The moment I understood
I was reminded today of a moment while signing my adoption paperwork that I had forgotten about.
I was in the hospital on my second day there, I had insisted J was placed with M&P directly from the hospital, I didn’t want him in cradle care (the explanation of my feelings on this is another post for another time). So in order to have a notary there I had to sign TPR on Friday (I was released on Saturday).
They were going through all the different pieces of paperwork that I needed to sign, what they all said. They spanned the range – saying I wasn’t Native American, one saying what our open adoption agreement was going forward, the actual TPR among others. In general it was a blur of pieces of paper all with lots of words on them, and I calmly signed them all.
Then one of the last pieces of paperwork my social worker had was in her hands and I suddenly was paying extra attention, maybe the way she was sitting or her tone of voice, but I knew I should listen a little harder. The next explanation of what that piece of paper was became hard for me to follow. She said since the adoption for M&P wouldn’t be finalized until 6 months to a year that there was a possibility that something could happen to M&P prior to that. As I heard this I thought “she is going to ask me if I want the chance to get him back, that if in six months M&P died that they would offer me my son back”. That of course wasn’t what they were asking, I was signing away all rights to raise my child regardless of what happened to him or his family. I knew this, but at that moment I realized I didn’t KNOW it, I hadn’t really taken it in, I didn’t actually believe it.
What my social worker was actually asking me is if M&P were no longer able to be parents before the time J’s adoption was finalized, if I wanted to participate in the process to decide who would be his parents – to be the one to pick another family out of the prospective couple book at my agency. At that moment it started to sink in. Signing TPR didn’t make M&P J’s parents, it just severed legal ties between J and I. And although I was given the chance to choose who to parent J, my choice had no legal ramifications – if my agency had just decided to place with a different couple I’m pretty sure they could have (legally). She was asking me if I cared about picking another family if M&P couldn’t adopt J, and as I talked to her about it I wondered how often other birth mothers were asked this, does my agency always ask, do other agencies? For me it was the utmost importance, if I was only able to make a couple decisions for my son as his Mother, one of them was going to be what happened to him, who raised him. But apparently this isn’t something that is always felt, sometimes women signing these papers choose not to ask for this, and my guess is sometimes the question isn’t even asked because facing destroys this idea that you giving your child to a family.
This idea that an expectant mother choosing adoption is giving a child to a family is a dangerous one because at it’s essence it’s not true. A woman is signing away her right, and giving her child to an agency or attorney or to the state. It is that entity which ultimately signs over custody of the child to their family. If we actually talked about adoption in the truthful terms of how it legally worked it leaves you with less of a warm and fuzzy feeling – there isn’t some selfless woman choosing a loving family for her child, it isn’t a woman giving a gift to a family who can’t have a child, rather it is an expectant mother who feels she cannot or doesn’t want to parent choosing to sign away her legal rights to her child over to some organization who then goes through the legal process of giving that child a new home (usually after money is paid). This isn’t about any guarantees of a better life because when she signs those papers there is no guarantee of where or how that child will spend his/her life. If we pretend like the act of relinquishing rights is the same thing as a family adopting the child I think we are doing a disservice to what is actually happening, tying it up in a pretty bow to make everything feel better about it.