Archive for February, 2007

I exaggerate for effect a lot on this blog, so when I implied that I get no break from child care I was leaving out the fact that Attic Man is an incredibly involved father. He does everything a non-lactating parent who works outside the home can do, and thanks to him I do get to use the bathroom or blog or eat dinner with two hands quite often. He is hands-down the best father I know.

My intent with the post on becoming re-radicalized was not that I personally have an awful life, but that the challenging aspects of it make me realize how far we have to go before women get some justice.


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What’s Real


The Snapper wearing his baptismal bonnet, which was made from his grandmother’s wedding dress.

As promised, I’ve read the Stevens article. I still like its critique of our societal bias towards ‘genetic’ families based on DNA and its insistence that most families these days don’t follow the ideal genetic model anyway. It’s important for families that are defined in ways other than this model would prescribe (heterosexual couple, mated for life, giving birth to and raising children) begin to receive recognition as families based on other criteria. Her best point, I think, is one borrowed from Judith Butler and applied to her own line of inquiry: when we try to legitimize other family formations based on the same principles as the original with a few mutations and don’t take into account qualitative differences, we merely re-inscribe and fortify the original. It’s the Will-and-Grace model of difference, and it allows us to avoid radically re-evaluating the very foundations of our culture.

I have to take her to task on a few points, though, and I think it takes us back to the relationship between theory and pragmatics that has created such as lively discussion in the comments here. What Stevens calls for is a recognition of how shaky the genetic argument is from a scientific perspective in the first place. She argues that despite the fact that the sex act is only performed by two people, the DNA of generations of people comes into play when an embryo begins to develop. In this sense, if a baby turns out to have more attributes of Aunt Betty than her mother, following the genetic argument, Aunt Betty should be her mother. Which is ridiculous, of course, but it makes Stevens’ point.

The problem with the discussion that follows is that it does not recognize that although genetic ties don’t really make a family, DNA and genetic origin matters very much to individual people and to (Western, American) society as a whole. It’s a lot like matters of race: no matter how fictional race is scientifically, it is very real socially. It’s important to bring science into the argument but you can’t throw out social truths; the two are not mutually exclusive but work together in a pretty complex way. As much as Stevens may like, we cannot pretend as if genetic connections don’t matter to people.

Social ideas about genetics and family extend well beyond maternity and paternity, too, so maybe the fact that your baby takes after Aunt Betty is important after all. Lots of adoptees want to find extended family members, too. Then there is the question of the sex act. Stevens wants to downplay its importance, but if we look at it as part of the history of a person rather than a moment that absolutely determines the parameters of family we can understand how it is important to a lot of people. I have to include myself in this group. It’s important to know that my parents intended to have another child when they conceived me, that they planned me, and that they loved each other when I came into being. There’s really no genetic explanation for this history; genetics are coincidental to it. Other histories are possible, too, and multiple ones. An adoptee might have the story of how his or her adoptive parents loved one another, filled out forms, agonized over agencies, waited breathlessly for a call; and hopefully also a conception and gestation story with its own unique truths. The adoption story is not THE ‘real’ story, and neither is the conception story. They’re both real. And even though genetic details are coincidental, they are stories, too: whose eyes do I have? why do I snort when I laugh? We are a culture based on narrative, and whether or not these narratives are based on scientific realities we use them to create meaning and coherence. I’d rather see us multiply the narratives rather than destroy some to make others.

As for Stevens’ recommendations, I still like them pretty much. I was reminded of just what bothered me about them, though, when I read this comment on the “One Flesh” post below, in which I wonder if first mothers have more choice over how long to parent before they place:

I’ve read your previous post and this one with interest, and I was wondering if you realize that you are proposing a “solution” to the birth mother’s situation which is objectively harmful to the baby. Infants grieve when separated from caregivers, so what you are basically saying is “let’s allow this baby to form a strong attachment to his mother before she gives him up forever.” Children need permanency, and that need supercedes any other need on the part of the adoptive or birth parents. That is not to say that the decision you make at birth is irrevocable. Chlidren can be reliquished for adoption at any point. But having a baby isn’t like moving in with someone to see if you might want to get married. The child only gets one shot at life, and only one shot at infancy. Babies who experience interruptions in their attachments also experience interruptions in their development. In some cases, this can even lead to RAD.

Now I don’t know much about RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) but I do know something about child development and it suggests a placement at three months would be considerably more damaging to a child than one at birth. Right now the Snapper knows very well who I am. He’ll be held and play with someone else but after a few minutes he scans the room for my face, or will turn toward my voice. ..But I am wondering if it would actually be better at three months, because the separation would be conscious and therefore easier to process…but pre-language and therefore still hard to process…and I don’t know but I do know that Stevens isn’t taking any of it into account. The needs of the baby don’t have to be her focus but they should at least show up on her radar screen.

So ultimately she provides us with some interesting theoretical tools but there’s a lot to be fleshed out.

**This post brought to you be one throw pillow, one boppy, and a forty-five degree abdominal angle. Hands-free nursing is grand but it sure takes a lot of ingenuity to get there.**

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Ok, ok…so most of you have a life that is as busy or probably more than mine…you have jobs outside the home, more than one child (some with particular challenges), classes, volunteer work, etc., so the following is going to sound kind of whiny. On the other hand, I feel compelled to let myself complain, because I have always maintained that no one should ever work a 24-hour, 7 day-a-week job with not so much as a lunch break. This is what we ask women (and occasionally men) to do when we have a system without universal childcare, when we live in isolated homes without a sense of community, when our workplaces do not allow for the needs of the family (including the needs of working fathers who are often the sole support of a caregiver and children at home), when housework and childcare is not financially compensated and barely acknowledged. Understand that I’m not asking for pity–maybe sympathy, comraderie, and support–but trying to understand my experience as a stay-at-home mother/student attempting mostly unsuccessfully to balance my responsibilities as a parent, the running of a household, and the demands of graduate education. I also feel guilty about not reading more than a paragraph of that article.

So–here is my daily schedule, roughly:

7-8 Rise and nurse.

8-9 Shower, dress, and breakfast while the Snapper wiggles and babbles in his swing. Attend to the Snapper when he asks for social interaction, which is often.

9-10 Nurse. He’s too big now to nurse with one hand and do other things, so the best I can hope for is to watch something good on Link TV or catch up on my stack of pleasure reading. Schoolwork is more challenging because I can’t underline or take notes. If anybody has suggestions, I’m all ears.

10-10:15 Put the Snapper in the wrap and force a nap. He will absolutely not nap during the day unless I compel him to. If he doesn’t nap he gets cranky and miserable and everyone is unhappy.

10:15-12 Do dishes from night before. Start laundry. Catch up with checkbook, pay bills, general cleaning, prepare and eat lunch.

12-1 Nurse. Attic Man comes home to eat and take the dogs out. We are fortunate that he lives close enough to do this.

The afternoon isn’t as structured, but I try to get him to take another nap if I can. Things start to unravel as I try to finish the laundry–hard when trying to time it just right to coincide with the end of a nursing session–and realize that the kitchen will never, ever be clean. I am not a perfectionist about the house. I just want to have a clean glass to drink out of once in a while. The afternoon sees 2-3 nursing sessions of 40 minutes to an hour each. I find myself making ridiculous choices: should I do another load of dishes or have a snack? Take a walk or finally put on makeup? Read an essay or read to the Snapper?

4:45-7 Attic Man arrives home. He works out or puts the Snapper in a carrier so I can. On a good night, make a good dinner. On some nights, nurse again.

7-8:30, 9:30, or even 10 Nurse. I am not kidding. We have been trying to settle him earlier in the evening but he seems to want to nurse for 2 hours straight every night, one hour each side. The idea of having Attic Man take him in the evening so I can work isn’t working out. He will just scream and become over-tired and miserable. He needs to nurse and be held all evening, and guess who is the only one who can do that? I really wish men could lactate.

Wake up once or twice during the night to nurse, an hour at a time. If I can’t keep him awake to nurse for the whole hour he will be up 1 1/2 hours later for more.

So I am nursing anywhere from 8-10 hours a day, running a household (Attic Man does a lot but he’s working full-time and finishing up a Masters thesis), and trying to write a dissertation. I didn’t know that my child would nurse so much–the books all say he should be more efficient now, but he isn’t–or that some days I would have to choose between showering and eating.

I am actually quite happy. I love being a parent–it’s extremely rewarding and a wonderful challenge. I just would like to be able to have a more balanced life. I don’t want magazines telling me that I should meditate and have a positive attitude and accept my circumstances, blah, blah, blah. I do all that. But there’s a difference between working with what life gives you and resigning yourself to it because it’s a ‘personal’ problem. This isn’t personal–it’s intensely societal. I am an incredibly fortunate woman to be doing all this with a partner who is supporting me financially and otherwise, to have healthcare, to have a great extended family, and to have had such incredible opportunities educationally, but even I am struggling.

Something just ain’t right.

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I know this is only a blog, and is not automatically subject to the rules of sound intellectual discourse, but dang it all if I haven’t gone and been irresponsible anyway. Your comments were interesting and thought-provoking despite that fact, and they woke me up to the fact that I made several errors (what is a blog if not an opportunity for public self-examination?).

First, I have reduced the arguments that Abebech and Kohana have made about adoption as theoretically second-best to biologically-based family structures, and in doing so, have greatly distorted them. I direct you here to comments Abebech has made on the subject, and if you read them you can see that, as she mentioned below, the second-best frame of mind is mainly a tool for helping her raise her daughter in an awareness of her needs as a trans-racial/cultural adoptee and in acknowlegement of the losses therein.

Second, I didn’t read Stevens’ article. This is utterly indefensible. If I were my student I’d hand out a big fat F. Or give a lecture during the next class about evaluating sources oneself. For shame!

Third, I didn’t spend enough time on the post–I wrote it quickly and didn’t review it before hitting publish. Heck, I didn’t even finish the post. What I wanted to articulate, but didn’t because I had to go nurse and hit publish instead of save, is an uneasiness with both theoretical positions. All I managed to do was talk about the good points of one. I didn’t get a chance to critique it or talk in any kind of meaningful way about the other.

As if, of course, it’s an either-or proposition, and that’s what I want to say in response to the comments below. I wholeheartedly accept Shannon’s defense of theoretical thinking. Theories are not meant to be translated into praxis automatically. They’re meant to challenge the frameworks by which we live, usually unconsiously, and to allow us to imagine new possibilities. Both Stevens’ imaginings and the perfect world line of thought do that. The question becomes, then, which theories best help us (not direct us) to behave ethically and responsibly in the world? And that’s what I am trying to discuss and have failed utterly to do. Of course we needn’t take an all-or-nothing approach; it’s possible to shop a la carte. I see incredible value in both the perfect world theory and Stevens’ Brave New World of Adoption. We should be asking how Stevens and Kohana and Abebech can enlighten, stretch, challenge, and even shame us, and then how that enlightenment can serve to point us in new directions. Lord knows the direction adoption has been headed for the past 40 years at least in this country needs some re-adjustment, to say the least.

So let’s keep talking. But let’s ALL read the Stevens article, shall we (excuse me while I go do that…)? And let’s talk about theories as tools, not as dogma.

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Perfect World

The Snapper slept like a champ last night–seven hours at the first stretch, four at the second, and as a result got up an hour later than usual.  It messed with his feeding schedule just enough to eliminate one of his morning feedings and voila!  I have a few minutes to write.  The dishes are done, the laundry’s started, and the baby is asleep in the wrap.

I read Shannon’s most recent post with great interest and enthusiasm.  A while ago she and I exchanged a few emails about the ‘perfect world’ theory of adoption (adoption would not exist in a perfect world; an adoptive family is at the very least the third best option for a child, and in transracial situations fourth or fifth).  While I’m incredibly sensitive to the losses of first parents and adoptees, I am uncomfortable with how this argument privileges biology over the, for lack of a better term, chosen-ness of families.  The Snapper is automatically mine by virtue of biology (legally speaking) but the choices I make every day are what ultimately make me a parent.  This is not to say, on the other hand, that I would cease to be his mother if I were to place him.

I like Stevens’ alternative universe in which mothers choose who will parent their children. (if you haven’t read Shannon’s post go do that now or this will make no sense)  I like that the mother’s right to choose the path for her children is based on the labor of carrying and birthing them, not the sharing of genetic material.  The best part of her plan, though, is universal health and childcare.  All at once many economic reasons for placement are eliminated and many more mothers can be confident in their ability to raise their children.  It leaves room for placement based on other reasons, but always on the mother’s terms.

The capitalist-hater in me is thrilled to see an alternative to a market-based adoption system.  I just don’t trust any organization whose bottom line is, well, the bottom line; no matter how ethical the agency is, it is responsible for making money (even non-profits have to pay salaries), and that money comes largely from adoptive families.  There is necessarily, structurally, an imbalance of power to the detriment of first families and the potential for coercion is always there, sometimes invisibly.

When I first read Shannon’s post (I haven’t read the article, so I may be in error here) I noticed it was conspicuously devoid of any references to the losses incurred in adoptions and the physical and psychological connections between mothers and their children.  But I think that Stevens’ arguments allow for those things even if she doesn’t mention them.  First of all, placement would, I’m guessing, be far less common in her world.  Second, the greatly reduced potential for coercion would result in truly informed, freely made placement decisions in which the mother’s losses would not be ignored or glossed over.

Frankly, I don’t know how helpful it is to say that adoption would not exist in a perfect world because we don’t have one and never will.  If it makes people work to bring us to closer to it, fine.  But mostly I think it is meant as a way to honor and respect first families.  I think that we can offer that respect without making an argument that is biased toward biology, which is especially important when recognizing the legitimacy of queer families.

I’m still struggling with the racial aspects of the ‘perfect world’ theory.  Abebech and Kohana, both white women, have spoken of their families as the fifth-best options for their children of color.  Are white families necessarily not as good purely by virtue of their race?  I hesitate to make such a claim, particularly because it is not possible to generalize across families.  All things being equal…maybe.  But is it ever really equal?  For sake of argument, say a black family and white family are hoping to adopt the same child.  They have similar incomes, have strong parenting skills, good connections to people of color in the community, a stable home, etc.  Suppose, though, that the child is spirited and would do best with parents who are either spirited themselves or who are skilled at providing the right structure and encouragement for that child.  Or maybe she is artistic and one set of parents, regardless of race, is gifted themselves and can provide the best environment for a budding artist.  Obviously no one knows these things in a domestic infant situation and even if they did I’d never suggest that an adoption situation be based on such criteria.  A family without an artistic background could be fine parents to a child with those abilities–it would just take a bit more work.

Race is more serious that personality, matching, sure.  But the point I’m trying to make is that it’s not the only aspect of the child’s life and it’s impossible to say across the board that a black family is best for a black child.  Where I become a hypocrite, though, is when I say that transracially adopted kids of color should live in places where they will see other faces like theirs, especially in positions of power.  Am I saying that white neighborhoods are subpar for black children just because they are white?

–gotta nurse–more later–tell me what you think–

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Since our switch over to a major dish TV service, I’ve been enjoying the truly non-commercial (PBS’s corporate ‘sponsors’ are now fully in the advertising game) Link TV. I appreciate getting more than two or three perspectives on foreign events, particularly in its Middle East segment (“Mosaic”) which features snips of news broadcasts from places like Dubai, Jerusalem, and Qatar. I like that the Snapper will grow up hearing other languages spoken and have parents who are aware of happenings outside their own spheres. At the very least it’s something interesting to watch for the 3 a.m. feeding. I like the sense of decentralization it creates–or should create–for American viewers like me who are used to seeing foreign news, music, and cultural issues filtered through American news outlets. I like the feeling of being one among many instead of The One over many.

It’s good, too, to be thinking again. I don’t know whether it’s the baby, the isolation, or my distance from the halls of learning, but I’m getting stupid. I hardly know how to speak a coherent and intelligent sentence, let alone write one. I find myself falling prey to maxims I’ve been taught to suspect and undermine. I’m thinking I should look for some informal group of dissertating students at the U of I just to start having academic conversations again. At this rate, if I don’t do something, my dissertation will read like this: Mid-century Irish poetry is cool! You should read it! It’s as important as other poetry! Right now this is all I have to say, despite having read several very good books. So I need to get back in the game, mentally.


Dawn asked if my recent birth experience had caused me to re-evaluate the situation with not-Boomer. I don’t mind answering this question in the least. It’s been on my mind constantly almost since the Snapper was conceived. Attic Man and I have been talking about it recently because not-Boomer turned one year old today, which means it’s also been a year since we (kinda) lost him.

A year ago I wrote this: ” we are sad/angry not just because we thought this was going to be our kid, but because from our vantage point Daisy made the wrong decision for herself, her new child, her children at home, and her siblings. That being said, we respect the right she has to choose whether or not to place. She has information we don’t, so we can’t really sit in judgment. But we can disagree. I want to be happy for her—-if I thought everyone was going to come out of this alright I would be.” And I have to say I still feel this way, but with less sting. It simply doesn’t matter what we think she should have done. As a woman, I have chosen to accept her mother-wisdom. If I didn’t I’d be consumed with worry about not-Boomer, and being a new mother myself I just can’t live that way. All day everyday I have to push thoughts of terrible things happening to my child; I learned how to perform that mental trick last year. I’m not assuming that by virtue of Daisy’s situation terrible things did or will happen to not-Boomer. It’s that everything is out of my knowledge and control, which is usually where my imagination steps in.

What is different, I think, is my level of empathy. I have a better sense of what she might have gone through and a thousand percent better idea of why she ultimately did not place. It takes incredible strength just to birth a baby. But to give one up? My labor pain pales in comparison. I’m not saying of course that she decided not to place because it hurt too much. She may have decided that it was better for him never to be separated from his mother. And her situation may have changed. I’ll never know. So I can’t sit in judgment and even if I had an idea of her thought process I couldn’t then.

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