I don’t know if the world needs me to say this, but I think I do. Because this has been bothering me all day. Yesterday, I saw this on Facebook.
Do you see it? Do you see the problem?
I’m not going to link to the article itself, because my problem is not with the article or its author. In my quick read it felt like an authentic and honest story, and I think it being in the world will probably mean a lot to many, and this person telling her story is not what I’ve been thinking about all day. But this is a topic that cuts deep for many people and others might have real and meaningful problems with the article. On another day, I likely will too. But on this day, I want to keep the focus somewhere else.
No, my problem is with HuffPo and the framing. This is not the true reality behind adopting a child. It may be true, it may capture and share and communicate truths shared by many, but it is not the true reality. It is one of many true realities — one of many stories.
It’s not my reality. It’s not my story.
But that’s fine. That’s not the point. What is the point? The point is that we don’t need the true reality. We need lots of realities. Lots of stories. More stories.
You’re adopting? What country is she from?*
Full disclosure – this makes me mad on a personal level. I think my anger goes beyond that, but this caught my eye and stuck in my brain because it’s personal to me. I am an adoptive parent, and when I met my daughter she was 11 years old and in foster care. Since that day, I’ve become increasingly aware that a lot of people have personal experiences with this kind of adoption — and hardly any of them ever tell those stories in public.
A big part of that (I think) is that these stories are not just ours. My story also belongs to my daughter, to the people in her other families, and to all of the people who connected with her and loved her and invested themselves in her future. And while all of those people have a right to their stories, when it comes to my daughter and hers, it’s different. The stakes are high. Children in foster care quickly learn that their stories are only partly their own, that they don’t get to decide when those stories are told and when they’re not. They don’t get to protect their stories, to define them or choose which pieces to share the same way that they would if they were not in the system. In many cases, their stories are tied to getting protections and resources and safety, making the choices even less their own.
So making sure our daughter knows that her experiences are not mine to share is paramount. If this weren’t something we’ve talked about again and again, and if I needed to share any part of her story that is not already part of her public identity to say this — I wouldn’t be saying it now. Even if she told me I could. And I think many people in my situation feel the same way.**
Which is necessary and important, but means that these adoption stories are rarely told. And they’re rarely told while other stories — about infant adoption, private adoption, open adoption, family adoption and international adoption — are.
It’s not like there is no narrative about my experience out there. We all know the stereotypes about older child or foster care adoption. When we shared that we were planning to take this path, the same fears came up over and over and over and over. Some were grounded in some kind of experience (my cousin’s first husband had an adopted daughter and I think it was really hard). Others were worse, and grounded in nothing specific. It got to the point where we didn’t share very widely because it was just too difficult to respond to negative and intrusive assumptions from acquaintances or friends of friends.
If there were more stories, sharing more experiences and more truths, this would start to change. I do believe that. This — the importance of stories and reflections on experience — is also something I think about a lot (and have especially been thinking about a lot lately). These aren’t new or unique thoughts. And they’ve been brought to the forefront and expressed better than I ever could — #weneeddiversebooks and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to name just a few.
We tend to on one level focus on the importance of narrative and simultaneously undercut it on another. On the first level, we accept that we use story to organize and make sense of the world. We get that we use story to communicate and to collaborate. We talk about the importance of stories in developing empathy and connections with the world. I mean, we even talk about the importance of story in instrumental ways — like in assessment and “sharing our value.”
But at the same time, on that other level, we don’t trust that our stories have value for what they are. We hold up generalizability as the gold standard of inquiry. News outlets entice clicks with exposés that deliver “the real story.” We focus our highest praise on fiction that captures universal truth. And that is what bothers me so much about seeing this on my Facebook all day.
Providing a platform for people to share their experiences honestly and reflectively is a good thing. But it’s not a good thing because it’s a way to get a scoop. Qualitative research isn’t valuable because it’s sampled and significant and generalizable, and HuffPo didn’t find the answer to this question so no one else has to ask it. We don’t need to find the universal experience, the real story, the true reality. What we need is more.
*My daughter is from the United States. Just like most adopted children in the U.S. are. Public agency and international adoptions account for about half of the adoptions in the U.S. every year. The other half includes lots of things — step-parent adoption, adoption by relatives, private agency adoption, etc. — and most of those also involve children from here. Only about 15% of children in the U.S. are adopted from other countries, and this number has been dropping. Still, this is almost everyone’s assumption when they hear we adopted. This is likely a result of many factors, including our age, education and income bracket, but I think it also illustrates how skewed the public conversation about adoption is.
**I’m not sure the author of the essay does, which is another reason I didn’t link to it. She has a blog where she talks about these issues too, and I don’t read that so I really don’t know what her attitude or policies are about privacy. That’s what I mean by on another day, I might be focused on something else. Plus, you’re all librarians so if you who want to find it you will.