Monday, December 09, 2002

An adoption story, nice and not-so-

In my real, off-Web life I work for a Catholic newspaper. We wanted to do a nice story on adoption for National Adoption Month in November -- as, indeed, does every newspaper in the country, taking a brief break from all the scary adoption stories they run for the rest of the year -- and so the agency that handles adoption for our diocese set a reporter up with a family for a nice puffy piece about how great it is to adopt. I read the story eagerly when I finally got it to lay out and copy edit, and it seemed like pretty good news, a profile of a happy family who already had one adopted child and was now in the process of adopting another baby. The article hit all the right notes, about adoption being a wonderful way to form a family, about how there's no shame or secrecy to it anymore, and children should be informed and proud of how they came to be loved by their parents. Information on how to adopt was offered to anyone who wanted to follow in the successful footsteps of the family in the article. It was all set to run the last week of November ...

...except that the family got cold feet. The baby's adoption was not quite final, and they worried that his birthmother would see their names and pictures in the paper and cause trouble. They hadn't realized the article would feature them so prominently. They weren't comfortable with the exposure. Could we change their names, and not reveal where they live? Or maybe hold the article for awhile, until all the papers were safely signed? As the office adoption expert, I nixed the name-change scenario. Better no adoption feature for National Adoption Month than one that paints adoption as a situation where names need to be changed to protect the profiled. Yes, adoption's wonderful, we're proud of our family! -- just as long as you only use our initials, and on second thought, give us back that picture. We wound up holding onto the story in the hope that they'd okay it after the adoption was final, but their feet, once icy, never warmed back up. So much for promoting adoption.

I suppose I can't blame these parents too much. Domestic adoption is apparently fraught with peril for adoptive parents who can be cast aside at a birthparent's whim -- whether that's good or bad depends on your perspective in the process, I suppose -- and I don't know that I wouldn't keep a low profile to protect my family in similar circumstances. But at the same time, this whole thing points out a dichotomy that I see so often on e-mail lists for adoptive parents. Adoption is wonderful and the media should do more good stories ... but my child's adoption story is private to him or her and not appropriate for me to tell. Schools should be up on all the latest adoption language and should use sensitivity in dealing with family issues ... but there's no reason they need to know my child is adopted, or get any information from me. If people knew how many happy adoptive families there were, they wouldn't judge adoption so harshly ... but because they judge adoption so harshly, I'm not going to tell them about my happy adoptive family.

Is it any wonder, then, that the bad stories seem to be the only stories that get told? People with nothing to lose will always be more forthcoming than people with something to protect. Must the media forcibly "out" happy families -- as our paper could have done, and maybe would have if the editor didn't feel sorry for the priest in the middle -- in order to offer counterpoint? If adoptive parents are going to go to such lengths to hide their light beneath a bushel, they shouldn't be too surprised if all anybody sees is darkness.

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