Thursday, November 8, 2012

Poverty and Adoption

Interesting piece on poverty, adoption and inequality, based on a new study of attitudes of adoptive parents toward their children's birth mothers:
Reproductive health academic and activist writing contains no shortage of articles devoted to untangling the various intersections between access to abortion, abortion stigma, and poverty. The same thoughtful commentary and analysis has been applied to parenting and motherhood, exploring ways that different mothers are subjected to stigma and societal judgment for their reproductive choices based on race and social class. Yet, when it comes to adoption, the intersections with poverty are just as complicated and deserving of analysis yet less examined by those who care deeply about reproductive health, rights, and justice. Since November marks the beginning of National Adoption Awareness Month, we decided to come together to review some new research on adoption and poverty.

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It remains true, however, that the women who relinquish or place children for adoption are almost always of a lower socioeconomic status than the families that adopt their children.

How, then, do the intersections between adoption, poverty, race, and class play out today? How are birth parents—most likely living in open adoptions, where they have ongoing contact with their child and his or her adoptive family—affected by these social differences? A new paper by sociologist Kathryn Sweeney examines perceptions of birth parents held by their counterparts: their own children’s adoptive parents.

Sweeney’s primary thesis is that the way our culture understands poverty broadly influences the way adoptions are lived individually. She relates the culture of poverty (that is, the socially-conservative American model for explaining inequality which attributes poverty to an inherent laziness or lack of personal responsibility in low-income communities) to adoption by saying:
“[adoption] perpetuates culture of poverty arguments by assuming that removing children from families is a solution to poverty; removing children implies that the families they are born into are inadequate to raise them… The focus on failures means that connections are lacking to larger economic systems that lead to placements by disempowered birth mothers and give privileged adoptive parents access to children.”
Through 15 in-depth interviews with White adoptive parents, Sweeney examined how they perceive their child’s family of origin, and how those perceptions are influenced by broader ideas of a culture of poverty. The narratives of adoptive parents – even those adoptive parents who recognize the structural causes of poverty—focus on individual choice, individual responsibility, and courage and altruism in making adoption decisions. Many viewed birth parents as making “bad choices” that led to their pregnancy, and described a “pathology of poverty” in which the negative traits associated with poverty were viewed as contagious—and, consequently, the adoption was a redemptive way out. Not so different, then, from the type of “redemption” that Solinger describes as being available to women 50 years ago.

Though a small study, the implications here are profound. Sweeney’s findings represent challenges for those in the adoption community: agencies that unwarily allow culture-of-poverty discourses to influence discussions of adoptions; adoptive parents who view their child’s family of origin as substantially different from their own; birth/first families who attempt to negotiate ongoing openness in their adoptions across a cultural divide that is both real and manufactured; and adoptees who must develop an identity that reconciles both their adoptive parents’ ideas of their original families and their own feelings about their origins.


Stephanie said...

I don't care how much more money my son's adoptive family had than me, that did not make them "better" parents. Some twenty something odd years into this process has proven that to me, ten-fold. Them indoctrinating my child into a shell of a human being who cannot even think for himself was NOT "better", I don't care what they bought for him and continue to "buy" for him. I was of the mindset back then that them having more disposable income would make them better parents than me and that thinking is tragic. Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary life circumstance.

Of course older couples who are more established are going to have more money than a young vulnerable woman. That doesn't mean she owes them her infant. Many women have a hard time accomplishing anything after the trauma of losing her child, so her giving her child some 'better life' ends up ruining hers (not to mention what it does to her child), even though everyone seems to think they are so much 'better off'...

Lorraine Dusky said...

It was, er, interesting, I suppose, for my daughter's adoptive family to find a college-educated, professional woman as the mother of their daughter, who had epilepsy and was then in classes for the learning disabled. It took a long time, but eventually my daughter finished two years of college and graduated with honors. I don't believe her parents would have ever thought she was capable of that.

Of course I knew her seizures were a real problem, but I couldn't help feel, and still do today, that it was easier for them to think of her as of low IQ because she came from an unknown background, even though the adoption agency knew she was the daughter of two journalism professionals. My career was just starting but I had good college creds; her father was a well known political columnist in the city where she was born. How much better it would have been for everyone, especially our daughter, if this information had been passed on. I am sure they would have seen her in a different light. After we met, she would out of LD classes the following year.

After we reunited, her adoptive mother told me she figured I was some Polish teenager (they did have my nationality, but not the father's) and she kept asking me if I had any relatives in mental institutions. !

B.A. said...

I would certainly be surprised to discover that my child's birth mother was a college educated professional woman. It would certainly make me wonder why her birth mother chose to give her away.

Stephanie said...

B.A., so you are saying you would be surprised that your child's mother educated herself? We can't have that, now can we, and edumacated burf muver.

Most mothers who lost THEIR children to adoption, B.A, would have made wonderful mothers to their own children, college degree or not. I don't see where that is anyone's business, actually, except of course adoptive parents who think they have some right to the narrative of one who lost while they gained. They have her child, not whole damn life. Thanks.

-J.Darling said...

Well here's the education level of my bio and adoptive family - and my husband and I (as we are currently in the adoption process).

My Bio Mom - High school Education. Can not financially support herself if she lived alone (which doesn't say much - that's MOST of California).

My Bio Dad - Some college. Is an Entreuprener.

My Adoptive mom - When I was adopted, she was an RN. Dad did not finish college, is an enteraprenuer. Adoptive father is partner in an international company now, and mother is a highly respected director of utilization management at a So Cal medical facility and also teaches her skills through UCSD. She now has a Master's Degree in Geriatrics. Dad never finished college.

My Adoptive mom gave up a child for adoption when she was younger. At that time she had - Some high School education.

Now let's look at Hubby and Me -

Me - Some college, CPC certification, fully employed, have lived independently for several years. Also work as a published freelance author. Will continue to be a working parent.

Hubby - Some college, is a Missile Tech on Submarines for the US Navy. Hopes to finish w/ a degree in Computer Engineering. Will continue to work full time.

I am So blessed to see both sides of the coin. In a So many ways, by Bio mom was traumatized by the unplanned pregnancy and never really grew from there. But then I've been able to see my adoptive mom, who was in a similiar situation, and decided to grow through it. While there will always be attempts to generalize the group of Bio Parents vs Adoptive parents, each scenerio is so unique!

Also, adoptive parents get the unique oppurtunity to better plan their finances before baby comes home. Bio parents often are "surprised" and then have 9 months to figure it out. As an upcoming adoptive parent, we'll have been in about 2 years before we bring kiddeo home. That gives us lots of time to plan. And the agency is really doing it's best to make sure we are educated on child care and in a lot of ways, an adoptive parent who is financially stable is more obviously equipt to parent kids. However, that doesn't mean those who aren't as financially stable are "bad parents" or "should" give up their kids. It's such a "case by case" thing. I wish people could open their hearts and see it that way. Looking at people as statistics takes all the heart out of adoption.

Lorraine Dusky said...

BA: My daughter was born was 1966. I was just out of school and alone and marriage was not in the cards. Big difference. The world was a far different place. I suppose I should have added that but I assumed people would not make assumptions this happened last year. Or the year before.