Adoption, from a useful distance


The Boston Globe

We’ve all complained enough — at least, I have — about the weird, false intimacy of the Internet: the performance-art creations of shiny, happy lives; the distance between our real selves and our social-network avatars.

But sometimes, that built-in distance serves a purpose. Case in point: adoption.

Last week, the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a New York-based policy group, released a fascinating study about the Internet and adoption — based on the stories of 2,000 birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees and professionals who answered open-ended questions in an online survey. It found that the Internet has led to huge changes in adoption circles, for better and worse. The better: a vast support network for sharing advice and concerns. The worse: a web of shady people who post exploitative ads, preying on pregnant women and would-be parents.

Some of this is unsurprising. The Internet begs for caution. What is surprising is how many people, on all sides of adoption, appreciate the medium for precisely what it is: a way to manage their communications consciously, to be close and detached at once.

Adoption is an evolving institution, and it’s evolving into an open one. Many adoptions now explicitly involve some contact between children and birth parents. Many children eventually search for their birth families: Nearly three-quarters of adoptees who answered the Donaldson Institute survey said they’d used the Internet to find their birth families.

And once a search begins, the Internet makes it more likely to succeed, said Adam Pertman, the institute’s president. “Now, you have to assume that there’s going to be some level of contact or communication,” he told me. “And you have to proceed accordingly.”

People report proceeding with a greater sense of comfort. The Internet has changed the fraught dynamics of first contact: An anxiety-producing phone call or knock on the door can now be a slow-motion process, involving online observations, cautious delays and written messages. One adoptee called social-media sites “an invisible protection barrier,” allowing people to manage their emotions at every step, and to reach out only when ready.

Once adoptees and birth families get in touch, the study suggests, they often stay in touch — again, with the Internet’s help. In the survey, 61 percent of adoptees said they kept up with their birth families online, through e-mail, Facebook and other social media. And some birth parents wrote about how Facebook bridged the gap between constant contact and total disconnection.

“I can keep up with her life without being in her family’s way,” one wrote.

“I don’t ‘stalk' their Facebook pages, but I do like to see pictures of her smiling,” wrote another. “The most recent ones I have seen have been of her first day of second grade and her first day of karate.”

That quote seemed particularly heartwrenching to me — so close, but so far away. But for birth mothers, Pertman told me, a major healing factor is the knowledge that their children are OK.

“Imagine the healing that’s going on,” he said,“just by seeing that child online, being successful, going to high school, talking to friends.”

Adoptive parents, too, wrote about the sense of comfort the Internet gave them, the benefits of knowledge without intimacy. “It gives a sense of self and identity,” one wrote, “without blurring lines between who their parents are and who their past is.”

There are pitfalls, of course, to this idea of constant observation. One woman wrote about realizing, with regret, that a child she’d placed for adoption could see her loving online exchanges with a daughter she’d kept. Another wrote that she made sure her Facebook page showed her on her best behavior, because she knew her child’s adoptive parents would be watching.

So, she applied a little gloss on her life. This is what we all do on the Internet, really: Apply a little gloss, then eavesdrop peacefully, with mutual consent, waving to each other from across a safe digital divide. Sometimes, it really does feel like a charade. But sometimes, it’s a source of comfort.

“We know each other’s names, what we look like and where we live,” one adoptee wrote. “Life is better knowing that they are there.”

© 2013 The New York Times

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    We can’t delay the fight against sea-level rise

    Regardless of its cause, sea-level rise is the inevitable, non-debatable consequence of the warming of the oceans and the melting of the planet’s ice sheets. It is a measurable, trackable and relentless reality. Without innovative adaptive capital planning, it will threaten trillions of dollars of the region’s built environment, our future water supply, unique natural resources, agricultural soils and basic economy.

American jihadist Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, who eventually burned his passport, died in May after blowing up a truck in Syria.


    White House should release 9/11 documents

    The death of American jihadist Douglas McArthur McCain in Syria raised few eyebrows. It is no secret that there are about 7,000 foreigners fighting alongside the terrorists known as the Islamic State of Islam (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, of which perhaps 150 to 300 are American.



    Jihadis forcing the U.S. to support its enemy Assad

    History is moving to give us an answer to one of the great foreign-policy debates of this decade. President Obama has time and time again dismissed the argument, repeated recently by Hillary Clinton, that the United States should have taken a more-assertive stance to affect the course of the civil war in Syria. Clinton, who as Obama’s secretary of state argued that Washington should give more material support for moderate rebels, says a decision to intervene could have prevented the current calamity.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category