Is Adoption A Feminist Issue?

As a feminist and a woman with an adoptive father, I take high interest in adoption-focused commentary. Generally it comes from segments of the right wing without adoptive experiences within their own families. Generally it pisses me off.

Typically the focus is on love. Can love between adoptive and biological families be just as real? From my vantage point (I was raised with equal love from my biological mother and adoptive father), the answer is a strong yes. I find it downright insulting when people insinuate to me personally, or generally within the news media, that something emotional exists between biological parents and biological children that can’t be created in any other way.

I don’t deny that adoptive families can lead to complex emotions and realities. I have struggled to negotiate what not knowing a biological parent means to me. I have felt loss. I have felt shame. I have felt sorrow. I have gone through grief. It has been alienating at times. It is very personal. Every adoptive situation is. Where I’ve landed, at least for now, is a pretty cool place: I feel exceedingly blessed knowing that not two, but three, have actively considered themselves to be my parent. There are three family branches that seem to be equally proud of (and, as needed, exasperated with) me in ways that only families care, regardless of who has the genes and who has been a part of my day-to-day life.

I recently learned a dear friend is an adoptive mother. Her daughter will soon meet her birth mother for the first time. We had a wonderful conversation, riveted by one another’s perspective. For me, it was a relief to hear from the other side, ask questions and share thoughts without fear of somehow hurting those personally invested in how I feel about the facts of my life. I realized, listening to her, how similar adoptive childhood and parenthood can silently feel. It’s not easy, but in the end family is what we declare it to be.

A publication I tend to agree with, the Minnesota Women’s Press, has two features on adoption in the current issue. Feminist Lens On Adoption is written by a transnational adoptee who decided against adoption on feminist grounds after learning of her own infertility, and Love and Loss is written by an adopted mother of a transnational daughter. I am extremely upset with the presentation of these articles together without a third, positive viewpoint.

The first article brings up two great points from a feminist lens. First, transnational adoptees experience intensified ambiguity. Moreso, the notion of “a better life” often carries white supremacist overtones. Though all of my parents are white like me, I can’t begin to imagine how much more complicated my personal experience would feel if culture and color were thrown into the mix. I cannot speak for the transnational adoptee experience, just as they can’t really speak for same-culture experience. Though some issues are the same, others are very different.

Second, many transnational (and heterocultural) adoptions are forced by a lack of resources. It is absolutely shameful that parents who otherwise desire to raise their biological children feel forced to sell them for money, or give them up due to one-child policies, or give them to someone else who has the resources to raise a child. Harkening back to one of those feminist issues that just won’t seem to go away: Empowering care is a human right disgracefully neglected on national and international levels.

I followed up that article with Love and Loss, a column by the editor. The mother of a young transnational adoptive daughter, she wrote that she recently explained “It was the best thing that ever happened to Mommy and Daddy. But it might not be that way for you.” Those comments don’t bother me. But the following sentence really, really does: “Adoption is about loss.”

In my own experience, adoption is a gain, the biggest gain of my life, not a loss. It followed a loss, certainly, but I don’t know that we can globalize that to every adoption, especially those within the U.S. In many cases you have women who choose not to have abortions, willing throughout their pregnancies to give a very big gift to a couple they’ve chosen. I can’t understand how to frame that as loss. I feel pain for others who must be reading this article and feeling similarly written out of the publication.

Taken in tandem, these articles seem to take the issue of transnational adoption and globalize it to all adoption. Because there are strong feminist critiques of the transnational adoption space, there must be feminist critiques for all adoptions. (Though this conclusion is only drawn in the editor’s column.) Of course adoption is a feminist issue, but one that is complicated and must be viewed from the experiences and positions of different women without allowing one to speak for all. That’s what feminism is supposed to do.

This piece was originally published in 2008 on a previous personal blog that is no longer available online. Rather than make edits I will acknowledge the consternation I feel while considering how much I have or have not grown as a writer during these past five years. There are also views stated that I would broaden today. Regardless I am publishing this piece now, as I realize that I may wish to write more about adoption and feminism and identity  from my new, present-day lens as a pregnant woman.


3 thoughts on “Is Adoption A Feminist Issue?

  1. Very interesting viewpoint. Did you have an adoptive mother, too? The wording on that was so unique I wasn’t sure what your situation was. The common thread I am reading today about adoption by adult adoptees seems to be the notion of loss (which of course there is loss), but I don’t read too much about gain (although I do hear that in person from my own children who were adopted). I like the idea of looking at adoption through a feminist lens, as well as other lenses, too.

  2. The author identifies herself as a woman with an adoptive father. What exactly does that mean? Is this a step-parent adoption? She says both of her parents are white like her. Does that mean she has remained with her original moither? All unclear from this article.

    Each of us has a personal perpsective, but there are also sociological observations and generalizations that are fair to make and are not negated by anectodal stroie tot he contrary. For instance, that any one idividual may have a great divorce experience does not negate that divorce is painful and costly in a multitude of ways.

    Ms. Matson is in over head discussing adoption. She has done little research into this subject. Parents are never forced to “sell” their children.

    Claiming to be a feminist, matson totally misses the boat by bekleiving the myth that women would be “willing throughout their pregnancies to give a very big gift to a couple they’ve chosen.” She tops this by thinking: “I can’t understand how to frame that as loss.”

    Again to use divorce as an anology, initiators of divorce are not immune from suffering loss and pain!

    I hope that Matson reads Somebody’s Children by Laura Briggs, Wake up Little Susie by Ricki Solinger, The Girls who Went Away by Ann Fessler, and Reverse Robinhoodism by Riben and Wright.

  3. Another good read: Adoption is a Feminist Issue by Shannon Cate

    “Adoption is most certainly a feminist issue.

    “The main reason I see it this way is because of the way adoption pits women against each other, lining them up in race and class and other categories that give or deny privilege (marital status, education level, age…), and asking them to be divided–and thus conquered. Adoption as it has been practiced in the last century in the U.S. has made mothering a zero-sum game in which some mothers are worthy, some are not and There Can Be Only One. I have argued on this blog and elsewhere that this notion of motherhood being such an iconoclastic and unitary thing allows for the demonizing/cannonizing dichotomy that hurts all women, even the ones it seems to be raising to sainthood. Because if there’s a pedestal, held up by broken and unworthy women below, the woman standing on it has to watch her every move or she risks falling right off and into the fray at any and every moment.”

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