NPR’s Scott Simon Discusses Adoption on Fresh Air

NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon was interviewed on WHYY’s Fresh Air.  He discussed his new book “Baby We Were Meant for Each Other,” and his experiences with adoption.  He and his wife adopted their seven year old Elise when she was eleven months old, and their four year old daughter Lina when she was seven months old from China.

It came as no surprise to me that the person talking about adoption, was an adoptive parent.  As always, it appears as though adoptive parents are the only “authorities” on adoption.  I come back to this same problem every time I hear a program on adoption.  Why aren’t adoptees being called on to discuss their experiences?  There are professors, researchers, artists, musicians, and poets who all have incredibly interesting stories to tell and who are professionals with opinions on adoption that go beyond the merely personal.

There are three topics I’d like to address with this post.  First, I will look at adoption, assimilation rhetoric, and the “magic” of the familial integration.  Second, I want to discuss a few things related to how Mr. Simon and his wife have decided to parent their children.  And third, I will discuss the politics of racial identity.

As with most of my posts, I want to first start by saying that this is not meant to be slander, nor is it meant to be malicious by any means.  The point of posts such as these, and the point of all my posts on my blog, are to discuss representations of adoption in the media, and the often overlooked discussions of race and identity for transracial adoptees.  Whether you are an adoptee, adoptive parent, member of the triad, or any other concerned individual, this post is meant to inspire dialogue.

For as long as I can remember, adoptive parents have talked about their child(ren)’s first moments with them as being instantaneous and almost magical.  “That first moment was magical.  We knew, that s(he) was ours.”  In so many ways, adoptive parents want their child(ren) to feel as though they were meant for each other.  I do believe that these sort of narratives can gloss over some of the more important details that are occurring to an adoptee that are invisible to adoptive parents.

Some parents recount their experiences saying how the transition was seemless, or minimal at most.  The effects of adoption on the adoptee are often dismissed as children are perceived to be “fitting in,” to their new environments.  There is no discussion of trauma, since many who adopt children believe this to be the least traumatic experience for a child.  I’m no expert on child psychology, so I can’t speak to this last point much.  But I can say that, adoption can be very traumatic.

I’ve met many adoptees who were adopted later in their lives – some are four, five or even six years old when they are adopted.  So many of them have completely lost all memories of their homelands.  Most are completely devoid of any bilingual language capabilities that they once had.  Think of it this way.  What sort of moment in your life could be so traumatic that you push all memories of it out of your mind permanently?  Adoption is no easy thing for an adoptee, regardless of age, I have to believe that even young children can sense these things in one way or another.

At one point Mr. Simon said “she immediately became our child.”  No doubt, she became your daughter at that very moment.  However, I would urge Mr. Simon to not forget that she will forever be not just your daughter, but her birth mother’s daughter too.  Continue to celebrate her life in China as much as you do in the U.S.  Too often, I hear about adoptive parents who celebrate the day they arrived in the U.S. with out any concept of the life they lived or lost before they were adopted.

I do want to point something out which I found encouraging in Mr. Simon’s interview.  He stated that he and his wife wish to provide their daughters with as much of their heritage as possible so that they can make their own decisions for themselves later in life.  These things may not necessarily be relevant to them now, but it is important to present these aspects of themselves as important parts of them that should be available to them early on.  Simon is referring to a Chinese school that both his daughter are enrolled in over the summer that teaches Mandarin, Chinese cooking and cultural celebrations.  Now, I can’t speak to the quality of these things but I do think it is encouraging to hear that they have considered the importance of making these things available to their children at an early age.  He and his wife even went as far as attempting to only hire Chinese babysitters for their daughters.

Finally, I wanted to comment on a particular comment I found confusing towards the end of the interview.  Mr. Simon said that he does not believe it is healthy for one to confuse identity with ethnicity.  I think that the word ‘ethnicity’ has become a code word for race more recently.  Some folks balk at using the word ‘race’ when referring to their adoptee children, especially when they are Asian.  However, I think it is incredibly important to acknowledge this.  He says that his daughters are aware of the fact that they are Chinese.  They will be made VERY aware of what it means to be Chinese American, Asian American and how this collides with their identities as young women soon enough.  And I believe that this can not and should not be left out of the conversation.  Race, whether we like it or not, is part of the American subconsciousness.  Children are exposed to this at a very young age through television, the media, the other children they are surrounded by as they grow up.

These conversations need to happen.  I’m partially encouraged by some of the things Mr. Simon had to say.  However, there is so much left to change.  I would encourage Mr. Simon to consider helping change the all too common adoption narrative to one that encourages and embraces the opinions and perspectives of adult adoptees.  For the most part, adoptive parents are the ones given the microphone to talk about their experiences and frame how adoption is talked about in the media.  Adult adoptees are an important part of the equation since your child won’t be a child forever.  I would love for there to be an NPR program that includes adult adoptee scholars, writers, educators, bloggers etc.  Our voices are out there, but for the most part, we’re not listened to or honored as much as yours.  As adoptive parents, and as reporters and journalists I hope you’ll consider our voices as important as your own and give us opportunities to be a part of the dialogue.

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13 Comments on “NPR’s Scott Simon Discusses Adoption on Fresh Air

  1. It’s interesting, because I feel like the Fresh Air interview with Mr. Simon was much less problematic (especially re: honoring his children’s culture) than his comments on a segment on Morning Edition. Some of the things he is quoted as saying there seem to contradict what he said on Fresh Air: for example:

    “But not everyone sees it that way. Simon says he was shocked when a friend asked Caroline if she felt guilty for taking her daughters away from their native culture: “My wife just answered, ‘No, not really.’ I think I would have had a tougher time holding my tongue.””

    There has been a lively discussion in the comments to that segment regarding this statement as well as the unfortunate title, and Mr. Simon has weighed in, in ways that don’t suggest he’s listening very hard.

  2. Interesting. Thanks for mentioning this Julia. I didn’t get a chance to hear him interviewed on Morning Edition. I will have to take a look at these comments. GS

  3. Pingback: Transracial Adoption from the Adoptee’s Point of View : Asian-Nation : Asian American News, Issues, & Current Events Blog

  4. I heard one of the interviews, was slapped by the title of the book, and read quite a few blogs entries… so I got the book and read it. The limited time of interviews and the specific choice of excerpts to print don’t do Simon justice.

  5. Adoptees ARE the experts and need to keep speaking out until they are HEARD! We need more Trenkas and Hubenettes!

    Adoptees – even those adopted as newborns – experience trauma of separation and loss. Newborns are separated from the voice, smell and rhythm they experienced prenatally. The trauma is imprinted as pre-verbal emotions. For older children the loss is immeasurable. They help to verbalize these emotions and “permission” to grieve.

    Adoptive parents, however, are to often totally wrapped up in their own joy and in deep denial that their joy is on the heels of others’ loss. They want to pretend their child’s life began at the moment they “got” them! Some celebrate “gotcha day.”

    Adoption is built on that pretense that it is “the same as” birthing a child and all states collude in this with a government seal of approval by issuing falsified birth certificates that say so.

    Then on top of the Primal Wound and trauma of separation and loss is the whole charade which makes adoptees feel like they are living in the Matrix or being Jim Carey in the Truman Show. There’s an unspoken truth everyone else knows but you. Especially with parents that believe they are ‘color blind” which is nothing but a euphemism for having white privilege and being blind to the pain of being non-white in their world.

    Please continue to speak truth to power!

    As a mother who suffered the loss of a child to adoption, I take great exception to the title of Scott Simon’s book and the belief that any child and his original family was “meant” or fated or destined to suffer such great loss for another’s pleasure. It is an arrogant, self-absorbed and quite frankly offensive and insensitive display of entitlement. As if the whole word revolves around them and their child exists to please them. What a weight that is to the child!

  6. It’s interesting. My kids (one adopted, one not) are of the same “ethnicity” as me (Indian) – but we chose, for various unrelated reasons, to raise them overseas. I say overseas, because they spent their childhoods in various countries – including India (our original one), the US, and Singapore. One kid has chosen a wholly US identity, the other a Indo-American one – but has taken US nationality and is engaged to an American person. Parents can expose kids to these things, but a lot depends on the kids’ peer group – and on the kids’ choice of peer-group. My two kids were in the same places and the same schools, but they selected different elements from them.

  7. Hi Mirah – Sorry about that, of course you may repost this if you want.

    GS

  8. I am just able to follow up on some comments left several months ago. I think someone above points out that my book certainly does features the views of and several vignettes of adoptees. I am a little amazed that people infer so much from the title. I think it is clear to others that this is a romantic expression that people use when they are in love. I say it to my wife. Bogey said it to Lauren Bacall. It should not offend anyone. I know that our daughters were “made” for and by someone else, and honor them. But it most follow that the two people who “made” them came together by a unique and unpredictable sense of circumstances, which I also do not confuse with predestination. In the end, all children belong to the world in any case.

    Scott Simon

  9. Dear Mr. Simon,

    I really appreciate your comments and I’m happy that you found my post. As I attempt to do with my posts which discuss some of the strengths and limitations of representations of adoption in the media, I hope you’ll understand that these posts are meant to inspire dialogue and not hate.

    I do appreciate your reflection on the title. The unfortunate reality is that often publishers want snappy titles and that can certainly impinge upon an author’s creativity.

    I would also like to point out that I do understand how see my view point as representing only a “few” adoptee vignettes, but there are MANY of us who see eye-to-eye on these issues. The biggest point I try to make is that adoptees are never called on to discuss adoption. We are more the “objects” and less the “subjects” on a topic which defines our very existences. I value the opinions of adoptive parents such as yours because I do think they raise awareness around issues related to adoption. What I do hope is that you consider including adult adoptees voices should you ever notice another opportunity to talk about adoption on NPR. I realize this was your family and personal story, so I do understand it doesn’t necessarily warrant bringing adult adoptees into the picture. I just hope that our opinions are valued just as much as yours as rightful members of the adoption triad.

    I also appreciate your sensitivity to birth families. I know that it’s never easy for adoptive parents to acknowledge the circumstances that have brought their children into their families. However, it is oh so critical for us to know that you respect the lives of our birth families.

    Finally, I hope you’ll understand that this post was also a call to action to acknowledge the challenges that transracial adoptees face growing up and to embrace them wholeheartedly. As you begin your journey I hope that you will take some time to familiarize yourself with some literature provided by other adoptive parents, and adult adoptees. Here are a few books I would recommend should you decide to invest in further understanding how adoption affects your daughter and your family.

    Outsiders Within
    Beyond Good Intentions
    The Primal Wound
    The Language of Blood
    Fugitive Visions
    Once They Hear My Name

    I could literally go on and on for days on books. I’m sure my fellow adoptees will have other suggestions as well. Thanks again for your reflections.

    GS

  10. the book title is problematic in the same way it is problematic to say “put up for adoption.” we can claim naivete by saying it is simply a “romantic expression” but in the context of adoption it is not just a romantic expression. it is a dominant discourse that is used to deny the realities of the marginalized and oppressed.

    http://www.orphantraindepot.com/OrphanTrainExperience.html

  11. Dear Mr. Simon,
    So I have been thinking about your comment, children belong to the world and while I think I can understand the care and concern behind it, I feel that it is a vastly over simplified way of characterizing a child’s place in the world and the role of international adoption. The title, even if you didn’t intend it to, oversimplifies adoption as well. Moreover, some of the passages from the book on the role of bribery glaze over all of the real and documented concerns (some of which have been reported on NPR) of child trafficking associated with transnational adoption. For example, on page 32 you write, “We didn’t mind slipping an envelope to some apparatchick with an open palm (I am Chicagoan after all) but after all of our frustrations in the lab, we couldn’t bear making room in our hearts and then returning empty handed.”

    One of the problems with international adoption is that there are those who take advantage of the longing of (comparatively) wealthy Americans and Western Europeans who just want to become parents. But often the consequences of these actions are overlooked because parents “didn’t mind slipping an envelope” to someone.

    I think that adoption is a story that can be told in the macro and the micro. On the micro level, for the most part, it works out. Families love each other. Parents adore their children; they give them extra sprinkles on their hot chocolate. But on the macro level, adoption symbolizes of some huge power inequities. And perhaps most of all, it does encompass some serious losses (as the original blogger underscores from writings from adult adoptees). As a journalist, I would have hoped that you would have delved into this more, beyond including some”‘vignettes.”

    This is in no means an attack on adoptive families (I am from one by the way), but it is a critique of the book.

  12. I so enjoyed Scott Simon’s post back when he first adopted his baby girl and the beautiful song, Moon River–which he sang Pearl River, as he brought his little girl to a new beginning!! Loved it and still think of it!!

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