Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More on Choices

I just received a very thought provoking comment on my "Choices" post, and since it is quiet and late at night I thought I'd wander around it a bit and see what comes out. I may not like it when I reread it later as I am a bit sleep deprived at the moment...but it will pass the wee hours of the morning! I really want to thank the commenter for her insightful statements which made me think about things on yet a deeper level.

In part, here is what the comment says:

"Another way of saying women should have choices is that they should be empowered. They are empowered by their education, culture, family, background, and even friends. Many, many girls and women in this country and the world do not have the advantages that you or I have enjoyed in life, the ones that empower us to make really good decisions for ourselves. Even if you feel many girls and women make bad choices, perhaps you can also see that there may be a context for that, something more complicated than "jumping into bed." "

Actually, this is a very good point and one I had not particularly considered. There are reasons that women, young and old alike, make the decision to "jump into bed" with someone. I know that quite honestly, I may not ever really be able to understand those reasons for I have had the good fortune of being raised in a home where a good example was set, where there were certain expectations for my behavior, where I was not neglected or abused or mistreated in any way which might cause me to quickly reach for anyone offering what might be mistaken for love and affection.

But I have two other thoughts on this, one of which is that society itself has this blase attitude about out-of-wedlock pregnancy. There isn't a week that goes by when some movie star or popular singer isn't celebrating their premarital pregnancy on the cover of some gossip magazine. There is hardly an outcry from the public at large these days when children are born into broken or non-existent families, and our young girls are seeing that this is somehow "glamorous"...that their teen idols are pregnant and unmarried is of no concern at all. While I do understand the comment and respect the perspective, there are also those who have no reason at all for creating life which then forces them to make irrevocable choices other than recklessness and irresponsibility...there are kids from good homes, are well educated, are not poverty stricken either in terms of finances or parental love and care. There are simply women, who for whatever reason, elect to forgo the slower path to relationship building and give in to the urges of the moment. And as the commenter also aptly pointed out, I do agree that there are those who due to life experiences (or lack thereof) find themselves unable to make better choices, who find themselves emotionally in need of the connection that sex provides, even if it is with the wrong person.

But here is where I have a problem with it all...it is SO EASY today to obtain and use contraception. It takes little to almost no effort, and is often available free of charge, and that too solves the problem an unwanted pregnancy creates. Why then, when it is easier than it has ever been before in history to keep one's self from getting pregnant, would a woman place herself in a position of risk? Maybe it is judgmental of me to make such a statement, maybe I am showing a remarkable lack of understanding of some from a background different from my own. I don't mean it to be, truly. But not every young woman from a less fortunate background ends up in this circumstance, and I wonder what the difference is between those who do and those who don't. Is it spelled simply "hope"? Hope for a better future for themselves, hope that they will not repeat the pattern perhaps of their own families? Is it self-respect? Is it the ability to deny immediate self-gratification?

It is no doubt a troubling and disconcerting issue, one which as I said in my earlier post I will be ruminating over for a long time. There are many perspectives, many sides, and each story is as unique as the person who lived it to retell. I also don't think that anyone is inherently good or bad who finds themselves making certain "choices". The commenter is totally correct and the context for the decision to "jump into bed" can be varied and not at all simple to define or discern. I guess my point is how do we move young women from making the decision at one stage to making it earlier so that they are not forced to face this moral dilemma? And for those who are not all young, uneducated, unwed and uncertain how do we get them to see the long term consequences of an act? The book was filled with stories of woman from all kinds of backgrounds, and not all were "looking for love in all the wrong places", so to speak...not all came from backgrounds that would have led them to make poor choices. Some made a conscious decision to play roulette, some simply didn't care enough, some see the choice to be involved in an act from which life might spring as not all that important.

I think what bothers me most in all of this, and always has when discussions turn to this topic, is that sex is somehow turned into an act that is for the satisfaction of the two partners involved...often it is carelessly and casually entered into because "we want to". While I certainly acknowledge the cases where bad choices are made due to any number of factors, often it really is a choice born not of lack of advantages or poverty or education but instead is a selfish choice of "I want to feel good right now" with no thought given to the child that might be created at that moment. And then, a "problem" that so easily could have been averted...regardless of ones background or lack of advantages...has to be handled, causing the woman even more anguish and heartbreak, perhaps for a lifetime.

I guess, for me in my admitted ignorance, the problem is a problem that really doesn't have to exist at all if someone says "no". And I make this statement with all honesty about my lack of worldly experience. I mean, when you have dated one man from the time you are 15 and married him, when you have never been pregnant yourself, when you do come from relative privilege versus so many others...how can I begin to put myself in someone elses shoes? I have lived a very sheltered life, I had choices and made different decisions than others would if they were in my shoes and I know that is true.

I will never back down from the basic premise that real choice...real empowerment...for women comes from making a decision that is best for themselves before rather than after a child has been created. We can acknowledge that there will always be those who are unable to make good, solid decisions for themselves, and that goes well beyond the decision to sleep with someone. We can't, unfortunately, "fix" all that causes some to make poor choices.

But I think we can stop glorifying those choices, and by doing so we might be able to influence a few young women to think before they act.

With freedom and choice comes responsibility, and maybe that is all I am trying to say. I think maybe that has come out sounding condescending and judgmental, and that is not my intent at all. Just like the women about which we write tonight, I am a product of all that life has presented to me, and I can do no more about that than others can do about their backgrounds. Maybe it is just a wish though that my own children could have been raised by their birth families instead of walking around for the rest of their lives with unanswered questions rolling around in their heads. Maybe it is a wish for peace for those who are hurting and spending their life wistfully wondering "What if I had not aborted and given birth, what would my child be like?" or "I wonder if the child I placed for adoption has had a happy life?" or even "What would my life have been like if I had not married him because I got pregnant?".

For our family, the question of what a birth mom might be thinking and feeling is not a "what if" scenario, for us it is a question asked by my then 2 year old...why his birth mommy left him, does she miss him, does he have other brothers or sisters. For us as with so many other adoptive families, it is often us...the adoptive parents...who are left trying to answer questions for which we have no answers. It is we who have to deal with the consequences of poor choices, we who are left trying to offer explanations, we who try to comfort and reassure about abandonment.

And sometimes, in the still of the night, when my sobbing 5 year old is suffering for fear that I too will leave him, it matters not at all why someone may have made a poor choice or why she was not empowered. All that matters then is that he feels alone, and my concern and empathy for the unempowered admittedly flies out the window. I know that is not a compassionate thing to admit, but when it takes two hours to finally lull him back to sleep...5 years post abandonment...the choices of others have a significant impact on our lives and it is hard to always see things from a more charitable side at moments like these. It's not something I care to admit, it is not a gracious or forgiving or "WWJD" moment in my life. But it IS true. And it is not necessarily something of which I am proud.

The waves in the ocean of choice spread far and wide, don't they?


Jeanne said...

Hi Cindy, thanks for engaging my comments! I'll tell you where I'm coming from. I trained as a family practice physician in rural Ohio, and during my residency I did a lot of obstetric care of pregnant teens. I saw so many situations in which the girls faced impossible odds--every terrible situation you have ever heard of and more. One mother said to me in the delivery room of her 15 yr. old daughter, "I let her boyfriend spend the night. She's having this one for me!" One wonders, what led that mother to use her own daughter so? Where did it start and where will it end?

I agree with you about the glorification of poor choices by so-called role models. In general, media stories are despicable.

I believe that the solution to the problem of poor choices, especially the ones you're talking about that deeply affect innocent lives, is more, and more, and more love. When you care for your hurt son, you are participating in the healing of the world.

It's very hard work. Thank you for doing it.

imtina said...

This post is reminding me of a recent debate and amazing responses on some adoption blogs I read on the subject of adoptee as second choice and therefore, second best. What ended up happening, as the writing kept getting filtered and worked on, was that adoptive parents don't feel that their children are second best or second rate, but that often, no matter how much love and acceptance the child is given, the child still carries with them that they are 2nd best. And given Joshie's circumstances, I can see how he may always carry that trauma of his past and that you might always bear your own protective feelings regarding this.

The sex before marriage topic seems hard to apply given the circumstances of our children's mothers for many reasons. Did they have freedom with money to buy contraceptives? Did they have freedom to speak openly with their partners about sex and responsibilities? The women of other countries, particularly women living a religiously, culturally, financially, educationally different life from you or me can't be held to the same responsibilities of say, for instance, people in our country.

So, given this idea, I would gently challenge you to be open to a more radical protectiveness - one that includes your childrens' mothers in central Asia. I believe that this kind of all-encompassing, non-judgemental acceptance, has to spill over onto your kids, and that's good for everyone. Rough for you as mama bear, of course. But, I think in the end, when we have those difficult feelings, that there is a chance for our children to internalize them and take them personally. Even if you never breathe a word of it, you know?

Hope I'm not coming off preachy...it's late here.


LaJoy Family said...

Hey Tina!

Thanks for your comment and thoughtfully expressed ideas. I think perhaps...maybe because it was late when I wrote it...my thoughts were not as clear as they should have been. Because I had addressed my compassion for our Central Asian birthmoms in my first post about it and recognized the very different choices which their life circumstances placed them in, I didn't reiterate that fact in this post. I was mainly addressing the whole American "choice" debate in this one as outlined in the book I read, and I do feel that our variety of choices here allows for less responsibility on the part of the birth mom. I see quite clearly how even Josh's mom may have had no choice, although for his sake I sure wish she would have chosen another avenue for abandonment, and yes...there are times when I see how he still suffers when I have a hard time with the whole thing when I am not puruposely trying to see both sides of the fence. You are in the unique position to see two sides of the issue.

I actually leave the whole birth mom thing open when I talk with the boys, as we have no real information to share and I offer up reasons they may not have been able to keep them such as poverty, out of wedlock birth, medical care for Kenny, etc.

And, whether it is a popular idea or not, I sometimes feel I am walking a fine line with some of this as well in terms of wanting to teach my children already about the value of waiting for sex until marriage and expressing the reasons why it is not a good idea. Unfortunately, since they are adopted, it hits closer to home than it would if we had biological children. It is one of those values that I hold as a firm one, and I know it is not always the case and no judgment on that for others but we ALL make judgments in how we live our lives and raise our kids. Telling my kids that I wouldn't want them placed in the awful position of having a child they were not ready to parent may come across as a judgment on their birth moms...but it is the exact same thing I would say to them if they were not adopted to help THEM be placed in the situation where difficult choices have to be made and their own life options are narrowed.

All of this is challenging for most of us. At least for those of us who give time to such discussion and debate. Maybe that alone is better than not talking about it at all, as it really does help us as we examine our own thoughts about it all and try to grow as we raise our kids. I am never going to say I am "right" or "Correct" in my thinking...and sharing those thoughts here on the blog often helps me see things in a new light...and oten keeps those thoughts from spilling onto the kids as I explore them. For here in the adult arena is where they belong, and I am blessed to have so many wonderful virtual friends who help me process all of this!!

Maureen said...

Hi Cindy,

Your last comment here hit upon the one thing that I kept thinking about as I read your posts... What do we need to do to teach our boys (as well as our girls) to be respectful of sex and its consequences? The one thing you said that I hadn't considered is: "Telling my kids that I wouldn't want them placed in the awful position of having a child they were not ready to parent may come across as a judgment on their birth moms..." What a fine line we have to walk in providing a nonjudgmental moral compass. As always, thanks for your insight and thoughtful writing!!!!