This post is about a good friend of mine, another adoptee from the same era, and part of her adoption story. Her parents, like mine, weren’t shy about talking about adoption. My friend has wrestled with a story in her adoption, that I don’t have in mine. Every Christmas she remembers this story, at times while she was growing up, she loved it, then it was okay, other years, not so much, and in its own way, haunts her, both in a good and bad way. She’s had this story for over a half a century.
Now all of you may be thinking it was something really terrible that happened to her one Christmas. It didn’t. In reality, it’s something quite benign that some will think shouldn’t bother her. It does. I think it would bother me as well for a variety of reasons. You see, her story of how she was adopted was published in the newspaper on Christmas Day. Back then, most people read the newspaper daily, it not only covered news, but what people in the community were up to, good or bad. A time when the newspaper was the only social media available, and everybody knew who everyone else was in their community. I can almost hear the town busy-body calling people to talk about the story, and anyone on that party line picking up the telephone receiver even though that ring wasn’t for their phone, so they too, could listen to the conversation.
The headlines that are scattered through the article in addition to the ‘Live ‘Doll’ Christmas Gift’, include ‘Judge Proves Benevolent Santa’, ‘No Better Gift’, the story starts out with this (in caps): BEST PRESENT OF ALL – Today is a big day for the ___ family in ___. It goes on to explain how she was “gift” and later as a “presentable young miss” and details out that one of the pictures is her with the judge who “gave” her to her parents just before Christmas in the “Christmas Adoption Ceremonies”. The other picture is of the family (including the dog) around the Christmas tree. Further on it talks about how there is “…no better Christmas gift.” There’s a part where it talks about how she was bubbly, and must have known the judge was doing something good for her because “she wasn’t anxious to leave his lap after posing for the picture”. Then it talks about how she was ‘expected’ under the Yule tree. The article continues in that vein asking her parents if they were worried about the adoption not happening, if they expected any hitches, with a response about how they didn’t, but they would have had a fight on their hands if anyone had tried. It goes on to give a few details about them, what her dad did professionally for a living, and, it excludes the fact that her mom was also a professional who also worked outside of the home, rather than the typical stay at home mom that everyone back then expected to be the case. It also talks about how long they’ve lived in the area, and where they were from originally.
Then comes the real reason for this feel good piece; the adoption agency advertising spiel, and of course, names the agency and how long it took – which coincidently was nine months start to finish.
First they started the spiel with explaining how much she looks like her parents and that isn’t by chance. “The adoption agency not only matched the physical characteristics to the adoptive parents, but they made sure the mental capability fitted.” They did include the fact that my friend had lived in her parents home since the spring and would soon be a year old. They also note that the agency “studied the family history of the little girl and her prospective parents all the way back to their grandparents.” Once the advertisement part was finished, they end it with more syrupy sweet words of joy and how “Christmas is a time for joy”.
My friend never had the chance to not have her story about being adopted kept private. To be the one who could choose to tell, or not tell her classmates, she was adopted, or at other points in her life. In that aspect we were the same because everyone knew we were adopted, but it wasn’t because our story was published, just that everyone knew dad, and a new addition without mom being pregnant, was a dead giveaway that we were adopted.
There isn’t anything terrible in the article, no juicy gossip except the adoption aspect (and to some back then, that was juicy enough to get the gossips going speculating both on her parents and where she came from). What it did promote was the “gift” stereotype that still today, is prevalent in adoption. The over abundance of notes about how bubbly she is, a charmer, the sparkle in her eyes, how presentable she was, that she matched both physically and mentally to her parents, all designed to show that we (adopted babies) didn’t come from bad people – a belief I might add that is also still around today about who we come from. The puff story with all of its sweetness and clichés was carefully created, and designed to promote the adoption, the adoption agency, and to create a demand for their services, because you too, could get a newborn who would turn out to match you both physically, and mentally, all in the same amount of time as a pregnancy.
I wouldn’t want the story of my adoption published in the newspaper, and think I’d have the same feelings my friend has surrounding her story over the years, both good and bad. I think I can also speak for my friend in saying that those feelings have nothing to do with being actually being adopted, our parents, but rather, being used. Used in a puff piece to promote an agenda, which in this case is adoption, and the agency. Another aspect is that neither of us use syrupy sweet language, rather, we are both plain speakers. We also both understand the joy of becoming parents, and hope that our parents had that deep joy. This post has nothing to do with that, it’s about how publishing, and telling the adoptee’s story complicates things, and can create feelings that just aren’t always going to be good, and yet stick with you for life, and in this case, every Christmas, or any time someone uses those words in conjunction with adoption. I wrote this as an example to adoptive parents that if you write about your adoption, and your child, please consider the long term effect if you willingly do it under your name, your child’s name, or to promote a business called adoption…