ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
When a child is adopted into a family, they can turn that household upside-down, and not just as any kid can. The modern trends of international and interracial adoptions and children with special needs or from less than healthy birth parents, these can shake up a family in new and unique ways. That's in part because adoption itself is changing. There was a time when a cloak of secrecy and shame covered the women who gave up their children and those who adopted knew little, if anything, of their new child's biological parents. But these days open adoptions are much more common, and new parents often raise their children in close contact with their biological parents.
Still, those who adopt children often say later that it was perhaps the hardest task they've ever undertaken. Two adoptive parents have recently compiled some of their stories chronicling the difficulties and remarkable variations of experience in taking another person's child into their home.
Later on, Christmas is over and you get a chance to let it all out. Glad to see your neighbor deflate his giant plastic globe of reindeer and fake blowing snow? Sighing with relief that your palate can return to pizza from turkey? Here's your last chance. Send us your gripes. What are you glad to see go with the end of the holiday season? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But first, adoption stories. If you have adopted, we want to hear from you about what your biggest challenge has been. And if you're thinking about adopting, how do you imagine it will affect your life in the years ahead? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
Joining us now is Jill Smolowe. She's one of the editors of the book "A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents." She joins us from the studios of NPR West in Los Angeles.
Hello there, Jill Smolowe.
Ms. JILL SMOLOWE (Author, "A Love Like No Other"): Hi, Andrea. Thank you for having me on.
SEABROOK: It's our pleasure. Jill, I want to start with your adoption story. This is, I imagine, why you came to write a book about it.
Ms. SMOLOWE: Our book--the book that I co-edited with Pam Kruger is--includes our stories but it's also essays by other adoptive parents. I earlier wrote a memoir about the story of bringing our daughter Becky home from China. But now our daughter is 11 and we're dealing with very different issues than are involved when you first form a family, and it was those issues that Pam and I set out to address in this book.
SEABROOK: What are those issues?
Ms. SMOLOWE: Well, as children age, the adoption story never goes away. What happens is that a child's understanding of the adoption story comes in gradually over time. And as a child comes to understand what adoption means, they also come to understand that there's another family out there, a birth family, and different children will process that and emotionally deal with that in different ways.
SEABROOK: Did you have any sense that this would become a central issue to your family when you first adopted your daughter?
Ms. SMOLOWE: Well, my husband and I always knew that adoption would be one of the many variables in our lives. For one thing, my husband and I are Caucasian and our daughter is Chinese by birth, so she's now an Asian-American. There was never any question that people would look at us and see an adoptive unit. Adoption is not the central organizing principle in our family life, by any means, but it as an issue arises, just as at this time of year my husband's Episcopalian background arises and my Jewish background arises, so adoption is one of those pieces in the mix.
SEABROOK: So what are the challenges that you've encountered?
Ms. SMOLOWE: With Becky in particular, the--trying to find the right balance, I think my husband and I feel, for letting her feel connected to Chinese heritage but at the same time not making her feel like we're forcing this on her. I think that that is a challenge that anybody who creates an international family will confront at some point. My co-author--my co-editor, Pam Kruger, her daughter comes from Kazakhstan and it's an issue she, too, grapples with.
SEABROOK: Your book is called "A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents." What brought you to bring together these essays from the different views of adoption?
Ms. SMOLOWE: It was such an immediate decision. Pam approached me one day and said she had this idea for a book on parenting adopted children; would I be interested in participating? And I said yes instantly. And the reason for that was that so many of the books--virtually all of the books on adoption deal with the question of finding the child: first making the decision, then if you're going to adopt, where do you adopt, how do you adopt, all the many, many decisions that go into it. But then the literature kind of leaves you there. And adoption is something that shows up in many different guises over the course of time and it--we felt it would be lovely to open up a dialogue and just have each--we looked for particular stories, writers with stories that would speak to particular issues.
For instance, it's said that every adoptive child has at core a sense of loss about having lost the original biological family. Well, certainly we wanted to deal with birth parent issues, but in addition to that, let's say that you have a divorce situation in your adoptive family. Does the adoption issue exacerbate that? Is there a compounded loss here? So that was one issue, for instance, we wanted to look at.
Another is this question of how do you bring in a child's heritage without--how do you blend it into your life? How do you, you know, in our case, teach Becky about China when we ourselves are not Chinese, don't have, you know, a background in the area? We were also looking for stories that dealt with health issues. You hear sometimes about attachment disorders, particularly out of some of the east European orphanages. So these were the kinds of issues we wanted to have the different essays address and we've got some wonderful voices in this book.
SEABROOK: Well, let's start with your story, then. How do you teach Becky about China and her heritage without forcing it on her?
Ms. SMOLOWE: In our case, we have--this is not the PC view in adoption circles these days, I must say. There seems to be a very pronounced current that, yes, sign your child up for Chinese language class. Ribbon dancing classes are good, maybe send your child off to a preschool where he or she will see a lot of other Chinese faces, etc. My husband and I chose not to go that route. We kind of let Becky guide us. And the one thing we knew for sure was that we wanted to get her back to China before she hit adolescence and all of the identity issues that just go with growing up, that have nothing to do with adoption. So we wanted her to be able to encounter her native land prior to that. And so, as a result, we went back last spring. It was perfect timing. She was 10 years old, very ready to take in what she was seeing. It was not threatening because she was old enough to feel, you know, she's part of a family, us. But here she was encountering something that was a piece of her heritage. And I think that was very affirmative for her. She speaks a lot now about loving China, which is a new line in her life, and I like that.
SEABROOK: Yeah. What has she held on to as part of her identity from, well, you know, what is just a trip that she took with her parents?
Ms. SMOLOWE: Yeah. I think that, for one thing, being in an environment where--she turned to us once or twice and she said, `You know, you're the ones standing out now,' and she said it with a laugh. And I think that gave her a certain pleasure, to be able to feel like she was blending in. But the truth is she didn't blend in. We stood out as--we attracted a lot of attention, two Caucasians with a Chinese daughter. It was amazing wherever we traveled how people of all age groups seemed to understand what they were looking at and there was tremendous amount of overt curiosity; very friendly, very receptive but also baldly curious and asking a lot of questions of our translators.
SEABROOK: And in Becky's daily life as a preadolescent, as a girl, an American girl, in California on the West Coast, does she encounter a lot of questions about her own heritage or the fact that her parents are white in her daily life?
Ms. SMOLOWE: Actually, we're just doing the Christmas thing out here, Christmas-Hannukah thing out here. We're from New Jersey and there are a lot of adoptive families in the New York metropolitan area, where--so many where you see Caucasian parents and Chinese girls. So I don't think that we're particularly a magnet for attention. The issues that have come up in regard to race simply have to do with being, I think--Becky is--the town that we're in is predominantly African-American and Caucasian. The Asian population is a little less, so some of the comments that come out are more as a result of that than as of being adopted.
SEABROOK: In a few minutes we're going to be talking to Adam Pertman, who is another essayist in your book and also an expert on adoption. We'll ask him about some of the changing trends in adoption, but first let's go to the phones. Give us a call if you've had any experience with adoption, with modern adoption or more old-fashioned kind. (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK.
And let's start with Diane in San Carlos, California. Hi. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
DIANE (Caller): Hello.
SEABROOK: Hi there.
SEABROOK: What's your story?
DIANE: My story is that I have an adopted son. He is now 30 but the biggest issue for us for him as a child was our divorce. The adoption has never been an issue for him, but the divorce of the adoptive parents has been really hard.
SEABROOK: Diane, was your child adopted in an open adoption or closed?
DIANE: It was a closed adoption. He can at this point, of course, find out the information. We adopted him in Utah. He was one out of 12 children that year. There were no real children to be adopted at that point in the '70s. But, you know, that was a real issue for him, just a normal kid, but he's very unique. You know, he certainly hasn't got our genes. He's an explorer, an adventurer, wonderful, wonderful young man.
SEABROOK: OK, Diane. Thanks so much for your call.
SEABROOK: Jill Smolowe, this is another subject that you take on in the book about divorce. I mean, most people who adopt a kid don't even--they aren't even thinking about these sort of future issues that may affect the marriage.
Ms. SMOLOWE: Yes. And the essay that we have is by Antoinette Martin and it's a wonderful piece in that she has two children who were adopted and she is in contact with both of their birth mothers and as are the children. And she--one of the things most difficult for her was that in each of those adoptions, she had stressed to these women, `We will give your children a normal family life,' which in part--or in large part meant that there would be both a mother and father in the picture. And so she was not only devastated personally and devastated for her children, but she was devastated for these women and very concerned about how they would react to the news. And interestingly, they proved tremendously supportive. They remained very much a part of the kids' lives, as does the divorced husband, but her concern went to them as well.
SEABROOK: We're talking with writer Jill Smolowe about her collection of essays from adoptive parents. It's called "A Love Like No Other." We'll have more after a short break. Stay with us. I'm Andrea Seabrook. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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SEABROOK: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington.
Jill Smolowe is our guest this hour. Her new book is called "A Love Like No Other." It's a collection of essays written by adoptive parents about what happens after that first meeting of parent and child. If you have a story to tell, give us a call: 1 (800) 989-TALK. Or e-mail--our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, Jill Smolowe, before the break we were talking about some of the unexpected emotions, feelings, problems that can crop up years after adopting a child or even in the first moments. You mentioned divorce, problems of race, you know, attachment disorders, these sort of problems that happen. And I want to go to the phones now to Rachel in Denver, Colorado, who has a really interesting story.
Hi, Rachel. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
RACHEL (Caller): Hi.
SEABROOK: Hi there. Go ahead.
RACHEL: Well, we had a difficult adoption process and during the whole--it took us--we were delayed a year getting our daughter home. And during that whole time I was, you know, gradually telling myself that I was in love with this, you know, picture, this pretend child. And when I got her, we went and picked her up and I was intrigued by her but I didn't have that instantaneous fall in love that everybody else talked about--you know, I took the child in my arms and suddenly I loved her and I burst into tears--and I didn't have that. And I had expected that. And it took a while. I mean, we were jet-lagged after we got home and she was, too, so she was kind of freaked out and it just took a while for this love between us to really grow, between myself and the actual real physical child.
SEABROOK: Rachel, do you remember when that love did start to grow?
RACHEL: Well, I remember the first moment that I realized that my maternal instinct was kicking in. We were at the park and she couldn't walk at that point. She was quite sick when she came home. And I had set her down on the grass and a goose came walking over toward her and I immediately like ran and put myself in front of her and then picked her up. And I thought, `Well, there it is.'
SEABROOK: It must have been a little bit of a relief.
RACHEL: It was. It was a tremendous relief. And I also remember sitting on the floor by her crib crying one afternoon because she was inconsolable and I said, `You know, we're going to be fine. We're going to really love each other, but it's hard right now.' And now we're just, you know, intensely bonded and she is, you know, the absolute light of my life.
SEABROOK: How old is she now?
RACHEL: She's four.
SEABROOK: Thank you so much for calling, Rachel.
RACHEL: Oh, you're welcome.
SEABROOK: Jill Smolowe, is this something you hear from adoptive parents, that they don't have this golden moment?
Ms. SMOLOWE: I am so glad Rachel brought that--brought her story up there. We have an essay in this book from Melissa Faye Greene. She already had four biological children at the time she went to adopt a four-year-old boy in Bulgaria. And this essay is one that people react to in particular. She finds herself back home, just like Rachel, not bonding. But this little boy who's four, has attached himself to her instantly. He knows the word `Mama.' He will not let her out of his sight, which, of course, if you have an infant would not be happening.
So really what was going on here I think is the fact that it's an older child, that you don't have those down periods where you get to reclaim yourself and your life. You put the child down for a nap, it's all very nice. You know, you bond, you smile and then you can go be yourself for a while. That doesn't happen when you adopt an older child. Two-year-old, you're already pretty close to the toddling stage, I would imagine. And in the case of Melissa Faye Greene, she found herself asking herself like on a daily, hourly basis, `Do I love him yet?' And the question really began to get to her and pain her and, like Rachel, there just came this moment where she stopped asking herself that and she just knew.
But I think a lot of that distress came from not anticipating what it means to bring an older child, a mobile child who doesn't, you know, sit down and give you some time to yourself.
SEABROOK: Jill Smolowe, hang on the line. We're going to bring in Adam Pertman now. He wrote one of the essays in your book.
Ms. SMOLOWE: Yes.
SEABROOK: And he's also the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, based in New York. He joins us from Chicago.
Thanks for joining us, Adam Pertman.
Mr. ADAM PERTMAN (Executive Director, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute): Hi. It's a pleasure to be here, but I'm not in Chicago.
SEABROOK: Oh, you aren't in Chicago. Tell me where you are.
Mr. PERTMAN: I'm in Pikesville, Maryland.
SEABROOK: Oh, yes. You're just outside of Baltimore. I knew that.
Mr. PERTMAN: Right.
SEABROOK: I knew that. And, you know, what I think is interesting from your essay is that it seems that adoption wasn't always something that people spoke of openly and proudly, but now open adoption is becoming much more prevalent.
Mr. PERTMAN: Well, openness about adoption is becoming much more prevalent. They have radio shows about it, don't they? This is something that didn't used to happen in the past. In the past, people made really almost pathological assumptions about adoption. You know, the bad stuff was all they thought about. People would say...
SEABROOK: What bad stuff?
Mr. PERTMAN: Well, `I'm sorry you couldn't have any real children, so you adopted.' Well, my kid looks real, I promise you. The words `You're adopted' were very prevalently, and now still are unfortunately, used as an insult. `Oh, don't--look at Johnny. Look what he did. He's adopted.' So who my child is is an insult, right? Well, my child is not an insult and neither is any other child anywhere, whether they're adopted or not. But the stigmas, the negative stereotypes, the lack of knowledge about adoption informed people in the most negative ways. And so they thought it was a problem. Otherwise why would we whisper about it? Why would we keep it a secret? And we did for too long. And the good news is, yes, open adoption is becoming more prevalent and that's more humane and respectful, but the even better news is that openness about adoption is becoming the norm. And that's good for everybody.
SEABROOK: Tell me why you think open adoption is becoming more prevalent and why, as you say, it's more humane.
Mr. PERTMAN: Well, for lots of reasons. Let's see how small I can make this nutshell. We treated women, the birth mothers of our children, as though they were baby-making machines who were supposed to spew out the products and then go away. To me that's not humane. We treat them now as human beings who are full participants in the process, and as well they should be, since it's their baby. And we respect that and we include them when we can. That seems to me much more humane. Treating children--most of the kids who are adopted were born out of wedlock. Calling them illegitimate and bastards, which was what we did, seems to me not particularly humane. Depriving them of some rights and privileges that kids born into families enjoy as a matter of course seems to me inhumane. Feeling sorry for parents because they formed their families through adoption, which is just as normative and just as natural a process as any others in most cultures--you know, informal adoption by the aunt, by whomever--is fine. It's a normal course of life.
Well, you know, treating me, treating Jill, treating other people who were infertile perhaps or just chose to adopt as having chosen second best is inhumane. You know, if families are--the kids didn't do anything wrong. The families are perfectly natural and putting them on a level playing field in which we consider them to be part of the normative culture seems to me simply a better idea.
SEABROOK: Let's go back to the phones. (800) 989-8255--TALK--8255 or (800) 989-TALK. I'm interested in a couple of different senses of adoption, especially modern adoption, that we're getting from our listeners. Let's start with Peggy in Portland, Oregon.
Hi. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
PEGGY (Caller): Hello.
PEGGY: This is Peggy.
SEABROOK: Hi, Peggy. Go ahead with your story.
PEGGY: Well, I have two pretty much grown daughters that we adopted. They're both in college now and both of those were open adoptions and the difficulty for us was not in that. I think that's a wonderful, natural thing. I'm so glad that we did that. But there's something else that comes with that, and that is that there were two daughters with two different families and each birth mother had a different kind of reaction or response to the openness of the adoption, so that my older daughter's birth mother was very interested in maintaining contact and would send cards and presents and visit, and the younger daughter's birth mother has been less interested in doing so. And for the first, I don't know, eight years of her life or so, eight or 10 years, made no attempt to be in touch. So there was, you know, one daughter who was getting cards and presents and visits, and the other daughter who was getting none of that. And, you know, there was a lot of emotional difficulty for the younger daughter and, you know, naturally for us as well.
SEABROOK: Thank you for your call, Peggy.
Jill Smolowe, what is it--is this one of the complications you came across when you were building your book?
Ms. SMOLOWE: One of the complications, certainly, is that if you have more than one child in the family, it's going to invite questions. Now in the case of my co-author--co-editor, Pam Kruger, she has a biological child and then she has an adopted daughter. And, for instance, when the question came up--it continues to come up, should she be making efforts to introduce her adopted daughter to her Kazakh heritage, then the question becomes, `Well, then she should be introducing her biological daughter to that heritage as well.'
We have another author who has two adopted daughters, Laura Shaine Cunningham. And Laura's very keen to take her two daughters back to their respective homelands, and one daughter is more interested in the other. Well, how do you push it? Does that put pressure on the other daughter? These are the kinds of things that I would call adoption issues.
SEABROOK: And let's go to Bill in New York City. Hi. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
BILL (Caller): Hi. How are you? Thank you for having me.
SEABROOK: Good. Thanks for calling. Give us your story.
BILL: Well, I was a social worker for many years in New York City and I worked in the foster care system and I saw how difficult things were and the real need in New York City for stable, permanent, loving homes. One afternoon back in the '80s, as a social worker, I was told that a child was, for the most part, kicked out of a foster home and that he was a very hard to place child and I wasn't going home that night until I found him a respective home. And as a 21-year-old college student, I thought, `Oh, my goodness. How can I do this?'
So as it turns out, I found him a home with a very loving woman, and some of the difficulties that he was having and some of the behaviors he was exhibiting led her to tell me pretty much that she would only adopt him if I helped. And I thought, `Well, help, you know, what does that mean?' And, well, that meant that I would be his father in an informal adoption. Years later I started fostering children myself as a single father. I've fostered 12 children and subsequently have adopted one child, and one child--for the past seven years we've been in court trying to make this a permanent home. So I've run the gamut from many different issues and many different perspectives.
My children have contact with their parents and one of my sons now is celebrating Hannukah this evening with his birth family. And it's been wonderful. They're both top honor students and they're very well adjusted, but it continues to be, you know, very, very, very challenging.
SEABROOK: And, Bill, all of this as a single man.
BILL: Yeah. I knew very early on that I would be an adoptive parent because, unfortunately, my aunt had been rendered quadriplegic when I was a very young boy and some of my cousins went to very good, stable, loving homes and some went to less stable homes. And I remember walking a few towns over to see if I could kind of surveil what was happening with my one cousin who we had no contact with, hiding out across the street from her house behind a tree, hoping to get a glimpse of, you know, my cousin, whom I adored, and I just decided then--I think I was probably nine, 10 years old--that I was going to grow up and do the right thing and I was going to adopt children the right way.
SEABROOK: Thanks for your call, Bill. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Adam Pertman, as executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, are you seeing more tolerance, understanding, ability of single men especially and single women as well to adopt children?
Mr. PERTMAN: Well, that was an interesting call. I would say single men are--have the lowest rate of adoption; lots and lots of adoption by single women and lots of adoption by couples, both married and unmarried. One thing that I want to just, if I may, comment on an observation that I have from listening to all of this. There are all sorts of interesting trends in adoption today. My first book, called "Adoption Nation," is subtitled "How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America." It really is having a transformative effect because what's happening is revolutionary. However many men are adopting children singly, there used to be zero. However many single women are adopting children singly, there used to be zero. So all--however many people are adopting from China and lots of other countries, there used to be zero. The trend line is upward in all of these areas and that's very, very good for children who need homes. It's a wonderful thing.
And the pathology of, oh, adoption's about problems, about people settling for second best and all of that is evaporating as we learn more and more about the process because, after all, biological families have problems, too. You know, stepfamilies have problems. Divorced families have problems. I mean, problems are inherent in the family system, but what we're learning is that there are all sorts of families and that they are normative. That's what we do basically at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Mr. PERTMAN: We study these things and try to figure out what works, what are best practices, what do our experiences teach us.
SEABROOK: Fascinating news. Thank you very much for joining us, Adam Pertman.
Mr. PERTMAN: My pleasure.
SEABROOK: Adam Pertman is the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, based in New York. He joined us from just outside of Baltimore, Maryland.
And let's quickly start talking with Dan Savage. You may have heard of him. He's the editor of The Stranger, a Seattle weekly paper, and he contributed to the book we're discussing this hour. He joins us from--by phone from Chicago.
Hello there, Mr. Savage.
Mr. DAN SAVAGE (Editor, The Stranger): Hello. How are you?
SEABROOK: Good. How are you? And, you know, segueing from our last topic, I understand you and your partner, again another gay man, adopted your children.
Mr. SAVAGE: Our child, one.
Mr. SAVAGE: We're gearing up to adopt again, but we haven't--we're not quite there yet. We have a seven-year-old who we adopted in an open adoption.
SEABROOK: Are are you--do you believe that open adoption is, as people are saying this hour, a much more humane, a better way to go?
Mr. SAVAGE: Absolutely. I believe it's much more ethical and much more humane and it puts the child first and that's really how it should be. It also puts the birth mother a very close second, but, you know, first.
I think it's also very--I think it's just the right thing to do in an open adoption where the birth mother is empowered to select the family that her child is placed with, which is the kind of open adoption that we did. You know, for us as a gay male couple, we had seen another gay male couple in the area where we live wind up in court when the child that they had adopted through a closed adoption's parents--biological parents found out that a gay couple had adopted their child and they sued to get the child back because they disapproved of the parents being gay. And we didn't want that kind of energy or that kind of a negative possible consequence. We wanted somebody who wanted us for her child and that's ultimately what we got and we've been very happy about having an open adoption.
Like the previous--the gentleman just said, there are complications, there are, you know--there's Sturm and Drang in any parent-child relationship, in any family setup. There's a lot of drama and there certainly has been in ours. I know that in some--some criticisms of the book, my essay's been singled out for creating a negative portrait of open adoption and I don't think it is a negative portrait. We just had an open adoption that had some bumps. They all do; all families have bumps and we've had some and we wanted to be honest about them, or I did, in that sense.
SEABROOK: OK. Dan Savage, hang on the line and we'll talk to you more. We're talking about adoption and "A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents."
Stay tuned. After the break, we'll keep talking about it. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
SEABROOK: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington.
Tomorrow, baby boomers and their effect on American life. The first boomers hit 60 on New Year's Day. Another 8,000 follow suit every day for the rest of 2006. Their influence is far and wide. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.
Right now we're wrapping up our conversation about adoption with Jill Smolowe, author of "A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents." She joins us from NPR West. We're also speaking with Dan Savage. He's the editor of The Stranger, a Seattle weekly newspaper and writes the advice column Savage Love.
Dan Savage, I wanted to ask you, I read your story and there was this very striking moment in it when you describe walking into the hospital room and taking your new daughter from her biological mother's arms.
Mr. SAVAGE: It's actually our son...
SEABROOK: Son. Taking your son--sorry, taking your son from his mother's arms.
Mr. SAVAGE: Yeah, it was--we really were not braced for that moment and sometimes I wonder if the agency intentionally didn't brace us. You know, there is pain in childbirth and there's--very often, though, for an adoptive couple, there's just joy, especially often for straight couples who've experienced infertility to finally become parents after accepting adoption and (unintelligible) this moment of bliss. And it is, although, for the birth mother--which is why I think open adoption is so ethical--the birth mother is making this tremendous sacrifice. And in a closed adoption, there was often no one there to witness it and to witness the pain and the searing sort of intensity of that moment of giving up a child.
And who more appropriate to witness that moment than the adoptive parent. Who better to know what that woman who gave her child up sacrificed and what she felt than the adoptive parents. And not just, you know, for the mother's sake or the adoptive parents' sake but for the kid's sake. You know, all adopted children it seems grow up and have this moment of feeling discarded where they wonder why they were placed for adoption and they come to their adoptive parents and say things like, `I was thrown away and my birth parents didn't want me and I was rejected; I was garbage.' And in a closed adoption, you know, very often the adoptive parent is saying, `I'm sure they loved you. You know, this was probably a very difficult thing they did and they did it because they loved you and they couldn't take care of you and it was the right thing to do and they loved you.'
And what we have as--in open adoption is in this experience of taking a child from his mother's arms, still her child, too, we witnessed how wrenching that moment was for her and how painful it was. It makes me cry like seven years later. I can't even talk about it without getting weepy. And so when our son comes to us and wonders why he was placed for adoption and doubts whether his mother loved him, we not only get to--we get to say to him, `We saw. We were there. We know how much she loves you. We witnessed how painful it was for her to do what she knew she had to do to place you for adoption.'
SEABROOK: Dan Savage, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Mr. SAVAGE: Thank you for having me.
SEABROOK: Dan Savage joined us by phone from his mother's home in Chicago.
Let's get back to the phones and Jill Smolowe and author of "A Love Like No Other," you're still on the line, yes?
Ms. SMOLOWE: Yes, I'm here. And I just wanted to comment on Dan's story there. My daughter coming from China, there is no chance that she will ever get to know who her birth parents are. It's common in China with the one-child policy, children are either left at hospitals or abandoned, placed in locations where they can count on police or pedestrians finding the children and delivering them to orphanages, but there is no paper trail that will lead you back to a birth parent. And at the time my husband and I adopted 11 years ago, I was coming out of the infertility experience, as Dan mentioned, and--see, I can't tell this story without getting weepy myself. And I really wanted to keep the idea of birth parents at a tremendous remove--the thought of somebody knocking on my door and--one day and saying, `I'm her mother or her father,' I just--I didn't think I was capable of coping with it. And so for me, an overseas adoption seemed the reasonable route.
I can now say that I have a very different feeling. When we took Becky back to China, as we were discussing earlier, she of course wanted us to find out anything that we could about her birth parents and we were able to trace the--go to the hospital where she was born and the school where we were told her birth mother had gone. But I found myself just overwhelmed by a desire to be able to find this woman and say, `Thank you.' Sorry.
SEABROOK: Hmm. Jill Smolowe, I want to just make sure we touch on one last aspect that parents don't often anticipate when they're adopting a child and that is adopting a child that ends up having serious learning disabilities. I know we have a caller on the line who's been waiting for quite some time. Julie, in San Francisco, hi. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
JULIE (Caller): Hi. Thank you very much for having this topic. You know, I had two comments actually. One is, you know, having a child with, you know, serious learning differences and the very subtle, not conscious, response I get feeling from other people about that child and the fact that we adopted him and then he has these differences. It's subtle and very--I don't think conscious. I don't think people mean to be unkind. It's been, you know, a journey, like the adoption process, it's a continuing journey. And it seems to define him more than the adoption at this age, anyway.
The other comment I did want to make, which we haven't touched on or you haven't touched on, is I have a birth child that I had after I adopted my son and the not-so-unconscious response I get from people--it's kind of like, this all--`Of course, this happens. You know, you adopt and then you get pregnant.' It lessens the adoption somehow and I think that's very sad and I wish people would understand that it's anecdotal that you adopt and then get pregnant. It's not something that happens that often.
SEABROOK: Thanks for your call, Julie.
Jill Smolowe, I know you touched in the book on--touched on this idea of having children that then have some kind of disability.
Ms. SMOLOWE: We do have two essays in there. One of our writers, Jenifer Levin, specifically made a choice to adopt children with special needs and so she adopted two boys at different points in time in Cambodia and has been addressing those physical disabilities, along with their tremendous growth. They're now in their teens and doing very, very well.
Another one of our writers, Bonnie Miller Rubin, adopted an infant in Chile and what she has encountered falls into that range of--I guess you would call it attachment disorder problems that we've been seeing in more recent vintage out of Russia, out of Romania. In fact, only very recently does there seem to be some science that's beginning to get a handle on what it is about being in orphanage conditions where there's perhaps not enough nurturing, not enough touching that then creates problems later on in a child's life. But Bonnie speaks very honestly and painfully about some of the choices she and her husband have had to make in order to do what's best for their daughter.
SEABROOK: Jill Smolowe, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. SMOLOWE: Thank you for having me.
SEABROOK: Jill Smolowe is editor of the book, "A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents." She joined us from the studios of NPR West in Los Angeles.
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