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Since writing my book about adoption--followed by countless articles and speeches--I’ve said a lot on the subject. When I feel moved to write more, I’ll provide a periodic post here. (This is called "managing expectations.")

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 More

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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 More

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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.” http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/a-fathers-acceptance/

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 More

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