Yes, Rebecca, it is an awful thing to say.
My ambivalence about adoption is well established here, if not fully fleshed out. Every time I write about it, many of you warmly assure me that I would love an adopted child as passionately as I love Charlie. But that's never been at issue; from the time of Charlie's birth, a transformative experience in ways both good and bad, I knew I could love any baby who'd been entrusted to our care.
The love has never been in doubt. The love seems like the easy part. Everyone I know who's connected with adoption in any way confirms that. I take that as a given, reserving my concerns for all the rest of it. So I was surprised — which is my detached, polite way of saying "sputtering with incredulous indignation" — to read this New York Times article on feminist writer Rebecca Walker's Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence:
The most incendiary notion in "Baby Love" may be that, for Ms. Walker, being a stepparent or adoptive parent involves a lesser kind of love than the love for a biological child.
In an interview, Ms. Walker boiled the difference down to knowing for certain that she would die for her biological child, but feeling "not sure I would do that for my nonbiological child."
"I mean, it’s an awful thing to say," said Ms. Walker, who in a previous relationship helped rear a female partner’s biological son, now 14. "The good thing is he has a biological mom who would die for him."
That is a good thing. Note to Walker's stepchild: Be very, very careful you're with the right person when you happen to get trapped in that burning building, okay?
What bothers me more than Walker's position itself — upgrading from "incredulous indignation" to "incoherent flailing" — is its shift from an earlier stance:
In a 2001 Curve magazine article she said, "the bonds you create are just as important and just as powerful as the bonds that you are born into."
When asked about this incongruity, she explained: "To grapple with how my parents [Walker is the daughter of author Alice Walker] raised me I had to come up with a philosophy that could sustain me. Having my own child gave me the opportunity to have a completely different experience. So hence a different view."
Fellow feminist Jennifer Baumgardner defends Walker's 180 by calling it consistent with Walker's feminist stance: "She reserves the right to evolve, and that's a good model for us."
But is it truly evolution when it entails a step back into what seems like a less enlightened view?
Dawn at This Woman's Work, who has always written beautifully about parenthood, adoption, and race, isn't bothered by the comment: "I figure, why should she feel sure? How can we know about things we haven't experienced?" And I am trying to come around to that point of view, remembering all of the people I know who've expressed worries about creating their families through adoption or donation. "How can I be sure I'll love the child?" is a very common question, and I usually admire without reservation the honesty it takes to ask it.
So why does it disturb me so — "full-body paroxysms of irritation" — that Walker's doing what amounts to the very same thing?
Thanks to T. for the link and sdn for the nudge. I would be delighted to find myself in a burning building next to either of them.