This post is about searching. This feels like an odd thing for me to be writing about, because you all know how strongly I feel about protecting the privacy of my children's story, but I'm going to keep all of this very general. Please forgive me if I occasionally veer into annoyingly vague.
So okay, searching. I'm in favour. Some people who adopt are able to have meetings with known birth family through an independent translator and then uncensored ongoing contact - for everybody else, there's searching. For families with relinquished children, searching provides the chance to make independent contact with birth family, verify (or otherwise) the information given at referral, provide mutual updates and somehow inch towards openness. For families with abandoned children, searching provides the possibility of finding birth family, if they are able and willing to be found. If they are not, it provides the chance to make contact with other important people in the child's history, fill in gaps and, again, verify that the story the family was given is true. Some people say the whole thing is very expensive, but if you don't want to spend a lot of money, don't use the overpriced American lawyers. There are other people out there. Honestly.
Some people search while they are in country. In some ways I am glad that we know our children better at the point we are searching, that we have eighteen months of photos of them looking happy, but honestly it would have been better to do it sooner. I wish I could say we did, but I couldn't handle even thinking about it while we were in Ethiopia; I was too busy freaking out and vomiting. After we got home, we decided to wait until our UK process was complete and the children were citizens. And then after that, it took months and months of false starts and delays before things could actually get underway so we're only doing it now, after our children have been with us for about eighteen months. We never intended to wait this long; we were thinking more like six. But this is how it's worked out, and so here we are. Now. Right now.
A piece of advice from me to you - do not instigate a search during a month abroad visiting family. It's not smart and it's not fun. This is what has been taking up a large part of my headspace for the last few weeks, and I do not recommend it. I do not recommend that you spend hours hiding in the food court at a mall for privacy, typing out a list of questions for an investigator and trying not to cry. I do not recommend that you catch a late movie with siblings and then swing by the seven-eleven for a quick slurpee and oh, also to quietly transfer a bunch of money to Ethiopia on their moneygram machine. And when I say 'you', of course, I mean 'me'. I'm not trying to be secretive about all this (obviously) but I don't really want to talk about it at family gatherings either, because it's impossible to talk properly without getting into specifics. Or breaking down.
ll my reasons for not-searching would be really bad reasons. In fact, they mostly boil down to one reason: there is a great big chunk of me that doesn't really want to know the answers to the questions we're asking.
Honestly, I'm not particularly afraid that we will uncover anything unethical or corrupt. I'm aware of the possibility, of course, but I don't really think that's what's going to happen. We have no reason to suspect any of the details of our adoption; every reason to trust the people with whom we worked, so I'm not really expecting that kind of tragedy. What I am afraid of is any one of a number of less spectacular tragedies, the unspectacular sort of tragedies that it would be easier to know less about, easier not to talk to our children about. When I'm talking to my kids, it's much easier to deal in generalities about cultural attitudes to single motherhood, the prevalence of waterborne diseases and the realities of poverty. On the other hand, learning that something real happened to a real person, or (more difficult) that a real person made a real decision with real effects- this has the potential to be much less palatable. I think what I'm saying is that the 'beautiful country beautiful people rich culture unavoidable decision' rhetoric can be a very effective way of blanking out that our children come to us from specific people, for very specific reasons, often unpleasant ones.
But none of that is good enough, is it? My discomfort with finding out uncomfortable things is really pretty irrelevant. J and I aren't doing this for us (please, start the swelling orchestra music now), we're doing it because we owe it to our children to give them a history of themselves that we know to be true, that is as complete as possible, that leaves as few questions unanswered as we can, a history as complete as we would want for ourselves if it was us who had been adopted. Doing this feels non-negotiable, to me. Morally compulsory. The more I read about open adoption, the more convinced I am that it what we should be working towards, no matter where we start. And we cannot leave this until our children are eighteen; the information won't be there. I have the power to open up my children's history for them, or keep it closed. My conscience tells me that, for our kids, in our situation, only one of those options would be right. I could not look them in the eye, when they are old enough to ask the questions, and tell them that we never tried to get all the answers we could.
Okay, end of stirring speech. Stop the orchestra. Because honestly, knowing this in theory is one thing; facing the reality is quite another. I am committed to this course of action but in some ways it feels like the hardest thing I have ever done. There are so many ways (it feels to me) like this could go so very badly wrong. I could easily find myself five miles out to ethical sea and many fathoms out of my depth. I could find out things that break my heart. I could find out things that will break my children's heart. I could be opening Pandora's box. I'm terrified. It's so easy to mouth the platitudes about my child's best interest and pat myself on the back for my commitment to ethical parenting but in my heart of hearts I'm screaming out loud. If anybody is in the mood to criticise me for finding it emotionally difficult to do this on my children's behalf - don't. At least not until you've done it yourself. Any adoptive parent who claims this isn't hard is lying. Or has absolutely no imagination.
I have to remind myself - there are things that we might find out that I would rather not find out. But really, the problem is not with the finding out. The issue is that I do not want any of those things to be true. And not looking for them would not make them any less real, if they are real. And it's better to know than to wonder. I think. Keats said:
|'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all|
|Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'|
I think about this quote all the time at the moment, because I think he's flat wrong. There are a lot of true things that aren't beautiful, and a lot of beautiful things that are a long way from true. Sometimes in adoption I think we have to pick one of those things: truth or beauty? Beauty or truth? Actually - no. That's not quite right. It's not either / or, because some things are both. But which do we choose for our starting point? Which one do we hold on to, if we can only hold on to one? It has to be truth, surely. It has to. We can spin beautiful stories for our children but surely, surely it is better to give them something real, even if it's hard. And so we search. And I don't know what we're going to find. I'll be keeping it private. I hope it will be true.
But I would bet a lot of money that it's not going to be beautiful.