Guilt Revisited

First, thank you all for the great discussion on yesterday's post. I hope this continues, because it has already moved away from the black and white of the issue into the grays, which is where the work will take place.

On to the point. I need to get something off my chest, and hope you'll indulge me. If you read the comments to the open mike, you'll notice that one hit a nerve for me - a comment suggesting that guilt is a motivator for what I write here. I need to address my feelings about guilt once and for all.

There is no question that I have struggled with feelings of guilt. It troubles me that by adopting, I've participated in a system that is challenged by injustice and lack of ethics. I've written about them here in an effort to understand them. And there are two things about them I need to clarify.

One is selfish. Although I think it's fair to characterize my writing as introspective, maybe even dark, let me make it clear that it's not motivated by guilt. I've felt it, I've expressed it - yes. But it doesn't motivate me here, it's simply a part of my adoption experience.

The other is not. It's directed at anyone who may have come away from reading here thinking that I've shared my feelings of guilt in an effort to dissuade others from adopting. Please, please understand this: Each of us must come to our own decision about adopting. The decisions we make will certainly be influenced by what we learn from others, but must be based first and foremost on our own preparation and research, and our own confidence that ethics and justice have been respected. My feelings are my feelings - no more than that.

What I said in this earlier post explains what I'm trying to say:
Every day I watch my near-adult kids grow, stretch their wings, claim their world. And every day I feel guilt - yes, guilt - for the undeserved joy I am experiencing, the fact that their parents have had none of it, and for what my children have lost. Admitting that my joy has come at this great price doesn't spoil it, though it tempers it with reality. It doesn't change how I love my kids, nor is it something I talk to them about. It's simply something I accept and respect as a part of my adoption experience.
I would add this. Over the past year I've spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I would have adopted if I knew then, twenty years ago, what I know now. I asked myself this question way back here and couldn't answer it. Yesterday, a commenter asked it again, and this time I'm answering.

Yes, I would have adopted, and I would still have adopted from Korea. But I would have adopted differently. I would have made the case for openness, rather than accepting what I was told about the need for secrecy. I would have made every effort to connect with my children's families, would have pushed for regular communication beyond the letters and photos we've sent through the years that have remained unanswered. I would have tried hard early on to make reunion a reality.

How, you are asking, can I say this when out of the other side of my mouth I profess my guilt? Because had I not adopted when I did, nothing would have changed for my children. They would simply have come to another family, perhaps one that was less attentive to their right to know who they are, genetically and ethnically, and less willing to connect with their community. Although I'm far from a perfect parent, I can say that I've given my all. And I know it's made a difference to my kids.

Please, you who are considering adoption and struggling with guilt: Solving the societal challenges that push parents to adoption and correcting adoption injustice will take time. While we work toward that goal, children will be separated from their families and adoptions will continue to take place. If you are committed to openness in adoption and to respecting a child's family connections; if you can nurture and support a child's ethnic heritage; if you're willing to fight for adoption reform: guilt shouldn't stand in your way. You are precisely the one who should adopt, until every child in the world is assured of a home with the family to whom they're born.


Laurie said…
Margie, I cannot thank you enough for this post. I struggle, everday, to reconcile my feelings of guilt and adoption. Don't know where I'll ultimately land with my feelings 20 years from now, but I know, as you mentioned, I will do my damnest to raise my boys knowing their birth country, and do EVERYTHING in my power to find their first families and insist on maintaining a real relationship. Maybe I'll fail at that and more, but I will try everyday. And I will advocate for reform.
justenjoyhim/judy said…
This is a great post, Margie.

I have my own feelings or definitions about guilt that I'm working out and may post about on my own blog -- someday. Perhaps not today, because driving to the beach awaits.

But I do feel the same way as you in that I would adopt again. The children who need families are not going to miraculously disappear from Vietnam anytime soon. And my, yes selfish desire to have a family wouldn't have abated either. :)

Wonderful post, as always. Thank you.
MomEtc. said…
I completely understand this post and I feel almost exactly like you do. I have one question though, if you don't mind. Why do you feel you are not deserving of the joy your children have brought you? While I certainly think that my daughter's family by birth is 100% entitled to any of the joy she could ever bring them, I think, given the circumstances, that it's not wrong for me to also experience immense joy as her amother.
Margie said…
MomEtc, what I mean by "undeserved joy" is that I wasn't ENTITLED to be my children's mother. The joy is real, I thank God for it and for them every day - and I acknowledge, too, that never had the right to expect it.

I hope this makes sense!!
Swerl said…

Thanks for the post. You've greatly clarified your point of view. I have a much better understanding now. Obviously, I was the catalyst for it, but I hope it helps others. I want to think about it and post a response later, when I have more time.

I did want to add this. One thing EVERYONE agreed with in the last post is that we must do all in our power to help keep first families intact through foreign aid.

EVERYONE, start here, start now, tell your friends:
Swerl said…
Blogger cut off the URL.

Click HERE:

and do the first three "take action" posts.
MomEtc. said…
Thank you so much for clarifying, Margie. I'm with you 100%....I was absolutely not entitled to be DD's mother.
Tina said…
Once again you have taken something complex and graciously waded through the murky bits for greater understanding. I am so appreciative of you and this blog and the work you do in adoption. I'm going to run for president of the Margie fan club.

Christina said…
Margie, I love your blog and think you are an intelligent and thoughtful person. I don't view you as writing out of guilt; I don't believe you would have any reason to feel guilty. The one thing I would say though is that some of your perspectives might be different if you knew and had a relationship with your childrens' birthmothers. Although there are many adoptive moms who connect with and have a great relationship with their kids' birthparents, there are some of us who have had to really struggle to connect with and even like their childrens' birthparents. It is a situation where you love and value the person for giving birth to your incredible and beloved child, but also one where you just can't like the choices the person makes and find her to be someone who you just wouldn't want your family exposed to. Sometimes the reality of who a birthparent really is is very different from what the fantasy or hope is. Moms who have adopted internationally have a certain amount of luxury because they don't have to confront the realities of what the situation might be with the birthparent. For some of us in domestic situations, it is staring us right in the face knowing that this person would be bad for our child and struggling to make a relationship work. I'm not sure I've expressed this well, but I've noticed that many of the adoptive moms who are best liked by birthmothers online are adoptive moms who have no contact with their child's birthmother.

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