March 29, 2011

Reviews: "The Irresistible Henry House" and "The English American"

Jenna started an Adoption Reading Challenge for 2011. I'm constantly adding adoption-related books to my to-read list, so knocking off twelve (as the challenge called for) seemed like no problem. Bring it on!

Then I read a bit closer and realized it wasn't just twelve books: it was six non-fiction and six fiction. And I really don't like adoption-themed fiction. At least not most of the stuff I've read to this point, some of which did little more than make me want to hurl it against the wall.

But it's called a reading challenge for a reason, yes?

I'm behind on writing up my reviews, so here is what I read in the first two months of the challenge:

The Irresistible Henry House: A NovelA little burst of articles in January about the practice baby phenomena brought The Irresistible Henry House to my attention. (For several decades in the early twentieth century, many college had practice houses as part of their home economics programs, spaces in which the (always female) students tried out skills they were learning. Some included the so-called "practice" babies: children from local orphanages who lived in the practice homes and were raised by the students as part of their classwork for a year or two, then placed for adoption.)

Henry House is a 1940s practice baby, cared for by a rotating group of students for his first two years. Only instead of then being sent back to the orphanage to be adopted, he is kept in the practice house to be raised as the (unofficial) son of the rigid, anxious head of the home ec program. The disordered attachment of Henry's early years follows him into adulthood, scuttling his relationships. And the secrets and lies other characters maintain about his origins and history unsurprisingly ruin lives.

Author Lisa Grunwald has said in interviews that she started out wanting to write a non-fiction book about what happened to the practice babies, but turned to fiction when it seemed like there just wasn't enough material to warrant a whole book. I found myself wishing she had stuck to writing an article instead. The dramatization just didn't work for me, especially the longer the book wore on. The further it got from the practice baby years--which are only the very beginning chapters--the less it held my interest; the characters were wafer-thin and there's a Forrest Gump-esque feel as Henry bounces through different Baby Boomer cultural milestones that felt forced. It's definitely a cautionary tale in support of honesty and openness in adoption, not to mention not pushing mothers into unwanted relinquishments in the first place. But little about Henry and the way the attachment stuff, really the core of the book, was portrayed rang true to me.

The English American: A NovelFor February I picked up The English American by Alison Larkin.  Like her novel's heroine, Larkin was born in the United States and adopted into an British family as an infant. In her adulthood she reconnected with her birth parents, moved to the States and launched a stand-up career with an act based on her adoption and reunion. The English American isn't autobiographical, but she drew on her own experience to give life to the characters and story.

Pippa Dunn--the titular English American--is in her late twenties, unhappy with her job and feeling aimless. She makes contact with her first mom and jumps into reunion with both feet, even impulsively moving in with her birth mom in the United States and working for her art organization. Then, of course, things get complicated as more of her birth parents' and others' less perfect selves come to light. Plus there is a love story for good measure.

The English American is chick lit, so some of the plot twists--especially the [spoiler alert] big romantic closing scene and unexpected professional success [end spoiler]--aren't exactly shockers if you're familiar with the genre. Some of the characters are a tad shallow and [spoiler alert] I wished the adoptive parents weren't quite so great or the birth parents quite so off-putting in the end, [end spoiler] but Pippa is complex, believable and funny. She shares her changing feelings about her adoption in an engaging, relate-able way, from her struggles over identity and loyalty to her feelings of not quite fitting in to the family she loves. It's an enjoyable read and a good introduction to basic adoptee rights issues (i.e. open records) and other adoption themes for people who aren't likely to dive into the world of adoptee blogs or memoirs.

So there you have it: one "bah" review and one "yay" review. Next up: I let myself read a memoir for March as a reward for tackling two adoption fiction books in a row.

March 22, 2011

Seattle! Meetup! Tonight!

I hate to push the agency/professionals discussion down the page, but wanted to get out this reminder: If you're near Seattle, I hope you're planning on coming to the bloggy meetup tonight. The fun starts at 5:30 p.m. at this little spot in Madrona. Come have a drink!

I'll be there with the whole family. You know you want to witness the sassy-ness of my kids in person.

March 21, 2011

A Question for You: Talking Agencies

Between not sleeping well (boo) and being on vacation with the family (yay) my online time has been scattered as of late. But a couple of recent posts got me thinking, not for the first time, about how hard it is to really research ethical adoption agencies and/or professionals online. You have to wade through their own marketing efforts to find people actually sharing about their first-hand experiences. There are some review sites and forums out there, but they're spotty in what they really tell you (not to mention pretty adoptive parent dominated). Someone's rating doesn't mean much to me if I don't know the values that are behind it, you know? Maybe they gave an agency five stars because they didn't have a long wait, but couldn't care less or don't realize that shady high-pressure tactics are being used to convince mothers to place. Not my idea of a five-star agency.

I say over and again that finding a high-quality, ethical, experienced agency is essential. And bloggers writing openly about their agency experiences would be a great way to circulate that first-hand information to help people make informed decisions. In the context of a blog, you have a better sense of the writer's values and principles and can measure them against your own. It would get the word out, for better or worse, about smaller regional agencies that tend to get overshadowed in search results by the bigger agencies.  Yet I know I'm not contributing to the conversation, because I've never named the agencies we've used outright.

I'm not criticizing myself or anyone else who doesn't name names. There are good reasons not to, especially for those working with the foster system. I'm just curious about what our different reasons are, partly because I'm re-evaluating my own.

Do you name names yourself when talking about your adoption experience? Why or why not?

I'll give you my data points to start things off. We've worked with two agencies and two adoption lawyers, a different pair for each of the adoptions (as the adopting party, obviously). I've always shared names in person or with people who have emailed me asking, but I've never named them on-blog. I think there are a few reasons:

  • I'm fairly protective of my online anonymity (although I'm beginning think that's a lost cause) and wonder if naming the agencies, especially the smaller one, would be too identifying.
  • Several years ago an online adoptive parent friend was pretty vocal on her blog with criticisms of their agency. The agency contacted her child's birth mom and outed the adoptive mom's blog to her. I think that sort of potentially very damaging meddling in an open adoption relationship is an extreme example and hardly the norm, but I've certainly never forgotten it.
  • I've noticed that one of the agencies is very aware and protective of what it out there online about them, probably because it is a key part of their marketing strategy. I've witnessed two examples of them contacting bloggers who wrote about their negative experiences and asking them to remove or edit the posts. I haven't wanted to deal with that kind of noise.
So, how about you? Do you openly talk about your agency/facilitator/lawyer experience online? Why or why not?

March 15, 2011

The Ides of March, For Me

The body remembers even when the mind forgets.

Every year as summer draws to a close and August slips into September, I carry a sense of anticipation with me. Much like a thought on the tip of the tongue, it's a persistent feeling that something significant is just about here. At first I wonder I why it is that I am suddenly feel this way. Then a photograph, a glance at a calendar, a mention of something on a blog reminds me: oh, yes, this is right when those calls came out of the blue. Two years apart, from the adoption agencies, telling us that expectant mothers had picked us. Calls that led, eventually, to my little family. Although those are not anniversaries I consciously mark, something within me remembers. Every year.

It has been one year since my world turned upside down in a gut-wrenching moment. One year of heartbreak and soul-searching, of asking questions I thought I'd never have to ask and making decisions I thought I'd never have to make. One year, encircled by the love of friends and family, of figuring out life in After and finding out that I would be more than fine. Not a year I ever want to relive, to be sure, but I wrested some good out of it. I cling to that.

My mind is all Elinor Dashwood, keenly aware of how difficult that time was, but firmly giving more weight to other realities: this is not last year and much has changed, love and support surrounds me, there are far worse griefs that can befall a person. Anniversaries can be hard, but they pass; it is as simple as that. Yet my body channels Miss Marianne, throwing herself with abandon into reliving the emotion of a year ago. It wakes me up in the middle of the night to lie in sadness, leaving me exhausted in the morning. I sit staring at a blank computer screen, unfocused and unable to write. On the surface this week looks like the one before it: a string of meetings and mothering and meals to be made. I go about my days, getting things done. But underneath I cannot shake a sense of heaviness and dread. Like a constant, fuzzy memory that wants to break through. I do not like it.

The body remembers, even though the mind tries to forget.

I've watched people these past couple of weeks and wondered if they live with such internal calendars, too. If certain times of year or the weather being just like it was on that one day dredge up these kinds of emotional memories for them. I've wondered what my children may carry with them, what experiences from their earliest days still live on in their cells. Wondered how much of each of us is made up of memories lying in wait.

March 14, 2011

Hello, Seattle!

KatjaMichelle and I were thinking it was about time we had ourselves an adoption blogger meetup here in the Northwest. Unless you all have been getting together behind our backs?

The details have finally fallen into place and I'm excited to announce a Seattle gathering on the evening of Tuesday, March 22nd! Nice and casual, food available, kid-friendly spot (but kids definitely not required, although my two moppets will be there). Whether you're a blogger or a reader, a regular commenter or a lurker--if you are reading this, you are invited and welcome.

Email me for the specifics if you're interested in coming. And feel free to spread the word!

There is something in the works for the Portland area, too. Just let me know if you'd like to be added to the email list for that.

March 10, 2011

Meet the Two Rebekahs

In this third Open Adoption Bloggers interview we meet Rebekah and Rebekah, the birth mom and adoptive mom with matching names of Tyrus, who was born in June of 2009.

I wanted to interview them because they are semi-unusual in that both are active adoption bloggers who freely share their blogs with one another. The two Rebekahs write about their experiences as an adoptive parent and first parent, respectively, at Heart Cries and Sailing My Way Through.

March 02, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable #24

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points--please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

Write a response at your blog (including the link so your readers can browse other participating blogs) and link to your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is perfectly fine; I'd appreciate it if you'd add a link back to the roundtable. If you don't blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

I waffled between a lighter writing prompt and a heavier, more personal one for this round. I decided on the less personal topic; we'll save the deeper one for later this month.

Awhile back, out of curiosity, I set up a search on Twitter for the phrase "open adoption". If someone mentioned open adoption in a tweet it popped up in my feed reader. The search rarely turned up much. For the most part I saw promotional tweets from adoption professionals or prospective adoptive parents trying to "network," with occasional chatter from folks involved in open adoptions who were talking about their lives. Then suddenly big bursts of tweets started showing up once a week or so. Tweets that were overwhelmingly--although not totally--negative about open adoption: talk of birth parents needing to leave the adoptive family alone or doing something wrong by maintaining a connection to their children, that sort of thing. Like the greatest hits of open adoption misinformation, delivered on a schedule.

I soon realized those bursts were coming whenever MTV aired a Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant episode involving adoption. I typically roll my eyes when another clumsy adoption storyline shows up in a scripted show or bristle when reality tv mines the adoption process for stories. But here was a television franchise with massive reach giving lots of viewers their first (heavily edited and manipulated) glimpses of real-life open adoptions. And it didn't seem to be doing much for the cause.

For better or worse, open adoption is working its way into mainstream entertainment. Which brings us to our writing prompt:

How have you seen open adoption portrayed on television? What did you think? What, if anything, would you like to see?


The responses thus far:

March 01, 2011

Posts I Want To Write

I am swampity swamp swamped at work right now, so bullet points it must be! Here is some of what I'm itching to get to:
  • I signed on for Jenna's Adoption Reading Challenge this year. While I'm right on track for my twelve-book commitment, I'm woefully behind in writing up the reviews. In that I have posted none. Impressive, huh? So I need to get to writing up the first two books I read.
  • Some more thoughts on the Adoptive Families collection of  "top" adoption blogs, now that the whole list is out.
  • Since I've already gently tossed my hat into the Northwest politics ring, I may as well weigh in on the proposed HB2904, which would make some changes in Oregon's relinquishment laws and has become so very controversial in our little online world. (Spoiler alert: I think it's much better than the current rules.)
  • Open Adoption Bloggers has a new Facebook page--whether you're a blogger or a reader, please check it out. And maybe even say "hello" while you're there.
  • New roundtable tomorrow!
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