Not A “New” Life

This comment came up in a discussion about how adoptive parents change the name of their adoptee when the adoption is finalized. One woman commented – “Nothing wrong with that, we started using his new name too to get him used to it. New life, new name.” She was quickly corrected – “I need you to fucking not. Adoption isn’t a “new life”, it’s a continuation of the life they are already living. This comment is insensitive at best.” This one had started new childcare job. She is a domestic infant adoptee. One child in her class is in the process of being adopted and that X is their legal name and Y is the name the adoptive parents have chosen to change it to. This child isn’t an infant, so the childcare workers are basically having to train the child to respond to a new name.

I will admit, I did a little sleuthing into the one who made the insensitive comment but could find nothing definite except that she is relatively new in the all things adoption group. There are some interesting photos but nothing certain as to her status in adoptionland but her comment seems to indicate an adoption there.

Lacking that, I looked for some context and found this recent (Oct 2022) article in The Atlantic LINK>Adoption Is Not a Fairy-Tale Ending, with the subtitle – It’s a complicated beginning. While maybe not perfectly what I was looking for, I did see how it begins – In America, popular narratives about adoption tend to focus on happy endings. Poor mothers who were predestined to give their children away for a “better life”; unwanted kids turned into chosen ones; made-for-television reunions years later. Since childhood, these story lines about the industry of infant adoptions had gradually seeped into my subconscious from movies, books, and the news.

The author, Erika Hayasaki, notes – researching a book on identical twins raised in radically different circumstances, the reality of adoption is far more complicated than some might think—and, as many adoptees and scholars have argued, deserving of a more clear-eyed appraisal across American culture. Her book, Somewhere Sisters, chronicles identical twins Isabella and Hà were born in Vietnam in 1998, and their mother struggled to care for them. Isabella (born Loan) was adopted by a wealthy, white American family that gave her a new name and raised her in the suburbs of Chicago. Hà was adopted by a biological aunt and her partner, and grew up in a rural village in Vietnam with sporadic electricity and frequent monsoons.

Twins have always fascinated me. I was born a Gemini and have always wondered what happened to my twin. When I was a child, my 13 month younger sister and I were often dressed alike and sometimes people thought we were twins. When my daughter was preschool age, she used to claim we were twins. I suppose I’ve had at least two surrogate twins in my life. I digress.

The author discovered that when reunions with birth families do happen, they aren’t always happy; they can be painful, confusing, or traumatic. Adoptees who are parents, lawyers, educators, or activists are challenging the rosy image of adoption that stubbornly persists in our culture. Children are not offered up for adoption in a vacuum. Many of them “are available because of certain, very strategic political policies.” Often the reasons for removing children from their parents comes under the heading of “neglect.” Throughout adoption history, this broad category has encompassed homelessness, poor hygiene, absent parents, and drug abuse in some instances, or simply leaving a child with caregivers outside the nuclear family.

A happily ever story after adoption often comes at the cost of forsaking everything that came before. The process, known in the adoptee community as coming out of the fog, refers to when an adoptee starts to see beyond the narrative about fate and question their true feelings about the adoption system, and how it has impacted their relationships, personalities, and identity formation. As the child of two adoptees, I also had my moment of coming out of the fog because adoption had seemed like the most natural thing to me until I was over 50, both of my parents had died and I began to discover my families true origins.

For me, coming out of the fog was, and continues to be, a process that involves simultaneously holding my adoptive grandparent’s love and good intentions in my heart’s memories alongside all the ways that adoption robbed me of what, for most people, is almost an unconsidered common reality. There are all of these contradictory realities within one’s experience of belonging to a family created by adoptions. The duality of that space can be hard for those without such a background to reasonably understand.

Surrogates – Mother Infant Separation

I have wondered about this myself. A women in my all things adoption group asks the question for me and gets lots of answers.

I was adopted and I have trauma from my biological mom as well as some from the foster care system and then after getting adopted as well. I have seen a lot of people in this group mention the trauma a newborn baby automatically has when taken from the mother to be placed with a different family. I am wondering about surrogates then? If a new born baby is instantly traumatized due to the mother putting the child up for adoption, would that not be the same for a woman that is being a surrogate for another – couple or single individual ? For women who are unable to conceive, the choice seems to be either to adopt or have a surrogate. For women who can’t conceive, should they not also be allowed to be mothers ?

First response – No one dies from remaining childless. It’s selfish to intentionally create a child born into trauma. It sometimes takes as many as 3 women to make a baby. 1. One to pay for that because a woman she cares about wants a baby. 2. The biological donors and 3. The surrogate. What a boggling circumstance for the resulting child to wrap their mind around. People should just accept their infertility. The reality is that most of these women only want babies. Truth is that babies aren’t “in need” of someone else to mother them. They are in high demand and sought after by many.

Next perspective – No one is “owed” a baby or parenthood. It’s not a fatal condition if one never becomes a parent. However, if people want to be parents, there are legally free children in the foster care system. Children who need parents – though the best outcome is that they are never adopted but cared for under permanent guardianship – people to act in the role that parents would. Truth is – no one “needs” an infant.

Finally, onto the actual question – “There’s also a lot that’s ethically wrong with surrogacy beyond the babies trauma, which I think is the biggest issue. Jennifer Lahl has written and speaks out against it.” So I went looking and have linked her name to an article. She writes – “Gestational surrogacy involves impregnating a surrogate mother by implanting embryos created from the eggs of the intended mother or egg donor, and the sperm of the intended father or sperm donor. Women and newborns often do not survive gestational pregnancies, and those who do are often affected physically and psychologically.” I’m not certain about the do not survive part but that is what she wrote. You can read the rest of her article at the link in her name here.

And then a counter argument and I’m not saying this one isn’t as biased as the one above. “Couple Speaks Out Against Jennifer Lahl” courtesy of The Surrogacy Law Center. “Lahl explores the issue of third-party reproduction, focusing on several women whose experiences point to what she sees as flaws in the surrogacy process. She argues that surrogacy has become a baby-buying operation that allows wealthy couples to exploit vulnerable women, often those of lesser means.” ~ Susan Donaldson James of ABC News

Jenn and Brad Nixon of Chesterfield County in VA did their best to defeat infertility for 7 years. The Nixon’s chose to use a surrogate, or gestational carrier, after they learned Jenn’s heart problems would make it dangerous for her to get pregnant. Infertility is a disease affecting more than 7 million Americans. While Lahl highlights how affluent couples are using and exploiting surrogate services, objections to her perspective are raised by couples who have experienced infertility and are not in a wealthy income bracket.

Yet while much has been said here and maybe the answer is buried in almost 170 comments and linked responses to them, my heart already knows. Separating an infant from a gestational carrier is no different than separating an infant any time from the mother in who’s womb that baby developed. The least damaging case I know of was of a mother carrying a baby for her daughter. There will still be separation but the grandmother can be expected to remain in the baby’s life throughout at least their childhood and that might mitigate the effects significantly.

That story (which I once wrote about in this blog) is about a 51-year-old grandmother from Illinois who gave birth to her own granddaughter through surrogacy, when her daughter couldn’t conceive. Julie Loving, 51, was the gestational carrier for her daughter, Breanna Lockwood, who delivered a baby girl named Briar Juliette Lockwood. This has inspired a few other instances of grandparent surrogacy, I see.

Julie Loving with Breanna Lockwood and baby

And just adding this perspective because I think it is realistic – I don’t think the whole world must outlaw something because it creates trauma. There are traumatic things happening everywhere. BUT we can help children grow to be happier people – IF we acknowledge that trauma, respect it, be open to talking about it and hopefully maybe healing it. (And being open to the fact that it may never heal). Not all people will eventually be in touch with their trauma. Some will be and some can heal. Some will be and CAN’T heal. Life is a gamble. You will set yourself up for trouble – if you can’t even talk about it or acknowledge it exists.