t have any, but I can’t imagine using them to try and make a point! I guess some people become a bit blinkered. Your mum sounds ace. Mine was possibly a bit more strident about certain things, but then because we had such a big family, we all got used to putting our own opinions forward! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. patientsubfertility

    Wow, this was one of the more thoughtful posts I’ve read on such complicated issues. This really made me stop to think. I think I do conflate the two in a savior complex kind of way. And maybe that isn’t fair.

    This really made me think. And I’m reading these words that I also casually use for adoption, and they are the words I use for my sister’s dog rescue – “saved” “homed”? I do have this idea adoptees should be grateful and that they are saved (and maybe even not aborted?), and now I’m not sure how I feel about it now.

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    • Nara

      In doggy terms I don’t think we would say “saved” although we might say “rescue”, which is the normal terminology I think. However if you rehome a dog you ARE rescuing them, as often a dog is at risk of getting put down (euthanized) if they aren’t adopted from the shelter in a certain amount of time.

      As someone who was adopted, I don’t have an issue with the fact that we use the same term “adopted” for animals. I love my dog as much, if not more than most humans! (He’s adopted but not a rescue so I wouldn’t say I saved him… If I hadn’t had him, someone else would have.)

      I definitely wouldn’t say that an adopted child is saved or rehomed. I wouldn’t say they’re at risk of being euthanized if they weren’t adopted, so it’s different than for animals. The alternative is either staying with their birth family or growing up in care (or most probably, being adopted by someone else) so for that reason I wouldn’t use that terminology. Also it is problematic in many ways to cast adoptive parents as saviours. They are just alternative parents.

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  3. gsmwc02

    Great post. As someone who wasn’t adopted I can’t ever say that I’ll understand how you and others feel. But your perspectives make sense and I can empathize.

    I definitely agree with the idea that Abortion and Adoption are not related. Abortion is a decision about whether a woman wants to bring a child into this world. Whereas Adoption is a decision of whether a woman/couple will raise a child they conceive. The pro life community should be promoting services and organizations that assist young mothers/parents raising their child just as much as promoting Adoption. That would be fair.

    I also agree that Adoptees need to be their own voice and not be forced by their Adoptive Parents to promote happy stories and and think they shouldn’t be coerced by Birth Parents to protest Adoption.

    The one thing I sort of disagree with you on is the idea that Adoption is good for the Parents. Unless the Parents have pursued adoption regardless of whether they were able to conceive a child, Adoption is not good. If they are Parents who came to Adoption as a result of infertility they have suffered a loss(es) . Sure they resolve their childlessness through Adoption but they never resolve their infertility. A good thing would be the Parents would conceive a child and the adopted child never was adopted. Unfortunately that isn’t the reality of our world and we have to make the best of what things are.

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    • Nara

      I think it comes down to terminology. Adoption for infertile people is a solution to their childlessness. Of course it is not the same as having bio children but it is, by the time they adopt, something they want to do and consider a positive thing. So I think you’d be doing adoptive parents a disservice by saying it isn’t good for the parents. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think it was a good thing. (Of course some adoptions fail or are not a good thing. But on that whole adoption is considered a positive/gain for adoptive parents in the way that they gain a child and compared to the first parents’ loss of a child.)

      Also I think quite a lot of families through adoption would say they’ve had a positive experience (including mine and my partner’s families… one who had bio children as well and one who didn’t). So it’s not all about loss. I think it is about balance and understanding that adoption is a complex thing that can’t just be summed up in a hashtag or social media campaign.

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  4. circumstance227

    I love this one.

    I have come to believe that every single adoption is unique – has its own DNA so to speak. Lumping them all together under one hashtag seems kind of absurd to me too.

    Your thoughts will certainly influence the way I write the future chapters of my own adoption story. I will be sure to make it clear that I am writing only that – my own story, not a representative one, and not my daughters’ stories. Those are their own to tell if they choose to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nara

      Ah, thanks. I do think it doesn’t just apply to adoption – it’s really the principle of exposing your children to public scrutiny and in support of politics they can’t understand.
      TAO just shared something interesting around social media and children… There is a survey about experiences of adoption and relating to children on social media – might be worth a look if you haven’t already seen it.
      I’m sure your daughters will enjoy hearing your story! I know I always loved hearing about my parents’ history before me and after they got me. I used to get them to tell me about the phone call and the first time they saw me etc… I wouldn’t ever want to discourage people in their family mythologies! They’re an important part of being a family. And I think if you’re sensitive about not speaking for your daughters, and open to their questions and respectful of their right to privacy, then they’ll probably be just as interested in your story as I was with my parents!

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      • circumstance227

        Yes, my girls also loved hearing their adoption stories and looking at the photo albums over and over again. What I meant before about being careful was in connection with blogging my story.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. mamajo23

    I am going to have to read this a few times to really digest it. Thank you for bringing up a number of things I have not really thought about in this way. I really appreciate your perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My Perfect Breakdown

    I too have been thinking about both #shoutyourabortion and #shoutyouradoption – as someone who has terminated a pregnancy for medical reason and someone who is adopting I have at least 1 million thoughts rattling around in my brain. I have so many thoughts on the subject that I don’t even know where to begin, hence why I haven’t written about it yet. I will, I know I will.
    And until I write about it, rather then writing a novel in your comment section I just want to say thank you for sharing and adding your voice to what is largely a troubling approach to both of these situations.

    Like

    • Nara

      That’s a bit how I felt! Lots of thoughts trying to get out! I really would be happy to read a novel in my comments, but otherwise I’ll wait and read what you have to say when you manage to post about it. 😉

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  7. TAO

    Good post! Just wanted to note there is a difference between being critical of adoption and adoptee rights. Adoptee rights is the legal right to order and receive your original birth certificate that most states in the US and provinces and territories in Canada don’t allow, hence the fight for adoptees to have the same right to a factual birth certificate (UK adoptees born there have had the right since 1975 (?), whereas speaking critically about adoption is more about how adoption is practiced, now or in the past.

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    • Nara

      Yes, definitely! Thanks for clarifying. I think what I was trying to say was more around the fact that adoptee rights tend to be more critical of adoption (rightly so where legislation has prevented them from accessing their OBCs) whereas adoptive parents and agencies are largely about perpetuating positive adoption stereotypes (the gift, saving etc). I’m definitely not against criticism of adoption where it is due. I think sometimes we have to try and reconcile our positive experiences with the concerns about adoption practice. A while back in the UK they showed a series of documentaries about adoption from care (social services) which I found quite distressing as in some cases it was forced adoption. Even if the mother could not cope (heroin addict), it was heartbreaking to watch her baby being taken from her. And it becomes more complex when we consider transracial adoptions for reasons of poverty. Definitely more than I could have explored in one post!

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      • TAO

        No worries Nara – just wanted to clarify the difference for your readers. Forced adoption is very hard to watch when there are quota’s and bonus dollars at play. Just hard…

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Mrs T

    Brilliant post. I saw many problematic tweets that were hashtagged #shoutyouradoption but I was also gratified to see many #flipthescript tweets in the midst of these (and I retweeted several of them myself). Thanks for sharing your very thoughtful take on this.

    Like

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