Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lost Daughters: Strong, brave essays written from the heart

Lorraine
Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption from a Place of Empowerment and Peace, is a tough book for mothers who relinquished because whatever we may have told ourselves about the “good” reasons to let our children be adopted, these poignant and sad essays belie that with the sheer force of a body blow. I found myself with tears in my eyes as soon as I started reading, and they didn't totally dry up until long after the last page.

Taken in one gulp these writers remind us that being adopted is the singular aspect of their lives out of which everything else flows—just as it is the opposite side of the coin is for first mothers like myself: birthdays, family trees, motherhood, familiar traits, loss. 

Samantha Franklin acutely sums up the experience of finding her first family: I am whole, no longer cut in half,” and elsewhere: 
“…We adoptees get mixed messages galore. We are a crisis, unwanted, abandoned orphans. Yet also chosen, special, lucky gifts. Our first mothers are told they are incapable, yet also heroic. Our very identities are 'amended' to fulfill a role, and we’re expected to cut ourselves off completely…from the identity, heritage and family in which we were born.” 
Susan Perry articulately tackles the subject of a mother who once told her on the phone, I love you, but who doesn't have the courage to meet Perry. Of sealed records, which still in place in the vast majority of states, Perry writes
"Sealed records were the reason in my case, I think, that it took me too long to grow up and assume total responsibility for my own life. In a way, sealed records imprisoned me, because I didn't feel free to express my innermost feelings about adoption. Although I seemed to be successful in my personal and professional life--I did well in school, earned graduate degrees, married happily, had children, and worked as a teacher and public relations professional--I did not feel empowered to take charge of my own story until I was well into my 40s. 
...I just cannot understand why, as a culture, we would continue to shackle adopted people to an institution that is governed by such archaic and repressive laws, when the data tells us clearly that most first mothers are open to contact. Those who are not, like my original mother, can simply say no. This is an emotional subject for sure, but all of us affected are adults now--we do not need outside agents supervising our own, very personal business." 
These expressive and powerful essays will hit first mothers who know nothing about their lost children like a punch in the gut, because no matter what you told the agency social worker or the private adoption attorney, you have no idea if any of that was passed on to your child's adoptive parents, and then to her or him. As readers will know, we have been in touch with an adoptee who is the sole caretaker for her parents in their 90s--yet she cannot ask them about the mysterious holes in the information she has about herself. Lynn Grubb understands this impenetrable web of predicament. Grubb did find her first mother though paying a hefty fee to the Cradle, a major adoption agency in Chicago. While she has been in contact wither her mother, she is apparently is not able to tell Grubb who her father is. Grubb's fine essay summarizes the dehumanizing effect of not knowing your ancestry, or your father. Not knowing her ancestry, she told everyone she was Italian: 
"I highly doubt my adoptive parents cared one way or another about my ethnicity....They were never told my ethnicity. They were told nothing about me. The adoption agency social workers made decisions that put me into not only ethnic purgatory, but also medical purgatory for most of my life.
...How does one undo an identity built on lies? How does one emotionally disconnect from an identity that was constructed over a long period of time, especially when there is no accurate information to replace it with? 
How does one become un-Italian?" 
Indeed, how does one become integrated and whole without knowing all the facts? Beats me. What this harrowing collection does tell the world is that the facts of being adopted are far from sweetly simple, and far more complex than any social worker who's not adopted herself can imagine. Mothers-to-be who are considering adoption for their babies, and people who insist they must have a child--someone else's baby--because they feel the calling to have an infant ought to read this book before making the decision. The hollow words of so much social-work sweet talk would crumble like the old, brittle paper its ideas are based on. All the essays are immediately engaging, each tackling a slightly different aspect of the adoption experience from the adoptee point-of-view, an approach that mainstream publishers have only fleetingly paid attention to. Land of Gazillion Adoptees, a publisher based in Minneapolis, is at last bringing this point of view to the light. 

Other essays include Julie Stromberg on how comfortable it is to be with another adoptee because they can talk to each other in ways they cannot to others, something that we first mothers know about being with each otherMichelle Lahti on her son’s assignment to do a family tree was more painful for her than him; Elaine Penn on the first moment she first heard someone say about her daughter: that’s where her dimple comes from—and referring to Elaine, the mother; Von on discovering how she found her love of cooking in both sets of natural families; Nikki Mairs-Cayer Pike on the scary, exhilarating moment she got the envelope with the name of her mother. Brevity demands not including every writer here—though all deserve to be—for their selection in this superb collection covers the gamut of the adoptee experience in all its painful reality. 
Cover art by Carlynne Hershberger

The book concludes with a longer essay by Amanda Transue-Woolston, whose own essays were published recently in The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of an Adoption Activist. Here our friend Amanda writes of being overwhelmed in a college course when she was asked to speak critically of her (adoptive) parents: 
“I did not want to admit that my parents are not perfect when I had already been so busy trying to prove to the world that they are perfect. Reunion, and everything that comes with it, was my choice and not a response to what some people might assume to be parenting failures.”
The editors—Amanda Transue-Woolston, Julie Stromberg , Karen Pickell and Jennifer Anastasi–have chosen well. The jacket art by adoptee Carlynne Hershberger is spectacular. Different but all beautiful flowers drift against a murky background, symbolizing the separate but shared experience of being adopted, of not being firmly planted anywhere. 

These are brave, strong essays written from the heart by talented, courageous women who pull no punches. Anyone not already familiar with the inner ramifications of being adopted to the adoptee will be surprised with the truths revealed in these pages. In a perfect world, I would make every legislator who has not voted for unsealing original birth certificates, every adoption facilitator who makes their living off adoptions, and every adoption attorney, every clergyman or woman who has ever suggested "adoption" to a desperate pregnant woman, every parent who pushes adoption on her child, every adoption worker read the book through in one sitting. Quite simply, it would change out world.--lorraine

TO ORDER:
Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace 
The electronic copy is available now via Amazon; paperback copies will be available in a few weeks. If you do go to the site, please and order, please hit Yes under a shortened version of this review there when responding to: Was this review helpful? 
Also remember Amanda's book of essays, The Declassified Adoptee Essays of an Adoption Activist, which I reviewed here:
The Declassified Adoptee Tells All 

Both books are published by Land of Gazillion Adoptees, which also publishes a monthly on-line magazine. Gazillion Adoptees is publishing books that main-stream publishers have long ignored, that is writing that is less than enthusiastic about the experience adoption, or how to adopt. I hope to have my own news soon.

ORDER BY CLICKING ON COVER OR TITLE. Anything ordered going through the portals of FMF is appreciated. 

12 comments:

Julia Emily said...

My God! Thank you for this, Lorraine. I see myself mentioned here in more ways than one.

I will be ordering the paperback version of this ASAP. I hope to find some comfort in it, much the same as talking to other adoptees brings some comfort, when I am lucky enough to do so.

Again.....why were human beings treated this way? And why are we still stuck in the dark ages regarding the sealed records? If NYS would just wake up, I could get my records, fill the holes in my history, and be able to move forward.

Thanks again. I cannot wait to read these essays!

Barbara Thavis said...

I remember talking to Claud once and discussing how important it is to make partnerships with lots of different people. Now that Spence-Chapin are getting out of the infant adoption market, how about getting them interested in this idea. My working name is "Grandparent Fostership" Let's take those 40 somethings that are desperate to be parents and turn their thinking to become grandparents instead. How about them taking 14 or 16 or 18 or 20 year old's who lack family support and taking these vulnerable mothers and their children in. The mothers stay mothers but the foster grandparent's become grandparents! They babysit and encourage and support the mother. They teach her the skills she needs to be self sufficient. They have the baby in the house and all the joy (and heartache) that entails. They will forever be that child's grandparent. And then they lovingly set them off into the world when they are ready to go off on their own. I'm not the first to have this idea, but getting in bed with the devil to get it accomplished came to me at Mass today. What do you think?
Lynn C. Franklin who wrote 'May the Circle Be Unbroken: An Intimate Journey Into the Heart of Adoption' was on the board of Spence-Chapin and maybe we could get her to float the idea. Let's see real change in America. I'm sick of talking and want things to start to change!!!

Robin said...

O/T but relevant.

I know this is a pro-choice blog and the link below is from a pro-life site, but I think it's important and relevant.

This is the story of a teenage girl who had a child under the most difficult of circumstances, but because she had a very supportive family, in particular her mother (the new grandma), there was no adoption for this baby boy.

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/14-year-old-rape-victim-chooses-life-now-rapist-allowed-to-attend-her-schoo

Lorraine Dusky said...

Barbara, Fantastic idea. I once heard an enlightened adoptive mother say the same thing about 20 years ago. She said, I think we ought to be bringing into our home both the mother and the child.

Barbara Thavis said...

I came back to this blog post to purchase Lost Daughters from Amazon. Just wanted to remind readers that buying things by clicking on your blog first, gives you guys a little help. I so appreciate what you both do for us and want to help in this small way.

Theodore said...

@ Robin, not that unusual:

http://www.rebeccakiessling.com/PregnantByRape.html

There are "birthmother" stories too. Most women who give birth in such a situation are keeping their babies.

Shelagh said...

I never dreamed for a moment that my daughter would be harmed by adoption.... I thought I was giving her everything I could not....

Cherry said...

Shelagh


It's one of the terrible shocks of adoption. I couldn't believe it either. It never, ever crossed my mind that my son might be better off with me.

I'm sorry for the pain I am sure you will be feeling at this awful realisation.

Robin said...

@Shelagh,
And how did you learn it was otherwise?

Julia Emily said...

I often wonder if my first mother felt the same as stated here? I have no idea. She was and still is a mystery. Always in the shadows. My AP's never met her. They never gave me any info about her. The only time she was EVER mentioned, she was referred to as "the girl". The girl who provided them with a baby, I guess.

I am sure she struggled with the feelings the first mothers are mentioning here. The secrecy from the time I was born is devastating on so many levels. There has got to be a way to end this.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Anybody besides me see The Black List last night? Turned out to be the adoption story of the night with a very evil twist: angry man (who was not adopted but needed to be) kidnaps young bright girls and turns them into baby-machines while he keeps them in a coma. Thus he has babies available to be adopted with only the best credentials. As an added punch, young woman working on the case is considering adoption to save her faltering relationship, but decides against

Barbara Thavis said...

I had another first Mother over for coffee today. Our story was the same. We knew it was not best for us to part with our child, but we though all of those counseling us were correct, our daughters were better off with a two parent family. Never did we for a moment believe we would be better for our own children. What complete dunces we were! Oh the harm these children have to live through because we were so naive.