We all know that Madonna and Angelina Jolie have adopted children but many other female celebrities such as actors Jamie Lee Curtis and the focus of this week’s blog Michelle Pfeiffer have done so too.
Pfeiffer’s career is well-known so I’m not going to focus on that here, except for a little confession to say that, thanks to her performance in the hilarious and underrated Grease 2, I’ve spent far too much of my life chewing gum and fantasising about riding a motorbike
In 1970 the average age of a first-time mother was 21.4. In 2013 it was 26 . In the UK it is now 30. Fascinating statistics when you consider that the best biological time to fall pregnant is in your early 20s.
As we discovered when my husband and I applied to adopt, people make take the adoption route for different reasons. For some, altruism is the motivating factor, for others it is because they cannot or will not carry a baby, others have focussed on their careers while young and are unable to fall pregnant later. I was lucky in that I became not-on-purpose pregnant with my son at 20. By the time I was 29, I had confirmed infertility issues. I know now that if I hadn’t conceived then, I would never have had a child.
As career women, it is to be expected that some celebrities will postpone attempts to get pregnant until it is too late. With Pfeiffer it was different, she ‘always knew she wanted to adopt a child and also have one of [her] own’ and was already in the midst of the adoption process as a single person when she met her husband to be, David E Kelley. Their biological son, born later, is white whereas her adopted daughter, Claudia Rose, is from a different ethnic group to their own. Pfeiffer talks about the controversy this has caused:
I was shocked at the prejudice, voiced in some quarters, over my decision to adopt a mixed-race baby. It’s really surprising that people still put so much emphasis on it. None of us are pure anything. We’re all a mixture.
Transracial adoption is a difficult topic, for which celebrities in particular have been much villified, as Michelle’s comment suggests. I’m not suggesting that it is straightforward, transcontinental adoption even less so. I’m also aware that with my white privilege I am not the best qualified to speak on this. So I asked writer-performer Michelle Scally Clarke, a friend and colleague who is mixed race – West Indian and Irish – but was adopted by a white couple what it had been like growing up in a family from a different cultural background to the one she was born into. I expected her to come back to me with the pros and cons of transracial adoption from her own perspective but I should have known she would reply with something much more from the heart. This was her response:
I used to hate the word, Grateful
T’was a big word whilst growing up Irish catholic by birth mother,
children’s homes, and adoption,
Guilt, prayers, compassion, love and loss.
Was I supposed to be grateful, that I was here?
My parents allowed us to be.
They allowed me to develop.
They gave me tools to express.
A pen to write with, books to read, mountains to climb.
Love, belly laughter, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.
They were as interested in my roots as I was in theirs.
My parents believed in peace – if we were not part of the solution then we were part of the problem
As they learnt my dance so I learned my family’s.
Grateful is now my favourite word.
As for our adoption application, my husband and I were turned down last year due to professional differences between him and two bosses in his previous career. Below is an extract from my poem ‘Unwanted’ that touches on the impact of this failed adoption:
Nobody has died. This is not that sort of grief.
Not the sort either that we would have helped to soothe,
jigsaw into a story that makes sense, silt to sky.
For the record, we wanted him
with the name and sorrows he came with.
We have learned to hold sorrows like these and let them breathe.
(Becky Cherriman, ‘Unwanted’ from Echolocation)
We didn’t care about the origins of the child we hoped to adopt, although we would unquestionably have been committed to keeping the child connected with their cultural roots. But, like Pfeiffer, we did seek to adopt a mixed race child, simply because mixed-race children are some of the least likely children to be adopted in this country . Had we adopted, even as a mixed race couple, there is little chance that the child would have had the same ethnicity as us considering that I am white British and my husband half-Indian and half-Italian. Does that mean we should have ruled out a child because s/he was of a particular race?