Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cuckoo Birds

Last week I borrowed a book from the library that wasn't my usual read; I wanted light, and this book, a suspense thriller with Russians and Wall Street corruption, seemed safe. Restitution is a debut novel by Lee Vance, a graduate of Harvard Business School and a retired [retired at 45 judging from the book jacket photo] general partner of Goldman Sachs Group living in New York City with his wife and three kids. I'll insert an apology here to FMF fans who are weary of reading about adoption themes in movies and television series for the past few weeks. I had put the soapbox in storage, but then I started reading a formulaic, banal whodunit that, combined with the full moon and raging hormones, turned into a perfect emotional storm. I lost yet another day of productivity and even a half day of work because once again, I was blindsided by...stupidity? insensitivity? ignorance?

Here's the plot summary offered by Restitution's publisher:

"Peter Tyler appears to have it all -- a loving wife, a powerful
job on Wall Street, a sprawling house in the suburbs. But in a
moment of weakness, Peter indulges in a one-night stand with a
beautiful trader. A few weeks later, his house is broken into
and his wife brutally murdered. When the police discover Peter's
infidelity, he immediately goes from grieving husband to prime
suspect. Suddenly, it's up to Peter to prove his own innocence
and find his wife's killer. Written with ferocity and at a lightning
pace, Restitution marks the debut of an intelligent and exciting
new novelist."

One-third of the way into the book, the reader learns that Peter and his wife of 16 years have tried in vain to conceive, but she's waited too long. IVF treatments aren't working. The couple is in a therapist's office, where Jenna [the wife] felt it was the safest place to tell her husband she wanted to adopt a child. I sent the following e-mail to Lorraine a few days ago:

"I've been on a downward spiral for the past 24 hours and this didn't help...So she wants to adopt. Her husband's against it, something his father told him when he was younger about cuckoo birds: They lay their eggs in other birds' nests. After the baby cuckoo's born, it pushes the natural hatchlings out so it can have all the food. The adult birds don't notice. They go right on feeding the baby cuckoo as if it were their own. Adult birds want baby birds. A baby cuckoo might seem better than an empty nest. But all the care and feeding the world isn't going to make a cuckoo a songbird. Nature always trumps nurture in the end." [This tale was in reference to childhood neighbors taking in a twelve-year-old foster child who was led out of the house in handcuffs by the police. Nature trumps nurture, but not in my case.]

Later this couple is in the wife's therapist's office, where the wife confesses she wants to adopt and he's blindsided by the sneak attack. He says, "It's not my fault we're in this situation. I'm not the one who decided to wait, and I'm not the one with a fertility problem. And yet you blame me because I won't let you compound your mistake. So once and for all, here are my views on adoption: I don't want a three-year-old with fetal alcohol syndrome. I don't want a baby who was shaken, or born addicted to crack, or has HIV. I don't want a kid some Chinese farmworkers threw away like a melon, or to go to sensitivity training so I can learn how difficult it is for our black child to grow up in a privileged white family. I don't want a kid whose parents were fundamentalist Christian hypocrites, or a fifteen-year-old checkout girl at the local supermarket and her bald forty-eight-year-old manager. I don't want a kid who's a f*****g loser. Are those enough words? Do you understand me now?"


I ended my screed with "Improper Adoptee would love to be called a kid who's a f****g loser." And, sadly, the statement isn't that far off base. With a few keystrokes, this author managed to attack, heck--emotionally maim--birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees alike. Anyone slammed by adoption knows we're all losers; it's one of very few human dynamics based on loss.

I wondered where the author mined those gems. Is he an adoptee? Did he languish in the foster care system as a youth? Does he have friends who wrestled with infertility? Is he an adoptive parent who went through the wringer trying to fill an empty nest? I'm guessing the latter, and he's not the only one.

My former best friend wouldn't consider adoption because it was dicey, but she had a kinder, gentler way of expressing the character's sentiments. After lots of trial and error, her son was conceived in a petri dish when she was 44 and now they're a happy little family. And when Judasina, my back-stabbing sister who continues to have a relationship with my daughter while I'm exiled to the island of first-mothers-who-aren't-mothers, [this is third party info so I can't vouch for veracity] asked if my daughter would consider adoption (recently diagnosed cervical cancer ends her dream of having a third child) she, the perfect grade A Mercedes Benz of babies relinquished to adoption, replied that her [adoptive] mother was very lucky, but she wouldn't want to chance it because "you never know what you're gonna get." To her credit, she also added she wouldn't want to subject another mother to the heartache I've endured. Maybe life as a crackwhore would have been easier and nobler after all.

The initial SOS e-mail to Lorraine was prompted by yet another e-mail announcement from Adoption News Service for a single adoptive parent conference in Boston. It described the hotel's wonderful amenities and program, but I reacted like a bull seeing red cloth when I saw "Single Adoptive Parent." As I said, combined with the full moon, raging hormones, and overall inability to shake off the temporarily negative wheel of karma, I just felt ripped off. After reading those charming fictitious yet laser-sharp words about adoption, surely at least one reader feels the same.

17 comments :

  1. Posts like this always blow my mind.

    When I was in high school, I read something that I have never forgotten, "If a fish was an antrhopologist, the last thing he would be aware of is water"

    My own mother told me that she has a cousin that was adopted. That was evidence to her that adoption was this good thing, that he was really loved and accepted in their family.

    Except he wasn't. He was seen as a freak, and my grandmother even went so far as to suggest he was the product of inbreeding.

    Did they think I would somehow have a different experience? Or did they simply choose not to think about my well-being at all?

    There are no grade A adoptees, we are always suspect. They make whole movies about this, ie the Omen, the Bad Seed. The suspect adoptee is deeply embedded in our psyche. Rejection by a mother is seen as a sign of being evil.

    I don't know how first mothers miss this before placing. It is all around them.

    I can't imagine what I would feel if I had lost my baby. I love him so much, it pains me to even think about him living through that. I guess that is why first mothers are surprised.

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  2. I guess I don't understand why my name came up in this post and I was wondering if you could elaborate Linda.

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  3. "I ended my screed with "Improper Adoptee would love to be called a kid who's a f****g loser." And, sadly, the statement isn't that far off base".
    So, are you saying I am a loser Linda? Still confused.

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  4. Improper Adoptee, NO, you are not a loser. I read that as you have the guts to stand up and speak your truth in a way that makes a difference.

    Joy's mother here. Yeah, I told her he was loved and accepted by our family. The thing was he was loved and accepted much the same way my severely retarded little brother was-- as though there was something wrong with him.

    I didn't get that the something wrong was that he had been adopted into a s-t-r-a-n-g-e family. It seemed we thought so highly of ourselves that we thought he was getting something great.

    But yeah, I did think my baby was a grade A adoptee and yeah I was naive. I wasn't allowed to see those movies. I didn't know they were about adoptees.

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  5. I was out at a Janis Ian concert this evening and I realized during her performance that I should have clarified that statement about Improper Adoptee. Please be assured I meant no ill will. By no means are you a loser! Quite the opposite! It was an offhand comment and I can understand how the meaning would be unclear.

    As one of FMF's greatest supporters, you're also one of our most frequent commenters. I was stunned by that passage, it was so...angry and hurtful, and one of my first thoughts was "wow, what would the Improper Adoptee have to say about that?" So I created a blog around it because I was sure I'm not the only reader who found it so disparaging...as I said, with a few strokes of the pen the author managed to denigrate tens of thousands of people.

    I'm sorry if my remark made you uncomfortable.

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  6. Ah, Joy, your comments sadden me. You're right, film and television have a way portrying as less than perfect, and that topic has been discussed here on FMF as well as other blogs. But the opposite is also true. The heroine of Anne of Green Gables was an adoptee and role model for thousands of female readers for a century.

    By Grade A perfect, I was referring to the book character's ranting that he didn't want to adopt a child with fetal alcohol syndrome or HIV. Without exception, the birth mothers I know took care of themselves and their babies during pregnancy. We had regular checkups, ate well, abstained from alcohol and drugs to ensure our babies would be born healthy, even though most of us knew we wouldn't be able to raise them ourselves.

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  7. I interpreted the "loser" comment as how adoptees are sometimes viewed in the a-family: an outsider, throw-away, damaged goods, etc. Just like the way the character in the passage from the book thought about adoptees.

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  8. To add to my above comment, the "loser adoptee" is a stereotype that can be very damaging to children as they are growing up.

    It just highlights the strange dichotomies that exist in adoption:
    -loving, selfless mother / heartless slut abandoner
    -saintly adopter, rescuer / insecure and desperate for ANY baby
    -happy, grateful, chosen baby / ungrateful loser bastard adoptee.

    Is it any wonder we are are struggling to get through this mess? Adoption creates so many psychic splits, it's a miracle we are able to heal at all.

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  9. Linda,
    While generally I find negative statements about a group offensive, I have to admit I kind of like seeing first mothers and adoptees smeared. Negative reports about mothers and adoptees may discourage people from adopting. The adoption industry spends zillions of dollars trying to convince the infertile that children are a fungible commodity (or in the world of adoption-speak, adoption is just another way to build a family). I've heard women in their 30's say "I don't want kids but if I change my mind I'll just adopt."

    The demand for babies (and the money the infertile are willing to pay) results in deceptive marketing designed to convince trusting young women to give their babies to strangers. If "Restitution" results is reducing demand by scaring people into believing that an adopted kid may be a cuckoo instead of a swan, I'm all for it.

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  11. Forgot to say ty to Being Me for your comment, appreciate it and I hope you had a good time at the concert Linda-always liked her song At Seventeen.

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  12. Oh, Dear IA, these stories are always so painful for first mothers to hear but we know they are true...

    Adoption--except in horrific circumstances and then the truth ought to be revealed as soon as possible--is always the Second Choice. As salt-of-the-earth as my daughter's APs were, and as troubled as my daughter was, they didn't "get" her. Yes, she was difficult to live with and yes she had a sliding relationship with the truth, but she was always my daughter, and I would never give up on her. Emotionally, her APs did. And ultimately she came to know that. I'll blog about this later. And it's really the subject of the book I'm writing now...A Hole In My Heart.

    take care of yourself--
    lorraine

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  14. Does anyone want to respond to Joyce Brothers advice column:

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/brothers/385522_joyce1118.html

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  15. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/
    brothers/385522_joyce1118.html

    second attempt - the link is too long for the coment box, sorry!

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  16. Lorraine alerted me to it. I read it; her advice is bull. While it's just 24 months, there's a big
    difference between 17 and 19 (when I was pregnant). At 17 you're still a child in the eyes of the law and subject to your parents' guidance. Tough call, unless you're Sarah Palin. I didn't hold it against my parents not to step forward and help me raise my child (it was, after all, my child, not theirs). But then again, they were barely fit to raise me and my siblings so it was an altogether different situation.

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  17. Hi, I just wanted to suggest that when the authors put those words in that character, it may have been because the character is supposed to be a creep and not that the author feels that way (dunno for sure--just suggesting it). I have met people who think like that, though.

    I read and enjoy your blog but I don't post because I'm not sure you welcome a-moms posting. But I just wanted to make that comment.

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