Labor of the Heart

A few posts ago I mentioned that I was reading a new adoption book – but didn’t really go into any further details other than that. I have finally finished it so here are few tidbits about the book.

Labor of the Heart: A Parent’s Guide to the Decisions and Emotions in Adoption, by Kathleen L. Whitten.  Location at the library 362.734019 Whi (at least at the Stratford Public Library – I am such a nerd 😉 )

Kathleen Whitten is an adoptive parent of a little girl from Vietnam (1997) so in the world of adoption books, this author has experienced the adoption process a little more recently than most.  She also writes from the view of being an adoptive parent who has first gone through infertility – and for me I found that comforting.  Sometimes when you read adoption literature or even some blogs, I feel that you can be made to feel almost guilty for trying to have a child naturally first before looking into adoption – that is not the case here.

The first half of the book looks at (as the title suggests) the emotional part of making the decision to adopt – so for someone who is initially looking into the world of adoption, it can help you break things down to see if adoption is right for your family.  What I felt was useful was the breakdown of decisions in adoption into various parts – the “Heart”, “Brain” and “Practical Decisions”.  A lot of people focus on the heart part and don’t always get to the practical considerations…

The second half of the book works through the emotions of a referral and the myths of the adoptive child and the adoptive parent.  I thought it might be useful to list the myths here:

Myths of the Adoptive Child

  1. Adopted children are more likely than non-adopted children to be socially maladjusted and to engage in delinquent behavior. Just like Mrs. Rachel in Anne of Green Gables – she thought the child they were adopting was going to set the house on fire… According to the author, it has partially been this myth that has caused the secrecy in adoption.
  2. Adopted children have low IQs, have learning disabilities and do poorly in school.  In actuality many studies now show that adopted children on average have an IQ that is 10-20 points higher than other children and the biological parents. 
  3. Adopted children have problems with maladjustment and identity, especially if they are adopted transracially.  You can see this myth still being believed – some of the adoption programs specify you must be of the same race as the child.
  4. Adopted children must have contact with their biological parents to be healthy.

Myths of the Adoptive Parenthood

  1. You will fall in love with the “referral” – the baby in the picture or video.  While this is what everyone wants (and I’m sure it is the case for many, many families – I hope it is for me!), the author wants people to know that it is ok not to have an immense bond at right – you need to absorb it.  You will feel commitment at first sight – the decision to love the child – but often the connection may not be there until they are able to bond/attach with the child
  2. You will bond immediately when your child is placed in your arms, or your lap, or in your home.  Again – while this is true for some parents, for others it takes time.
  3. Adoptive parents are selfless saints who are “saving” children.  The author mentions that often adoptive parents are told that the child is so lucky to be adopted and taken from poverty.  That is obviously not always the case – but a good reply is to simply state “No, we are the lucky ones”.
  4. Adoptive Family relationships cause adopted children to turn out badly. 
  5. Adoptive parents cannot be “real” parents.  The author quotes a study done in the where 30% of those surveyed believe that adoptive parents and their children do not love each other as much as biological families. 
  6. As soon as your child comes home everything will be wonderful.  What?  It won’t?  It will take time to mesh with one another.  The author recommends having as much prepared/planned as possible before hand so you have time and energy.

I had heard many of these myths before – and acknowledged them as myths – it was however good to see so much of the book dedicated to them.

At the end of each chapter there are exercises you can do to help prepare you as well as lists of additional reading and websites you can explore.  Overall it was a pretty good book and I will definitely refer it on to anyone I talk to who is just starting to explore adoption.