' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Can Feminists Adopt and Still Be Feminists?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can Feminists Adopt and Still Be Feminists?

Can a feminist adopt in good conscience?

No, says one Korean adoptee. Read what Kathie Leo has to say about that in the Minnesota Women's Press.

While we talked about international adoption lately, and then we've had the surrogacy and embryo debate, we skirted around the issue of what makes these issues so distasteful: the caste system inherent in all such transfers of human commodity. Because that's what babies are in our current milieu: a commodity, just like electric shavers and cheap toys. It's cash that makes the export of infant human flesh such a thriving business.

Is France sending us their excess babies? NO. Great Britain? NO. The babies are coming from Third World, undeveloped countries where the women are too poor to take care of them--and thus wealthy white women swoop in and buy them. Yes, I use that word buy because cash is what makes the transfer of babies from one country to another possible. In China, the one-child-per-couple policy led to the massive baby-export business, so lucrative that today China has a problem with baby and child kidnapping. HBO recently aired a documentary about it, China's Stolen Children.

Where are the baby farms where surrogate mothers are willing to take on the job of bearing children for wealthy foreigners? India, a country where great poverty exists side-by-side with great wealth. Once some enterprising capitalist gets wind of this, more poor countries will be setting up baby-gestation farms.

And the same monetary principles, generally speaking, work in adoption. It is not wealthy girls and young women who by and large are offering babies to adopt; they are having abortions or keeping their children. It's girls and young women and mothers in poor families who can not keep them who say, Here, take mine, I can not afford to keep her. The humane thing to do would be to make it possible for the poor woman to keep the child. A few years ago, the sister of a friend adopted a child from an intact, but poor, family in Rhode Island. What is that if not baby-selling? Would it not have been more humane to simply help support that family?

This caste system is why we find surrogacy and egg donation for money repugnant. Why adoptions from Third World countries--or China--are so prone to abuses. I have, among my acquaintances, a far-left feminist law professor. But where did she adopt?


Did she not see the apparent dichotomy in this act? Obviously not. Elizabeth Bartholet, a feminist law professor at Harvard, imported two boys from Peru. She showed up to be on the television when the Anna/Jessica transfer the wicked DeBoers (now divorced) back to her natural parents, the Schmidts (ah, also divorced) was going on. She and I had a shouting match on the McNeal-Lerher Report that day. The jacket to her book (Family Bonds), says that she "produced" one child (drum roll, please) then "endured her own struggle with infertility" for ten years before she flew to Peru to adopt, some eighteen years after her first child was born. Interestingly enough, her age--when she was "struggling" with infertility aka perimenopause--is not mentioned there. The timing had to be up to and into her forties. But because you want to have children beyond the reasonable time frame of your fertility and your body refuses does not make your lack of fertility a disease. It is, dear ladies, a reality of aging!

Yet the snarky Ms. Bartholet--who told me the research showing that adoptees were prone to more mental health problems than the norm was "garbage,"--saw nothing anti-feminist is taking boys from their poor country to give them a "better life."

For that is what is stated or implied in all adoption stories: that life that the adoptive family offers is better than the original one. Here's how Kathie Leo put it:

The story further implies certain suppositions about what "a better life" means. In this scenario, "better" clearly means American, but it also suggests wealthier, Caucasian, and most important, not with my birthmother. This notion of "a better life" has permeated adoption narratives since the practice began, often used as justification for its existence.

Amen. Ms. Leo's piece has more to say. It's worth reading. As for me, I tried for years to get a piece in Ms. magazine about birth mothers with the above theme. No luck. The feminists who were putting out the magazine had the mindset of Ms. Bartholet and friends. No--wait, they were Ms. Bartholet's friends.--lorraine

PS: Tomorrow we'll hear from Jane.


  1. Kathie Leo's piece is outstanding, and food for much thought.

    There is such a problem in trying to get information published about adoption that is not from the adopter/agency perspective. It seems the only articles allotted are the occasional feel-good reunion article overshadowed by laments over the lack of available babies for adoption (this is a bad thing?) and agency pleas for money (because they're charities, doncha know).

    Fortunately the Internet allows the overshadowed voices to come through. We all must continue to call the status quo into question.

  2. Isn't it amazing how quickly a so-called feminist will take advantage of another woman, especially if that woman is in a lower socio-economic class?

    And I'm sick of OLD women claiming infertility. The correct word is MENOPAUSAL.

    Adoption needs serious attention as a reproductive rights issue, which our supposedly feminist sisters are fighting for. But when it comes to adoption the only feminist response is that everyone has a right to be a mother - even if it means by taking another woman's child. How convenient.

    I suspect many of the women at Ms. Magazine are hopeful adopters.

  3. Someone said that adoption would be a feminist issue if feminists weren't so busy adopting. It amazes me how women who purport to be advocates for women can adopt with nary a thought of where the baby came from.

    In an interview on "Primetime" on March 14, 2002, Diane Sawyer asked Rosie O'Donnell if she wanted a biological child.

    Rosie answered “Some people prefer a bio child, but that wasn’t important to me.” She was as casual as if she had been asked whether she preferred home-made bread to bakery bread.

  4. Still here reading. I am intrigued even if not in agreement. I'd hardly call myself wealthy though I have an adopted daughter from China. I can bare children as far as I know but chose to adopt to give a family to child who had none. China has had its share of corrupt practice as has every other country involved in international adoption. Any time money changes hands you can't help but smell a rat but I am glad there are programs which are "more" ethical than others. Our own US system is corrupt and does little to unify families; the same poor ones you discuss. As a result children languish in foster homes with no real family to call their own and no expectations for a future. I realize this may be off topic to your purpose but it is an important factor. I respect the women who have borne children and given them up, coerced by family members to give up or lived with the guilt that comes from their alleged sins but I still hold than not everyone is a mother (or parent) sheerly because they conceived a child. That respect dwindles with each child left at the side of the road, each swig of the gin bottle and each smoke of the crack pipe. I think this is a huge issue on many levels. As stated in my initial post, I stumbled across this blog by accident but glad to have a voice even if it differs.

  5. "Isn't it amazing how quickly a so-called feminist will take advantage of another woman, especially if that woman is in a lower socio-economic class?"

    So, I suppose that this "Maybe" never uses Disney products, always buys fairly traded wares and is viciously opposed to sweatshops. Yeah, right.
    Interesting what we CHOOSE to attack from behind rose-colored glasses.

  6. Nothing to do with feminism, but well worth the read: "The lie we love"

    I certainly agree that feminists in general (though not in necessarily in particular - there are always exceptions to every rule) don't to pay enough attention to the reproductive exploitation of poor and/or disadvantaged women, whether from their own country or others.
    Refraining from adopting from other countries, however, even though I believe it's the only ethical course where there is suspicion of corruption (and there's plenty enough of that now. Evidence, in fact), is not going to change conditions very much, and in fact may make the suffering endured by these women and their children even less visible than before. A price to be paid, perhaps.

    I just have to add that the notion of the 'better' life, even though in the international context it implies a certain arrogant and condescending cultural superiority, doesn't just apply to international adoption.
    It's rampantly pervasive in domestic adoption too, where the superiority is mostly moral.

  7. Kathy and Joel said "Yeah, right. Interesting what we CHOOSE to attack from behind rose-colored glasses."

    Yeah, right. Interesting how you CHOOSE to frame your response in only commercial terms.

  8. Seems your Forum is drawing traffic from the "adopter" side of the triad. Always good to hear other points of view. Perhaps if more adoptive parents eyes are opened to "our side" of things...

    Well one can always hope.


  9. Kathy/Joel: Yes, I do choose to attack adoption, I have to pick my battles. Is anyone expected to fight every injustice with equal vigor? Well, I guess Superman can do that, the rest of us work on the causes that are close to our hearts. Sorry if that disappoints you.

  10. Hello Lost and Found--I left a comment for you at the end of the Generations post. --lorraine dusky

  11. Feminists are not immune to engaging in what has been termed "reproductive exploitation." I believe it all comes down to a complete ignorance, or tunnel-vision, that precludes the person from realizing how they are exploiting a person who has been left vulnerable by the failure of society and law to protect them.

    In this case, reproductive exploition occurs most often when a woman's human rights are violated, leaving her without the financial and social support and necessities she requires in order to keep her baby.

    You don't see people adopting from 30-something married mothers with six-figure incomes. Instead, the average income of a woman who surrenders a baby for adoption is less than $20,000/yr -- often far less than that.

    Women left in dire financial straits, with no way to financially afford to keep their babies -- without adequate housing finances, healthcare, daycare, paid maternity leave, etc. -- are left vulnerable. To obtain a baby from a woman in this situation is exploitation. Just the same way that paid or coeced sexual acts with vulerable women and children is sexual exploitation.

    What must be done is to ensure the financial security of all mothers. To ensure that NO child is left in poverty. To ensure that no child is surrendered for adoption due to this form of blatant financial coercion.

    Exploitation precludes any sort of ethical adoption from happening.

  12. Feminists don't go after another woman's husband, they don't put another woman down and they don't exploit or undermine a woman's confidence to get her baby. I recall in the 1970's a feminst wrote a book ,"Living with contradictions" so perhaps this is what these so called feminist adopters as seen in the film , "Casa De Los Babies" are doing, Living with Contradictions and afterall they can't make do with a some what older child who needs a home--they want the newborn whose mother is too poor and too uneducated about adoption loss and very far away. Certainly they should be made to feel bad for failing to educate the mothers of their children because, afterall they are supposed to be feminists. Good idea for them to take a feminist refresher course. ---Joyce Bahr

  13. Yes, Joyce. I think you're right. That's a good distinction.
    'Feminists' who go after other women's children, as opposed to adopting children who are already without families, are faux.

  14. Lost and Found said:"I still hold than not everyone is a mother (or parent) sheerly because they conceived a child. That respect dwindles with each child left at the side of the road, each swig of the gin bottle and each smoke of the crack pipe."

    Then in comment on another thread here, she complains that we are nasty! Wow, she managed to pack every stereotype of the evil, unfit birthmother into one sentence! No, giving birth does not automatically make one a fit mother, but neither does adopting!

    Yes, there are people unfit to raise children who do so anyhow, alcoholics, addicts, abandoners, but those unfit people include both some natural parents and some adoptive parents. Abusers and murderers come in both kinds as well. Most adoptive parents, like most birthparents, are decent people who love their kids and do the best they can. Like all of us here.

    That includes the parents who have surrendered a child commenting here. We were not crack whores, junkies, drunks, neglecters or abusers. By and large we were young moms who could have done an adequate job of raising our surrendered kids had we been given a little help, and less pressure to "do the right thing" and surrender. That is why we are angry and very suspicious of adoption as an institution. We were conned into making an uninformed, skewed "choice" by those who were supposed know better.

    Speaking for myself, I do not hate or blame all adoptive parents. I do not call them "adopters" unless I am speaking of those who earn that term by being lousy parents. I feel some adoptions are necessary and some adopted kids are better off than they would have been with their birthparents, because that small group of birthparents have serious long-term problems. But I have seen too many adoptees who grew up in adoptive homes with those same kinds of problems, so adoption is not really a gaurantee of a "better life" for a child, just a different life.

    So...if you wish not to have some of us suspicious of you and other adoptive parents, give us the same courtesy, and leave out the "gin bottles and crack pipe" when addressing us and our perspective on adoption.

  15. As a gin swigging, crack addled adopter, I'll drink to everything you just said, Mairaine ;-)



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.