Announcing Adoptee Reading Resource: New Website for Books by Adoptees

One of the requirements for my master’s thesis in creative writing was that I compile a list of books pertinent to the thing I was creating, references that might inform either the content or the form of the stories and poems I was writing. My thesis revolved around the lived experiences of adoptees, so I wanted to find published books by and about adoptees.

Have you ever tried searching for adoptee books? If you have, you know that they’re lumped in with the books explaining how to prepare to adopt a child and the books by adoptive parents about raising an adopted child and the books by professionals advising how to deal with an adopted child. Under “adoption” you’ll also find stories of birth parents and accounts of how adoption as a practice began and reports on how adoption as an industry has evolved.

It’s nearly impossible to filter out the adoptee books from the vast number of adoption books sold by major retailers or housed in library systems. Equally impossible is locating the adoptees writing poetry or literary fiction–these works often don’t even make it into the adoption category. I found lists compiled by others who were also interested in adoptee books. A list over here, another list over there–none of them comprehensive. Continue reading “Announcing Adoptee Reading Resource: New Website for Books by Adoptees”

ear-Wonderful-You-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleAhead of schedule, the adoptee-authored anthology Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted & Fostered Youth is now available in paperback format!

I’m very grateful to editors Diane Rene Christian and Mei-Mei Akwai Ellerman for inviting me to take part in this project. I hope that this book will find its way into the hands of young people in adoptive and foster homes, so that they will understand that they are not alone and that a great, big world of love and support is available to them.

A unique aspect of this particular book is that it includes contact information for each of the contributors. Adoptees and young people in foster care are welcome to write to us and share their own thoughts and feelings.

We are your sisters and brothers, and we are here for you.

Search, Research, Self, Connection

ROAR2013I used to think of myself as unique in a not-so-good way. I thought of myself as different from everyone else because of not being physically related to anyone. Of course, there were people out there who shared my DNA, I just didn’t know any of them. I saw myself as an anomaly that probably no one could understand.

Over many years of searching, reuniting, and processing the aftermath, I’ve done a lot of research on adoption. Of course, I didn’t think of it as research at the time. I only wanted to satisfy my curiosity, find answers to my many questions.

Along the way, I learned that I wasn’t unique the way I’d previously thought. I wasn’t alone in my condition. Actually, the exact opposite was true–I discovered I was of the Baby Scoop Era, a period of nearly thirty years when 4,000,000 or so babies were relinquished to adoption. I also found out that for no other reason than the year in which I was adopted, I was not entitled to see my own original birth certificate in Ohio.

Current law says that we who were adopted between 1964 and 1996 cannot see our birth records, but those adopted outside of this period can. Of course, I wanted to know why this was the case, so I searched some more and found that adoptee birth certificates were sealed in 1964. Before then, they had been accessible. And in 1996, they were opened again, but not retroactively.

A man named Brad Norris, an attorney from my hometown of Cleveland, had drafted the bill that eventually sealed my original birth certificate. Ironically, Brad was the father of Betsie Norris, who founded Adoption Network Cleveland, the organization that helped me find my own birth mother.

No, I was not unique. Betsie herself was adopted as an infant and went through a similar search to find her birth parents. She looked for the answers to her questions, and decided her calling was to advocate for adoptees and adoption reform.

Last spring, I chose the story of Betsie Norris, her adoptive father, Brad, and their relationship to Ohio’s law concerning adoptee birth certificates as the topic of a biography project for one of my graduate writing classes. A short version of that piece can be read on Lost Daughters. Talking with Betsie about her story has had a profound impact on my life: I see myself now not merely as one unique individual adoptee, but as a member of an entire community of people who must somehow navigate between two families, and sometimes even between two cultures or two countries. When I write about adoption now, I no longer write only for myself, but for the many others like me as well. My identity as an adoptee is not all of me, but at the same time, it is a part of everything I do.

Now Betsie is leading the fight to open records for those of us from Ohio who were adopted between 1964 and 1996. I’m doing what I can to support the passage of House Bill 61 and Senate Bill 23, although it never feels like enough. It’s hard to be out of state at a time like this when I’d like to do more. I am indebted to Betsie and all the others like her who have given so much of their time and energy to fight for my rights.

A Bit of Synchronicity Along the Winding Road

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.

Worth It

At times I’ve wondered if going back to school was the right decision. I mean, couldn’t I have learned the writing craft by reading good books, by listening to webinars, by participating in virtual critique groups? Couldn’t I have done this on my own?

Maybe. But then I would have missed out on what is probably the most important benefit of being in school: People. More precisely, people with similar interests and goals. Yes, I’d met similar souls online on various message boards. But I never truly felt connected to a community of writers like I do now. Even us solitary types need coworkers to bounce ideas off of or to vent our frustrations to.

And school has also provided opportunitites I wouldn’t have otherwise had. For example, last spring I took a class on social media for which I had to write a paper that is going to become a chapter in a published book. I saw the proof yesterday, and I can tell you it’s inspirational to see your name printed at the top of each page destined to become part of a tangible product. This particular work won’t define me–it was, after all, first and foremost a class assignment. But it’s one more push forward, toward the career I want to have. And it’s a publishing credit I wouldn’t have sought on my own.

Just one more reason I’m glad I took on the challenge of becoming a student once again.