Newest affinity group focuses on adoption education | University Times

By SUSAN JONES

Pitt’s latest affinity group hopes to bring together people from all sides of adoption, including adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents.

Part of the genesis of the group “was the feeling that people who are in adopted families have experiences that others don’t understand and that it’s helpful for us to share with each other and also that we can educate other people,” said Marianne Novy , professor emerita of English.

The group — Pitt Adoption Community for Education — is less about emotional support and more focused on the study and discussion of adoption and the issues that surround it, said Libby Ferda, a part-time faculty member in English who was adopted as a young child .

Novy, who was adopted as an infant in 1945, said the idea started to take form when she heard a panel presentation by adult adoptees, organized by the Adoption Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, and they all “talked about how great it was when they finally got into a community of adoptees.”

Then she realized how much education was needed about adoption when she heard Amy Coney Barrett testify during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and “she talked about how simple it was to just drop your baby off at a safe haven place. And then the child would be adopted and everything would be fine and you wouldn’t have to worry about anything to do with your child ever after,” Novy said. “And this showed so much incomprehension — even though she is an adoptive parent herself — about the experience of adoptees and the experiences of many birth mothers. And for that matter of adoptive parents who are really serious about considering their children’s feelings.”

A panel discussion at the 2021 Diversity Forum focused on combating oppression for transracial adoptees, and found all of the people who had questions in the chat were adoptive parents.

“This made me feel that adoptive parents really also needed to have a community,” Novy said. “Very often they need to get education from people who have been through the experience from the other side and from experienced adoptive parents.”

Another member of the organizing group is Christina Newhill, a social work professor who has an adoptive daughter from Vietnam. She has done some research with one of her former doctoral students, Jayashree Mohanty, on the psychosocial adjustment of international adoptees and on findings from a survey of 100 internationally adopted Asian adolescents and young adults.

Novy also has spent some of her career contributing to the scholarly works on adoption. In 1999, she co-founded the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture — the only organization studying adoption that includes the humanities. She also has written one book on the topic, “Reading Adoption: Family and Difference in Fiction and Drama” (University of Michigan Press, 2007) and edited another, “Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture” (University of Michigan Press, 2004).

She started a mini-elective in the School of Medicine to talk to medical caregivers about adoption and how it affects families and can have implications for health.

The Pitt Adoption Community for Education first met in December. “We started out with the idea that we would do some reading and discuss the reading,” Novy said.

The first book they read was a memoir by one of the group’s members, “Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe” by Lori Jakiela, a professor of English and creative writing at Pitt-Greensburg. The book recounts Jakiela’s search for her birth mother coupled with the story of her own motherhood.

At its next meeting on April 22, the group will discuss “American Bastard” by Jan Beatty, director of creative writing at Carlow University. A description of the book said it, “sandblasts the exaltation of adoption in Western culture and the myth of the ‘chosen baby.’ ”

After that they’ll read “American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption” by journalist Gabrielle Glaser, about a teenager who was forced to give up her son in the early 1960s and their search to find each other . It tackles issues around the adoption industry and the secrecy that once surrounded it.

Novy said in her own situation, she didn’t find out she was adopted until she was 5 and was told, “Other people won’t understand this, so don’t talk about it. And that’s why I’m talking about it now.” In her 30s, Novy found her birth mother and met her seven half-brothers.

She and Ferda said the group also hopes to serve as mentors to students who are adoptees. “College is kind of a time when you’re out of your parents’ home and you’re kind of thrust into … to a new part of your life,” Ferda said. “I think it’s a time when people might be exploring more about adoption or their identity.”

They are looking at presenting film screenings and other events open to the public. The group also will discuss current trends and legislation surrounding adoption to help educate themselves and others.

Anyone interested in joining the group can contact Novy at mnovy@pitt.edu or Ferda at libertyferda@gmail.com.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times and also an adoptive parent. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.

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