Adoption: A viable option
By Katie Presley, Whitman College, Pioneer, October 15, 2008
Reading the LA Times today I came across a story about in vitro fertilization (IVF) that, like many others I’ve read, limited the scope of motherhood to women raising children they give birth to. The article profiles Gina Rathan, a woman who used IVF to conceive one of her children and gave birth to her second naturally. The focus of the story is actually what Rathan will decide to do with her unused and still frozen embryos, but what drew my attention took place before she even had frozen eggs to choose from.
Setting aside the myriad of political issues at the center of Rathan’s dilemma, this story pushes an incredibly popular agenda with the American pubic: ignore adoption unless celebrities do it, and valorize mothers who birth and raise their own children.
Popular culture is rife with examples of women who deem their lives incomplete prior to being pregnant and having babies. Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Lynn and Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Nicole Richie are all examples of celebrity mothers who have given recent interviews describing how parenting is the most important work they’ll ever do.
(Of course, this leads me to point out the double standard readily apparent in each other interviews mentioned above: very rarely do the father figures express the same one-track devotion to the cause that mothers do. Women, famous and mortal alike, are expected to take time off work to “focus on family.” This is time and focus men rarely seem to require.)
But back to Gina Rathan. She spoke in the Times about the “frustration and heartbreak” of her trouble getting pregnant for six years. This is a common thread of mainstream perceptions of infertility: Women get one shot at becoming mothers, and if they can’t have their own babies they’ve blown it. Becoming a parent to an orphan whose life depends on being adopted is never mentioned in Rathan’s story, or others like it. She could not get pregnant and felt her maternal window of opportunity slipping away.
Even in well-publicized celebrity adoption stories, Americans seem to maintain a thinly disguised prejudice against mothers who raise children they did not bear.
Angelina Jolie’s family is a prime example, and one rarely far from the front page of most gossip magazines. Prior to her partnership with Brad Pitt, her adoptions of non-white babies Maddox and Zahara were dismissed by the media and public as misplaced attempts at growing up and giving lip service to her new job as a UN ambassador. Once she and Pitt made a home together and naturally conceived some Caucasian babies of their own, however, the public embraced Jolie wholly as a selfless maternal figure. Glowing descriptions of her body during and post-pregnancy appeared constantly in magazines and newspapers. Questions veered from her films and activist work to her family life and not much else.
My mother brought home an issue of Vanity Fair which fell victim to all of these fawning trends and more. She cooed over the dozen or so pages aiming to get the best angle of Jolie’s pregnant belly and gorgeously engorged breasts. I reminded her that Angie was still gorgeous and radiant and well-endowed when she was only the mother to adopted ethnic babies.
What does all this attention lavished on Shiloh, Knox and Vivienne say about the other, adopted three? It says they did not properly satiate the American public’s need to see Jolie settle down and raise a family. Their presence alone did not make her a full-fledged mother. It says their racial backgrounds and obscure foreign births rendered them worth less than the 14 million dollar price tag placed on first pictures of the twins.
Adopting, particularly children of color by white parents, is consistently ignored or downplayed as an alternative way to start a family. Raising ethnically diverse children from impoverished nations begs too many tricky confrontations of racist imperialist American thought to be accepted by the mainstream, although Third World countries have astronomical numbers of children growing up in orphanages waiting to be adopted.
The effects of overpopulation on the earth are crippling, but women are still being pressured to have their own children. The French government has in the past offered monetary compensation to women giving birth and keeping a “French identity” alive. When faced with the reality of infertility, women like Gina Rathan turn first to invasive IVF procedures before they consider adopting. Had she not been able to conceive, Rathan’s chances to be a mother would not have been eliminated. She, and the larger American public, simply need to broaden ideas of what families in this country look like, and who’s allowed into them.