Friday, April 24, 2009

Adoption in Another Language

My parents are friends with a young Indian couple. Due to a strange set of circumstances, my parents have kind of adopted them, become their parents in the United States. They knew the husband first and were invited to his wedding in India, and when his real parents visit Wisconsin, my parents are always invited for a dinner of thanks.

So anyway, after about a year of marriage, the wife became pregnant. With twins. This frightened her a bit as she didn't know if she'd be able to withstand the physical demands of a multiples pregnancy and then the physical, emotional, and financial demands of two babies. Her worries were for naught. The pregnancy progressed normally and when the two baby girls were born, the husband's parents came to help out and ended up staying for six months. When they left, they took one of the twins with them.

Apparently the grandmother had grown so close to the children she became distraught when she had to leave. To ease her pain, the young couple gave the parents one of their daughters. They said it would be temporary. Until Christmas. Four months later. But Christmas has come and gone and the baby remains in India. Away from her parents and her twin sister. And believe it or not, everybody is okay with the arrangement. In fact, when Americans recoil in horror at the idea of splitting up twins, of not seeing your own child for months at a time and potentially years, the young Indian couple shrug their shoulders and wonder what is the big deal? They have told my parents that they think this is a good arrangement for everyone involved.

Now as we in our Kinky Gazpacho household are seriously considering adopting a wee little girl, this story makes me think. All day long I read heartbreaking stories about the pain of adoption, the demonization of birth mothers, and the definition of a true orphan who needs a home. Also, as I start to become that person who hopes that someone out there wants to relinquish their child for me to raise, I wonder if I would be able to relinquish my own child if the situation was reversed.

In adoption literature and I think in our society in general, giving up or losing a child is considered possibly the worst thing that could ever happen to a woman. And I'm not here to argue that point, only to wonder under what circumstances or which cultures is giving up your child not so dramatic? Or perhaps better stated, where and when is giving up your child understood to be a conceivable option?

It makes me think of the thousands of immigrant stories where women and men come to this country and leave their children behind to be raised by someone else, an aunt, a grandmother, a neighbor even. Yes, in some cases they eventually send for them, but in many they do not, because this life here wouldn't be right for their children. They chose to leave them behind. They chose to have somebody else raise them, with the idea that they were making the best decision for the child.

I also think of my time in Morocco, when I lived as an exchange student. My host mother had 11 children. She had her first at age 13. She literally gave one of her children to her mother to raise because her mother was lonely. They lived in the same city yes, but interestingly, the grandmother's standard of living was far lower then her daughter who had married well. So this given-up child didn't enjoy the "high life" that her sisters did. But she seemed okay with the way things had turned out. She simply considered herself her grandmother's child.

I hope I do not get slammed by women who have given up their children under duress or because of illness or poverty because obviously there is no greater horror that I can imagine. But I did want to open the discussion up about how we define "what's best for the child" and if that changes based on culture as it relates to letting someone else raise your child.

Can you think of any other culture that allows mothers to give up their children without reproach? Or where it is considered an option? The Israeli Kibbutz comes to mind, but I'm not sure that would qualify.




Alexandra Zealand said...

This is a really interesting question. My limited experience includes China, where grandparents in rural areas often raise their grandchildren, while the children's parents live and work in cities. But my Chinese sister in law has not chosen to do this, so I can't say from her experience what it would actually feel like to do so.

Ola said...

In some Caribbean countries you often find parents either sending their children over seas to be raised by relatives and so they can get a better education. Or in my case my grandmother raised me while my dad moved to Canada. Parents would simply move to another area of their own country so they could find better work.
I remember watching this documentary about a young Mexican couple who had to move to one of the border towns for work so they left their newborn child with the grandparents in a rural village.

I don't find this practice very strange at all but i would encourage parents to have a open dialog with their children. I understand lots of parents who may do this may feel very guilty and may not talk about it but being someone who has experienced this first hand open and honest dialog is key.

Its very interesting about the twins and i hope everything works out with that family.

Anonymous said...

I can talk to you for hours about this subject. Its very personal and dear to me.
I've adopted from Colombia. I've wrestled with all sorts of feelings. I'm the mindful sort. I'm pro mindful open adoption.

I think in western society mothers judge one another way too much.

Anyway if you want any information about adoption, international adoption, cross cultural adoption, please let me know.

missingpiece said...

While it seems unusual, or perhaps surprising for twins to be separated in such a way, I don't think it is unusual for children to be raised by extended family. In Canada, it is pretty common in the Caribbean community for a parent or parents to leave a child with grandparents while the parents work in Canada. Within the black community generally children have often been adopted by grandparents or other extended family members. Generally it seems hard to separate the practice from economics. I think this occurs in many, many cultures. Usually families do it in order to work, or to take over parenting when one or both parent couldn't or wouldn't. I think these intra-family 'adoptions' must be distinguished from adoptions in which a child is given away permanently and to strangers. A whole other set of issues surround the latter...

Anonymous said...


I have to admit that I uttered an audible gasp when I read that the grandparents took one of the twins back to India. I can't figure out how this arrangement is "best" for either of the children. Why, if the parents have the emotional and financial resources to properly care for her, should a child be separated from her parents and sibling(s)? Why is Grandmother's fondness for the child the deciding factor?

Wow! Your post has totally challenged my perception of myself as open-minded.


Melissa said...

I agree that we in the U.S. can be a bit judgmental regarding parenting and that we should all be more open-minded about defining "best interest of child" taking into account cultural differences. BUT it doesn't really seem like it was in the traveling twin's best interest - more Grandma's...
I know that in some Native American cultures (I want to say Cherokee but not positive I remember correctly) people will "share" children inter-generationally. So if one person has a lot of kids and another doesn't they might give one to them. And it's no big deal. They view themselves so much larger than the nuclear family...

LT said...


Thank you so much for posting. It is kind of mind-blowing to hear what other people consider acceptable in child-rearing. And obviously there is a difference if the person one is giving their child to is a member of the family. But still, the idea that the child would be in a different country perhaps and not seen by mom for years at a time, that's deep. But again, that's because WE don't do things that way. For other people, it's culturally acceptable and understood.

I am loving this discussion and still trying to get at this fundamental question. If you knew your child was going to be well cared for, and loved unconditionally, would you be able to give him to someone else to raise? Is that an ability that is natured or nurtured into us women?

belledi said...

The concept of family is so different in industrialized nations! We get our social security from the government while many others get it by having children to take care of them. Mother, father sister, brother are not such an isolated unit.

On a somewhat similar note, I do know that in Taiwan, mothers do not keep the children in a divorce: they go to the dad. I've been told this was also true when the US was more agrarian, dads needed the children to help work the farms! For many reasons, mothers around the world are separated from their children.

Anonymous said...

Again, I'm slow to comment for fear of judging. However, I have had a cousin and a few friends who were raised by their grandmothers. Even my husband stayed with an aunt when he was less than a year old for 6 or so months. Why? Limited money and limited resources on the part of the biological mother.

Could I let someone else take care of my child? Well for a short period of time I could. Nothing more than a few weeks. Then again I waited 3 years to bring my daughter home. I cannot superimpose my culture and situation on another.

In modern adoption, I actually haven't really got the feeling that birth mother's are demonized. Yes, sometimes, sadly, they are treated as a commodity instead of with compassion.

I'm wondering if you are battling more with your feelings toward a potential birth mother. We know intellectually that the each birth mother story is unique and generally that they want what is best for the child. But you as a mother all ready maybe having a hard time even thinking about letting go of one your children.

I think about my daughter’s birth mother often. I know very little about her because of the circumstances. But I do know a lot about and keep contact with my daughter’s foster mom. I believe that when Hilary Clinton said “it takes a village” she was on to something. I look to the foster mom to provide insight on Colombian culture and the 14 months that my daughter spent with her. I respect the bond established.

jstele said...

I think it's possible to have standards on what is good/bad parenting without being judgmental. Otherwise, how would one know what is good parenting? Just because a practice is accepted by a culture, does not make it right. For example, some families have their DAUGHTERS circumcised because that is what is expected of a "respectable" woman.

I think one should determine good/bad parenting by looking at it from the viewpoint of the child. How would the child feel growing up without their mother? I really think children should be raised by their parents when possible and in their best interest. Relatives can be a support or backup system, but it is better for the child to be raised by his/her parents. I think one should do as much as possible to ensure that they are the primary caregiver of their child. I don't think a mother or father's role is arbitrary. There are things that a child needs to get from a mother and father.

I think giving up one's child will always be a dramatic act. I don't see how someone could be blase or unperturbed about giving up their child. I don't know why it would be ideal for a culture to accept giving up one's child.

As long as the mother gave up the child willingly and the adoption process was fair and ethical, I don't think you need to worry.

momonasmom said...

What an interesting discussion. I think there is a difference between doing it for the sake of the child (better material resources, more of a chance in life in the city, abroad, with richer relatives, etc.) and doing it for the sake of the person who is being given the child.

The latter is quite common for example in Ethiopia and Eritrea (I refuse to generalise and say "in Africa"!) where I am from, especially in the case of childless couples. It is considered a gesture of empathy to give one's child to those without any, as well as being a profound statement of deference and goodwill - when giving your child away, you are saying 'I trust you with my most precious thing, I am too humble to question whether you will raise my child as I would". Of course, the nuclear-family-centric concept of child-rearing is also foreign in this context - the child is the responsibilty of the larger family anyway, and it is not considered a personal failing in any way, and certainly does not demonstrate a lack of 'heart' for the child.

My mother was one of 10 siblings. Her uncle, after several years of marriage, had no children. So my mother was 'given' to them to be raised in a city 1000km away. She later admitted to feeling disadvantaged (because she was raised as an only child, while her siblings had one another), and because her unce raised her very strictly (he had to - he had accepted a child from his brother and had to show he was worth the honour). But she never thought her parents loved her less than the children they kept.

The whole practice is an amazing example of how human people can be to one another. And yet, for those from different cultures, it can come across as cruel - mostly when viewed from the child's point of view, and mostly by cultures that see child raising as the (almost) sole responsibility of the mother.

Great blog!

City Mouse said...

I appreciate this fabulous discussion and relevant post. But I do take issue, Lori, with your repeated use (towards the end of the post) of the phrase "give up" for adoption. Not only is the language negative and potentially hurtful, it isn't the most precise, either. As with the example of the Indian couple, they have hardly "given up" their child, as she is being raised by extended family. Likewise, the multitude of forms an open adoption can take involve such fluid arrangements. "Make an adoption plan" or even "place for adoption" are much more appropriate phrases here.

Many thanks for your thoughtful blog!

Anonymous said...

Thank You, momonasmom. You said very beautiful what I wanted to say and with examples.

It seems very hard for many people to move beyond the cultural concepts of family. How we view family is very much a cultural contruct. And I should add that a wider idea of family is much different than say female circumcision. Nature is the suckling instinct, etc Nuture is everything else.

LT said...


I am so amazed and delighted by the conversation taking place here. Having this blog has been such a blessing. I learn so much from all of you who write in. I feel so lucky to benefit from all of your wisdom...and for free!

It is really amazing how different cultures look beyond the nuclear family when considering parenting practices. What we know as "correct" here is not the truth. It is very humbling. Thank you all for sharing your stories and experiences. And for correcting me on some of my erroneous assumptions and word choices. I do appreciate the lessons.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I was just noticing that you post a lot about adoption and wondering about that when I read that you are considering adopting a girl. I had missed that before! Now my ears are perked to hear more of the story.

I think if the adults are handling the relationships well without anger, resentment, pain, confusion, secrets, etc. then the children manage just fine absorbing all the love from different quarters. It's when the adults are messed up about it that it's so damaging.