Pulpwood Queens and an Adoption Theme

Pulpwood Queens and an Adoption Theme

Today is the first day of the 2018 LA Festival of Books. I am here with a colleague, Birgit Walker, who with her husband Jim, cowrote Keep Your Paws on the Road, about teaching your dog to be a great travel companion. I am also representing about a dozen other Phoenix-area authors’ books – titles ranging from Hollywood crime fiction to a Western to spiritual books to children’s picture books, and lots of others in between.

So it seems the perfect time to offer up a few comments on some recent books I’ve read. In January, I attended my first Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas. This was not a meeting of female lumberjacks, but rather the 18th annual gathering of book lovers – also known as readers – and a slew of amazingly accomplished authors. Started by a woman named Kathy Murphy, Pulpwood Queens is a book club that grew from one meeting in Kathy’s hair salon to more than 700 clubs around the world! These are some serious book lovers, and Kathy has created such a level of influence in the industry that she can pull household name authors to her event. On the flip side, she also has helped launch more than a few authors out of obscurity into a new level of fame.

packing tape handle

The weekend was packed with panel discussion after panel discussion wherein the authors shared their stories, discussed their creative motivations, and encouraged the writers in the audience to follow their passions. I came home with so many books that I had to pack a boxful to carry as luggage for the plane. You should have seen my very stylish packing tape handle. Laugh all you want; I was able to get myself from the rental car to the shuttle to the ticket counter with my fabricated tape handle. Of course, I received a love note from the TSA that they had searched my carefully taped box. For my safety – of course it was.

Author Katrina Shawver, my roommate for the Pulpwood Queen event, which takes place every year over MLK Weekend, told me her New Year’s resolution was to read a book a week in 2018. When I met him, my husband could – and did – read a book about every 2 to 3 days. I don’t think I’ve read more than 20 books in a year since college. So the idea of reading a book a week sounded like a pretty significant goal to me. In the 3 months since that weekend when I purchased, won, and was gifted all of those books, I have read five, about which I’m feeling pretty good. Once upon a time, my reading ratio was more or less 95 percent fiction to 5 percent nonfiction. Sometime over the last 20 years, it hasn’t exactly reversed, but it’s been more like 35 fiction to 65 nonfiction. These five books I read were all novels, so I’ve gone and skewed my recent ratio quite a bit.

A quote from Stephen King comes to mind: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” This blog has been my exercise in steady, if not daily writing, lo these last 3+ months. And I seem to be upping my reading – especially of fiction – quite a bit, as well. So maybe there is hope for me as a writer after all.

Adoption fiction

One interesting thing occurred as I listened to the authors speak over this very intense weekend – adoption seemed to be a thread running through a surprising number of the books. I had started this blog about two weeks earlier, so immediately thought I would read and write about these books. It has taken me until now to do so. I understand from the Pulpwood Queens Facebook group that the first author I will mention, Lisa Wingate, has recently sold her millionth copy of Before We Were Yours, no small feat. This is her 30th book, so she’s one of those many-years-to-get-there overnight successes. The book is the heartbreaking fictional story of a family impacted by a real-life monster by the name of Georgia Tann, a woman who literally stole babies and small children away from poor and “undeserving” families and sold them to wealthier people – all in the name of “the good of the child.” This child trafficking ring, covered up by police, judges, and child “welfare” workers ran from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book is extraordinarily well written, but truly a gut-wrenching read. I’m amazed it’s found such purchase among a wide audience, but happy for Lisa – of whom I asked a question about birthmothers during the Q&A and spoke with briefly as she signed my book – and grateful to have more light shone on such a dark era for American adoption.

Another “adoption” themed book whose author I heard speak is titled The Cage-maker, by Nicole Seitz. This book uses an interesting device, in that it tells the story of a wealthy family and the “curse” that seems to follow them across the years through the lens of letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles. The writing is eloquent and lyrical – but the story is slow-moving and a bit challenging to follow because of the device of telling it in bits and pieces, not all of them chronological. A modern-day woman who writes a DIY home decorating blog unexpectedly inherits the birdcage – with the promise that it will reveal the identity of her birthmother. She reads the letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings and very occasionally comments on them as the story progresses. The bigger problem than the slow-moving nature of the book is that the adoption angle is utterly unnecessary to the story. In fact, it’s just confusing. Why make the heir an adopted person with no interest in knowledge about her birthfamily, when making her a long-lost niece would have worked just as well?

Then there was Cherry Bomb, a debut novel by a lovely woman named Susan Cushman. This freshman effort has received some glowing reviews; nevertheless, I found it a ridiculous and annoying read. It tells the story of a young graffiti artist who was abandoned by her mother at the age of five. While I have actually occasionally wondered about the people who’ve drawn some of the amazing and weird and obnoxious graffiti I’ve seen on walls in different parts of America, I found the inside lingo in this story awkward and overused. OK, I get it that a piece of graffiti is a tag, and stocking up on spray paint cans is referred to in the language of the artists as “racking.” But it felt like so much emphasis was placed on using this inside vernacular that the story was secondary. That, the age of the protagonist, and the general writing style made this feel like an unintentional YA novel. The most challenging piece of all, however, were the two massive coincidences used as plot devices. I understand, as I make this comment, that I have had some massive coincidences occur in my adoption. This, however, is a fictional story, and the coincidences are too incredible to be believed. They are also trite and so obvious that by the time you get to the end of the story, there is no surprise at all in “the reveal.” The intentions were good, but in my opinion, this book missed by a mile.

The last of these four books with something of an adoption theme is by the charming and very funny author Jamie Ford. What I mean is that Jamie is a funny person – his books would not be considered humorous. Here’s a detail that might impress you as much as it impressed me: Jamie’s first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was so well received that it has been picked up for use in high school literature classes across the country. He shared that the feedback from students that has most touched him are the comments that it was the first book they were required to read for school that they actually enjoyed. I had him autograph the copy that I bought to Eric, as my son made similar comments about losing his love of reading because of all the boring books he was required to read in high school.

So it was an interesting coincidence that Jamie’s third novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, also had adoption – of sorts – as its premise. A Chinese woman puts her young son on a boat to America, certain he will starve to death otherwise. Once he arrives in Seattle, he winds up in a children’s home where he’s made to work hard for his meager sustenance. When the boy is perceived as a complainer by the “do-gooder” who runs the home, she decides to get rid of him by literally putting him up for auction as the grand prize at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, or the World’s Fair. Cardboard tickets are sold as an amazed crowd gathers to gawk at the boy-turned-raffle prize. The winning number is drawn – and people are dismayed to learn that the winner is the madam of a high-end brothel. During his presentation, Jamie Ford explained that this much of the story is said actually to have taken place, although he was unable to unearth any further details about the boy, whose name was Ernest. Another heart-breaking story, this was by far my favorite of the four adoption-themed books I recently finished.

Other than the sometimes loose theme of adoption, the other thing these books have in common is that they are all historical fiction – a favorite of the Pulpwood Queens. If you’re an avid reader who would truly enjoy meeting authors and a congenial community of other readers, you might want to consider a trip to Nacogdoches next January for the Girlfriend Weekend – the theme will be Western! I will definitely be there with bells on.

In the meantime, if you’ve read other adoption-themed fiction you want to share, please post your suggestions in the Comments section below.

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Parenting Lesson 101: Raise the Best Kids You Can

Parenting Lesson 101: Raise the Best Kids You Can

My friend and personal trainer, Miles Beccia, is an adoptive father. He and his former wife adopted two children from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They are excellent students and seem to be thriving, in spite of the divorce. Most recently, Miles and his current partner, Brittany, welcomed a new baby into the family. As Miles tells it, the older children seem to be adapting well to having a new little sister.

My husband and I were talking with Miles today about the challenges of raising a child in today’s world. Though my question that sparked the conversation was pointed and specific – “How will you handle having ‘the talk’ with your kids, particularly your son, about how to behave around the police?” – Miles’ answer taught me a lesson I forgot, perhaps because I’m not parenting. It’s not about raising a black child in a white family/community/city, or raising black kids in an culture where a disproportionate number of people of color are dying at the hands of cops. It’s about raising the best kids you can at this moment, and preparing them for all of what life may bring their way, good or bad.

Miles has a lovely, very positive outlook on life, and he appears to do everything he can to instill that in his children. To that end, he’s teaching them to respect police officers and that more of them are good than are bad. He’s also teaching them to “turn the other cheek,” but only insofar as they are not being systematically abused. If someone is attacking them with the intent to harm them, they have full permission to fight back. A delicate line, to be certain, but one I think he approaches with grace. He explained to his son and daughter that bullies and name-callers probably don’t have loving families or kind parents or safe homes where they can be comfortable; more than likely they act out because it’s what they’ve learned to do as a defense mechanism, not because they are innately mean. My husband said, on hearing that, “Can’t imagine how different my life would have been if I’d heard that while I was growing up.”

I don’t know – have never asked – what Miles and his ex-wife know about their children’s birth families, whether they know who the birthmoms are or still have any contact. Partly, it’s just my way not to be nosy. I would have made a terrible investigative journalist, as I generally avoid asking prying questions unless I know a person really well or they seem to be giving me the green light to ask. I’m sure Miles would answer any questions I have, and perhaps I will ask them someday, if they come up organically in a conversation.

Adoption is an interesting way of making a family – but like all families, every family created through adoption is different. Certainly there will be some overlap, in terms of the kinds of issues that arise with adoption. Yet, families built through international adoptions will face challenges and, perhaps, obstacles that those involved in domestic adoptions don’t typically experience. In the end, however, families are just families. Some are better adjusted than others; some are happier; some are more secretive. And yet, most of them are doing the best they can, even if their attempts fall far short of what the rest of us would judge to be the mark. Parenting is not an easy gig – my hat is off to my son’s parents, Kathy and Bruce; to Miles; to my sister, Corina (tomorrow, March 23, would have been her 49th birthday); and to all the parents who go out of their way to make sure their children are equipped to grow into the best adults they can be.

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Disarming Trigger Words

Disarming Trigger Words

It seems that many people needn’t go very far to find a reason to be offended. Occasionally, the offense is real … or serious … or intentional. Most of the time, however, people seem to go out of their way to look for reasons to take offense at a comment someone has made. I’m grateful for the light being shone on the dark pattern of the sexual abuse of women by powerful men, and at the same time, I see us heading down a dangerous path where we’re policing every comment, parsing every joke, turning the figurative furniture upside down to find the intentional slight that might not actually be there. After the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, the center on any issue is the place of common ground – and yet it’s often the most challenging to achieve.

I am concerned that in this overzealous watchful state we’re in, we may be losing our collective sense of humor. Now senses of humor run a large gamut – and there’s all kinds of comedy. I’ve never been a big fan of puns or slapstick, for instance, yet my husband loves the Marx Brothers. When I was in high school, my boyfriend and all of his friends were huge Monty Python fans, so much so that they’d committed every word of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to memory and would spout lines from it at the oddest times. It wasn’t until years later that I could even crack a smile at a sketch from those crazy Brits. Go find the Dead Parrot Sketch if you’ve never seen a Python skit.

It would be interesting – from a purely sociological perspective – to be able to rewind the scenes from my childhood to see what went into my humor development, or lack thereof. My sister seemed to share my humor-challenged state, so I have a suspicion it had to do with my dad. I remember telling Mary, my social worker at the adoption agency, how serious my dad always was – almost as if he regarded pleasure of any kind as frivolous at best, and sinful at worst. She referred to him as an ascetic – a word I had to look up at the time. In case you’re wondering, the Google dictionary defines it as: “characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” Dad loosened up toward the end of his life. I couldn’t say what, exactly, triggered the change, but it was nice to see him enjoy dessert or laugh at a goofy joke.

So it’s really no wonder that my own sense of humor was slow to develop and then to evolve. I thank my husband, John, in great part for helping me with that, although I don’t think we’d have hit it off very well if I hadn’t already done a lot of personal work in the area of lightening the fuck up.

When I was in high school, I went to a Spring Training game with the Monty Python boyfriend. We were at the snack bar, and I went to get some napkins. There was a pile on the counter, so I grabbed them, not realizing they were sitting on top of another fan’s tray. He looked at me a bit perplexed and asked me what I was doing, so Anthony and his friends laughed at my goof – because it was funny. But I was humiliated. At that time, I had zero ability to laugh at myself or let a silly mistake like that roll off my back.

Years later, I was back in Phoenix working as a substitute teacher, when one little girl in my class tripped and fell. Immediately, most of the other students laughed at her. I chastised them – someone falling isn’t funny. They piped up to me that their teacher always laughed whenever any of the kids fell down. I was incensed and told them told them that their teacher was WRONG! People falling down is never funny. But if that were true, America’s Funniest Home Videos would never have been the hit it was, right? It wasn’t my kind of humor – still isn’t. I think it’s because I find it difficult to take pleasure in humor that comes at another person’s expense. But a lot of people do find it funny when someone else falls down or otherwise blunders.

Yet there are things I find funny today which I realize would anger – perhaps enrage – other people. Religious humor, for one thing. John and I watched a 2009 Jim Jeffries comedy special the other day, and his anti-religion jokes were simply scathing. Funny – but really, really harsh.

So having discovered my sense of humor a bit later in life, I also learned that I needn’t be offended every time someone makes a toss-off comment about adoption. You might have heard a parent say, when their kid has misbehaved in some way, “You’re not my kid. You must have been adopted” or “I should have just put you up for adoption.” It’s probably not the kindest thing to say to a child in any circumstance, but I get that we all say things in frustration, at times. What I no longer do is get my back up when I hear it the way I used to.

I have a friend whose adult son struggles with mental health issues. Her trigger words are “crazy” and any derivation or synonym thereof. For others, it’s anything to do with addiction or obesity or the word “retarded.” I’m willing to bet that many of us have a word or a term or a topic we think is just taboo for joking about – maybe more than one. While I do believe that most of us could probably use some sensitivity training and take more care with our speech, I also know that people are just going to say things.

I don’t believe the world owes us a bubble in which to live. Sure – speech that incites hate or violence is a real problem, but for the most part, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the habit we seem to be developing of feeling superior to others by finding ways to make them wrong. If we walk around all day listening for words or jokes or speech patterns that offend us, we will find them. And then what? Do we make it our mission in life to educate every person who “misspeaks”? Do we publicly shame them or call them out because we felt slighted? Worse still, do we go out of our way take offense on others’ behalves? Do we make YouTube videos or write endless Facebook posts about how wicked this person or that category of people is? This seems to be happening more and more these days, and all it’s doing is sowing more division, rather than in any way bringing us together.

Perhaps we can try – again – to meet in the middle. Let’s all be a little more aware of the language we’re using, and at the same time, let’s all just relax a bit, realizing that it sometimes might be OK to laugh at ourselves.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand

Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand

As far as I’m aware, there’s no rule that a pregnant woman considering adoption must have counseling, although it is highly encouraged. I remember hearing once – again, research to support this piece of anecdotal information yielded nothing – that by law, counseling had to be offered to a woman considering adoption, even a private attorney adoption, but that’s pretty much the extent of things. As you might imagine – particularly if you’ve ever dealt with (or been) a pregnant woman – she has lots of bonus hormones looking for a place to land. Combine that with an ill-timed, out-of-wedlock, and/or crisis pregnancy and a woman considering adoption, and you’ve created the emotional perfect storm.

It’s not the time for remembering details – or hearing, let alone acting on, the information. Particularly when someone says, perhaps as a casual comment, “Oh, by the way, counseling is available if you want it.” That’s why an agency adoption is so important for the prospective birthmother. She is assigned a caseworker who makes sure to talk her through the most essential details – and offers an ear to listen, as well as (hopefully) wise counsel and answers to any questions the pregnant mom does think to ask in her flustered state. That’s the problem, though, with a first-time pregnancy. You don’t know what you don’t know.

On the other hand, I don’t envy the job of an adoption social worker – or any social worker, for that matter. At least a baby usually finds a (better) home at the end of an adoption, so I guess there are pluses. But I imagine there’s a lot to know and remember to explain along the way. Still, it would seem there should be a checklist of topics for the caseworker to discuss with the pregnant mother, whether or not she decides to keep the baby. If she’s going to carry the pregnancy to term, things will come up and decisions will need to be made.

Yes, there’s that ubiquitous book, What to Expect When You’ve Got Anything at All to Do With Having a Kid, EXCEPT Be a Birthmother. That book – and all the others like it – focus on the happy event, assuming the baby will go home from the hospital with the same people it went in with, which is exactly what does not happen in adoption. Not ideal reading for the prospective birthmom. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Patricia Roles’ book, Saying Goodbye to a Baby, came closest to answering and addressing my questions, but (a) I didn’t find it until after my son was born and living with his other family and (b) even it didn’t cover some of the more basic issues.

As a matter of fact, after scoping out the Amazon reviews for Roles’ book (two 5-star reviews; two 2-star reviews, and one 1-star review), I think I’m going to order another copy so I can re-read it, 22 years later, as it seems my perspective just may have shifted. I do get the sense that the writer of the 1-star review is one of those people I wrote about in a prior post who has no desire to release her grief or heal from the adoption wounds. Yes, her pain is real, and there is no timeline for getting over it. But forward movement after any trauma is probably a healthier option than choosing to live in that pain forever. Yes – for many people, birthmothers included, living in pain is a choice.

So here are the things I wish I’d known before they occurred:

My scoliosis would matter when it came to the epidural. Epidural is a drug commonly used during labor and delivery. It is inserted into the spine by an anesthesiologist, with the command, “Hold still or you might wind up paralyzed.” I had a single dose that helped for the first little while, but the second dose didn’t “take.” We later deduced that the curve in my spine meant the epidural hadn’t gone where it was supposed to go. The nurses told me the pain I experienced was the equivalent of natural childbirth. You’re welcome, kiddo!

Those little red dots all over your neck and chest are capillaries that broke during the “pushing.” Nothing earth-shattering here, but it would have been a good thing to know so I didn’t have to freak out about it.

The birthparents make the circumcision decision. It was a bit surprising to find out after the fact that my OB/GYN did not perform this procedure. So Eric had to go home a happy kid, and come back a week later to be mauled and – some might say – mangled. Although a huge debate churns on about the merits of circumcision, as I understand things, the child still generally does whatever the father did. Had I realized ahead of time that it would be important to know my doctor’s stance, I would have made other preparations.

Breasts are milk producers. Duh, right? But not when you’re not expecting it. No one prepared me for my milk to come in, or informed me of the need for nursing pads even though I wouldn’t be nursing. Not to mention that nursing the baby you will place for adoption is an option. It would seem immeasurably more difficult to surrender a baby with whom you’ve shared that kind of bond, but I have known birthmothers who’ve done it.

I could have had Eric baptized in the hospital and been there for the ceremony. This is, of course, specific to Christian religious belief – in our case, Catholic. It wasn’t until I read in a chatroom about a birthmom who did this that I was even aware it could have been a possibility. Again, this is less important to me now, but it would have been a very special moment to share and is one of my very few regrets.

Grief can show up as anger. Though I discussed this in a prior post, it’s worth noting again here. I spent the entire first year of Eric’s life extremely pissed off at the world, and it wasn’t until someone I didn’t even like very much pointed it out to me that I recognized that anger as grief. I’m not sure there would have been anything to do differently, but it feels like it would have been useful information at the time.

It seems unlikely that Patricia Roles will update her book – so maybe it is time for a new book. And maybe my job is to write two of them: one, a handbook like Roles’ for birthparents, and the other my own adoption story.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

No birthmother is happy at the thought that she’s hurt her child by placing him or her for adoption. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine many must feel, as I did, that we were doing the best thing we could for our babies – or older children, as is sometimes the case. I definitely could have parented my son – I was old enough, with a steady job, and health insurance. In other words, I had the means. But I’m not sure, to this day, that doing so would have been the best thing for him. I’m not unmaternal, per se, but I never felt the overwhelming drive so many moms – and would-be moms – seem to have. I think kids are cute enough, but I’ve never gone out of my way to meet a baby or felt something in my life was missing because I did not live the parenting experience.

That’s a challenging admission to make, given that my son could certainly take it as abandonment. And strangely enough, it’s only through the self-inspection, recollections, and research I’ve begun doing for this blog that I realize how deep his pain might have been. Just because I adjusted fairly well to the separation doesn’t mean he did. It’s long been my belief – and experience – that the older person in the relationship (e.g., the parent, teacher, older sibling) sets the tone for the relationship. So in that regard, the tone I set in my relationship with Eric was that I wasn’t going to be his mother. Partly, if I’m honest, because I didn’t want to be anybody’s mother (it wasn’t about him, personally) – but mostly because I didn’t think I could do a very good job at it. My role models had been iffy, my biological clock non-existent. And the one thing I knew was that he deserved a great mom – great parents. So I went through a lot of effort to ensure he got them.

It took me a very long time to find a life partner in my husband, John. I was 42 when we met, and 43 when we married, a first marriage for both of us. He was the first man I dated seriously after Tony, my son’s birthfather. We met through the Craigslist personals. I’d been posting there on and off for five years when we met, yet mine was the first ad John ever responded to. The thing is, as I look back on it now, all of those first dates were a lot like the profiles I saw for prospective parents. I could have said yes to a second date with any of them – just as I could have agreed to a meeting with any of the prospective parents from the first 11 profiles. But I would have been settling for less than what I really wanted, and I wasn’t willing to do that.

I’m not comparing choosing adoptive parents for my son with choosing a mate; the former was far more important, because it affected a little person who was wholly dependent on me to make good decisions for him. If I dated and subsequently married badly, society would easily allow me to divorce and get a “re-do.” If I chose the wrong parents for my son, there would be no take-backs. So maybe holding out until I met the right people to become Eric’s family was practice for holding out to meet John. One thing is sure: I got it right on both counts.

I will say that as John and I were briefly considering the idea of parenting, it did niggle at the back of my mind to wonder how Eric would feel if I’d had another child I kept after having placed him with Kathy and Bruce. I’m not quite sure how much that thought affected my decision not to have a child with John – perhaps more than I realized.

And even though it seems my son has had a great life, I know he has struggled with the adoption, as virtually every adopted kid has. Fortunately for him, the adoption has been at least semi-open since the start, so he’s known who his family is and has been able to see photos, meet his aunts and maternal grandmother, and have his questions answered as they arose. He has a full medical history for my side of the family, and a few details about his birthfather’s. In short, he has a lot more access and information than many adoptees do, even in today’s era of “openness.”

I was banging around, looking for a photo idea for closed adoption when I came across the website, IAmAdopted.net. Grit your teeth and gird your loins if plan to do any reading there – because a lot of its information may hit you hard in the face, especially if you are an adoptive parent. The goal of the site, it seems, is to foster better, more open relationships between adoptive parents and the children they call theirs. There is helpful, eye-opening information for birthparents, too. For instance, one of the posts I read is titled “If Adoption Was About the Child.” It begins with these lines:

“Every day … I read about the experiences and narratives of adoptees, and the overall conclusion I have made is that adoption is about birth parents and adoptive parents. When will we be real about it and admit that?”

Her point is that it’s only in the rarest circumstance when adoption is solely done with the child’s well-being most central. Usually adoptive parents are adopting because they want a [bigger] family – not out of a desire to help a needy infant or toddler. And likewise, adoption is often a solution for the birthmother. I felt defensive reading those comments – and yet I must admit this blogger has a point.

She then goes on to delineate the ways adoption would work if it were truly centered around the child. I am paraphrasing, unless a direct quote is indicated. But please go read the original post!

  • All adoptions would be open. Check.
  • Adoptees would be allowed consistent contact with their birthfamilies – providing safety wasn’t an issue – without the adoptive parents fearing their child would like their birthparents better. It didn’t start like that, but we got there in a way that unfolded at Eric’s pace, not mine or his parents’.
  • Adoptees would have access to their original birth certificates. I wanted this – but even the birth certificate I have does not name Tony as the birthfather. I must have been angrier with him than I remember. And the one Eric’s family has was redacted and changed to indicate their last name, not ours.
  • Birthmothers would not deny contact with the children they placed for adoption. While I cannot imagine doing this, from what I’ve been reading, the guilt and shame some birthmoms experience is overwhelming and they feel they don’t deserve access to their children. What they fail to realize is that in doing so, they’re creating a second rejection that might be even more painful than the original one. The writer calls the behavior selfish, and I’d have a hard time arguing with her.
  • Adoptive parents would allow their children to search without getting overly emotional and making it about themselves instead of about their children’s need to claim their identity. This was not relevant in our adoption, but given how open Kathy was from the beginning, I doubt it ever would have been an issue.
  • The experiences and narratives of adoptees would be validated – not questioned. Adoptees wouldn’t be labeled as angry or bitter. Adoptive parents and birthparents need to admit that everything won’t always be rosy for their kid, no matter how much he or she is loved. The separation of adoption is a form of trauma, requiring attention and recuperation. Rather than scolding them for experiencing their emotions, it would be far more helpful for the parents to help them express their emotions – even the uncomfortable ones. Check, on Kathy’s end. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t always realized the depth of this pain.
  • There would be no lies told or secrets hidden from the adopted child. Check.
  • Adoptees wouldn’t be expected to always feel grateful for being adopted. Wow – this one caught me off guard. I don’t think I overtly did this – but perhaps I expected Eric to be OK with things just because he had all the information. Well, I’m his first mom and I chose to let another person come in and take what would have been my role. How could any of us expect him never to feel even a little resentment for that?
  • There wouldn’t be an exorbitant amount of money exchanged for facilitating the adoption. Her direct quote is: “(When will birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents learn that they are being duped by the multi-billion dollar adoption industry?) You can change that by demanding lower to no-cost adoption. Adoptive parents hold the power in adoption land.” Yep – I agree with this one, even though I wasn’t on the paying side of the equation. Actually, because I had health insurance, I covered most of the costs for doctor visits and my hospital delivery, which makes fees an even stranger consideration in our case. I did, however, receive a stipend of a few hundred dollars for maternity clothes.
  • We would admit that race matters. This, again, was nonmaterial to our adoption, but I love this thought. Especially this part: “If you are going to adopt transracially, be prepared and don’t make excuses for not being able to move or how far you must travel to the nearest city that is more diverse after choosing to spend thousands of dollars on your adoption. Put it in the budget.”
  • Adoptive parents would help adoptees locate their birthfamilies and demand legislation to open all adoptions and provide adopted persons with their original birth certificates. Yep – 100 percent agreement on that one, too.

So if I were keeping score, I’d say we did pretty well with the items on this list. But I’m not really the one to ask – I wonder how Eric would feel we did. A few are beyond our personal reach, but even though we’re not directly affected, we can still get involved in changing things. If we want whole, healthy adopted persons to come out of the strange relationships created by adoption, openness in every area needs to be the standard.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Popping Juliette’s Bubble

Popping Juliette’s Bubble

Adoption played a starring role in my life the whole time I lived in the NYC area. It seems, in retrospect, that I’d meet someone new, and within a few minutes they’d know about my son. So it makes sense that I told one of the temps working with me in the admin department of the Lehman Brothers Investment Banking division. Her name was Juliette and she was, at the time, making a film about witches. Like many temps, she was a working actor/producer who needed a day job to pay the bills.

If you could picture a woman who’d make a documentary about Wiccans, you might imagine a goth chick. Juliette was most definitely a goth gal. She wore only black, had long straight hair worn loose down her back, and seemed paler than the average woman. We got to talking about my son’s adoption, and Juliette mentioned that she, too, was adopted. The first thing I (still) wonder, on meeting an adopted person, is whether they’ve had a reunion with their birthfamily. As I’ve matured, I’ve become better at discerning the appropriate time to ask that question – sometimes it’s never appropriate. When I met Juliette, I believe I pretty much blurted it out immediately.

And, not surprisingly, I think I put her on the spot. “Um, well, I’ve never really searched for my birthmother,” she explained. She went on to describe an adoptive mom who was the epitome of June Cleaver and told me she’d never felt quite at home in her family.

“You know,” I blathered on, “chances are that you’re a lot like your birthmom. She’s probably arty and interesting and liberal. You might look like her too!”

Juliette’s face fell. She enjoyed being a misfit in her family, in terms of foiling her adoptive mom’s preference for pearls and dinner parties and Good Housekeeping décor. She had chosen to rewrite history in her head, and had more or less convinced herself that she’d descended, fully formed, into this family. And all of the things that made her different – and in her mind, special – were uniquely hers. Although she was 35 years old, it had never occurred to her that she had progenitors and, due to simple biology, was likely somewhat similar to them. Rather than comforting her, the thought that she might be similar to her birthmother seemed to horrify her.

As a new birthmother, I was shocked by her reaction to the idea.

I hated to think that my son might, out of hand, reject me as his birthmother. This was a lot less likely to happen, however, simply due to the timeline. Juliette arrived in her family back in the days of fully closed adoptions, when birth and adoptive families traveled distinct paths which the agencies took great care to ensure never, ever crossed. With our adoption beginning as semi-open, Kathy, Bruce, Tony (to the degree he was involved), and I were much further down the road toward extensive knowledge about each other – which means the mystery never really existed for our son. He knew who his birthparents were, where we were raised, the kinds and levels of education we’d achieved, what our parents had done for work, our religious beliefs, our health histories, and pretty much anything else he or his parents thought to ask – then and since.

Juliette had none of that. Everything was unknown, so instead of assuming she was like anyone else, she preferred to imagine that she had been a blank slate, and that she, personally, had chosen every trait that made her unique. Again, biology tells us otherwise. The nature/nurture debates still rage on, but the fact is that our physical traits, at the very least, are passed down. And likely personality traits, as well as social preferences and much more.

I lost touch with Juliette not long after she stopped temping with us. I did see and recognize her on the news in the days following 9/11, among the ash-covered faces running for their lives in the rubble of the Twin Towers. And I peeked at her Facebook page before writing this post. She’s still involved in acting, but in an entirely other milieu than filmmaking. According to an article in EOS magazine, the witch documentary did get made, though I could find no reference to it on IMDB. The article mentions Juliette’s teenage escape from conservative Orange County, Calif., but it says nothing further about her upbringing. I can’t help but wonder if she ever looked up her birthmom – or if her birthmom might have searched for her and been thrilled to discover what a wildly creative and successful woman her daughter has become.

Adoption is weird – there’s no right or wrong in terms of how the relationships ultimately turn out. We all just do the best we can. I never meant to burst Juliette’s bubble about her imagined story of origin. But at least a tiny part of me would be gratified to know that I planted the idea of a search that might not have taken hold otherwise.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

No Longer Such a Thing as a Closed Adoption

No Longer Such a Thing as a Closed Adoption

I was born a researcher – or maybe I was just a good student. My dad started taking me to the library by the time I was 6, and I wrote my first research paper on the Great White Shark in second grade. I’m not sure where it came from, but we had reams of that green and white striped continuous-feed computer paper, which I used to make a stuffed Great White Shark that accompanied the paper. My next paper was on Vermont, including details about Montpelier and how maple syrup is made. Point is, by high school, writing was like breathing and research was second nature to me. No wonder my first real job was as a research librarian at The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

I’m not sure at what point the Spence-Chapin Agency began offering fully open adoption as an option – meaning that both the adoptive parents and the birthparents had full contact information for each other, and some sort of agreement for ongoing contact. The agency would have no role in facilitating the continuation of the relationship, once the adoption papers were signed. Optional counseling would, of course, still be available, should either party choose to pursue it. When I asked about open adoption in 1994, I was told, “We don’t really do that at Spence-Chapin.” Interestingly, that was enough for me at the time, and I moved on without pursuing it any further. Perhaps I knew that if I waited long enough, we’d get there in our adoption.

The thing that’s always perplexed me, though, even way back when I was still pregnant with Eric, was the notion that in 1994 – more or less the dawn of the Information Age – any adoptive parent could believe, even for a moment, that a fully closed adoption was still possible. I’d seen the TV shows. Fictional private investigators could find a person based on a single word scribbled on a matchbook cover. And I once heard of a real-life game (I was unable find details tonight on the interwebs after a comprehensive 10-minute search) wherein a person was assigned the task of finding a stranger in New York City simply by asking random people if they knew that person. On average, it took contestants just 6 hours to locate the person in question.

Closed adoptions? Pshaw – the agencies and attorneys were just conning these prospective parents into believing their adoptions would be closed. If they could string the parents-to-be along under this misapprehension, an adoption transaction would likely transpire – what happened after the papers were signed wasn’t really their concern.

As for me, Nancy Drew Jr., I was stashing away details that Kathy and Bruce revealed to me in the back of my mind for later review and use in tracking them down, if need be. Not to steal Eric away – just to find out who and where these people were. After all, they would be raising my son.

Case in point: Eric’s family lived less than an hour away from New York City by train, in a New Jersey township. Throwaway facts until you realize that there are 565 municipalities in New Jersey, each of which falls into one of five types: 254 boroughs, 241 townships, 52 cities, 15 towns, and 3 villages. So now I’ve narrowed down the place to a township within roughly 30 miles of Manhattan. Then, at one point during a pre-adoption visit, Kathy revealed that their church had recently had a new roof installed on it. Bingo! A New Jersey township within 30 miles of NYC whose Catholic church had a new roof – we were in business. I was a trained researcher. How hard could it be to find this church and surreptitiously inquire about the family who’d recently adopted a baby boy born in Hoboken?

As it turns out, I would not need any of this information, as the single detail I would need – their last name – fell, almost literally, into my lap. What began as a “closed adoption” would soon enough become open. Hence my entire premise: regardless of what the adoptive family is promised, in terms of privacy and security, any domestic birthmother with enough will power, information collection savvy, and research tools (now readily available at her fingertips) could probably discover the identity of her adoptive family. And if a birthmom could pony up the bucks for a private investigator? All bets would be off.

Please understand, I am not advocating for birthmothers to go sneaking around to find their kids. A direct approach is almost always a better option. But sometimes, less adequately counseled adoptive parents mean well while the baby is still unborn – yet, once he or she is delivered and the papers are signed, they let their fear take over and they run or hide, regardless of the plans for openness they promised, pre-birth. If such a breach of contract were to occur, should the birthmother just slink away, without any recourse? No – she most certainly should not. And what about the birthmom who didn’t know she really would prefer an open adoption? Should she be shut out because the window for agreeing to something she didn’t know would be important to her has now closed? Again, I say no.

Here’s the thing: like it or not, in the internet age, a guarantee of privacy is a thing of the past. Even people who avoid virtual exposure at all costs can be found. A year or so ago, I found online a copy of the original deed to my parents’ house – the one where I grew up – with my dad’s signature and all. He died in 2005 – and he dabbled with the internet for perhaps 9 months, back in the early days of AOL. He most certainly did not knowingly put that kind of information in a public place where people like me could stumble across it. It’s just the way life is in this technology age.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure the search process would be quite as easy for international birthmoms – which seems to be why so many couples find international adoption such an enticing option. In my opinion, however, whatever adoptive parents “gain” by avoiding the birthparent interaction is nothing compared to what their children lose when there is no information available about their bio parents, from medical history to cultural identity to the origin of distinctive personality traits. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the things adoptive kids long for most is a sense of who they are. Yet much of that so often is lost with an international adoption.

According to the bulk of the literature I’m reading online these days about the adoption process, closed domestic adoptions seem to be mostly a thing of the past and are highly discouraged. Thank god! Of course, I met a woman recently who told me she “just didn’t think she’d want any connection” to the birthfamily – something about not wanting them “meddling” and fearing the thought of “being in constant competition” with them. Thankfully, she’s not an adoptive mother – and if she were, I’d hope she’d receive plenty of counseling before being greenlighted to enter into this most unique way of making a family.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.