In my mid-twenties, it was weddings. Every time I turned around, another friend was marrying. There were gift registries to navigate and parties to plan. The baby showers came next and before I knew it I was chipping in for strollers and collecting birth announcements in my desk drawer. Sadly, a decade or so later, too much news of separations and divorce started slipping in the inbox.
I’m in that last season right now – no, not getting divorced, thankfully – but journeying through divorce and second marriages with others. I see what it takes to create complex child custody plans. I witness the numbing heartache. And then I watch as happiness and relief surrounds friends when they take a risk and start a relationship with someone new.
I hear, over and over, that even in healthy, second marriages – full of romance and solid partnership – a number of people still sometimes long for what life was like before. It’s not that they want to go back to being taken for granted or abused or living with a cheating spouse who neglects and lies to them. But it’s just that life’s gotten so complicated in the years following the divorce. And there was something, just something, about that original union. Mom, Dad, kids – all together as they started out so many years ago. The original family unit. But maintaining it became impossible. As perfect as their second marriages may be, there is sometimes a cloud of sorrow that passes over them.
I think of that intersection of hope and happiness – and about the yearning for what’s been lost – when I read email messages from people whom Oprah might call my “haters.” With my memoir about adopting my youngest child releasing next month, I get regular email from other adoptive parents asking questions, anticipating the book, and telling their family stories. I also get messages from people who think all adoptions are evil, that all children belong with their own birth families no matter what and when that isn’t an option, they belong with relatives, and failing that, should live in their native countries.
No. Matter. What.
As a person who has visited some of the world’s poorest countries, witnessed heroic efforts to help street children and kids orphaned by AIDS, I think it’s short-sighted (at best) to say that all adoptions are abusive to birth, or first, parents and to children. When I get an email from a stranger who says that I’m part of the “adoption industry” and responsible for trafficking children, I have to stop a moment, take a breath, and try to hear where he or she is coming from.
In what ways has this person been hurt? Is she a mother of a child whom she placed for adoption decades ago as a teenager? Was that adoption not only “closed,” but treated not a non-event by her parents or community, sweeping the birth of a child under the rug, pretending it never even happened? Was the birth and adoption of her baby an event shrouded by secrets and lies?
I then affirm that adoption abuse is indeed evil, but that the reality is that there is a global orphan crisis and that I believe the vast, vast majority of adoptions are ethical. I could tell stories of children I know well who were orphaned by AIDS and fended for themselves on the streets for years before being adopted. I see these same children dressed in their Halloween costumes, snuggling with their parents, and thriving after being enveloped into loving homes. It’s so beautiful to witness.
And, much as we must support efforts to bring long-term health and opportunity to destitute people and communities, those efforts are slow-moving and can leave whole generations of orphans vulnerable and untethered while roads are built, research is conducted, and improvements are made.
Yes, it would be a better world if every marriage was happy and lasted, if every community had strong programs to protect and nurture vulnerable children, if every pregnancy was planned and desired, and if all parents had the emotional and material resources to raise the children born to them.
But sadly it’s a broken world.
A world in which adoption can be a balm, a relief, a beautiful gift to all involved.
(Jennifer Grant is the author of the adoption memoir Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter.)