Archive for January, 2009

Review: “Reading Adoption” by Marianne Novy

January 30, 2009

This is a unique read, much out of “the usual” in adoption books. The author, as an adoptee, admits to having been sensitive along her educational journey to themes of abandonment, parental exchanges and orphans. But unlike other students exposed to the Greek plays, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Thackery and the Bronte novels — for Marianne Novy, the dark brooding stories of human foibles awakened knowledge of shared fate.  Ms. Novy has written a book that interweaves her professorial knowledge of literature with her personal story of search and reunion.  Her extensive exploration of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Tree and Pigs In Heaven gave me a glimmer of what it would have been like to have found someone to discuss these books when I read them — and longed for that discussion!

And to think, I was under the impression that adoption books started being written about thirty years ago!  I was wrong, as Ms. Novy points out.  The theme was all around me.  And that is her point.  Our view of adoption, of the roles the players “should” play, is unconsciously influenced by what we read, even if we don’t realize it.

Let this be a good ‘heads up’ for all of us educators in adoption (and we are all ‘educators in adoption’), to be aware of the subtle influences on all students!  A great read!  Thank you, Marianne Novy, for opening my eyes!

Beth Kozan, Phoenix, AZ

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January 16, 2009

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Reviewing: “Without a Map, a Memoir” by Meredith Hall

January 13, 2009

The year was 1965; the place was a small town in New Hampshire. A 16 year old high school student with plans to go to college finds herself pregnant after a brief summer liaison. The ensuing unraveling of her life begins with the admission to school staff that indeed, she is pregnant. The swift reaction of her parents, her family, her church, her community is unexpected. She finds herself shunned, sent away and given no option but adoption for her baby. A casualty of “pretend it never happened,” Meredith Hall spent the next 21 years a lost and wandering soul. Although she never uses the word “forgiveness,”  she does recount the years of rebuilding her life. 

This intense memoir tells in poignant prose the extent to which an erasure of those nine months of her life affected who she became. And who she became is a strong female writer, a voice of that era caught in the cusp of social transition. It’s as if one of Anne Fessler’s interviewees in “The Girls Who Went Away” published in 2007 stepped out of the book to tell her personal story.

Halfway through reading this book, I did the math. Meredith Hall was 16 in 1965; so was my little sister, who also got pregnant that year.

My parents — with Sis in tow — appeared unannounced at the office to take me to lunch. Overjoyed to see them, but wary because they had never driven 50 miles to meet me for lunch, I drove the family car off the lot of the business where I worked as a secretary. In the backseat, my mother burst into tears. “Your sister has to get married.” “Be careful,” said my dad, “she’s driving.” (Like I couldn’t see this coming, I thought to myself.) My sister piped up: “But we wanted to get married anyway. This way, we just hurried it up a little.”

My mother was mortified. Raised on ‘what will people think,’ a generation of girls had come to put our parents’ reputation first — their standing in the community. “What must her mother think” my mother would say every time another peer got married and had an eight pound premature baby less than nine months later. “Her Mother!” I would silently think to myself. “What about HER!”

It’s hard to remember the binding morality of those days. Teenagers today hardly believe those seering days of control by image, although as I did private interviews of prospective adoptive parents through the years I would hear them say, “I never misbehaved. I wouldn’t have dared to; it would have killed my mother!”

So, are we better off as a society without that crushing burden of protecting our families’ reputation? Is the trend of pride about being a parent at 16, at 15, even younger — a healthier attitude? What about the fatherless boys and girls growing up wondering what they did to drive away an absent parent?  When I started doing pregnancy counseling in 1979, in my mind the student had four options: marriage, abortion, adoption, single parenthood. “I’m too young to get married,” my startled students would say, realizing the magnitude of sustaining a relationship over the years. Why didn’t they also think, “I’m too young to be a parent”? But they didn’t. These young women would blythly step into parenthood, more often than not to be disappointed by the friends who promised to ‘help’ them. I began to suggest to my clients: Ask them How will they help? Will they provide a ride to the 24 hr pharmacy to pick up ear-ache medicine at 3 AM? Will they buy formula for your baby? Will they provide diapers? Shoes?

The teen pregnancy recidivism rate is high; I pressed onward, informing the students of their options. Maybe in a few years one would say to me, “I remember you. You came to my school with a panel of teens who had placed their babies for adoption. I didn’t want to listen to you then.” And she would drop her eyes to her hands in her lap and say, “I never thought I would be where I am today.” She would explain how deserted and alone she felt with the decision of what to do with a second, a third or a later baby. All their ‘helpers’ were going on with their lives; had new boyfriends, were going away to school — these young women had learned that ‘helping’ meant ‘come and talk to me when you’re blue.’

The decision of adoption is still a lonely path. Getting to know other women who have made the same choice somewhat eases the pain, but it’s still an isolating event. In my new career as counselor to people with adoption-related issues, I listen as women in their 30s, 40s and even older — recall the baby they never met. As they prepare to search, as they wonder if they have the audacity to interrupt a life they said goodbye to years ago, I encourage them to open the door and seek the child, now grown. I have a new quote for them, from Meredith Hall:  “He looked for me.  I didn’t realize I should have been the one looking for him. He needed to know I loved him at least that much!”

And onward we travel that path, finding a few friends along the way to share the journey.

Letter to an Adopted Teen

January 4, 2009

 Dear Caitlyn (or Anthony, Rachel, Matthew, Lilah or Jake),

I remember your birth mother. 

 

When I knew her, she was small and quiet, polite and sad.  She wanted you to have things she couldn’t provide then.  That doesn’t mean she hasn’t changed, hasn’t grown up, hasn’t thought of you ever again since the day she signed her name to important papers in my office just days after you were born.

 

Even when other people in her life thought she should forget all about you – when her new boyfriend tore up the only picture she had of you and she asked me to look through all the negatives of babies’ pictures I kept, looking for YOU – she remembered you and hid the memory of you away in a private part of her heart.

 

For a few years she would call me around the time of your birthday.  She wanted to make a connection to the last person she knew who knew you, too.   She tried to follow the advice of some relative, to “forget you ever had that baby.”  When she couldn’t forget, she thought there must be something wrong with her.

 

Eventually she ‘moved on with her life,’ and the calls stopped.  I hope it meant she found other people that she could talk to about the baby she remembers.  I hope she worked out a compromise through the years in how to answer the social question:  How many kids do you have?  I hope she’s found a time to tell her son or daughter of your existence.  I hope that other child knows and will welcome you on the day that you decide you want to find your birth family.   

OR:

 

When I knew her, your birth mother was boisterous and outgoing.  She didn’t mind giving someone a piece of her mind.  She didn’t look like a minority person, so she could listen to catty comments someone at school made, in Spanish, about ‘those kids.’  Then when they’d strung out enough rope to hang themselves, she’d speak to them in their own language, letting them know what a fool they’d made of themselves.  She defended the underdog. 

 

She always had a sparkle in her eye when she spoke of you.   She talked about meeting with your mom and dad someday after you were placed with them, but she wanted to lose weight first.  She knew how important first impressions are and she wanted them to like her so that they’d tell her positive things about her, so you would love yourself. 

OR:

 

I didn’t know your birth mom, but she called one year to update her file.  She wanted to be sure that when you came to the agency to look up your background, you would find something other than the teenager who slipped out the window to go party with her friends, and ended up pregnant.  She wanted to be sure that you would find not just a ‘wayward teen’ but a woman who finished school, who got a degree and a job helping others; that she is a responsible person and a mom of three others, and that they know about you and will welcome you someday when you decide to find them.

 

Anyway, dear CaitlynAnthonyRachelMatthewLilahJake, please know that your birth mother is a person who did the best she could when she made the painful decision to part with you as a little baby.  She remembers what being a teenager is like, and how difficult it is to figure out who you are.  She still wants what is best for you.  And she always loved you.

 

Sincerely,

Beth Kozan,

Adoption Social Worker from 1979 to 2008

Brain Research cited on Discovery News . . .

January 3, 2009

Just in time for holiday visits to relatives, Jennifer Viegas published via Discovery News online a discussion of MRI research done on subjects while they were shown photos of relatives, strangers and morphed photos meant to look like the viewer. Findings were that a different part of the brain was stimulated when photos of relatives were viewed vs the part of the brain that is stimulated when strangers’ photos were viewed.

As someone looking at relationships through the lens of adoption, I wondered how such an experiment would turn out if the photos of ‘relatives’ were based on people not known to the viewer, in other words, is there a ‘recognition reflex’ — as some birth mothers swear to — that their babies recognized them, even though they had been separated for a significant time period. Hmmm. No answer, just a wondering on my part.

The article I read referred to the publication of this research in “the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience”. I couldn’t find it on first effort.

Fade out with these words from “Silent House” by the Dixie Chicks:

These walls have eyes
Rows of photographs
And faces like mine.
Who do we become
Without knowing where
We started from?