Adoption as a Solution to Overpopulation

My daughter has asked me for assistance, and I thought it would be good to ask the community here:

It seems that in every era since International Adoption became a thing, that it’s become a consideration for family planning, especially among the socially conscientious.  Today it’s become the defacto solution for those who are interested in starting a family yet concerned about overpopulation.  It is quickly introduced with little thought about its genesis, and most issues surrounding adoption — especially regarding the child’s perspective and emotional well-being — are dismissed as due to parental failure; and of course idealistic potential parents’ awareness and sensitivity would trump any issues.  If issues are acknowledged at all, there seems to be an awareness of only the most stark or sensational; while the general population doesn’t stop to consider present day class issues, colonial legacy, geo-political, social injustice, etc. issues that create orphans.  And those who might be well-versed and sympathetic to gender dysphoria and other gender identity issues have very little understanding or sympathy for adoptee identity issues, etc., etc.

She knows that this is a complicated subject, but how can its complexity be introduced to  those seeking to better the world?  Nobody likes to think of their good intentions as savior fantasies, sometimes adoption is a good thing, and yet often it is at somebody’s expense: born of trauma that is hard to address it is like a many-headed mythical hydra.  There is only one popular narrative that seems to dominate discussions,  and that narrative is driven by desire.  We are concerned about limited resources and contributing to a more sustainable planet, we are concerned about children having to grow up in institutions, and we should be more concerned about the definition of family and reproductive choices being a reflection of a just society and we are not convinced adoption is the the best solution to all those things. How can we separate the idea of orphans (not babies) in institutions from the transferring of the relinquished babies from one mother to different parents? How can we introduce the humanity of the mother with empty arms? How can she move the discussion into something that is more thoughtful and nuanced?  So her friends can make more educated decisions?

She asked me for something succinct or digestible that would be enlightening, like an adoption 101.  Any help appreciated.

Thank you!


6 thoughts on “Adoption as a Solution to Overpopulation

  1. She’s asking the impossible! Nothing as complex as adoption with it’s many facets could be reduced to anything but a very large book. To suggest anything else is to diminish it’s many aspects and the unique individuality of the experiences of adoptees. Covering the economics, the politics, the psychological, the ethics, the history, the solutions would each take a volume for starters. Too big an ask and somewhat naïve sadly. Good luck with it!

  2. I don’t know how we can change an entire culture’s perception of adoption. I think about it a lot. The adoption industry has spent millions of dollars promoting adoption.

    It would take millions of dollars to change minds!

  3. I believe that the biggest issue, the elephant in the room that no one discusses (perhaps its as invisible as we think!), is the fact that all three groups, the adoptee, the birthparents, and the adoptive parents are actively kept at bay from one another. By institutions, NGOs, and lawyers that separate the adoptive parents from the birthparents, keeping them hidden behind a veil. These people aren’t necessarily protecting the child’s interest, they are a screen to what is really happening in the real world.

    I have a friend who adopted a child from Guatemala. She has worked in that country for years, is very familiar with the poverty, the lack of resources, and in many ways, the destitution of not just families, but communities as well. Resource extraction and it’s destructive way of doing business has changed the cultures in too many countries around the globe. My friend was not able to have a child, therefore she opted for adoption; she would be able to have the family she’d always envisioned while, at the same time, providing a life of opportunities for a child in need; a win/win situation. Except that the lawyer who handled her adoption wasn’t forthright in what was really happening in this family seeking ways to sustain their lives; they wanted money – enough for food, for housing, for clothing, all the things now required by the Western world because the Western world has established a capitalistic economy; a subsistence economy no longer is viable. Everything costs. She was told that the family couldn’t afford to keep this 10th child (perhaps brought about by religious doctrine of unimpeded conception?) and the child was available. This beautiful little girl is amazing, and there is not one day that goes by that my friend doesn’t fully appreciate how blessed she is with this child. Except, in the meantime, she’s begun to research how adoptions are handled in Guatemala, how lies are created, established, and maintained. She’s wondered the part she unknowingly played, misled by someone who knows better. “I feel sick to my stomach if I think too much about it,” she told me one day. She doesn’t know what to do, how best to handle a situation that had become ugly through someone else’s mask.

    Contrast that with the story of Godula Kosack,(Cross-Cultural Approaches to Adoption, ed. Fiona Bowie, 2004, Routledge Press, pp. 21-29), an anthropologist who adopted a child from the village in which she worked. The mother had died giving birth prematurely. The female elder of the village made it clear, if Dr. Kosack didn’t take the child it would die. She agreed only if the patrilineage gave unanimous consent, which it did. The child was raised in Switzerland, but the village never forgot, asking the child to come home for her naming ceremony, for feasts, for important village rituals. The village “adopted” Kosack, and the child, she emphasizes, was adopted ‘through’ her, not ‘by’ her. The kin network remained intact. The child can return anytime, having become familiar with the village and her relatives within it.

    The messages between these two adoption events differs in very specific levels. That difference becomes clear when a child is ‘gifted’, is physically handed, from birth mother to adoptive mother. There are at least two important unsaid statements with this action, “I trust you to raise this child in the ways that will benefit the child most”, and “I know who you are if you aren’t doing that.” There are all kinds of options where the child benefits, as do the families involved, but none of them occur when middle-persons interrupt and guide the communications; when parties are divided and kept divided, in the dark from one another.

    However, when I bring this option of ‘gifting’ up, it’s amazing how defensive many adoptive parents become. And it’s amazing how quickly people on all sides of the equation begin criticizing without stopping to think about it, ponder it, imagine in. Nothing happens without imagination. We need to be creative, we need to embrace one another and acknowledge our strengths and challenges. But most importantly, we need to have broader conversations that actively involve all parties, with one another, not through an intermediary.

  4. So many elephants in the room, actually. The over-population argument is an old canard that is only problematic in terms of rabid capitalism. I’m not sure why the answer is to take others’ children, instead of, say, reducing one’s own proportional consumption across the board, not just in terms of superficial “acts”, such as recycling or what have you. Because in terms of this consumption, the “wretched refuse” of the planet is much more “ecologically minded” than the so-called First World. And it has been proven that it should be possible to feed the whole planet. This brings us to the pyromaniac firefighters spraying gasoline on their own conflagration metaphor that I also trot out pretty often.

    The other elephant is the fact that as societies become more egalitarian, and the pressures to make sure there is progeny lessen because the child mortality rate diminishes, the birth rate goes down of its own accord. There’s yet another elephant lurking behind the curtain, which is that of the rather racist insinuation concerning the “super-fecundity” of the non-white peoples of the planet. This has been debunked (in terms of the Arab world, at least) by Emmanuel Todd in Le Rendez-vous des civilisations. This should be called out whenever the overpopulation argument presents itself.

    This desire is usually presented to me by self-described “liberals” or “progressives”. When I explain that in fact it is quite regressive in its limited thinking, as well as what it maps onto historically speaking, I’m met with the defense mechanisms described above, or stunned silence. But later many friends and acquaintances have thanked me for being frank with them. Or, as one friend puts it, “thank you for forever ruining adoption for me”. It disturbs me a little bit when we start to hedge our bets, because similar discussions were held concerning slavery. Meaning, the status quo support of slavery had not yet been challenged enough to speak of it other than “just being”.

    I think we are in the same place concerning adoption, which, we know, stems from indentured servitude. I don’t feel the need to bring all of the groups mentioned above together to discuss *adoption as family creation*. I would like to bring them all together to discuss viable alternatives (including the anthropological case above of what is communal/foster care in many cultures) that also, also, are critical in terms of self-awareness. I’m not sure why we need be nuanced here. We need a two-way street that such discussions would open up, but only if they are prepared to be painfully self-critical.

    I think this should be our goal: ruining adoption for everyone. Maybe then at long last we’ll start moving forward.

    • Daniel, I do not agree with you that adoption stems from indentured servitude. In some cultures, it certainly has. In Asian cultures it was a way to pay back a bride price, or other large sum of value. However, in many others it was a way to ensure all children have access to basic needs. More importantly it was a way to extend a kin network for alliances. It was a way for older people to enjoy grandchildren they never had, it was a way for women to not feel shame at not being awesome mothers; it was an open communication. It was a way to move children around and make them aware they are a part of a whole. In traditional Native culture children were regularly moved around within extended kin networks as parents worked, or for whatever reason, couldn’t be there to do that. With the destruction of the culture, however, that went by the wayside as poverty and dysfunction affects too many now.

      I don’t think it’s a good thing to “ruin adoption”, because there are circumstances for which it is required if the child is not only to survive, but thrive. It’s very easy to sit from where we are in this 1st world and criticize an action, a choice. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Adoption is not going away. It does, however, need intensely to evolve.

      • I agree with you 100%. It’s at these moments when I realize I have to very carefully define my terms. In my more recent research I’ve been looking at the anthropological aspects of adoption practice, and I’m starting to make reference to what you describe: “kinship practices”. These are often rather informal and they are, of course, vital to a community. When I say “adoption”, I should really say “historical Anglo-Saxon adoption practice”. This, on the other hand, is based in notions of children as property, and the mapping onto indentured servitude and slavery is valid I think. Communities taking care of their children—as with foster care, or the kinship practices you describe—I support this absolutely. This notion has also been the backbone of my writing concerning adoption and Islam, which speaks in a similar communal way concerning those weakest members of society. All of these terms mean different things to me, and I apologize if it seems I was conflating them, or painting with a very wide brush!! Points well taken. Which maybe changes what I implied: By “ruining adoption”, I mean to say ruin the idea that it is valid to rupture communal ties, lineage, or otherwise engage in practices of displacement, dispossession, or disinheritance. This individualization I think is what is functional to the “destruction of the culture” that you allude to, and should be challenged. Just more specifically!

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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