“That’s not your story!” Adoptive parents can’t tell on ourselves alone.

Some of the specifics in the book touch on sensitive facts about my child’s history. There are three issues here:

  • How does the child understand what’s described in the book?
  • Did the child agree or decide to participate? and
  • What are the practical consequences to the child?

1) There’s nothing in this book that she wasn’t going to know someday. I started with a journal, before we ever knew where Cambodia was. We recorded some of our conversations during the process and made thorough notes about what we learned, from whom and when. I guess that’s not typical, but we wanted her to have firsthand sources about what the heck we were thinking at the time. (“Should history majors and public policy majors be allowed to have kids together?” Show your work.) She has a copy, and she’ll read it when she’s ready.

2) I didn’t get Ivy’s assent to tell the story about what her parents did at the time of her adoption, or since then. I don’t think children can provide meaningful consent to their parents, or anyone else, for anything. We made fun of the parents who asked their kindergartener which school he wanted to attend, because that’s ridiculous. And asking your 12 year old whether she agrees to a public, detailed account of her parents’ past actions seems equally invalid to me.

There are adoptive parents who assert that adopted children 18 and older can agree to have the parents tell their stories, and maybe they’re right. I don’t have any experience being the parent of an adult, so they know more than I do. However, from where we are now, my kid can’t think about the consequences over the coming decades for her because her capacity to consent has not developed. So seeking her agreement wasn’t on my list of concerns.

3) Privacy and security: I have deep reservations about parents using media that is tied to their kids–Facebook or the NY Times blog–to educate other parents about issues. I’ve covered up my identity, and thereby my child’s identity, to prevent this publication from being tied to her future. It was also vital to protect her previous caretakers and family from consequences, although nothing was said that reflects badly on them from my view.

Everyone described in the book is referred to with details that point away from them, because the families who I talked with over a decade didn’t agree to be featured or get a chance to correct any mistakes in my recall. In that regard, my child is simply the first and most important on a list of folks whose privacy and security deserve respect.

Is there a way for adoptive parents to talk about what we did in the process of adopting without revealing anything about the adoptee and first family? I don’t think so, not without becoming academic or investigative reporting. Kathryn Joyce’s excellent investigative work, The Child Catchers, is that book. I hope that my book, told from the inside as it happened, can be a supplement to that kind of investigated and reported volume. But it’s a personal story, with the people in it disguised as best I could.

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