Tag Archives: film/movie/book/tv

The Opening of Adoption: The Early Years

I was delighted that Peach brought this film to my attention: The Right to Know: America’s Adoption Crisis. It’s a documentary from 1990 by Michael Branton and Elizabeth Snider and narrated by Michael Reagan, son-via-adoption of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.

I’m share below 12 highlights that impressed me (bolding is mine), and I urge that you devote 50 minutes to watching it to find the parts that impact you. Those who are currently dedicated to eradicating shame and secrecy in adoption are building on the work of these pioneers in openness. Here is an instructive look back from where we’ve come. Some has changed, and some has remained the same.

Bonus: Throughout we get to see some fabulous 1980s-1990s hairstyles and fashions in both men and women, and be reminded what some old-style computers looked like. Flashbacks galore!

1. The documentary starts  with a clip from a 1950 film called Three Secrets.

“A plane crashes in California and a 5-year-old boy survives. Little else is known except the child is an orphan.

Susan Chase believes the boy could be hers. Before she was wed to lawyer Bill Chase, she was involved with a Marine during the war, and became suicidal later, putting their child up for adoption. Bill has never been told Susan’s secret.”  — Wikipedia.

Two other women have reasons to believe the boy may be the one they gave birth to and relinquished.

We are in the maternity ward where a woman is counseling her daughter, Susan, to place her newborn son for adoption:

Woman: Don’t cheat your son, Susan. Think of the moment when he finds out [you weren’t married].

Susan: But giving him away. My own flesh and blood. It’s wrong, unnatural.

Woman: Living with an illegitimate child will be wrong and unnatural, too, only it will last the rest of your life. This will be over in a few months! It’s right and natural for every child to be brought up in a normal home.

Okey dokey. People really did believe that a child-ectomy was no different than an appendectomy, and that you’d get over both with equal ease.

2. Kathleen Silber, a name many may recognize from her advice in Adoptive Families magazine and from her books Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption, comes in at 6:50, sharing the social worker’s perspective, historically speaking.

There was definitely an element of playing God. Agencies really felt like we knew what was in people’s best interest. And there were some fallacies in that. There were things we didn’t know at that time…Some social workers really got to like that power and control.

Agencies are all guilty of telling lies…we left out information…like alcoholism or other problems. We tended to only mention the positives and leave out the negatives. This was partially because we believed at the time that everything was environment, that it really didn’t matter if there were some of these problems in the background.

3. Another social worker (and author), Reuben Pannor, divulges the two big lies (about 9:10):

I would say to [adoptive] parents, “this is your child now” — which gave encouragement to denial, which in turn gave encouragement to the development of many serious problems for everyone That was the #1 lie.

The other biggest lie was to say to adoptive families: “We will guarantee you of anonymity and secrecy. Once you have completed your adoption, birth parents will not trouble you any more because records will be sealed and locked away and you will never hear from them again.”

4. Segueing back to Three Secrets, a scene in which a file is pulled from a file cabinet. It’s marked with the date of Susan’s baby’s birth.

“We placed four children on September 15.” says a matronly bureaucrat to a cohort. “But no one’s going to see those records. Not even ourselves.”

She places the unseen files into a bank vault and spins the dial (10:00).

5. At 16:15 we hear from Betty Jean Lifton, author of the influential Journey of the Adopted Self.

Even though a child is told they’re adopted, an adopted child soon learns that the adoptive parents don’t want to hear any questions about it. You’re supposed to play their game of “as if” — which is pretending that they’re really your mother and father. And in one sense they are, but they are your adoptive mother and father.

6. An adoptee explains how a person can have mixed feelings about adoption (18:35):

One minute you can feel great because your parents love you so much and the next minute you can feel terrible because your birth parents abandoned you.

7. Reuben Pannor says later (19:10):

We have a disproportionate number of adoptees in these facilities [mental health, correctional]. And this is precisely why we are now attempting to change the system, to unlocked sealed records, to move into a system that we think is much healthier — psychologically sound, emotionally sound — and that is an open system in adoption.

8. We are shown how adoptees decide to search and how the news of a search affects their adoptive parents. We see how adoptees connected with each other, how birth parents joined together, and how search angels worked to manifest connections of a different sort — all pre-Internet.

We see a birth mother and a birth father tell us how their decisions to relinquish felt in retrospect, and how small, ordinary moments can bring up the loss anew, despite the efforts to dissociate from a painful time in their lives.

9. Back to Three Secrets. Susan signs away her motherhood, with her mother and the bureaucrat overseeing (35:45). Oh, my (the filmmakers use dialog well here).

10. We learn of research that during the final stages of pregnancy women develop a heightened maternal preoccupation, which continues after the birth of the child. At 38:15 the narrator tells us that it’s also during this time that the child develops a sense of separate self.

Annette Baran, another adoption opener and author, reveals that “Most adoptees and birth parents suffered from a lack of the final stage of this heightened maternal preoccupation process. When the child is taken away at birth, neither one of them are able to complete the process. They become emotional amputees.

11.  We see examples of infantilizing adult adoptees starting around 43:45.

12. Kate Burke, then-president of the American Adoption Congress, talks about specifically who was tending the locks on keeping things closed and secret. Who were these Elites that made and enforced the rules for others? She adds, “We’re not afraid of each other. So you don’t have to be afraid for us” (47:35).

12.  On the effects of search and reunion a few adoptees share: It makes you feel complete. I’m happier. I know myself better. When I reunited with my birth family, I got closer to my adoptive family (50:30).

The documentary ends with a plea for the public to begin to help change public policy (51:00). The fight continues as we head into 2014, for 41 states still have bureaucrats and Elites guarding vital records (inaccessible to those whom they are vital to) via metaphorical locks and bank vaults.

If you take the time to watch, I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about  The Right to Know: America’s Adoption Crisis.

Novelist Q&A: The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore

A local friend, breathless on the other end of the line, says, “My husband heard you on NPR this morning talking about your new adoption book — congrats, Lori!” I then admit I have no idea what the caller is talking about.

A bloggy friend: “Lori, there’s an author talking about open adoption in an article in The Atlantic. There are already 200 comments but you should weigh in, too!”

Jennifer Gilmore, novelistA Google Alert delivers to my inbox an article in the LA Times about a new novel with open adoption as its backdrop.

These are a few of the ways I first learned of Jennifer Gilmore. Her book about infertility and adoption came out the same week my own did. I contacted her and we exchanged books, hers fiction and mine nonfiction, both with open adoption as a core theme. Below is my review and her candid Q&A with me.

Main character and narrator Jesse asks herself mid-novel What is opened and what is closed? — a question I, too have pondered.

My Amazon review of The Mothers

Jesse and Ramon failed at fertility treatments and were turned away from international adoption. So they turned to this newish thing called “open adoption” and ended up opening themselves up to all kinds of drama — even trauma, feeling unsupported by the adoption facilitator(s) whom Jesse/Ramon thought should be doing a better job at protecting their fragile hearts.

The Mothers chronicles a torturous journey toward motherhood by a woman who is still figuring out what it means to be “the mother.” Jesse seems to understand the role of the mother only in the negative, in what was lacking in her own mother and in her mother-in-law. Throughout the book we find Jesse trying to figure out just what occupying the vaunted status of The Mother means, should mean.

My journey to parenthood was similar to fictional Jesse’s, and I recognized myself and many of the emotions that come with infertility in some of the book’s scenes. Gilmore covers baby lust, singular focus, magical thinking, marital wear-and-tear, and frustration about the inability for an otherwise capable woman to have any control over an outcome. The novel reads much like a memoir, and Gilmore is gutsy to show the inner thoughts and foibles of her main character/narrator.

Author Q&A about birth mothers, race and class in adoption, and novel vs memoir

“…the agency was there mostly to protect the birthmothers” (p 234). If you could advise the various adoption facilitators Jesse and Ramon used to connect with placing mothers on how to better serve their clients, what would you say?

The Mothers by Jennifer GIlmoreWhat I can say on the matter is this: there is a lot of coded language out there.  It isn’t IF you get your baby, but WHEN, for example. But that’s not always true. There are, in the end, more prospective adoptive parents than there are infants who need them. This is not including the foster care system that has its own set of laws and statistics. In regard to adoption, however, the only thing I can say is agencies need to offer more support by way of truthful information to prospective adoptive parents. There needs to be more preparation about what can actually happen. Of how laws differ in each state. How, because of the transparency of the open adoption process, you will more than likely have your heart broken before it is mended. Agencies have the best interest of the birth mothers in mind, as they are often seen as the commodity here. It’s really a market driven idea — and if you don’t put the birth mother first, then there is no child to get to your clients. This is the hidden part of it. It makes sense, but it is hidden.

The Mothers addresses topics like race, class and sexuality. Have you taken any heat for the ways in which your characters approach these touchy subjects?

When people talk about race — out in the open — it makes some uncomfortable. In an open adoption, one has to think about her feelings about race, in regards to the ethnicity of the child she feels comfortable parenting. My narrator is shocked that people want only a white baby, that many are not checking the African American or the Hispanic box on their profile forms.  My narrator checks all the boxes, but she does so without thinking deeply about it. Perhaps she doesn’t have to. She wants a child and she doesn’t care about his race.

But even to have a box you check or don’t check is shocking to a lot of people. How does this — race, ethnicity, color — define a person? Of course, everyone is a story, everyone has one, and this steals that narrative. When we talk about this — and for me when I wrote about it — I did receive pushback from people who found the process offensive. The were offended when I said in interviews that if you don’t want an African American child, you certainly shouldn’t parent one. And yet this is true. We lose sight sometimes of the most important thing, which is that we have to think first about what is best for the child. My character — and I — chose the African American box. Its mere mention, the mention of race talked about directly, does anger many people.

Other interviewers have broached the question regarding why you chose to write a work of fiction rather than a memoir. Doing so gives you ways to explore varied story lines, scenarios and issues. But the downside is that readers may see you as your main character. How would you describe the gap between your own story and Jesse’s?

I am a fiction writer. I have two previous literary novels that have nothing to do with adoption.  So for me, the most authentic way to tell the truth is through fiction.  While that may sound bogus to some, fiction is the way in which I view the world so there was never a question of whether it would be a memoir, only how I would tell it as a novel.

Would you tell us about your path to getting this book published? Was it an easy birth or a complicated one?

Because I had the same editor and publisher for my first two books, I suppose the publication was “easy.” They had the option to read the book before others did and they chose to buy it.  I don’t know what the experience would have been like if it were my first book.  It’s very hard to publish novels — perhaps had I NOT been a novelist first, I could have written the story as a memoir.  Perhaps that would have been easier to publish, I can’t say. But a novel is like a valentine. It lasts forever.

You mention in a Publishers Weekly interview that earlier this year you became mom to a son. Would you like to share any parts of that story?

After a very long and traumatic adoption journey, my husband and I did bring home a son at the end of January. It is an open adoption, which, as you know, means we know the birth mother — and in this case the birth father — in varying degrees.  We feel lucky. There were many moments we stopped believing that we would have a child. Every day we remember that, even if it’s just in the back of our minds, how almost this never happened.

~~~~~

Jennifer Gilmore is the author of Golden Country, a 2006 New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Jewish Book Award, and Something Red, a New York Times Notable Book of 2010. Her work has appeared  magazine and journals, including Allure, Vogue and The Washington Post. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn.

Daring Greatly: review of Brené Brown’s latest book

Daring Greatly by Brené BrownVulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me and the first thing I look for in you.
— Chapter 4: The Vulnerability Armory

Such is the crux about being authentic, of being in relationship, of being vulnerable of being human.

Brené Brown, PhD, she of the famed TedXHouston talk, has a rare talent of being able to take extensive research and make it accessible, applicable and interesting to academics and non-academics alike. The title of her newest book comes from a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt, a sentiment my dad shared with my sisters and me while we were growing up.

It’s not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…if he fails at least he fails while daring greatly.

Or, in my dad’s words, “Don’t listen to (or be) the critic. It takes nothing to criticize; it takes a something to create.”

I’ve pulled some quotes from Daring Greatly that resonate well for me:

  • On shame: Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. This is exactly why I advocate for openness in adoption. No secrets and no shame. Let’s keep things above board and in the open where mold and rot don’t grow.
  • On courage: Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen. Brené Brown’s vulnerability prayer is a salve for me when I start to angst about what people will think and say when they read MY book.
  • On ownership: If I own the story I get to write the ending. Great advice for a recovering victim. It makes me the playwright of my life rather than merely an actor.
  • On joy: Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary. Yes! This is why I host Perfect Moment Mondays (coming up next week — why don’t you join in? If ever there were an occasion for a shameless plug, this is it!).
  • On worthiness: Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else. This pearl from a team of 8th graders interviewed by Brené Brown.

If you are a parent, a manager or supervisor, a blogger a teacher or a leader, if you are looking for deeper meaning in your life or if you’re dealing with the shadow of shame, I recommend you read this book. Take your time with it, though. The revelations Brené Brown shares in easy, conversational style are both simple enough to make you say, YES! but also deep enough that you’ll want to give them time to percolate through your mind and spirit.

In what area of your life would you next like to dare greatly?

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review and my opinions are my own.