I Choose This Day:
Mournings and Miracles of Adoption
by Sharon Fieker
Tate Publishing, 2007

Reviewed by Barbara Free

     This book, written by a reunited birth mother, is decidedly religious in orientation, yet tells a compelling story that goes beyond that, and it is worthwhile reading, even for those who normally avoid “Christian” writing. The author was a presenter at the 2004 American Adoption Congress Conference in Kansas City, along with her birth daughter. She was an engaging speaker and is a competent writer.
     Her personal story is not unusual in many ways—she became pregnant in what she thought was a committed relationship, which turned out not to be on the father’s part; she hid the pregnancy, birth and relinquishment of her daughter from most of her family and friends, was heavily medicated at the time of the birth and several days thereafter, and she continued for many years to hide the fact that she was a birth mother. For a young woman in those days in a small town in Southwest Missouri, that was an all-too-common story. She did not marry and always carried her grief inside. She talks of feeling like a turtle, hiding her true self under a shell, protecting her secret.
     Nevertheless, she was thrilled and overwhelmed when her daughter found her in 1995. At that point, she began to really come out of her shell. She uses the turtle analogy several times, and says she had collected turtles (such as ceramic ones) for many years. After her reunion, she was able to use that in writing and speaking about her life, as she completed a college degree at Drury University.
     In one of the most moving parts of the book, Fieker tells of being in church on Mother’s Day when the minister asked that all the mothers stand and be recognized. She sat in her seat, crying inside, unable to acknowledge that she was a mother. The next year on Mother’s Day, after her reunion, she stood proudly to be acknowledged.
     Even today, in a small town in her part of the country, it takes a great deal of courage to stand up and tell one’s story of being a birth mother. Countless thousands of women can remember similar painful times of not being able to let others know they had a child, and many reunited birth mothers have had such joyous times as that next Mother’s Day when they were free to let the world know they were mothers.
     She also describes how she handled attending her daughter’s wedding, and her developing relationship with her daughter’s adoptive mother, as well as the birth of grandchildren. Many people in reunion can benefit from her experiences. Ms Fieker has been reunited since 1995, so she has a long-term perspective on reunion. At the end of the book she has a final surprise readers will enjoy.
     Although some of her beliefs may be different from some readers’, this is a book well worth reading. The author has done a remarkable job of working through her own thoughts and feelings, transforming her experiences into something very positive. It is probably unfortunate that a better-known publisher did not pick up this book, because it is much better written, and is a deeper story, than many others. It could offer hope to many birth mothers, and provide understanding for a lot of other people.


 

I Choose You
by Deborah Ripoll Greulich
Tate Publishing, 2007

Reviewed by William L. Gage

     I have been researching adoption-related literature for nearly 20 years in connection with a bibliography I have been assembling and publishing during that period—and which I continue to update as new books are published and I discover older relevant titles. The nature of the project— to create a comprehensive list of all the adoption-related books ever published in the English language—necessarily requires that I include books that I might not personally recommend or which have been negatively reviewed; in my bibliography, I provide only factual and other descriptive information from publishers and others, and do not express any personal opinions regarding any particular book or type of book. I have, therefore, read descriptions and plot summaries for literally thousands of adoption-related books of all kinds over the years, and I can honestly say that, while I may have encountered more than a few titles of apparently questionable worth or quality, I have never encountered a book that I found truly offensive—until now.
     In the course of updating the bibliography to incorporate books to be published in 2007, I came across a book whose premise I found, to put it mildly, completely objectionable. I might even go so far as to say that it may even be dangerous. The book—I Choose You, a children’s book by Deborah Ripoll Greulich—has a title that might lead one to think that it was written from the perspective of an adoptive parent; however, it is not. Instead, Greulich has turned the story of the “chosen child” completely on its head. In the words of the book’s publisher contained on the book’s back cover:

Imagine a little baby who, before she is born, decides to choose her own parents. Picture her carefully choosing a bright and cozy star and settling upon it to travel the world over until she finds the perfect forever family. ... Once she finds her parents, she travels the world again until she finds just the right birth mother in whose belly she could grow until the day of her birth.

     The story of the “chosen child” is a well-known (not to mention well-worn, even threadbare) fairy tale that was created with the intention of making young adopted children feel more comfortable with the idea of being adopted—something of a necessity, given that the majority of children are not adopted—which gained increasing popularity following the publication of Valentina Wasson’s The Chosen Baby in 1939, and whose currency was reaffirmed with the publication of revised editions of that book in 1950 and 1977 (Wasson died in 1959), as well as the promotion of the story by social workers of the period.
     Of course, the idea that adoptive parents actually choose their child(ren) is fallacious on its face. The closest one can get to that in reality is when the prospective adoptive parent(s) choose(s) to adopt the child of a particular birth mother (which also typically includes the right of the birth mother to consent to place her child with that individual or family). For that reason, the story of the “chosen child” has limited utility, which it loses as the child ages and asks more-detailed questions about the how’s and why’s of the parents’ “choice” and comes to understand its other implicit deficiencies.
     Ultimately, adoptive parents are better served by substituting a story involving a different kind of choice: the choice of adoption as a means of creating a family (whether or not necessitated by infertility, e.g.), along with the corollary choice made by the birth mother to place her child for adoption. This approach casts both choices in the most favorable light by representing them as having been made out of necessity, and as having been made in the “best interests of the child.” In any event, the onus of making choices is placed upon the adults involved in the adoption process—appropriately, since children have very little freedom of choice, especially when it comes to where and with whom they live (as embodied in the old saw that—whether adopted or not—one can choose one’s friends but not one’s family). In short, the adopted child is absolved of any responsibility for its circumstances, or for the attendant emotional pain associated with the process of adoption that may be suffered by the child’s birth and/or adoptive parents.
     Conversely (and, in my opinion, rather perversely), I Choose You places the responsibility of “choice” squarely and solely upon the adopted child. Granting the book’s far-fetched premise, you cannot escape the obvious questions. If we were able to choose our families, why would we not choose to be born into them directly, instead of going the unnecessarily circuitous route of being borne by one mother and adopted by another? (In the book, the pre-born child says, “... rather than be chosen to be born into a family, I decided to choose my very own mommy and daddy.”)
     Why would we choose to be born to a mother who we know cannot keep us and thereby deliberately inflict upon her the emotional trauma of having to surrender her child (as well as perhaps also requiring another woman to bear the burden of infertility)? How is one to reconcile the apparently contradictory concepts of the “perfect forever family” and “perfect birth mother”? (The book does not address the reason why the birth mother cannot keep the baby she bears, nor why the mother in the “perfect forever family” cannot bear her own child.)
     There is likewise no indication made of how the child goes from the arms of the birth mother to the custody of the “perfect forever family.” The child simply appears in a “hospital bassinet” (which, as illustrated here, looks more like the basket in which Moses might have been placed than anything one might see in a hospital) when the adoptive parents come to claim the child.
     Any reasonably intelligent child will quickly see through the gaping holes in this unrealistic fantasy, but what about the children who internalize this story and, thereby, the guilt associated with feeling “responsible” for creating their adoptive circumstances and, consequently, the aforementioned emotional pain of both birth and adoptive parents? (This is where I see real potential for harm. One could easily imagine that such internalized feelings of guilt and responsibility might manifest themselves negatively as the child grows up and require some measure of therapeutic intervention to mitigate their ill effect.)
     I Choose You is not so much a book as a small booklet, measuring a mere six by seven inches with a saddle-stitched binding. The text is rendered poetically rather than narratively, but the meter is often less than perfect. The color illustrations are suitably simple, but the fact that the characters are white, the adoptive parents heterosexual, and the baby female may limit the story’s appeal.
     It is instructive to note that, as stated in its website, Tate Publishing, a self-described “Christian Book Publishing Company,” offers publishing services primarily to first-time authors who “[h]ave ... searched out and submitted [their] manuscript to dozens of publishing companies only to be turned away, time and time again.” The history of publishing is replete with stories of now highly regarded books being summarily rejected by many publishers, only to finally see print and achieve the acclaim they now enjoy. In the instant case, however, it is easy to understand if Ms. Greulich encountered such resistance by more mainstream publishers, and hard to imagine I Choose You becoming a mainstay of adoption-related children’s literature.

Excerpted from the April 2007 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2007 Operation Identity