To follow up ICAR5, I signed up the Redefining Family conference, also hosted at the AUT in Auckland.
Assistive Reproductive Technologies have entered the mainstream in developing countries. Surrogacy, IVF and donor conception allow people to create their ideal families in a variety of ways. They present challenges that the adoption sector will be familiar with; how do we tell children how they were created and how their family functions? What are the developmental impacts on children and families? They also present new problems that we won’t necessarily understand fully for another 10 years, when surrogates and donor-conceived children become old enough to reflect and make their voices heard.
This conference brings together experts from all fields to see what they can learn from one another.
Before I summarise this smaller conference, I wanted to talk about a particular connection that I think will have a profound influence on this fellowship.
Gabriela Misca is well known for her research into the long-term study on Romanian orphans. She has started to ask interesting questions around technology and advocates an adoptee-centred research methodology.
To show us what this looks like, Gabriela invited 5 adoptees to tell their stories. It brought into sharp focus the power and accuracy of first hand testimony. It also demonstrated their natural inclination towards technology, which is something I found particularly positive. The group live streamed their talk to Facebook, to a page called I’m Adopted. With over 3,000 likes, it is a project that founder Alex Gilbert has seen grow rapidly since he started it less than a year ago.
It is a place for young people to share their stories and to get advice or assistance in searching for family members. It stems from Alex’s own journey (which has received impressive media exposure) to find his Russian birth parents. He was born there is 1992 and brought to New Zealand in 1994.
It’s a brave project, and not unique as my conversations with researchers reveals. But it is good example of a concept with strong theoretical importance. Young people, with exceptions of course, have a more positive experience of adoption when they are able to relate to others who have experienced the same, are able to write their own stories in their own way, be creative and have an open and honest relationship with their past. This website achieves all of these things. I think it would benefit from more educational resources (advice from adoptees who have had positive and negative experiences, FAQs, links to other forms of adoption support services), so that there is a deeper level of support and guidance. I’m not sure that supervision or moderation is a good idea. If we agree on the principles of openness, honesty, no secrecy, then we should commit to them. Too much apprehension around online access for adopted children is in the self-interest of adults who don’t want to have to deal with difficult situations (a fairly flippant statement; in other terms I might argue that research needs to be less researcher-led and more adoptee-focused).
Alex and four engaging and articulate young people broadcast their thoughts to our conference audience and live on the internet. You can see it here. It’s long at 90 minutes, but a brilliant piece of evidence as to the positive potential of technology to bring adoption to life for those who need it.