Stepmonster

Reaching to the core of the stepmother experience

"I Don't Want This Baby After All": Judging Anita Tedaldi

We love to hate mothers we deem insufficiently maternal

The internet is ablaze with righteousness today as busybodies, indignant know-mores and outraged better-than-yous sound off about Anita Tedaldi and her decision to "terminate" the adoption of a little boy she calls "D."--and to write about it.

Tedaldi originally posted her story on the New York Times motherlode page; she appeared on the Today show on Thursday Oct 1. The long and short of it is this: she and her husband adopted a South American one-year-old boy--and in spite of the fact that they did their research, were carefully screened, and already had a loving family of five children, things didn't work out. The baby had been abandoned, and was found by the side of a road. By the time he arrived in Tedaldi's home, his head was flattened from months of being left lying in a crib all day at an orphanage, his legs were atrophied, he had developmental delays, and he ate his own feces. Tedaldi, who says that she always wanted a big family and had dreamed of adopting, set about making things right in her son's life. But after 18 months of living with the child and many hours of therapy, personal torment, and mommy and me classes, after days of willing herself to love and bond with this apparently unresponsive child, Anita Tedaldi told a social worker that she didn't think she could handle life with D. anymore. Eventually, the social workers were able to find a loving, welcoming, and committed family for D, a psychologist and her husband with one other adopted child. Perhaps Tedaldi was a stepping stone, enabling D. to find the setting of unconditional, committed, and endless love and care that he needed.

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Still, the details of Tedaldi's own story with D, particularly of the day she gave him over to his new family, of what she suffered and of what he presumably suffered, are so painful that you will likely sob reading them. In her Today show appearance, Tedaldi appears truly haunted. She mentions being unable to bond with a child who seemed too traumatized himself to do so himself, suggesting Reactive Attachment Disorder, a not entirely uncommon condition among children who have been severely mistreated or have never had consistent care. RAD is the worst case scenario in adoption, and many children who suffer from it are never able to connect with the most loving, committed adoptive parents. But Tedaldi never spells out clearly whether this is what she was up against. Parts of the story remain murky and mysterious. As a parable of mothering, or a lesson of some sort, Tedaldi's story fails to satisfy or reassure us.

Perhaps that's why the responses have been so vicious, as heartbreaking as her story itself. They confirm that there's no one we love to hate and judge more than a mother we deem insufficiently maternal. And in Tedaldi's case, the reductive formula at work seems to be: If you feel for this toddler, then you can't possibly feel for Tedaldi; if you defend Tedaldi, you must be a monster who doesn't care about children. To wit:

"She is cruel"
"She should be ashamed of herself"
"What a horrible, selfish woman," readers of the Today show and motherlode blogs posted. Lisa Belkin, the mothelode editor, piled on as well, with her primly smug judgment-trying-to-pass-itself-off-as-a-balanced-observation that "The agency who screened her should probably have rejected her" (As a devoted reader of the New York Times for the last two decades, I can say that Belkin's sentence gave me a visceral, enraged sense of why people characterize the publication as elitist and condescending).

Compare Tedaldi's story to L'affair Polanski. In his case, an entire industry leapt, outraged, to his defense, arguing that because he is a great artist and has already suffered enough, drudging up the fact that he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl 30 years ago is wrong, distasteful, and perhaps worst of all, unfashionable.

Anita Tedaldi, on the other hand, has already flayed herself alive for her shortcomings, judged and sentenced herself in prose that burns. At one point she calls herself a "demon," and she writes:

The realization that I didn't feel for D. the same way I felt for my own flesh and blood shook the foundations of who I thought I was. D. deflated my ego by showing me my limitations.

Condemning herself will never be enough, it seems. For failing, and for having the nerve to write about it, she will be vilified--until we find another mother to judge.

 

Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., is the author of the book Stepmonster.

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