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#418: The Fog of Adoption
Join us this month to discuss Larissa MacFarquhar’s outstanding article on adoption
It’s a deep, important piece, especially if you’re an adoptee or an adoptive parent. I also recommend this article if you’re unfamiliar with issues relating to adoption and if you’re interested in building your empathy.
Originally published in The New Yorker in April, the piece profiles three adoptees who have come out of “the fog,” or the denial of the trauma of being adopted. Not all adoptees have mixed or negative emotions, but many do.
They seek their birth parents but are lied to; they can’t obtain their original birth certificates; they’re told they should be happy they’re adopted when their feelings are complicated; they find the adoption system corrupt; they feel like they’re living a double life, estranged from the person they really are.
By focusing on the lives of Deanna, Joy, and Angela, the article also discusses the history and problems of three categories of adoption: invisible (or closed) adoptions, transracial adoptions, and international adoptions.
Ms. MacFarquhar writes:
“Coming out of the fog” means different things to different adoptees. It can mean realizing that the obscure, intermittent unhappiness or bewilderment you have felt since childhood is not a personality trait but something shared by others who are adopted. It can mean realizing that you were a good, hardworking child partly out of a need to prove that your parents were right to choose you, or a sense that it was your job to make your parents happy, or a fear that if you weren’t good your parents would give you away, like the first ones did. It can mean coming to feel that not knowing anything about the people whose bodies made yours is strange and disturbing. It can mean seeing that you and your parents were brought together not only by choice or Providence but by a vast, powerful, opaque system with its own history and purposes. Those who have come out of the fog say that doing so is not just disorienting but painful, and many think back longingly to the time before they had such thoughts.
Some adoptees dislike the idea of the fog, because it suggests that an adoptee who doesn’t feel the way that out-of-the-fog adoptees do must be deluded. And it’s true; many out-of-the-fog adoptees do believe that. They point out that a person can feel fine about their adoption for most of their life and then some event—pregnancy, the death of a parent—will reveal to them that they were not fine at all. But there are many others who reject this—who aren’t interested in searching for their birth parents, and think about their adoption only rarely in the course of their life.
I loved this article for many reasons. One was how much I learned. Though I have many friends who are adoptees and adoptive parents, and though I have tried to understand their experiences, I’ve remained fairly ignorant of the pain that some of them have suffered. Another reason was Ms. MacFarquhar’s compelling prose. The piece is long, but I was riveted from beginning to end because the author holds Deanna, Joy, and Angela with compassion and tells their stories directly. There’s no fluff. Every sentence is about honoring their lives and experiences.
I’d love it if you read the article and joined our discussion on December 3. It’s our last discussion of the year. If you’re interested, this is how things will go:
This week, we’ll read the article
Next week, we’ll annotate the article as a group and share our first impressions
The following week, we’ll hear from Ms. MacFarquhar in a podcast interview
On Sunday, December 3, 2:00 - 3:30 pm PT, we’ll discuss the article on Zoom
If this will be your first time participating in Article Club, I’m 100% sure you’ll find that you’ll feel welcome. We’re a kind, thoughtful reading community. Feel free to reach out with all of your questions.
Also exciting, as with all Article Club monthly selections, the author will be participating in the festivities, recording a podcast episode for your listening pleasure. Ms. MacFarquhar has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998. She has written about child-protective services, the battered-women’s movement, dementia, and hospice care, and her Profile subjects have included Barack Obama, Noam Chomsky, and David Chang, among many others. She is the author of Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help. Before joining the magazine, she was a senior editor at Lingua Franca and an advisory editor at The Paris Review, and wrote for Artforum, The Nation, The New Republic, the Times Book Review, Slate, and other publications. She has received two Front Page Awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York and the Johnson & Johnson Excellence in Media Award. Her writing has appeared in The Best American Political Writing and The Best American Food Writing.
So what do you think? Interested in reading the article and joining our discussion this month? Hope so! If you’re still a maybe, here are a few questions for you. If you’re a yes to one or more of them, you‘re a great candidate.
Are you an adoptee or an adoptive parent?
Or, Are you friends with an adoptee or adoptive parent and want to learn more about their experiences?
Do you find yourself mostly ignorant about our country’s adoption system and want to build your empathy?
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