' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Joyce Maynard's adoption "disruption"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Joyce Maynard's adoption "disruption"

Joyce Maynard’s writing—and thus her, because her writing is her—has always irritated me, perhaps irrationally. She was too famous for celebrating the banal. But when the news that she disrupted her adoption of two sisters from Ethiopia became public the other day, my reaction was not to rub my hands gleefully and think Aha! The great comeuppance for that navel gazer! Instead I hoped that her celebrity and this public admission about a disrupted adoption would help stem what often seems like the wholesale exportation of children from one part of the world to another by do-gooders of all political and religious stripes simply because they have more money.

Far too many of them think that they are doing something noble by taking these poor children from the over-crowded orphanage where they find them. People in my large social net have adopted from Guatemala, China, India, Nepal, Romania, and Russia. In truth, I am not close to many of them. And it is undoubtedly true that in many cases, they are saving a child from an uncertain and perilous future and giving them a home in which to flourish.

Joyce Maynard 
But when you dig deeper you find that it is impossible to know if the children would have been available to be adopted if there were not such a hungry market for children. In all of the countries mentioned above great crimes have been committed in order to supply the world market for children. Children have been stolen from their parents, ended up in crowded and nasty orphanages, displayed as hungry and dirty (which they are) and been offered, basically, for sale in the marketplace. Of course it is not called that; international adoption is scrubbed of dirty dealings and most people who adopt are oblivious to the reality of the system. Why don’t they do some research first? is a question of its own; they don’t because more than anything, they want a child to raise as their own.

We have become a culture that generally sees adoption of children from around the world as merely a good thing, not the complicated, difficult, painful, wrenching reality that it is. The two sisters Maynard temporarily adopted were 6 and 10 at the time she brought them from Ethiopia to California; had she looked into the facts, she would have learned that it is older children—just as those were--whose adoptions are the most difficult, and most often disrupted.

Disrupted is a nice word that means the adoption is “undone,” that the children end up somewhere else, sometimes back at the place they started. Maynard announced the failure of her adoption in a letter on her website, and stated she found another family for them in another city, with other children also from Ethiopia. I give her credit for not sending them on a plane back to Africa, as some distraught parents have famously done with their Russian adoptees.

How often are adoptions disrupted? More than most people realize. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review of what was known as of 2004 suggests that overall, 10-25 percent of adoptions are disrupted or dissolved, and that the rate tends to rise with the age of the child at adoption. According to the paper from the Donaldson Institute: researchers found that for children between 6 and 8, the disruption rate was over 10 percent, and correspondingly went up with age: for children between the ages of 9 and 11, it was over 17 percent; between the ages of 12 and 14, it was over a whopping 22  percent.

As she chronicled in a lengthy magazine piece in More, when she adopted the two girls, Maynard was 55, without a partner to share in their raising, and with three grown children. While she obviously has made a decent living from her writing, she is far from wealthy.  The girls spoke only a few words of English; she spoke no Amharic, their native language. By the time they were launched, she would be 70. The was going to be hard, and she knew it. Yet Maynard got caught up in the current cultural mantra that "all adoption is good, you are saving the world one child at a time" and went ahead anyway, writing that  “there was no experience in life I’d loved more than raising children. I had love enough for more, and a blind faith that love was sufficient to get us all through the challenges I knew would lie ahead.” (The piece has since been scrubbed from the Internet but one of our readers sent it to me.)

"Blind faith" is the problem here. Apparently what started out beautifully ended up a dastardly. There is no point in being harshly judgmental and piling on criticism of Maynard; I live in too much of a glass house to do that. I have not walked in her shoes. And I begin where I started: I hope news of her failure makes other people who think that adoption is a simple, loving act dig deep, do the research, and instead of adopting someone else’s child from a foreign environment, instead consider supporting a family to let them raise their own children, in their own culture.--lorraine


  1. When Joyce Maynard rehomed her two Ethopian "daughters", where was the outrage? Where was the call to boycott her work? Does anyone think that people would not have been appalled if she "rehomed" one of her biological children?

    I remember a story on the Today Show about a woman who adopted a boy from Guatemala with special needs. She claimed she didn't bond with him so she was "generously" going to let him go another family. And there was actually debate about this. Sure some people felt that she is the child's mother and has to honor her commitment and do whatever it takes, but there were plenty of others who were understanding. I can't imagine the outcry if she was talking about rehoming one of her biological daughters. She would have been stoned. Actually, she never would have gotten a segment on the Today Show in the first place.

    Or take Brad and Angelina. This is purely speculation but if they gave up one of their adopted children there would probably be understanding. But Shiloh (their first bio-child)? No way! There would be outrage, probably calls to boycott their work.

    Adoptees are stigmatized by not being considered equal to biological members of a family. Despite all of the "adoption is so wonderful, so beautiful" rhetoric we are endlessly surrounded by in the U.S.

  2. Alrighty then! Good grief. I don't get it. They call natural parents unfit - take children - and pretend that money and desire to parent make it all okay.... why can't they suck it up like natural parents and work it out. A natural parent that "disrupts" their relationship with a recalcitrant child is considered unfit and sometimes (not always) charged with abandonment or neglect.

    Can you please explain the difference to me? After all, don't these adopters claim to be "forever families"?

    Label my comment - ODE TO THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE

  3. Those poor girls. One of the first phrases of wisdom that I was given regarding our international adoption was "love is not enough". And blind faith cannot begin to substitute for extensive education, counseling and therapy. Child rearing under the best of circumstances is difficult. Then take a child or children with institutional issues, attachment issues, medical and nutritional issues and it's enough to make you want to drown yourself in their bath water to keep from doing it to them. This isn't a sweet little hobby for someone with too much time on their hands. It's a lifetime investment where at the end of the day, you can expect to be treated at times with disdain, ambivalence, and contempt. And profound love. All of those feelings need a home and a safe place to bat around. And that's a parent's job.But, no doubt, it's high-stakes parenting of children with broken hearts and fragile brains. Not for quitters. Not for the faint of heart.

  4. Oh good heavens....I just read her letter on her website. "The adoption failed" "the adoption failed".....instead of "I FAILED". I can't feel her feelings for her. But how can one dance around the truth? "IT" didn't fail, SHE did. No wonder "it" didn't work out.

  5. Joyce Maynard's exhaustively documented tales of parenthood of her biological children served as a cautionary blueprint of "what not to do" for me. I remember buying her collected "Domestic Affairs" syndicated columns shortly before my oldest child was born; much of what she said about her marriage and raising children was hair-raising and made me wonder what REALLY was going on.

    Which Joyce Maynard was eager to tell us (getting paid again, too) farther down the line. Her bchildren seem to have very little to do with her these days. I don't wonder why. Somehow she seemed to think that plenty of love, and "cute outfits" (a phrase that always has set my teeth on edge) from Target is enough for raising traumatized children brought home from an orphanage halfway around the world.

    She had six months between meeting the girls and bringing them home. Why couldn't she learn some Amharic? She doesn't say.

    At one point when the girls were still living with her, Maynard asks "an Ethiopian friend" to read the elder girl's diary, written in Amharic. Given that Maynard wrote at length in her memoirs about how scalded she was when her unhealthily attached mother read HER diary when she was not much older than her temporary daughter, I can't imagine how she rationalized this invasion of privacy.

    Even bparents who raise their own kids can be treated with "disdain, ambivalence, and contempt," as barbara notes above, and I have experienced that. How does one even begin with a child who enters your life at ten years? At six years? After bereavement, and leaving behind a father, brothers, culture, and extended family?

    JM has written about the main character's (JM's, that is) adoption fantasies in at least three of her novels (Baby Love, To Die For, and Where Love Goes). In The Good Daughters, her most recent novel, one of the main characters has adopted a toddler from Korea; things move along as sweetly as a May morning, except that as an adult the daughter moves to Seattle and doesn't have much to do with her amom. So this is a recurring fantasy of hers that didn't work out in real life.

    For those who have not read the lengthy apologia (available at JM's website), the last lines are, "There is not a single person in this story who is not in a better place now than she was, three years ago. We move on from here."

    And to use the vernacular, I do not give a tinker's fuck whether Joyce is in a "better place than she was three years ago." Only those girls. I hope they landed in the right space.

  6. Mrs TarquinBiscuitbarrel, I thought the same thing about the language barrier!! She writes that the girls spoke little English upon arriving to the US. REALLY!!?? But it didn't occur to her to learn their language? How did she expect to communicate?. Both of our kids were adopted as infants/toddlers and 9 years later I (now we) continue to learn Russian. They were pre-verbal and it still seemed like the right thing to do.
    And of course, you are right. If kids didn't treat their parents (regardless of natural or adopted) with contempt, how could anyone bear to let them go as young adults?

  7. I wonder if the IRS is allowed to demand the adoption tax credit rebate returned to the Treasury when adoptive parents dissolve the adoption of "their forever children".

    For that matter, why does the IRS even allow the ATC for international adoptions? If the government really wants to help parents, for god's sake, help natural mothers in the United States keep their infants. Why don't natural parents get some sort of tax credit for all the expenses involved in pregnancy and delivery?

    1. Raven,

      Knowing how our government works I am sure
      they have no idea when an adoption fails. Thus, those that adopt walk away without a child they got an adoption credit rebate and the child is placed in social services at taxpayers expense. Double hit on taxpayers.
      Of course we can't help a mother it's only those who adopt!!! Most moms would have loved the support to keep their babies with them.

  8. I remember reading that Michael Langdon and his first wife adopted a baby to save their marriage. When he failed in that job assignment and they divorced, neither of them wanted the baby so they gave him back. I could never look at Little Bit's "Pa" the same after reading that.

  9. I was not familiar with Joyce Maynard or her writings before your recent posts. My reaction while reading this: "yikes" and then "ugggg." Couldn't we all write a clean, no harm/no foul version of our adoption stories, whether as relinquishing mothers or a-parents? Where is the honesty, which is the most important component in a story like JM's? Why couldn't she have said (as a commenter posed, "I failed." She screwed up and those little girls are the ones who suffered as a result. Talk about loss on loss.

    I'm very clear that I screwed up: with heavy-duty help in terms of surrendering my son, and pretty much on my own in terms of my reunion.

    My son's a-parents screwed up. Although I don't know the whole story, I do know that they decided the adoption "failed" when my son was 13 and turned him over to the system.

    Sorry, JM, no sympathy here.

  10. I happen to know a guy who adopted a slightly older son, then had one naturally, then divorced. Neither parent wanted the adopted son and so...dissolved the adoption. Did he and his wife think they were dealing with a puppy?

    That story about Michael Langdon is sickening. As the stats show, this happens way more than is talked about in adoption circles. As outsiders, we just hear about the happiness that the child brings to the adults, and the great "gift" and unselfishness of the natural/birth mother.

  11. I seem to have recently read that the woman who sent her adopted son back to Russia was charged with abandonment and ordered to pay child support to the caretaker in Russia.

    I hope this is the way these situations are handled going forward - adoptive parents should be treated no differently when it comes to abandonment.

  12. Here'a a good story of woman charged with abandonment after dropping her son off at social services in another state:


    She claims he had RAD (of course) and that he was abusing a younger sibling. But the authorities don't accept that as a valid reason to dump the child. “When a child is adopted, that is your legal child. In the eyes of the state, the courts, all legal entities, that child is your child,” said Joseph Smack, a spokesman for the state’s Family Services Division. There really is no legal way to abandon a child.”

    Read more: http://democratherald.com/news/local/790ea1a4-8128-11e1-bf92-001a4bcf887a.html#ixzz1rjyNHV2C

  13. Wow, maybe, that is some story.

    People adopt for the wrong reasons.

  14. The article made me want to hurl. This woman is not unusual - in fact she is the norm rather than the exception. She didn't want the boy because he was normal and not getting the extra money or attention. How hard is that to figure out?

  15. "I believe we will see each other again, but probably not for a long time yet".

    I hope she's not holding her breath!!!

  16. @ Nene: I had no idea about Michael Landon and his ex-wife Dodie disrupting (a.k.a:ABANDONING)the adoption of thier THREE YEAR OLD son! "Dodie couldn't keep being who she was with the extra kid."
    I wonder how their former "son" is doing. Life was not smooth sailing in his second "placement."

    Sign me: Totally Disgusted with Little Joe and Ex-wife Dodie

  17. I am in severe pain due to overdoing whatever --typing, blogging?--during recovery from shoulder surgery.
    Bicep in spasm. WILL NOT RELAX----YOW!!!

    limited ability 2 type, very.

  18. Maynard cuts her hair!!!

    This week's style magazine in the ny times.

  19. Thanks, Anonymous! Here is, for me, having unloaded on JM upthread, is the money quote:

    "Whereas in 1989 the lopping off of my braids had marked a monumental loss [of her mother], the place I found myself in now was a happy one."

    "A. happy. one." No-ho-ho comment!

  20. tarquin bisquits:


    Joyce Maynard makes my hair curl. or hurl.

  21. there's more...."At a period of less confidence, I might have felt the need for wavy tresses, but at this moment my sense of well-being did not reside on my head but in it."--j maynard on her haircut the times style magazine

    ...her sense of well-being--
    how do the girls feel, Joyce?

  22. Girls? What girls? Timothy Noah delivers this devastating smackdown about JM's $800 haircut in The New Republic. Note ref to the children:

    "Self-Parody Watch: Joyce Maynard

    'One man--unknown to me previously--observed that I must be the most self-obsessed person he'd ever encountered, to give so much thought to a subject as shallow and meaningless as my head of hair. Most shocking of all, for some, was that $800 price tag.'

    --Joyce Maynard--voice of her (Woodstock) generation, onetime amuse-bouche to J.D. Salinger, sometime adoptive parent to Ethiopian orphans, betrayer of non-adoptive daughterly secrets, etc., etc.-- in the New York Times's T Magazine supplement, April 15, 2012."

  23. All of this makes me think PREVENTION. Prevent adoption in the first place. Prevent some people from passing home studies. Prevent placing children in homes that cannot or will not parent them.

    Sounds too easy doesn't it? But adoption agencies would have to work harder and make less money if they worked on prevention.

    As for Joyce Maynard. I am less outraged than some others. She should not have had those girls placed with her in the first place, but do we want to advocate that children must remain in a home that cannot or does not want to parent them? I can't see how that is in the child's best interest.

  24. I am an adoptive parent of a child who came to us at age 5 from Romania (adoptions ave been closed there for some time). We we told our son might have severe issues, perhaps be mentally and emotionally affected for his entire life.

    Here is my take: from the first, he was our child,. We went into this by believing that if one of our birth children had been born with severe impairments or challenges, we would remain committed.even if we needed round the clock assistance or declared bankruptcy.

    At the same time, I have to admit that the worst did not happen. Our son bonded with us. He will never go to college but he has a steady job...and he may always live with us. That is fine. He is still far better off than being a street child without anyone to protect him, preyed on by others, beaten by the police.

    So I ave to admit that I have not been tested as much as those parents whose adoptive children never bond or are emotionally scarred so much that they remain detached or even become a threat to themselves and others.

    So should I judge Joyce Maynard? Well, here is what I know. She has had an often turbulent relationship with those close to her. Her father . Her mother. Her sister. Her daughter. Her ex-husband. J.D. salinger. One of her sons even unfriended her on Facebook. I believe that was because she wrote so openly about him., as she did her adoptive children, young girls who had no say in being so exposed, whose problems were shared with Joyce's readers.

    So I DO believe she was not prepared for the challenges of adoption. Adoptive parents need to realize the risks as well as the possible rewards.

    Before we were okayed, our home was inspected many times and we had to pass a wealth of interviews, background checks, and more. At the very least Maynard's past as well as the time required by her as a writer should have raised some warning flags.

    In order to meet the needs of,our son, I had to take an entire 2 years off from full time work so he could attend physical therapy, have several surgeries , and get speech therapy. It was a grueling schedule,but also rewarding to see him progress.

    I believe Maynard could not reconcile her life with the time and work required to meet the needs of these girls.

  25. I was just in a waiting rooom reading an article about Joyce Maynard's tummy tuck which cost her $10,000 out-of-pocket. Let's see she has $10,000 for cosmetic surgery, $800 for haircuts. Hmmm, maybe she could have spent the money on family therapy and other services to keep her adoptive family together.

  26. I skimmed that article too. Will Maynard ever write again about the impact of the girls from Ethiopia and how she incised them out of her life?


  27. So, which of you armchair quarterbacks is an adoptive parent? Better yet, which of you is a SINGLE adoptive parent? Which of you has traveled to a country foreign to you, invested thousands of dollars and countless tears and prayers into the life of a child you were not obligated to open your heart to?
    I have. Four times. All boys All with special needs. It is the hardest undertaking on Earth and yet has produced a bumper crop of joy that makes it do-able. But I would never sit in judgement of another mother who could not follow through. Especially if I don't know her personally. Get over yourselves and speak only of what you know!

  28. This is a heartbreaking story, but if an adoption really is "failing" for whatever reason, and the adoptive parent is desperate to end the relationship, is it really in the child's best interest to remain where he/she is not wanted?

  29. If course not, to answer your question.

    This is an example of a woman who should have thought through was adoption was, done more homework, not decided she wanted two kids to fill her empty nest.

  30. Wow....so much judgement from people with so little knowledge or experience. Our 3 kids were adopted from Russia. We were asked to be a "host family" for them for a "church summer camp" in Florida. To make a very long story short, we ended up adopting all 3 siblings at the ages of 10, 11 and 12. The youngest was the boy, and he is deaf and ADHD, and had been separated from his sisters and was living in very bleak conditions. Contrary to all the nasty, snarky comments in this article, the kids weren't "sold," and we are not "do-gooders." The main reaction we got from the Russian social services and court systems was mild surprise and some concern about our sanity to want to adopt older, challenging kids. But we did.

    The two youngest are now 15 and 16, are doing ok. The oldest has put us through living hell, and has cost us more mentally, physically, emotionally and financially than is describable. She has also put us through a full-fledged child abuse investigation (which finally ended after 2 months with an unusual apology from HRS), but unless you have experienced a 10th of what we have, you should shut those ignorant, self-righteous, judgmental pieholes. You have no right to judge. We all have basic human rights, including the right to safety in our own homes. Yes, that means parents, too. No human being has the right, not even a child, to continually and deliberately harm those around him or her, adopted or not. You all need to attend to your own failures, since you have so much free time to dedicate to the failures of others. I am revolted.

  31. Excuse me, so little experience? How many children have you ANONYMOUS given up for adoption? How much do you know about the psychological impact of being torn from your native culture, as well as your family? Maynard was like a lot of people who think the way to doing good in the world is to take children from their mother and their motherland...because they are poorer than you and me.



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