Portrait of an Adoption on NPR

Portrait of an Adoption on NPR

Today I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel for NPR.  The topic was "New Directions for the Family Tree," described by NPR as:

Family relationships are becoming more complicated as they expand to include surrogate parents, donor siblings, or birth parents. Guest host Jacki Lyden is joined by three parents who all have non-traditional families: Carrie Goldman, mom of three girls, Jay Rapp, dad of two, and Tina Testa, mom of twin boys.

The conversation covered topics such as open adoption and closed adoption, how and when to tell children about their birth histories,  and whether or not people long for the traditional families as depicted on "Leave It To Beaver."

One of the panelists, Tina Testa, is the mother of twin boys conceived with the help of a sperm donor, because she and her husband could not conceive.  Another of the panelists, Jay Rapp, is a gay man, and he and his partner have adopted two girls through closed adoptions.  I am the third panelist, and I spoke about the open adoption of my daughter Katie.

Please have a listen, and enjoy!

New Directions for the Family Tree, NPR, March 27, 2012

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  • These discussions of family trees are always based soley on the opinions of the adoptive families. I wonder how a birth family would approach this same discussion. Would they see themselves as members of the adoptive family tree? And how is the adoptee represented on the family tree of the birth family vs the family tree of the adoptive family?

    One of the adoptive fathers interviewed said "but from the very beginning, you know, when we talk about history, family history, and who has done what, it is always, you know, your great-grandparent or your great-great-grandparent in really sort of exploring what their family looked like early on into present, and so that they feel very much a part of that."

    Its clear from this quote that the adoptee is expected to view the adoptive family's ancestors as his own. But what if the adoptee prefers to view the birth family ancestors as being the lineage he is most connected to...will this adoptive father be able to understand that?

    I also wonder how adoptive parents view their own ties to the family of origin - do they see themselves as members of that family tree also? Do they feel connected to the ancestors on the birth family tree? Are they connected to the siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents of the adoptee?

    I wanted to ask these questions on the NPR site but I just don't need yet another login, so I am asking here. (cross posted from http://chinaadoptiontalk.blogspot.com/)

  • In reply to maybe:

    This is a very insightful and thought-provoking comment. I think family trees that incorporate "non-traditional" elements such as adoption, sperm/egg donation or even fostering (as in my case) are quite complex. My adopted son is African-American - my husband and I are not. He is only 3 years old now, but I have every intention of giving him all the information I have about his birth parents and birth ancestors. In my opinion, they are a huge part of his identity and they are definitely his family too. Unfortunately, his situation was not conducive to an open adoption but my husband and I have felt a kinship with the African-American community ever since little Lenny arrived into our lives and we became more acquainted with their history and culture.

    I also have a foster daughter who now lives with her birth mother. We have maintained a close relationship with her and her birth family, including extended family members. Our son calls our foster daughter his sister, and their relationship is indeed very sibling-like and close. We have had joint family gatherings for the children's birthdays (including our foster daughter's two half siblings), and to me they feel like we have all gathered as members of the same family. I don't know if our foster daughter's family regards us as family, but to me, our interactions, especially as the relationship progresses over the years, has a lot of the familiarity and ease that I have with members of my husband and my birth families.

  • In reply to maybe:

    Excellent questions, and there is no doubt a lot of truth that many family trees are viewed from the adoptive families' point of view. I think that originated from the insitution of closed adoptions, where little info about birth families was accessible.

    In our experience, with an open domestic adoption, I have found that our family tree is viewed from a far more integrative approach. Since we know Katie's birth family, it is easy to talk with them and see things from their point of view. I definitely see them as part of our family tree (and even drew branches to include them years ago when I made Katie's baby book), and I would feel pretty confident in saying that they view us as part of their family tree.

    The adoptive dad quoted on NPR has children who came to him through a closed adoption, so it is much more difficult for him to imagine things from a birthfamily's point of view. But, if his children ultimately want to identify themselves with the birth family, I hope he would be accepting of that.

    Integrating birth family identities and adoptive family identities is most challenging in closed adoptions or in international adoptions where little might be known about the child's roots. In the case of international adoptions, it is helpful to allow the child to explore and learn about his or her country of origin. Eat those foods, learn the language, visit, etc.

    I am fortunate because many birthmothers participate in discussions on the Portrait of an Adoption Facebook page, which has helped me understand their point of view, their grief, and their love for their children.

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