' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What can you write about adoption? And what is off limits?

Monday, April 2, 2012

What can you write about adoption? And what is off limits?

Lorraine and her new accessory
What are the limits of what one can write about in regards to adoption personally, since after all, in writing anything at all, you are writing about at least one other person, possibly more. It's an issue that has come up not only at First Mother Forum but other blogs--and now The Huffington Post.

Last week a brave adoptive mother, Dina McQueen, wrote a revealing post about her four-year-old daughter from Ethiopia. In it she wrote of how, since McQueen had video of the girl's birth mother bringing the daughter, now named Aster, to the drop off, the little girl wanted to watch the video over and over and over again, and how she became inconsolable for a brief time after--though it seemed long to Mother McQueen. I forget exactly what the girl, Aster, called her video but it had some version of "birth mother" in it. Eventually, with time, love and patience, McQueen was able to calm the girl down and the post ended with the girl, at least for the time being, able to move on with her American mother to a sweet resolution.

Wow! I thought, here's a post that eloquently speaks to the real sense of loss and dislocation this four-year-old is experiencing. Here's a post from an adoptive mother not afraid to be honest about the difficulties of not only adopting, but adopting from another culture and continent. How often can you read and honest essay like that? It was a first for me. To be honest, I hoped that some prospective adopters reading might be turned off to the whole idea of adoption, and thus reduce the world wide market for adoptable children. The girl wanted to see the video of the mommy whose tummy she came out of again and again, and that would have to be disturbing to some.

I meant to write about the post this week. I had bookmarked it. But this morning it was gone, taken down at the request of the writer, apparently because she got so many drubbings for writing publicly about the girl. And this week we have Public Apology To My Daughter with snippets of a few comments, such as:
Furthermore, why are adoptive parents discussing their children's private moments in public settings? Please, I urge you to respect your child's privacy and stop telling their stories for your own personal profit.
Let us ignore that McQueen may or may not get paid for her blog--Huff Po doesn't have to pay its writers. The bigger issue is that writing about one's life entails writing about interactions with other people. There's no way around it. Should my husband, at his blog, discuss the abortion he and his first wife had due to her receiving a full body x-ray when she was two weeks along, and the risk of abnormalities caused by that around 50 percent? Should anyone write a memoir? And especially, should anyone write an adoption memoir? Judging from the above comment McQueen quoted, the answer would be an emphatic no.

In publishing Birthmark in 1979, the first to reveal the agonies of relinquishing a child, I had to write about my parents, my college romance that ended, the father of my baby, Patrick Brasley; his crumbling marriage and thus his wife; my bosses at the newspaper where Patrick and I worked; the unmarried teenager I shared a room with at the hospital; the social worker, Helen Mura; Florence Fisher; Robert Jay Lifton; attorney Gertrude Mainzer, an adoptee named Ann Smith who had gone to court to get her records unsealed, and others in more minor roles. The book ends before I found my daughter so she is not a "live" character, though the book is about her and dedicated to her. The point it, you can't write anything personal without talking about someone else and your interaction with them, and how it affects you. I wrote the book because I felt it was time for mothers like myself to emerge from the closet and because I knew I could withstand the screaming hot criticism--anger--that I knew would follow and be directed at me. It did and it was. 

Adoptees write adoption memoirs, birth mothers write their stories, and so do adoptive parents. I do not read adoptive parent blogs in any number--the few I do are listed in the sidebar, and I respect the writers for their openness in dealing with hard questions about being second mothers. Sometimes they write about their children involved; other time they write about the issues. I am aware that adoptees are very critical of anything written about them, more so, it seems to me, than people not adopted, because it is yet another example of something over which they have no control. But family members in any family where a writer pops up have to deal with being used as models in fiction, or as actual characters in any memoir. My friend Emily Prager wrote a sensitive memoir, Wuhu Diary, about taking her adopted daughter back to China when she was five to see if they could learn more about Lulu's original family, and I've heard her be roundly criticized. Writers write about life, about themselves. They have for all time and will in the future. To criticize McQueen because she writes for a living makes no sense. I was told repeatedly I only wrote Birthmark for the money. Believe me, there were a lot of subjects that would have made a lot more money. Writing is the occupation of writers, and the nay-sayers often forget that.

Though I did not see the barrage of comments that McQueen's post generated, I'm going to venture a guess that many came from people who did not want to see the hard truth of adoption in the mind of a four-year-old expressed so vividly, so raw. So they attacked her, and were outraged--outraged--because she wrote about how she dealt with a daughter having a difficult time. McQueen is the author of a book, Finding Aster: Our Ethiopian Adoption Story, about how she made the decision to adopt after major surgery. McQueen is in her late 40s now; and the daughter is four, as I recall. The book description at Amazon says: In the end, Dina openly expresses with a clear and focused voice that choosing adoption to grow a family need not be a last resort.

If only providing that child were not a last resort for the mother.

I'm getting off the track here. The point is, you can't write about adoption with any force without writing about it personally. Adoptees, adoptive parents and first mothers all write blogs from their personal experiences--and interactions with the major people in their lives--the adoptee in question, the adoptive parents, the natural parents, the siblings, adopted and natural. At FMF, we do that plus try to keep up with trends and news in adoption. Mothers, both biological and adoptive, are frequently excoriated for writing about their personal experiences--but that is what people want to read, and what they best learn about the experience from, not a dry pile of statistics and generalities. McQueen's original post--that she was bullied into taking down--was a true gift.

When I wrote about my grief at the beginning of the year, revealing that my adopted-out granddaughter--after what seemed like a great beginning to a relationship--had chosen to have no contact, adoptees began writing comments about how she must be feeling and why. Since that was all speculation, I took them down, but not before I received a nasty comment (not published) from a friend of hers. Yet my granddaughter had written about her visit to our home portraying it rather negatively. Knock me over with a spoon! I had no idea I was being overbearing when I opened my heart and our home; I thought we were having a great time. But yes, I did recognize the visit was too long. I let her writing stand without commenting, or complaining. It was how she felt at the time she wrote it. And I learned from it. We--in the larger sense of the word--need to give each other room to write about our experiences and how they affect us.

However, the same pushback is not leveled against adoptees for writing about their birth parents in often unflattering terms. Sarah Saffian's book, Ithaka, was such a demeaning diatribe against her hippie, pottery-making birth parents in Vermont I wanted to throw the book against the wall. The book itself would not have been the good read it was without her father's eloquent letters to Saffian, a fact nowhere noted by the ungracious author. Yet everywhere I read (except here by Jane) Saffian received flattering, even gushing, reviews. The same was true of A. M. Holmes's The Mistress's Daughter. Her mother sounded like a lowlife in need of an education. Holmes made no bones about being embarrassed to be her mother's daughter. An adoptive mother encouraged me to read the lengthy piece Holmes first published on the same subject in the New Yorker. Yikes, I thought, no wonder this adoptive mother wanted me to read it, the real mother is so damn needy and uneducated! Her father is a weak shit. Thank god I escaped was the message Holmes conveyed in no uncertain terms. 

If there is to be honest writing about adoption, it has to come from all quarters--including adoptive parents talking about the difficulties of raising someone else's child. McQueen's post did not reflect negatively on her daughter at all. I thought, McQueen is raising a child without teaching her what is off-limits regarding her own origins--what a great thing! The piece unflinchingly demonstrated how a four-year-old understood her life, and how she missed her real mother. McQueen came across as sensitive but real. We read little about this side of adoption, especially from adoptive parents. I'm sorry McQueen took down her piece, and instead wrote an apology. The world need more of the kind of honesty McQueen showed us. --lorraine

Source: Public Apology To My Daughter 

From FMF: Harvesting Children from Ethiopia for Families in America
Why Reunions Go Awry: What Memoirs of Adopted Daughters Tell Birthmothers

From Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform:
2009 Ethiopia Adoption Program Suspensions and Investigations 


  1. I didn't see the post so my ability to make an opinion is limited.

    But as an adoptee, I am sensitive to the stories of minor adoptees being told on their behalf.

    One of my favorite quotes by Salman Rushdie is...
    "Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts."

    When your parent writes and publishes a story on your behalf...how much power does that give you to change it? Disagree with it? Especially risk calling them a liar or embarrassing them?

    As someone who experienced bullying, I can't imagine what posts on the internet might mean for an adopted child with peers (or parents of peers) who snoop and find overly personal stories shared on the adoptees behalf.

    I am not knocking every parent who shares, especially when their son or daughter is an adult, obviously. There are ways to do it respectfully (and so many bloggers do just that) and lots of a-parent and n-parent blogs, who have children of all ages, that I love reading. I just didn't see this a-mom's post to be able to say one way or another.

  2. BRAVO! Agreed. Writers write for a living, or simply because, like me, I can't not write. It would be like being silenced by force.

    No one will ever be able to write something that everyone likes. It won't happen. Particularly when it comes to anything that has an emotional response. Sadly, adoption is so volatile and the players on the adoption stage are so emotionally charged, there will never be a good middle ground.

    Mothers are often the target of a lot of rage. Rage by the adoptee for the "abandonment" and by the adoptive parents for whatever misdeed is perceived. It is easy for the community to forget that....

    I won't be silent and I do respect the feelings and thoughts of others. WRITE ON! We need honesty and reality.

  3. Thanks for writing this piece. I had already given myself permission to write the story of our failed adoption attempt, but occasionally, I do struggle with some of the challenges noted here. I had to make some very difficult decisions regarding a baby we had home with us for three weeks (the birth father contested the adoption). I am certain that some people will disagree with my decision, and with my writing about it, but I also might help others realize that the adoption route is not for them, without having to go through the suffering we did. And it's not for everyone. On the other hand, I'm eternally grateful that adoption is for others. Adoption, like all else in life, is multi-textured. And the truth, is that it's not all soft and fluffy. But I'd rather wrap myself with an interesting patchwork quilt, and feel all the contrasting textures, than write something that merely skimmed the surface of my story. Even fiction demands honesty from its authors. Thanks again, Jennifer

  4. Maybe I am a rebel but I don't give a damn about what is off limits in posting your personal expriences with adoption. Who is this audience that we are so afraid of offending? It is our stories no matter if it is from the adoptee, the adoptive parent or natural parents, grandparents or siblings. I have had members leave my blog because they did not like what I said. I don't care. Be brave everyone. Tell your story even if it is not what someone else wants to hear. Don't dilute your message or delete it to be liked or understood. Screw that.

  5. I have had friends and an in-law tell me they "disagree" with the blog and that in no uncertain terms, it irritates them. The critique often comes out unexpectedly, when the topic is not on the table. The husband of one of my husband's nieces felt he had to tell me last time we saw them at a family gathering. Okay, you told me.

    A few weeks ago an adoptive grandfather I've known for decades as a good friend went on a rant to tell me how he disagreed with the blog and how upset it made him. He was quite worked up. He is in his late 80s. I had called to check up on him, but haven't talked to him since, nor had him over to dinner, as I did frequently. Why should I call him to be haranagued? He's called and I've let my husband take the call. Since the operation I don't feel like adding additional stress to my life.

    Once I asked someone not to talk to me while she was driving--my husband and I had our car destroyed (while we were in it) by an ond friend, only peripherally involved with adoption. To my surprise, my friend responded--I don't agree with your blog! so you disagree with me being on the phone, so....?

    Some people keep their blogs and their identities secret but that is not what I am willing to do. And neither has Jane. Hiding behind anonimity loses power and strength.

  6. I read many memoirs by adoptees, moms and adoptive families as I was navigating my own reunion. So many were helpful in reflecting in how I was feeling and conversely sometimes my opposition is what spoke to me. Over three years ago I wrote my story and self published it. I recently read my own story again and can see that I have continued to progress in my thoughts, feelings and most of all in my understanding. Should I write another book I look forward to explaining how my experience has evolved. In defense of some things I wrote in the first one....it is simply where I was in the journey.

    I completely agree that mainstream society does not want to hear, see or read anything other than adoption is wonderful. I wish more adoptive parents would step forward to share that raising an adopted child is not the same as raising a child you've given birth to. We adoptees have thoughts, feelings and needs that requie special attention.

    Honesty is the only way. Christine Murphy

  7. Thank you Lorraine for helping me get over the feeling that I've not only told on myself but my first son's natural father and his family as well. Honesty helped heal the wounds.

  8. You hit the nail on the head. It was offensive to aps who don't want reminders of their children's origins and that their child was born to another. It bursts their mythical balloons!

    Aps all over the web blog about their "adoption journey" and the joy of adopting - with photos! They share the most intimate tales of every aspect of adoption by the hundreds!

    And tales of original mothers in unflattering light are not just limited to adoptees. I have read many a blog written by an adoptive mother in an open adoption defend why she had to limit or stop visits because of the mother or the father's alleged behavior, or the behavior they are enduring. Others discuss the problems the mother had prior to the birth to paint themselves as saintly rescuers and that's all fine too. Granted none are ever named but I doubt this child was either. Most aps use initials or nicknames for their kids online.

    PL-EEEZE! This is the first time someone ever wrote about their adopted child and got criticized for it - except for those who seek sympathy for terminating adoptions. The motivation is far too obvious. Don't step on their precious feelings of entitlement that they are, of course...entitled to.

    And while we are talking about double standards in print, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my pet peeves: aps who complain when the media mentions a child as the "adopted child of..." in a news story...yet, as I said, they will talk all they want how they adopted, when they adopted, where they adopted and on and on and on...

    But when the media does it - even when quite germane to the story, as when a child murders his parents - they complain loudly and bitterly! And, interestingly, I have never seen an adoptee join in that choir. THEY know their being adopted IS part of their story! It's only aps who want it both ways: something to brag about yet something to keep secretive.

    I will never forget how years ago an adoptive mother spoke of her child as being her Christmas present, a child who she later said did not know he was adopted. My daughter was introduced to all her family and friends at her bat mitzvah as their "gift from God." And a stranger at a country fair when she heard I wrote a book asked what about. I said adoption. She then said, with her school-aged son at her side, "Oh we adopted (or got him) from India" with not a thought in the world how it might feel to her son. And I'd bet the same woman might object if someone else said the same thing!

  9. I DID throw "Ithaka" against the wall at the point in which the author whined about not being invited to go on a Club Med vacation with her bparents. They, bewildered and upset, never sure which foot to put where, said that they hadn't imagined that she would want to go on a romantic-type trip with them.


    Saffian sounds like she had two sets of fine parents, both b and a. I will be very wary of buying anything else she writes.

  10. Amanda asked, "when your parent writes and publishes a story on your behalf...how much power does that give you to change it?"

    I did not see the original piece on The Huffington Post but Amanda's question makes me wonder on whose behalf was this story written? It's possible the mother was writing on her own behalf, which naturally includes her child's grief. I think a mother with a child this young would be hard pressed to write about motherhood in an abstract or detached manner...so whose story is really being told here, mother or daughter?

    Another thing I've noticed is that MOTHERS of all stripes are allowed to be slammed by pretty much anyone with a keyboard, but when MOTHER writes from her own point of view she is widely criticized for just about any reason under the sun. Is it the notion that a mother must be perfect and if she exhibits the slightest flaw then she is fair game? And writing her own story can be viewed as a flaw, especially if she offers any ideas are contrary to what others want to hear. She then becomes the bad mother because she is no longer willing to sit in the corner with her mouth shut to keep the peace.

  11. Ah, Saffian and Ithaka: Adoptive Mom Rosie O'Donnell gave her a column during Rosie's tenure of the late McCall's magazine; the book reviewer for USA Today gave her a fab glowing review. I found this at USA Today:

    by Sarah Saffian (Basic Books, $23): Saffian, a 29-year-old journalist, explores important adoption issues in her first book. The story opens with Saffian being found by the birth parents who put her up for adoption when she was an infant. Their relationship begins with a telephone call and unfolds, through journal entries, reflections and letters, as Saffian recounts the events and internal turmoil leading up to their first meeting three years later. The author's poetic and original writing style is a joy to read. So many adoption stories are tinged with sensationalism and pop psychology, but Saffian's literary storytelling gifts portray each member of the adoption triad -- birth parent, adoptive parent, adoptee -- with dignity and grace.

    The reviewer was an adoptive father; as I recall [can't find the original entire review on line] he did not reveal that salient fact. But he is an adoptive father.

    but from Bastard Book Review:

    The book begins with Saffian receiving a morning phone call from a woman who announces she believes she is Saffian's birthmother. Having only considered searching for her birthparents in passing, the 24-year old Saffian is shocked. Nonetheless, the initial conversation seems to go well. But after hanging up and going on to work, Saffian finds herself unable to function, a state she remains in pretty much for the next three years, a period during which she declines to meet her birthparents in person.

    Let's make no mistake, a lot of readers are going to wonder just what the hell was wrong with the author, and why didn't she just get on with it already. Raised in an admittedly privileged atmosphere, surrounded by love, Saffian seems to score big with her birthparents as well, the two of whom ended up marrying each other and going on to lead successful, wellrounded, happy lives. No crack-addicts here, no incest, no abuse. What accounts for the tailspin? Well, for those who are willing to listen, Ithaka (named for Odysseus's home and the land he must journey back to in Homer's "The Odyssey") provides answers....

  12. from Amazon:

    "A joy to read."
    --USA Today

    I missed the joy part. I gagged instead and found her personality and attitude infuriating, including the shallow way she dismissed having an abortion herself. I am not advocating that she should not have had the right to have an abortion, but considering that she might have been aborted, I expected greater insight--or at least more understanding toward her real mother. Her lack of empathy towards her birth parents seemed to be based on their life style, foreign to a woman who grew up in the land of plenty. She came to an adoptee/birth mother conference sporting a huge diamond and very expensive togs, and spent most of her free time kibbutzing with two gay adoptive parents.

  13. I have read many a blog demeaning natural parents and that seems to be okay, yet when we share our personal experiences they are denounced, as if we have no right to our own truths and stories. The double standard in adoptionland is disturbing.

    Once again, our voices supposed to take a back seat to everyone else's and not be heard. I think that is what bothers some people so much, that we now do have a voice and can and do speak for ourselves.

    Pathetic attempts at silencing and controlling the natural mothers of this world are futile and I think that is being realized. It's about time...

  14. For those following the comments, this was (in bold) added to the post:

    When I wrote about my grief at the beginning of the year, revealing that my adopted-out granddaughter--after what seemed like a great beginning to a relationship--had chosen to have no contact, adoptees began writing comments about how she must be feeling and why. Since that was all speculation, I took them down, but not before I received a nasty comment (not published) from a friend of hers. Yet my granddaughter had written about her visit to our home portraying it rather negatively. Knock me over with a spoon! I had no idea I was overbearing when I opened my heart and our home; I thought we were having a great time. But yes, I did recognize the visit was too long. I let her writing stand without commenting, or complaining. It was how she felt at the time she wrote it. And I learned from it. We--in the larger sense of the word--need to give each other room to write about our experiences and how they affect us.

  15. For me, what is off limits is anything that might hurt anyone I care about. I do not feel I have to go into great detail about my personal story or family members in order to express my thoughts on adoption. If any loved ones asked me to stop writing anything about adoption, I would do it. Relationships matter more to me than being "right".

    I generally do not enjoy adoption memoirs ( or any memoirs) unless they are very well written and are not just confessionals or rehashing of the official story again, or a thinly veiled attempt at revenge or sensationalism. Of course everyone has their own opinion on this, as on any subject.

  16. "Ithica", a review:

  17. Mirah@10:22 am

    I agree with you about adoptive parents getting offended when the media calls children the adoptive child of...

    A few weeks ago in my home town a two year old and his father drown while canoeing in lake without wearing life jackets.  The toddler was found a few hours after they were expected home.  The father's body was found a week latter during his son's memorial service.  Why am I bring this up? You win a prize!  Little boy was adopted.  I can get into ALL the reasons why that fact was has been especially triggering to me...but it would be way off topic.

    In following the news stories the comment sections were filled with comments like, "why does the media insist on using the word adopted son in cases like this?"...you get the drift.  But I think it's relevant.  I think of the dear birthmother letters this little boy's original mother must have poured over.  I think of the b.s. agencies must have fed her about the, "better life" she was giving him.  Now he has no life because his adoptive dad had his head up his ass.

  18. Oh Anon, it would be so nice if you told us what you thought of the review and why you posted the link without comment.

  19. This is a whole issue that everyone has an opinion about. FMF has written about this before, and it is relevant here too. Right now as we are trying to get legislation passed in NY to unseal OBCs, and it is relevant to know whether our opponents are adoptive parents or not, but their official bios say nothing. If adopted or not was irrelevant, why the fuss over OBCs?

    Being adopted is relevant to the adopted--and to natural parents who relinquish.

  20. To those that commented on mother's ability to be slammed for whatever reason and our inability to write what we see fit -


    No offense to the adoptees that comment here, but mothers are dismissed easily and without a thought if the adoptee doesn't like what the mothers write. If a mother dismisses or is negative about what an adoptee writes they are hammered and abused by all!

    This seems to be the norm.... just like now. The mothers that write on this blog are intelligent, educated women. Yet, even over something as simple as a personal feeling, they are hammered and told to be silent by people that insist on being heard themselves.

    Sadly, most mothers do not try to write for our children and are not allowed to write for themselves.

    Talk about bias?

  21. by Viktoria

    "but considering that she might have been aborted, I expected greater insight--"


  22. @ Mirah,

    Why the presumption that the negative push back against this Mother's story was fueled by AP's?

    Some of you may be surprised to know that in private webgroups, etc., many of these issues are shared and candidly discussed with both genuine understanding and compassion. These groups often encompass hundreds of AP's or PAP's and the tone if one of pure empathy. Are these published via the media? No. They are kept private for the protection of the children involved.

    Having not read the original post, I can only share that my viscereal response was one of tremendous sympathy for this grieving child and the mother who is charged with guiding her through the journey, equaled only by my heartache for the Ethiopian Mama who had no other recourse than relinquishing her daughter.

    I love what the author of this post said, while respecting how this might one day feel to an adult adoptee. For this reason I chose to never publish my blog and kept it only for my own personal value ; a diary of sorts.

    But I equally respect those who write because they can and must. Does it mean all author's resonate or are eloquent or talented? No.

    Finally, I happen to have a smigde of firsthand knowledge about McQueen's work and that backlash??

    Mostly by lay folks, not personally affected by adoption or Adult Adoptees. Sadly by folks who truly DO get their adoption knowledge through Disney movies and People magazine.

    P.S. I think too the distinction is worth mentioning that when an Adult Adoptee writes about their parents either natural or adoptive, it may not be they are getting a "pass" for a negative or ugly recollection or "pen" but rather in this case the story was about a minor child, published in a highly circulated blog, as opposed to a book targed towards adults. Just my 2 cents and in NO WAY saying those negative stories about nparents are right or wrong. I have not read then.

    Anon. , which I hate to post as, but its prudent in this instance.

  23. I did not love Sarah Saffian's book, but did find it a good cautionary tale for mothers in search who think all adoptees are eager to greet them with open arms. I do recommend it to those searching or who have found similar mixed reactions in reunion. I did find Sarah a pleasant person when I met her at a conference. I thought she was genuinely conflicted and also put off by her natural father's overbearing manner. I did not get the feeling there was much income or class discrepancy between her natural and adoptive families, so did not see her being "raised in wealth" as an issue. Her issues were more the common ones of conflicting loyalties and the need to set boundaries and keep some control of the situation.

    I did not enjoy reading her book, but did a learn a lot from it about how hard it is for some adoptees to be in the middle, and how some things we as natural parents in reunion do can backfire, and not be taken as the loving gestures we intended.

    I think the most important thing reading books like this taught me is that this is not my story, this book is not written by my kid, and has nothing to do with me. Read that way, it can be appreciated as one of the countless variations on reunion experience, not as an insult to anyone else who has a different point of view.

  24. In some respects, Maryanne, you are right; Ithaka is a cautionary tale for all first mothers and fathers seeking reunion with their adopted-out children, esp. about waiting it out because she did eventually visit her parents. But I did not find her biological father overbearing, simply eager to meet his daughter, and Saffian's continued distance was hard for me to stomach.

    And his letters had a lot to do with the success of the book--and perhaps her own writing ability--which as I recall she did not acknowledge in the least. It was as if his writing ability was from another planet; hers was from her good education that her adoptive father had been able to provide. The adoptee memoir that I found the most appealing was Jean Strauss's Birthright. I know Jane has reservations, but I found it emotionally open and very realistic about her conflicted feelings and early distancing from her first mother. And the follow-up book, Beneath a Tall Tree brings the story full circle. Loved that too.

  25. On another note, I've tried posting a comment at the current apology blog of Dina McQueen, but apparently it did not pass muster--twice. There is only one comment there and I am sure that many others must have left comments.

    If it's too hot in the kitchen, you shouldn't be a chef.

  26. I'm confused. Are you saying that Saffian wasn't grateful enough?
    I mean, I don't remember her touting her writing skills anywhere in her memoir other than to say she was a professional writer. Did you feel that the book would have been better had she spent large amounts of it giving props to her father on his writing skills?
    Because most people don't do that.
    That kind of wasn't the point IMO.
    It is interesting that one of the points of the book that so strongly irks you...that Saffian found her father pushy while he found himself just seriously passionate is IMO a crucial lesson in adoption reunion that goes both ways. The disconnect and the adoptee perspective. Isn't that what you are constantly begging for? And when it is in a book, an ADOPTEE memoir, you get offended? Why? Whether he intended to be pushy or not, SHE found him pushy and offputting and his passion kept her from reaching out to him. I actually find that point poignant. A cautionary tale indeed.
    I did not agree with much of Saffian's decisions of how to handle her reunion, however, I did respect her honesty on her feelings. Those years were obviously a struggle for her.
    Would you have liked the book better had she been dishonest or if she had written it saying she had done what you expected and run back to her parents' arms the minute they called her?
    Because that is not what happened and it would have been a MEMOIR had she simply made up the story you as an interested reader wanted to hear.
    It was a hard read but it was an important read.

  27. To L:

    Grateful? For what? To whom? I'm confused. Oh, you mean about her father's letters? Why should she be "grateful?"

    Her biological father's letters were--to me, an interested reader--a crucial part of the book, as were her reactions to them. "Grateful" has nothing to do with it. And one doesn't "tout" one's writing, one just writes, and leaves the judgment of it up to others.

    What I found interesting was that her biological father was obviously a good writer--as evinced by his lengthy and copious letters to her--and she obviously has a writing skill, but she failed to notice in the book that she might have any traits inherited from him, or anyone biologically connected to her. Saffian's depth of understanding about who she is now was shallow. The book all around lacked a sense of real self-analysis and gravitas. I can't argue more points because it has been a couple of years since I read Ithaka but I remember being infuriarted as I went along, infuriarted by her lack of self-analysis. It's a memoir. That's what memoirists do.

    Honest or not, I ended the book with a rather large distaste for the character who came through the pages. I found her rather insufferable, and that certainly colored how I felt about the book, and her writing. You obviously felt differently; we disagree.

    Jean Strauss, the memiorist I also mention in an earlier comment, doesn't go running into her mother's arms either, and is very jumpy when around her in the beginning, but comes across as a less judgmental individual, as I read Saffian to be. And I actually forgot the part about her being upset she couldn't go to Club Med with her adoptive parents. I think that happened when she was young and so that was more cute than spoiled. Friends of mine are getting married, and the groom's 8-year-old daughter doesn't want to come to the wedding, but does want to go on the honeymoon. To her, it's just a nice trip and an adventure. That's how I recall Saffian's reaction, that of a young girl, no blame needed.

  28. It is a difficult question, but I know I was upset when someone used a sensitive part of my story that I had confided in them in some talks on adoption and reunion that they gave.
    If they had asked first I would probably have agreed anyway, although with some modifications.

    It is different in private or protected situations, but I think memoirists, even though they are writing from and about their own experience, have an obligation to inform the people they are writing about (especially if those people are still living) before getting into print.
    I don't know whether Sarah Saffian consulted her nps and aps before publishing, but my gut tells me she did.

    When writing publicly about young children who can't really give permission, I think it depends on whether the writing is sympathetic and kept within respectful bounds. Really sensitive issues are probably best kept protected. JMO.

  29. FYI:

    When I published Birthmark, I did have the birth father's blessing; in writing, held by the publisher. The sealed letter may still be in some file somewhere. Other people were lesser characters, and I did not ask their permission.

    When I met my daughter she was in the tenth grade, and I gave her a copy; she used it for the next book report she did in high school. It was, at last, she told me, her story. She was proud; I was too.

    Mothers of (kept) children are always writing about their children and how they, the mothers, have handled various problems with them, from toddler to teen. Writers such as Joyce Maynard have made whole careers talking about their families, their husbands, their close ones.

    First mothers have stories to tell that need to be told, and while it is never good to lie or purposely hurt someone, we cannot tell our stories without talking to some degree about the children we lost to adoption. These are stories that will be told.

  30. "Writers such as Joyce Maynard have made whole careers talking about their families, their husbands, their close ones"

    I see Joyce Maynard has just disrupted the adoption of her Ethiopian daughters.

  31. Yep. More coming later. I need coffee, toast, the Times.

  32. I found the father's letters somewhat droning and preachy actually. I skipped a lot of his part when I read. He seemed to have trouble respecting boundaries.
    He spent a great portion of his letters telling her how she should feel. That's never good.
    I also did not find the Saffian book particularly well written. So maybe she didn't make that connection because...well...because. And yes, it did sound like you were expecting her to be grateful and acknowledge her father's writing skills as being part of herself. But what if she just doesn't feel that way? Or perhaps she didn't feel the need to hit her readers over the head with it and let the writing speak for itself.
    I did admire her honesty. She completely freaked out and documented it as such.
    This is the thing, I don't think she felt that big of a connection or a desire to meet. I found a great deal of introspection in her book, just not toward her first parents. And maybe that ambivalence is how she actually felt. And I can see where that "infuriated" you.
    But that is life. We don't always feel the responses people expect of us.
    Perhaps she will write a sequel some day. I know her adoptive father passed away several years ago. It would be interesting to know if her relationship with her bios progressed any further than that first meeting.

  33. I'm not familiar with Joyce Maynard, but I found her web site and all I can say is WOW. She brought home "her" daughters from Ethiopia and after 3 years sends them off to another family. WOW

  34. There is a grand total of one comment at Dina McQueen's current entry at HuffPo, up from zero yesterday. I haven't seen yours, Lorraine.

  35. Obviously my comment at McQueen's blog did not pass muster. I was very nice, but maybe a first mother is too close to the bone? Or what?

  36. In addition to Joyce Maynard, Erma Bombeck, Jean Kerr, and other 50's "housewives" wrote freely and humorously about their hubby and children. Erma Bombeck's oldest child was adopted. Other popular writers used real children as templates for their fiction including Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne, and James Barrie.

    I had a chance to read McQueen's piece and didn't see anything that should have offended anyone. If anything, I'd have dinged McQueen for being a little too self-congratulatory on "resolving" her daughter's issue. But at least McQueen had some understanding and didn't just tell the daughter to shut up and be grateful.

    I think McQueen's piece would be helpful to other adoptive families facing similar situations. Perhaps Maynard would have been able to cope with her Ethiopian daughters if she had been counseled beyond "take 'em home and love 'em."

  37. I see from google that Ms. Maynard is the one who had an affair with reclusive writer J.D. Salinger years ago, then sold his letters and told all. Not a nice move, so what she has done with her family a grown bio daughter wrote a piece disputing how she had been depicted in print by her mother); and her mistaken adoption is no surprise.

    She sounds to me like a narcissist who uses everyone around her to advance her own agenda no matter who gets hurt. That is tragic for those Ethiopian girls, a fashion accessory that did not work out so she had to pass them on to someone else. Oh but don't worry, they are fine now (she says). Please save all your sympathy for poor Ms. Maynard, she would want it that way!

    No, Jane this sort of writing does not compare with Erma Bombeck and other fifties happy housewife lighthearted humor writers. This is a whole other level of exploitation and nastiness.

    Writers may feel compelled to write, but they do have a choice what they write about and how, and I find most family tell-alls ugly and hurtful, whether adoption related or not. I am thinking of a very ugly one involving people I knew slightly where a daughter outed her father as bisexual after his death, a respected and religious person who had actually done a great deal for gay rights and dignity without getting into his personal life. It was not as if he had been some hypocritical homophobic politician, but rather a private person from an older generation.

    The tone was all self-righteous sympathy on the surface, but the motive of revenge and shock to sell books underneath shone through. It dishonored the writer more than the subject. As these kinds of memoirs always do.

  38. This is Joyce Maynard's daughter's retrospective response to an article concerning her by her mother (published in the NY Times, with the daughter's permission).


  39. And don't forget Shirley Jackson, Jane, who not only used her children's stories for "Life Among the Savages" and "Raising Demons," but bought them "story presents" when the articles sold.

    Excellent biography of Jackson is called "Private Demons," by Judy Oppenheimer.

  40. Thanks for reminding us of Shirley Jackson, Mrs. TarguinBiscuitbarrell.

    Jackson was also the author of one of the best short stories ever written, "The Lottery."

  41. Hi Lorraine,
    Another great post. The adoption myth lives on!!!
    What is it about adoptive parents that makes them so sacred? I often wonder that. I also wonder why it is STILL so hard to tell the truth (all the truth) about adoption. I guess because then fewer people would adopt or adoption might not have the sacred aura it does now.

    Recently, there was an issue of Real Simple or some magazine like that that I came across in a hospital waiting room. It was a May issue so there was a forum on best mother stories, something like why my mom's special. The story chosen was, not surprisingly to me, was by an adoptee who said that she was grateful because her mother (adoptive) had given her "everything." Sad, I thought. Her own natural mother was Korean and if any of you know the circumstances of Korean adoptions, it was unlikely to have been a choice in any sense of the word to place this child for adoption. What is it about the media that loves these adoption stories with the happy endings? I don't know and I sometimes think it is such an uphill battle balance things from the other side.

    Keep up your important work.


  42. I am posting anonymously. I hate that. But if my daughter googles me I don't want her to find the post. We have to do what we have to do.
    I used to have a family preservationist blog. As Lorraine stated, I felt that using my name on the blog would give it more power. I worked hard to only talk about myself and my beliefs. I never wrote about my daughter as an adult only once using her pre-adoption name.
    After reading the last blog post I published that came down hard on infant adoption, my daughter e-mailed me a very emphatic message disagreeing with my position. I immediately took the blog down. Ugh, silenced once again.
    I probably overreacted, however she didn't suggest I start writing again.
    So, if I get my act together I'm going to start up an anonymous blog. Yuck! But it's better than nothing.
    The way I see it, secrets and lies are what kept me from raising my daughter. My mother based the adoption on how well she thought her sister-in-law fared after placing her first son for adoption. After returning from the relinquishment, she went on to marry the babies father, my dad's brother. The couple went on to have eight more children and from the outside looked like a happy family. But my mother based her assessment looking at the woman's outsides. I'm confident my mother never spoke to my aunt. While she always had a smile on her face she also had a drink in her hand. By her 70's she had terrible dementia. Somehow, I don't think this secret, or loosing her first child, worked out too well for my beautiful aunt.
    Growing up my mother told us the story without using my aunt and uncle's names. The secret was iron clad. It was used as an example of redemption from a terrible situation. My unwed motherhood was doomed before I ever slept with my college boyfriend.
    So I guess I should get busy writing again. -Jane Doe-

  43. Whoa Nelly! This is one hot post! I read it days ago and have been considering my comment... in the meantime, tons of comments posted and much more food for thought. Sorry to be late to the discussion.

    Although I didn't read Dina McQueen's original article, from what Lorraine reported of it I commend her honesty. How difficult it must be for an adoptive mom to see, understand and validate her child's obvious feelings of loss for the mother who gave birth to her! I would think that adoptive parents would be grateful for her insight, since many have probably experienced similar behaviors in their children. Also that acknowledging her daughter's feelings and trying to help her through it probably set them on a much healthier course than ignoring what it, believing that it wasn't important and would pass.

    Trust me, the strength of the birth connection makes first mothers as sad as it makes aparents. We all wish that adoption would solve everything, but it doesn't. Anyway you look at it, there is loss, on all sides.

    There were some comments about writers making a profit on their stories at the expense of their loved ones. Trust me, no one gets rich (or even makes back the time they've invested in writing) on essays or even a book. It's a labor of love, a desire to tell our stories and to help others that keeps us going.

    I think it was Maryanne who pointed out that many writers use their parents, spouses, children, other relatives and friends as fodder for their stories, whether in serious or serious works. When it's about a traditional/biological family, this seems to go unnoticed, or at least un-protested. Only when it involves adoptive families do some get upset. I wonder if there is some innate need to protect adoption as an institution that makes this off-limits.

    I appreciate any book that makes me think or teaches me something important. I was uncomfortable with Sarah Saffian's book, but I learned that not all adoptees want to reconnect or automatically love their families of origin. I learned of adoptee angst in Jean Strauss' and B.J. Lifton's books. I am not afraid to read differing experiences and opinions. It helps me deal with my own reunion.

    I also think that if a book (or essay) strikes a nerve, that's a good thing. It means you should pay attention, think about what you read and why it bothers you. Not just slam the door on it.

    I applaud Lorraine for writing "Birthmark" long before stories like hers were common. I'm sure you took lots of flak, Lo. You were a path blazer for many of us. To tell the truth, despite the criticism we would receive.

    My reunion memoir, Second-Chance Mother, is yet too new to have drawn attention. The feedback I've received, from mothers like me, adoptees, adoptive parents, and even those with no personal connection to adoption, has all been positive. I guess I should enjoy the calm before the storm!

    And by the way, everyone in the book is okay with what I wrote. It's the truth. Although it contains embarrassing portrayals of some, including myself, there is nothing purposefully unkind in it. Very open to interpretation.

    Thank you, Lo, for this opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of writing the truth.

  44. Denise wrote:
    I think it was Maryanne who pointed out that many writers use their parents, spouses, children, other relatives and friends as fodder for their stories, whether in serious or serious works. When it's about a traditional/biological family, this seems to go unnoticed, or at least un-protested.

    No, this was not what I said, and certainly not what I meant! I find it equally distasteful for biological parents with no connection to adoption to write memoirs that hurt and expose family members, and yes, this does get attacked and disapproved by others. Read some reviews of sleazy tell-all memoirs that have no connection to adoption, and you will see that they are not universally approved.It is not just the indiscretions of adoptive parents or birthparents in writing about their children and families that many people do not enjoy or find justified. The whole memoir genre is open to criticism, just like any other sort of book.

    What I did say is that this is a personal choice for each writer, but choices have consequences that can go beyond ourselves and what we perceive as "our truth". People write such memoirs for all kinds of motives, some good, to help others in similar circumstances, some not so good, to seek revenge or to point out the faults of other family members while minimizing their own.

    I am admittedly old-fashioned and would rather err on the side of less disclosure than too much. Hence, no blog, no memoir from me.

  45. Sorry, Maryanne. I should have double-checked the comments before quoting. It was Jane's mention I had in mind: "In addition to Joyce Maynard, Erma Bombeck, Jean Kerr, and other 50's "housewives" wrote freely and humorously about their hubby and children. Erma Bombeck's oldest child was adopted. Other popular writers used real children as templates for their fiction including Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne, and James Barrie."

    I abhor and do not read exposes written for revenge, financial gain, or self aggrandizement. I applaud those written to educate and/or help others going through similar situations. Many of the adoption memoirs (and memoirs in general) I have read fall into the latter category.

  46. Did any of you read Mommie Dearest?

    I have to say that I did and I enjoyed every horrible minute of it. that make qualify me as a slug, but so be it.

    That adoptee memoir certainly had a lot of ugly revelation. But what I really hate are memoirs that turn out to be lies through and through, such as James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. Others have been discovered to be fake before they get published.

  47. Surely it's only fair to remember that both A.M Homes and Sarah Saffian were found, and that those who do the searching may well be more prepared and ready for a reunion than the found person, who may need to do a lot more sifting of their emotions before being able to get a grasp on how they feel.

    Lorraine said, "The book itself would not have been the good read it was without her father's eloquent letters to Saffian, a fact nowhere noted by the ungracious author".
    Saffian does acknowledge her father's eloquence, albeit indirectly, "I was bowled over by his expressiveness", she writes. Which may seem double-edged to some, but I think she deserves latitude for being overwhelmed by such fulsome sentiments as "finding you has left me feeling reborn, raw, full." And her liking for his description of himself as "openhearted" is far from ungracious.

  48. Hi Lorraine,

    I read all of Dina's posts--the original one, and those following up on the controversy of it. The criticism leveled at her (mostly from APs) was that she wrote that she would NOT let her daughter watch the video of her first mother. The child wanted to watch it over and over and the author felt that it was detrimental to her in some way. People were outraged that she was holding this video back from her.

    best wishes...



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