#75 ~ A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents

June 2, 2008 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Brain Food for Thought, Family, Inspiration, LIfe, Reading | 4 Comments
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Cover for A Love Like No Other

A Love Like No Other by Pamela Kruger and Jill Smolowe

This book tackles topics about adoption and living in a family created through adoption from the perspective of adoptive parents. Although each section of the book has been written by a different adoptive parent, the editors grouped them by topics, such as reflections on birth parents, dealing with the unexpected, and personal transformations. What makes this book interesting is the diversity of adoptive parents and families represented. There are domestic adoptions, oversees adoptions, single parent adoptions, same sex couple adoptions, nuclear family adoptions. The selection of so many ranging voices is a testament to the beauty of adoption. It brings with it all of the joy, heartache, developmental and emotional complications, and love no matter where it is found.

Of the stories, the two that impacted me the most were written by Jana Wolfe and Melissa Faye Greene. Greene experienced a great deal of depression after adopting her son. Her son Jesse joined their family of four children by birth from Bulgaria and her story was very dear to my heart. I did not experience this when Emma joined my family. In fact, my situation was exactly the opposite. It was when Allison joined us by birth, following a wonderful adoption experience, that my world turned upside down. No matter how depression comes after a child joins the family, the affect can be devastating. Most importantly, it can also be overcome.

While Melissa Faye Greene writes about the early days and weeks after bringing her son home, Jana Wolfe discusses her first 13 years living with adoption. She chronicles the ups and downs she and her husband have experienced along the way. The way in which their marital relationship has grown stronger is very inspiring. What she said that meant the most to me is:

It’s not that adoption gets less significant to Ari [her son] or to any of us in his circle, but it’s become less of something you figure out and more of something you figure in.

Not everything can or should be fixed or solved for your children. Even if that were possible, it does them no favors to hand them everything on a silver platter. Life is about learning how to successfully navigate through each day, especially those things that are uncomfortable or unexpected. The best gift you can give your children is the freedom to explore their lives and the security of knowing that you’ll always be there no matter what.

Although I found most of the essays interesting, there were some that didn’t interest me at all. That, however, is the beauty of reading a collection of stories or articles: you can skip or skim over topics that don’t interest you without feeling (too) guilty. That’s not to say that I won’t ever read them, though. On this journey through life, what once did not appeal to me may someday be extremely relevant.

I would highly recommend this book to all adoptive parents and any people thinking about adoption.

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To buy this book, click here.

Seriously, WTF?

May 7, 2008 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, entertainment, Film, Gothic Fiction | 10 Comments
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I am not a fan of Ellen Page.  Although I’m in the minority, I didn’t find her performance in Juno very realistic or endearing (I hate that I have even just linked to it’s Wikipedia page…).  People at work have attributed this to my age.  I thought perhaps my experience of adoption colored my views of the movie as well.  Certainly my experience is just that, my experience.  Still, even though Emma’s first mother firmly made her adoption plan early in the pregnancy, this was an emotional experience for her, her family, and for us.  There was no sarcasm or flippant jokes about her being irresponsible.  The only aspects of that movie I found close to ringing true were the scenes where she had to decide whether to continue her adoption plan and after the baby is born – and those were noteworthy only because she was actually acting, not just being herself.  They weren’t Oscar worthy.

Imagine my surprise when I ventured on to Pop Candy this evening before leaving work to discover that Ellen Page, who essentially played the same sarcastic young female character in Smart People, has been cast as Jane Eyre for a BBC Films production of all things!  Whitney, who loves Page, can’t even see her in this role.  Seriously, what are they thinking over there at BBC Films?  Jane Eyre doesn’t have a sarcastic bone in her body.  Do they have any expectation that Page can pull off ‘mousy’ or, more importantly, sincere?

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a film or TV adaptation of Jane Eyre, but look at what is already out there.  What reason could there possibly be to cast Ellen Page in this role?  There is a 1944 version that stars Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, and Elizabeth Taylor.  A&E produced a television starring Samantha Morton as Jane.  Who could really be more perfect than that?

I have no idea what really makes the film business tick.  I’m sure that I’ve misspent many an entertainment dollar in my life and am reaping this as my reward.  I would rather be struck blind like Mr. Rochester than even watch the trailer.

#47 ~ Without a Map

November 11, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Adoption, Beach, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, Parenting Dilemmas, Post-Partum Depression, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity, Writing | 2 Comments
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Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall

I am angry. Correction. I am pissed. Really, I’m f*cking pissed off after reading this book. I am angry and hurt for Meredith in specific and for all women in general. That one woman should have lived through a teenage pregnancy is horrific to me. That this is by no means an isolated incident makes this even worse.

Meredith Hall became pregnant, at the age of 17. This happened after a non-conventional summer romance that ended with one sexual encounter on the beach before Anthony, five years her senior, returned to college. Meredith’s mother, who had been left to raise her three children as a single mother, also found love that summer with a hippy. After spending so many years using negative pressure to keep Meredith a virgin, she began staying out until all hours of the night herself. She, in fact, left Meredith alone at the beach most days while she worked with her new lover. Going from suffocating boundaries to nearly none at all made that summer confusing for Meredith. She ended up paying dearly for it.

Meredith’s family was seen as an upstanding family in their small New Hampshire town. After her father left, Meredith’s mother became extremely involved in her local Protestant church. Once it was discovered that she was pregnant, Meredith was permanently expelled from her school. She was then abandoned immediately by her church and her mother. When Meredith’s father asked what they were going to do about the pregnancy, her mother simply replied, “She can’t stay here.” Meredith went to live with her father and step-mother, but being forced to stay alone in the house (and mainly in her upstairs room) for the remainder of her pregnancy was of no comfort. There was no one for her to cry with. There was no one to explain what was happening to her body. She was not allowed to take an active role in the decision to place her unborn son for adoption – except she was forced to set up a meeting with the baby’s father by herself and get him to sign the adoption papers. I will not even get into the verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of the obstetrician who allowed an abusive family adopt the baby.

I read this portion of the book on the plane from Atlanta to Denver last week. It was enough to make me want to lash out at society. Sex is a shame that is only worn by women, and most especially when they get pregnant outside of socially acceptable settings. There was no shame for Meredith’s father when he left his family with almost nothing to settle down with another woman. Yet, no one could speak to or about Meredith because her unplanned pregnancy was so shameful. I could scream.

So, Meredith was told either directly or indirectly by everyone who was supposed to love her that she was a dirty, shameful person. One sexual act and your life is judged as unworthy of any respect. You are shunned by the rest of society. She was not even allowed to have a roommate at the alternative school she graduated from after the birth of her son. No one wanted her to have the opportunity to even share her experiences with another girl for fear of “infecting” the others. Yes, because this was all working out so well for Meredith, right? Wouldn’t every young woman want to sign herself up for a complete societal shunning? So, alone in her grief and full of shame, Meredith did a lot of wandering after she graduated. The relationships she became involved with were not (in my opinion) good enough for her. They were only good enough for a woman who thought she was tarnished and trash. The reactions to her pregnancy became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is what happens when people and institutions only use principles to guide their choices and reactions instead of love.

I have the greatest respect for Meredith Hall. She ultimately discovered her own self-worth. She has raised two exceptional sons and has established a warm and familial relationship with her first son. Due to circumstances, she was not able to ever confront her parents about how they abandoned her when she needed them the most. Her mother developed MS. When she needed her children the most, Meredith did not abandon her. Although it was painful for her never to get the opportunity to even tell her mother how the shunning impacted her life, she was an ever faithful daughter. Even though her brother and sister’s families were always invited to her father’s house, Meredith was not allowed because of an argument with her step-mother. Still, she made a point of meeting with her father before he died to tell him that she loved him.

This memoir stirred up many personal things in my heart. I can only hope that I can forgive as Meredith did. She was able to do for her parents the very thing that they and her church failed to teach her by example.

Meredith, thank you for sharing your story.

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To buy this book, click here.

Philippa Gregory in Chronological Order

August 30, 2007 at 5:04 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Family, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 24 Comments
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I thought that it might be helpful to list the books Philippa Gregory has written around the history of Henry VIII and his immediate descendants in chronological order for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading them for yourself.

1. The Constant Princess
2. The Other Boleyn Girl
3. The Boleyn Inheritance
4. The Queen’s Fool
5. The Virgin’s Lover
6. The Other Queen

Filling In the Gaps

Philippa’s books do not cover everything. After reading The Boleyn Inheritance, I wanted to know more about Henry’s last wife. I found The Last Wife of Henry VIII, which answered my questions and was a great read. Around that time, Alison Weir’s first “g0-round” in fiction came out, entitled Innocent Traitor. It tells the story of Lady Jane Grey, otherwise known as the Nine Day’s Queen. I would suggest reading this book after The Last Wife of Henry VIII and The Lady Elizabeth before The Queen’s Fool.

I have also read Portrait of an Unknown Woman, which is about an adopted daughter of Sir Thomas More. This book is no where near as directly related to Henry VIII as the others. What it does, however, is give the reader the feeling of living in Tudor England at the time of Henry’s affair with and marriage to Anne Boleyn. It’s very interesting to read a book where Henry is rearing his head in the book indirectly.

When Encouraging Reading Brings Up Parenting Issues

May 8, 2007 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Parenting Dilemmas, Reading | 9 Comments

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I love to read and hope that one day my daughters will as well.  While reading to them this weekend, I encounter text that negatively mentioned adoption.  My oldest daughter was domestically adopted at birth.  Here is what happened to me over the weekend… 

Every Saturday morning we have a young woman come to the house to watch the girls so we can get things done around the house.  E is currently working on a MFA in Writing Children’s Literature.  She let us borrow some books to read to the girls.  These books were amazing even though they were a little above Emma and Allison’s comprehension level.  One of the most interesting and creative of those books was The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman.  I loved reading the book.  The illustrations were great.  I think children would have even more fun reading it themselves because of the way it is put together. 

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it posed a parenting problem that I wasn’t anticipating.  At one point during the book, a brother gets mad at his sister and torments her by telling her that she was adopted.  I was on a roll and read through it without before I had a chance to think about it.  I immediately looked over at Emma while I continued to read.  She didn’t have any reaction this time.  The next time I read that book, I can easily skip over that part.  That isn’t the issue.  The issue is that Emma isn’t always going to be in the company of people sensitive to adoption issues.  They will not know to insert something else or to avoid it all together.  Even then, Emma will one day soon be able to read herself.  I won’t be able to review everything she reads to make sure that it is adoption friendly.  Emma is going to hear someone refer to adoption as an insult. As much as I want to shield her from the ugliness in this world, sheltering her would hurt her more in the long run.  She is going to have to learn to come to terms with adoption in general just as she will have to come to terms with her own experience.  The same is true for me.  I wonder if it would be the correct thing to do to skip or substitute unflattering references to adoption.  Should I protect her from that or use it as a teaching moment when she gets older?  She’s too young to catch on to what was read yet.  When that time comes, should I bring it up myself or wait for her.  Not saying anything about such literary references lead her to believe that I agree with those statements or don’t care about her feelings?  Would saying something make an issue where this isn’t one for her? 

I’m unsure of how to handle this.  Has anyone else come across this before?  If so, how did you handle it?  If not, I would really appreciate your thoughts or suggestions.

#20 ~ The Mistress’s Daughter

April 30, 2007 at 9:46 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Memoir | 2 Comments
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The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes

After reading a review of this book, I was eager to read it. It is the story of A.M. (Amy) Homes, an author and an adopted child. This memoir explores her experiences as she learns that her biological mother would like to contact her and her journey through reunion. As an adoptive parent, I am interested in reading about the world of adoption, especially from the perspective of adoptees. I hope that buy reading their stories in print or online that I can be a better parent to Emma as she grows older.

The Mistress’s Daughter is a well written memoir. You experience the roller coaster of emotions that go along with the reunion experience. It’s especially heartbreaking because it doesn’t come with the fairytale, TV movie ending that always seems to be expected to make the book worthwhile. There is honesty found in this book that is painful to read.

My initial reaction to the book was lukewarm. After Amy decides to go through the boxes she took from her birthmother’s house after her death, it seemed to me to lose focus. I appreciated her interest in her biological and adoptive genealogies, but her need to the stories of ancestors took away from her story. I was enraged as she was when her birthfather for not being recognizing her. His stubborn refusal to provide this simple information kept her from being a member of the Daughters of the Americas, where she hoped to learn more about her heritage. Still, pages upon pages of legal questions written by her lawyers to be asked to her father about his life were a mistake to have in the book. The accusations were not answered and it wasn’t clear if she took the man to court. It felt like reading a book that didn’t know where to end and didn’t want to end.

As I think further about her story and the way in which it is told in The Mistress’s Daughter, I like it better. Just as she wrote honestly about her adoptive mother and her reactions to this situation, Amy was honest about herself. It wasn’t explicitly written, but she did not hide the fact that she frequently met with her birthfather and even subjected herself to a blood test in hopes of meeting his “family.” She kept putting off a face-to-face meeting her birthmother. Then, she met with her for lunch only once. Amy held her birthmother to a higher standard. Her mother had to live up to all the mental pictures and stories Amy had created for her and she miserably missed the mark. Her birthfather had nothing to live up to. She bristled when she didn’t seem to live up to his expectations, but that made her want to be more of what he wanted her to be. It didn’t stop her from treating her mother in the same way. It was only after her death that Amy regretted not spending more time with her, even if the woman seemed so needy all of the time.

Adoption is as unique as each adoptive relationship. In the same manner, a book is unique each time it is read by a new person. If you have read this book, please leave a comment. I would be interested to know how others have reacted to her story.

#14 ~ The Cider House Rules

April 4, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, My Life with Books, Reading | 2 Comments
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The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that – apparent rewards aside – they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.

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