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The Importance of the book: Dear Birthmother

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First published December 6, 2008 by bethkoz.wordpress.com


When I began blogging I said my next post would contain a review of Dear Birthmother. Then I had to confess that I couldn’t find the book, as I had loaned it out and like many books, it found a new home. Next I reserved it — twice — at the library. Nothing happened. I finally asked for it at the library’s website and was told they didn’t have it; their copy(ies) found a new home, too, I’ll wager!

So today, I finally got a copy I’d ordered.  Dear Birthmother contained the first written words I read about openness in adoption. As such, it validated the baby steps we were taking at our agency in the early 1980s: letting the pregnant client read profiles of a few of our waiting families and letting her choose the family for her baby. Encouraging her to write a letter to the family within the first six weeks or so after the placement. Cautiously sharing letters and photos of the baby with the birthfamily. We were parallel in practice with the actions spoken of in this book, as were many other agencies in the mid 1980′s.

Published in 1982, the authors, Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin, an adoption worker and an adoptive mother respectively, identified four myths that affected adoption in those days (and still do, today):

1. The birthmother obviously doesn’t care about her child or she wouldn’t have given him away.

2. Secrecy in every phase of the adoption process is necessary to protect all parties.

3. Both the birthmother and the birthfather will forget about their unwanted child.

4. If the adoptee really loved his adoptive parents, he would not have to search for his birthparents.

(Ouch! The language of these myths feels harsh today, and it is also — still — the language of the outside world!)

The method used to expose these myths, and to explode them, is the presentation of letters from birthmothers and birthfathers to adoptive parents and to their children, and letters from adoptive parents back to the birthparents. Twenty-five years since I first read them, I can’t get through that first chapter without a tear or two slipping out. The love expressed by the birthparents is healthy, and it rings true. The respect that is returned to the birthparents through the letters from the new adoptive parents is genuine.

The authors go on to discuss the preparation process for the family who adopts — dealing with the pain of infertility, loss, the feeling of being scrutinized during the home study, the opportunity for education. This is followed by a chapter on preparing the birthmothers and birthfathers for their loss issues, while recognizing their right to be proud of the child they have birthed and the life they have chosen for him/her. There evolves a new definition of adoption: Adoption is the process of accepting the responsibiity of raising an individual who has two sets of parents.

Open adoption has evolved beyond this beginning, and it is still evolving. The example of respect, love and caring for each other, rather than seeing these two sides of adoption as “opposing sides” is one that serves adoption well. It is preparation for nurturing all of the adopted person. I’ve also ordered “Children of Open Adoption” and will report on it when appropriate.

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Written by bethkoz

June 6, 2010 at 6:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Bibliotherapy in the World of Adoption

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(First published October 10, 2008 on bethkoz.wordpress.com)

It is my intent to blog about adoption from the viewpoint of the adoption professional.  During 30 years in infant adoptions, mostly in Arizona,  I observed many changes in the adoption community.  The bulk of my experience has been in working with birth parents: women and their partners who have placed infants and toddlers for adoption through private adoption agencies. 

When I began to work in adoption in 1979 in Tucson, I realized it was a field in which I was not well versed.  There are no ‘adoption classes’ taught in any formal learning environments, i.e., grad schools of social work or counseling.  Many people who come to adoption as a profession are participants: people who have adopted a child or adopted persons all grown up, who have a desire to help others in a field close to their hearts.  Fewer professionals are birth parents because it is still hard to admit one’s role as birth parent; therefore many birth parents are still ‘in the closet.”  However, the movement toward open adoption has brought the cleanser of sunshine to adoption, and with it, a lessening of the stigma of being a birth parent. 

So in 1979 I went to the Tucson library to check out books on adoption; there were three:  Orphan Voyage, The Adoption Triangle and Shared Fate.  Today, there are LOTS of books on adoption.  Most of them are written to the audience of adoptive parents (how-to books, mostly) and adoptees (picture books for children to help them understand adoption, and search-for-self for adult adoptees who wonder about searching for the original parents who are by-and-large unknown to them).  Fewer books are available for birth parents.  That is the area that I intend to address, over the next few months, in this blog.   But first, a little more about how I got here.

Orphan Voyage  was written in the 1950s.  The author, (as I recall; this book is out of print now) was the wife of an adoptee who wanted to talk to other adoptees, but in the fifties adoption was a shameful topic seldom discussed.  The author put ads in big city newspapers inviting contact from individuals who were adopted, to tell their stories of growing up adopted.  Many people had not been told they were adopted and only learned after the death of their parents, or were told but in a negative way and cautioned by their parents to keep it a secret.  Adoptees who had told their friends were ridiculed and socially exiled.  I experienced a flash back to a childhood memory. 

Two new kids who rode the school bus from our country community were living with their grandmother because their daddy, a soldier, had been sent overseas and their mother had to work full time.  Diana was my age; we were in the same second grade classroom.  Her brother Donnie was in first grade.  One day I overheard my mother exclaiming to my dad that an older ’busybody’ neighbor had cornered Diana and asked her if her grandmother with whom she lived ‘treated her the same as her brother.’  She wondered because, after all, her daddy (the grandmother’s son) wasn’t really her daddy, like he was the daddy of her brother, and she was just wondering if her dad and his mother treated her as if she was loved the same way that Donnie was loved.  Diana’s grandmother had been in tears as she told my mother what the busybody had said: that Diana was adopted and this raised the question of ‘equal love.’

The Adoption Triangle was written in 1961 and is a ground-breaking and still-revered book about adoption.  Written by Reuben Panner and Annette Baran, two social workers from Vista del Mar, an adoption agency in the Los Angeles area, brought to the fore the issue of sealed records and the adoptee’s right to information about who they are and where they come from.  The edition that I checked out of the library identified Arizona as an “open records state” which meant that the original birth certificate was available to an adoptee when he/she reached majority.  I hadn’t worked in adoptions long, but I knew that Arizona was no longer (by 1979) an open records state.  I soon learned that the law had been changed and applied retroactively, because in just a few years we started getting calls from adoptive parents who had been telling their children “when you turn 18 we’ll get your original birth certificate and we’ll find her to get answers to your questions.”  These adoptive parents felt they had been lied to, and passed that lie on to their children because the lawmakers closed the records that they felt their children had a right to.

Shared Fate by H David Kirk read as if it was a doctoral dissertation (perhaps it was) written by an adoptive father who worked to help his children and other adoptees and adoptive parents to see their lives as interwoven, with the suggestion that the adoptive parent should help the adoptee understand Self.  He went on to write other books on adoption. 

It is my belief that people learn a lot from books, and that the current market of self-published and small press books makes it esier to build an awareness of adoption issues.  However, unlike when there were fewer books, it’s seldom these days that a book on adoption is advertised.  There are websites like Tapestry Books and Perspectives Press and EMK Press that showcase books in this niche market.  In each upcoming blog I will discuss books on adoption. 

I welcome your feedback and comments.

Beth Kozan – Phoenix, AZ

Written by bethkoz

June 6, 2010 at 6:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized