Making Sense of Adoption, A Parent's Guide

Reviewed Publisher: 
Harper & Row, 1989.
Reviewed Title: 
Making Sense of Adoption, A Parent's Guide
Reviewed Author: 

Making Sense of Adoption is an apt title. We live at a time when few things make sense, so why should adoption? Like many things in society, it, too, is unravelling.

Lois Melina, an adoptive mother of two, has taken on the formidable task of guiding us through the malfunctioning closed adoption system. She takes up issues that just weren't discussed when the system was securely sealed-that is before the pill and legal abortion dried up the baby market, and babies like myself grew up to expose the psychological damage caused to parent and child alike by the closed system.

Ms. Melina covers many of the same subjects to be found in her previous book, Raising Adopted Children, but now she expands her terrain to include families formed through donor insemination, surrogacy and in vitro fertilization. Which gives us some idea how exotic and hi tech the once drab subject of adoption has become.

There's something here for everyone: for parents who don't know when or how to tell their child about adoption; for parents who need guidance with racially different or older placement children; for parents who are overwhelmed by acting out teenagers; for parents whose children who want to search for their birthparents.

I know many troubled adoptive parents who would have done anything for a book like this when they adopted years ago. Its mission is to prepare adopters for possible minefields built into the closed adoption system, so that they can avoid having everything blow up when their child reaches puberty or adolescence. Ms. Melina does not deny the sadness, pain and anger that adoptive children usually feel, but she does so in a reassuring way that will not threaten adoptive parents.

Much of what Ms. Melina says would have been considered revolutionary only a few years ago. (And, no doubt, still is by conservatives in the field, who still hang on to that discredited credo "confidentiality.") Even now, when adoption practise is opening from within, records remain legally sealed in all but three states, and most adoptive parents still feel threatened at the mention of birth parents.

Ms. Melina is right on target when she maintains that adopted children have the right to know who they are-although she seems to mean only non-identifying information. She says it's okay to communicate about adoption with your child-and essential to be honest. She tears away denial-there are birthparents out there and you'd better present them in a positive light. She doesn't flinch when discussing the need of some adoptees to search for the birth mother, and even has suggestions for planning a reunion.

Throughout the book there are helpful scenarios for how to handle key situations. A few don't quite rise to the drama of the occasion. An adoptive mother bolstering a nervous child about to meet her birth mother, says: "When I meet someone for the first time, I never know how to get a conversation going."

Making Sense of Adoption gives the reader a good overview, without digging into the psychodynamics at play when genetic strangers raise someone else's child. Or, to put it another way, when children are required to disavow their psychological need to know who gave birth to them. My own personal conviction is that adopted children have a right to their birthright from the moment of birth-just like everyone else in this society. Like all children, they have a right to identifying information, which means their original names, their birth parents' names and origins, and updated information about them. Like all children, they need to be armed with a truthful and coherent life narrative before they hit the maelstrom of adolescence.

Ms. Melina provides an excellent bibliography for those who want to make sense of these issues at greater depth than she has space for. Her book-because it is so comprehensive-is a valuable addition to a field that if properly understood can teach us something about the complexities of nurturing and mothering, about truth, falsehood, and secrecy-issues that are crucial to all families, whether held together by blood or adoption ties.

Publication Date: 
05/1990