Friday, August 24, 2012

Another Adoptive Parent Tells Adoptees How They Should Feel

A new documentary, Somewhere Between, that follows teen Chinese adoptees, is generating disparate reactions. This New York Times review describes it as "[s]hining a relentlessly rosy light on international adoption and the policies that enable it."  But even "relently rosy" seems too much for the adoptive parent who wrote this review for NPR.  She acknowledged that the documentary gives voice to adoptees, but then proceeds to discount those voices as much as possible! 

She notes that one of the girls has returned to China several times to find her birth parents, but the scene where she found them makes the reviewer "squirm:"
And Haley, raised in a Christian family in Nashville, Tenn., makes several trips to China to find her birth parents.

Astonishingly, she finds them. (This almost never happens, given that the only information most families have about their daughters' origins is a form letter stating the child's drop-off location.) And though their reunion makes for a riveting set piece, it made me squirm.

To her credit, Knowlton never falls into the trap of blaming birth parents, most of whom are dirt-poor peasants forced by government policy into making terrible decisions for their newborns.

Yet watching a nervously co-operative Haley receive the DNA results confirming the paternity of the man who had stepped forward as her biological father; perch uneasily on the lap of a man she barely knew; and bear up under the caresses of the woman who, as her birth dad thoughtfully offered, had "thrown her away," I wondered whose crummy idea it was to expose the poor girl to this orgy of photo-ops, and how this "celebration" would affect her sense of who she is, where she belongs — and whether she will ever go back.
Is it the fact that the reunion is public that makes the reviewer squirm?  I don't think so. Her reaction to a scene where an adoptee describes her feelings of being caught between two countries? "Watching the tears roll down Fang's otherwise cheerful face, I wondered whether she'd be this sad if she wasn't facing a camera."  And she goes on to complain about the "dogma" in the adoption community that adoptees might actually feel loss and grief.  She admits, "I parted company with my chosen adoption listserv when I got tired of hearing about 'the holes in all our daughters' hearts.'" So in this adoptive parent's view, all those feelings are illegitimate, made up for the camera, "taught" to adoptees as part of the "dogma."
She also has a problem with any suggestion that these teens might experience identity issues: "Inevitably, though, the film makes it seem that these girls' lives are dominated by worry about who they are and whether they'll be emotionally crippled by conflicting allegiances."  How silly!  After all, this adoptive parent knows better than these teens how they actually feel as well as how they ought to feel.  HER adopted daughter experiences none of this angst! "My Chinese teen was bat mitzvahed last year; she celebrates the Jewish, Chinese and any other New Year that comes with a party. On Facebook, she brands herself as "Jew Crew," "Asian, so deal with it" and a Yankee Brit, among others. Accustomed to a polyglot world, she takes it mostly in stride."

The only time her daughter expressed any adoption angst, the adoptive mom seems to suggest, it was because someone else -- Stuart Little -- told her she should:
Her only visible adoption crisis came when she was about 8, just after we'd watched the excellent movie Stuart Little, about a mouse adopted into a loving family who nonetheless has an "empty space" in his heart. A couple of hours later, my ordinarily sunny, unflappable child burst into tears and asked piteously why her mommy had let her go.

Caught off guard, I opted for honesty and told her it made absolutely no sense to me, and who wouldn't want to be the mother of a great kid like her? After a moment, she asked for her drawing materials and drew three female figures with Chinese features ("You, me, and my other Mommy"), then said firmly, "Okay, let's play something else."
But, see, you don't need to worry about her child being "emotionally cripppled by conflicting allegiances."  See how fast she got over that artificially-created angst?!

The reviewer notes how valuable it is to hear from the adoptees themselves: "but until now most of the copious commentary on Chinese adoption has come from the parents' point of view. Now some of the girls are old enough to speak for themselves." And almost immediately thereafter, she has to tell the story of these adoptees by HER point of view, discounting any reaction from them that doesn't comport with her adoptive-parent worldview.

I haven't seen the documentary, though I want to.  I figured I wouldn't like it much because of the "relentlessly rosy" view of adoption it supposedly presented.  But this adoptive parent seems only to want a relentlessly rosy view, and this documentary didn't deliver it for her because these teens' views contradict how she thinks they should feel.


anon said...

indanteWell, I hae seen the documentary, as has my 18-year-old, who knows all the girls featured, and the filmmaker. The NYT critic surely chose to miss the point. This is not, never was intended to be a film about adoption from China. It is about the experience of 4 teens, as they tehmselves regard it. A legitimate criticism might be that these girls are not "typical" one has a special need, for example. The NYT reviewer clearly had opinions about adoption from China she wanted to air rather than a review of the film. As to the NPR will be of interest to hear what she has to say when her child is, say, 20. Enuf said.

Reena said...

I've seen this documentary. The film maker and two of the young women featured in the show were present for dicussion after the viewing. A few things that aren't clear in the show. Each young woman was provided with a video camera so she could make her own videos for the documentary of her own accord.

A film crew was not with the young woman when she found her family in China. The filming from her initial reunion was from her camera that she took with her-- she filmed what she wanted to film. That part made me squirm becuase I felt it was a private moment. After the movie I learned that the film crew was not in China at that time-- the filming of this part of the story was done by the young woman and her family.

The two young women seemed sincere in that they (all the young women featured) had much input to what was shown in teh film and what was not shown. I didn't think the film gave an overly rosy view of adoption-- or even that the main focus was on adoption from the AP's point of view.

I felt the focus was on the experience of the young women featured-- a small glimpse into how livng life as an adopted person shapes them and their search for identity and answers. I thought it was well done.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Melinda, thank you for this post. I want to see this film but I will probably have to wait until Netflix has it. Then I will probably want to throw something at the TV. Thanks again for your sensitive approach to adoption that even this first mother can appreciate and applaud.

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