12 September, 2012

Nature/nurture and general ignorance

Mel's post prompted me to think about how other people view adoption.  On the one hand, we are barraged with comments along the lines of "just adopt."  On the other hand, we have people who make judgements and view children and relationships differently if they know they are adopted.  I suspect there are family members who feel that way about donor eggs too.  I wrote this post in 2009, and think it's worth repeating here.  I'll have more to say at the end.  Here it is:

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself frustrated over comments from people about members of their family. They have used family with quotation marks – “family” because they have included people in it who have been adopted. (Spouses were also not included as “family” but that in itself has not bothered me). Every conversation about the wider family has included a variation on the phrase “but of course don’t forget that J and D are adopted.”   I know that these people have strong feelings about this, and have included provision in their will for grandchildren “of natural issue” only.

It brought me to that age old question, what makes a family? Is it the years spent together, the shared experiences, love, arguments, traditions? Remembering the Christmases when Uncle Robin drank too much, or Auntie Evelyn’s beautifully-iced Christmas cake, or Yvonne and James wrestling, or the games of French Cricket on the lawn? Or is it simply the shared blood, the shared DNA, that ties us? The fact that we can look around and see that we share the Rose hips, or the R noses, or that I see my mouth on my nieces’ faces.

And how important is that blood? It is only important in consciousness. If you know that someone doesn’t share your DNA, do you look at them differently, in that awareness? If you are not aware of the lack of any genetic connections, wouldn’t you love them as deeply? Don’t people manage to find or imagine physical or emotional similarities to ensure they’re included in the family? Aren’t family trees full of children who don’t have the fathers that are recorded or assumed, coming from different blood? Or these days, family trees will include children from donor eggs or sperm, whose genetic links are to another family tree entirely, but who have been loved and raised through this one, whether the wider family is aware or not that they don’t share DNA? Aren’t, too, family trees empty of those who should be there, the children who are lost to that branch, unacknowledged because of indiscretions, shame and stigma, or simply lack of knowledge of their existence?  So why should these blood connections seem to be so important? And why do I mind so much that they are?
I suspect that this has hit me hard on a personal level, because our particular branch of the family tree ends with us. Adoption or other alternatives were always a possibility for us, not having any children of “natural issue.” I am furious at the thought that if I had adopted, people would view my children differently to those of my sisters, or of my husband’s brothers. The fact that they would be seen as second class citizens, not true members of the family. Would they feel the difference? Would it scar them? It makes me wonder whether child J and D, mentioned in the first paragraph, are aware of how some members of their family see them. I hope upon hope that they are not.
So why is it that I still flinch when I think of the bare, lonely branch on a family tree that ends with my husband and I? Why should it matter? Whilst I mostly feel accepting of my life without children, of my death and beyond, it does annoy me that this still has emotional power over me. Is it the desire for some form of immortality that makes blood so important? And isn’t that based on a deep-seated fear of being forgotten, a fear of ending? And isn’t that based on a feeling that you have not been enough in this life? Done enough? Been loved enough and loved enough right back? Is it based on a fear that we have not made a difference in someone’s life? Or that we have not changed the world after all?

Perhaps I just need to get over myself. We all need to get over ourselves. Simply being here has changed the world, and made it a better place. A kind word can make all the difference to the right person on the right day. Delight in someone’s writing, their work, their smile, their garden. Loving and being loved, whether by family or friends, near or far. These are not unimportant things. They should be, and are, enough.
The person I referred to in that post is my father-in-law.  Yes, I obviously harbour a deep resentment towards him as a result of these comments!  The ridiculous thing is that he is so ignorant of reproductive technologies that there are some grandchildren who could easily be the wonderful result of IVF or donor egg/sperm.  I don't know, and as I said here, it's not my business.  He loves them (as do I) - they are good students, very active, athletically-talented, and fun kids.  Everything he wants in grandchildren.  And that's all that matters.


  1. One part of my decision not to adopt was certanty, that my father would never ever loved my adopted child as much as he loves my brother's two little daughters.

    My mother's heart is wider - she wouldn't have problems.

    It would break my heart to see my adopted child suffering because of being excluded just because not having the right DNA.

    One story: my granny's younger cousin Marta couldn't have children and so she adopted a girl aproximately 45 years ago. This adopted woman is now married and has a teenage son. It is distant family, so I don't actually know them, but my parents visit them sometimes.

    Once I overheard the conversation that my parents had, talking about this family. My Dad refered to the teenage boy as "son of adopted daughter". And my Mum simplified things and said : "yes, Marta's grandson". And my Dad completely disagreed - he said that this of course isn't Marta's grandson, it is just a son of the adopted daughter

    :( Yes, my Dad and his narrowness sometimes make me sad.

    By the way - most of people do not make a world a better place. Having a child does not make a world a better place.

    But you, Mali - on the other hand - did make a world a better place. At least for me. Your blog means a place where my wounded soul can find its comfort. Thank you!

    1. Klara, you made me cry. Thank you for such a lovely comment.

    2. I really meant it, from the bottom of my heart!
      PS: isn't it great to have friends on another part of the Earth :)

  2. I guess some people do love "inclusion" at heart (the "us" versus "them"), though some people are more big-hearted (like Klara's mom) than others. I mean I love this infertility sisterhood 'coz I can't get it elsewhere no matter how much other people try to understand and sometimes I even feel the "us" against "them" boiling within me when I talk about certain topics. I know I'm turning this into a more general idea, so back to the point of your post...

    I know a cousin who's adopted by the real mother's elder sister who had trouble having kids and even though I knew from such a young age that he wasn't their real son and even though the other family members knew, he was still included in our family tree so to speak and he was never treated any differently by any relative, though some gossipy neighbours did taunt him when he was younger by saying, "You're adopted, you know? Your Mom isn't your real Mom." - which in turn made him say to his adoptive mother, "Aunty X (his birthmom) doesn't love children."

    Unfortunately, though, during the years when he got older, he fell out with his parents (the adoptive ones), so now they're estranged. I don't know what happened, but it's just such a shame.

    Adoption isn't an easy decision indeed. Other than the family concerns, what we were concerned with when we were thinking of adoption was whether or not society in this small village could accept an adopted child. We didn't want to scar the child for life because society rejected him/her. Plus the process of adopting in a country like this seemed so complicated and tiring and long (compared to the time it takes to give birth to a baby if getting pregnant and staying pregnant are viable without any complications).

    P.S. I mean in this country there aren't many abandoned babies 'coz of the way the social system is built (so the only option to adopt is from abroad), but I can imagine being able to adopt much easier in Indonesia, for example, where the gap between the rich and poor are so big and there are so many abandoned children there.

  3. I would be furious if we adopted and our children were not accepted as family. I can see certain family members that might have issues with it, but I think overall we'd be fine.

    I like the 2nd to last paragraph of your old post. A big part of my fear of death is being forgotten and not having made enough of a positive impact, but there are so many ways to get there that don't involve having children. And maybe we do need to get over ourselves. :)

  4. Adoption came up for A and me while we were trying to have a family. My parents and his parents were 100% supportive and I know that they would have had as much love for an adopted grandchild as a biological one. A, on the other hand, wanted a child who was biologically his own so, apart from a couple of glorious weeks, refused to consider adoption.

  5. I want to blog about this...but my readers include relatives. I might get brave enough...

  6. This worry is one of the reasons I have steered clear of adoption. The husband of my oldest friend once told me that adoptive parents aren't "real parents." I really wanted to hit him. :-(

  7. My brother and his family, my niece, nephew and sister in law would love for my husband and I to adopt a child. I think my mother has an older mindset. I think she would love the child, but I don't know if she would feel the same way about the child as she did about my brother's kids. My dad is a funny one... in that kids and animals really gravitate toward him... I mean, my friend's kids, my cousin's little kids... they all adore him... and all the family pets have always favored him as well. So, I think he would be a fine grandfather. I have on to occasions heard friends who had biological children express feelings about adoption as different... to the extent that having their own children they see so many traits and behaviors that are peculiar to their own behavior or that of their spouses, and perhaps being a bit hesitant about adoption because from their perspective nature might have a bigger role to play in behavior than perhaps nurture. I wonder about that. My nephew's girlfriend, and probably future wife, is adopted. We love her very much!!

  8. It's funny to think of adoption in our family - people who are frequently close-minded think nothing of full acceptance of the adopted children (my cousin and my two nieces). My aunt had a lot of trouble having children - so much so that my grandmother suggested that my mother give my next older sister to my aunt. My mother already had 2 children, and my aunt didn't have anything but losses. She adopted my cousin a year and a half after I was born...and 8 years later finally had a successful pregnancy. These are the same people, though, who were forbidden to talk to their cousins that lived across the street because their mother had gotten *gasp!* a divorce. Times were different, I suppose. But it still surprises me how accepting they have been of adoption - I'm proud of them.

  9. Fantastic- really interesting because I had basically found out that two of my cousins were adopted last year after growing up with them for almost 30 years (they're 10+ years younger than me), just two days after I found out that I cannot have children. I was crying that it is going to be hard to adopt due to being single and deaf, and whether family'd accept them- that's when my uncle disclosed that his sons are adopted- I stopped crying and looked at him. I wasn't sure how to reply to that for 1) why hadn't anyone told me? 2) my aunt is unable to have children, and I just find out now when I could have seeked support/validation and hope? and 3) why hadn't anyone told me? This is very signficant that it means I can adopt and the family'd love them equally as children born in family.
    I had seen the cousins again, and there's nothing changed in my life- they're still my cousins.

  10. Myhusband used to quote the Wyatt Earp movie "nothing is as important as blood" and it irritated me to death, because MY family was not his family but HIS family was my family ???

    And now that Our immediate family is just the two of us, no kids the word Family has always bothered me. We are a couple. family are kids.. at least in my mind it was. Recently that has been changing.

    And last night I read this most amazing article, and its available online for anyone who wants to read it.


    It had a subheading "What Makes a family". Its about my favorite Bible characters, Ruth and Naomi. was really nice.

    1. For me, family has always been about siblings, parents, and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, nieces and nephews, and now also means my husband and all of his family. I never had an image of family as exclusively a nuclear family. I'm Hispanic and my husband is from the Middle East, and in both cultures family means extended family.

  11. This is something I have given a lot of thought to, with the decision to 'go donor' - would Mr Stinky's parents see this grandchild as 'equal'. They've said they're behind us whatever we choose, so I like to think its just my 'what if' mindset on overdrive. I figure since Mr Stinky's brother's child is the one who can carry on the family genes . . . it takes the pressure off us.
    From the perspective of the adoptive/intended parents, soooooo much thought and considering everything every-which-way goes into imagining that child into being, I imagine it would be completely different thought process for anyone (whanau-wise) who is not directly making these choices. And how involved they are with the process (ie yearly/6monthly updates? as opposed to the hand-holding support some of us are lucky enough to obtain?) that might also shape their perspective on that child?

    Then again, some people do have quite fixed opinions - interesting thinking going on in my head of 'how much is it our place to try and change another's values/opinions?' IN a devils advocate way, obviously, because I don't think I could happily advocate for someone maintaining a staid opinion that excludes another person through ignorance alone.