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Jana answers questions from Adoption STAR Book Club (part 1 of 2)

“Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” was chosen as the first selection of the Adoption STAR Book Club. Here are Jana’s answers to readers’ questions (part 1):

Q: Do you still agree with everything that you wrote in the book?

JW: Because it started as a diary, I wrote with brutal honesty—without the constraints of thinking that I had to be politically correct or act like an authority on adoption. I’m not sure whether it was naïveté or courage that allowed me to be so revealing … but it seemed to validate the feelings of many other adoptive parents.

I do not agree with everything I wrote in the book (see next question), but I still think it accurately captures the anxiety and ambivalence that are commonly felt early on in the adoption process.

Q: Was there any part of the book, such as your version of the birth mother letter, which you thought of leaving out?

JW: That unsent version of the birth mother’s letter, which I wince at now, came from feeling utterly powerless and also indignant that we couldn’t have a family in the “normal” way. That letter—with its gross generalizations about birth mothers—is a much more scathing reflection on me than on birth mothers.

I hope that the insensitivity I let readers see at the beginning of the book with the imagined letter is moderated by the dawning enlightenment I show once I’ve had the chance to get to know and like a real live birth mother (namely, my son’s).

I’ve been slammed for that letter, but it underscored the strong ambivalence I felt at the time. Leaving it out would make me look better, but then I wouldn’t be sharing secret thoughts, I’d be sharing sugar-coated ones.

Bottom line, I would not have allowed the book to be published without the blessing of my son’s birth mother, who felt it was a hard but important and honest story to tell. Read the rest of this entry

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Genetic Inheritance

The genes we’re born with are the genes we die with; but, in between, the relationship we have to our own DNA seems to change.

Most of us, long before adoption is on our radar, assume we’ll be able to make babies. Parents think about their children as a biological mashup of their genes.

When it becomes clear that we can’t conceive, adoption enters the scene … starting as a foreign, maybe even distasteful, concept: How could anyone else’s genes be as good as ours? The very genes we once took for granted now seem like prized possessions. Some would-be parents put such a high premium on their own genes, they choose not to adopt. Read the rest of this entry

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I Love You Phillip Morris (but my birth mom didn’t love me)

In the movie, “I Love You Phillip Morris,” Jim Carrey plays a con artist with an incurable crush on Ewan McGregor, whom he meets in prison. Far fetched as it seems—with cons that escalate from insurance fraud to embezzlement to faking AIDS—the movie is loosely based on a true story.

The adoption connection appears early on in a scene that shows Steven’s (Jim Carrey) birth mother rejecting him, suggesting that all of his problems emanate from there and give the man without an identity full license to be whomever he desires.

Where once I might have felt offended by the insinuation that adoption is to blame for bad behavior, this time I saw it as nothing more than a convenient device for the screenwriters. Over-the-top stereotypes of gays, cops, bankers, prisoners, Southerners, etc., make the film an equal opportunity offender (and really funny, too).

But I think the real reason that the adoption reference didn’t sting like it used to is that, when you’ve been an adoptive family for nearly 20 years, you don’t take things as personally or as seriously as you did when your cement as an adoptive family was still hardening. Caricatures, misinformation, and inappropriate comments about adoption are still rampant; where once they felt threatening, they come from people who don’t know better and from those who may actually feel threatened themselves by some aspect of adoption.

Members of adoptive and birth families mellow over the years; we pick our battles when the offense is worth the fight.

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On not following in our footsteps

Check out this article in the New York Times called, “A Father’s Acceptance: His Son Won’t Follow His Ivy Footsteps.”

What rings true to me is that we can’t live through our kids.  It’s OK to spend years as parents enriching our children, but it’s not OK to have particular expectations for them. I’m working on getting OK with that.

What the author does not mention–because his editor did not think it relevant–is that he is an adoptive dad. Perhaps the editor felt that the article would resonate with a wider audience if the author didn’t point out that his son was adopted. Read the rest of this entry

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Kids handling questions about adoption: Let’s get real

Granted, it’s been a long time since my child was in first grade and was asked by his classmates about being adopted. But I still know what real kids sound like; and they don’t answer questions like kids are advised to in a recent magazine article entitled, “Adoption and Schools.” Not even close.

Q: Where are you from?

Magazine A: “Are you asking where I was born or where I live?”

Real Kid A: “Here.”

Q: “Is that your real mom?

Magazine A: “Do you mean my birthmother? I don’t live with my birthmother.”

Real Kid A: “Yeah.”

Q: “Why didn’t your real mother want you?”

Magazine A: “Are you asking why I was placed for adoption?” or “My birthmother couldn’t take care of any new child.”

Real Kid A: “I dunno. Let’s chase Sara.”

Q: “Is that your real sister? You look different.”

Magazine A: “We have different birthparents, but are part of the same family.”

Real Kid A: “Yup.”

It’s not that the recommended answers are wrong. The spirit of them—I’m proud of who I am; let me educate you because you obviously don’t get it; I’ll tell you some things but not everything—is right on. My son got the same advice 15 years ago. He could even parrot some of the answers, some of the time. Read the rest of this entry

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How have you evolved as an adoptive mother?

I was recently asked that question and here’s what I think.

I started owning the role of Mommy little by little: my son taught me what his cries meant; I became the one who knew him better than anyone else; and I gladly morphed into becoming his love slave.

I stopped feeling like I had to tell our whole story to anyone who asked. I reminded myself that my son’s birthmother chose us to be his parents; even if I wasn’t always confident, she had been. I dropped the mantle of ADOPTIVE mom to feel just like MOM … though with a transracial adoption, reminders of adoption are never far away. Read the rest of this entry

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The Good News About the Bad News

Bad news adoption stories—like the one about the seven-year-old adopted boy being returned to Russia—make me wince on a number of levels. First, it’s a really sad scenario, both for the child and for his once-adoptive family, and one that’s likely to scar everyone involved.

The story is upsetting, too, because—like adoption itself—it’s inherently dramatic, and you know it’s going to end up in a movie before long. In the meantime, the story gets played out in the media. Experts (and non experts) are asked to weigh in, and a certain number of adoptive parents who are also at their wits’ end with troubled children will come out from hiding and begin to tell their me-too stories.

And that’s the good news. Every single adoption saga that makes it onto the evening news or Dateline-like TV show is being lived in a parallel universe by other families we’ll never hear about. Read the rest of this entry

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My Son’s Mother

Mother’s Day should be punctuated as “Mothers’ Day” in adoptive families.

Whether or not you know your child’s birthmother, the second Sunday in May is a personal reminder that it’s thanks to another woman that you get to be your son’s or your daughter’s mom. It’s one of those bittersweet realizations that you think about less and less as the years go by, though it is never far from your awareness.

So I find myself thinking about Martie, who was 18 years old when she gave birth to a boy and, remarkably, allowed me and my husband to be with her in the delivery room. Even more amazing was her decision, three months earlier, to let us be her baby’s parents. That she picked us and trusted us is a fact I’ve returned to over the years, as I’ve fumbled to figure out what was best for Ari with any given parenting decision. I don’t know that I’ve been a better mother to Ari than Martie would have been, but I think Ari has had a better life — and she was the first to recognize that possibility. Read the rest of this entry

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