God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother, by Amy Seek, New York: NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 325 pp, Hardcover. ISBN: 9780374164454, $27.00.
Domestic adoption narratives typically focus on the blissful coming together of a child who needs parents with a couple who have longed for a child of their own. Rarely do we hear from the birth mother, too often the silent member of the adoption triad. However, in her raw and poignant memoir, author Amy Seek gives voice to her experience as a birth mother who chose open adoption, and it is a story that social workers everywhere should read.
All adoptions exist on a continuum from open to closed. Open adoption is a fairly modern relationship in which birth parents choose the people who will adopt and raise the child to whom they have given birth. It also allows for ongoing, agreed-upon contact between birth and adoptive parents and the adopted child. In God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother, Seek carefully and thoroughly examines the reality of open adoption in three distinct phases: before, during, and after childbirth.
In the “before” phase, Seek, age 22, and her boyfriend, Jevn, find that Seek is pregnant. Both are young, bright, high achieving students studying architecture and attempting to discover what’s “real and lasting” about the world. Although together for two years, the relationship ultimately is not emotionally or financially strong enough to provide for a child, and the couple reaches out to Catholic Charities for help. Seek describes the counseling she received from a social worker named Molly, as she struggled with whether or not to raise her son. For example, Molly directs Seek to imagine what she will do immediately after signing papers of permanent surrender. Where will she go? Who will she see? What will she need?
Molly also guides Amy and Jevn as they pour through dozens of portfolios of pre-adoptive parents who are waiting to be matched with a birth mother. Unable to identify that illusive quality that makes one portfolio rise to the top of the pile, Amy and Jevn craft 101 extra questions to ascertain everything from parenting style (“How will you teach a child right from wrong?”) to personality (“What does your favorite t-shirt say?”). Eventually Paula and Erik emerge as their parents-of-choice, a couple who is open, mature, grounded, and already parenting another child in an open adoption. Through visits and email, Amy, Jevn, Paula, and Erik begin to develop a solid foundation of trust and shared expectations on which to base their own open adoption.
Labor and delivery initiate the “during” phase of the book. Seek writes exquisitely about laboring under a full moon and finding the inner strength to deliver Jonathan without pain medication or unnecessary interventions. She rooms-in with Jonathan and nurses him on demand, committed to offering him the best start in life. However, in a dramatic departure from “the plan,” Amy leaves the hospital with Jonathan, overwhelmed with the desire to keep him, and they cocoon together in her apartment for days, his adoption uncertain. Two weeks pass, and Seek makes several unsuccessful trips to Catholic Charities to sign Jonathan’s adoption papers before ultimately, heartbreakingly, doing so.
The remainder of the book describes what happens in the 12 years following the adoption, in particular the relationships that Seek develops with Jonathan and his adoptive parents as they share vacations, holidays (even Mother’s Day!), email, photos, and casual weekend visits. With Jonathan, Amy struggles with her significance in his life. Is she his mother? Is she a mother at all?? And despite winning the birth-parent lottery with Paula and Erik, the relationships are complicated, and even competitive at times, especially between mothers. And yet it works.
Several emotional themes are interwoven throughout this memoir. Seek’s writing is so raw and honest that the reader takes up residence in the bubble that Amy and Jonathan share immediately after his birth. Later, Seek’s feelings of regret, grief, and loss are so palpable that they are nearly unbearable to the reader, let alone the author. However, these are the very reasons that anyone involved in adoption, especially social workers, should read this book. Instead of erasing the feelings and experiences of first mothers, it offers the reader a rare glimpse into the realities that accompany the decision to place a child with an adoptive family. It also highlights the ongoing post-adoption social work services that should be made available to birth parents.
Finally, this book is a testament to the possibilities within open adoption, especially the opportunity to build secure relationships between birth and adoptive families, not limited to, but certainly on behalf of adoptive children. Although not without its complications, open adoption holds the promise of honesty over secrecy, connection over separation, and love over loss for adoptive children and families. Perhaps Seek has found what is “real and lasting” after all.
Reviewed by Shelley Steenrod, Salem State University.