I recently wrote a quick post about “Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up” – a book I began reading several months ago that examines the effect of early separation on the development of adoptee sense of self, and which explores the impact of early separation on adoptees in adulthood. The book is an important read for adult adoptees and for those who wish to support us because it looks at the way adoptees relate – to self and to others – and seeks to understand adoptee identity formation and relationships in the context of the initial separation and loss that adoptees experience.
Although I meant to follow up much sooner, my initial enthusiasm for the book waned considerably when after some time I realized how frustrated I felt with its tone. Specifically, I found myself wondering about the difference between using information to contextualize identities and experiences, such as those of adoptees and fosters, and using information to pathologize – by linking a certain behavior or way of being with the identities of those we wish to better understand and support. This is something I’ve continued to think about and explore, both as it relates to my own journey, as well as in how it relates to the content and work of this blog – and I think the implications are worth considering.
At a very basic level, I guess what I’m wondering is, to what extent does the information we read or use to help us better understand and support a particular group or population stop being helpful, and instead become counterproductive?
Many of us are taught to think critically about what we read. In high school, if we’re lucky, we learn to think carefully about our histories – to understand their purpose and context, and to consider who gets a say, and whose voices are left out. If we’re lucky, we learn that history has been written from the perspectives of those in power, and that those marginalized throughout society were and are currently also, or more often than not, marginalized from the mainstream historical (and contemporary) narratives.
In a similar sense, until recently, the bulk of adoption literature was written from the perspectives of adoptive parents and professionals, but did not include the voices of those whose experiences adoption literature was meant to better understand – adoptees themselves. Instead, it focused primarily on the experiences of those same adoptive parents and professionals, and used their perspectives as a lens through which to view the experiences and characteristics of adoptees. The original literature on adoption, as well as contemporary adoption literature that is written from the perspectives of adoption professionals and parents is valuable in its own right. However, the lens through which it is written should be considered (especially when it comes to transracial adoption issues), because information is power, or so they say. And because understanding identity in the context of power forms a critical aspect of the work on this blog, I think it’s important to remember that what’s being said is often just as important as who’s saying it.
So, for example, when I read the Chapter on “Emotion and Regulation of Self” in “Coming Home to Self” and the section on “The Journey: Victim… Survivor… Participant” I found it hard to stay present as I was being told how adoptees are by someone who, themselves was not an adoptee.
Despite the validity of Nancy Newton Verrier’s perspective, I couldn’t help but to consider the voices of those placed, from whom I have learned a great deal already. I couldn’t help but to question whether what I was looking for would more likely be found among the books and blogs of those placed, the conversations and exchanges with those whose lived experience embody the qualities, characteristics, and experiences that can only be written about, but not lived in “Coming Home to Self”. Of course, there is already so much more I could say.
Although it’s likely that I’ll eventually find the book useful, I’ve decided to postpone reading it for the time being. Meanwhile, I hope to bring more relevant perspectives into the conversation (hint, hint, to any potential contributors).
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
More on the way.