This review of “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” is from Dana Smith
I read the book “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” and I highly recommend it. It was very well written, and almost everything she wrote about I thought it, which is why I really liked the book. It was like someone out there finally got what we have to go through to adopt and just wrote about it with a sense of humor.
The author, Jana Wolff, talks about the hoops we have to jump through as adoptive parents, all the info we have to get, all the info birth parents want to know about us, going through the home study -should the house be super clean? Will they think I am a clean freak if it is too clean and possibly have OCD? But what if it is not clean enough??? Very funny!
My favorite part of the book was when Wolff wondered what kind of picture to send the birth mom? Who would think of something like that, but it is soooo true! Should he be happy and smiley, or would that make the birth mom sadder? Should it be one where he is crying, but would the birth mom think he is not happy? That was hysterical, and after we brought home our son, I realized exactly what she meant! Our son was smiling in every picture that we took, so we had no choice as to the type of picture to send.
We do not have a biracial child, so that part was very interesting, and all the emotions she had with that and the comments that people gave her and what she had to deal with.
Definitley 5 out of 5 stars!
Here is the second half of Jana Wolff’s answers to questions from the Adoption STAR Book Club about her book “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother.” If you missed the first half, which was posted earlier today, you can read it here.
Q: Has your son read this book? How was it introduced to him? Did he struggle with some of the things you shared in the book?
JW: When the book first came out, my son was five years old and thought the TV, radio and newspaper interviews were cool. Because we have an open adoption with Martie, and because she seemed to like us, he didn’t have a negative association with the book.
As I explained to Ari before he read it, the book is about me, not him; it’s about my insecurities before adoption and my growth after.
Ari can understand that, before I met him, I worried about whether I could fall in love with a non-biological child. He also understands that I/we did fall in love; crazy in love. These are two truths. That duality gets repeated in an adopted person’s life. (For example, your birth parents loved you and gave you to another set of parents to bring you up.) It sounds contradictory and confusing for adopted kids but they get it.
Having said that, there have been times over the years where I’ve wondered if any of the challenges Ari has had growing up had to do with what I wrote. (Mothers are so quick to blame themselves!)
I actually texted my son Ari yesterday with this question and he said, “No I didn’t struggle with it; why do people keep asking?”
Q: You went into great detail about filling out the race section of the adoption application. What advice would you give to prospective adoptive parents who are struggling with what they will or won’t accept in a match?
JW: I think that some adopting parents answer what they think is “right,” and not what is right for them … and that’s a huge disservice to your future child. Transracial adoption requires a big stretch out of your comfort zone — and you’re the only one who knows if that stretch is within the realm of imaginable for you.
I didn’t know anyone who had adopted transracially before we did. But I’d suggest you go hang out with some families that have done it and see how it feels.
What were your expectations as it pertains to dealing with racism?
Adopting a child of another race fundamentally changed the way I saw (and see) the world. It turned on my racism radar, it forced me to figure out where I stood, it empowered me to speak out when I heard an inappropriate comment, and it required me to reach for help. I had not done any of those things before becoming part of a mixed-race family.
On one hand, we did a lot of things to support Ari’s racial identity—culture camps, books, friends from different races, frank conversations, travel—on the other, not enough. Sure, we lived in a multiracial community, but not one that had much of a black population. Ari was often the only black kid.
It’s hard to say whether any of the things we did in this regard had a lasting impact on our son, though it gave us some great family memories. There comes a point where a child of color has to travel the rest of the road with mentors other than his white parents. I hope that the values we tried to instill took hold at some level; they certainly did for my husband and me.
Q: You wrote about the stigma of being an adoptive mother and being asked by society where his “real mother” is. Do you think the culture has changed at all since you wrote the book?
JW: I think things have changed a lot since we first adopted. Obvious adoptive families like ours are much more common and more woven into the range of family types that are now considered normal. That‘s not to say that people aren’t curious. Each member of an adoptive family comes up with ways to answer (or not answer) predictable questions.
Q: Do you and your family still have a relationship with Martie?
JW: I spent years being the one who actively stayed in touch with Martie. The last time I saw her, though, was several years ago. At this point, my husband and I send a holiday card to Martie and are happy to talk to her if/when she calls … which she does about once a year. But Ari is now in charge of the relationship: he’s on Facebook with his birthmother and half sister and they have each other’s cell numbers.
I hope Ari will want to search one day for his birth father, but he is currently not very interested (in birth parents or adoptive parents).
Q: How have your views changed or remained the same about your feelings about transracial adoption, open adoption and birth parents in general?
JW: Here are a few things I’ve learned:
It’s hard to be a parent.
It’s even harder to be an adoptive parent.
It’s hard to be adopted.
It’s even harder to be adopted transracially.
(Harder doesn’t mean bad; it just means more complicated.)
Nurture doesn’t trump nature. The influence of genetics can be seen more as time goes on.
When things go wrong you tend to look to adoption for reasons. But you’ll never really be able to parse how much of a role adoption has played in your child’s issues (or yours, for that matter).
It’s humbling to have put so much of yourself into your child and acknowledge that, at some point, he or she gets to take it from here.
I think open adoption is healthy because telling the truth is healthy.
Respect your child’s birth parents—not just for their decision but also for their qualities (which are part of the kid you adore).
Adoptive parents tend to be extraordinary moms and dads.
We would all like to thank Jana again for taking the time to answer all of our questions. If you have read “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” and would like to join the Book Club conversation, please join us on the Adoption STAR Facebook page.
As many know, we started an online book club, and today is the day we will begin discussing “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” on Facebook. The author of “Secrets”, Jana Wolff, agreed to answer some of our questions about the book, and here is the first of two posts with her answers. The second half will be posted this afternoon.
Q: Do you still agree with everything that you wrote in the book?
JW: Because it started as a diary, I wrote with brutal honesty—without the constraints of thinking that I had to be politically correct or act like an authority on adoption. I’m not sure whether it was naïveté or courage that allowed me to be so revealing … but it seemed to validate the feelings of many other adoptive parents.
I do not agree with everything I wrote in the book (see next question), but I still think it accurately captures the anxiety and ambivalence that are commonly felt early on in the adoption process.
Q: Was there any part of the book, such as your version of the birth mother letter, which you thought of leaving out?
JW: That unsent version of the birth mother’s letter, which I wince at now, came from feeling utterly powerless and also indignant that we couldn’t have a family in the “normal” way. That letter—with its gross generalizations about birth mothers—is a much more scathing reflection on me than on birth mothers.
I hope that the insensitivity I let readers see at the beginning of the book with the imagined letter is moderated by the dawning enlightenment I show once I’ve had the chance to get to know and like a real live birth mother (namely, my son’s).
I’ve been slammed for that letter, but it underscored the strong ambivalence I felt at the time. Leaving it out would make me look better, but then I wouldn’t be sharing secret thoughts, I’d be sharing sugar-coated ones.
Bottom line, I would not have allowed the book to be published without the blessing of my son’s birth mother, who felt it was a hard but important and honest story to tell.
Q: How did you get over your thoughts of “this wasn’t the real thing” as it relates to birth and adoption?
JW: The short answer is time.
As I came to learn what Ari’s repertoire of cries and faces and grunts meant, I became the one who knew him better than anyone else. Part of owning the role of his Mommy was feeling able to handle his needs.
Another aspect was psychological. Part of me felt like I didn’t deserve to be the real mother because Martie had done all the hard work—I was there and saw for myself. I was conflating the debt I owed Martie with the ability to fully embrace the real mother mantle, as if my claiming Ari was negating Marcie. I found it comforting to remind myself that Martie picked me because she thought I would be a good mother to her baby.
I had to get over another hurdle, too. The fact that I didn’t resemble Ari in the slightest was a constant reminder that I was not his biological mother. Sometimes I felt like a real mother inside our house but not outside. The question of feeling like the “real thing” faded over time. It’s a big issue that becomes a non-issue.
Q: There are some adoptive parents who speak about how they knew it “was meant to be” as soon as they held their son/daughter. Do you think more adoptive parents have your fears and are just uncomfortable admitting it? When did you begin to see your son as yours?
JW: When we first met Martie, three months before Ari was born, my husband and I felt that this was “meant to be.” But having come to know her, and being present at the delivery, actually made it harder to see our son as ours exclusively, and a bit of a stretch to think that the baby that I had just seen Martie deliver was “meant to be” ours all along.
Ari became “mine” when I gave myself permission to claim him … not at a particular point when he did something, like call me “Mama” for the first time. I think there’s a pressure on adoptive parents to feel instantly like a family, but it’s really a process that most of us grow into.
Even if you don’t start out feeling like it was “meant to be,” you end up feeling like it was.
Q:You wrote that it took time to fall in love with Ari; was there a specific moment when you realized that you loved him?
JW: I hurt for my baby when he had blood taken from his toe the day he was born … was that love? That was on the way to love. I was always very tender with my son … but my feelings of love for him had to catch up to my actions. It’s related to the process of “claiming” your child as yours. There wasn’t a specific moment when I realized that I loved my son … it happened with time and shared experiences.
Against the prevailing image of parents who fall instantly in love with their child, it’s easy to feel inadequate and unmotherly if you don’t. I can tell you that a slow start is not a predictor for how well you’ll do as a parent or how deeply you will ultimately fall in love with your child.
We would all like to thank Jana for taking the time to answer all of our questions. If you have read “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” and would like to join the Book Club conversation, please join us on the Adoption STAR Facebook page.
We’ve had great responses to the Adoption STAR Book Club that we introduced last week, and today we’re announcing that the first book the club will be reading is “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother.” This memoir from adoptive mother, Jana Wolff, comes highly recommended by staff members.
For this first book we will be checking in on Facebook in three weeks for an official online “meeting” where we will discuss our thoughts on the book. I will also write a longer “book review” post on the blog. Starting Thursday, August 4, we will start discussing the book in detail on Facebook. This should give everyone enough time to find the book and finish it. If you would like to discuss the book before August 4, I will create a message board on Facebook where you can leave your thoughts on the book without “spoiling” the book for others who are at different parts of the book.
Here is what amazon.com and tapestrybooks.com had to say about “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother”
Tapestry: “What a great book! SECRET THOUGHTS OF AN ADOPTIVE MOTHER reveals the hidden emotions that so many adoptive parents are afraid or embarrassed to share, believing they are alone in feeling this way–feelings of amusement and terror, surrealism and sarcasm, familiarity and alienation. This book discusses the author’s fears, concerns, and questions about adoption. You won’t be able to put it down until you’ve read it from cover to cover.”
Amazon (From Publishers Weekly):The author and her husband, both Jewish, adopted a male baby at birth. Their child, whom they named Ari, was the birth son of two 18-year-olds, a Mexican-American mother and an African American father. In this candid memoir, Wolff relates her mixed feelings about bringing up a child from a different cultural background. Although she deeply loves her son, she is concerned that a biracial adoption may have made his future life harder. She also discusses her fears–groundless, it turns out–that Martie, the birth mother, would return to claim her child. Although the author’s frankness is disarming and she has bravely made the decision to maintain contact with Martie and to allow her to visit Ari, she makes sometimes harsh or patronizing judgments about Martie’s life choices. Wolff’s commitment to her son comes across here as absolute, but she makes clear she harbors many ambivalent emotions about the adoption that will be of interest to other adoptive parents of biracial children.