Honoring "Birth Culture"
Adoption is, in part, an act of imagination -- an act that biological birth requires, too, if less obviously. How is this new life connected to you? How do you make it yours? The legal fiction of finalization was useful to us here, in that it erased (or at least shut away in vaults) all other possibilities. Some people see this as a kind of theft from the child -- a theft of a "true" life that is somehow realer than the real one they're living -- and see the choice not to acknowledge that as proof of the crime. But, at least for kids adopted near birth, the "adoption wound" I am often told about seems to me to be a projection of our own concerns about legitimacy as parents. A healthy child, adopted or not, may be curious about other lives he might have led, but it's a parent's regret about lives actually chosen that is usually being expressed in talk of the wound. And yet, however fictional, it's a wound that picking at makes real.
Which is why I worry as much about compulsively honoring so-called birth culture as about strenuously protecting my children from the normative truths of their society. I would no sooner insist that my kids learn Spanish than refuse to let them read books about mom-and-dad families. It is not separateness and a sense of injury I want to nurture; children will be separate enough, and possibly injured enough, in time, on their own. What needs nurturing is the imagination to see how the reality of who we are, and what the world is, can be reconciled. I was never happier with who I was as a father than on that Mother's Day when my older boy called me "Mom." It was a joke and a truth and (because he knew how much I loved my own mother) a present, too. He had figured out how to express his unconventional truth in conventional terms. For him no less than for me, the satisfaction came in the complicated work of untying the knot that kept the thing -- the gift of his love regardless of law -- in its box.
Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, October 2006.
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