I am so excited to be participating in another adoption blogger project hosted by Heather (of Production, Not Reproduction) at Open Adoption Bloggers, the space she is kind enough to share with the rest of us. The Adoption Book Club is just what it sounds like: an online book club in which we periodically read books related to adoption and, guided by questions submitted by other participants, discuss them on our blogs.
This month, for the inaugural "meeting," we are discussing a children's book—Megan's Birthday Tree: A Story about Open Adoption—which Heather chose as a quick and easy read so we could all get our feet wet as we begin this new project.
Megan's Birthday Tree is a very sweet story, and I'm glad Heather introduced us to it because it is absolutely a title we will be adding to our growing adoption bookshelf. From the dustjacket (because I am horrible at writing summaries...):
Megan is adopted, but she and her parents stay in touch with her birth mother, Kendra. Every year on Megan's birthday, Kendra decorates the tree she planted when Megan was born and sends a picture of it to Megan. Megan cherishes this Birthday Tree, for it ties her and Kendra together.
But one day Kentra writes that she is getting married and moving to a different town. Will she forget Megan, without the tree to remind her?
Book club participants submitted a variety of thoughtful questions, a few of which I will answer here—
Megan's birth mother planted a tree when she was born, and decorates it yearly to remember her birth. Do you have something special that you do to celebrate your child's birth or adoption?
We don't celebrate Julia and Asher's adoptions, specifically, because while it was certainly a happy occasion for us, for them it is also an event marked by a loss that they are only now beginning to feel and understand. We do celebrate their birthdays, of course, and we talk perhaps a little more than usual about their firstmother on that day and the days surrounding it. We feel sometimes like we are walking a fine line on those days: We don't want the focus to be overmuch on their adoption, because it really is supposed to be a celebration of their birth; at the same time it is important on their birthdays to honor their firstmother and their roots.
Do you think this book represents a realistic view of what open adoption might look like? How does the book and/or your own personal experience with open adoption correlate with what Ms. Page writes as a forward?
In some ways I think it represents an ideal: Adoptive parents and first parents (or firstmother, at least) maintain a close relationship, which the child becomes more involved with as she grows; firstmother goes on to achieve success and happiness after placing her child; child is glad to have been adopted and well-adjusted as a result of her open adoption. It's the sort of "perfect" situation that starry-eyed hopeful adoptive parents might come away from an adoption agency orientation dreaming about. I don't know that it's unrealistic so much as it doesn't represent the breadth of experience—but of course a book about a single adoption can't represent every possibility.
This book focused on the ongoing relationship between Megan and her birth mom, allowing insight into the complexity of that evolving bond, rather than simply being a sort of expected re-telling Megan’s birth and adoption story. As an adoptive parent, how would you respond to your child’s questions about Megan and her birth mom if your kid's relationship with their birth mom or birth dad is not so open or positive?
Our adoptions are open and our relationship with Julia & Asher's firstmother is a very positive one, so I can't answer this question from that perspective. But I wanted to address it because we are just starting to get questions about adoption from Julia—it's like she turned four and a switch flipped in her head; it wasn't something she was interested in talking about before, and now she talks about it all the time. While our relationship with D is positive, Julia and Asher's birth and adoption stories are very complicated—far too complicated for children their age to understand, and difficult to frame in age-appropriate terms. For now—except the bit about Kendra not being ready to take care of a baby (D is my age and has other children older than J&A)—the story Megan's mother tells about when she was born is pretty close to the ones we tell Julia & Asher. In time I can see the story evolving, and certainly by the time Julia and Asher are Megan's age, I doubt such a pat answer will satisfy them. Right now the big question is when are we going to see D again, and why can't we see her more often; another complicated question with complicated answers that I don't want to mess up, and I'm reduced to saying simply: "I miss her too, and I wish we could see her more often, and I hope maybe we can see her later this year." I hope so much that that's enough, for now.
I do love the way the book presented Megan and Kendra's relationship as an ongoing, evolving one. It seemed so natural and beautiful—I could picture Megan's parents stewarding the relationship early on, when Megan was a baby, so they could hand the reins to her when she was old enough to continue it herself. I love that Kendra's stopping in at Megan's house was presented as just an ordinary thing—like any other relative stopping to say hello on the way through town.
What do you think about the illustrations of Megan as a caucasian girl? By the text, she doesn't have to be any one race, but by adding illustrations, she's clearly a white girl.
Honestly? I didn't give this much thought when I was reading the book, but when contemplating this question I realized that I actually love this. As the caucasian adoptive parent of two caucasian children I have found that it is pretty rare for a children's picture book about adoption to reflect what our family looks like. Most of the books we read illustrate transracial and/or transcultural families, usually white parents with an African-American or Asian child. It occurs to me as well, now that I am thinking about it, that all of the other adoptive families we spend time with regularly are transracial and/or transcultural (and half of those families are headed by same-sex partners). Because none of the other adoptive families in my children's lives look like ours in that sense, it is nice to have one book in our collection that reflects our family's makeup back to us.
The book was categorized by the publisher as one of its "issue books," dealing with "children's problems and special needs." Other books in the series address topics like autism, epilepsy, and stuttering. What do think about a book on open adoption being characterized that way?
The "Family Issues" series is described on the publisher's Web site this way:
As families grow and change, kids face many issues. From new siblings or divorce to aging grandparents or substance abuse, we publish many books to help kids deal with or learn more about these situations.
It seems absolutely appropriate to categorize this book (among several others about adoption) here. Adoption poses issues that must be dealt with, after all, and challenges that must be faced; this book highlights a few of those issues and shows how Megan's family (birth and adoptive) helps her deal with them. At any rate, I think showing it as the complicated circumstance it is—issues and all—is a vast improvement over the all-happiness-and-light picture most people seem comfortable with.
You can read other Adoption Book Club participants' thoughts on Megan's Birthday Tree here starting on Wednesday morning.