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a love like no other

The authors of the Adoption book, "A Love Like No Other discuss their new book.

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1: What was the impetus behind collecting these stories from adoptive parents?

Pamela Kruger: My daughter Annie was only two years old at the time, but already I was beginning to wrestle with questions that I hadn’t faced in raising my biological daughter, Emily. I was frustrated that so many books on adoption seemed to be focused narrowly on the process of adopting a child, while the books on child development and parenting either completely ignored adoption or treated it as a strange malady.

Jill Smolowe: When Pam approached me with the idea, I knew instantly that she was onto something exciting and important. So many adoptive parents are now well past the adoption stage, but have a hard time finding anything to read that applies to the various issues and questions we’re confronting as our children grow older. Virtually every writer we approached to contribute to this collection had the same reaction: “I’d love to read that book.” Everybody seemed to agree that the time had come for a book like this.

2: For whom is A LOVE LIKE NO OTHER written?

JS: Obviously, first and foremost we want to reach adoptive parents, as well as the many people who are considering adoption and want to know what kinds of issues and questions may lie ahead. We also hope that extended families—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends—will be interested. So often, loved ones have questions or concerns that they feel uncomfortable voicing. These essays will provide some insight.

3: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

PK: There are so many myths, stereotypes and politically correct notions about adoption. The media are still filled with stories about adoptions that have gone awry, as if all kids who were adopted wind up becoming criminals. Adoption agency literature and web sites, meanwhile, tend to present a romanticized view: parents fall in love at first sight and all adoption challenges end there. There’s also a lot of preaching in the adoption literature about the “right” way to give your child a sense of cultural identity. We wanted to create a book that would present a rich, nuanced and balanced portrait of adoptive families.

4: How did you come up with the list of contributors?

JS: We wanted any adoptive parent who picks up this anthology to feel that this is a book that acknowledges his or her particular situation. So, we sought writers who, collectively, represent the diverse nature of the adoption community today. We wanted to find writers who adopted overseas, domestically, through the foster care system and intra-family. We looked for families headed by different-sex couples and same-sex couples, single mothers and single fathers, divorced parents and adult adoptees. We were also looking for families that were multiracial, as well as those that were blended, with kids by birth as well as children who joined the family through adoption. Beyond that, we wanted families with children at various stages of development, so that the kids in these essays would range from toddlers to teenagers. Finally, we wanted great writers who would be willing to delve deep.

5: Why do you think so many people find the concept of adoption so intriguing?

JS: Often, there is an underlying fascination with the question, Can you love a child who isn’t biologically yours? During the walk-up to an adoption, one of the most common concerns voiced by prospective parents is whether or not they will ever feel the child is “theirs.” As these essays make plain, yes, adoptive parents love their kids as deeply as biological parents love theirs. Sometimes, as writers like Melissa Faye Greene and Bob Shacochis point out in their essays, the bonding isn’t smooth or instantaneous. But at the end of the day, the kids are, simply, yours.

PK: I also think that there is the nature vs. nurture question. How much of our kids’ behavior is determined by their genes, and how much by their environment? Some of the writers, like Jana Wolff and Bonnie Miller Rubin, tackle this question in their essays. Also, adoption has become so much more visible in recent years. You see celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Steven Spielberg and Rosie O’Donnell choosing to adopt. And in suburban neighborhoods, it’s no longer unusual to see adoptive families. As a result, more people are curious about adoption.

6: What are some of the common issues that adoptive families face?

PK: Just like biological families, each adoptive family has its own unique set of challenges and needs. But there are certain universal issues that attend virtually every adoption. The most obvious is the fact that the child has birth parents. The great unknown for any adoptive parent is how a child will, as the years pass, internalize that fact. What worries, fantasies or anger will the child harbor? How will these issues come into play as a child forms her own identity? Will having a relationship with the birth parents help a child through these difficult issues—even if the birth parents themselves are troubled? These questions are a prominent theme in many of the stories in this book.

JS: The picture can be further complicated when parents adopt across race lines. Then parents find themselves dealing with how to instill pride in a child’s cultural heritage that is not their own. Some of the writers in this collection come to very different conclusions. We’re glad about that. We wanted this book to be thought provoking and to stir discussion, not to offer pat answers.

7: You say that there are many misconceptions and myths about adoption. What irks adoptive parents the most?

JS: In her essay, Jacquelyn Mitchard writes about people who ask—in front of her kids—“Which ones are yours?” Adam Pertman writes about how media outlets, while banning the practice of identifying news subjects by race, gender or religion, still mention a subject’s adoption status. I’ve never met an adoptive parent who thinks of her child as her “adopted child.” It’s her child, period. My own pet peeve is when someone asks, sometimes in front of my daughter, “Who’s her real mother?” Hello, I’m standing right here.

PK: What drives me crazy is when people say to me, also in front of my daughters, “They look so much alike, you’d think they were really sisters.” I say, “They are.”

8: What sorts of problems are associated with adoption?

PK: Well, first it’s important to point out that the book also explores the pleasures of adoptive parenting. That said, adoptive families, like biological ones, can have serious problems. Whether they are more likely to have these problems is as hard to determine as the question of whether single-parent families have more difficulties than two-parent homes. It depends on so many factors. But we wanted our book to tackle the great unspokens in adoption: the behavioral issues that aren’t overcome, the family members who are unsupportive, and the birth parents whose problems threaten the well-being of your child, just to name a few.

9: How does being an adoptive parent change you, in ways that being a biological
parent would not?

PK: As someone who is both an adoptive and biological parent, I’d say that becoming an adoptive parent changed me far less than becoming a parent did. However, I am now more aware that children come to you with little personalities of their own. I also feel a certain kinship with other adoptive parents.

JS: I can’t say with any certainty, since I never had a child biologically. But I suspect that by having no genetic input into my daughter, I’m more inclined to follow my child’s lead in discovering who she is, rather than trying to mold her into some preconceived notion of who she should be.
10: Dan Savage remarked in his essay: “The biological parents showing up on their doorstep, lawyers in tow, demanding their kid back, is the collective nightmare of all adoptive parents…” What are/were your nightmares?

PK: My biggest fear was that the birth mother was somehow coerced or tricked into giving Annie up for adoption. International adoption is still largely unregulated, and there are reports of baby trafficking in some countries. I was incredibly relieved when I finally got in touch with Annie’s birth mother and learned that she had chosen adoption, and for very good reasons that I hope Annie will one day understand.

JS: My husband and I went overseas to avoid the dreaded knock at the door. But eleven years later, I find myself feeling very differently. Rather than fearing an encounter with my daughter’s birth parents, I feel a certain sadness that the encounter will never happen. More than anything, I want to tell them two things: Becky is doing wonderfully, so don’t worry. And, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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