Baby fever & manifest destiny

Last night, I had to interrupt my regularly scheduled weekly potluck because I was an invited speaker for a Foster-adopt support group for a local county child welfare agency.

This agency facilitates what is called the "Adoption Option"
program. Basically, it’s one of the few ways a prospective adoptive
parent is able to get a young child without having to go through a
private, domestic adoption. This program allows prospective parents to
be foster parents first, and if the child(ren) are not reunified with
birth parents or biological extended family, the foster parent gets to
"keep" the kids. It’s pretty much the only way to get a newborn out of
the state system. Two of the foster parents brought their babies with;
one was 12 days old and the other was a 6-month old, both born with a
positive toxicology for crack cocaine.

The statistics for Minnesota are that approximately 80-85% of all
newborns and infants (1 year or under) are reunited or go to relatives.
Both of the families last night had previously fostered babies that had
ultimately been reunited or placed with relatives; in fact, the couple
with the 6-month old had fostered four babies. They had just been given
the ok to adopt this current cutie and had filed the petition to adopt
that day.

Our state currently has over 1400 children who are considered "free
for adoption." (I hate that phrase – although it’s supposed to connote
the legal status of the child, as in the birth parent’s rights have
been terminated, it sounds more like a version of "How much is that
puppy in the window" to me).

But I digress. Back to the "Children under the guardianship of the Commissioner of the State of Minnesota."
Currently, there are 125 of the 1400 children listed on the state’s
website of available children and most of these kids are older
elementary and teen aged kids and a lot of them are part of a sibling
set. So even though the Adoption Option program is about as
heartwrenching and uncertain as one can get, I can understand why so
many parents are eager to take that route in order to get that
"precious baby."

I will admit right now that I acknowledge I do not have a personal
understanding of what it is like to have infertility issues, so I can
not speak from that space.

I do understand the idea of wanting a baby – babies are so cute.
That’s why they’re used to sell radial tires and stuff. Who can resist
a baby?

But in my cynical way, I have to wonder what is up with the
obsession to put yourself in such a risky situation and have your heart
torn up again and again in order to parent a baby out of the foster
care system. There are hundreds upon hundreds of children in our state
foster care system that need homes. I see them for years on the lists.

I think it is because of this ideal of what a baby represents. For
starters, it’s a chance for an adoptive parent to indoctrinate more of
their own "nurture" over the kid’s "nature." An 8-year old, for
example, has already had 8 years of god-knows-what. Pain, neglect,
possibly abuse, chaos. To adopt an 8-year old (or a 16-year old) means
that as a parent, you have much less control over that kid. There is
more of a history that kid has to deal with and their personalities
have "set in."

If you believe in that kind of stuff.

See, I don’t believe that an infant comes with a clean slate. Babies
recognize their names at 3-4 months. They recognize their birth
mother’s voice immediately upon birth. Studies have shown that infants
removed from the hospital and placed with foster or adoptive parents
have higher cortisol levels (indicating stress) for their entire first year.

I also believe that all people are born with their personality
features. The rest of life is about either nurturing or trying to get
rid of those features we (or our parents or society) like or don’t
like. I’m not saying this is an excuse to throw ones hands up in the
air and leave our children to raise themselves or anything like that.
Parents are hugely influential and it is a parent’s responsibility to guide and teach their children.

It was very interesting and ultimately a little heartbreaking to see
this room full of hopeful, caring and eager foster/adopt parents. I am
in awe of these parents who are willing to do everything in order to experience having children.

They have a lot of fears about how their kids will end up. They
wanted reassurance and a map to help them make sure these kids do well.
I can’t offer any pat answers. There is no single way to do this work
as a parent.

Adopting a baby doesn’t mean that a parent gets to forget that the
child has a history and a past and a biological connection to another
family. It is like trying to claim a stake on some virgin territory and
placing a flag in the ground, saying, "this belongs to me."

Except that territory does not really belong to you. There is no manifest destiny when it comes to people.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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