Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Child Savers

Adoption grew and spread in the U.S. during the nineteenth century as an outgrowth of benevolent societies established to care for poor and neglected children. "Saving children" often meant removing them from poor birth parents so they could live with parents of a higher class. There's a great documentary on one of the most ambitious projects -- the Orphan Trains -- where the New York Children's Aid Society, headed by chief child saver Charles Loring Brace, loaded trains headed west with poor children (not all of whom were actually orphans) to be adopted by midwest farmers needing an extra field hand.

I hate it when I'm seen as a "child saver." I'm sure you've all had the experience, the people who say, usually within earshot of your child, how LUCKY the child is to be adopted. You probably have the same pat answer that I have -- "I'm the lucky one!" There used to be a dean at the law school where I teach who always mentioned I'm an adoptive mom to HUGE groups of people -- graduations, student orientations. He'd list my degrees, scholarly interests, etc., just like he'd do for all faculty members, and then he'd say how wonderful I was to have adopted a child from China. ARGHHHH! Yes, I'm far more noble than my faculty colleagues who merely gave birth to their children!

And I know when a Child Saver gets media attention that I'll get more comments about what a hero/saint I am. That's why I hated to hear Cindy McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention:

It was after that I was walking through the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh,
surrounded by terrible poverty and the devastation of a cyclone. All around me
were the children and the desperate faces of their mothers. The pain was
overwhelming, and I felt helpless.

But then I visited an orphanage begun by Mother Teresa, and two very sick little girls captured my heart. There was something I could do. I could take them home, and so I did.

Today, both of those little girls are healthy and happy. And one of them you just met
tonight: our beautiful daughter, Bridget.

Much is expected of a country as blessed as America, and our people are at work all over the globe making it a better planet, doing their part.


I can't count the number of people who have talked to me after that speech, telling me about how Cindy McCain saved Bridget, eager for details of how I saved my children. I got a little irritated with someone yesterday (it always works that way -- it isn't what this one person said, it's what the dozens before him said) who compared me to Cindy McCain. My response: ''Look, I was interested in becoming a mom. If I'd been interested in saving a child I'd have just sent 30 cents a day and settled for the letter and picture."

Probably not the best way to handle it! At least my kids weren't around. . . .

1 comment:

Wendy said...

I SO agree. It irritates me to the core. I was so embarrassed for McCain's daughter (and she had to stand there and smile through it!).
Unfortunately, I am seeing a movement within China adoption where many of the A-parents feel they "saved" their child or adopted for that very reason. Maybe they did, but telling or in any way letting their child know that is wrong. Our children should not feel obligated to us and we do not know their fate if they were to remain in China--losing culture is a huge loss as well and keeping our American bias out of it seems hard for some people.

Like you, I wanted a child. I needed/wanted her. I can say for certain that she did not feel "saved" when we arrived. She was perfectly content in her foster family, where she would have remained (also something we were told would not happen from the US agency--LIE).

My biggest issue is not with the "save the children" crowd (yes, they irritate me and I can handle them), but it does come from Chinese immigrants who tell her she is lucky. Yes, she is in many respects, but she also had no choices, no say, no decision-making. We are also lucky. I don't hear these same people telling other adopted girls, it is is M and I know it is because of her limb difference. I also know that on some level she is very lucky as I know the discrimination she faced (she had many remnants of prejudice issues for many months) and would face as she aged, but I never want her to feel obligated or the need to be grateful to us--we are not heroes. Currently I take their "compliment" and give the old "we are lucky too", but I have also added that I understand the discrimination she faced and point out that she gets a lot of it here too, it is just more subtle most of the time. With time, and forged friendships, I know these attitudes will change and they will see beyond her LD (most already have in just a couple of weeks) and see the smart, funny, beautiful child she is. Any other suggestions for responses?