On Tuesday my article on "anti-adoption advocates" will be running on CatholicExchange, and include a reference to an anti-adoption article recently printed in the "National Catholic Register." I was horrified to see such a thing printed in a Catholic publication, and cannot understand why they ran it. If we want to eradicate the need for abortion, adoption is the clear alternative for those who are unable or unwilling to parent their own children.
This is not to say it is the easy choice. As my article indicates, the loss experienced by birth/first parents and adopted children is real, much like the phantom pains of an amputee ... and yet, those pains (however regrettable) may be necessary in order to save a life from the alternative: abuse and neglect, or even death.
Today, I came across this article by history professor Paul Kengor, entitled "Palin, for Posterity." The line that moved me most: "When Barack Obama voted against protecting babies accidentally born alive during abortions, it was after hearing testimony about a Down syndrome baby allowed to die after an abortion attempt. ..."
We cheer Sarah for choosing life for her child, and for being willing to use her platform to draw attention to the plight of these special children. But what about the vast majority (some say 90%) who receive the DS diagnosis and choose to "terminate the pregnancy"? Yes, we need visible examples of parents who choose to embrace these special-needs children.
Even so, many will not make that choice. Is adoption, then, really a fate worse than death?
Of course not. Not for these children, whose parents feel unequal to the task of parenting a special needs child; nor would it have been from the beginning for the hundreds of thousands of children lingering in group homes and foster homes today, victims of their birth parents bad choices; and not for those whose mothers make an adoption plan knowing that it is the child's best chance to avoid the most serious consequences of that birth parents' mistakes. They may struggle. They may question. But at least they are safe and alive.
What about years from now, when the child grows up and is angry about the fact that (a) he was separated from his parents and (b) did not get to choose the adoption for himself? How do we respond to the "phantom pain" of the parents he or she never got to know?
The "phantom parent" of the [grown] child's mind is just that ... a phantom. It is real -- but cannot be allowed to define that child's existence if he or she is going to heal. True, the child did not get to choose the adoption any more than a young child chooses amputation (or other serious treatment) for a life-threatening disease. These adult choices are made on behalf of the child.
Once the choice is made, all that remains is to guide the child toward healing. To a great extent, this is the primary job of the adoptive parent. (I was interested to read that recent therapies used to treat phantom pain include "mirrored boxes" or "virtual limbs" that allow the patient to strengthen his remaining muscles while retaining the illusion of his missing limb. Although I had not thought of it before, when I read this my mind returned to those first months of parenting my children, which were so difficult on all of us. Their parents were missing, and we were a poor substitute ... Only with time did they allow us to become fully Mom and Dad.)
Traumatized children (whether physically through disease or emotionally through losing their first parents) who for whatever reason remain "trapped" by their pain can be crippled for life. And yet, as my sister (a childhood amputee and cancer survivor) has shown me, those who are able to grieve their loss and move on find themselves able to do things that leave the rest of us breathless.