Over the years, I’ve heard the words “It takes a village to raise a child” bandied about by various US political leaders – Hilary Clinton tends to come first to mind when I think of this saying. Yesterday, I was talking to a friend who told a story that brought me back to this saying. The story also got me thinking about the narrow boundaries we’ve created in US culture – a culture deeply rooted in individualism, fear and isolationism (when I use this word, I’m not talking about international relations). Here’s the story…
My friend has a good friend who, after trying for a couple of years to get pregnant, decided to adopt. She and her husband chose to adopt locally. They live in a southern state here in the US. In the local adoption system, the couple is visited, assessed etc. and also prepares a portfolio which tells their story of who they are and how they live. I guess this is what is termed and ‘open adoption.’ This portfolio includes a letter to the prospective birth mother/birth parents. The birth mother/parents also meet potential adoptive parents. Let’s call my friend’s friend Janet and her husband Tim. One day Janet and Tim get a phone call to visit a birth mother – even before they had completed their portfolio (I think all that lacked was the letter). They went and met a nineteen year old woman who was pregnant with her second child. It seems that the father – same father, both children – wasn’t around much and this woman decided she could not handle raising a second child in the circumstances. Her first child was a year old. I’m assuming she heard about Janet and Tim and thought “Okay, I’d like for my child to be raised by this couple.”
Janet and Tim went to meet this woman and very quickly she chose them to adopt her child. When she went into labor, Janet and Tim were at the hospital – they even had a room. When the baby was born, she was shuttled back and forth between her birth mom and her adoptive parents. Finally, as I understand it, the birth mom said “This is enough, please give the baby over to her new parents and don’t bring her back to me.” She requested that there be no contact for one year – in order to help her manage this process of giving up her baby to other people. Apparently, sometimes in the first year, pictures are sent to the birth mother/parents. Then in the second year, this might happen rarely. Then in the third year, not at all.
As I listened to this story, firstly I was wondering what chaos might ensue – adopting a baby in the town where you live and where you are nearby to the baby’s mother. My friend who told me the story said she’s concerned for her friend and her husband. Even though legally the baby ‘belongs’ to the and the mother cannot demand to have her baby back, the arrangement sounds like a recipe for emotional drama at some point.
I shared my friends doubts – initially – but then I found myself thinking that actually the strangeness of the situation was that the birth mother is going to be pushed out of the picture while the child is growing up. I said to my friend that maybe what’s wrong with this picture is the boundaries we have created in our lives here in the U.S.
Here’s what I was thinking…
Generally, we don’t really do being in collective so well. I say this having just spent five months living in Southern Mexico (Chiapas). I was in a city where many people lived the usual urban, isolated life. But this city was surrounded by communities of indigenous people who lived collectively. I had this front of mind when I started reflecting on this adoption. I imagine that in a community where people live more collectively – where people know each other and look out for each other (I’m not romanticizing, they also stab each other in the back, fight, have challenges rooted in differences of opinion and power games), if someone had a baby they couldn’t take care of, people would help out. In a sense, this adoption is a form of that. Except, this adoption is a commercial transaction and the birth mother is cast aside from the child’s life (at least until the child can make the choice as to whether or not they get in touch with her). And fear seems to be woven into this – fear that the mother would want her child back. I guess this is tied to sense of ownership – a question of to whom does the child belong. The message coming out strongly in this case is the that the child belongs to the adoptive parents. Not to the village. Whereas, if we really were talking about a village, then I imagine this question of ‘who owns the child’ and the desire to totally separate child from mother wouldn’t arise.
As I thought about this, I was reminded of my own family. I have cousins in India who spent much of their childhood living away from their parents, in a different city, with one of our aunt’s. This gave them the opportunity to get a better education. In large, extended Indian families I believe it isn’t uncommon for children to be raised more or less collectively. Yes, they have their own parents but in some ways every adult in the family is a parent to that child. And sometimes, that child might go live in another part of the family – away from their parents.
As I thought about this – about my own family – and this adoption process I wondered about what really makes the most sense. I wondered what would happen if there wasn’t the separation between birth mother and child and adoptive parents – if the arrangement was looked at as one of collective raising of a child. My friend and I briefly talked about this – the boundaries we live with in our culture that perhaps don’t make so much sense, disconnect us from each other.
I know that adoptions are complicated and relationships can be very messy (and perhaps dangerous to a child). And also, a huge difference is that in one type of scenaro – my family, a village – we are talking about people who know each other and have established relationships. In the other – this southern town, we are talking about strangers. Plus, never having been involved in an adoption, who am I to have an opinion about how they could be done. So this post isn’t meant to be about how I think adoptions could be done/should be done. Rather, the point is that the story of this adoption got me thinking – if we really starting taking this idea to heart that it takes a village to raise a child, what would that mean for our relationships not just with the children in the communities where we live, but with each other – the relationships between the adults, between people who are not blood-related? To have relationships that are more resourceful and sharing-based, what would have to change in terms of our assumptions, beliefs, fears, attachments etc? What boundaries would we have to break down?
As ever, I’m back to my mantra: Social change is a collective creative process – creating a different world entails creating different relationships with our selves, with one another, with our environment and with the creative process itself.
What questions, ideas, thoughts does this adoption story raise for you?