Thursday, June 7, 2012

Adopt-a-tude Says a Fond Goodbye

Well, the time has come for AAT editors and writers to admit to reality: We're busy! Raising kids, working jobs, doing other writing, moving on. After this entry, we'll no longer be posting on AAT.

When I began Adopt-a-tude a few years ago, it was an experiment in group blogging, one that did take off for awhile, possibly because of the sparks flying in the adoption community at the time. The sparks are still flying, of course, but the public discussion of adoption has shifted, too.

I wouldn't say that the cultural "moment" for adoption has passed. But it's no longer big news that many adoptees are determined to get access to their birth records—or that international adoption doesn't always have a happy ending. The increasingly nuanced depictions of adoption in movies and TV means that at least a few consciousnesses have been raised. May we all continue to raise awareness about adoption issues that matter to our families.

I'm currently Editor in Chief of Talking Writing, an online literary magazine, and I'm very open to publishing high-quality personal essays or fiction about adoption. Please check out TW's Submissions page for more information. Fran Cronin, AAT's blog manager, is also a columnist at the magazine and often touches on her experience as an adoptive mom.

So come follow us at Talking Writing, "like" us on TW's Facebook page, and sign up for a free TW subscription. And regardless, thanks for supporting Adopt-a-tude.

All our best wishes to you and your families!

Martha Nichols, founder of Adopt-a-tude

For those who missed it, here's the contents for TW's adoption spotlight last November...

Spotlight: Adoption and Parenting

Celebrate National Adoption Month with TW in November

Melissa Fay Greene
Author Note: Melissa Fay Greene
Two personal takes on No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, Greene's 2011 memoir about her nine children

Interview: Adam Pertman
One of adoption's staunchest supporters talks about the latest challenges—and Steve Jobs

Personal Essay
A mixed-race adoptee reflects on the need to create himself

Mei-Ling Hopgood
Mei-Ling Hopgood

Interview: Mei-Ling Hopgood
The author of the acclaimed memoir Lucky Girl has a new book on the way about cross-cultural parenting practices

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Interview with Adam Pertman

Author Interview by Fran Cronin

Steve Jobs—a Fully Revised Adoption Nation—and What's Next?


Adam Pertman is a busy guy. Like Woody Allen’s Zelig, Pertman seems to be everywhere at once: lecturing, writing, appearing on the Today Show or NPR. And like a doctor on call, he’s always available to help enlighten the general public about the once-silent world of adoption.

Adam Pertman
Since writing a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series about adoption for the Boston Globe in 1998, Pertman has transformed his experience as the parent of two adopted children into his life’s work.

His acclaimed book Adoption Nation was first published in 2000; a new edition came out this year with the revised subtitle of "How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming Our Families—and America." As Pertman told me, "I rewrote a big percentage of the book."

For almost a decade, he's served as the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York City, a nonprofit that’s the go-to organization for adoption-related research and policy. Pertman is also associate editor of Adoption Quarterly, and he coedited the new anthology Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men with David M. Brodzinsky.

At 57, Pertman has enough gray in his floppy hair and Van Dyke beard to convey an earnest man-on-a-mission. He hurried into our prearranged meeting this October at a cafe in Newton, Massachusetts, noting the moms in a mommy-baby group that had just dispersed. He ordered a dark coffee and darted to the table I’d cleared, removing papers and books from under one arm.

Before we even sat down, Pertman had started talking.

FC: It’s uncanny we should meet today. Yesterday Steve Jobs died, a famous adoptee and very private man. What does his story tell us about adoption?

AP: Last night, ABC’s Nightline did a piece about Jobs and described him as a “baby his parents didn’t want,” which is such a negative and bad thing to say. Just shows how little is known about adoption. There’s this impulse to revert to negative stereotypes.

Jobs was a reunited adoptee who searched and found his mother and got to know a lot about his heritage. His father was an immigrant from Syria, and his biological sister is the author Mona Simpson. He was private but open about his adoption. He liked to talk about being adopted in his commencement speeches.

We’ve made enormous progress, but the misunderstandings remain profound. When something is kept a secret for generations, how are people ever going to learn about it?

FC: It’s obvious your own story as an adoptive father has influenced you. What made you want to write your book Adoption Nation in 2000 and then revise it this year?

AP: As an adoptive father, I was an expert on my kids but not about adoption. At the time, the general public’s knowledge about adoption was not very good, either. How could it be? Adoption was a closely held secret for so many generations.

But during this last decade, there has been enormous change, and I felt it was important to show that the revolution in adoption is still in progress.

Ten years ago, adoptions from abroad were starting to soar. Today those numbers are plummeting, while adoption from foster care has been steadily rising and is now the most common form of non-family adoption.

Today, adoption is also much more diverse. Gays and lesbians now adopt in disproportionate numbers. This change has really helped to normalize and broaden the term “family.” We better understand that adoption is not just something that touches someone else’s life, but now touches all our families, our communities, and our country.

Plus, not to be too corny, every father’s dream is to make the world a better place for his kids. I thought this book would give me the opportunity to do that.

FC: In the past ten years, the Internet has also become a much bigger force. Can you describe the Internet’s impact on adoption—such as the new tools it gives birthparents and adopted kids to search for one another?

AP: The Internet is changing everyone’s world. But adoption is one of those worlds where the changes have not yet been closely examined. It’s like the Wild West. There’s been an explosion in search and reunions in all directions: kids looking for their families, and parents looking for their kids.

The best upside to the Internet is as a resource to help people with placement and searches. People are finding birth families in Africa, China, and Korea. You can just imagine that at some point a chat room will surface.

The downside is the lack of supervision. There is no monitoring, no counseling, and no understanding of what constitutes good practices. The adoption world is full of vulnerable people who could easily be taken advantage of.

FC: Another big change in the past decade is the expansion of open adoptions, in large part due to the advocacy of Betty Jean Lifton, who died last year at age 84. How has adoption changed as a result?

AP: Long ago, we made the mistake of trying to make adoption replicate the stereotypical biological family, and most babies were adopted from white unwed mothers. We mentally aspired to an ideal norm. As in any culture, we thought there was a right way to form a family: get married and make babies. When we could not do this, we thought the alternatives were second best. Set in this context, we sent adoption underground. We tried to hide our kids.

Today, open adoptions of domestic infants are most prevalent, which I think is the best practice. People like not to think about where adopted kids come from, but they come from real people, real families. Openness is better for the kids, but usually more complicated for the adults.

But we teach our kids something by being open. It’s only normal that kids want to meet their bio parents. Adoption may be different or feel harder, but we need to internalize it as our normal. It helps us appreciate our kids on their own terms. And I like to think honesty and openness always trump shame.

FC: For the past thirteen years, you’ve consistently advocated for adoption to be part of our social landscape. You call this a revolution. Where do you see the next big battle in our effort to make adoption part of American society?

AP: If you add up the numbers, almost 80 percent of the kids adopted today are either from foster care or from abroad. That means the majority of adopted kids were either institutionalized or are on the rebound from a family in which they experienced abuse or neglect. Before they were adopted, these kids had experiences that their new adoptive families need to help them work through. It takes a lot of nurturing and love.

In October 2010, we [Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute] released a research study titled “Keeping the Promise" about the need for post-adoption services. Think about it: We move children from one country to another with the implicit promise that we will give them better prospects for their future. But we don’t keep that promise. Instead, we look at adoption as a statistic, like the number of kids that are moving from foster care to families, and say, “Aren’t we successful!”

We need to change that paradigm. We need to shift from placement as the goal. Parents want to help their kids overcome the traumas that occurred prior to adoption. Our priority should be to help these kids and families succeed. We have to rethink and restructure what we do at the state and government levels in providing education and support. If we don’t understand how to better help these kids, then we will really mess up.

This country has yet to fully understand just how pervasive the impact of adoption is on our culture. If you add up all the connections, there are 100 million people in adopted families. This is not a silo issue. This is about us.

Where to Find Adam Pertman

And Don't Miss the Spotlight on Adoption and Parenting in Talking Writing!

Adam Pertman's interview with Fran Cronin originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Talking Writing: "We Teach Our Kids by Being Open." This issue also includes:

We invite you to check out Talking Writing and subscribe—it's free!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: "No Biking in the House Without a Helmet"

By David Biddle

The "Do I Love Them Yet?" Syndrome

Once that last child begins to drive, most of us realize our capacity to parent is fading. We get a few years of empty-nest freedom before grandparenting kicks in. But the marathon is over. We finished!

Then there are the Melissa Fay Greenes of the world—and her attorney husband Don Samuel, a man who practices courtroom statements on his kids instead of reading them bedtime stories. Samuel and Greene, a journalist, had four children using their own DNA: Molly, Seth, Lee, and Lily. But then, in their early forties and with encouragement from their biological kids, the Greene-Samuel team adopted five more in less than a decade.

It began in 1999 with Chrissy (whom they renamed Jesse), a four-year-old boy of Romani (“gypsy”) descent from a Bulgarian orphanage. Then they adopted five-year-old Helen from AIDS-ravaged Ethiopia, where, Greene notes, 11 percent of the nation’s children were orphans in 2001. After Helen came nine-year-old Fisseha (renamed Sol), followed by brothers Yosef (8) and Daniel (11)—also all from Ethiopia.

In No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, Greene tells the story of building this mega-family—two loving parents, two quirky dogs, nine amazing children from three different birth cultures—all living under one roof in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cute, huh? Sweet?

Hardly. Greene is not a master parent by any means—in far too many scenes, she just lets chaos reign in her household—and this is not a simple, feel-good treatise on the ultimate blended family. Her memoir is powerful and alluring, almost like a reality TV show where you actually care about the characters.

Greene comments intelligently on adoption, family, intercultural experience, and—above all—real love. This last resonates with me most, because as a mixed-race adoptee, I know that love between parents and children, adoptive or biological, is one of the greatest mysteries I’ve encountered in life....

Editor's Note: The full text of this review—"Adoption, Light and Dark"—appears in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Talking Writing. This issue features a special "Spotlight" on adoption and parenting in honor of National Adoption Month, including a companion essay about Melissa Fay Greene called "Whoa! I'm a Character in a Friend's Memoir?"


We invite you to check out Talking Writing and subscribe—it's free!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Adoption on TV: "Modern Family" or "Parenthood"?

By Martha Nichols for Adopt-a-tude

A gay dad sits at the dining-room table, making a scrapbook about baby Lily's adoption. A tiny conical hat perches on his head. It's all the funnier because this dad—ex-college-football player Cameron—is so large.
"Look at this." Cameron reverently holds up the hat.

"Oh my God!" cries Mitchell, his partner. "Lily's little hat that we bought her at the airport in Vietnam!"

Cameron puts it on, its red ribbons trailing beside his cheeks.

Mitchell eyes him. "Remember how cute she looked in that?"

"Remember how I used to wear it and walk around and act like I had a giant head?" Cameron giggles.

"That was good acting," Mitchell says.

Politically incorrect? Over-the-top satire? Yes on both counts, but that's why a sharply written sitcom like ABC's Modern Family gets at the uncomfortable  aspects of adoption—especially for us white middle-class adoptive parents.

In many ways, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are the fruitiest of gay stereotypes, but the hat episide of Modern Family that aired last spring ("Two Monkeys and a Panda"), veered plenty close to my own adoptive family. My Vietnamese adoptee is older than Lily—and he's not been slapped with an Asian flower name—but he's got his own tiny conical hat.

It's taken me awhile to appreciate Modern Family, so I'm only now watching Season Two on DVD; the show is currently in its third season. But I'm up to date with another show also in its third season—NBC's Parenthood—and lately I've been struck by the contrast between the two when it comes to adoption.

I used to enjoy Parenthood, even when this drama about the Braverman family in Berkeley, California, slopped into preciousness. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) Braverman oversee the clan from an artsy Berkeley house that's probably just up the hill from Chez Panisse. The four adult Braverman children are by turns believably angst-ridden and annoying. But their kids make the show engaging. And the evolving story of young Max, diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in Season One, is notable for its unvarnished look at how hard this can be on a family.

Yet, the current story involving the quest of Julia Braverman-Graham (Erika Christensen) to adopt a baby is not only an inaccurate portrayal of the ups and downs of the adoption process. It leans heavily on a heroic adoption narrative—just the sort of thing Modern Family skewers brilliantly.

The basic narrative goes like so: Two prospective adoptive parents, after battling with infertility, deeply long for a child. They have plenty of money, a huge extended family, a homey house. Meanwhile, the pregnant birthmother is destitute, without family, friends, or the child's birthfather. She struggles mightily over whether to give up her baby for adoption, but when she decides to do so, the music swells. She tearfully surrenders her infant. The End.

In Parenthood's version of this cliché, Julia and her husband Joel (Sam Jaeger) have a biological daughter, but Julia can't get pregnant again. They decide to adopt, and Julia, a high-powered lawyer, flings herself into the bureaucracy of private domestic adoption. Before you can say "adoption agency," she's frustrated. She can't just make it happen by writing a check.

This isn't what bothers me about the story, though. On many levels, adoption is a financial transaction. Julia's chop-chop way of going about it is true to her character. One of her brothers even says she's trying to "buy" a kid. To whit: In the September episode "Hey, If You're Not Using That Baby," a young woman named Zoe (Rosa Salazar) conveniently turns up pregnant and ready to get rid of "it." Zoe runs the coffee cart at Julia's law firm, and Julia shadows her like a vulture. Before long, she asks Zoe flat out if she can have her baby.

It's improbable soap opera, but I like Julia's upper-middle-class myopia. I like the fact that Zoe, who's attractive and bright, responds, "Um, no."

But here's what I don't like: In under a month of TV air time, Julia has become a saint. She's apologized to Zoe. In a recent episode, Julia takes her to the hospital when she feels ill, then brings Zoe home for the night. In Julia's fancy kitchen, the unhappy pregnant girl gets to observe perfect-dad Joel playing with their daughter. Soon after, Zoe shows up on their doorstep again, saying, "If you still want to have my baby, you can have it. You have a nice family."

On Parenthood, it's all hugs and tears—though maybe not The End, because the adoption plot is still unfolding. Maybe once Zoe has her baby, she'll change her mind. And if the adoption does go through, maybe it will be an open one in which Zoe remains part of the Braverman saga. Wouldn't that be cool?

The run-up isn't promising, however. I can just picture the Braverman clan rallying around the new adoptive parents after a few predictable twists. For example: Zoe almost revokes her consent; her ne'r-do-well boyfriend shows up and tries to stake his own claim; the baby is born with a disability—but saint-like Julia and Joel love the child anyway.

If only adoption were being handled as realistically on Parenthood as autism is. The heroic baby hand-off is never the end, as many real birthparents and adult adoptees will tell you. Even the broad satire of Modern Family, which portrays only the adoptive parents' point of view, gets across how much these gay dads have changed over the months they've been parenting.

With Parenthood, there's reason to hope that the ensuing adoption complications may yet rise above clichés. I'm drawn to the Bravermans, a big happy clan, TV fantasy though they are. I long for a form of community my own tiny family of three doesn't have.

But when a drama like this strikes too many false notes, I end up feeling manipulated. As someone who grew up in a working-class suburb south of Berkeley in the same era, it's already tough for me to suspend disbelief. I know how much the Bravermans reek of a particular kind of groovy privilege.

Most TV families—and Modern Family is no exception—are middle-class and inwardly focused, and they generate an ever-expanding tangle of unrealistic plotlines. But if the characters expose all their nasty, unpretty edges, I stay hooked. That's especially true for an adoption story, which is why I've grown fond of those argumentative, accessorizing gay adoptive dads.

Their comic outrageousness—and obvious self-deceptions—cut far closer to the truth than a thinly disguised melodrama with a pretty soundtrack.

Links to Episodes:
"Two Monkeys and a Panda" (Modern Family, aired March 2, 2011)
•  "Hey, If You're Not Using That Baby" (Parenthood, aired September 20, 2011)
"Nora" (Parenthood, aired October  11, 2011)