Wednesday, February 15, 2012
I have no personal stake in the world of adoption, and I don't presume to understand a lot of the complexities that go on in that world. But a few of the bloggers I read and people I know from online are adoptive parents, so I've learned a little about adoption issues in the past few years. And I'd heard passionate mixed reviews for Sam Simon's Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other, so I really wanted to read it. I'm not even sure I can explain my opinion of the book, except to say that the subtitle says it all: In Praise of Adoption.
At first, I was sure that the book wasn't technically apologetics, since it didn't address the most of the most controversial issues that I was aware of: the wide space international adoption leaves for abuse; the potential emotional complexities of interracial adoption; anything about open adoption at all. In fact, most of the families here are the product of good ol' closed adoptions, most conducted long enough ago that the children involved are adults now. It wasn't taking these issues on; the book was just giving sweet anecdotes of loving families populated by fabulous children and passionate parents (mostly writers) who were brought together by adoption. Lovely!
But you know, enough of those stories and the apologetics start to creep in. The repeated dismissal of the notion that one might be curious about one's birth mother. ("I don't know, maybe someday I'll be interested, but I have such a great family, why would I care?") The frequently repeated insistence that no one has ever said anything insensitive about race or adoption to anyone he interviewed. (Only once has anyone ever said anything to his Chinese daughter, which was when a 10 year old asked "what are you?" But not in a mean way.) The fabulous stories about strangers charmed by his adorable (also has he mentioned they're charming?) daughters.
This book is really a love letter from an over-the-moon parent to his daughters, explaining how anything bad that anyone says about adoption is irrelevant, because their family is so happy. I don't mean that to sound snide--it's just the right message for a father to give his daughters, especially when they're little. "This may be a big, complicated issue in the world, but here in our family, no one can dismiss the love we feel for each other." But my god, is this dismissive of others' experiences.
There are two birth mothers in this book. One is the ideal story; a teenaged mom gives up her baby and then makes contact when he's 30 and she's 45. They like each other, he meets his half-siblings, and they develop an aunt-nephew type of relationship that brings everyone a lot of love and joy.
The other story comes first, though. A family with four adopted children produces three superstars and one druggie who decides as a teenager she wants to seek her birth mom. Turns out birth mom's a druggie, too, and eventually the daughter dies of an overdose. In case you miss it, the book makes the connection very clear; the birth mother was out of her life for a reason, and if she hadn't gone looking for her, maybe this tragedy wouldn't have happened. The story is told with compassion (for the adoptive parents, mostly) and in relatively neutral language, but the point is laid out quite clearly: adoption creates wholesome, loving, upper-middle-class families.
I'm really not qualified to talk about this in any detail. And for the record, a ton of parents I know who are really savvy, thoughtful, and devoted to adoption reform love this book. I think, on a subject with so much murkiness and controversy around it, it can be really reassuring to be reminded that, hey, this isn't all murk and separating babies from their first mothers and ugly privilege. This is also families who cherish each other and produce awesome kids, just like any other families. There is a place for this story, an important one. I just feel like it's really, really important to remember all the other stories that are out there, too.