As part of the first stop of the Stirrup Queens’ Barren Bitches Book Brigade Tour, I’m reviewing Elizabeth Swire Falker’s The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Adoption. (Though I’m not, as far as I know, barren, feel free to make any snide comment you’d like about being a bitch. It’s only fair).
As a new adoptive parent (for those of you coming here for the first time, my son, who was adopted domestically, is 5 months old), my adoption experience is very fresh in my mind, and I was eager to hear another person’s take on it.
Falker’s approach is that of a close and knowledgeable friend who is coaching you – in this case a hopeful adoptive parent – through something she’s just been through. Her writing style is chatty and personable, and she’s not afraid to share her (informed) opinions with you about things that a social worker might not think to tell you, like how many pairs of sweatpants to pack for an 18-hour flight with a toddler you’ve just met.
She includes a glossary in the back that’s extremely helpful for deciphering the enormous amount of adoption jargon that hopeful adoptive parents usually have to swim their way through, and she includes a lengthy resource list at the end that includes everything from international adoption medicine pediatricians to adoption loans to websites for ordering slings.
Falker also has a matter-of-fact approach to issues that are not commonly discussed in mainstream adoption resources. Her language throughout the book is inclusive of gay and lesbian parents (though her understanding of the issues same-sex families face in adoption is surface, at best) and single parents. She is a big promoter of adoptive breastfeeding, and she handily negates the “ick factor” by sharing her own success in breastfeeding her son, who was adopted at the age of 6 months.
The deal-breaker for me in this book, though, was her discussion of birth families. My first red flag was a chapter titled “Dealing with birth mothers who choose to parent or who aren’t really serious about making an adoption plan.” This title set a pretty accurate tone for a discussion that is so centered on Helping Adoptive Parents Get Their Baby that issues of coercion and other ethical concerns are virtually absent.
While Falker does stress that a woman who has made an adoption plan maintains her right to parent up until the time that the relinquishment is final, she also warns potential adoptive parents not to waste their time talking to a woman who is not serious or who is “on the fence” about making an adoption plan. This may be practical advice for potential adoptive parents for protecting their hearts, but ultimately her checklist for assessing placement risk just serves to reinforce stereotypes about birth parents.
Her discussion of open adoption also leaves a lot to be desired. While she does caution potential adoptive parents not to pretend they are more amenable to openness than they really are just to get “picked,” her handling of this issue – a huge issue in domestic adoption – is cursory. Though her son’s adoption is open, and she does seem to be a proponent of open adoption in general, in my opinion she lets potential adoptive parents off the hook too easily. I share her view that adoptive parents should never enter into a situation that they are not prepared to handle, but she sells everyone short by failing to push people to learn more about openness, and by failing to provide any data – or even much in the way of anecdotal evidence – about WHY open adoption can make so much sense for the adoptive parents, the birth parents, and of course, most importantly, the child.
Ultimately, the piece that got me climbing the walls was the section on evaluating prospective situations. Assessing risk and determining whether a given situation is one that you could handle if you were to parent that baby is a huge part of domestic adoption. She would be doing her readers a disservice not to address issues like drug use and mental health issues, but her handling of these issues reads like a scare tactic checklist – for example, she writes that “most birthmothers smoke…” but cites “some statistics” in an otherwise well-researched book. Nowhere does she remind potential adoptive parents that the horror stories we’ve all heard are told and re-told because they are the exception, not the norm.
I really wanted to like this book. Falker is organized, supportive, down-to-earth, and obviously knowledgeable. Ultimately, though, her deft handling of the myriad details and hurdles of the adoption process was overshadowed by her narrow focus on adoptive parents and almost total inattention to the ethics of domestic adoption.