Whose Needs Define What Is "Optimal" For An Adoption?

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Whose Needs Define What Is "Optimal" For An Adoption?
An Author/Editor Dialogue

Marcy Axness: Michael, I love your concept of "baby-driven" adoption, along with the admonition to remember that the baby is watching. Of course those familiar with pre- and perinatal psychology research believe that yes, in fact, the baby is recording the whole experience, including the drama unfolding between all the various adults involved. Coming originally from the world of adoption reform, however, I find myself asking the question, Is it possible that the prenatal needs of a baby who is due to be adopted are at odds with certain points of established progressive, conscientious adoption practice? For example, I was uncomfortable with the idea that part of the content of the "marathon disclosure sessions" between a prospective adoptive mother and a prospective birth mother might be a "commitment that it will happen and that it will work." To those of us in the adoption reform movement (which is dedicated to making adoption practice more ethical as well as more humane) it is a basic tenet that there should be no decision as to where this baby is going to be until after the mother gives birth and has had reasonable time to make a considered, unpressured decision between parenting her child and relinquishing her child for adoption.

As a pre- and perinatal scholar, I also worry about the interruption of attachment of the mother to her child-in-the-womb, when the adoption becomes like a "done deal" while she is still pregnant.

Michael Trout: I of course agree that this is a decision that must be made with care, cannot be pressured, and that there must be room for changing one's mind. I tried to point out that the relationship between potential adoptive parents and birthparents ought to be created optimally "...while the question of baby ownership is on the shelf. During the pregnancy, after all, it is clear: the baby belongs to the birthmother. That is where he/she is, and that's that."

I also believe that the decision is, in an important way, an opportunity for the birthmother to seek safe passage for her child. She is not "just giving up" the baby; she is also securing its future. "If part of the birthmother's psychological work of pregnancy has not included a chance for her to secure safe passage for her baby from her body to another's arms and heart, she will grieve forever." Is this psychological work without risk that the normal growth of attachment in pregnancy could be interfered with? No, it is not, and I acknowledge that problem. But I would hope that naming this kind of psychological work does not put pressure on the birthmother to, in fact, turn the baby over at birth; indeed, I would hope that the work itself would help her to know what is best for her and the baby to do-that she would not, for example, wait until the baby is three months old to feel the rest of her ambivalence and suddenly want her baby back; she would have had a chance to work many of these feelings through while still pregnant, and in the first days after birth.

Marcy: I also had a question about the notion of a "pregnancy" for prospective adoptive parents. I don't think you and I disagree at all about the need for a time of preparation for parenthood, I just wish there could be another term, a precise word especially for this situation, other than "pregnancy." To me it smacks of the bad old days in adoption when adoptive parents were instructed that their adopted baby would be "as if born to" them, and the pervasive attitude on the part of prospective adoptive parents that as soon as they could "get that baby" they could, in a sense, not be infertile anymore.

Michael: And part of my point about the adoptive family's opportunity to be "pregnant" is that such an opportunity may help the adoptive family to not focus on "getting the baby." In the piece, I suggest that the psychological work of pregnancy is slow, and is not about "...getting the baby out of there" for either the birth mother or for adoptive parents. My hope was that this would turn into something other than a contest with possession of the baby as the prize. It might allow/encourage people to do honest work in preparation for putting the baby ahead of all of their own, very personal needs.

We are in a place/time/level of consciousness about the whole picture in which conflict between the needs of the prenate/neonate and the needs of the various parents will happen. And this means some problems with adoption practices-including reformation practices that another part of me actually supports! Birthparents need time to make a truly informed decision. Baby needs a permanent, primary caregiver. Those don't mix too well, eh?

Marcy: Exactly, it's a real conundrum. I feel like I could take up any of various positions and argue each one convincingly. On the one hand, it seems like it would be good for the baby in-utero to be able to hear the voices of, and "sense" the relationship between, all of the various adults who are (or will be) intimately connected to him/her. On the other, I could also imagine (and I'm coming now from my own personal experience as an adoptee, my own primal sense memories if you will) that this could contribute to an ego-less baby in the womb feeling "wanted by all, connected to none." Does that make sense? Kind of like the football in the air, in limbo, with lots of hands reaching for me, but none securely holding me.

Michael: Indeed, I think these are matters well worth discussing. I do not think it is possible for everyone's needs to get full, undivided, proper attention in adoption. If asked to choose who comes first, then, I will always vote for the baby, and expect the best from the grownups.

Marcy Wineman Axness, axness@earthlink.net an adoptee, lives in California with her husband and two children. ADOPTION INSIGHT ~ Booklets, Audiotapes, Articles to illuminate heart and mind http://home.earthlink.net/~axness/

Credits: Marcy Wineman Axness

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