While we were waiting to adopt, I remember seeing my mother-in-law standing in our hallway, looking hopelessly at our shelves and shelves of adoption books. "Are any of these books for me? I just wish there was something about adoption that I could read" she said, and I wished there was too. Once when she came over, she pulled Joyce Maguire Pavao's The Family Of Adoption off the shelf, hoping that it would be the 'grandparents' guide' she was looking for. Now, that is a really good book but it is not a grandparents' guide. Neither is this, or this, or this, or this or anything else that was on our shelf. There were a few books aimed at family out there, but they were mostly hopelessly anodyne - anything really helpful about adoption parenting is going to be fairly raw in places, and that's not what she or I were looking for.
My mother in law was the only person who directly asked me for a book, but there were a lot of people I would have given it to if one existed. There was so much I wanted friends and family to know about adoption, but every time I talked about it I got upset because they never seemed to ask the right questions or say the right things or read my mind like I wanted them to. I was definitely hypersensitive, but (some) people also say some crashingly dumb things. It would have been better all around if they could have had those crashingly dumb misconceptions corrected by someone else, someone who wasn't me, someone who would take them by the hand and tell them all the things that I wish I had the presence of mind to think of.
It turns out that what I needed was In On It, by Elisabeth O'Toole. This is a book about adoption for people who care about adoptive parents (or parents-to-be) and who plan on loving their kids, too. It's an overview of adoption - what is it, what does it feel like, how does it work, what does it mean? aimed at the interested bystander / grandparent / brother-in-law / friend. The author (who is lovely, by the way) recently sent me a copy to review (and once again, I'm going to stress that no, I'm not getting any money from this review or anything else on my blog). When it arrived, I opened it up and started flicking through it and within minutes I was hooked. I started reading... and kept reading... and didn't put it down until it was finished. I could tell straight away that this was the book I needed back in 2008 for my mother in law. So. Can you tell I am about to rave about this book? Well, I am. I am about to rave about this book.
Here are my three favourite things about this book: First, its tone is extremely generous. It assumes the best of the person reading. It assumes that the reader has nothing but the best intentions and really really wants to do and say the right thing and be there for their friend / relative as they go through the
nightmare rollercoaster confusing process of adoption. It isn't sarcastic, it doesn't condescend and it doesn't treat the reader like he or she is an idiot. Revolutionary, I know. But that is a lot more than I could do in person when we were waiting to adopt. I was easily offended by people saying the wrong things. I was easily upset by people putting their feet in their mouths, or even just putting their feet near their mouths. I was prickly and defensive and hurting and I was not feeling generous. I wish I could have given some people a book that would have been generous on my behalf, without me actually having to screw my face into a smile. Win-win!
My second favourite thing: It's respectful of all the people involved in adoption. Even the subtitle (What adoptive parents want you to know about adoption) is respectful - it doesn't assume that adoptive parents speak for everybody. Again - revolutionary, I know. This book talks about the different ways that adoption affects adopted people and first families (again with the revolutionary!) but doesn't try to speak for them. Another big tick.
And this carries through to my third favourite thing, which is the hardest to articulate: I was really impressed by the way this book deals with the sensitive topic of adoption and loss / trauma in children. It's so hard to get this right, and this is what I found most difficult when I was talking to people about our adoption before we adopted - in fact, I still do. I found that most people I talked to about adoption didn't really have many opinions about it - which is fine, obviously. But those who did seemed to fall into one of two groups. The first was 'adoption loss, what adoption loss? Adoption is great! Who doesn't love adoption?' which was a nicely cheerleader-ish attitude, but made it difficult to talk about attachment strategies, issues of race and how our family would be different from other families. The second group was 'adopted kids have seen too much and suffered too much. They're damaged. I wouldn't want one of those in my house'. (The second group was not my favourite. Obviously).
I found that it's really hard to talk honestly about loss in a way that says these kids are vulnerable, but they are valuable. They have suffered; they have faced difficulties and sadnesses that most of us will never need to, but they are precious and worthy and fully human. I really thought this book did an excellent job of talking about the realities of what adoption is like for a child in a way that is compassionate rather than fearmongerish. (Not actually a word. I know. Sorry. But you know what I mean).
Here is the one thing I didn't like about this book: It wasn't around in 2008, when I really needed to hand it out like candy.
Which is not to say it's too late to read it now. I'm no longer an adoption beginner, and I found this book really helpful and very moving. Anyway, you should all have a copy, especially if you are still pre-adoption, especially if you are at any stage of adoptive parenthood and have family who are well meaning but occasionally clueless (don't tell your family I said that about them), especially if you have friends or relatives who have adopted / are adopting and want to be even more awesome and supportive than you already are. Did you miss the amazon link above? Here it is again. (This is a US link; there doesn't seem to be a UK link). And here is a link to the author's site with more information about the book and other ways to buy.
While I was reading my copy, I originally thought that I would do a giveaway and let one of you lucky ladies get your hands on it when I was done. But when I finished, I changed my mind immediately. You're all going to have to buy your own copies - mine is going straight to my very-supportive, now-quite-adoption-educated, but I-think-she'd-still-enjoy-it mother in law.