Before we continue our profile of a graduate of our B.S. in English Writing (Creative) and our M.A. in English (Traditional) programs who now writes on international adoptions, I’d like to mention two links I’ve just posted on the blog. One will take you to the online journal Across the Disciplines, sponsored by the Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse housed at Colorado State University. The second is a blog written by another of our graduates of our undergraduate creative writing and traditional Masters programs, Melanie Martin. Melanie writes frequently about the ethically and spiritually complicated relationship between humans and animals, and is currently doing volunteer work in Indonesia—hence her traveler’s blog. Enjoy, and now back to our earlier subject.
A strong sense of the truncated audience our creative writing graduate faces when writing about international adoption in forums or blogs creates challenges for the subject concerning her persuasiveness and, in a clearly related way, her style. “There are those who say that international adoption should stop; which I’m part of that group of the non-special needs adoption … should actually stop in China. And the other group actually thinks the opposite thing; thinks that there’s millions of babies in orphanages, which is false. So, it’s kind of like making the information available, letting them know how the system truly works.”
It is hard to overcome the adoptive parents’ image of themselves as “saviors” of children, or to shake the strong ethos of the agencies with which they deal. “A lot of them don’t want to know, or a lot of the agencies are religious based, so they believe what their church said and that’s the fact and you cannot change their mind. You can show them actual numbers, you can tell them actual experiences … it doesn’t matter.” Because she wants pre-adoptive parents to understand the complexities surrounding what they have decided to do, the subject takes care not to lose her audience, even though “I’m pretty opinionated, so I don’t usually mind saying what I think.” She seeks to replace her normal reactions with a sense of “inching, actually smaller than an inch., you just kind of make these changes as you can. Try to change attitudes.”
The subject’s caution usually entails trying to carefully match word choices with the readers she is consciously trying to reach. The subject can readily list the words that are particularly dangerous: abandonment, abduction, relinquishment, and biological or first parents. For some, the word “abandonment” reinforces their sense of themselves as the child’s rescuers; for others, “abandonment” conveys a “negativity” that is allayed by a phrase like “left to be found.”
The notion that a child became available for adoption through “abduction” may be even more problematic. The adoptive parents can ignore this particularly disturbing aspect of adoption in poorer countries, until the birth parents discover their kidnapped child has been adopted and go in search of it. The subject told of a recent case where the Chinese parents pleaded for the return of their child and were accommodated by the Dutch couple who had adopted the boy. Here, at times, adoptive parents will use the rationalization that America is “a better country, and they’re better off.” We both noted the similarity between these arguments and those which surfaced during the notorious Elio Gonzales case of a decade ago, involving a Cuban father, his son, and certain of the child’s relatives in south Florida. Regarding the Dutch couple, the subject reported “these people were absolutely crucified for taking the child back to China. Like it would have been an easy decision or something. I’m sure they were just … heartbroken.”
With “relinquishment,” the large fines imposed on couples by the Chinese government if they exceed their allotted number of children (one if the first born is a boy and two if the second is a boy or another girl), can lead to the question of whether the couple confronted with such circumstances is really “relinquishing” the child, meaning voluntarily giving it up for adoption.
“Some people don’t like the word ‘birth parents,’ you have to say ‘first parents’ or ‘birth parent’ or ‘Chinese mother,’” with another alternative being “biological parents.” The phrase “real parent” can be particularly touchy, as those who were raising the child could be considered the “real parents” while the parents who gave birth also “did exist. So, depending on where you fall in this spectrum of adoption is what terminology you’ll use and what will immediately shut somebody down because, if they don’t like that term …” The subject said that choosing the wrong term with a particular audience can be known very quickly through the reader’s response and “then they don’t want to hear you anymore.” Levels of sensitivity do vary, with a greater level of freedom on “communal blogs” where a group of interested parties collaborate, and more restrictive parameters in forums “usually lumped under categories” such as “adoptive parents from this area, or adoptive parents in general.” The subject told of recently starting a new forum for people searching for Chinese birth parents. Her expectation was that the forum’s very title would attract like-minded users. “But then you get those who come on thinking, ‘well, maybe should I look.’ And they want to discuss that. But go somewhere else and discuss it; we’re already on this other page. This is not your group, this isn’t for you; go somewhere else.”
The blog or forum on which the subject is writing also influences her style in broader ways. “If I’m just blogging myself, then I just write the way I write. But, however, if I’m answering on another blog, or if, you know, a general forum, you have to keep it shorter; it’s simpler, it’s short, it’s not … because there’s so many different varying levels of education. You have to be more catchy all the time, to keep people’s interest, not so much of an in-depth discussion.” (The variety of blogs and forums in which the subject participated seemed impressive. She also mentioned a more personal blog devoted to her daughter, and how you can draw people to such a blog simply by posting “a picture of a baby or a child on it, because they all want to see the baby.” Then there was a blog on “anti-racist parenting,” for adoptive parents concerned about preparing their children for the racial dissonance they would encounter as they grew older. And another entitled “adopt talk” that would “pop up immediately” for people beginning to investigate adoption.)
Following the interview, the subject and I had an exchange of e-mails regarding the nature of “blogs” and “forums,” and how they might differ from each other. We arrived at the following definitions: “Blogs are initiated by an individual or group; the individual or group writes and then invites comments from whomever happens to read the material and wishes to respond. Forums are more exclusive, in that you have to join them to participate, and no individual or set of individuals can edit or delete what members contribute.”