People who have no experience with adoption might get the impression from the news or TV that it is always a drama worthy of Hollywood or at least a made-for-TV movie.
Yes, there are cases like the Baby Veronica custody battle, a story that could easily inspire a Hollywood tearjerker. The Baby Veronica saga is exceptional.
The Cradle, an adoption agency in Evanston, Illinois, tries to set the record straight about adoption. I talked to The Cradle’s Joan Jaeger about the agency’s Volunteers for Adoption Education program.
Lynne: What do the volunteers do?
Joan: The volunteers are a group of people who have been personally touched by adoption — birth parents, adoptive parents or adopted people. Some high schools bring us back every year, even twice a year. We have some teachers who have written us into their curriculum. We’ve gone to one of the community colleges, too. On occasion, we’ll go to a junior high school.
We share a little bit about what adoption is and the personal stories from the volunteers. We always try to have all three parties to the adoption together (the adoptee, the adoptive parent and the birth parent), either live or through YouTube. If any one is not there in person, we pull up our YouTube channel, pick our play lists and hear from the person who is not there in the classroom. It fills in those blanks.
When someone is telling their personal story, it can make a huge difference in a student’s life. Those are the comments we get back from teachers, how helpful it was to hear straight from the mouths of people who’ve lived through the experience.
Lynne: How many volunteers do you have?
Joan: Probably 60 to 70 active volunteers.
Lynne: How long has The Cradle been doing this?
Joan: Over 30 years.
Lynne: Why is this programming necessary?
Joan: Adoption is one of those things everyone thinks they know about. You ask them basic questions and find out what they know is based on a made-for-TV movie or MTV. That’s not the typical reality. It’s helpful to share this information. It’s helpful for adopted people to be in the classroom to have their experiences validated. It’s helpful for anybody to better understand the reality.
Lynne: Why do school children need to know about adoption?
Joan: The MTV shows target them. Things get overglamorized in the press. Some things get twisted in a way that isn’t real.
Lynne: Is there a lot of misinformation out there?
Joan: Oh sure. For example, there are some odd ideas about what open adoption is. People have this perception it is joint custody or co-parenting. It’s not.
Lynne: What do students ask?
Joan: One common question our adoptees get is, “Don’t you have a lot of questions about your real mom? When did you find out you were adopted?” It’s interesting the kinds of questions they get like the “real” mom question. The person who’s been raising the (adoptee) is as real as anyone else. For your average adoptee, adoption is simply part of who they are.
Lynne: What are some other common questions?
Joan: (For adoptive parents), “Aren’t you worried the birth mom will come back and take the baby?” In real life, that almost never happens. Whenever there’s a contested adoption, it gets a lot of play in the media because it’s unusual. The one story in a million becomes the news. People assume that’s the norm and not the exception.