Adopting a new view
At a time when many are thinking of family for the holiday season, some are just considering who that family might be.
Each year, November is recognized as National Adoption Awareness Month in North America — but while stories of children lost and children found have run culture-wide for centuries, local author and editor Lynne Van Luven has done her best to gather a team that could bring these tales to light.
“I can remember being a young child in Saskatchewan and there was this boy, Eugene, who was teased mercilessly at school,” Van Luven tells. “He was what we might consider a geek or a nerd these days, but none of that mattered. He was adopted by an older couple that probably couldn’t have their own kids, and so he was labeled and taunted as the ‘freak’ that no one wanted.”
Van Luven says she never knew what happened to Eugene, but that she might understand his pain now, even more than before. Somebody’s Child: Stories About Adoption will launch in Victoria on Tuesday, Nov. 29. This compilation marks Van Luven’s third in a series of anthologies about the 21st-century family, with the newest child following Nobody’s Mother and Nobody’s Father.
Van Luven, UVic Associate Dean of Fine Arts, partnered with Ontario editor Bruce Gillespie to whittle a selection of nearly a hundred submitted works down to 25 final pieces from authors across North America, including a handful from Victoria. The two also enlisted the help of the Victoria-based Choices Adoption Counselling Centre, and worked with the group through editing. Van Luven says that she learned so much through the process that often doesn’t get talked about — namely, that adoption is all around us.
“Because these issues are so complex, we saw that every story would unwrap another unique stigma around the challenge and heartache of adoption. And every story is so emotional, that it was a very difficult editing process,” says Van Luven. “You have to divorce yourself from that ‘great story’ and tell yourself, yes, we already have one like this — let’s get another side.”
With stories flooding in from all angles of adoption, the final 25 range from the classic young woman forced to give up her baby to the child who is always looking for an unknown face in the crowd, to the gay parent, the sibling dynamics and more. While a lot has changed over the decades, she says, teasing still exists, and children still have to fight stigmas, sometimes on their own.
Van Luven started her series with Nobody’s Mother after enduring criticism in her personal life for choosing not to have children. Just as with the most recent anthology, writing poured in from like-minded women (then from men in Nobody’s Father) who shared Van Luven’s battles, sorrows and steadfastness. While Van Luven has no direct experience with adoption herself, readers and other writers were begging for the chance to tackle the topic. When the editors put out the call for submissions nearly two years ago, the response was tremendous. She adds, however, this will be the last of the series.
“I think I had this idea that adoption was a neutral subject in 2011, but, in fact, it is so political,” says Van Luven. “We might not think of adoption as a taboo subject anymore, but it is still very hard to deal with in our culture, and that’s part of the reason there is still so much secrecy that seems to linger around it — whether in people’s feelings about the issues, or in their own understanding of where they came from.”
Van Luven discovered the politics around adoption language, like “natural” versus “birth” parent, and found that many people only have to look back one generation to see that there were adoptions, even unknown ones, in their own family lines. She also learned about the emotional tension that comes from children seeking out their biological parents, including feelings of betrayal and support, and then what happens when those parents turn out to be less than children hope.
“We take it for granted that we can look at family photos, or even black-and-white pictures of our great grandparents and know where we came from, but there is a huge loss there for those who cannot,” says Van Luven. “One woman wrote, after meeting her natural mom, ‘I am finally free now, because I know what you look like. I no longer have to scan the crowds, wondering if that’s you.’” M
The launch for Somebody’s Child: Stories About Adoption will take place Tuesday, Nov. 29, 7 p.m. at Choices Adoption Counselling Centre (#100 - 850 Blanshard). Readings and discussion will take place.