Sunday, November 22, 2009

ABC's Find My Family Exploits and Distorts Adoption

I did not write the piece below. I point that out not to distance myself from it, but to give proper credit to Martha Osborne. Thanks, Martha, for writing this, and thanks, Katherine, for sending it to me.

Find My Family
ABC airs sensationalized adoption series
November 13,2009 / Martha Osborne

In the most exploitive and disparaging-of-adoption media effort yet, ABC will air a 'sneak peek' of their new series on Monday, November 23rd. With a sensationalized and soap-opera style, ABC will take viewers into the lives of adoptees and birth families in their Search to be reunited.

With the tagline "Some people have spent their whole lives searching for the one thing that matters most... Their wish will now come true. Let's find your family", producers completely discount any worth of the adoptive families who have loved and raised these children. Instead the show emphasizes the loss of a child's "Real family" as the one-and-only central issue of all adopted children's lives.

The entire premise of this show is upsetting on so many levels. I encourage every family of an adopted child to prepare mentally for the public reaction, and the reaction of their children who may find themselves the sudden center of assumptions about their needs, desires, and personal feelings on their adoption.

This new series is being heavily promoted on ABC. Created by the producer of Extreme Makeover, Find My Family is laden with emotional angst and tearful moments meant to increase ratings and viewership. Unfortunately, the general public's opinion and understanding of adoption is largely shaped by the media. ABC's exploitive new series will focus on the most extreme issues in adoption, and is sure to have an effect on how our children's teachers, extended family, and friends view and accept adoption.

For years, the adoptive community has sought to rectify the past vilification of birth-parents as people who gave away their children. Birth parents are now widely recognized as the First Parents of children, deserving of love, respect, and understanding. It is in no one's best interest to turn the tables and begin to portray adoptive families as second-class, or less-than' a family created biologically. This new series is a step back for everyone.

Preparing a Younger Child:

* A younger child should not watch this show, period. It focuses on emotional, adult-level identity issues and situations that are impossible for a young child to process.
* Families can empower their children to deal with unwelcome questions from adults and other children by using the Wise Up! Workbook.
* The holidays are a wonderful time to discuss the idea of families in general. What kind of families are there? Bringing adoption into a general discussion helps normalize the idea and emphasize tolerance and acceptance of all kinds of families.

Preparing Upper-Elementary and Middle School Children: Taking the Direct Approach

* This is a wonderful age to start letting your child know that birth families, even if we have never met them, or may never have the opportunity, are part of our families. A welcome part. Whether to search or not in the future is your child's choice and has absolutely no relation to the way your child loves you. I should know, I'm adopted. My parents (and yes, I mean my adoptive parents) are my parents and I love them in a way I could love no one else. Searching for my birth family is about me, my identity. Let your child know when they are still young that you do not feel threatened, and you may receive the gift of open-communication throughout their teens.
* Discuss the media, specifically as it applies to the marketing of ideas, forming of opinions, and exploiting of people for their own profit. It may also be pertinent to discuss the entire idea of people agreeing to have the most private, personal parts of their lives, filmed and put on television for the purpose of entertainment.
* Let your child know that it is okay to have mixed feelings and changing emotions about any topic, including adoption. It's not a rejection of the adoptive family to wonder about birthparents, or life in another country.
* If this series becomes widely-viewed, your child will receive very intrusive and personal questions. The show is meant to cast all adoptees as longing-for-their-lost-life. Practice, roll-play, be ready.

Search and reunion of adoptees and birth families is part of adoption, and always will be. All adoptive families and birth families are connected through our children, whether we accept that idea or not. Our children bind us. It is a precious, priceless connection. This show cheapens and sensationalizes what is sacred. ABC, your show is an insult, and hopefully a flop.

Maybe I'm naive, but I'm holding out hope that the show isn't as bad as the trailers make it seem. Then again, the language the show's producers use in the trailers make their agenda pretty darn clear: Get ratings at all costs. Very sad.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Birthmother's Voice: She's Just Not That Into You

An extraordinary young woman named Jessica wrote the piece below and graciously agreed to let me post it here. Thanks, Jessica.

She's Just Not That Into You: my unrequited love story
My daughter, the person I love more than anything in the world, does not love me as much as I love her. In fact, for the first couple of years of her life, she didn't know my face from a stranger's. I planned it that way, but it was still very hard to get used to.

Someday, having a relationship with me will be important to my first born. It will answer key identity questions, even as simple as "Who do I look like?" I do not pretend that this role is as significant to a child as the role of mother. In fact, I am more involved in the life of children I babysit occasionally. This is a painful reality for birth mothers, and it can take a long time to accept. After all, I chose the family who she calls her own. I did not wish for her to love someone else instead, but I understood it to be the sacrifice I was making for her over all well being. I think I assumed that having an open adoption, and at least getting to see my daughter and be a part in her life, would be enough to make me feel better when things got hard. I did not anticipate how it would feel to love her so much and not have that love returned.

Post-placement, I was so grateful to be included in my daughter's life. At visits, it was never hard to watch her with her adoptive parents. It was, after all, the life I chose for her. Watching them as a family reassured me that I had made the right decision. I expected them to be the biggest part of her life, and for her to be the biggest part of their lives. Initially, my daughter was on my mind 24/7 and it was really nice to have that in common with them. Because I saw her parent's role as directly replacing my own, it was fairly easy to adjust to the bond she had with them. It was much harder once I realized how many other people impacted my daughter's life more than I did.

When my daughter was three months old, I was invited to her baptism. It was not my first visit, but it was the first time I met all of the people in my daughter's life outside of her parents and grandparents. Small talk with her family and friends turned out to be very hard. I had updates, pictures and visits, but compared to the amount of time I spent thinking of her, I barely knew her. I anticipated being less familiar with my child than the parents I had chosen for her, but at least they loved her every bit as much as I did. In this situation, I was surrounded by extended family members and friends, who felt far less emotional attachment to my daughter, but who got to see her more often, and knew more about her life than I did. To my daughter's extended friends and famly, she was cute and they were certainly excited for their friends, but to me, she was everything. I tried not to stare at her as she was passed around the room, and tried very hard to participate in polite conversation with the other guests, but it was hard to take my mind off my beautiful daughter. I wanted to soak up every minute I had with her, but I worried that if people knew how much I loved her, they would be uncomfortable having me around. It was only natural for me to love her so much, but it didn't feel natural. I felt like a crazy person. I carefully watched what I did and said, fearing that someone would catch on that I still loved her like my daugheter, even though she no longer needed or loved me.

By the time we are adults, we understand our role in all different kinds of relationships with varying levels of intimacy. We have also learned appropriate and inappropriate behavior for each role we play. In most cases, if someone is in love with someone who considers them a stranger, we believe that to be an unhealthy relatiohsip. We might say that is not a relationship, but rather, an obsession. However, in the relationship between a birth mother and an adopted child, this is the natural relationship. We are not equipped with the social instructions that come with the role of "birth mother" so for women right after placement, this is a hard road to pave. It is a role that differs greatly from any other relationship in our life, and it requires tackling emotional obstacles that are very different from other forms of grief. It is not about the loss of the person we love most, but the loss of the relationship with the person we love most, just as our love for that person peaks.

This unbalanced relationship is the reason placing a child for adoption is so hard. Of course I wanted all of this for my daughter: family, friends, and a normal life. I am glad that she doesn't need me, because it means that my plan worked. She is a happy, healthy, beautiful young lady Her life is much bigger than I could have ever imagined, and sometimes I feel very far away.

As she has gotten older, our relationship hasn't changed that much, but I feel much better. Accepting my role in her life was hard, but having lots of visits the first year definitely helped me feel out and practice my role in her life. Now, I can appreciate the love I have for my daughter as the gift that it is, independent of reciprocated feelings.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
My Google Profile+

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective - Chapter 1 excerpt

What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective is due out by the end of the month. I appreciate all of the supportive blog comments, emails, and phone calls of the last few weeks. Huge thanks to my advance reviewers for your commitment and enthusiasm. It's a very exciting time!

Here's an excerpt from the book:
You know your birth story; I've told it to you many times. But there's one chapter of your story you may not know. It's a chapter that's not so much about you as it is about me. It's my chapter. You see, your birth story is also my birth story, because this mother that I am was born when you were born. You made me a mother. You made me your mother. And for me, our birth story actually began long before you were conceived.

I don't know anyone who dreamed of growing up, getting married, and not being able to have children. I certainly didn't. I assumed that when (if) I decided to have children, one of my perfectly ripe eggs would let her guard down for the most athletic of a throng of swimming suitors, and I would simply get pregnant as women in my family have done for generations. I would have children the regular way, if I decided to have them at all.

I didn't think about adoption much, and when I did it was as a really nice, slightly exotic thing to do. A really nice, slightly exotic thing for other people to do. Older couples who never had children, or people who wear sandals year-round and quit their jobs to become missionaries, or families who fix up old Victorian mansions and seem to collect assorted “children with special needs” or kids from “broken homes.” Adoption was something those people did; not me. Why would I?

After going through a forest worth of tiny test strips I started to think that maybe “it” wasn't going to happen; not without some help, anyway. So I climbed into the stirrups. I consulted the experts. All of my once-private entrances and exits were transversed, transmographed, radiographed, photographed, sanitized, anesthetized, magnified, pulled and pried, palpated, saturated, dilated, inseminated, and evaluated in a series of attempts to get pregnant.

I never realized my own quiet biases about adoption until it became intensely personal. I was angry. I was petulant. I was wounded. And I was painfully surprised to find that I was a snob. It turned out that deep within my most private Self I thought of adoption as a default, a less than, a last resort for people who were out of options. People who had failed to produce their own children. People who couldn't make a family the regular way. People who were desperate or broken. People like me. I didn't want to be people like me.

I resented having to consider adoption. I resented my body for betraying me. I disparaged pregnant teenagers for doing in the back seat what I couldn't do in the sanctity of my marriage. I cried and raged and judged and fumed and after a long while, I accepted. I accepted that things happen the way they happen. I accepted myself and my situation. I accepted that it wasn't really my situation at all, it was ours, your father's and mine. I accepted his perspective and his feelings and his help, and eventually I accepted adoption as legitimate a way as any other of becoming a parent. I began to embrace adoption as the right way for me to become a mother. I grew to cherish the idea and even feel special. Adoption emerged as something self-evident and fulfilling and romantic. I fell in love with the idea of adoption and I began to bond with my child-to-be-adopted-later.

I thought that coming to terms with the idea of adoption would be the most difficult part of the process. Was I ever wrong! The time I spent deciding to adopt was a walk in the park compared to actually doing it. It turns out that adoption is a tremendous hassle. It's intrusive and time-consuming and expensive. Again and again we had to convince strangers that we were fit to parent, while every day brought another story of parents leaving their babies alone in the car or serving alcohol to underage teens. We got fingerprinted and evaluated, looked over and passed up. We gave strangers access to our financial records and our bedroom closets, knowing full well that plenty of biological parents were cruising along with stale batteries in their smoke detectors, pot handles facing out, and wall outlets uncovered.

When you decide to adopt you open your heart to disappointments and near-misses that bring you to your knees. Many times I inched to the very edge of conclusion. Many times I thought, “I'm done. I want out. This is costing me too much of myself.” I finally realized that in those moments when I was closest to surrender I was also closest to peace, and that's when I knew I was ready for you. I knew I was ready to be your mother because I had released my ideal. I had chosen the reality of my motherhood over the dreams of my childhood, and I understood that there was no other way for us to come together.

When I finally held you in my arms, I knew in my heart that I would have waited a hundred years for you. Exactly you. And I would do it all again.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
My Google Profile+