family, lessons learned, love, modern problems, sex, slut shamers, social media

Kids don’t owe their parents anything… do they?

This morning’s post comes courtesy of a recycled article on The Atlantic’s Web site. Therapist Lori Gottlieb, who once wrote a very entertaining book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa, has an advice column. Because I read her book about anorexia, and because I’m a sucker for advice columns, I read Lori Gottlieb’s advice somewhat often. The article I’m writing about today has appeared several times on Facebook, as The Atlantic has an annoying habit of recycling its content, even when it’s woefully outdated, as it often is during the COVID era.

The Atlantic also attracts a lot of obnoxious commenters, one of whom is prompting me to write today. I ran into one of them after reading the 2019 era letter Gottlieb responded to in June of that year. Have a look at this letter from Lynne, of Oakland, California.

Dear Therapist,

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Lori Gottlieb points out that perhaps Lynne’s daughter hasn’t thought long enough about why the baby girl she gave up in 1994 might not want to meet her birth mother. Gottlieb reminds her that children who are given up for adoption don’t have a choice in the matter; those life altering decisions are made for them by adults. They also don’t have any say in who gets to adopt them. Sometimes the adoptive families turn out to be wonderful people. And sadly, sometimes adoptive families are abusive or worse.

When those adopted children become adults themselves, they must have the right to make decisions for themselves. Self-determination is something that all kids should grow up to expect for themselves. It’s probably even more important for adopted children, who often have to listen to other people opine about how they should handle their experiences with being adopted. Sometimes, people tell them they should find their birth families. Other times, they are told they shouldn’t look for their birth families, since that will presumably be “hurtful” to the adoptive parents. I wasn’t adopted myself, but I do know several adoptees. I’ve learned that every story is unique. Most of the adopted people I know have found their birth families and satisfied their curiosity about what led to their being given up for another family to raise. But I know there are some adoptees who would rather not know any family other than the one that raised them. That should be okay. They don’t owe their birth families anything.

But really, if you think about it, that should be true for all children. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. They had no choice about being born. While it may be very hurtful for parents to understand this, not everyone is happy to be alive. I know there have been a lot of times in my life that I’ve wished my mom hadn’t had me. It’s not so much because I’ve had a terrible life. In my case, it’s because depression is a constant companion that has left me feeling worthless, no matter what I do. When I was a child, I was told that I was neither wanted nor expected. I was frequently told I was an inconvenience, as if it was my fault my parents made me. I know that my parents came to appreciate me, but I was told enough times that I was a pain in their asses that it made me feel very rejected. And that has made me wish abortion had been an option for my mother and she would have considered it, even though I know some people are glad I’m around. Of course, I doubt my mom would have had an abortion, even though I “crashed her party” and made her life more complicated. Many people don’t realize it, but treating kids like they aren’t loved or wanted is often how personality disorders and neuroses are born.

Adopted children probably have a different kind of trauma inflicted on them. I think of the super toxic line in the campy 1981 film, Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford, reminds her daughter, Christina, that adopted children are the “luckiest”, because they were “chosen”. Then, Joan makes Christina give up her birthday gifts to all of the “poor orphans” who don’t have parents. Meanwhile, a lot of them wonder why they were given up. What were the circumstances? Was it a case of a teenaged mom who couldn’t afford a child to raise? A sad situation involving parents who were killed in a freak accident? Or was it a more sinister situation involving extramarital affairs, rape, or incest? I can understand why some adopted children might not want to know. Or maybe some of them are simply not looking for the baggage that can come with discovering one’s origins.

How lucky was Christina Crawford?
Narcissism is not a family value.

So… while I can understand why Lynne is distressed that her daughter’s biological daughter doesn’t want to meet with her bio mother, I can also see why the now adult child isn’t interested. I agree that Lynne and her daughter should respect the young woman’s wishes. There may come a day when she changes her mind, but Lynne and her daughter should probably resign themselves to the idea that she might not come around. Sometimes this also happens to bio parents who didn’t give their children up for adoption. My husband’s older daughter hasn’t spoken to him since 2004. It’s been the source of tremendous pain for him. Frankly, I think older daughter is very stupid for throwing away her father, who is a kind and decent man. But it’s her life, and when it comes down to it, she doesn’t owe him anything. And since she’s a grown woman now, he doesn’t owe her anything, either.

As is my habit, I looked at the comments left on the Facebook post for this article. Naturally, some of them were terrible. Reading one of them made me realize that people who give up babies for adoption are kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. A number of people felt that the bio grandmother and mother had a lot of “nerve”, expecting to meet the now grown bio daughter. It seems that many people lose sight of what a tremendously painful decision giving a baby up for adoption is for many birth mothers. Does it not occur to them that the birth mom might wonder about her long, lost offspring? Do they forget that a lot of women would prefer to have an abortion rather than give up their baby? As awful as abortion may seem to the pro-life crowd, a lot of people who unintentionally get pregnant would rather not have to wonder about where the baby is and how the baby is doing. Being pregnant is a burden that has the potential to be dangerous or even deadly for some people.

But there was one commenter who was especially horrible. In case anyone is wondering, no, I’m not the original poster. I just noticed how “Richard”, who really should go by the name, “Dick”, was taking her on in an abusive way.

Why does “Richard”, who claims to have voted for Jill Stein, have this idea that “women can’t control themselves”? While it’s definitely possible for women to be sex offenders, it’s mostly men in that contemptible role of not being in control. It’s a fact that sometimes women do get pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Generally speaking, it’s not the women who are out of control. When a woman does get pregnant and keeps the pregnancy, she’s not going to get pregnant again until those nine months are up. But the men who are out there fertilizing those fertile wombs can theoretically get hundreds of women pregnant every year. So I really think Richard should STFU… but I also wonder where he got such a hateful attitude. It sounds to me like he had an unhappy childhood or something. Or maybe he has an unhappy adulthood. I wonder how much fucking he’s doing. However much it is, he’s probably doing it alone. That would account for his mean spirited comments.

One other thing I notice from the above exchange is that both people seem to be hurting. Why else would their responses be so vitriolic? And why do people feel the need to get into fights with strangers in comment sections? Is Richard really as big of a dick as he seems to be? Why is he “slut shaming”? Makes me think that there’s a woman in his life who made him pay for something he doesn’t think he should have to pay for.

I think Lynne’s daughter can take some solace in knowing that she made a couple happy when she gave up her daughter for them to raise. That was ultimately a selfless decision, in spite of the many comments people are leaving that indicate that she was “selfish” for not raising the girl herself. The alternative could have been for her to have an abortion. Of course, personally, I happen to agree with “Richard” that people shouldn’t have casual sex if they aren’t prepared to be parents, even if I think his actual comments are extremely rude and insulting. But that’s just me, and that’s what worked for me.

Sometimes I do regret that I never had children, but then I realize that I would have wanted Bill to be the father of my children. I didn’t meet him until after he’d had a vasectomy at his ex wife’s behest, so pregnancy wasn’t destined to happen without significant medical intervention and expense. When the timing was optimal for an intervention, life got in the way. Bill went to Iraq, and we had significant debt. I have never wanted to adopt a child, and one of the reasons I haven’t wanted to adopt is because of the very special problems and issues that often come up due to adoption. But again, that’s just me. I understand why some people think adoption is wonderful. I don’t think they’re wrong; it just wasn’t for me. Neither was medical intervention to get pregnant. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me that motherhood isn’t for me.

My heart goes out to Lynne’s daughter. Not just because she wants to meet her now grown bio daughter, but because so many people apparently think she was terrible to give the baby up for adoption in the first place. It’s the same kind of disdainful attitude people have toward sperm donors– guys who give up their sperm so that people can have birth families. I have often pointed out that I don’t agree with labeling irresponsible fathers as “sperm donors”. Actual sperm donors provide a valuable service for which they are paid. Guys who knock up women and leave them high and dry are not in the same category. And women who decide to give up their babies instead of aborting them presumably offer something of value to other people. They should be treated with compassion, instead of contempt. Giving up a baby is not an easy or painless decision for most people. At the same time, I agree that the birth daughter doesn’t owe her bio mom anything. But then, that’s really true for every child, when it comes down to it. That feeling of obligation toward one’s parent is a construct of civilization, not a biological one.

I hope Lynne and her daughter find peace and comfort.

Here’s a link to Stick Figure, the book by Lori Gottlieb I mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you make a purchase through this link, I get a small commission from Amazon.

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ethics, healthcare, law, religion

Repost: What’s best for the children?

I am reposting this article I wrote for the original blog in June 2017, because it’s pertinent to today’s fresh content. It appears here mostly “as/is”.

Last year, I first read the disheartening story of Mariah Walton, a young woman from a Mormon family in Idaho.  Ms. Walton had the misfortune of being born with a hole in her heart that could have been easily treated when she was a baby.  Unfortunately, her parents were religious wingnuts and refused to seek appropriate medical care for her.  Rather than having the hole corrected surgically, they chose to pray over Mariah and treat her with essential oils. 

Now, at 21 years of age, Mariah should be enjoying robust health and good times.  Instead, she fights for every breath and needs oxygen.  She’s permanently disabled and may need a heart and lung transplant. 

I have read accounts written by people who have had organ transplants.  Although they can be lifesaving and miraculous in many cases, having an organ transplant is very risky and, in fact, doesn’t guarantee good health.  Some years ago, I read Amy Silverstein’s book, Sick Girl.  Although the book may seem to have a bitter tone and some readers might think Silverstein is shamefully ungrateful, she does explain why an organ transplant basically amounts to trading one major health problem for another.  Yes, you get a heart or kidney or lung that works better than what you had.  But you have to take drugs that lower your resistance to every germ out there so your body doesn’t reject the foreign part.  There is a greater risk of developing cancer, too.

Now, in fairness to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am not aware of any church teaching that stipulates seeking healing from the Lord instead of medical interventions.  In fact, from what I read, Mariah’s parents’ beliefs seem to be on the fringe of what regular Mormons believe.  Still, Mariah and her family live in Idaho, where apparently, it’s okay for a parent to forego appropriate medical care for their children in favor of “faith healing”.  The same is apparently not true in heavily Mormon Utah, where young Parker Jensen, who suffered from Ewing’s sarcoma, was forced into medical treatment even after his parents tried to prevent it.

I’m actually kind of on the fence about this, though.  Over the years, I’ve followed cases of parents who have tried to make other choices for their children who have health problems.  I remember the case of Starchild Abraham Wolf Cherrix, a fellow Virginian, who had Hodgkin’s disease when he was a teenager and was fighting Virginia medical officials who wanted to force chemotherapy on him.  “Wolf” is still evidently battling cancer, though he is now a young adult.  His case inspired Virginia’s “Abraham’s Law”, which allows parents of teenagers to refuse medical treatment or choose alternative treatment for their children.  The catch is, the teen has to “seem” mature, both parents and the child have to agree, and all must agree that the choice is in the child’s best interest.

I also remember the Minnesota case of Daniel Hauser, who in May 2009, was 13 years old and also had Hodgkin’s disease.  His mother, who belonged to the Nemenhah Band of natural healers, fled Minnesota with him when doctors tried to force Hauser into treatment.  He did eventually come back and accept treatment, which evidently cured his cancer.

In these two cases, the minors were not young children.  Cherrix was 17 years old and could form cogent opinions about his situation.  Hauser was 13, and apparently not as knowledgable about the disease as Cherrix was.  In Mariah Walton’s case, she was just a baby when the issue was discovered. It could have been fixed then and there.  Instead, her parents were allowed to medically neglect her and she is now paying the price as an adult.  Had the Waltons been living in neighboring Oregon, the parents could have been in legal trouble for not seeking appropriate medical care for their daughter.

It’s interesting how the laws in the United States differ depending on what state you live in.  Justina Pelletier was forced to stay in a hospital and spent 16 months in state custody because medical officials disagreed with her parents’ decision to seek treatment for her mitochondrial disease.  Her case was especially interesting, since Pelletier is from Connecticut, but had been taken to Boston Children’s Hospital for emergency treatment in 2013.  Boston Children’s Hospital is in Massachusetts, so Pelletier wasn’t even being detained in her own state. 

Officials at the hospital determined that Pelletier’s problems were caused by psychiatric issues and her parents were trying to force her into “unnecessary” medical treatments.  Pelletier’s parents had previously taken her to Tufts Medical Center, also in Massachusetts, where doctors had diagnosed her with mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder that affects how cells produce energy.  Evidently, the people at Boston Children’s Hospital disagreed and felt that was grounds for the state to pursue custody of the young woman.  Pelletier spent months in a locked psychiatric ward.  Now her parents are suing.

I do think that there should be some way to make sure that parents aren’t allowed to impose wacky religious beliefs on their innocent and helpless sick children.  On the other hand, I also think that there’s a fine line in ensuring what is best for the children and the government overstepping its boundaries.  It really is a shame that Mariah Walton is suffering because her parents neglected her.  She should be strong and healthy, enjoying her life instead of struggling to breathe.  It seems our lawmakers need to come up with a happy medium that considers the rights and interests of everyone involved.

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