An experience in four parts, none of them involving an actual adoption within our family.
1. When my boyfriend (later spouse) and I unintentionally conceived our daughter in very difficult circumstances, including poverty and my multiple disabilities and health risks, we briefly thought of adoption. We didn’t want to lose her. We decided instead to do whatever it took to raise her, together. And we did.
2. Not wanting to risk another pregnancy that could easily endanger me and any child I might conceive, I had a tubal ligation at 27. At 30 I had a complete hysterectomy because of severe endometriosis. My spouse and I debated long and hard about adopting a so called “hard to place” child but we didn’t go through with it.
3. I worked for a time as a maternal child welfare social worker. I counseled pregnant women, and conducted foster care and adoptive homestudies, supervised placements, and worked with adult adoptees. My endometriosis diagnosis and hysterectomy happened in the midst of this work.
4. In college, our daughter became unexpectedly pregnant. She considered placing her baby for adoption but decided to parent him, finally, as a single mother, a white woman raising a son of African as well as European ethnicities. My husband and I are very involved in raising our grandson.
After all this, I am not categorically opposed to adoption. For some women and children, it can be a constructive, loving decision. If the birth mother is not pressured by the denial of necessary resources for parenting or anyone who feels her pregnancy “disgraces” them. If she can choose the adoptive family and the degree of openness. If the loss it represents for her and other birth relatives is recognized and honored. If she is not slutshamed or excoriated as a bad irresponsible mother or branded as one without spiritual integrity.
I am aware too that in some situations, adoption is necessary to protect children from abuse and neglect. And of course there are orphans. But no should assume that a woman is unfit to parent simply because, for example, the pregnancy was unintended or if she is not married, poor, disabled, and/or of color.
The child welfare system in the U.S. often treats adoption as a “meat market” that privileges able-bodied white babies and presents older children, children of color, and children with disabilities as “economy models” or “damaged goods.” It often shuts out prospective adoptive and foster parents who have lots to offer children but are deemed “unworthy” because they are of color, have disabilities, have low/modest incomes, and/or are LGBT. This really needs to change.
HOW HAS THE ADOPTION EXPERIENCE AFFECTED YOUR POETRY?
I have only started to write poetry that draws upon these experiences, so I am not sure yet. I am struck, though, by how much anger and love surface when I do write on this subject. I hope the anger is in the service of the love.
PLEASE SHARE A SAMPLE POEM(S) ADDRESSING (IN PART) ADOPTION.
BIGGER AND BETTER THAN
As I finger the soft $10 in my tightening jeans pocket, my belly spills out a shredded lilac cotton blouse with its fake pearl buttons, swells a half step ahead of my hiking boots that pant their old tongues and stumble past bus stop after bus stop.
At the grocery store parking lot, I back accidentally into a shock of a bumper sticker, stark black background, words the same fluorescent yellow of crime scene tape: ADOPTION NOT ABORTION
and I strongly want to accost who's absent from that bumpersticker’s driver’s seat: Hey you! Just where else do you imagine we are not going? We, my sentient sl*tty self and my already thumbsucking, somersaulting b*st*rd baby whose life I guard fiercely with my worndown own?
Inseparable from conception, inseparable at future birth, we are traveling already to, through, over, despite the cracked, hard, shifty public commons made visible audible textural of this broken city sidewalk.
Traveling the alternative reality of _____________ NOT ABORTION, that nameless thin line, that thin ground-level ledge, that splintering plywood plank over pestilent sewers that could drown us both if I twisted an ankle.
Reality that is not “natural law punishment” for “fornication,” punishment the dreaded unwed can expiate only through some raw sacrificial wound of unchosen pried-forever-shut adoption to Perfect Rich White Chreeshtians in the Suburbs.
Reality that results from sly sadistic human agency, i.e., is coldly manmade, is completely classifiable under stuff that doesn’t have to be this way this way at all.
Why couldn’t ours be a sure lush path via parkways of fragrant green grass? Why not at least the quarters for a bus seat when I am simply too tired to slog us out on my own two swollen feet?
But I do not lie in wait, do not heft any hammer, do not even jab out an unsigned letter to snap under the windshield wiper. I have no hammer, I have no paper or pen yet, I have no patience for anything this day but the slow building up of our reciprocal intertwined survivals.
I just curve us right past the store’s electric eye which parts the door for us as much as for anyone “legitimate.” Curve us towards the bin of half-bruised apples, the post-Passover matzohs at 90% off, the tubs of generic unnatural peanut butter.
Towards the additive-ridden, the out-of-season, the deeply discounted—from which I create both of us. My belly spills out the shredded lilac cotton blouse, shifts our concentric centers of gravity forward into what we always will make up together as we go along.
Bigger and better than what that bumpersticker could provide for us, towards everything it didn’t even begin to have the right words for.
THE FAMILY CAPPERS
Plastic wrapped sandwiches and burnt sorry coffee in the dilapidated beige conference room with the stained orange chairs allotted us: the local maternity and adoption workers convene for our monthly lunch we pay for out of our thin salaries.
Thin because we are all supposed to have “good-provider” husbands or live out an ascetic asexual professional-woman singlehood? So what does this make of my attempted equal-rights life with my good loving man of a grad student also grossly underpaid alternative school teacher spouse?
Pagers all set on in case a maternity ward summons us into volunteer mandatory overdrive: four crisply critical women in tailored suits talk overlaps re: the latest scandal of the broadcast news. The family cap, the family cap, how badly needed, our clients on welfare have babies just to get the extra money.
All decree except me, in my colorpatch woven Nepali on sale vest, that my boss just reprimanded as not stodgy enough for your job. All decree as I listen in shock, and wilt down, and wilt down, into a roil of unvoiceable shame and rage for those dissed and denied mothers just about one or two vests away from where I live. Don’t they know family caps will cap and cut families through more abortions?
As I struggle to pull my lips teeth larynx into enough order to speak, they careen onto their next judgment: So this woman who has nerve damage, who has constant pain, SHE wants to adopt from our agency, can you believe it?! They purse their lips wildly, shake their heads NO! extravagantly—until I wobbily jump to my uneven feet and splutter out You would… then, never…allow… people disabled as me… adopt.
And rush my rage loudly through the bathroom door I let slam as final punctuation. I stand pale shuddering nauseous before the mirror. Listen to the broken toilet that runs its random endless torture music whenever I run my lopsided self in here to hemorrhage out the unbalancing clots of my purported “barrenness.”
Intone out loud but not too: You effin family cappers.
But I stave off vomiting, because I need to hold onto that sandwich and coffee. Especially since my pager could go off at any minute, and then what then?
IN MY PRAYERS
So often when
I push my grandbaby’s stroller,
I flash on you
and pray for you,
the couple in the album
of the agency
daughter glanced off:
your doubly open—
one brown one rose—
smiling woman faces,
the clean, bright blue,
backyard playground set behind you,
tucked next to your “Dear Birthmom” letter
with its longing sweeps
of flawless, invitational calligraphy.
And I pray that
your child is now
materialized to romp and sing
through that heart’s
investment of a playset.
And I thank Jesus
that we raised a daughter
who would think to ponder you,
to offer you a fair shake
at the rightful family you seek.
And I thank Jesus
that your child is not
the same child as hers,
that you never knew in the slightest
about the one whom you lost:
our rosebrown grandson
who has just as much fun
on the scuffed gray swings
in the city park,
imitating raucous crow
and liquid cardinal calls
and carillon peals with me
as he oscillates up and down,
his Afro with the Celtic waves
billowing back and forth,
sleek with the shea butter
I learned to work into it myself.
ABOUT THE POET:
Mary Krane Derr is a poet, writer, musician, eco-activist, and human rights advocate from Chicago. Her poetry has been nominated for a Best of the Web Award, Best American Poetry, and Best Spiritual Writing. She was featured at India’s 2011 Kritya International Poetry Festival. She has contributed to literary magazines in the U.S., Ireland, Great Britain, and India as well as anthologies like Hunger Enough: Living Spiritually in a Consumer Society (Pudding House).