Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Adoption Stories

When we were in California in June we stayed with blogger/writer/poet Chris Alba of Enchanted Oak (that part of our trip is here). We stayed two nights with Chris (and entourage) and were made very, very welcome. Then as we were leaving we did some book swapping – Chris got a copy of my now-getting-on-a-bit poetry book and I got a few things from her, one of which was “Silent Embrace” (its cover is above and it was published by California's Catalyst Book Press). Chris has an essay in “Silent Embrace” (towards the end) called “The Long Road Home”.

I think Chris asked me something like “are you interested in reading about adoption?” when she showed me the book and my answer was “yes” for many reasons. “Yes” because I have one adopted sibling (the closest in age to me of all our sprawl and therefore the closest in experience in many ways). “Yes” because there are other adopted children in the family, some of whom are quite new acquaintances. “Yes” because I'm interested in parenthood and how children grow up in general. And finally “yes”, because I guess I'm just interested in people (and my Mum used to say that about herself all the time...). So, yes, yes and again yes. And then another yes.

I got round to reading the book this week and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of adoption (and indeed anyone interested in families at all). The blurb on the back tells you what you're going to find within the pages pretty accurately: “Birth mothers are often the forgotten or ignored part of the adoption triad. This collection of literary essays seeks to correct the imbalance by publishing personal stories by birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees. The stories cover a range of topics about adoption, open adoption, birth parent connections, and unification with children after closed adoption, focusing on the relationship with birth mothers. An anthology of essays by, for and about birth parents.”

And then here's a few notes from me about the book:

“Silent Embrace” was edited by Ann Angel and her (adopted) daughter Amanda. Amanda's essay is one of the pieces I really respected – it's a brutally honest and very well written account of a very difficult series of events. Ann's essay is about her very different experience of adoption (she and her husband adopted four children – all from different situations/families). Ann also writes books for teenagers by the way (including a biography of Janis Joplin aimed at the young reader – sounds great!).

There is a very wide range of emotional responses on show in these essays. By the end of the book you feel like you have met a lot of different people, heard a lot of different stories and, as the subtitle would have it, read many different “perspectives on birth and adoption”. You may cry more than once... and in some places you may be warmed by the goodness of human nature at its best. It covers a lot of ground.

Most of the essays were written by women living in the US (which is OK - the themes are fairly universal) . However there didn't seem to be a huge range of what we call diversity these days. And that did seem a bit of shame... a lacking in the book somehow.

All of the essays are by women. I'd be interested to know whether this was an editorial decision or just a dearth of men wanting to write about the subject (one of the essays does mention, for example, how rarely adopted boys want to meet birth parents compared to adopted girls who very often do). It does make the book seem a little old-fashioned though (this lack of male perspectives) but that's not to say it stops “Silent Embrace” being an interesting read (because it doesn't).

I must add finally that Chris' essay in this book is, as regular readers of hers would expect, an exercise in how to tell the truth using clear, sharp strokes and pulling few punches. Chris has the best of the journalist and the poet at work in a piece like this – no clichés, no waffle, just really good communicating.

p.s. Anyone who enjoyed the Arvo Pärt piece "Spiegel im Spiegel" a few posts ago might be interested in this radio programme about it from BBC recently.



hope said...

Maybe it's the "nurture" part of women that make them more interested in learning the "who" and "why" of adoption.

My Mom said my nephew, now 11 but about 8 at the time, mentioned he was adopted. Mom asked him what did he know about adoption to which he replied, "I don't want to discuss it."

Maybe it is a guy thing. :) Glad Chris was able to add her insight.

Titus said...

Sounds interesting, and it's a subject I know vanishingly little about. And I do enjoy, and admire, Chris's writing.

Rachel Fox said...

I don't know... I know quite a few nurturing men too (not loads, but a handful!). Maybe there's a whole book somewhere about men's connection with/experiences of adoption. Or maybe there will be at some point. Maybe more women than men will read it...

Rachel Fox said...

And you probably know more than you think, T. Certainly from reading this book I recognise a lot of the basic emotions, if not the direct experiences.

Enchanted Oak said...

I'm riveted by this review of "Silent Embrace," Rachel. Thank you for your kind comments re my essay. It's been a while since I read the collection, and right at the moment I'm boggled by story deadlines for new work & the destruction of my computer, my files, my office...but I'm curious about the missing male perspective. Your point makes me go "Hm."
What I know for certain at 1 a.m. is I'll be back later.

Rachel Fox said...

I suppose it's partly because the adopted person I know best is male (and he's never talked about it much either... not to me anyway). I suppose also that more often men fall into the "just get on with it" camp (not always of course, but perhaps more often than women do).

There are men mentioned in the book obviously - there is one particular essay where a boy who has been adopted is later found by his birth mother via his poetry online! So, there is evidence of men's feelings on the subject in the book... just no essay written by a male writer. And it is just an observation. Plus the book is purple...


The Weaver of Grass said...

I only know of one adoption case and I have to say that the boy and his birth mother met when the mother was in her early sixties - it has completely changed her life - and his too I believe.

Rachel Fox said...

You've just reminded me of another adoption story in our family, Weaver! There are so many adoption strands and stories in most of our lives perhaps.