weighing in on madonna and child
i've been taking a wait-and-see attitude about madonna's adoption of an african child. i think it's easy to jump on the celebrity-bashing bandwagon, and i saw an awful lot of folks who don't know jack about international adoption ethics spouting some pretty strong opinions on an issue they've never given a second thought to before they read about it in some tabloid or celebrity gossip site . that bugs me.
i'll admit i don't actually know all that much about international adoption, although i'm learning. there was a time when i felt pretty superior to international adopters, to whom i self-righteously assigned all sorts of bad motives for choosing international over domestic adoption. as in most areas where i have formed strong, black and white opinions -- especially when they are not fully informed and when they are fueled by self-righteousness -- i have come to feel quite humbled by some pretty awsome folks who struggle with a whole host of issues i don't even know about, and who do it with incredible integrity.
so i'm not quick to jump on the celebrity-adopter-bashing bandwagon. my feeling is that celebrities get to build families too, and get to have all sorts of reasons for wanting to do so, and while the issues they face and how they can deal with them with integrity will certainly be shaped by their celebrity status, i'm generally going to be slow to judge without a lot of facts that i can be pretty sure are not distorted by our collective glee in tearing down celebrities just for the sake of it.
(and then there's the fact that madonna's music takes me right back, and can still make an afternoon of cleaning, or a long run, pure joy.)
but still. at some point even i feel like i have enough information to form a judgement, and here it is: i think this adoption pretty much highlights everything that is wrong with international adoption. i find it deeply deeply troubling. here's why:
- there are lots of good reasons to want to adopt a child. unlike some adoption theorists/critics, i believe that wanting to help a child have a better life can be among them. helping a child have a better life is quite different in my mind than wanting to "save" a child. i don't believe that wanting to "save" a child is ever a good motivation for adopting a child. and i don't even think that wanting to help a child have a better life should be your first or primary motivation for adopting. first must be the desire to build a family. of course, i can't know madonna's heart, but it doesn't seem to me that she woke up one day and said, "i really don't think my family is done. i really want to mother another child. i'm going to spend some time learning about the ways i could bring another child into my family. if i do decide to bring another child into my family, and i do it through adoption, it will be important to find a child who will struggle with a very difficult life if he is not adopted." to me, that would be okay. somehow, i don't think that's the process that led madonna to adopt this particular boy.
- when adopting, i believe that celebrities have an added burden, because of their celebrity status, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and not to take advantage of their celebrity. that means you don't get to work around the law. (of course nobody should, celebrity or not; i just think celebrities have an added burden to be ethical on this front precisely because it is so much more likely that the rules will be bent for them.)
- if you spend about three minutes doing research on the ethics of international adoption, you know that one of the biggest ethical problems is that many of parents who are releasing their children for adoption have a very different understanding of what adoption means than westerners do. i believe that at the very least, western adopters have an obligation to make sure that the parents of the children they are adopting really understand the finality of what they are doing when they release their children to be adopted. clearly madonna did not do that with the father of the child she is planning to adopt. that means either that she did not do enough research about international adoption to know this is an issue (i.e. she didn't bother at all), or she knows this is an issue and just didn't care. either way, this is probably the thing that disturbs me the most.