A Perspective, But Not the Only One
by Lisa Ritter Starr
Every once in a while, I like to review a good book that is primarily about open adoption. While there aren't many of them in total, and even fewer really good ones, I'm sure I haven't found all of them worth discussing.
Actually, any of them would be worth discussing, even the so-called bad or marginal ones. Sometimes you learn the most when you step outside your comfort zone and pay attention to people or things to which it is somewhat difficult to relate. To some extent, such is the book I read most recently, The Open Adoption Book: A Guide to Adoption Without Tears, by Bruce Rappaport, Ph.D.
Two aspects about this book struck me immediately. First, I was aware that this book, in contrast with a book written by an adoptive father like The Story of David, seemed to necessitate the endorsement of a Ph.D. While an advanced degree is a sign of broad and focused knowledge on a particular subject, open adoption is not something about which book-based knowledge is primarily helpful. There is no replacement for the education that comes from personal involvement within an open adoption, which the author does not claim to have.
And yet, since this kind of adoption is still a rather obscure subject, I was sure he had some personal interest. And he does Mr. Rappaport is a father, the founder of the Independent Adoption Center in California, and has worked for years with couples facing infertility. He was, in fact, one of those couples, before he and his wife were able to conceive their daughter.
Secondly, I wondered what made the author believe that open adoption was adoption without tears. If this was how he promulgated it, how much could he really know? Open adoption is certainly preferrable in terms of healthy relationships, communication, and peace of mind, and Rappaport obviously sees that this is true from a professional and caring point of view. But by no means does it happen without tears. In fact, since the adoption is so openly discussed and dealt with, emotions are also more openly dealt with. One could say that it is the kind of adoption where you see ( operative word see) the most tears.
As for the book's general intended audience, it is adoptive or prospective adoptive couples. This is apparent first of all in the chapter headings, which include Why Adopting Healthy Infants is So Difficult, Infertility, and The Joys of Parenting. There is nothing wrong with gearing a book toward parents. The problem I have with this is that the title appears all-inclusive: The Open Adoption Book. This is especially curious since he is not a member of an open adoption triad. Perhaps something like, Open Adoption: A Guide for Parents and Parents-to-Be might have been more appropriate.
To his utmost credit, Rappaport's book is a good overview of open adoption for prospective adoptive parents. He goes in depth to discuss the benefits of this type of adoption for all involved, and his ideas were probably quite progressive for the early nineties.
The chapter titled, Birthparent Stereotypes and Realities contained some great points, and this is where his formal education comes in handy. For example, he explains that the idea that birth parents all come from broken homes is actually a stereotype. According to his observation, the majority of birth parents feel positively about their upbringing and, in choosing a couple, actually seek to emulate this upbringing for their child.
I also like how the author stresses the importance of ongoing counseling, especially for the entire birth family. I wished that my open adoption agency had stressed this, too. I received minimal-to-adequate counseling when I placed my daughter for adoption, even though the agency offers life-long counseling for birthparents. Later, other adoption counselors working for the agency explained to me that this applies strictly to adoption-related issues and is definitely not therapy. In addition, in some states the open adoption agency holds the license to practice, and so the adoption counselors themselves may not be licenced or have advanced counseling training at all.
Rappaport makes some good points, and uses a consistently caring and genuine voice thoughout the book. However, he still makes some comments and uses phrases that seem well, less than concise. In his chapter on the difficulty of adopting healthy infants, he uses the term unwanted babies in reference to children who are relinquished through adoption (13). He also makes a selling point out of the fact that the waiting period for a baby through open adoption is relatively short.
He gets a little preachy, too, offering several suggestions that the shortage of healthy babies is society's fault for making abortion and single parenting so acceptable and easy. First, I challenge the author to find a single woman on Earth who can say in all honesty that her decision to abort was acceptable and easy. I also doubt he will ever find a single parent who describes her role in those same terms.
Second, Rappaport has a right to state his subjective judgment. However, his viewpoint is a bit narrow. As an educator and an educated man, he should consider that 1) every woman's and every child's situation is unique, and 2) the elimination and/or shaming of prevalent and available choices is not going to solve the problem.
Overall, this book is informative, as long as it is not the only source of information one acquires about open adoption. It could be a good jumping-off point in learning about open adoption, especially for parents and adoptive parents-to-be.
Rappaport, Bruce M., Ph.D. The Open Adoption Book: A Guide to Adoption Without Tears. MacMillan Publishing Co., New York, NY: 1992.
Return to the Missing Pieces home page.