Canadian Council of Natural Mothers' Library

Transparent: Seeing Through the Legacy of Adoption

Gary Coles

It's difficult to write a good review of this very fine book. First of all, unlike a novel, one can't simply summarize the story. This book is a collection of essays, and summarizing them all would require a book to do properly. Better to simply suggest you purchase the book and read it all yourself. This book is a fine one to have in one's library for three reasons:
1. It treats the effects of adoption equally on the three family members who lose one another: the mother, the father and the individual who is adopted. It makes the parallels between the three family members very clearly.
2. It gathers together a great deal of information on adoption effects from a variety of sources, and offers opinions and information on a wide variety of adoption-related issues and topics.
3. It is well written.

Other books exist which treat the effects on mothers who lose children to adoption (The Other Mother, BirthBond, Adoption and Loss). Nancy Verrier and Evelyn Robinson, among others, deal with the effects on those adopted. Very few books examine the psychology of fathers who lose children to adoption. In fact, natural fathers are often ignored. Gary Coles' previous book, Ever After, and another Australian, Rohan McEnor in Rebecca's Law, are among the first book length works to examine how fathers respond to losing their children to adoption. This book summarizes what little else there is on fathers who lose their children to adoption, including Michelle Stromberg's thesis on the topic from the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, Canada and other such sources which may not be easily available.

This book's essays explore in more depth and go beyond what Coles has written in his previous book. It is divided into five sections: Being there, Pain and prejudice, Cut to the core, Separation and integration and To spread our wings. The first section recapitulates Coles' journey as a father who's lost his child to adoption, not so much in story as in thought pieces. The third and fourth sections contain essays that investigate both the external view of the effects of adoption and the view from inside adoption looking out. The fourth section provides a deep, referenced consideration of the damage of adoption. The final section looks to the future. It examines the paths to healing.

Being There
The first two essays tell in brief Coles' story of losing his son. They do not replace the story told in Ever After, but allow the reader of this book to understand his viewpoint and background so that if the reader has not read the previous book, he or she is not locked out of understanding. The fifth essay, My vote on the veto, would be particularly useful for anyone involved in seeking to open adoption records. Typically a few individuals who wish to hide behind adoption secrecy argue for various vetoes. In this essay, Coles examines the pitfalls of these vetoes and how they are easily misunderstood and cause more difficulties than they solve. People who place vetoes seek to protect their denial, not their privacy or confidentiality, Coles argues. It's worth buying the book to see how he lays this argument out. Other essays in this section show Coles' personal development in reaction to adoption loss.

Pain and Prejudice
This section examines many issues related to adoption today. The first essay examines Father's Day and what it means for fathers who've lost a child to adoption. No support is publicly offered fathers on that day, though this sometimes does happen for mothers. Coles goes on to discuss briefly the fact that fathers who've lost children to adoption also suffer, as do their mothers.

The saccharine view looks at media views of adoption. Coles has collected views of adoption through several years, showing the positive media portrayals which completely ignore the true effects on families devastated by the loss of their children. One of the joys of this book is Coles' careful use of language. In Disturbing adoption, Coles plays with all the 'dis' words in adoption. It's a clever essay making a clear point about the disturbing outcomes of adoption loss. He plays with word roots in many places, illuminating their deeper meanings in doing so.

Motherless child examines how the loss of his parents affected Eric Clapton's life. It covers the discovery of his informal adoption by his grandmother, Rose, through the death of his son, ? to contact with Ruth, the daughter of whom he was previously unaware. Clapton's insights on family loss can inform our understanding of adoption.

Cut to the Core
This section of the book explores the impact of adoption. Two loaded words starts with the words 'abandonment' and 'rejection' to see how these play out in the lives of those cut by adoption. The next two essays similarly start with 'secrecy/denial' and 'honesty.' Each essay discusses psychological effects within natural and adoptive families from these constructs. Down with secrecy and denial is a truly excellent essay describing how secrecy and denial, so central to closed adoption, augment the damage caused by the adoption loss. In the final essay, Where have all the birth fathers gone?, Coles seeks to understand the invisibility of many natural fathers, indicating their possible psychology and how they also have been silenced to support the institution of adoption

Separation and Integration
The three essays in this section form a core to the book, detailing Coles' views on adoption effects, and balancing the treatment of adoption loss on all three members of the family. Fathers have never heretofore been accorded equal place to mothers and those adopted. The middle long essay, The long and wounding road, deals with core issues in adoption loss, such as loss, grief, denial, anger, guilt/shame, fear (of intimacy, of rejection and of being controlled and of losing control), trust, identity, self and reunion. In this essay, you get a clear, succinct analysis of the core issues in relation to the research on them and their effects on natural family members. Coles' discussion here draws on previous research, but goes beyond with his own understandings as well. The book is worth reading for this essay alone, and it's an excellent introduction for those new to considering the effects of adoption loss. The final essay in this section, Love's labour's lost, is the only treatment at length of interactions between mothers and fathers at the time of reunion with their offspring that I have seen. It's balanced and interesting, not the least because reunion with the adult lost to adoption inevitably brings thoughts and sometimes contact again between parents who were so frequently separated at the loss of their infant.

To Spread Our Wings

The fifth and final section looks to the future in its essays, and looks to healing the damage caused by adoption. In order to heal, Coles believes that openness, honesty and dialogue among family members promote healing. Pretence, artifice and hiding the truth are detrimental to personal growth. However, at the policy level, often little has been learned from the failed social experiment that is closed adoption.

Wither adoption begins the discussion of the future of adoption. Open adoption, its often empty promises, and the dislocation of inter-country adoption are examined. Coles notes that social workers and those who profit from adoption rarely check back after receiving their fees to see if their actions have had positive consequences for the parents and children who are so affected by their separation. Coles ends on a positive note with Recommendations for living an authentic life. This is wisdom gleaned from his life and readings, and has many suggestions worth considering.

This book will be of use to all who have an honest and serious interest in the effects of adoption on all members of the natural family. Because of its balanced viewpoint, it is particularly appropriate for prospective adopters, social workers and other adoption facilitators. They should know the damage that they participate in or cause.

Many of the essays are suitable as short pieces to offer to others in discussions about particular aspects of adoption's effects. All the essays are thoughtful and considered. They express sometimes terrible truths in calm language, and thus may have more effect on those who don't want to hear than some more radical treatments of the same topics may have. This is an excellent addition to the literature on the effects of adoption.

Reviewed by Sandra Falconer Pace

(2005) Australia: Mermerus Books
ISBN 1-921019-13-1
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