Double Dipping: Why We Return to the Adoption River
“Double Dipper.” That’s a phrase I encountered once on an another adult adoptee’s blog in reference to people like me who have more than one connection to adoption; specifically, adoptees who adopt, adoptees who place, and first parents who later adopt. It was not intended as a compliment.
My particular category, adoptees who adopt, must seem incomprehensible to some adult adoptees and first parents. I am not someone who holds a roses-and-sunshine view of adoption. I have experienced the pain of adoption from my own side of things, and I am not blind to the pain on the first family side of the equation. I see the need for reform in all areas of adoption. I believe that family preservation should be a higher societal priority than it currently is. So, what would possess someone like me to affiliate myself with an institution I criticize?
I can tell you that I was drawn to adoption in part because of these things, because I believed my awareness would make me a better adoptive parent than those of the past who held an oversimplified view. I could justify myself by explaining how my position as an adoptive parent is different than that of my parents, because I adopted from foster care or because of our high level of openness. I could tell you the story of babies floating down the river. If you are standing by a river and you see babies floating down it, you have two choices: you can start pulling babies out or you can go upstream and find out who is throwing the babies in. Both are important and necessary. My daughter was in the river and I pulled her out. But that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to stop whatever is happening upstream. I look at the work my daughter’s biological mother and her colleagues are doing through Fresh Start — that’s upstream work, keeping kids out of the system, and I enthusiastically applaud it. My long-term life goal is to play a more active role in the upstream work.
I could tell you these things and they would be my truth, but not the whole truth. Like many parents, adoptive and otherwise, I was drawn to parenting by reasons that were both selfless and selfish. My husband often speaks of “nachas”; that’s a Yiddish word for the special pride that a parent feels in the child’s accomplishments. It’s a big part of the payback of parenting. Yes, I admit, I wanted nachas. I’d had a hit of it from my first daughter, and I wanted more. I looked at our family of three, and it was beautiful, but something, or someone, seemed to be missing. So I went looking for that missing child. Did I have a desire to contribute to the well-being of another? Yes. Did I believe that adopting an older child from foster care was a means to do so? Yes. Isn’t that in itself a selfish end? Doesn’t all altruism have a self-serving purpose, if we pursue it to feel good about ourselves? Perhaps. But what, really, is the alternative? In any case, I admit that I didn’t adopt solely to contribute to my adoptive daughter’s well-being; I did it also to contribute to my well-being and that of my husband and older daughter. Adopting from foster care doesn’t make me some kind of hero; I get more than I give.
For me, there may have been an additional “selfish” motivation … one I wasn’t conscious of at the time but struck me later. I am not unaware that I have, in a sense, recreated the family I grew up in: one biological child and one adopted one. Did I adopt to fulfill some some psychological need in myself? Did I need to become an adoptive parent to understand that my mother really did mean what she said when she told me she loved me just as much as my brother?
I understand that she was right about love.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
These words by Elizabeth Barrett Browning were written for a lover, but seem applicable to the love of a parent for a child. Whichever way the child comes to you, that love cracks you open and leaves you raw and vulnerable.
But as much as I love my family — and I love my family … everything about it, including the inclusion of my daughter’s biological mother and brothers — I stand in the awareness that, in a perfect world, my family wouldn’t exist. Not in its current shape. In a perfect world, children would have all of their needs met in the families they were born into and would never have to suffer the trauma of separation. It’s a strange position to occupy … and it’s the price I pay for being a “double dipper.”