Their Bad Mother

So Sandra Bullock adopted a child. I’m happy for her.

I am, really. I think that I might have actually welled up this morning, when I saw the headline and clicked to see that picture of her, smiling as she nuzzled her brand new baby boy. I’m not usually moved by stories of celebrities giving birth or adopting children – so many ordinary women and men do this every day; why is the expansion of a celebrity family any more significant? – and so the catch in my throat and the tears in my eyes took me by surprise, a little.

Although, why should I have been surprised? Sandra Bullock has been, I think, on the minds of so many women (and men too, perhaps), as a woman towards whom we felt pity, on whose behalf we felt outrage, for whom we wished some measure of happiness, any measure of happiness, to offset what we imagined must be the horrible pain of being publicly betrayed by someone trusted and loved. That there is, now, a source for such happiness – and is there any greater source of happiness, other than nurturing romantic love, than the love of a child? (despite anything a tired mom might say to the contrary) (and perhaps it is only parents who feel this way, but still) – for Sandra is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And that she found that source and pursued it so quietly, so far away from cameras and reporters and public relations professionals, and kept it to herself for as long as she needed to, makes it seem all the sweeter. I’m not sure why, but it does. So, yes, happy.

When I tweeted about it, someone responded with a question about why celebrities seem to adopt when their marriages are falling apart: ‘are they reaching out to children to make themselves feel better?’ I replied that Sandra Bullock would have begun the adoption process long before she knew that her partner was cheating (‘that makes him even more of an ass,’ someone remarked in response), but that that was, in any case, beside the point. Children do provide love. Children do make us feel better. That’s not to say that we should bear children or adopt children any time we’re in need of a boost; it’s just to acknowledge a truth about why we are so nourished by parenting, even when, on the face of it, it sometimes appears to be more of a torment. We get something very important out of parenting, out of being moms and dads: we get love. Sure, we give love, and that’s important too, but at the core of it, being a parent is an inherently selfish act, because we get so much love. Children give us so much love.

This is one of the reasons, I think, that so many were appalled by Jillian Michaels’ remarks about adoption the other week (I am leaving alone her remarks about the maternal body; I have been there and raged at that and now feel a little badly that I got so upset): she seemed to frame adoption as a sacrifice, as something people do for children. They rescue them, was her suggestion. She quite liked the idea of rescue; she would like to do that, she thought. And that not only misses the point of having children – by adoption or otherwise – but confuses it entirely. We don’t have children – adopt them or give birth to them or summon them by stork – as a favor to them. They come to us as a favor to us. They are a gift to us. They rescue us.

So it will be for Sandra. I am happy for her.



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