I’m almost finished with Changeling’s Fall by Sarah Joy Adams and Emily Lavin Leverett. It’s good enough that I’m feeling seriously resentful that I have to take time away from the book to write this blog. I’m anxious to know how it ends and wondering if it will be the beginning of a series. I’m also wondering how two people write a novel together—does one write one chapter and the other write the next one, or do they write scenes from different POVs, or what? Anyway, the novel has some interesting themes, the foremost of which involves questions of identity and how who we perceive ourselves to be affects who we are versus how others perceive us. These are interesting questions.
In the novel, Deor, a changeling raised in the human world by her human mother, has come to the land of Faerie to find her father and attempt to reverse the illness that is depleting her health. Deor has no idea who sired her, beyond a first name, but there are a number of hints she might be the bastard daughter of the ailing king. Meanwhile, the main male protagonist, Raphael, is being adopted by said king because the monarch claims not to have any heirs. Lots of politics and drama ensues, all centered on issues of identity, heritage, relationships and the tangled webs they weave.
In the world of Changeling’s Fall, adoption is a painful process and not knowing one’s parentage is equally difficult. I don’t think this is all that different from our world. When we are adopted or we adopt a child, by definition we are leaving our biological families who cannot care for us—for many legitimate reasons—to go to a family that—again by definition—wants us desperately. I am not adopted (although I longed to be as a child, away from my mother), nor are my children. But we were planning to go that route to create our family if our efforts to conceive were unsuccessful, and I gave a great deal of thought to the process. In addition, we have many close ties to adopted children that also inform my opinions.
I’ve always believed that the sting of being given up by birth parents could be offset by the overwhelming love adoptive parents bring to their children. Those who adopt do so with deliberation and consciousness, and the hoops that one must jump through are rigorous, to say the least. You’ve really got to want to adopt to make it happen. These children are deeply, deeply desired. Receiving that kind of love changes a person. So does giving it.
But there are still issues of identity that need to be addressed, no matter how much love is involved. In today’s world of open adoptions, kids often know their birth parents and can acquire information about health histories or genetic composition. That may not be true with foreign adoptions, but whatever the case, adopted children never know who they would have been if they’d been raised by their DNA donors. Moreover, adoption requires additional efforts to “find” ourselves, and like all of us, discover not only who we are, but also who we want to be.
Not knowing our parents is major obstacle in forging our identities. We can also be affected by not knowing who our parents are, even if we know who they are. For example, I know my father was Jack Uchitel. I know what he looked like and where he was from. I knew his brothers, but not his parents. I adored him with every fiber of my being, but I can’t say I really knew him, to my everlasting regret. I knew a small sliver of him as “Daddy,” the wonderful guy who turned his attention toward me every once in a while and when he did it was like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. But I didn’t know him as a man, or an employer, or as a friend. I’m not sure what his philosophy of life was, although I could discern bits and pieces based on clues he provided during our rare and brief interactions. But a lot of my identity is nevertheless based on my being his daughter. If I found out he wasn’t my real dad, I think I’d be devastated. And I want, explicitly, to be like him, or at least to be the man I imagine that he was.
My guess is that kids who are adopted go through a bit of that as well; imagining who they would be if their birth parents turned out to be the Platonic ideal of parenthood. Plus they get to assume the mantle of any positive traits of their adoptive parents, and leave behind the parts they don’t like with the justification that the relationship isn’t biological, so they are not destined by their DNA.
And while many if not most kids do not twist themselves into the same pretzel shapes that I enjoy in playing out these mental machinations, all of us yearn to create ourselves. Or find ourselves. Or lose ourselves in an identity to which we aspire. And those of us like Deor and Raphael who are among the lucky ones, soon realize that no matter our parentage, biological or adopted, our identities are our own. There may be signposts along the way, clues from our various mothers, fathers and grandparents, but in the end, who we are is all up to us. We need to choose wisely, no matter the circumstances of our birth or upbringing. After all, we can be anyone we want to be.
Note: This is my last new post for the next month. I will be suspending my blog as I work toward the 50,000 words needed to participate in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, November 1-30, 2016. Please wish me luck and send productive and creative thoughts my way, as I can use all the support I can get. I will be posting my word count every day on Twitter (@truthinfantasy), so please like and retweet to show me the love. I plan to be back in December with new posts. Until then, be well and prosper. —Anne