An amazing thing happened this past weekend at the Auburn Writers Conference, a two-day event themed “The Winding Road: Travel, Identity, and the Search for Voice,” which I had chosen to attend because identity is a primary theme in my writing. My first workshop on Friday morning, led by author Patricia Foster, focused on writing about one day in a life. After discussing an example piece, we were asked to begin writing about a day in our own lives. I chose the day I mailed a letter to my birth mother, the first contact I would make with her after learning her name.
After we’d written for fifteen minutes or so, Patricia instructed us to read what we’d written to the person sitting next to us. I happened to be sharing a table with two of the most gregarious women at the conference. They’d introduced themselves to everyone in the room when they came in, chatting with us all as if we were old friends. The three of us decided to share with each other. After the first of the friendly women read, she eagerly asked to hear my story, and I read lines describing my trepidation about my mother seeing my handwriting for the first time, my hesitation about letting the envelope fall into the mail slot.
The woman seated beside me looked at me with wide eyes and asked if what I’d read was a true story. I told her that yes, it was about me. She then revealed that she was the adoptive mother of a daughter about my age, that her daughter thus far had not searched for her birth family, that she wondered if her daughter thought about her own birth mother. I noticed how her eyes glistened with oncoming tears, and I felt my own eyes beginning to water. Then she pulled her friend into the conversation, explaining that the second woman’s daughter had just adopted a baby boy, her new grandson. The grandmother proudly pulled out a picture of a handsome black baby, telling me she loved him every bit as much as her other biological grandchildren. The three of us then began sharing more of our adoption stories with each other, until Patricia resumed the workshop.
I was astounded by the synchronicity of the three of us having sat together on that day, in that particular session. Even if I’d met them at some other time during the conference, the topic of adoption might never have come up and we wouldn’t have realized the commonality we shared. At the end of the session, I told them I would be reading some of my poetry on the adoption experience later that afternoon and invited them to come listen if they were interested.
As the time of my reading grew closer, I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake. I write from the perspective of an adoptee, the only perspective I know, and often I’m critical of adoption in my writing. Would this adoptive mother and her adoptive-grandmother friend be offended by my words? Even worse, would they be hurt? The fear of hurting my own adoptive mother has many times been a burden on my ability to be honest in my writing. Now I was worried that if these women had a negative reaction to my reading, I might feel intimidated about ever sharing my true experience again.
There was nothing I could do. I knew I had to go through with it, to read my work to an audience that might not be receptive to it. Whatever happened, there was no way for me to move forward in my writing life without crossing this hurdle of fear. I walked to the podium and looked out to see my new acquaintances sitting in the very back. I took a deep breath and began to read.
After all the readings were over, I cautiously approached the two women. The adoptive mother immediately folded me into a hug, telling me how good she thought my poems were, and the grandmother expressed her congratulations on my reading. We all sat together at dinner, where they asked to hear more of the story about my reunion with my birth family. I was deeply touched, not only by their interest in my story, but most of all by their acceptance of my viewpoint, which I know has to be much different from theirs.
How to explain an experience like this? There is no way. These women were part of my life for only a single day, but the memory of that day will stay with me forever. I’m less afraid thanks to them. And I also see now that there are corners of my adoption experience I haven’t yet explored in my writing. I’m excited to look there now. I made an unexpected journey and discovered an unspoken tone in my voice, waiting to be heard.