Tag Archives: Creme de la Creme

How Not to Handle Your Own Ignorance On the Internet

Yesterday I was called out as a leader of a “lynch mob.”

My last post was picked up by the Huffington Post, which is great because there it’s more likely to reach an audience that may not already have an understanding about adoption. From there, a woman named Bethany Ramos wrote a post in response on a site called Mommyish.

But before we go there, let’s talk about the word “ignorance.” The dictionary version of the word is is less emotionally charged than the way we often use it.

definition of ignoranceWhen I say “ignorant”, I simply mean lacking knowledge, with no intended slam against one’s intellect. With that in mind, we can now address…

How TO handle your own ignorance about a topic

My friend, Lisa, a birth mom, wrote on Facebook that the Kay commercial triggered her. Others began talking about being triggered, as well. Lisa’s friend Angela, who seemingly has no personal connection to adoption, began to remedy her ignorance by asking questions of the people on the thread.

Why can’t we see a loving family celebrating becoming parents? Why do you refer to it as separating mothers and their babies. I have not been in the situation and am trying to understand.

And people responded respectfully to her questions. Angela, open to listening, now has more understanding about  why this commercial was triggering, especially to birth parents and adopted people, and she also has greater awareness about what goes on in an adoption from the three main points of view.

In contrast…

How to use your own ignorance as a billy club

Post writer Bethany Ramos demonstrates  her ignorance with her post’s headline:

“The Adoption Lynch Mob Needs to Take a Chill Pill Before Freaking Out About This Commercial”

Melissa of Stirrup Queens calls Bethany and Mommyish out as linkbaiters:
Do you know what a lynch mob is?  Wikipedia sums it up nicely: “Lynching is murder by mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a specific sector of a population.”  It’s a means for a dominant group to control a weaker group.

Bethany then goes on to gloat about her ignorance. I have no personal experience with adoption, but I always have thought it to be a wonderful, selfless act.

Being able to imagine herself in only one of the three positions of the adoption triad, Bethany says,

Apparently, this touchy-feely commercial overlooks all of the heartache that goes into adoption, i.e. hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on fertility treatments, as well as emotional pain and stress. I’m not denying that all of these things are true, but why are we looking a gift horse in the mouth here?

Yes, she’s able to feel the heartache from the adopting parents point of view, but had she read the Huffington Post article with an open mind, she would have remedied her own ignorance about the presence of placing parents and adoptees in every adoption situation, a stereotype that Kay’s commercial was effective in solidifying in her.

And who, exactly, does a “gift horse” represent?

Many of Bethany’s commenters go on to prove my point about ignorance, that the commercial perpetuates the myth that adoption is “wonderful” to all involved. The comments below show that like Bethany, the commenters are able to see only the adopting parents’ perspective. They’ve been further brainwashed by the commercial! They can’t seem to get that there are other people involved in every adoption, people who hurt. People who may still be hurting.

After each actual comment, you’ll see in bold how it may come across to those who were triggered.

  • Seems to me because of all of the heartache and difficulties they suggest come with adoption, being happy and celebratory IS the right reaction. For the adopting parents.
  • Anti* adoption people make me sick. What do they want to do with unwanted children? Execute them? Put them in labor camps? Hello perpetuated adoption stereotype! People who place babies do so because they don’t want them!
  • God forbid some family take them in and actually love them. All hail the selfless adopting parents, taking in the unwanted babies!
  • Bringing a child home is a culmination of struggle and heartbreak so I agree with Bethany – buy some damn jewelry and celebrate!! Culmination and celebration for the adopting parents!
  • Just look at the cute commercial and smile at a couple of new parents being happy. Yeesh talk about sensitive. Again the smile and the happy are adopting-parent-centric, only a fraction of a  whole adoption scenario.

It’s like Bethany and many of her commenters are living in Pleasantville. They love the Beaver Cleaver neat and tidy style of the 1960s, where things are in black and white and they don’t have to do with the unpleasantries and complications of too many other hues.

I ask Bethany and her myopic commenters to take a cue from Angela and allow those of us who live in color to bring shades of reality to your lives.

What responsibility does an advertiser have regarding stereotypes?

One commenter said, They’re supposed to show the multi-faceted heartbreak of adoption? It’s a bloody commercial, not a documentary.

I don’t expect Kay to teach the complexities of adoption in 30 seconds. But neither should it sell a fantasy that’s full of stereotypes and misconceptions. Yes, adoption can be something to be celebrated. But we need to see it in its wholeness, from 360 degrees, and not just the pretty Pleasantville parts. Yes, there are gains, especially for adoptive parents like me who end up with what we want. Birth parents can also gain a way out of a tough situation, and the adopted person gains a family.

But each of these positions has also experienced loss. Loss of dreams, the pruning of a family tree, the loss of a genetic line and all that was familiar. Visceral, deep, profound losses. This ad was dismissive of the loss — if the ad people even knew there was loss in adoption — and it perpetuated myths for all three parts of the adoption triad.

In the pursuit of a link-baity headline, Bethany and her frenzied followers completely missed that point.

How could the ad have been improved? I would like to have seen a set of birth parents present. Of course, you can’t give the placing mom jewelry without creating another crapstorm, but Don Draper would surely be able to figure out something, even drunk and in the 60s. Many of today’s adoptions include adoptive and birth families coming together with open hearts, connecting with each other as extended family members.

That’s something Kay Jewelers could more authentically link with its open heart collection.

The Internet sometimes makes people forget they are talking about real people

I suspect that Bethany and many of her readers are pretty nice folks. They might open the door for others, pay it forward in the Starbucks drive-through, and volunteer to help their kids’ teachers with the upcoming Valentines Day parties. They probably speak nicely in real life to most people most of the time.

But some switch gets thrown when they play in the faceless Internet playground. They forget that they are talking about real people.

  • Some people need to be punched in the neck, for realsies.
  • On what planet is this acceptable to say to a total stranger on the internet? Seriously, you’re an idiot.
  • F**k you!
  • The implication: If you disagree with me you are part of an angry lynch mob.

Bethany’s post title itself is inflammatory and offensive. Lynch mob? Chill pill? My Huffington Post piece was not designed to convert anyone to my way of thinking, but rather to show how Kay told only part of a story, badly so, while feeding stereotypes.

Bethany’s title and post indicate there’s no room in her world for people who don’t share her opinion. She tells me I need to do something. With her first dozen words she deliberately  creates a frenzy. Her followers follow and feed the frenzy shutting down the likelihood of actual dialog. There’s a whole lotta shouting going on over there and not a whole lot of listening.

And, as Angela demonstrated, being open and listening is how to remedy ignorance.

* I’ve been called “anti” before.

Tension release: From cranky to compassionate

Tessa and I had been on edge with each other all day. Finally in the early evening I invited her to cuddle with me on the couch.

“Neither of us slept well last night. I think we’re just tired,” I offered an explanation why we were both cranky.

“But mom, YOU don’t have a hurt hand, like I do,” Tessa raised her splinted wrist.

“That’s true, Sweetheart. But I’m carrying around a hurt, too. Just not the kind you can bandage up.”

“Really…? What!?” She bolted straight up, eager for some drama from her mama.

“It’s a silly thing, really.” I told Tessa about a conflict I’d been having with someone. Even though this woman was on the periphery of my life, I was giving the conflict with her way more prominence than it merited. I couldn’t shake the  malaise. It had probably contributed to my cranky.

Tessa, ever spirited, sprang to my defense. “Mama, you CALL that lady and tell her she’s a B-WORD and she should just SHUT HER MOUTH!”

I was shocked by Tessa’s force. It was as if my inner child, wounded from events of the last few days, were speaking through my child-child.

“I could do that, and I kind of felt like doing that,” I explained, “but if weapon-words did come out like that, in addition to hurting her they would eventually hurt me.”

“Besides,” I said, repeating to her what my parents had often said to me, ” you should never allow anything or anyone to lower the standards you set for yourself. If you think it’s right to behave a certain way, then you don’t let anything that another person does change what you know is right.”

“And another besides, Tessa,” I continued, “this lady has had a lot to deal with, a hard life.”

“What??” Tessa asked, and I told her some of the woman’s story, which caused her to softened a little.

“You know, don’t you,” I said, “that everyone is walking around with a story and that’s why we should always be mindful of being kind.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” I explained, “I didn’t know what kind of week this lady was having. You didn’t know what kind of day I was having. And when Sophie was mean to you this afternoon, she didn’t know that your hand was throbbing. If any of us had known, we might have been kinder. So why don’t we all just be kinder?”

She schnuzzled into me and we sat in silence, no longer cranky.

That night we slept well.

Images: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net, LavenderLuz.com.

My Son Processes a New Layer of his Adoptedness

Adam Pertman told the story (which I’m paraphrasing, perhaps badly) at last month’s Open Adoption Symposium of his teenage son, playing a handheld game in his room one night.

Trying to keep the lines of communication open, Adam stepped into his son’s room and asked, “Son, how often do you think about adoption?” Without looking up from the game, the son simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Not much.” Adam stopped in his tracks and thought for a moment. Trying again to open a conversation, he rephrased: “What I meant to ask was, how often to you think of your birth mom?”

The teen barely look up and responded, matter-of-factly, “Oh. All the time.”

Adam Pertman teared up as he told us. For his son’s loss.

~~~~~

Reed is now closer to age 9 than to age 8. It’s always seemed that he’s smooth-sailing and resilient, able to roll with life’s punches and not have “issues.”

But I was not wholly surprised that some revelatory conversations came up this weekend. I expect that as my children grow they will, at stages, deepen their understanding of their adoptedness through wondering and questioning. And I will encourage this every chance I get.

Just before bedtime one night, Reed and I read entries from his new Guinness Book of World Records and marveled at crazy human feats. We put the book down to cuddle, just the two of us, in his parents’ bed.

adoption heart“Do you think often about Michele?” I opened the door.

“Yeah. A lot.”

“Mom,” he continued, “do you think I could try living with her for a week or a month or something?”

“Sweetie,” I replied, searching for wisdom. “It doesn’t work like that. But we can certainly try to arrange for a visit with Michele the next time we are all in the same state.”

“OK, Mama,” Reed said.

A moment later: “Mom, why did Michele give me away? And how did you and Daddy become my parents?”

“Well,” I scanned the archives of my memory for advice I’ve read by and for adoptees on how best to proceed. “You were a surprise to Michele. Before she even knew she was pregnant, you were being born.”

“Uh hunh,” Reed said, encouraging me. He’d heard his story before.

“She was going to college and wasn’t really prepared to take care of ANY baby right then. She had to scramble to figure out how to do that — take care of a baby while finishing up school. She tried really hard, and she loved you very much, but she just couldn’t figure out how to be a mom right then.”

“Did you know her before that?” my son asked.

“No. We met her after she went to the same agency we did and picked us to be your forever parents.”

“When did you meet her?”

“The first time we met it was just Michele and Daddy and me at the agency. It was a time for her to check us out. It was a big decision for her, and she took it very seriously. WHO could she entrust her beloved son to? The agency called us later that evening to say that Michele had decided on us, and that we could come back the next day to meet our son. And bring him home.”

I paused to read his body, still nestled against mind. I knew that he was present with me, with the story.

“The next day we drove back to the agency, but this time Grandma and Grandpa and Tessa were also invited. It was the first time we saw you and boy, were we happy! You were so adorable and loveable. Michele brought her three best friends. We all met in a conference room for an Entrustment Ceremony.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s where Michele entrusted you into our care.”

“Tell me about that.”

“Well…” I knew that this coming part was likely to hurt. I breathed and became conscious of my breath. “Michele was holding you. The lady running the meeting said a prayer for Michele and a prayer for AJ [first father], who wasn’t able to be there. There was a prayer for Daddy and me and, of course, a prayer for the baby — you — who joined everyone in the room together.”

“Then what?”

I breathed again. “Then Michele placed you in my arms.”

My son then let out one whimper. His small body sobbed one time. I held him more tightly (but not too tight) and stroked his shoulder, arm, side, leg. “I know, baby.” I breathed deeply, willing him to, as well.

I abided with him for a moment, simply giving him the space to feel what he was feeling. Then his sister entered the room and asked what we were talking about and would I tell her about her story, too?

Reed and I would continue our conversation the next day… (tune in for part 2).

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On DNA

For a teeny-weeny double helix, DNA sure packs a punch.

A couple of readers asked earlier this year what I thought about how one’s DNA answers the question “who are you?”  — especially in light of adoption. This was back when Who Do You Think You Are? debuted on NBC (it is scheduled to return next month).

So I had to sit down and think some thoughts.

I’m not a genealogist, but I do enjoy looking at old photo albums that belonged to my grandparents and that feature their parents. The generation of my great-grandparents goes back to the 1880s, and we don’t have any photographs from before that time.

I enjoy the stories of my maternal Scotch-Irish grandfather, who grew up in a sod house in Nebraska, a twin and one of nine children. I mourn that I don’t know much about my paternal Jewish grandmother’s history, other than the fact that her father owned a shoe store in Manhattan. She converted to Catholicism before my Dad was born, and her Jewishness was hidden from us until a decade before her death. I missed out on some of my heritage.

When you think about it, isn’t it amazing to contemplate a thread that goes back farther than your mind can grasp? That there is an unbroken line from you stretching to the dawn of humankind? That line, and the relationship webs that accompany it, connects each of us to every person who has ever taken a breath on this planet.

Teeny-weeny DNA makes me think gigantic thoughts like that.

DNA and the role of genetics can weigh even more heavily on people  involved in adoption. Adoptees grow up with the biology of one clan and the biography of another, and are sometimes unsupported in healing that split. Adoptive parents must accept that they have no hereditary influence on their child. Birth parents may grapple with the idea that a child of their own genetic line was lost to them.

So the question is: do I like poring over those musty photo albums because the people in them are part of my genetic line? Or do I like poring over those musty photo albums because I can see the people who raised the people who raised me?

It’s probably both. Nature AND nurture both play a role in my fascination with my roots.

I don’t have to put nature and nurture in a hierarchy because in my case they are the same. But people who were adopted are often asked to rank their influences. Who made you MORE of who you are — your parents or your birth parents?  In asking the question that can’t be answered, there is no win, only loss, because the question itself emphasizes and reinforces the split.

Why can’t we simply acknowledge that both biology and biography are important? Why don’t we move from either/or-thinking to and-thinking? I’m not even talking about 50-50 or equal measures because some things should not be put on a scale.

I’m just saying that DNA matters. And as a mom via adoption, that doesn’t bother me at all.

Because I matter, too.