Ann Arbor Day 3: Lunch with Irv

Later in the day, I drove to a restaurant to meet with Irving Leon, a contact of Kris'. An esteemed psychologist (specialising in reproductive loss), (self-confessed) technophobe and adoptive father. It was especially interesting to get a different perspective on my research. He disclosed his personal affiliation with adoption clearly and does so as part of any dialogue on matters relating to his work. This is because he feels this brings to the table a particular set of experiences and feelings (positive and negative) that influences the options and advice he might give. I told him that I have increasingly taken a similar tactic. It is important to my research methodology to be open about this, but it also promotes a transparency and honesty that would be hypocritical of me to avoid.

Irving (Irv for short) came prepared with three key points about technology and adoption. He preloaded his comments with an admission that his understanding of technology is limited by his inexperience in using it (not an irrelevant observation) and limited professional experience with adoption.

  1. Education: this was particularly aligned to the orientation of high quality, non-commercialised resources. By this he meant compromised by corporate sponsorship or cost-barriers. This also infers a neutrality to the information. I told Irv that I feel education needs to expand to school curriculum. Through Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs), the care system and the many forms of temporary and permanent family placements, traditional family dynamics are more complex than ever. Anecdotal evidence during my trip suggests that schools are yet to catch up - I would argue that they have been outdated for sometime. Schools should make children aware of the diversity of family dynamics from a young age as part of a balanced social and sexual education curriculum. This would help produce a generation of informed young people where being adopted is at least understood. This might not prevent playground cruelty, but that is perhaps a goal too far. In young people and adults, fear is often at the heart of anger, aggression or frustration. I was referred to STEAM schools who are starting to explore this in the US. I would like to find out more about the UK's efforts to do so and explore opportunities to research or advocate for these ideas.
  2. Videos: Irv feels that broadcasting the open adoption experience using video would be an effective way of promoting best practice. He is an advocate of open adoption (as am I) as this is what he experienced and it has worked very well. His family and his son have a close relationship with his birth family. In practice, video can be used to connect birth family (IDEA; could STORYWORTH be adapted to allow for moderated video recordings?) reducing distance. These interactions may then act as tools to help encourage more openness in adoption by highlighting that through moderation and appropriate supervision, technology can offer very healthy support for key stakeholders. A fear of disembodiment pervades adoption - adults are scared that their children will want to leave them and this places stress on forming 'natural' bonds. Mediation through the Internet can help to heal this process.
  3. Support Groups: I'm aware that these exist in great - if unquantified - amounts. For Irv, it is important that support groups allow people to think about adoption once ART has failed. Transitioning to adoption has two elements; 1) relief at not having to go through ARTs invasion procedures and 2) grief at not being about to parent your own biological child. Grief should not be assumed to take on a stage-based uniform shape - people react differently in all circumstances. What is common is that there should be an authenticity to adoptive parenthood that supports parents in dealing with their genetic and gestational losses. 

Reproductive Loss

This is not something I've thought about in great detail and my knowledge is still very superficial. However, it's an integral part of adoption, as it reminds us that both parties - children and adults - are dealing with loss. Our focus is often on the child but parents are dealing with a complex array of emotional challenges too. Technology - for it's impersonal universality, can foster closeness and togetherness. I have lost count of the number of times Facebook has reunited people in an adoption context. There is a human need to be connected, especially with family. Children will ask about their birth identities through natural curiosity. A platform like Facebook is already performing a basic function and these positives should be used to help produce a structure that protects the sensitivities of adoption (acknowledging the importance of loss, trauma, child safeguarding and protection, etc). It may also begin to integrate multimedia - such as video or the sharing of photos and creative writing - so that connections over distance are catering to the needs of the child as they navigate their early years.