WARNING: I may ruin the Birthmarked trilogy for you by giving away some key plot points. If you plan to read them, don't read this.
I love YA dystopian novels. It started out with Lois Lowry's The Giver when I was in high school, and then I was reintroduced to the genre with Scott Weterfeld's Uglies series.
It seems like all dystopias have their own take on reproduction and parenthood. For many, you just have to have a thick skin if you're related to adoption in some way (The Giver's Birthmothers, anyone?).
So when I read the first book in the Birthmarked trilogy, I wasn't too bothered. In the first book, there is an elite town of people separated from the rest of the community by a wall. Outside the wall, the first three babies born in each sector are taken by the midwives to be "advanced" inside the wall. Inside the wall, the babies are adopted by one of the elite families. The book opens with a birth outside the wall after which the mother does not want to give up her baby to be advanced. The baby is advanced anyway.
Throughout the first book, the loss is acknowledged. The adoptive parents aren't painted as bad guys, and the birthparents are painted with loss. The protagonist's parents light a candle each night for the two babies they lost by advancement. Originally, the babies weren't taken until they were a year old, but babies kept getting injured or sick so they started to take them at birth. Of course, the biological parents were hurting their children on purpose so they wouldn't lose their children. In fact, the protagonist finds out that her own parents purposely burned her face so that she wouldn't be advanced. They had already lost two children and didn't want to lose their third. At the end of the book, birthparents and adoptees are both searching for their biological roots.
So far, not bad. Yes, it can be triggery, but the characterizations are respectful enough that I wasn't bothered by the adoption content.
Then, the next one came. This one takes place in a different dystopian community with the same protagonist. Here, there is a shortage of women due to infertility issues among the men. Women are expected to marry and bear ten children in the hopes that one will be a girl. Women who choose not to marry, have babies out of wedlock, or choose not to have ten children are exiled. If they have children, the children are taken from them and adopted by a married couple. The protagonist thinks this is wrong. Again, the birthparents are shown to not want to give up their children. By the end of the book, women are allowed to keep their children and all the restrictions are removed. Everyone is again on equal footing.
Adoption wasn't as big of a theme in the second one, and again, it wasn't offensive to me.
Then, there was the third one. I almost put it down. Do not read this book if you are easily triggered. In this book, the two communities come together. In the year that has passed, the original community has gotten more desperate for healthy babies, and are doing DNA testing to find ideal babies. People on both sides of the wall have figured out how to track the babies, and adopted children from inside the wall are venturing outside the wall to get to know their biological families. Here's the kicker: the leader of the community has set up "The Vessel Institute." Women from outside the wall are being paid to bear children for wealthy families inside the wall. The women are taken inside the wall, given every luxury, and are impregnated. They can leave after the first baby, or for maximum profit stay for three babies. Officially, the women are allowed to change their mind, but if they do, they lose all compensation and will be denied medical care. In reality, as if the official punishment wasn't harsh enough, the women will be killed for their babies.
The protagonist finds out, and is horrified. In addition, she discovers that some of the "vessel women" don't want to give up their babies. They are bonding with their unborn children. There is a scene at the end of the book that takes place at an adoption party. The first "vessel mother" has given birth, and a party is held to transfer the baby to the adoptive parents. The "vessel mother" is clearly upset. The book does a good job of showing that this is devastating for the birthmother.
As I write this, I'm trying to figure out what bothered me so much. Yes, it's triggery for anyone touched by adoption. I think what bothers me though is that some women are happy to place their babies for adoption, and these women are not treated with any compassion at all. So it is implied that the ones who voluntarily placed don't care about their babies. The ones who bonded could never give them up, so what does that say about the others?
Maybe this is accurate. Plenty of my fellow bloggers would argue that given the right support and absent coercion, no woman would willingly place her child for adoption. Many would also argue that it is morally wrong to place your child for adoption. I disagree, though. As a birthmother, I was offended by the implication that I didn't love my daughter.
I messaged the author on goodreads to ask if she had a connection to adoption. Her best friend growing up was adopted, and she has friends who have adopted. I wish I would have asked for more information, but I feel like I would just be being nosy. Based on the desire of the characters to know their biological roots, I'd be interested to know if those friends of hers have open adoptions.
Overall, the last book was just too much for me.