Carol Forsloff—“My oldest daughter isn’t married yet but she wants to have a child. So she is returning to Hawaii to have one.”In the current political climate on social issues there are often no easy answers to the problems of infertility or unwanted pregnancies. Yet Hawaii has a custom that may provide solution for some women on the matter of abortion, in a manner that would likely be acceptable to people on all sides of the debate.
Donna is Native Hawaiian. The culture respects life in all its forms and offers a perspective on the bearing and raising of children that many could emulate and that perhaps could bring joy during times of complexity or grief, as some women find that having a child may be beyond their capabilities financially or physically.
The concept is called “hanai” which is the Hawaiian word for adoption, only it is a different kind of adoption that removes the guilt, shame and other issues associated with giving up a child and instead offers a loving path to resolving the issues when a woman is pregnant and unable to care for a child. And often it is a voluntary act of love that helps the pregnant mother as well as the prospective parent or parents.
In Hawaiian culture when a woman cannot have a child she may be given one by a close relative or friend. Then the child is raised knowing both the natural and adopting mother. There is no issue about loyalty, as the parent who raises the child is honored. Yet the mother who offers the child to be raised by another is also seen as giving love by offering a child to someone who wants a child and cannot have one. It is not considered a shame either for the pregnant mother or for the woman who cannot conceive.
Hanai provides the answer to abortion by exercising a natural and easy way to adoption which may not involve agencies or complicated laws. It is an informal, family-style arrangement where everyone wins. The child wins in that it has a parent or parents who will love, care for and raise the child. The biological mother retains the distinction of having given birth, a birth that is honored by everyone involved in the hanai process. She may see the child, or not, as those involved in the hanai arrangement decide. But often the biological mother remains somewhat in the background of the child’s life, ready to give information and support for medical or personal reasons.
Adoption as it is done formally can often be expensive, complicated by laws that may be different in different states or countries. It is further complicated by attitudes, especially those who view adoption as a last resort option or a relationship that is somehow not as good as having one’s “own” or biological child. In a hanai relationship, that new child in the family is viewed as any other child, worthy of the kindness, support and attachment to all other members of the group. Nothing is hidden from the child or the adults in the process. Everyone is committed to the welfare of the child.
Sometimes the arrangement may be undertaken in order to prevent a family problem or a personal problem. Yet often it is done simply because one woman wants a child and another may have more than she wants or can manage, or maybe she just wants to offer the other woman a child out of her generosity and love.
Many of the Native Hawaiian traditional ways are ones that can be emulated in modern society and bring to everyone a sense of justice, reconciliation, support and kindness. Hanai is one of them and perhaps the grand solution for many unwanted children or mothers whose situations are complicated by difficult circumstances where abortion appears to be the best answer. Hanai is an answer, however, that brings joy as opposed to condemnation, something all sides of the debate on abortion likely want.