Chronicling the at-times bumpy journey to his son, Russell Elkins takes the reader on a memorable one as well in Open Adoption, Open Heart. Starting with an unflinching glimpse of his and his wife’s challenges with conception to a false start that reminds readers that life will unfold as it will, Elkins tackles the aspects of adoption that are often shrouded by the main event of bringing home baby–aspects that are all-too-familiar to adoptive parents: familial complications, paternal rights, guilt and angst. Written in a clear, concise style, this book offers a much-needed and too-often quiet voice of an adoptive father. But perhaps most importantly, Elkins is able in just a little over 100 pages to demystify and de-stigmatize open adoption, showcasing the benefits while acknowledging the challenges. He writes: “The relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents is not a natural one. It’s not instilled inside us as human beings to naturally want to share parenthood with someone else” (62). What Elkins shows us is that when a child’s well-being and happiness are stake we are fully capable of doing better than the dictates of human nature. And that–in addition to this inspiring story–should give us all hope.
Interview with Russell Elkins:
SH: The title of your book will immediately attract those whose lives are touched by adoption. What do you feel your book offers to readers who may not be part of an adoptive family or part of the adoption community?
RE: One thing I quickly realized when my wife and I were going through our first adoption was that adoption had changed dramatically over just the last few years. Most people don’t know what adoption is like now just like my wife and I didn’t know before. There are all kinds of adoptions now, and having the adoption be really “open” like ours is really common–now more the norm than the exception. Just a few years ago it wasn’t even an option.
Not only that, but who doesn’t love reading a true story? My intention in writing this book wasn’t just to educate people thinking about adopting. It was to take everybody willing along for the ride we went on with all the emotions as well as the intense details of the story. I don’t really have a way to keep the numbers of who has bought it and who hasn’t, but I’d be willing to guess that about half of the people who have read it aren’t directly connected to adoption.
SH: There are countless misconceptions about open adoption. What do you feel are the most significant misconceptions and what would you say to clear up those misconceptions?
RE: For adoptive parents, I’d say the greatest misconception is that you just fill out some paperwork, write a check, and wait for someone to bring a baby to your front step. Wrong! There are a lot of emotions that go along with it–the guilty feeling that accompanies receiving a gift from someone who is hurting from their sacrifice, the evolution of the relationship with biological parents, or even having a relationship with them at all. There are a lot of things to sort through, and just making decisions without educating yourself is asking for a disaster.
For birth parents, people tend to think about birth parents like they’re unfit to parent, on drugs, too immature, etc. It’s just not true. There are a billion different reasons to place a child for adoption, but one thing they all have in common is a willingness to think beyond themselves to what the child needs. Birth parents love their child enough to make that tough decision, something that immaturity and unfit/unloving people could not do.
SH: You maintain a relationship with your children’s birth mothers, and the title of your book implies that to do so requires an open heart. What have been the most significant challenges you experienced in negotiating these relationships?
RE: There is a popular saying (and a few variations of it) that says: They are parents in a way we are not. We are parents in a way they are not. Together we are parenthood.
Now, open adoption is not the same as co-parenting. We don’t get any parenting advice from the birth parents about how to raise our children. That’s not what it’s about. On the other hand, there are things that the biological parents are to our children that we will never be. At first that’s was a hard pill to swallow–being willing to have a relationship with them when we knew we weren’t the sole people responsible for their lives. But we’ve not just come to terms with what we’re not, we’ve learned to embrace the things we are. We are parents through adoption and we’re so incredibly proud of that fact that it doesn’t matter to us anymore in the least bit what we’re not. Those things disappeared. We embrace our roles.
SH: It seems that many of the voices writing today about adoption–whether in scholarly sources or in popular publications–are female. As a male writer among many women, where do you find your inspiration and what is it that compels you to write?
RE: When I was in college I used to have to write so much that it was a chore. Now, though, it’s my recreation time. I love to just flip the right-brained switch and write– whether it’s writing a fictional novel, writing a song, a blog post, or adoption writings.
And yes, men writing about adoption is pretty rare. In fact, even before I’d signed a contract with Aloha Publishing I started to blog about adoption and it took less than two weeks before I started to get emails and phone calls from people wanting me to join up with them. I write for http://www.adoption.com and Adoption Voices Magazine among other smaller things. My inspiration just comes from knowing that I so strongly feel that the world needs to hear what I, and people like me, have to say. That’s all the push I need.
SH: You self-published this book through Aloha Publishing. How would you characterize your experience in this arena and what advice would you offer to aspiring writers about the world of self-publishing and marketing?
RE: Everyone’s heard of self publishing and traditional publishing (big publisher publishing). A lot don’t realize that there are a variety of publishers in between the two. Aloha is one of those–often called partner publishing, which could mean different things to different companies. I chose Aloha because of the quality of books I saw them put out as well as my own ability to keep my hand on my own work. Like with a traditional publisher, I did have to submit a manuscript and proposal. I met the CEO of Aloha at a writing convention and submitted it to her there. My manuscript was one of just two selected out of about 60 submitted that week. Ultimately, even though I was working with a company, all the decisions had to be okayed by me. That was important to me. I learned a ton about publishing while working with Aloha–not just on this book, but also on my book 10 Adoption Essentials that is released only as an e-book right now, but will be in print soon. I’ve spent a good amount of time chasing traditional publishers and agents for other works I’ve done, but for this one I wasn’t even interested in the big guys. I wanted control of this particular project because it means so much to me and it has come out wonderfully. Even though I plan to go completely on my own with Open Adoption, Open Heart Part 2 (expect it out in April), I’m so glad Aloha picked me up because the outcome just wouldn’t have been as good without them.
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