In a few days, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale premiers on Hulu. I devoured the first season with the kind of peering-through-fingers fascination with which one might observe a car accident or a fire. The depictions of the Republic of Gilead, in light of our current political climate attacking what little progress we’ve made on such issues as racial equality or reproductive rights, frequently felt all too plausible and, at times, terrifyingly inevitable. That alone was enough to give each episode’s viewing an awkward tension between macabre enjoyment and intense discomfort.
There was, however, another aspect to the show which made it difficult for me to watch, at times making me wonder if I really could emotionally handle another season of the series (to be honest, I’ve never read the book, so all of it is new to me). A major premise of the story is that the United States has experienced an epidemic of infertility, which has resulted in a zealous desire to harness the reproductive powers of those few women able to bear children and essentially turn them into enslaved broodmares for the ruling class. The infertile wives of powerful men are often depicted as cold hearted, desperate for children yet lacking the empathy and kindness necessary for motherhood. They pull babies from the sobbing arms of their mothers to claim them as their own, but there is nothing maternal about these wives as they fail to acknowledge the Handmaids’ pain.
I’m pretty sure you’ve started to figure out why seeing this overwhelms me–an infertile woman waiting for an adoption match–with unbearable guilt.
Yes, I understand that the woman who chooses me to be her child’s mom is doing so because adoption is her plan, her choice–one choice among others that she has available to her (adoption, abortion, parenting). I understand that, if we match while she is still pregnant, she has every right to change her mind even after her baby is born, that all of the decisions are hers until she makes the decision, through her signature, to hand those decisions over to me. I understand that I will not be prying my child from his or her birth mother’s arms against her will, as happens so heartbreakingly in The Handmaid’s Tale. I understand all of this.
However, it’s impossible for me not to think about the fact that many expectant mothers make adoption plans because they are in a situation where they cannot parent their child–due to financial reasons, living situation, lack of support, substance dependence, or any number of circumstances that inhibit the ability to take care of a child. We live in a society where the cost of childcare is often prohibitive; paid maternity leave is the privilege of a select few; our minimal social welfare programs are continually being diminished; good rehabilitation programs are woefully underfunded and out of reach of the people who need them most. These are often the factors that lead expectant mothers to make adoption plans. And when it comes right down to it, that doesn’t seem like much of a “choice” at all.
As I watched the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were no different from the wives of the ruling class, whose infertility has led them down the path of the ritualized, government-sanctioned theft of other women’s children. While I know, rationally, that it’s not exactly the same, this has by far been the hardest part of my adoption journey: my greatest joy is going to come as a direct result of someone else’s immense sadness, someone else’s lack of options.
And yet, I don’t walk away from adoption. As a result of the imperfect world in which we currently live, it is necessary to have an ethical adoption system in place. The women who find themselves in the position of making an adoption plan must feel confident, comfortable, and at peace with their choice of family to parent their child. If an expectant mother chooses me, she has decided that I’m the best mom for her child in a situation where she, for whatever reason, cannot be. Too many people erroneously see adoption as an act of charity, but that cannot be farther from the truth. I’m the one who will owe my child’s birth mother an enormous debt of gratitude; I’m the one who will owe her child complete and emphatic devotion. She will be entrusting me with the most divinely precious life, and it is I who will forever be indebted to her.