Means

I have wondered, recently, whether Nora and I might have been friends. When I was growing up, I remember having conversations with my sisters about whether we would have been friends if we hadn’t been sisters—at least for me with each of them, I think that the answer was no, which always bothered me.

Situationist Grafitti May 1968

Situationist Grafitti
May 1968

I think that the people we are now could be friends even outside of family, maybe: but when we were growing up, they were sociable and outgoing and successful in school, whereas I was moody, odd, and plagued by social anxiety. I hope that when the two of them had this conversation, it went better than it could with me. My mother has had this conversation with me, and I suspect that she must have done with my sisters, as well. So maybe this is just a conversation that happens in my family, but it does, and so I’ve been wondering: If it hadn’t been for everything that connects us, could Nora and I have been friends?

Probably not: I’m better at faking it, and understand now why one might, but I’m still not an extrovert; I suspect that no amount of therapy and self-improvement is ever goin

g to change that. But Nora is a kind of person I like, and would have quietly wished that I could be friends with if we’d been in high school or college together. She’s gentle and affectionate with Cricket, too, and interested in him. Seeing them together when they visited in September—it was very much like seeing a tired parent who was travelling alone with a four-year-old who was completely, head over heels with her kid. There’s nothing more winning than seeing how good someone can be to other people.

Back way back when, when I was pregnant and then when Cricket was a baby, I used to wish that I could be friends with Ruth especially, but with both of them. But even if we were all in high school together, it just wouldn’t have played out that way—and as adults, we are separated by socio-economic status as much as we are by our love for the boy we have in common. At the moment, that is somewhat disguised by our circumstances; living with my parents obscures our poverty. But I remember a conversation with Ruth quite some time ago in which she talked about the benefits of preschool and I talked about my plans to home preschool Joey. And the thing that no one said was that of course we could not afford to send our boys to preschool—I still believe in the benefits of home preschool if that’s the right choice for the family, and am cautiously planning that for Kit. But I’ve seen preschool programs that would be amazing opportunities for a kid, and that cost more than our entire income last year. Cricket can go to those schools; Kit can’t.

It’s hard to talk in any detail about adoption without talking about the money. When I planned to place Cricket, money was most of the reason why; certainly if I had won the lottery or gotten a good job I would never in a million billion years have placed my son. When Ruth included me in a mass email in which she asked people to support renewal of the adoption tax credit, I was horrified; if I had gotten from the government that exact sum, I would not have placed my son. And things would be tighter now with three boys—and God, how I wish that they were.

I know and consider friends a number of adoptive parents, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with being in a financial position to adopt. But adoption breaks us, the mothers and fathers, into two groups: those who place, and those who parent. And those of us in the first camp tend not to share a SES with those who raise the kids we bore. Of course there are any number of exceptions, and people who aren’t poor place, and people who aren’t well-off adoption; I would not for a minute dispute that. But looking at the big picture—and at my picture—well, it is maybe not the most shocking thing, that I’m a socialist.

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10 thoughts on “Means

  1. I oppose the tax credit for the same reason. How about adoption not cost exorbitant amounts? I would’ve needed some financial help to parent, but very little. I was too ashamed and proud to ask my parents. How sad that the parents who adopt feel entitled to accept help, and the parents who place are made to feel there is no other choice.

  2. I’m confused. I thought from reading the early days of your blog that the decision to place was based on your not wanting your then-boyfriend to feel ‘trapped’ and your (possibly mistaken?) idea that he did not want to parent and would have preferred a termination of the pregnancy, along with your depression making you doubt whether you were capable of adequately caring for a child? How would any of those things have been resolved with the amount of money involved in the tax credit?

    If 10,000 would actually have made parenting possible, were you aware of that at the time, or is that something that has only become clear in hindsight?

    I worked three jobs and my not-yet-husband worked two jobs while I was pregnant with my “uh-oh!” first child, and still needed cash from my parents to pay the midwife. But it never occurred to me to think that the baby would be better off with other parents. Being a college-educated middle class white person, I figured our (relative) poverty was a time-limited problem we could overcome. I say this not to imply that you could have come up with 10K if that was really the make-it-or-break-it number, but just to say that the self-doubt and relationship concerns you’ve written about in the past seem like bigger obstacles.

    And when I gladly made use of the adoption tax credit ten years later, it wasn’t because I felt ‘entitled’ to “ask for help”–any more than I feel entitled to accept any other tax break I am eligible for. It was because I am not too ashamed or proud to take ten grand when someone offers it to me.

    • I should say first off that I don’t think anyone should hesitate to make use of the tax credit—it’s there, it’s for you—but I do wish that adoptions were cheaper instead of the tax credit helping to fund the incredible cost of private adoption.

      And there is probably some hindsight coloring my view of my decision: How could there not be? But even today, that amount of money would be big enough to change our perspective on things, and I think that most women who place a child for adoption—including myself–are feeling a sense of desperation that almost always has a financial component. That self-doubt you reference had a financial component as well.

      But it’s never one thing. Money is a reason I placed; it is not *the* reason. But the more I learn about adoption, the more the money involved disgusts me.

    • My boyfriend wanted kids, but hadn’t planned on having kids just yet—and his main concern was financial. When I got pregnant with Cricket, he had a part-time job, and I had no job. I do have to acknowledge whenever I talk about his feelings that I did a spectacularly bad job of listening to him at the time; once I heard him say that he thought abortion was the best course (while being totally respectful of the fact that it was my decision), part of my brain shut down, and I tended to hear him as saying “NO BABY” instead of the more nuanced and much more accurate “I think an abortion is the best course, and if that’s not on the table, then we should parent—I’ll quit my job and move out to where you are and we’ll figure something out. When he did find work and move, we then had Joey. I didn’t and don’t tend to talk about the money factor that much because it is embarrassing—I was raised middle-class enough to find any talk about money pretty embarrassing—and because my parents would have helped us, making it not impossible to keep the baby. But did I think that my baby would be better off with someone who owned her own home? I did, and voiced that at the time.

      Now I think that idea is ridiculous—good parents can rent apartments or live in communes or travel in caravans—but it is certainly one supported by the adoption industry and by the agency “assisting” me to place Cricket. I didn’t talk about money because it was so obviously behind everything that was happening. Ruth and Nora paid part of my medical bills for delivery, and I learned later from Ruth that the agency encouraged them to give me more money (through legal channels), not explicitly but pretty obviously in order to make me feel more indebted than I already did.

  3. It seems unlikely the government is going to start paying parents $10,000 not to place their babies for adoptions. So, setting the option of a big payment aside for a moment, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts Susie on what specifically might have helped you.

    In some ways it sounds like maybe you were in an unusual situation when it comes to placing for adoption. The dad wasn’t abusive, unwilling or unable to be involved. You had a middle class family with resources that could help you. I believe you and Mr. Book are both college graduates (is that right? forgive me if I’ve got that wrong) so that suggests a greater than average chance of being able to get a job that might pay $10,000 a year or more.

    Given this sort of situation I’m wondering what an adoption agency should do to help. Should we mandate that pregnant women and boyfriends/husbands go through some kind of facilitated discussion to make sure they are listening to each other? Should the adoption agency make it mandatory to listen to a talk about WIC/medical card, local charities, “living in a caravan”, etc.? Should employable parents be encouraged to go to employment services to get job search support? Or, should financial counseling be required? If these services were voluntary do you think they would have made a difference for you? If they were mandatory would you have felt disrespected or judged if you were forced to participate?

  4. So, do you think if when you first talked to the agency about your reasons for placing the staff told you “Hey, financial circumstances can change. Your finances will no doubt improve over time–don’t make a permanent decision because of a temporary financial situation” would you have parented? In other words, could they have talked you out of it by pointing out that you can live in an apartment, etc. and still be a good parent?

    I’m thinking about the pregnant and parenting teens in a program where I work. Because of the nature of the program, they are virtually all from families living in long-standing poverty, with lots of substance abuse, mental illness, and dysfunction all around. Yet even the 14 year-olds with no family support assume and insist they can be good parents; in the years I have worked there, zero babies have been placed for adoption. By any ‘rational’ standard, many of these babies would be better off in homes with parents who are emotionally stable adults–let alone who have jobs, own a home, etc.and many times family members or state social workers try to talk the girls out of parenting. To no avail.

    Just as teams of family and case workers cannot talk these girls out of their belief that they can successfully parent, I am wondering if anyone could have talked you into believing that you could?

  5. The financial piece is so huge that it probably colors many conversations that people have around parenting, as would personal safety. I think one of my professors said that in Guatemala or a neighboring country, $700 could allow a mom who wanted to parent to keep her child rather than place. I’m curious about how much it would cost in Brazil, where the government is spending $3.5 billion to host the World Cup. Sorry for the frolic and detour but thanks for the thoughtful post.

  6. I just wanted to say that I’ve always thought about the “we wouldn’t be friends if we weren’t related” thing differently; for me, it’s not that we couldn’t be good friends if we weren’t, but that we’re different enough that we probably wouldn’t run in the same circles, have the same hobbies, that sorta thing, so the opportunity to form a friendship likely wouldn’t arise. Which is why it’s great that we are sisters, because it forced us together and I think we make great friends. 🙂

    That wasn’t as articulate as I hoped it would be, but I hope it makes some sort of sense.

  7. I didn’t see all these comments when this first was posted and my take on your post (and our situation) is/was very different. I often think about Mara’s mom, who’s my age, and wonder whether we ever rode the same city bus in high school, went to the same free concerts downtown. Would I have leaned across the aisle to say hello to her when she was a pregnant black girl with a big smile and I was a shy white nerd? We didn’t see the same doctors for our migraines, although we could have shared a room when we both got our gall bladders removed at the same unusually young age. She lives maybe 15 blocks from here but we’re in different worlds and I’m so grateful that we’ve gotten to become friends across that gap anyway, to see all the ways we’re alike that we wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t had this amazing child connecting us. I know my life is better for it; hers would obviously have been better if she’d been able to have her life in a spot where she could parent safely but given what we have to work with I know she appreciates that she and I get along and that Mara is being raised with love and openness. But that’s a lot of caveats, isn’t it?

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