How the Adoption Revolution
is Transforming America
by Adam Pertman
Basic Books, 2000
Reviewed by Barbara
Nation caused quite a stir at the National AAC Conference in Anaheim
this past April. The Author, Adam Pertman, was one of the keynote speakers
at the conference. This is a new book, which may become a valuable resource
book on all aspects of adoption. Mr. Pertman, a writer for the Boston
Globe, is an adoptive parent himself. In this book, rather than just
telling his own and his familys story, or reporting on adoption only
from the point of view of adoptive parents, he covers just about every aspect
of adoption, and all the changes that are currently taking place in the adoption
world. Through interviews and careful research, he helps the reader see the
very complex life-long issues of adoption.
At the beginning of the book, Pertman states,
After a long period of warning tremors, adoption is changing
like a simmering volcano changes when it can no longer contain its explosive
energy. Quoting statistics gathered by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption
Institute of New York, he says that their survey showed nearly six of every
ten Americans have had a personal experience with adoption, meaning
that either they or a family member or close friend were adopted, had adopted,
or had relinquished a child for adoption. One-third of those in the survey
said they had at least somewhat seriously considered adopting
a child themselves. These figures are probably lower than the reality, since
some adoptees still dont know they are adopted, some birth parents
will not answer truthfully out of shame and fear, and some adoptees do not
know step-parent adoption is still adoption. In other words, most people
in our culture have some adoption connections, and therefore have opinions
and attitudes, as a result of their experiences.
We are living in a time of changing policies
and attitudes, which are changing ways of conducting adoption, and also changing
the ways in which people deal with the life-long consequences of adoption.
The child as product attitudes still persists, but instead of
orphan trains, we have very expensive adoptions, Internet pictures of children,
and adoption picnics, where prospective adoptive parents can
look over the children available. The constant that we must remember is that,
as the author states, nearly all adoptions are initiated by women and
men suffering from heartbreak and loss. He also states, Perpetuating
the myth of everybody wins can impede progress because it trivializes
or even ignores the feelings of grief, insecurity, and identity confusion
that are integral components of adoption, for adoptees as well as their two
sets of parents.
This book explores issues from the perspectives
of birth parents and adoptees, as well as adoptive parents. The author discusses
the legal and emotional issues, open records, open adoption, reunion, legislative
changes, financial realities, state registries, and a proposed national
An interesting fact is that, in the nineteenth
century, foundling homes in New York funded research to develop infant formulas,
due to a shortage of wet nurses available to feed the babies in such homes.
That was supposed to be the magic answer to what was considered a great social
In the 1950s, Korean War orphans became the
first large national group of adoptees for Americans. Because of their arrival
in white families, people began to be more open about telling adoptees they
were adopted, since these children obviously did not look like the adoptive
parents. The telling spilled over to other adoptees, but still, no more
information was given to them, such as their true family history. Such a
thing as open adoption was only heard of in a few in-family adoptions. Now,
open adoption is becoming common, with open adoption visitation agreements
being legally binding in a few states, including New Mexico, where they can
always be amended by the two sets of parents. The Pertmans children
have different degrees of closeness in their relationships with their birth
families. The author states that the earlier extended relationships
are formed, the easier the adjustment and the greater the benefits
for all concerned.
While open adoption is not so possible with
international adoptions, the book reports that Americans adopt more children
internationally than do inhabitants of the rest of the planet combined, possibly
because this a nation of immigrants. The push to assimilate is
giving way to a philosophy of retaining a childs cultural identity.
Holt International was the first agency to handle large numbers of international
adoptions, starting with the Korean babies, and now the large numbers of
children from Eastern Europe and China.
This book also tells personal stories of
relinquishment in sensitive ways, and notes that birth parents, in the past,
have not been able to acknowledge their grief and loss. The author uncovered
some amazing stories of connections and healing in families. He also discusses
the current spate of baby-dumping laws; the trend of adoption
by single adults, gay couples or singles; the use of advertising, picnics,
newspaper stories, and Internet ads; and the complicated situations brought
about by donor egg and sperm, surrogates, and other assisted technologies.
Until recently, these were not considered adoption issues. With the trend
toward openness and truth, and the availability of DNA testing, the adoption
reform community has seen the relevance of these issues.
This reviewer highly recommends this book,
which is well-written, and full of engaging examples as well as facts.
Excerpted from the July 2001
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2001 Operation Identity