Often the discussion in the comment section of my blogs are more informative (and interesting) than the blog itself. On a recent blog
comment, someone referred to herself as an expectant mom while she is waiting to adopt. Monika, a birth mom who blogs over at Monika’s Musings, responded: “[A]s a birth mom, I don’t like “expecting” from an adoptive mom’s perspective (hoping would be better in my opinion).” Well, we were off to the races then, with lots of thought provoking opinions from all sides.
I had not given much thought to the use of the term “expectant” or “paper pregnant” until this discussion, but afterwards it was all I thought about. Apparently I wasn’t alone. When I contacted Monika to ask if she wanted to participate in a blog discussion about this topic, she said she hadn’t been able to get it off her mind either. We agreed to enter into a dialog here, with neither of us trying to prove the other wrong or change the others mind, but with the spirit of better understanding. For simplicity sake, with her permission I’m posting her thoughts which she posted on her excellent blog post (Expecting) first, and then my thoughts will follow. We’ll both participate in further discussion in the comments.
First from Monika:
To me, a hopeful adoptive parent telling other people they’re “expecting” when they’re hoping to adopt just rubs me the wrong way. Even in reference to international adoption where the child has already been born and is presumably waiting in an orphanage, the term seems wrong. To me, it focuses the attention on the hopeful adoptive parents, which is exactly where it should not be. I’ve discussed at great lengths before my conviction that the focus of adoption needs to be centered on the child involved and not the parents. This includes both the adoptive and the birth parents (if they’ve already relinquished), as well as the expectant parent considering adoption and hopeful adoptive parents.
I can understand that to stay “hopeful” during a long wait for matching or for adoption approval when adopting internationally can seem unfathomable. It would seem much more positive and proactive to say that you’re “expecting.” When a woman gets pregnant and decides to carry the pregnancy to term, she’s expecting that child to arrive around the due date and in a healthy condition. There’s expectation there because millions of women throughout history have had pregnancies happen similarly. Even if there’s not necessarily an expectation of perfect health or a full-term pregnancy, she’s still expecting that she will deliver the baby she’s carrying. The baby is not going to stay in her uterus for months past her due date or even years later.
When a couple that wants to adopt starts the process, there is no absolute guarantee that a baby will be “delivered” to them, even if they’re trying to adopt internationally and not domestically or via foster care. There is no magic adoption stork that decides to drop children in the laps of people that want them. I’ve read stories of hopeful adoptive couples being almost certain of adopting a specific child internationally and having that same adoption fall through at the last moment. To imply by use of the word expectation that there are no other humans involved and that different choices can’t be made simply because someone desires it to be so seems too simplistic at best.
When “expecting” as a term is applied to domestic infant adoption, it carries darker implications. Any hopeful adoptive couple that has done even a little research will know that the possibility of adopting an infant domestically is much lower than it was back in the 1960s (Baby Scoop Era). To say that one is expecting an infant adoption to happen says to me that the women who are pregnant and considering adoption for their babies really have no choice at all. It says to me that because this specific person wants a baby that his or her biological mother is just a gestational carrier to give her child away. I see greed and desire for a child overwhelming the greater sensibilities of the people involved when “expecting” is used.
A hopeful adoptive couple is not “expecting.” They are not “paper pregnant.” They are simply hopeful that the right paths will converge and a woman choosing adoption will pick them to adopt her child or, in the case of international adoption, they’re hoping all the humans involved will take the steps necessary to make the adoption happen.
I appreciate that Monika’s objections made me focus on the pregnant woman’s experience when hearing this term. We adoptive parents need to be encouraged to see the adoption experience from all sides, so thanks Monika.
We all know, but it helps to be reminded, that a woman cannot make a final adoption plan for her child until after birth. This is the law, and it’s also the only moral way to approach adoption. It recognizes the emotional truth that no woman (or man) knows how they will truly feel about the decision to parent or allow someone else to parent until the child is born. Monika believes that calling adoptive parents “expectant” or “paper pregnant” could be coercive or at the very least makes it harder for the mother to decide against parenting. She has a point, but in the scheme of adoption, this word choice seems to me a pretty minor pressure point.
I don’t doubt that the fear of disappointing would be adopters influences some women to go through with the adoption plan, but I think this has little to do with the words we call pre-adoptive parents and everything to do with the inherent nature of adoption. A woman or couple that is considering adoption for their child needs to thoughtfully investigate this option, preferably taking the time they need pre-birth to consider and ultimately select parents they want to raise their child. Once the adoptive parent(s) are selected, all parties should want them to start preparing to raise this child, and inherent in this process is the raising of their hopes that this child will ultimately become theirs. It is perhaps an imperfect system, but it is an imperfect life experience.
No matter whether you call them expectant parents or hopeful parents or maybe someday parents, they are anticipating and expecting the arrival of this child with joy and excitement, and they will be crushed if the mom decides to parent. Yes, they knew this was a possibility, and yes, they may well be supportive of her decision and pray for her success, but they will still experience a level of devastation that is hard to express. No word play will change this fact, and the expectant woman knows this even if all sides choose their words carefully.
Monika also believes that adoptive parents calling themselves “expectant” or “paper pregnant” is parent focused rather than child focused. She fervently believes the focus by all sides in adoption should be on what is best for the child. I agree completely, but in my opinion the feelings of expectancy by the adoptive parents are in the absolute best interest of the child.
Pregnancy is the time when obviously a child is being grown, but although maybe not so obvious, it is also a time a parent is being grown. It is a time of slowing down, focusing inward, making a space in your life for a new being (both literally and figuratively). Before I adopted, I attributed these instincts to pregnancy hormones, but now realize that nesting is instinctual to new parenthood regardless of how it happens, and to my mind that’s a beautiful thing for everyone concerned and especially the child.
Monika’s words need to serve as a caution that we need to do everything possible in adoption to allow this life altering choice to be made freely without undue pressure by the expectant couple. This is good for the mom, of course, but also best for the child. I don’t want any parent to feel coerced, and I don’t want any child to have to later deal with a birth parent who felt coerced.
I don’t use the term “expecting” much when referring to pre-adoptive parents, and since I know now that it offends some first moms, I’ll try to avoid it. It doesn’t, however, bother me when others use it. Adoption is all about having two families—one by birth and one by adoption. In this spirit, since there are two moms, why can’t both be expecting? One is “E”xpecting, and absent some tragedy will be a mom in 9 short months. The other is “e”xpecting to parent a child, and hopes that it is this child. I want both moms to be using this time to prepare and become educated on how best to make a life for this child.
What do you think?
P.S. I recommend that you subscribe to Monika’s excellent blog—Monika’s Musing. She is thoughtful and articulate. Whether you agree or disagree with her, she’ll make you think and consider a different perspective. You’ll be richer for the experience.