Several book lovers are sharing our thoughts about Anne Bauer’s memoir, The Sound of Hope: An Adoptee’s Quest for her Origins. Even if you aren’t part of the tour* and even if you haven’t read the book, check out what people are saying about it — you might find that this book is one you want to put on your wishlist.
See the master list at the bottom of this post, following my own contribution to this book tour.
I grew up in the 1970s when closed adoption was, duh, The Way to Go. Babies were considered blank slates on which parents could etch any template they wanted. Women (and men) who surrendered a child were told they would forget about their babies and move on. They were offered a way to atone for the shame of becoming pregnant out of wedlock — by giving their babies to more deserving couples. People becoming parents via adoption were allowed a way out of the shame and secrecy of infertility.
But the shame and secrecy cast a looooong shadow.
I did not, in those days, question the closedness of such adoptions. I had friends who had been adopted, and they did not question it then, either. It was what what we knew, The Way to Go.
But after I became a mom via adoption, I came to know some adoptees online who did question, who did challenge The Way to Go. Who most definitely knew they were not blank slates. Who sensed that their birth parents did not easily move on. Who challenged the idea that being married was, in itself, the qualification that made for good parents.
Anne Bauer’s memoir debunks many of these myths. The concept of “closed” begins as The Way to Go but is revealed to be dark, stifling, shameful and repressive. Anne deals with her inner roiling by seeking light, and her brothers, also adopted, deal with theirs by sinking further in darkness. Her narrative shows the difficulties imposed by The Way to Go of the closed adoption era. I found it an engaging read, and Anne’s tale confirms what I have always intuited about the importance of openness in adoption: it’s essential to help children in adoption integrate the various parts of their identities.
* Disclosure: The author has provided compensation for organizing this book tour.
In this book tour, we each submitted questions to the others. Here are three questions I chose to answer.
Anne writes of her adoptive family, On the outside, we look very much alike. We have the same eye color, the same fair complexion – yes, the adoption agency did its job well. What are your thoughts on how important appearances were at that time (the 1960s)? Have we made progress? What do you think contributed to the change?
I can only make assumptions about how matches were made prior to the days of open adoption, in which the expectant parents choose adoptive parents for their baby. Was it simply by who had been waiting the longest, who had made it to the top of the list? Or was there some criteria-matching that was instituted? My guess would be a bit of both.
If there were matching criteria, what was it? Anne suggests is was based on appearances. I wonder if social workers would, for example, declare that a baby of northern European heritage would do better with parents hailing from Scandinavia that with parents from the eastern Mediterranean. Really, what else was there to go on? So much about the closed era was about appearances — how things looked to others. How to avoid the judgment of others. How to make a family look as seamlessly created as possible.
Based on my experience only, I do believe the open era has brought progress. Through the homestudy, our agency made sure our marriage was stable, that we understood that “discipline,” at its core, was about teaching and not punishing, and that we were likely to be loving parents who could set appropriate boundaries. In other words, the problems that emerged in Anne’s adoptive family were screened for. (That said, had we not made the grade, would we have been turned away?)
What’s more, the agency did not do any matching — our children’s first moms did. Crystal looked at the then-available crop of hopeful couples and chose us (well, as her second choice) to parent her baby. Two years later, Michele did the same thing. Their criteria for their babies.
What contributed to the change? As we progress from closedness to openness, the locus of control for such decisions is gradually moving from the all-knowing agency to the all-caring first mother or father.
But clearly there is still a ways to go.
The afterword states that the author wrote her book in the hopes of raising awareness of civil rights of adoptees and instigating reform in the current laws pertaining to adoptee records. With as much exposure as I’ve had to successful open adoption scenarios, I admit I was surprised to learn how few rights adoptees have to their original birth records. Were you similarly surprised to hear how little control adoptees have over their own records? Why do you think it is that this information is not more widely known?
I was unaware of the plight of adult adoptees as first, too. Because I was in possession of each of my children’s original birth certificates, I didn’t question whether or not my kids would be able to get theirs on their own someday. According to Colorado law, they will, but only because they were born at an opportune time.
But not all adult adoptees born in Colorado can have access to their personal records. People whose adoptions were finalized in the 30-year span between July 1, 1967 and August 31, 1997 — many of the people I grew up with — are SOL. Their records are sealed except via court order. Can you believe that?
- If your adoption was finalized on June 30, 1967, you have access. One day later, you don’t.
- If your adoption was finalized on September 1, 1997, you have access. One day earlier, you don’t.
How can this be justifiable?
Anne speculates that much of her brothers’ problems may stem from their verbally abusive adoptive father. Do you agree? Are there other factors that might have been at work in Thomas’ abandonment of his own young family and Brian’s years of social withdrawal?
Yes, I agree and yes, there were other factors that contributed to Thomas and Brian’s difficulties. Besides the verbal abuse from their father, I believe the repression inherent in a closed adoption made both brothers stuff down their emotions. That which we resist persists. If you leave something in the dark and occasionally shovel manure on it, you shouldn’t be surprised if the result is rot and decay.
To continue to this book tour, please visit the links below. Comments are much appreciated by the book tourists!
- Lori of Lavender Luz (see above)
- Kathy at Bereaved and Blessed
- Laura at Laura-Dennis.com
- Judy at Judy M Miller
- Liz at Poemfish
- JoAnne at Stories by JB
- Peach at Neither Here nor There
- Tonya at Mommy Musings
- Kellie C at All in the Family Adoption
- Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully
- Dora at My Preconceived Notion
We hope you have enjoyed our discussion of the issues raised. Thanks for reading along!