A few weeks ago, I joined a large group of bloggers writing about their experiences of open adoption. I’ve just been on the sidelines thus far, but I decided to participate in the book club started in February, to be discussed in March. We read a children’s book, Megan’s Birthday Tree: A Story About Open Adoption, by Laurie Lears, published in 2005. Everyone participating sent questions to a moderator, who generated a list of questions from which everyone is to answer a few on his/her own blog. Links for other participants blogs will be posted here on March 6th. I chose four questions (below), but first, let me acquaint you with Megan’s story.
Synopsis of Story (from the cover): “Megan is adopted, [and] she and her parents keep in touch with her birth mother, Kendra. Every year on Megan’s birthday, Kendra decorates the tree she planted when Megan was born and sends a picture of it to Megan. Megan cherishes this Birthday Tree, for it ties her and Kendra together. But one day Kendra writes that she is getting married and moving to a different town. Will she forget Megan, without the tree to remind her?”
My (continued) synopsis: Turns out Megan goes to great lengths to try to grow a new tree, and when that doesn’t work, she decides to do chores to earn money to purchase a tree—but can’t save enough money, so finally, she turns to digging up a tree in her back yard. Kendra stops by as she’s leaving town for her move and finds out what Megan’s been up to and tells her that no tree can ever replace her—that she won’t be forgotten, ever. Then she walks Megan back to the truck so Kendra can leave—and there’s the original Birthday Tree, dug up and ready to be replanted at Kendra’s new house.
So, a few discussion questions and my answers to them:
- In the story, Megan struggles with the fear that her birthmother will forget her if she no longer has the Birthday Tree to remind her. What fears have you struggled with in your adoption journey? What helped you overcome those fears?
We’re still in the early stages of paperwork, but we’ve had to wade through all sorts of anxieties and fears to get even this far. From what I can tell, they’re pretty typical, for the most part: there’s the fear that we have waited too late to start our family, that because our families and friends are spread far and wide we won’t find the lean-on-me kind of support we’re told (and we know) we’ll desperately need on a daily basis in various stages to get through this lengthy process. We’re afraid that we won’t be able to raise enough money, that we’ll be waiting and waiting and waiting, that we might not ever get chosen, and ultimately, that we are somehow not supposed to be parents, because it didn’t happen the other way. So far—as all of these things swirl around us—we’ve found some solace in looking behind us at how far we’ve come—which has been through some things we’d never thought we’d have to deal with, not all of which have to do with our attempts to start a family. One of us is much better than the other (he who does the writing gets to leave out those bits of information J ) at taking things one step at a time and refusing to become overwhelmed. Reading about other people’s stories can be helpful—but not always, as it can be just more food for the worry-wart, like I talked about here. Doing our best at steering clear of the Negative Nancies in the real world and online, we have found some consistently upbeat, positively sunny blogs from adoptive parents, and they really do help. And their kids are so darn adorable.
I know our fears will evolve as we move farther along—after we’ve raised the money, after our wait is over and after we’ve been chosen, after the beginning of parenthood—when the reality of the next few decades begins to set in. We (I) will have a whole different set of worries at that point, and I (*A*) will have to come up with new ways of dealing with that (my worry-wart-ness) —when the time comes. (See—one step at a time).
- This book focused on the ongoing relationship between Megan and her birth mom, allowing insight into the complexity of that evolving bond, rather than simply being a sort of expected re-telling Megan’s birth and adoption story. As an adoptive parent, how would you respond to your child’s questions about Megan and her birth mom if your kid’s relationship with their birth mom or birth dad is not so open or positive?
I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about the importance of developmentally-appropriate conversations with kids about big issues like this. I’ve paid attention to this idea as I’ve run across it in various books and blogs—I readily admit that I’m already someone who looks for the bigger issues underlying the simple ones—and I know how easily little problems can be blown out of proportion unnecessarily because of the tendency to want to address the big problem instead of the little one (which is usually the only one that actually exists anyway). It seems to me that sticking to the honesty-is-the-best-policy mantra is vital. It’s also important for adoptive parents to refrain from projecting their own feelings about their kid’s birth parent, lest those feelings negatively influence the kid’s perspective. Whatever the nature of the relationship between child and birthparent, emphasizing love is the most important element of it all, surely.
- In Megan’s Birthday Tree, Megan’s adoptive parents were present at various points, but tangentially. Did you pick up on this? Does your response to the background role the adoptive parents played say anything about where your family is in your adoption journey?
I came up with this question, and since I wrote it a week ago, I’m sort of surprised at how my thinking about it has changed. As hopeful adoptive parents, we’re obviously looking for people with whom we can identify. Megan’s adoptive parents were not primary figures in this book—and really, that’s rightfully so. It’s not a story about them. Megan’s not questioning her relationship with them, she’s secure in that, and she knows they’ll be there when she does need them. She doesn’t seem as secure with her relationship with her birthmother—and she’s afraid of what might happen when that relationship changes (a move combined with a new husband). When I first read the book, I found myself sort of affronted at the invisibility of the adoptive parents in the story—thinking that maybe they weren’t all that necessary to Megan, and that somehow their relationship was not that important, that they were just there. That’s just it, though, I realized in the past few days as I sorted this out—they were there—she felt secure—her adoptive parents were her constants. They didn’t need to be on every page constantly interrupting Megan’s thoughts and her own ways of figuring things out and making them work, and that’s as it should be.
- The book was categorized by the publisher as one of its “issue books,” dealing with “children’s problems and special needs.” Other books in the series address topics like autism, epilepsy, and stuttering. What do think about a book on open adoption being characterized that way?
Open adoption is a different-than-the-norm scenario, different even from many people’s ideas of how adoption works, and it is, in that case, a special topic. Naming open adoption a “special topic” seems to me a much better way of wording the “issues” arising from adoption, and definitely better than the negatively worded “children’s problems and special needs.” Any amount of difference is frequently portrayed as a problem, as something negative. It’s so hard for some people to see adoption as a joyful experience—one that’s just as worthy of happiness and celebration as bringing a child into a family by birth. Even fewer people understand open adoption and the importance of birth families in an adopted child’s life. It’s different. And if coding this book as “different” is what is driving this publisher to categorize the book in this way, that is indicative of how much further we need to reach in educating people about open adoption—even those publishing books on the topic.
Generally speaking, I’m pretty critical of kid’s books because I think it takes a lot of talent to write about serious topics without being preachy–not everyone can accomplish that–and I didn’t like this book at first. I’ve concluded that this initial reaction had more to do with the book not addressing our (current) pre-adoptive parent situation than anything else. I set that aside, though, and was able to see a really positive, non-preachy story reflecting the best parts of open adoption, and I realize that this book is pretty unique in that, so for that reason, I’ve changed my mind. Even though I’m snobby about illustrations (I didn’t care for the illustrations in the book) I’m sure this book will find its way into our library at some point because of its powerful depiction of a positive relationship with a birth mom. That, and the idea of a birthday tree, well, that sounds like something we’d do anyway. 🙂
I’m realizing, after writing this book club post, that I still need to write about how we chose open adoption, what that means to us, and what it is in general. Stay tuned–I’ll get to it soon!