Blogland is a treacherous place. I have read things I wish I hadn't. Things that made me seriously angry. Sometimes I comment, and sometimes I don't.
I have recently commented on several prospective adoptive parent blogs that made tired accusations about how all "birth" mothers are crack whores and unworthy to raise their children, and how adoptees who express reservations about the institution of adoption are "bitter" because they had lousy childhoods and "bad lives." And thus the rights and feelings of first mothers and adoptees are neatly demolished, in one fell swoop.
On the one hand, I do not fall into the lousy childhoods and "bad lives" category. I love my aparents with all my heart, and they have cared for me unconditionally since they brought me home when I was 10 weeks old. They have been, and continue to be, generous and loving. I had lots of material and emotional benefits in my youth--including the pony. I wouldn't say that my negative feelings about adoption arise from bitterness and anger, but rather from a mature perspective that allows me to see the institution of adoption as seriously flawed by secrets and lies and the buried needs of the child. Too many people I know have been hurt for me to say, "Oh! Adoption is great for everyone. No worries. First mothers, you children will thank you for giving them a better life! Adoptive parents, your children will thank you for your selflessness in taking them in! Adoptees, what's that you say about feeling sad? There's no trauma. There is no evidence that adoptees feel trauma at all. Please, be rational and see that what you feel is just adult disappointment that you're projecting backward onto that happy little baby that once was you. Someday you'll be as happy as I am. And if you're not, shut the fuck up."
I can stand up as a "success" story, if that's what they want to see. As I told Dr. Brodzinsky once (and he agreed), I am a poster child for adoption, unless you hear me talk about the intense feelings of loss that have been inside me these 41 years. Then the people who want the rosy view stop listening to me and go back to their refrain, "Poor thing. If only she could be more grateful for the wonderful life her parents gave her. It's too bad she has so much negativity inside her. She isn't entitled to any opinion that is negative, anyway. Adoptees should put up and shut up." Or "She is speaking for a child, when she is an adult. She doesn't know what she felt then. She must have been a happy child with such emotional and material bounty; adoptees only feel sad when they know there is loss, and it takes verbal skills and maturity to process that." And thus I am told what I feel and when I am allowed to feel it. As though I were born yesterday as an adult. Poor C, if that were the case.
Then again, I think it sucks that any adoptees would be dismissed as "bitter" because they did not have a perfect life experience. Who does? Why should feelings have to be qualified? How a person feels is how he or she feels. No one should have to pull out a lengthy, "worthy" personal narrative to justify what they say they feel inside.
I learned recently about a disgusting phenomenon called "practice babies," in which orphans and prospective adoptees were farmed out as infants to home economics classes at universities around the U.S. Students could practice mothering skills on these "motherless" infants, managing them alongside other day-to-day domestic skills. Human babies were basically part of the furniture, and there might be a different caregiver present every time a baby woke up. I can imagine that such an experience might cause a baby to be emotionally disorganized and have difficulty attaching to any one person.
I was born in a year in which there were still "practice babies" around, although I rather doubt I was part of such a program. But the idea of it sends chills down my spine. I know myself well, as does my mother. We were talking about this the other morning and were in agreement about how this would have been a very bad fit for my very anxious personality, whether my anxieties stem from my not having a primary caretaker for my first 10 weeks of life, from being hardwired to be anxious, or from losing my first mother at birth. Or all three. There isn't enough evidence to say--or so I am told.
I greatly respect the first mothers who run Birth Mother, First Mother Forum, one of my favorite adoption-related blogs, and Jane, one of the blog owners, posted over the weekend about the "practice babies". I commented that I thought the use of "practice babies" was damaging on many levels, and that I feel great compassion for those people who know--or don't--that they were part of that grand experiment in teaching. I also said:
"I know that some psychologists believe that it doesn't matter what happens to infants because once they get a consistent caregiver, they'll be fine. I don't subscribe to that view, but some of these babies weren't placed for over a year. How could they possibly attach to anyone when their "pretend" mothers could rotate daily, weekly, monthly?" [emphasis added here]
I included that paragraph because I have engaged in debate before with a psychologist who holds that infants don't really favor particular caregivers until they are at least six months old, when they begin to exhibit signs of attachment. I believe, to the contrary, that while neonates may not display empirical signs of attachment earlier than six months, they do recognize people quickly, especially their mothers. I also know from research I did related to my work as an L&D RN that parental recognition is not a scientific impossibility (for examples off the top of my head, see DeCasper and Fifer, 1980; Bushnell, 2001). I also see connections between mother and infant anecdotally every day that I work on the unit. In the trenches, so to speak. Practical experience. Not reviewing other people's work. Observing babies want their mothers.
I was pressed by a commenter to name any psychologist who believed such a thing as infants not preferring any particular caregiver, and I named the one with whom I had debated last October:
"Dr. X would be one psychologist who argues that adopted children are unaffected by early experiences, even those involving lack of attachment and social deprivation."
It was a trap! I was then told that I was off base and quite wrong about what the good doctor believed, and that my arrogance was "rich, even for you."
The good doctor even replied herself:
"I have to offer a correction. I've certainly never said that disruption of attachment or social deprivation had no ill effects. What I did say was that attachment is not already in place at the time of birth. Instead, it develops gradually if the baby has a consistent, interactive caregiver, and becomes evident some time after 6 months of age, but usually before 12 months."
Imagine, then, my surprise when the good doctor wrote a blog post yesterday in which she said:
"A lot of concern is being expressed on various blogs about the history of “practice babies”, as described in Lisa Grunwald’s novel The Irresistible Henry House. Those babies, as probably everyone knows by now, were orphans who were cared for by “domestic science” students in colleges and who had many caregivers, in most cases before going to an adoptive family. The “practice babies” usually experienced multiple caregivers during the second half of their first year, a period of time that is associated with the development of attachment behaviors and which might be a time of vulnerability for emotional development.
However, there seems to be no obvious evidence that these children, who had also had multiple caregivers in their orphanages, were emotionally disturbed later in their lives. (Of course, it may well be that there is no such evidence because no one has looked for it, but it seems to me rather likely that adoptive parents would have complained if the babies they received were troubled, and that attention would have been called to the situation. Maybe not, though.)"
Isn't that exactly what I said that she would say--no evidence, no harm, no foul? That some psychologists believe that there is no evidence that a lack of primary caregivers causes problems later on? That once a child is in a stable home, the past is entirely mitigated--because there is no evidence otherwise?
But do you really believe that adoptive parents would have 1. KNOWN their child had been used in a science experiment, given the widespread programs of secrets and lies associated with closed adoption; and 2. THOUGHT that there was a place to register complaint that their "product" was defective? As a dear friend said to me, is there a Better Business Bureau of Adopted Brats that we are unaware of?
As I understand it, many of the practice babies aren't even aware of their past histories. How could they be tracked and followed for longitudinal research on attachment and relationships if they aren't identified? Isn't it rather premature to say that silence on the topic = no damage to the people who were once those babies? Just because none of them are serial killers doesn't make them "fine."
I know that I am inviting a firestorm onto my head with this post, but I am hoping that some of my non-adoptee, very smart friends will weigh in, as well as my fellow adoptlings and the people I expect to tell me kindly to go fuck myself.