Monday, April 9, 2007

Unexpected: A Love Like No Other

Part Two of A LOVE LIKE NO OTHER focuses on "Encounters With the Unexpected", containing a variety of essays in which parents were caught off-guard by the reality of adoption.

Melissa Fay Greene's "Post-Adoption Panic" is as surprising as to WHO wrote it as what she wrote. Melissa Fay Greene (as her bio at the end of the book attests) wrote a book "about a foster mother to AIDS orphans in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That book is practically the Bible of Ethiopian adoption. That book is, in whole or in part, responsible for many people considering Ethiopian adoption. That book is recommended highly on this website. Don't have it? BUY IT. READ IT. There's a handy link, go-go-go, we'll wait.

Good. Everyone owns THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT YOU. Now, buy THIS book (A LOVE LIKE NO OTHER) and read how a mother of 4 "bio" kids struggles to bond with their first adopted child, a boy named Jesse, from Bulgaria. This is prior to their children adopted from Ethiopia. This is the story of a mother who bristles at having this "interloper" in family pictures, who loses her patience easily, who finally makes an appointment with a psychiatrist, because she just can't seem to LOVE this adopted, older, Bulgarian child. It is a question that few parents ask honestly. While there is endless work put into trying to coax adopted children into loving their "a-parents", no one asks -- not out loud -- if they are REALLY capable of loving an adopted child like their own. And for some, it is a hard adjustment. Greene's honest portrayal will help anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.

Sheila Stainback's "Baby on Board—But Not Everyone Else" will be massively identifiable to many of us. What happens when we think the sun and moon revolves around our kid/s -- but our extended family refuse to welcome him or her/them into the fold? This essay describes the slow thaw that occurs when the "other" becomes "family".

Amy Rackear's "The Second Time Around" revolves around a fertility-challenged couple who adopt successfully, but struggle with the decision of expanding their family through adoption a second time.

Jill Smolowe's "Color Her Becky" recounts a family with a daughter adopted from China (the titular "Becky"), fail to see the importance of discussing race with their daughter, until she has to grapple with a school bully who delight in taunting her with the brilliant put-down, "Cut the cheese, you're Chinese."

Reading this essay was like having a conversation with the person I was a year ago. At that time, at the beginning of our process, I would've said that emphasizing race is unnecessary. Play it as it lays, right? I now feel, after a year of reading books and blogs and forums, asking friends, etc., that it's irresponsible to leave a child unprepared for this kind of unpleasant experience. Judging from much of the tranracially-adopted adult adoptee community on the internet, it is those who grew up identifying as "white" until adulthood that had the biggest trouble when the world failed to see them as they saw themselves. It may be counter-intuitive at first, but the more race is discussed, the less of an "issue" it may be later in the child's life.

Jana Wolff's "The First Thirteen" makes some starling admissions about her thirteen-year-old, transracially-adopted son: the more he excels in that which she does not, the more she realizes he is not "of" her. Likewise, the more he fails at (or fails to care about) things she finds important, the more she grows to understand the truth of adoption -- we are loving another's child like our own. ANOTHER'S child, with a different set of genetics, different predispositions, different medical histories, different issues. She tells of how her son said, in a moment of anger, "Adoption sucks, you end up with the worst parents". She quietly agreed, not for his reasons, but her own... that, "like many adoptive parents, [we] persist in our fantasies about our children -- saping them if not in our image, than in our image of them." And if they don't live up? "Many of our kins turn out to be only average. There's nothign wrong with average, expect that it doesn't give moms and dads the vindication that above-average does."

From this point, questions as to nature vs. nurture are parsed, eventually leading to increased interaction with the child's birthmother.

My own opinion of the piece is that the writer came off as having unrealistic expectations for her son, and that, in any number of ways, her ego was getting the better of her parenting. I think one of the greatest challenges to good adoptive parenting is the almost zen-like discipline it takes to get your own ego out of the way of your child.

Bonnie Miller Rubin's "The Fallout from a Less-than-Perfect Beginning" is the adoption horror story. A "Gerber baby... in a pink crocheted dress", adopted from Chile, develops a profound (but undiagnosed) emotional disorder, consisting of rage-filled meltdowns. The essay explores how desperate, how powerless, this loving adoptive mother feels in the face of "a bunch of neurotransmitters."

Personally, I feel much of this has little to do with adoption, per se, (unless there are studies of which I'm unaware), and everything to do with the decision to add a child to the family. Before we had our second bio-kid, we had months of discussions, that all boiled down to one unanswerable question: "what if it's a BAD one?" You can't answer that question. Ultimately, you go on faith, because there's no crystal ball. Like Rubin, no matter how much you try to hedge by good, informed, enlightened parenting, there may be problems outside your ability to control -- with ANY kid.

My wife and I have the disquieting habit of watching that show, INTERVENTION. It's like a horror movie for parents. What if that was one of our kids, running the streets, cooking up smack in the bottom of 7-11 cans? What if our kid is schizophrenic?

Scary? Yes. But what if you get hit by a bus? So much of life is out of your actual, physical control, that to live your life in avoidance of pain or risk is to live a gray, empty life.

We want the noise and the energy and the challenge that will come with another child. Our child will be a different gender from those we have now, a different color, a different nationality. She will be loved unconditionally, whether she wants to be or not. Her problems will be our problems. Could it all go sideways? Sure. But to think we WANTED to take this step, but let FEAR win the day? I couldn't imagine anything scarier than that.


Pam said...

I stumbled across your blog and was delighted to see your thoughtful discussion of the essays in our book.
As a parent of a bio child too, I really related to your point about Bonnie's essay.

But I have to respond to the comments someone made to your other post about searching for birthparents and openness. I actually did qute a bit of research on this topic (before writing my essay for the book and before deciding whether to open up adoption).
The adoption literature clearly shows that the secrecy and shame of past generations was hurtful and damaging to adoptees; but it's not clear what impact openness--and all its variations--will have on kids. Open adoption is still an experiment, a work in progress.
The major longitudinal study on the subject--following children in open adoptions, and comparing them to a group in closed adoptions--has found that a lot of the fears about open adoption were unwarranted. But so far, it hasn't found that kids in open adoptions are better off emotionally. It seems that there are other factors at play.

As Dan (Savage's) essay shows, having an open adoption presents unique challenges. I've opened an adoption myself, so I'm clearly not opposed. But my feeling is that too often this discussion is filled with "shoulds." Adoptive parents should do this or should not do that.
What I wanted to show with this book--my essay, Dan's, and others--is that the situation is infinitely more complex.