“Why do they fall in love with the picture?” he said.
Adoption and Law Conference 2011. The crowd was a mix of lawyers, prospective adoptive parents, adoptive parents, USCIS and DOS reps. Tensions ran high. At the end of the eight hours, I overheard a lawyer say to his friends “Why do they fall in love with the picture? Don’t they know they shouldn’t fall in love until the child is legally theirs?” It is 2014 now and I’m still pissed off. Pissed that I didn’t march over there, pissed that I didn’t write about it, pissed that someone could be that foolish. I’m not sure that people who can control their emotions to the to point where they don’t feel love until the paperwork is done are not exactly the type of people I’d put on the top of my list for success as adoptive parents. If we want adoptive families to function based on attachment, love, and commitment — if we want the children to have the experience of being parented by adults who are besotted with them, then don’t we want the type of people who fall in love with picture — we don’t we want the ones who attach fiercely and unwaveringly to the very idea of the child, to her photo, to his name, to the little square referral photo. I’d be willing to be that those parents falling in love with photos have higher levels of oxytocin than someone who could wait “until the child is legally theirs”. Oxytocin is the love hormone, the attachment chemical, the stuff that lets us fall in love with pictures and people. There are lots of available articles on oxytocin disruption in institutionalized, orphaned or traumatized children….what there isn’t is research on oxytocin levels of adoptive parents (http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx). We have research on parenting in general that shows how oxytocin (and serotonin) impact parenting — lower levels seem to be related to lowered abilities to be in tune and sensitive to your children (http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/3/2/128.full). And goodness knows there is plenty of research on the disruption of oxytocin in adopted children and attachement but not so much that even considers the impact of adoptive parents’ levels. Again, I can’t find any research to support it…but I’d be willing to bet that a good percentage of those folks you see clinging to a photo and fighting for a child they’ve never even met are getting raised levels of oxytocin every time they look at that photo. They are fighting because they are in love with that child already. I’m sure it isn’t this way for everyone. I’m sure that not all biological parents have the same hormonal responses. But please, Mr. Smart-Ass Lawyer, don’t judge the prospective parents who are in love with a photo – the ability to fall helplessly in love with a photo may be a sign that this is the very type of person we want to be an adoptive parent.