Monday, September 6, 2010

An Adopted Boy Considers His Origins

From the New York Times:
Jonah, our youngest, spent the day in the water again. At 5 he’s already an exquisite swimmer, diving for coins our Provincetown neighbors throw into the tide for him to fetch. Now we’re lying in his bed together waiting for him to fall asleep, and he’s thumping my stomach like it’s a beach ball.

“Are you going to have more babies in your belly?”

“You know I’ve never had any babies in my belly,” I tell him.

“Well, whose belly did I come out of?” he says.

My girlfriend, Molly, and I have always been frank about the fact that Jonah and his brother, Sam, were adopted, though until recently they’ve really only shown interest in the few details that feel glamorous: for instance, Jonah enjoys knowing that he was born on an island. The rest of how the kids came to us is so complex and adult, we’ve so far opted to leave it alone.

* * *

[Jonah's bio sister, adopted by another family] said, “You didn’t come out of your mommy’s belly.”

“Now isn’t the time for this conversation,” Molly told her.

“You didn’t,” Sister continued, “you came out of the same belly as me. Her name was Cheri.” For Jonah, that belly never had a name before. That name was so revelatory you could almost see a light bulb in a thought bubble hovering above Jonah’s head. He began crying louder.

To Molly and me, our children are so completely ours it feels impossible that anyone else had anything to do with them. But for Jonah, who knows? Some would say, for example, that it was the hand of God that saved his namesake, the original Jonah, from the belly of the whale; others, that it was luck that caused the beast to spit him out.

So here I am in the bed with our youngest boy, telling him the truth as I see it: “Some babies come out of their mommies, and some come through other bodies to get to their mommies. My body couldn’t make babies, so we had to find another way to get you here.” I’ve told him this before, but the story no longer satisfies the way it once did. He may be only 5, but it’s time for Jonah to begin making his own version of the narrative.

“Whose belly?” he demands.

“Her name was Cheri,” I say, affirming it for him.

“I should be there with her,” he says.

I take a breath. “No,” I tell him. “Wherever Sam and your other mommy and I are, that’s where your home is. That’s where you should be.” And in a sure sign he knows that what he’s hearing is correct, he begins to cry hard.
OK, shall we count the ways this is so very wrong?  How about a 5-year-old who doesn't know his birth mother's name? Like his older sister isn't going to tell him? A birth mother who is only a belly? A belly that is equated to the whale's belly that the "hand of God" delivered the child, Jonah, from? A belly with a name not shared with the child? A belly that is only a pass-through to the adoptive mother? An adoptive mother who can't accept that "anyone else had anything to do with" her adopted children? An adoptive mother who answers "who knows" to whether her son cares about his origins?   An adoptive mother who has made it harder for her son to "begin making his own version of the narrative?"


SustainableFamilies said...

"i should be there with her."

Yes Jonah. I hear you buddy.

I recognize that a parent sometimes can't explain details like drug addiction, prostitution, family violence and the like to a five year old. But you can give reasons that are appropriate for a five year old to understand.

Which is way better than no reason. A child should be with their mom. If they CAN'T be with their mom, and it was necessary to have a new mom come into their life, they should be given an age appropriate and compassionate explenation of why that couldn't happen to the best the adoptive parent knows.

Yes, everything in the world is wrong with this story. And it just plain hurt my heart to hear.

susan said...

What a sad, sad column: adoptive parents who feel it hard to imagine that "anyone else" had anything to do with them? And who say "not the time" to a conversation started by children about their adoption?

Amanda said...

I was horribly offended by the article myself.

How is a child supposed to grow up free to feel and establish their own opinions if their original mothers are portrayed as nothing but bellies without names? What kind of message does that send?

Kris said...

Yes, I agree this is offensive. When he said "I should be there with her." the answer (as painful as it may be for APs) should be "You're right. You should." Then perhaps an age-appropriate explanation of why it didn't happen that way. I bet the kid can see right through the lie that no, he shouldn't be with his mother. At the very least, it's got to be confusing.

Mei Ling said...

This is the adoptive parent speaking for the adopted.

Anonymous said...

SustainableFamilies...Why is it that natural mothers are always portrayed as drug addicts, prostitutes, and/or violent? Most women relinquish due to POVERTY.

I guess it's easier to rationalize taking a living mother's child that way.

OmegaMom said...

There is also the fact that she directly negates his feelings by saying "No" to his "I should be there" comment, and then says that he "should" be with her. Sort of a non-religious "meant to be" approach.

And, yeah. He's *five* and just now hearing about a birthmother? Man. Way to make things difficult. We started talking about our dotter's birthmother from day one, even though she didn't understand a word of it.

Molly said...

Some "come through other bodies to get to their mommies"???

I don't get how she can just *erase* his first mom like that.

Claudia said...

YIKES! So many levels of wrong.

Wendy said...

Ditto to the previous comments--sad and selfish.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I missed this. This is so blech-making in light of a recent conversation with the young'un. I think the "pass-through" comment is the most offensive.