“Give backs” are for bad holiday gifts, not for children.

There are few things that truly make me lose it, but sensational media coverage of adoption is one of those things.  So bear with me as I explain my visceral reaction to the recent story of Anita Tedaldi, a mother who “gave back” her toddler son after only 18 months following his adoption, and why I was confounded that more people seemed to give her sympathy rather than asking how she could go from someone who openly criticized parents who would do that to being a mother who not only disrupted the adoption of her son, but also sought out the bright light of media attention after having done so.

For me, it’s this simple — there are no “give backs” when it comes to our children, no matter how they came into our families.  My husband and I are lucky to be the parents of the fabulous PunditGirl (nine going on 30!).  We adopted her from China almost nine years ago.


Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you

We thought we were prepared.  We dealt with a fabulous agency who made sure we knew that a good number of children adopted from institutions often have attachment and other emotional issues.  We read.  We listened.  We talked.  Mr. PunditMom already had experience as a dad to two biological daughters.  We thought we were ready.

We so weren’t.

To many people, PunditGirl presented as a very easy, outgoing, confident child (and she still does).  But she has always had serious underlying anxiety and attachment issues, which I’ve written about once in a while.  To say that spending years as a family in attachment therapy was challenging, hard work would be an understatement.  Not to mention the years of night terrors that PunditGirl experienced, my self-diagnosed depression that I was in denial about and all the times I wondered whether there was something I had done (or not done) that had contributed to her mental state, her worries and her fears.

So I understand that there can be difficult issues that arise in adoptions.  But once PunditGirl was our daughter, she was our daughter.  Period. And it was our job as her parents to make sure we did whatever we could humanly do to help her with whatever she needed.

Thankfully, today she is attached to our hips!  As for the anxiety, I think it will always be there and will be something she will have to learn to manage.  She still worries that if we get angry we will leave and in her own fourth-grade way she’s never quite sure if people who say they are her friends really are her friends — she truly believes they might just pick up and leave.

PunditGirl may not have have been “borned from me” as she used to say, but when we signed the papers stating, in English and Chinese, “Said minor child shall be [your] adopted child, with all the rights and privileges as though she had been born to [you] … that’s what we meant.  We didn’t mean in case there are no problems.  We didn’t mean we’d keep her until the road got rocky.  We meant we would be there for her and love her forever.

I’m not the only one who’s had a hard time managing their outrage over Tedaldi’s story of terminating the adoption of her son because, as she put it, he wasn’t “bonding” with her family.  The online international adoption community has been quite outspoken.  And in an e-mail, a friend of mine who is also a parent by adoption and biology reflected:

Parenting a child who was adopted  — one who was not a tiny infant at the time of adoption — is not the same as parenting biological children.  It’s requires different strategies and different thinking and great patience.

I understood that I was going to have to change my whole approach the first time I tried to comfort a weeping O. and found that nothing I did could comfort her.  I was used to being the main person to comfort our children, to picking up crying children, patting, stroking and murmuring love words to them and knowing that they would settle in to me and settle down.  But this was not the case with O. — I was the stranger who took her away from someone she loved.

I decided to be with O. “as if” we had a perfect attachment from day one even though that was not the case.  And I also decided that I would wait out the hard times in hopes of good times.

And because of that, one of the best moments in my life was when O. realized I was her mother.  Every time I think of it, it brings tears to my eyes.  But it was entirely different than my experience with my other children — just as wonderful and amazing, but different.

Apparently there was a time when Tedaldi felt the same way I do.  In 2008, Tedaldi wrote a piece entitled, We Can’t Give Back our Children or Husbands, criticizing a Dutch couple who had terminated the adoption of their Korean-born daughter (the site where it was originally posted, Military.com, has taken down that piece, but it’s excerpted here).

No child is perfect. And just because some children come to us through biology rather than adoption doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be seriously hard issues sometimes.  Maybe all the time.  Call me judgmental, but I don’t believe there is any reason to “give back” a child —  for me this is one of the few life issues that isn’t gray, but is black and white.

Rachel beach

Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you

You can be sure that if the story that ran in the New York Times and on the Today show had been exactly the same, but Tedaldi’s son had been her biological child, we would still be hearing the negative outcry from parents around the world.  But apparently because Tedaldi’s son was adopted, many have expressed sympathy for her situation, some actually praising her for being brave.

The media often jump at stories that sensationalize families who are something other than a traditional biological family.  But aside from the fascination with stories like Tedaldi’s, I have to wonder why she even chose to go public?  It had to be hard for everyone involved.  Her husband apparently did not want her to reveal their saga and I’m sure her biological children are getting questions from others.  And how must her son’s new family be dealing with what I have to assume was extreme unwanted attention?

Who does this story help other than news outlets who like uber-sensational tales that will boost ratings and readership?  Well, it might help Tedaldi herself — it turns out, she’s writing a parenting book that’s due out this spring.  At least one person has told me I’m the overly-cynical one for even suggesting that Tedaldi’s new book is remotely related to her decision to come out and tell this story.  Maybe I am.  But I’m just saying that for some things, no publicity is bad publicity, and she’s now on the radar of high profile media outlets.  We can each draw our own conclusions as to her motivations.

My family is my family.  It’s not any worse, or any better, than others because our daughter came to us through adoption rather than biology.  I’m not any less of a parent and PunditGirl isn’t any less of a daughter. Since November is Adoption Awareness Month, I’d love to see more coverage of adoption that doesn’t  suggest that there’s something unnatural about it or that it’s not as permanent as biological relationships.  I know things will be better when I see stories where writers stop describing families in terms of their blood relations.  The New York Times and the Today Show can start there anytime.