Sunday, July 06, 2008

Questions for Book Tour Eleven: Mistress's Daughter

Group A:

  1. How did having a daughter change her thoughts on her interactions with her biological mother?
  2. A feeling of the "subtlety of biology," a lovely aphorism, is not something that Homes necessarily welcomes. I sometimes feel that biology raps me over the head when I look at biologically-related family members. How has infertility affected our feelings about the "subtlety of biology"?
  3. Notwithstanding what happens in the book, most adoptions from the 1950s' and 60s' are closed, with birth records sealed except upon a courts' finding "good cause" to open them. In light of Homes's experiences, does this seem to be the appropriate method for handling adoption records?
  4. The author talks about searching for information on her ancestors and realized that many of the people searching were not adopted. She realized from that the question of "who am I" is not unique to adoptees. At what point in your life, have you felt the same way?
  5. When the author is first getting to know her birth parents, she finds a number of characteristics about her father appealing. Despite posing tough questions about his behavior prior to her birth and at the time of their reunion, she seems to give him a pass on many of these questions. At times she seems to side with him against her birth mother, for example with the use of the Dragon Lady designation. Years later she revisits many of these questions when a friend suggests that her birth father's behavior towards her is not new, but is, in fact, very much in character. A.M. Homes then compiles those questions and others into a searing mock deposition of her father. How did you react to the author's changing perceptions? Did you simply observe, or were you compelled to "argue" with her at some point?
  6. AM Homes seemed to have a lot of angst that she attributed to growing up as an adopted child. Is such angst inherently a part of being adopted, or rather, is having angst about ones childhood an inherent part of being a child, and adopted children simply pin their angst to being adopted while children raised by their biological parents pin their angst to whatever other issue they perceive as the "problem" of their childhood?
  7. In the book, A.M. Homes writes about being adopted into a family that had recently lost a nine year old son. She says "I always felt that my role in the family was to heal things, to make everything all right - to replace a dead boy." Grieving mothers of this generation and others, were often told to "forget about their lost child, have another one right away, move on" What, if any, of this is helpful advice and why/why not? Is this attitude something that might give a subsequent child the burden of feeling that they would not have been wanted had their sibling lived - particularly in the case of adoption, where the child was specifically chosen and might not have been otherwise?
  8. The story about Ellen's boxes and the fact that the author was unable to go through them for several years struck a cord with me as I have my own boxes that are hiding in the house waiting for unpacking. Have you experienced something similar with a project, book, or other item that plagued you with emotions that prevented you from tackling it? What was the situation? How did it resolve-- did you become zealous about something you discovered during the resolution (like the author's quest for her genealogy) or did it just all fade away?
Group B:

  1. Why do you think the author's biological father went through the DNA testing if he was still going to go along pretending she didn't exist? How did you react to that emotionally as the reader?
  2. There are several instances in the early chapters where AM is struck by references to her arrival in her adopted family as a "gift" or a "present" one that's wrapped in pink ribbon at that. As an adoptee, I too have felt somewhat commodified in my adopted parents' retelling of my arrival into the family. We waited and waited and then you were handed to us... And this is something I worry about when I think about sharing origin stories with our (hopefully, someday, maybe) child. Will they feel like they were a commodity? More so than other children? What are your thoughts on this?
  3. Genealogy -- the quest to learn more about her birth family's history -- forms a large part of the latter half of the book. On page 152, the author notes, "I remind myself that the quest to answer the question Who am I? is not unique to the adoptee." How much do you know about your own family history? Is it something that interests you? How has it influenced your decisions related to infertility treatment (if at all)?
  4. On page 150, the author says, "The desire to know oneself and one's history is not always equal to the pain the new information causes." Reading about her sometimes rocky relationship with her birth parents, I scribbled on a sticky note, "Be careful what you wish for." Whatever your views or background regarding adoption, how do you feel about disclosure in cases of adoptions that took place some years ago, when secrecy was the norm? How much openness would you personally be comfortable with in an adoption situation today?
  5. Reading the book encouraged me to think of my own family "secrets." For example, most members of my extended family want to hush up any discussion of IF, as though it's a contagious disease. Do you think that secrets strengthen a family or tear it apart and, how does your family process secrets?
  6. Our community often speaks of the injustice of the homestudy process. From our parent-in-waiting eyes, is seems incredibly unfair that some can become parents at the drop of a trou, while infertiles to have to go through the judgments by a third party of their innermost selves to prove themselves worthy. Homes' book, however, shows not the parent perspective but the adopted child's. She talks about the effects of coming into her parents' home just months after their son died, about the burden she felt to heal her family. "I grew up doused in grief." She wonders (a few times) why an agency would give her parents an infant so soon after a child had died. Does reading from the adoptee perspective change your opinion on the homestudy process? Who is responsible for making sure hopeful parents are ready to parent a child borne to others? To what degree should hopeful parents be cleared of their grief, and who should determine this? How should it be determined? Should people stuck in grief NOT pass a homestudy? How should the desires of the hopeful parents be balanced with the rights and needs of the child?
  7. AM Homes has a way of writing so distinctive, so enigmatic, that I folded myself into a chair and read the entire book in one sitting. She couldn't not know. Neither could I. Her stream of consciousness style writing had me hooked, and I read each page and kept thinking the same thing: What would it mean to me? What would I do? I am not adopted but I have often battled with that great question: Nature versus nurture. As she says on page 7 of the version I have, "I am dealing with the divide between sociology and biology: the chemical necklace of DNA that wraps around the neck sometimes like a beautiful ornament – our birthright, our history – and other times like a choke chain." How do you feel about your own birthright and DNA – is it a history or a choke chain?

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