Note: Though tempting, please do not comment on the headline only without reading the full post.
Publicity for Amy Seek’s memoir, God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother seems to have put open adoption on trial.
Amy Seek, a landscape architect and writer living in London, gives readers an account of her unintended pregnancy 15 years ago, her selection of parents for her son, and the complex — even competing — emotions she experienced during and after placement with her son and with his adoptive parents.
At first I’d envisioned this post with a courtroom-type presentation of the two sides. It might start something like this.
Amy Seek’s Vogue Article: Defending Open Adoption
Court is now in session *gaveltap*. The defense may present its case [we switch things up around here].
Defense: Your honor, we call the first witness — a Vogue article, adapted from God and Jetfire — titled “One Writer on Helping to Raise Her Son in an ‘Open’ Adoption.”
Understanding that her 14 year-old son has now grown up to the point of using man-soap, Seek says,
That kind of nearness is powerful and complicated, and I can’t let anyone see me falter. I am pushing aside loss all the time I am with him.
Of course we acknowledge that there is sadness stemming from her decision years ago. But Seek speaks further of the coexistence of losses and gains for both her and her son’s mom:
We’ve both lost things that are boundless and invisible, in their way countless, but I am thinking about what it would be to lose this, my son’s family, his smile when he sees me; the things we’ve gained, too many to count.
Tis true, the Defense concedes, that open adoption brings everything, including loss, into the open. As adults come together vulnerably in this odd relationship, there will be opportunities for hurting each other — or for having profound empathy for each other and experiencing deep human connection. Seek exquisitely shares this passage regarding her son’s mom:
One afternoon we sat together on my futon and cried, knowing we were crying for own own exclusive concerns, and out of compassion for each other. We were tragically enmeshed; each the source of the others’ pain, each the threshold of the others’ future.
Seek also addresses how openness may affect the adoptee. She cites a conversation with a friend who was left at an orphanage in Milan. He tells her:
You have your son, and your son has you. Simple as that. At least you have a place to put your many questions.
We assert that the presence of grief does not mean open adoption doesn’t work.
The New Republic for the Prosecution
Judge: The court now turns to the prosecution.
Prosecutor: Your honor we offer The New Republic‘s article “Why Does Open Adoption Rarely Work?” by Kathryn Joyce, esteemed author of The Child Catchers and long-time investigator of misguided and devastating adoption practices.
Defense: Objection, Your Honor. The link-baity headline on the New Republic piece doesn’t match Joyce’s more measured, previous writings. The headline lacks substantiation within the piece and runs counter to evidence provided by the Minnesota Texas Research Adoption Research Project.
Judge: Objection sustained. The headline will be disregarded.
Prosecution: Oh, fine. Joyce’s article starts:
It’s hard to find an honest account of an open adoption that works: one where adoptive parents and birthparents have agreed that they will stay in touch and share the milestones of their child’s life, and then do so. Most of the birthmothers who have spoken with me over the years did so after planned open adoptions have failed.
Joyce also says,
Seek hadn’t foreseen the emotional landscape she found herself in after adoption. The huge amount of variation between adoptions, and the gamble of entering an unenforceable agreement, involving profoundly complex human relationships, makes it almost impossible to plan for how the aftermath of an adoption will feel.
Defense: We have witnesses, Your Honor, who will show lots of families ARE living in such open adoptions. Further, we submit as evidence a video sharing the fruits of such labors, from the mouths of open adoptees themselves.
Judge: Hey, Defense. Can you stick with the protocol? You looking for a mistrial?
2 Reasons Why I Ditched the Courtroom Approach
Obviously I couldn’t make this scenario work because:
- as someone who knows of countless families working through all sorts of issues to keep their open adoptions functioning, I cannot be duly impartial.
- and more importantly, I tend to avoid dividing an issue into “sides” — as that’s an Either/Or construct. Instead I try to look for a Both/And way. It’s in the areas of intersection where we most often find healing and wholeness (both words come from the same root, which means bringing parts back together).
The courtroom approach was just too divisive, the antithesis of this blog’s raison d’être.
In my next post, I share my further thoughts on how well open adoption works — or doesn’t — and wholly different approach to the debate Amy Seek’s book has prompted.
Have you read God and Jetfire? What, if anything, do you think it says about how well open adoption can work?
- Listen: The Brian Lehrer Show: Navigating Open Adoptions, with guests Kathryn Joyce and Joy Lieberthal, a Korean adult adoptee and clinical social worker specializing in issues related to adoption
- Watch: Teens and young adults share their stories about being raised in open adoptions.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.