GUEST BLOG POST: It’s Not a Secret Anymore by Adam Pertman
Book Excerpt from Adoption Nation — Chapter I (“Out of the Shadows, into Our Lives) of Part I (“Don’t Whisper, Don’t Lie—It’s Not a Secret Anymore”)
My son was three years old and my daughter had lived on this Earth for just two months when I met Sheila Hansen. She’s a tall, soft-spoken woman who laughs easily and exudes warmth when she speaks; she has the kind of comfortable self-confidence that immediately makes you think she’d make a loyal friend and a good mother. On that muggy July day, sitting in the conference room of a church in southern New Jersey, she told me a story that chilled me to the bone and forever altered the way I think about my adopted children, about birth parents, and about the country in which I grew up.
In 1961, Sheila was a twenty-one-year-old government clerk in Louisiana when she told her boyfriend she was pregnant. He responded by giving her the name of a doctor who performed abortions. The procedure wasn’t legal at the time, but everyone knew you could get one if you wanted to. Sheila didn’t want to. As frightened and confused and alone as she felt, the one thing she knew for sure was that she wanted to keep her baby.…
Not until 8:45 P.M. on November 30, 1995, when her thirty-four-year-old son telephoned her after a determined search, did she learn she’d given life to a boy. “All I did after we hung up was cry,” Sheila told me. Based on what she had endured, I expected she would feel only contempt for adoption, but she is wiser than that. While she knows the process is seldom as simple as people would like to believe, she thinks everyone can ultimately benefit if it’s done right. Besides, Sheila likes the way her firstborn son turned out (she went on to marry and have another boy), respects his parents, and appreciates the loving home they gave him. “But I’ll tell you this,” she says, wiping away a tear but faintly smiling at her optimistic conclusion: “The system we had didn’t work; thank God it seems to be changing.”
After a long period of warning tremors, adoption is “changing” like a simmering volcano changes when it can no longer contain its explosive energy. It erupts. The hot lava flows from its core, permanently reshaping not only the mountain itself but also every inch of landscape it touches. The new earth becomes more fertile, richer in color. The sensation of watching the transformation, of being a part of it, is an awesome amalgam of anxiety and exhilaration. The metamorphosis itself is breathtaking. Before our eyes, in our homes and schools and media and workplaces, America is forever changing adoption even as adoption is forever changing America. …
I remember the moment it dawned on me that we all might be in the midst of a phenomenon bigger than just a sociological blip caused by aging, infertile baby boomers seeking alternative ways of forming families. As West Coast bureau chief for the Boston Globe, I was covering the O. J. Simpson murder trial at the time. Dozens of us reporters sat shoulder to shoulder in a small pressroom on the twelfth floor of the Los Angeles courthouse. I was typing my daily story, on deadline, when the interruption came.
“This is awful,” said Diana, a computer specialist and the only non-journalist in the room. She was standing right behind me, rustling a newspaper and pointing to a story in it. I turned around and asked what was wrong. Diana showed me the offending article. It was about the Baby Richard case, in which an Illinois man won custody of his biological son from the adoptive parents with whom the four-year-old boy had lived nearly all his life.
“Imagine how I feel,” I replied. “I have an adopted son.” (We hadn’t adopted our daughter yet.)
“Really?” said the Chicago Tribune reporter sitting at my left elbow. “I’ve got two adopted kids.”
The Time magazine correspondent to his left looked amazed. “I’ve got two adopted kids, too,” he said.
Diana, wide-eyed with disbelief, whispered: “I’m adopted.”
I was surrounded, and so are we all. Suddenly—or at least it feels sudden—adoption is being transformed from a quiet, lonely trip along America’s back roads to a bustling journey on a coast-to-coast superhighway. The infrastructure has become so extensive that it has made all of us—not just adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents—into fellow travelers. We should do all we can to make this a smooth ride.
The Harvard Common Press
Copyright © 2011 by Adam Pertman
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Adam Pertman is Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the pre-eminent research, policy and education organization in its field. Pertman – a former Pulitzer-nominated journalist – is also the author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming Our Families – and America, which is being published in April 2011 and which has been reviewed as “the most important book ever written on the subject.” He is the Associate Editor of the scholarly journal Adoption Quarterly and has written numerous commentaries, book chapters and articles for professional and mass-market publications. As one of the country’s leading experts on adoption, he has delivered hundreds of keynotes, trainings and other presentations internationally, and is the recipient of numerous awards for his work. He appears regularly in the media throughout the U.S. and abroad, and has been a guest on programs including “Oprah,” “The View,” and “Today.” He is a member of the Council on Contemporary Families, the Editorial Advisory Board of Adoptive Families magazine, the National Adoption Advisory Committee of the Child Welfare League of America, and the Advisory Board of Orphans International Worldwide. Visit http://www.adampertman.com/.