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.
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.
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?
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.