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Reviewed Publisher: 
Los Angeles: Broken Branch Productions. 199 pages. ISBN: 1888511125
Reviewed Title: 
Adoption Wisdom: A Guide to the Issues and Feelings of Adoption (1996)
Reviewed Author: 
Publication Date: 
March, 2002
Starting Page: 
Page Count: 

Adoption Wisdom is a valuable starting point for adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, or those who simply want to explore the meaning of the adoption experience. It is a fast and informative read likely to hold the attention of anyone with a personal or professional interest in the topic. The author covers the history of adoption, the issues and feelings of each member of the "adoption triad", and insights into the process of search and reunion and the relationships that result. There is a section on the future of adoption, and another for those contemplating adoption that offers some useful questions for consideration.

Dr. Russell, herself an adoptee in reunion with her birth family, is a psychotherapist in private practice working with adoptees, birth parents and adoptive families. In this unusual book, she allows the members of the adoption triad to speak for themselves, forming the book around their quoted statements relevant to the topics addressed and revealing the varied experiences of the different members of the adoption triad. The result is poignant, effective, and engaging, though very possibly emotionally challenging for those who are personally affected by adoption.

For these highly-involved readers, the book offers many opportunities for healing: recognition that others have felt as they do, that their secret thoughts and feelings are reasonable and legitimate, and that similar feelings may be shared by others in the triad although for different reasons. The author makes it understandable that some people may need support or professional help in working thorough the deep wounds and confusions that can result from being part of an adoption triad. I appreciated how the words of adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents provide valuable insights into the experience of the other partners in adoption, and can help those who are about to be in any of these roles.

Russell takes the unambiguous stance that adoptees do, of course, know they were adopted, since after all "they were there!" This seems to hold true even when their early experiences may not be fully accessible to the conscious mind. Statements by adoptees throughout the book are themselves verification that the experience of relinquishment and adoption has a profound effect on their sense of identity and worth and, in many cases, on their life choices. All the prenatal and perinatal aspects of adoption are touched upon here-how the birth mother feels about the child she is carrying, how the child feels about its very existence and the transition from birth parents to adopting parents, and finally, how the unresolved issues of the adopting parents may affect both their child and their subsequent relationship with the birth parents.

The author includes a brief but thoughtful chapter on the future of adoption itself, raising questions about adoption as a business, about surrogacy, and the new reproductive technologies. What will be the effects on children who are bought, grown in a hired womb, created with biological material donated by disinterested and anonymous third parties, and who emerge as the "product" of expensive and stressful reproductive techniques?

Taken in their entirety, the contents of this book comprise an excellent case for open adoptions, since the participants in closed adoptions reveal in their own words so much pain and grief at the loss of what seems to be the very core of their identity. Russell addresses this in her closing chapter on the ideal adoption, stressing the centrality of the needs of the child. She quotes another adoption professional who asks "Are we trying to find homes for needy kids or kids for needy parents?" She invites everyone involved to behave as though the child is witnessing all that is happening in the adoption process. This, of course, demands a major shift in thinking.

Appropriately, Adoption Wisdom closes with appendices listing a host of Resources and a generous list of Suggested Readings on all aspects of adoption.

As a therapist working with older children in adoption and foster care situations, I felt a little surprised at the emotional health and self-awareness of those quoted here. Their strong voices tell a hopeful story about surviving and thriving after suffering primal trauma. It is unfortunate that, for each of these, there are many more children who bear the burden of having been removed from biological familiesfor reasons other than adoption-by the courts. These are children who have journeyed through the foster care system without finding a true home, or caregivers who are as committed, interested, or resourceful as the parents contributing to this book. I am observing daily the pathology associated with failure of genuine communication and attachment, lack of insight, and the absence of resolution surrounding early separations.

I believe adoption will always be a component of how we raise children in the modern world and I can certainly attest to its superiority over the alternatives presently available to many children. The voices in this book speak wisdom about both the pain and the promise of adoption.

Dr. Russell has succeeded superbly in personalizing adoption issues and feelings in a book I am happy to recommend whenever the need arises, knowing that it will be a gentle, valuable and rewarding experience for the reader.