Accentuate the Positive


A few weeks ago, an acquaintance gave me an advance copy of her upcoming novel, which has adoption-oriented themes. I’m not going to mention the book by name because the author is actually a lovely woman with good intentions, but as I read the book I felt my throat tightening and a cold pit growing in my stomach.

The book reinforced negative stereotype after negative stereotype of people in the adoption community. There is a mercenary, dishonest agency owner with ten “souvenir” children adopted from all over the world, for whom “home schooling” is synonymous with neglect. There is a rich, racist, neurotic prospective adoptive mother and her racist, whoremonger, absent husband. The prospective fathers at an adoption information picnic exchange derisive asides as their wives anxiously wring their hands and angle for the best caseworker. The birth mothers involved in the domestic adoptions are either tragically wronged angels or criminal, money-grubbing skanks.

I read the book through to the end because I kept wanting to find something redeeming but there wasn’t a shred of positivity to be had.

I was so upset that I had a hard time sleeping that night. I was disturbed at least partially because the book wasn’t meant to be anti-adoption. In fact, the woman had given it to me knowing that Tariku was adopted. When I discussed it with her later, she insisted that she was just trying to explore the complexities around domestic adoption and look at the fact that someone always gets their heart broken. Negative stereotypes around adoption are so acceptable that a major publishing house apparently agrees with her.

I don’t believe in either art police or thought police and I don’t believe that it is our responsibility as artists to portray positive imagery of anything. It is our responsibility as artists to tell truth. I don’t say “the truth” because I believe there are many different truths. I know that the author did her best to tell truth as she saw it.

However, my truth about adoption is so radically different from hers that it cost me sleep. The glorious thing about being a writer is that I have a forum for telling my version of the story (next book idea? Perhaps…).

Adoption is indeed complex and imperfect and at its core there is loss and heartbreak. My son has lost his birth family, his birth country, his culture, his language. There has already been so much sorrow in his 27 months on this earth that I sometimes lie in bed next to him while he sleeps and cry just thinking about it.

But that is not the end of the story; it’s the beginning. I can’t erase the loss from his life, but today and every day after, I can offer him a safe and loving home where his feelings are respected and his history is treasured. Nor can I erase the loss of a birth family too besieged by famine and poverty to care for a little boy, but I can honor their sacrifice.

The channels through which children are adopted are imperfect and need vigilant examination. And adoption isn’t the answer for world problems like poverty and lack of health care, but that doesn’t change the fact that children need homes and they need them now. Adoption isn’t a solution for Ethiopia’s challenges, but it was a solution for Tariku and it was a solution for us.

So do we really need another book with reprehensible characters in the adoption world? Do we really need another horror movie where there is a bad seed orphan running around with sharp kitchen utensils? There is so much suspicion of difference and unfortunately still so much stigma around adoption.

We don’t need any more bad press.

So I’d like to share some good press. Adoption is imperfect, but I’m wildly passionate about it and one of the reasons is the incredible people it’s introduced into my life. Here are links to honest, intelligent blogs from some amazing adoptive families. Some are my faves and some were pitched in by my mama girlfriends.

Rage Against The Minivan

Our Little Tongginator

Welcome To My Brain

Dreaming Big Dreams

Ethiopian Tripletland

The Big Five

The Lost Planet

Easties and Company

Under the Acacia Tree

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9 thoughts on “Accentuate the Positive

  1. Thank you for being a voice for all of the happy families who have adopted. The portrayal of the adoption process is so often horrible and I can think of many examples of evil, masochistic killers in books and movies that were — *gasp* — orphans, as if that explains their transgressions.

    Last but not least, I love so many things about this post. One of those things is how you talk about all that our children have lost; no, they are not “lucky,” as so many friends and strangers exclaim. Still, there is so much joy to be found in our beautiful children, as the blogs you listed attest.

  2. im thoroughly enjoying your blog and specifically your write up about adoption.
    thank you. a fellow NJ girl.
    Jacqueline Smith (was Lichtstein- I don’t think we knew each other in high school)
    be well

  3. Must admit, I came here via NYTs, Modern Love is a guilty pleasure of mine. See, I have raised a child too, and whilst he emerged from my biological hinterland (aka vagina), because he is a little bi-polar wunderkind, we too, and mainly he too, experiences loss, often, and not so often, depending. There are many many negative relatives of these mood spectrum disordered folk, who decry themselves victims, just as there are many many folks who may never understand why you may truly fall in love with, utterly and deeply, a small boy from Ethiopia.
    Also joy is over-rated, and often misunderstood.

  4. Yes, I get very tired of the “adoptive parents as desperate/moronic/evil” vibe. There are so many kinds of parents and so many kinds of adoptive parents.

    I really appreciate your perspective as an adoptee, too. I’m sure you’ve stumbled upon them, too, but there is certainly a faction of anti-adoption bloggers that believe they speak for all adult adoptees in their attempts to vilify adoption.

    I love what you are saying here and wholeheartedly agree. Adoption starts with loss – but it is not the cause. In the best case, it is the redemption.

  5. Tariku is a joy to behold! Thank you for sharing him with the world. What grand adventures he has ahead of him.

  6. I am an adoptive mother of two boys from state foster care. You are right about the loss that they have endured (they were 10 and 6 when I got them)….and the fact that it is so heartwrenching to overcome. Thank you for your thoughts, I wholeheartedly agree. (And I loved Some Girls, by the way).

  7. I haven’t read the book – however I have a book – (only in my mind) about the cruel and weird processes of infertility – characters that include the doctors, nurses, me and the rest of the world.
    Many wont have experienced my tale – but for those who have it would be self assuring – for those who haven’t alarming. Back in the 90″s when I was a nanny I was really pissed with the movie – The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – it made all of us nannies look demented but the truth is – it really didn’t – maybe just for that sleepless night or two. This book that you mention obviously triggered a passionate response – like all mothers you have something to protect and keep sacred. I get that – and I cant wait to read the book.


  8. It’s hard to find accurate, honest, and empathetic portraits of all members of the adoption trifecta in the US. As an adopted grownup, I’ve thought about it a great deal. I think it’s easier for people to view it as a clearcut process with a beginning and an end. Someone gets a baby, someone doesn’t have one any more, and the baby grows up a happy plant in new soil.

    But we all bear the constant imprints of our genetic code and our experience. There’s a reason so many adoptees don’t like birthdays- it’s a loss. There’s a reason so many adoptive parents are hesitant to talk about adoption with their kids- what if they disturb those roots as they dig in? What if they hear something that means the child they love so dearly is unfamiliar in some ways, despite their bond and closeness?

    And even though birth mothers choose to relinquish their children and most really, truly want their child to have a more advantaged start- it’s so not the clean break girls were told it was in the closed adoption era. “Go home and pretend it never happened.” My aunt fanny. I dare anyone to go home and pretend the child they carried isn’t walking around in the world somewhere, It’s a silly idea.

    My birth mother was 15 when I was born. I was 26 when we first spoke. She told me about returning from the catholic girl’s home where she’d stayed from her fifth month of pregnancy. Her four younger siblings didn’t know why she’d been away, and she was instructed not to tell them. I guess so her younger sisters didn’t drink the pregnant water.

    I tried to imagine walking into your life, only it’s not your life as it was. Unable to tell the most fundamental truth about your experience to the people closest to you. It’s my version of hell. She moved on, got married, had more kids, got divorced. But she always went to a diner and had cake alone on my birthday, which she didn’t let anyone else know about.

    And on my birthdays, when I was growing up, that’s where I always pictured her. And though it made me sad, it’s also what I wanted. To be remembered. To be loved, even though I was glad she hadn’t kept me. I loved my mom and dad and brother. I loved my life.

    But in spite of the people who were there, I felt the weight of the people I had lost before I could commit them to memory. When I met them, the weight lifted in the strangest way, and if we’d never spoken again, I still would have been a different person. One with no ghosts.

    Thank you for standing up for the complexities and human realities in adoption, and for the fact that just like in every relationship, there are great joys and strengths. And there’s pain and tenderness. But none of it is best viewed through caricatures and satire.

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