I am a very lucky woman in the reproductive sense because I have been able to control my reproductive life more fully than many women before me or even across the planet today. Birth control was available to me to avoid pregnancy when I didn't or couldn't choose parenting; I had three children biologically, two by C-section and one by VBAC; my tubes were tied in my first marriage to avoid more pregnancies; in a second marriage, I was able to choose surgical reversal; when that didn't work, I used reproductive assistance technologies; and when that grueling process failed, I was able to turn to adoption. It is not lost on me how very, very privileged I am. And I might seem greedy. I had three children already; why want more? And I am greedy, I suppose, for love, and I adore children, and though I am a deeply busy person (who isn't these days), my parenting is a central element to my identity. Perhaps no other role, and no other love, is as important to me.
When the decision was made that my husband and I would adopt, we did our research and joined a program, waiting for our match, but something intervened, and though I hate to sound overly romantic, it seemed like fate. During our wait, I spent hours on a site called Rainbowkids looking at children all over the world in Waiting Child Programs. A Waiting Child is one who, for a variety of reasons, was not considered immediately adoptable. One day, my daughter's photo showed up, and a bolt of adrenaline ran through me, the hair on my neck standing up, and I knew this was my daughter. This is an unreasonable thing to say, and I recognize that, but it is how I felt. By the next week, we had changed programs, and within six months, we were in Taiwan, and my daughter was in my arms.
Though this sounds sentimental, it is not. My daughter's birth conditions were not easy, and though I won't share those details here as her story is her story and not mine to share, I was keenly aware of the loss she was starting her life with as well as the loss her birth mother and grandparents were going to bear. In Taiwan, there is a great deal of family information given to the adoptive parents, and I have photographs; I have detailed records. My gain, my new love, came out of deep pain from these people whom I have real faces and names for. They are, in some ways, like lost family to me, as well as to my daughter, and a connection across the world that floats under the surface of my days.
Within a year, we found ourselves adopting again, very much to our surprise, another waiting child, a boy also from Taiwan, also with great needs and a story that breaks our hearts. Each of our adopted children came home with health issues that needed to be addressed, but our little boy came home with surprise issues that took almost two years and hundreds of doctor and hospital visits to resolve. It was a gauntlet and tested our family, and yet today, these two have blossomed into creative, communicative, charming, warm, funny kids, one in kindergarten, the other in first grade. Their older brothers tell me their views of the world have changed, widened, but also deepened, how they stand up when people in their age group make racist remarks, how they didn't know they could love these two so much. The racial element of our family's make-up changed our neighborhood as well, with many, many neighbors flocking around us in support. The sense of joy this seemed to provoke in people around us was stunning, and to see my older boys stand for inter-racial acceptance in ways they might Never have had to is an added bonus.
And yet, it has very little to do with anything on a day to day basis. My five kids are just my five kids, each with identity issues, temperament differences, unique fears, talents, tendencies: hostages to fortune, as Francis Bacon wrote, and it is my job to try and help each one of them face their individual shadow side—for all of us have a central wound from which our lives take shape (I am thinking now of Edmund Wilson's The Wound and the Bow or of Carl Jung or even of Lorca's duende)—and learn how to survive their own suffering and nurture their special qualities.
In my mind, the need for a child—any child—to have an adult who does not try to live through them, but who focuses on being a benevolent and predictable constant around which they can discover themselves is utterly and absolutely more important than whether the parent looks like the child or echoes political, ethnic, or national sameness. To those who argue that trans racial or trans national adoption harms children or is a kind of colonial kidnapping, I would say they are privileging elements of human identity over the core needs of human development; to those who would say intra racial adoption is better than trans racial adoption, I would ask how they feel about same gender parent couples; I would ask how they feel about other segregationist policies. To those who think what a family looks like is more important than whether a child has a family, I want to ask, are you kidding? You walk away from a child without a family and tell me they are better off in (even the best intentioned) institution than in a home with consistent and loving adults.
No, I don't think adoption is easy or simple, and yes, I think my kids have wounds—and some people talk about studies of trans nationally adopted post adolescents (twenties) who are depressed and have identity issues. Show me ANY twenty-something who doesn't have these kinds of issues! It is the nature of that stage in life, and as the parent of a 17, 19, and 21 year old, and experienced professor of first and second year college students, the argument that adopted kids have more struggles with adulthood transitions than the general population seems laughable on its face.
Wisdom is hard won because it is not easy. Becoming a whole person is the job of a lifetime, and we all have challenges. In that sense, this journey toward self actualization and understanding is at the core of my artistic effort, my own dance with the demon, my shadow, my wound. It is wounding to be a parent, to be alive to the constant fear one has for those "hostages to fortune," but life requires risk and bravery if it is to be lived fully. This is what I tell all my children: I can not protect you from the circumstances of your own life, but I can model for you how to survive it.
When we were adopting, the adoption agency asked us, as they ask everyone, to become more conscious of the race and ethnicity of those in our lives even suggesting "pick a Chinese doctor," "cultivate Asian friends." Nope, I said, I am sorry but I will not select people based on their race, but I will actively bring artists, poets, and writers into my children's lives because that is what their Dad and I are. My kids, the big ones and the little ones, will know many kinds of people, first based on their character and art, their openness, their personal beauty something that shines from within, perhaps from the dark wound at the center of themselves, the thing that makes them uniquely them, and that is where compassion comes from. In our house, compassion has many faces and shades of skin, many politics, many bodily conditions, and ages, and sexualities.
This is my experience of adoption: it widened my view of the connectedness rather than separateness of us all, and it makes me exquisitely grateful and also very, very humble, because I am a lucky, lucky woman who is rich in love.
PLEASE SHARE A SAMPLE POEM(S) ADDRESSING (IN PART) ADOPTION:
The Flags We Raise
“He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.” Francis Bacon
Named after his Dutch grandfather, Ruth, pronounced root,
whose name was changed by an Ellis Island gatekeeper, Rutger
has no freckles or pale skin, but black on black eyes
slanted and long-lashed,
hair that swings with its own smooth-cuticled weight.
It could have been different genetically:
before the Chinese, the Dutch colonized Taiwan,
then called Formosa, where my son was born,
and so he could have had something of that other land in him,
the genes of his adopted father,
but instead his face is round like an islander’s,
with a graceful flat nose—you’d think Polynesian
before Chinese (that might be the biggest legacy
the Dutch left Taiwan: encouraging Han Chinese immigration,
and later, it seemed reasonable for China’s government
to relocate itself there.)
Today, whose land this is is still a question,
but whose child this is is not: Ruth, who traded his name
for the possibilities of this place,
had a daughter, who had a son, my husband,
who claimed this boy in a country that understands
nuance and complexity in ways the West does not,
and can also claim the way this boy
and his mottled background changes us: where once our ancestors
visited and stole, today—though some declaim
this is another kind of stealing—we surrender
to a rainbow’s soft demarcations into colors
outside of history or place. When I say Rutger,
I hear Kuan Lu. When I say Kuan Lu, I hear
beautiful boy. When I say beautiful boy, a flag
is raised in my chest that belongs to no country,
but the one all hostages to fortune live in,
one with no borders,
which can not be escaped from,
and of which there is no government,
only taxes, death, and
what pleasures we steal along the way.
ABOUT THE POET:
Laura McCullough has four books of poems including Panic, winner of a 2009 Kinereth Gensler Award, (Alice James Books), Speech Acts (Black Lawrence Press), and What Men Want (XOXOX Press), and her chapbook, Women and Other Hostages, winner of a Flip Kelly Award, was published in the Gob Pile Poetry Chapbook Series (Amsterdam Press). Her interviews, essays, and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Writer’s Chronicle, The American Poetry Review, New South, Pank, Contrary, Diode,The Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. She is the editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations and is editing an anthology of essays by contemporary writers on the poetry of Stephen Dunn.