Sometimes I think good intentions really miss the point.

August 4, 2009 at 4:20 am (Uncategorized)

As someone who is trying to have  a biological child and encountering difficulties, I find myself increasingly incensed by certain cockeyed-seeming practices within the childcare and community services realm. Sometimes it seems that all the care in the world is taken, and all the focus is given to, managing and supporting people who don’t seem to want their own children, or who at the very least go ahead and have children, sometimes several of them, when they are in no fit condition to care for and raise them.

I was just reading an online newspaper’s front page, and this article caught my narrowed eye. It’s about an innocent little abandoned baby girl and her future. It’s a plea for the biological mother to come forward and discuss what she wants done with her baby. Now, I do believe the mother of this child, who carefully deposited her baby on a doorstep and promptly disappeared, probably did what she did because she believed it was in the best interests of the child. I do err on the side of sympathy; it was in all probability an agonising decision, and this girl or woman is no doubt going through a very hard time. I unreservedly give her the benefit of the doubt. But having taken the decision to abandon the newborn (and little Sunday was only just born), I think you do forfeit your rights when you forfeit the most basic responsibility there is. Rights come with responsibilities; you have to keep up your end of the bargain if you want to keep cashing your chips.

So no, I don’t think parents who abandon their children have the right to just waltz back into the picture when it suits them down the track. I just don’t. I think that is unspeakably selfish. And when I read the article about little Sunday, and the DOCS spokesperson saying they wish to stress Sunday’s adoption will be open, meaning her biological mother and/or father can step forward and claim her at any time, I thought, ‘Well, that totally stinks.’ Why is everything geared toward indefinitely enabling the delivery of a child back into the arms of a parent or parents who – for whatever reason  – did not want her? I know everyone goes on and on about the biological imperative of being with your own blood, but personally, I think that’s baloney. Give me a loving adoptive family over a reluctant biological family any day. DOCS bends overs backwards to encourage this woman to make contact and participate in the ongoing discussions regarding the future welfare of her child, but just watch how hard they’ll make it for some poor couple who are desperate to love and raise a child to adopt little Sunday. Oh, how their lives will be interrogated. Oh, how their privacy will be invaded. Any idiot can have a child, there’s no law against that, any creep can reproduce and many seem to have a real talent for it, but just try being the fools who try to adopt this abandoned child. Then you’re the mickey who has to bow to biology for the rest of your life, living on tenterhooks, your position as adoptive parent always under threat, always vulnerable to the possibility that the real parent or parents will one day arrive on your doorstep to stake a long overdue claim. And I think that is completely unfair to the child, first and foremost, and to the people who have committed to caring for it.

I know DOCS has no choice but to walk this very fine line, but sometimes, within this social services framework that is obsessed with keeping families together even if the family in question has irrevocably splintered apart, it just feels like they lose sight of the real duty of care. Is it really best for the child to be handed back to people who gave her up and haven’t been seen since? Somehow I doubt it – although I hope the girl or woman who gave birth to little Sunday is safe and well and receiving whatever help it is she requires. I just think her daughter deserves the same consideration DOCS continues to extend the mystery mother’s way.

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9 Comments

  1. litlove said,

    Ahhh, this comes out of the obsession we have with attachment theory, and it’s been going on since the 1950s. John Bowlby was commissioned to write a report about childcare and he worked particularly with evacuees. He found, unsurprisingly, you might say, that the children were often profoundly scarred by the abrupt and lengthy separation from their parents, and from their mothers in particular. Now, Bowlby was of a generation who never had much in the way of maternal tenderness. Across the early part of the 20th century, mothers were often discouraged from handling their babies, told to bring them up tough, not fawn and give in to their needs, and any one with any money at all handed the children straight over to a nanny or maid. So all these things came together into a report that emphasised the importance of continual, natural mother care, with the mother deeply romanticised as a place of nurture. I’m afraid it’s gone on from there, and however much subsequent rewrites of attachment theory insist on the quality of mothering as the essential factor, the concept of bonding child to natural mother persists. I tell you, this whole area of motherhood is deeply fraught with ideological issues, which you neatly nail on the head here.

  2. Pete said,

    Good post. I’ve got mixed feelings here because I think the biological link is important for other reasons (knowing your genetic inheritance for example). But while attachment is obviously vitally important, it really doesn’t need to be with the biological mother. And as you say, surely the mother gives up some rights to that attachment when she just gives the child away. But she also might not have been in ‘her right mind’ when she made that decision and so I suspect that the DOCS are providing for some leeway. But such a fraught area it seems.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    Di, I sympathize with you. I felt just the same way. Any drugged up kid can get knocked up, but a person who just wants to love a child has to go through so much to make it happen. That pain has dissipated a lot since I became a mom (2x thru adoption) and the day to day intensity and reality of motherhood took over. So from that more dispassionate place, I would agree with you and with Litlove that there is a romanticising of bio connections and of motherhood that is cultural, and arose I’d suggest from the Victorian “angel of the house” morphing into Bowlby’s work. Here an open adoption doesn’t mean the bio parents can claim the child anytime. There is some kind of agreed upon, structured involvement and that varies hugely from family to family. It can be of benefit to the child, for the reasons that Pete says, but it really depends a lot on the individuals and how it all works out. Here in Canada, bio parents have some limited time to change their mind after domestic adoption, and I would personally find even that too much. I also get intensely upset about children who are bounced between foster care and bio homes that are neglectful or abusive and keep getting put back there. And I can tell you that I have also wrestled with the whole sanctity of bio relationships as I’d be better off adopted and having nothing to replace those bio ties, I feel somewhat up in the air as far as cultural and social norms. I hope that you are able to form your family, whether bio or adopted, and that the pain of this point in your life eases.

  4. Jenny said,

    As a foster mother to three boys whom I can’t adopt, I couldn’t agree more. The youngest has been here for 13 of his 14 years. Love and care are the basis of attachment, not biological relationship. Kids need to know where they’ve come from, sure, but they also need a stable childhood. In UK the birth parents are given 12 months to get their act together, then kids are able to be adopted, with access of course to birth families. Here kids are treated like possessions of birth parents.

  5. doctordi said,

    Litlove, that’s so interesting, and it explains a lot. I think we have probably adopted much of that thinking here. It is deeply fraught, deeply, deeply fraught, as everyone says.

    And Pete, I agree biology can be important – and let’s not forget, it can be functional, too! I’m definitely not saying there’s no value to biological bonds; I don’t feel that way at all. I’m just saying it’s not always the case that children are better off with their biological parents , and there’s sometimes a policy disconnect here between wanting to do the right thing and what the right thing is. I have mixed feelings too, don’t worry, the whole conversation is impossible, to a certain extent, because really, as Lilian says, circumstances differ so much on a case-by-case basis, but policy is all about the general rule.

    Yes, the bouncing drives me insane, Lilian, as do those terrible cases where it’s all too late and a child ends up abused, malnourished or worse, and it turns out DOCS knew all about it but just kept sending the child “home.” Oh, that one is hard to take.

    Jenny, exactly, love and care, that’s what matters most. I’m very frustrated for carers such as yourself. It’s an enormous and enormously compassionate undertaking, raising other people’s children, and sometimes it just seems DOCS is training all its efforts in the wrong direction. But that doesn’t change the fact that you and many others like you did and continue to do a phenomenal thing for children whose lives would have been so very different without you. Hats off to you, Changeling.

  6. davidrochester said,

    I cannot imagine it being in the best interests of that poor child to be returned to the mother who abandoned her. Children attach to the figures who nurture and care for them. If that child’s mother had died and she were raised by her aunt, that would be her primary attachment figure. It doesn’t matter whether the person actually gave birth to the child; it’s the quality of the relationship that determines healthy attachment patterns.

    I know plenty of people — myself being one of them — breastfed and raised by their biological mothers who are still complete attachment-disorganized messes, so … that theory doesn’t wash.

  7. doctordi said,

    No disagreement here, David, my thoughts exactly.

  8. Simonne said,

    Hear hear! Great post! I’m in total and utter agreement.

  9. doctordi said,

    If only we were all in charge!

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