So now I have worked my way to Saturday, May 1st. I have survived 1.5 days at the adoption conference. I have listened to some beautiful writing on the subject of adoption, I have met some good people. I have heard some interesting ideas. Some I agree with, some I don’t. Pretty much what I wanted and expected. It’s OK.
The first session I go to at 9:00 am on Saturday morning is called Writing and Publishing About Adoption.
The first presenter, speaking on Editing Adoption and Culture, is Emily Hipchen. Adoption and Culture a publication of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture. She is its or one of its editors.
The discussion starts with the things most editors get asked: Why does it take so long to respond to a submission? What are the style standards? Why consistency of style is important?
Ms Hipchen explains the difficulty of producing a journal where the readership may have very divergent views about many things including the terminology used, e.g. birthmother. She talks about how they try to find balance in the magazine amongst the differing views on adoption, those who think it’s great: those who would like to see it abolished.
She mentioned that one thing that might help turn around times for submissions would be more volunteer readers. She suggested anyone who is interested in being a reader get in touch with her at this email address: emily at hipbo dot org I put it here in case anyone wants to volunteer.
And here is a link to the Submissions Guidelines, in case anyone has an essay they want to submit:
The next speaker was an adoptee, Liberty Hultberg, who spoke about Writing Adoption in a Digital Age. She has a blog called “Writing for Liberty” on Blogspot. Liberty was trying to find her father and, knowing his last name, she did a search on facebook to see if she could find him. She did not find him but she did find people with the same last name and so she joined a group of people with that name saying she was looking to connect with family and , I believe I understood this correctly, she included her father’s name. All of a sudden she starts to get many friend requests on face book. As she described it, she was going, Accept, Accept, Accept, Accept. These friends, of course, were members of her family. Suddenly, it occurred to her, now they all had access to her facebook page too. Suddenly, she thought about what her facebook page projected about her. She said she hoped she came across as “claimable” – very touching, I thought.
One little thing though: her father was not on facebook. She was starting to feel very much as if she had lost control. There is some discussion on facebook about good old [her father] having a kid; there is talk on line as to just who this long lost daughter might be and just what she might want. Although it all worked, she felt it was almost too fast, too out of her own control. She had effectively “outed” her father which didn’t seem completely fair and was never her intention.
I thought it was an interesting discussion about how one must be ever vigilant with the internet and the sensitivities of adoption. What feels very private, often is private no longer once it goes up on line. You have to stop and think each step of the way and be very conscious of what the privacy rules and policies are on the social media site you are using. We all need to be careful with our own and other people’s personal information.
The next speaker was Martha Nichols whose presentation was entitled You Don’t Know My Family: The Ethics of Adoption Memoir Writing and Press Coverage .
She is an adoptive parent and a free lance writer whose work has appeared in salon.com. She spoke on a similar theme: How we must be conscious of the fact that in writing our own stories we are also writing the stories of others. She used as an example the adoptee who was returned to Russia. In response to the outrage directed toward the adoptive mother in that case, many other adopted parents who were also experiencing difficulties began posting their own situations in words and in photographs. In the rush to generate sympathy for adoptive parents who are experiencing problems they forgot about the privacy of their own children. Children whose stories and photographs are now up on the internet for all the world to see.
All and all, a pretty good session.
The next morning session was: BirthMothers: Agency and Activism. Due to some technical difficulties (There were many technical difficulties at MIT!!) with Hosu Kim’s presentation, the first speaker was Frances Latchford from York University in Canada. Her presentation was entitled: Recovering Jocasta: Bio-essentialism and Agency in Discourse about Birthmothers.
If you need to refresh your memory re Jocasta http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jocasta
Dr. Latchford and I exchanged a few words before the session began having recognized each other as Canadians. Her presentation went along these lines. If I get it wrong I hope someone will let me know or Dr. Latchford will post her paper.
She questions whether women are innately drawn to motherhood. The biology is destiny thing. In addition, to believe that a biological connection to a child or parent is important reflects an attitude of bio-narcissism. A belief that being raised in your biological family is important is bio-narcissistic nurturing.
Because of this, she questions the grief which many birth mothers express as well as their claims of coercion. She speaks of a Birth Mother Syndrome. How mothers who made a choice, believe it was a choice, and are happy with that choice, are fearful or intimidated about speaking up because the current party line (my choice of words not hers) is that birthmoms were and still are coerced or manipulated.
I found this birthmothers as sheep theory kind of interesting. One of the main reasons I was at this conference was because I have heard various birth mothers express opinions as to why feminists have for the most part thrown birth mothers under the bus. I have never quite understood this because they, or should I say, we birthmothers are women who were essentially punished for daring to be sexual beings and for breaking a patriarchical societal taboo of having children outside the bounds of, as Dr. Latchford would say, hetero normative marriage. I wanted to attend the conference, listen and see what I thought thus enabling myself to reach my own conclusions.
I am, at this early point in the proceedings, starting to feel I am hearing a theory whose philosophical underpinnings are motivated by a very healthy dose of self interest. I am also starting to understand at an even deeper level than I anticipated about the bus tire tracks that are on my back.
I am also starting to feel on behalf of the (birthmother) sisterhood, a little offended.
In my pre-presentation discussion with Dr. Latchford I expressed the view that adoptees seems to feel some longing to know where they come from. She believes this is because they are denied the information and that this will be solved by open adoption.
It does, after all, take a village to raise a child, Dr Latchford points out.
After the presentation someone who appears to be familiar with these theories asks a question about how rights are determined in this situation. Dr. Latchford answers that it is based on work. So mom does get some rights for being the person who actually bears the child. (Where does this leave men I wonder, given they do not do too much work before birth? Pretty close to the minus column.)
How would these rights be determined? They would be negotiated, says Dr. Latchford.
Hmmmm? Young frightened, recently delivered, under pressure birthmom negotiating with academic or wealthy PAP’s? What’s the number for the Power Imbalance Police? Or the Pregnant Teenager Defense Team?
According to her profile on the York University website:
Dr. Latchford’s area of specialization is feminist social and political philosophy. Her interests are interdisciplinary and encompass a strong knowledge of continental, post-structuralist, post-colonial, psychoanalytic, and queer theories of subjectivity, sexuality, race, and gender. Her publications focus on questions of queer identity, subjectivity, and rights, as well as questions concerning ethical knowledge. She is currently completing a book, Steeped In Blood, that examines how ‘family’ experiences are produced in the modern Western context. She uses feminist, continental, post-structural, and psychoanalytic theories to examine the social and political devaluation of adoptive ‘family’ experience through discourses and psychologies surrounding the family, adoption, sexuality and incest, all of which intersect. She is also working on a new anthology entitled, Adoption and Mothering, which will be published by Demeter Press.
A Tactile Love: Korean Birthmothers’ Online Community presented by Hosu Kim, College of Staten Island was next. To be perfectly honest I was still processing from the last presentation so please forgive the short description. It was about a very poignant website for Korean birth mothers. What I wrote down in my notes – many sad love stories. Ms Kim talked about what the mothers posted and how they would stay for awhile and then disappear. Finding a place to express their grief I guess and maybe hoping against hope that some connection with their child might be made.
Finally, Mary Anne Cohen a founding member of CUB spoke on A History of Birthmother Activism 1976-2010. She reviewed the history of CUB, Concerned United BirthParents explaning that it arose from ALMA the early adoptee rights movement. She talked about the early leaders in CUB and read a beautiful poem in tribute to the late Carole Anderson. This was actually the reason why I had attended this particular session.
There appeared to be a number of academics in the audience and so at the Q & A afterward, many of the questions were directed at Dr. Latchford. To her credit, the chair, Jean Teller, invited others into the questioning so that there would not be just one focus.
I started talking to a Canadian PhD candidate who was sitting behind me and we ended up having lunch together. We discussed Dr. Latchford’s theories and I said to me it just seemed like the latest rationale to separate us from our children. In my view, there is a difference betweeen equality in access (gay or straight) to children who truly need homes and developing a theory that is designed to provide “product” for PAP’s and misusing, it takes a village to raise a child, to do it. But it was a good discussion I thought. We also talked about Anita Allen’s presentation from the day before.
Next: Gays, Lesbians and Adoption. This was a plenary session. I’m afraid I didn’t write much down. The wheels in my brain were still turning from the previous session .
First Presentation: Costs of Increased Access in Adoption by Maria BrettSchneider. What I remember most about this is Ms BrettSchneider talking about her children. I hope her presentation will be posted somewhere.
She was followed by John Raible whose paper I posted from his website. I thought he was wonderful. His description of his own childhood and his discussion of the importance of community was very thought-provoking. I really urge you to read his paper.
Next: Agency at the Agency? Adoption and Structural Homophobia presented by Sarah Tobias of Rutgers. Dr. Tobias read her paper at breakneck speed. I really wish academics who are presenting already written papers would do a little editing because it is too hard to process what is coming at you.
Next, a session I was very much looking forward to: Creative Writing on Adoption chaired by Susan Ito who many of you will know from her blog, ReadingWritingLiving.
Carrie Kircher and Carol Lefevre, both adoptive mothers, read from their books, Walking Towards Everything New: A Russian Adoption Memoir and If You Were Mine
The adoptees followed: Kate Vogl reading from Lost and Found: A Memoir of Mothers; Patrick MacMahon reading from The Birthday Party about attending his birth mother’s birthday party and Jennifer Kwon Dobbs reading from On Korean Birth Search Landscapes and Politics and Poems from Paper Pavilion and Others.
Birth Mothers Read From: Gee where are the birth mothers? None present – on the panel. Al least one in the audience.
I asked Susan about this before hand. She had no hand in the panel composition.
As you can tell it was a long day. An exhausting day. I skipped the banquet. I needed a break. I went to a rib joint in Davis Square for dinner.
That’s a picture. It was the right decision.
One more post to go or maybe two. Might do one on my general impressions, pats and pans, beefs and bouquets.
I really liked the next session I’m going to write about for many reasons. It was a nice way to end the conference. And I learned yet more new words. But in a good way.
Home in Toronto, Ontario, Canada