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Archive for the ‘Books and Movies’ Category

It’s been a non-stop day; and Theo is still wired. He wants to play ‘crash it’ with his superheroes but I kibosh the idea in favour of a book. It’s been a while since we’ve read an adoption story. I pull out “God Found Us You” (by Lisa Tawn Bergen with art by Laura J. Bryant) despite my agnostic tendencies. I figure all adoption books are great jumping off points for discussion so we give it a whirl.

It begins with Little Fox cuddling up to Mama Fox and asking her to tell him again about the day he came home.

Immediately, Theo says, “Little Fox adopted?” I say, “Yes just like you.” Then he curls up to me and waits for me to go on. I’m so surprised, I keep reading, and for perhaps the first time, Theo listens to a complete story (with a few amendments by me) end-to-end.

Mama Fox begins by giving Little Fox an idea of what life was like for her before he arrived in her life. The story uses beautiful imagery to show her deep longing for a child. Little Fox snuggles up as his mother tells him how she dreamed of him, how he would look, smell and sound. Every day she thought of how wonderful it would be to hold him in her arms. She saw him in the leaves and bark of the giant oak and in the night stars. But she had to wait, and wait, and wait.

In a series of achingly beautiful scenes, the book shows Mama Fox watching the other mothers have children (bears, owls, rabbits), and it shows her howling alone on the cliffs watching for Little Fox to show up. Day after day after day, she waits. The trees lose their leaves, the snow flies, and she wants to give up but she never does.

Then Little Fox asks why he couldn’t stay with “the mother who had me.”  I worried that the book might steer into “God had his reasons” but Mama Fox’s response is quite wonderful. She says, “She must have had very big reasons to give you up. She must have thought it was best for you.” Mama Fox does not try to make up a reason when she doesn’t know all the facts or motivations.

Little Fox then asks: “Did she have fur like mine? Eyes like mine?” I mention to Theo that he has brown skin and curly hair like his birthmother whereas Mama Fox says (not knowing all the facts): “She must have been as beautiful as you are handsome.”  I like how the book honours the birthmother in the context of limited information.

Little Fox then asks if Mama Fox will be his forever mama. She says yes, “Always and forever no matter what. I will always love you and treasure you and celebrate the day you came to me.” Some people take issue with “forever mama” and celebration around adoption but it works for a small child who needs to know they are not only cherished but they are with you for life.

Mama Fox then tucks Little Fox into bed, and he is glad that he has a cozy home and good food and a mama how loves him very much.

At this point, Theo is sprawled on my lap making fox-like noises, and says. “Mama, you call me Little Fox?” I say, “Yes Little Fox … now time for bed.” “Okay Mama Fox,” he yawns.

* Like most adoption books, the story won’t match up perfectly with your own but I found it a great jumping off point.  This book refers to God a lot but you can easily omit the references so it still works for non-believers. It also works nicely for international, local, closed, open and single mother adoption.

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It took less than a minute into the Conceiving Family documentary for tears to well up, which is, of course, the litmus test for any adoption story. This moving BC-made documentary sheds light on the challenges and joys of adoption as a same-sex couple and serves as a testament to the power of commitment, love and family no matter what your family configuration.

Filmmaker Amy and her partner Julie with their twins.

Nelson filmmaker Amy and her partner Julie with their twins Franny and Theo.

Produced and directed by adoptive mom Amy Bohigian, the doc follows the adoption journeys of five gay and lesbian couples. If you’ve ever wondered why a same-sex couple would adopt or why a birthmom would choose a same-sex couple (I realize these are obnoxious questions but people do wonder), this documentary makes clear that the ability to love, commit and parent have absolutely nothing to do with sexual preference.

That said, when I hear about adoption films, stories or articles, I worry that the focus will be about parents’ struggle to find a child capping with their thrill at being parents. I wondered if all the families would be new parents? What if there’s no mention of birthfamily or all couple were racially homogenous? My concerns were totally unfounded. Somehow, Bohigian manages to represent an astonishing cross-section of people.

She documents her own mind-boggling story from the beginning with a lot of humor. She and her partner adopted twin toddlers through the Ministry who had been living with a Christian fundamentalist couple from birth. They spend a tense two weeks with the foster parents transitioning the children from one home to the other. A year later, they visit the foster parents who have had a sea change in the way they view homosexuality.

Another featured lesbian couple adopted ailing premature identical twins from Romania almost 20 years ago. They give that all important long view of adoption. I don’t want to give too much away but to say that adoption becomes quite a theme in all of their lives! This couple really blew me away. Their lives were completely transformed by parenthood and … hint, hint… now in their 60s, they haven’t slowed down.

The third  lesbian couple adopted a baby at birth from a First Nations teen. This story  is also deeply moving. The couple made huge efforts to connect the child, who was affected by alcohol in utero and is now around 8, with her community and birthfamily, and all participants are now peace with the adoption. This piece demonstrates the lengths that adoptive parents go to ensure the best interests of their children and how important children are to their families and communities of origin.

Two male couples are also featured. One couple adopts a baby at birth in a closed adoption (at the birhtmother’s request) but talks about the birthmother and how they feel about her. Another gay couple adopt a 5-year-old boy through foster care and are a touching example of tenderness and care. Adding to the complexity of their adoption is one of the dad’s religious mother. But in the end, a child is all it take to break down all those barriers and concerns.

One thing that struck me about all the couples was how they all understood first-hand what it feels to be an outsider and to struggle for acceptance, a feeling their kids may encounter as adoptees growing up.  They all spoke movingly about their love for their children and many had some degree of relationship with either the foster parents of the biological family.  These are parents who truly get adoption.

Watch the documentary via the Conceiving Family website.

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By now, this book needs no introduction. Secret Daughter, by Canadian author Shilpi Somaya Gowda, is an international sensation and runaway bestseller.  Then it called to me from the Fast Reads library bookshelf. And a fast read it is. It’s not a nuanced book but it is a fast-paced, tear-jerking, page-turner.

The story covers the intersection of a birthmother in India, an Indian/American couple and their adopted daughter (the secret daughter of the title). It’s a deeply emotional book that covers issues of infertility, culture, identity, class, relationships and politics.

Things I liked

Kudos to Gowda for tackling openness in international adoption. The story shows how oceans, continents, language and culture don’t stop adoptees from wondering or searching for the story of how they came to be.

I loved the depiction of the extended family in India, in particular the grandmother who enfolds her adopted granddaughter (who she meets as young adult) in the warm embrace of her deeply traditional family. The food, the ceremonies, the love, are all richly described.

The pain that the birthmother feels for her lost daughter is moving. She is haunted by her image and constantly wonders what happened to her. It’s nice to see a birthmother’s perspective captured so well.

The novel does a great job of depicting the feelings of cultural alienation, class and identity in the form of Asha, the adopted daughter.

Things I didn’t like

I took issue with how unsympathetically the adoptive mother was portrayed. She is  emotionally distant, in denial of her daughter’s heritage, roots and feelings. I don’t know any adoptive mother no matter how devastated by infertility who would so thoroughly discount her child’s feelings around culture and adoption.

The portrayal of the poor Indian birthmother and her family’s horrific life seemed  extreme. Every hardship that could befall a family befalls theirs.

The men are either sketches (the adoptive father) or caricatures (the birthmother’s son).

Overall, you can’t ignore this book. It’s an engaging read and offers a lot of food for thought for adoptive mothers.

Have you read Secret Daughter? What did you think?

November is Adoption Awareness Month.

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Gratitude time again. In no particular order, I’m feeling thankful for:

  • The spectacular fall weather:  Thursday was unexpectedly glorious so we headed to the beach for a little log jumping, seagull chasing and, of course, french fries.

  • Our adoptive parents meetup: I always meet someone with an amazing story at our monthly gathering. Last week, I met a mother who just adopted a sibling group of three young children via foster care.  I also found out that a couple, who’ve been updating us monthly on their adoption wait, will be flying to Africa to meet their new daughter in a matter of weeks!
  • Theo’s love for babies. When our friend’s child was crying, Theo held her, patted her, fed her from a bottle, and broke down when the baby was removed from his care. Apparently, he wasn’t quite up for a diaper change.
  • A sushi lunch with the tinies:  I’m still amazed that a group of 5, 2/3 year-olds made it through an entire seated sushi lunch without scaring anyone, running around or melting down. And yes, even eating the contents of their bento boxes!

  • Great adoption reads: I couldn’t put Mamalita down. This moving memoir chronicles a woman’s journey through the ethical adoption minefield of Guatemala and her commitment to finding her daughter’s birthmother.

What are you grateful for this week?

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One of my five adoption goals was to read Theo books about adoption. He still has only the foggiest grasp on what adoption means but all of the books I’ve read have been hits including I’m Adopted, The Family Book, and most recently, Jamie Lee Curtis’s Tell Me Again About The Night I was Born. Tell Me Again is a well-known adoption book for children published in 1996. You might think it’s popular due to Jamie Lee Curtis’s celebrity status but it holds its own as truly wonderful book.

The story is both funny and poignant, and impossible to get through with tearing up ((shakes fist!)). It features a little girl who asks her parents to tell her about the night she was born but the story is really about how they became a family. The little girl never tires of hearing how her parents were curled up like spoons when the phone rang in the middle of the night and they jumped on a plane to meet her at the hospital.

I always worry about adoption books that go from “We yearned for a child and then we went to the hospital / orphanage and then we became a family” with no mention of birthparents or what came before. I think even authors are afraid to mention their existence or worry that parents want to brush that one aside “for now.” But Curtis references her child’s birthmother and includes her and the birthdad in a family tree.

Birthparents are included in the family tree.

Quite a few pages had my voice cracking such as the ones where the parents hold hands through the hospital lobby where they “both got very quiet and felt very small.” I’ll never forget going to the hospital to meet Theo and his birthfamily. Mark and I  felt lost. We were sweating, carrying flowers and presents. Our hearts pounded. We were dazed.

Feeling quiet and small at the hospital.

I also loved the image of the newly minted parents in the airport carrying their daughter like a china doll glaring at anyone who sneezed. I remember loading Theo into his car seat terrified that we’d hit a traffic jam or get into an accident or that he’d poo or scream or need to be fed. I wanted a huge sign that said “STAY OUT OF OUR WAY! NEW BABY ONBOARD!”

Stay away! New baby!

The book also reminded me of our first night together where we moved a futon into the living room due the extreme heat while Theo took turns lying on me or Mark wide awake for most of the night. We felt clueless, exhausted and amazed.

The book’s illustrations by Laura Cornell are whimsical, child-like and funny. The hospital section shows a mother of octuplets being stalked by the paparazzi while the nervous adoptive parents to-be make their way up to meet their baby. The family home looks like a hurricane hit it after baby comes home with bottles, diapers and half-read parenting books all over the place.

Like most books on adoption, the story does not exactly reflect our story, which no book can, so when I read it, I insert bits about our own journey, and polish ideas in the telling for a book that will tell story of the Day We Met.

The day we met.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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One of my summer goals is to read Theo books about adoption or that reference adoption. One of the books we’ve been reading is “The Family Book” by Todd Parr.

It’s a fun and friendly book full of quirky cartoonish characters and colourful animals who make up various permutations and combinations of families. Some descriptions are realistic; some are silly. Among the families depicted are those with two moms or two dads, families that are small or large, noisy or quiet, and some that look like their pets. You get the picture.

One page shows an illustration of an adoptive family. When I read Theo the book for the first time, I slowed down on this page to let him know that the little penguin was adopted just like him. I mentioned the names of other adopted children that he knows repeating the word adopted so I might lay a few tracks down in his brain.

The second time I read Theo the book, he pointed at the little penguin standing on the mother duck’s back and said. “Doctor? That’s a doctor?” Then he pointed at the duck and said: “What’s that? A monster?”

How have your initial conversations gone with your small children about adoption?

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