When Heather sent me my partner for the 2012 Adoption Bloggers Interview Project, I was instantly intrigued. As a birth mom, I hear a lot of stories from all sides of the triad, but rarely get the opportunity to speak with many of them. Laura Dennis is an adult adoptee who has been reunited with her birth mom and a large number of people from her birth family. She’s written a book called Adopted Reality, a memoir, and she blogs about adoption as well as her life living in Serbia with her husband and children as an expat on her self-named website. If you would like to read Laura’s interview of me, follow this link.
Without further ado, my interview with Laura!
Monika: First of all, since the focus on your blog isn’t entirely adoption-related, what inspired you to join the Adoption Bloggers Interview Project? How did you find out about it?
Laura: I saw the project badge on a fellow adoptee’s blog. The words: “Adoption,” “Bloggers,” and “Interview” … totally up my alley. I want to say that I’m so happy to have been paired with you. It’s really great to be able to learn from your experience.
And, you got me! I definitely blog about different things. I live in Eastern Europe with my husband and two little kids, so in addition to blogging about adoption, I write about being an anxious American mommy navigating expat life in Serbia.
The important point to remember is that while I feel my adoption continues to influence my life in ways I’m only beginning to realize, I’m not just an adoptee. I’m a mom, a wife, a sometimes domestic goddess, a friend, a daughter, a writer, an ex-dancer, an ex-business woman, etc., etc. I like to have the freedom to write about all of these things, and with how they intersect one another.
Monika: I’ll ask you a similar question to one you asked me. You mention that writing as an adoption activist has been very inspiring for you. It has been similarly inspiring for me, so I know how you feel! Are there any subjects within adoption activism that feel taboo for you as an adoptee to discuss? Do you push past those because you feel the subjects need to be discussed or do you leave them alone?
Laura: Yes and yes. There are taboo subject, and I still talk about them!
It happened to me recently, with my suggestion to other adoptee bloggers that we talk about the intersection of mental health and adoption. A couple of gals were afraid that this topic might rankle feathers. … Although adult adoptees talk a lot about the loss, the grief, the confusion that came with growing up adopted, the moment we imply that adoptees need psychological help, oh, everyone clams up. Everyone deals with events differently; some adoptees see their being relinquished as traumatic. Others don’t.
The reality is that we should think about the mental health of adoptees. We should address their questions, their grief and their confusion before those feelings become overwhelming. I’m not saying every adoptee needs therapy, however adoptive parents can and should be open to understanding the adoptee’s experience. Adoptive parents ought to be taught how to recognize when “overwhelming” turns into depression and anxiety.
Monika: I so agree with your last thoughts! Even if a mother raises her biological child, the birth itself is a traumatic experience. Most children handle the birth experience and even the loss of their biological parents well should their parents decide to relinquish them to adoption. But being aware of the trauma of loss and how to approach that trauma with sensitivity should be a subject that’s not taboo.
Back to the questions! As an adoptee now in reunion, do you think about what could have been? Do you wonder how much your life could have been different if you’d still been relinquished but had been raised in an open adoption situation instead?
Laura: Oh heck yes! I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it would have been like to have been raised in my birth family.
But no, I’ve never thought what it would have been like to be raised in an open adoption … It’s an interesting premise and I think it may have avoided some of the loss of identity and sadness I felt growing up. However, the secrecy (closed records, no contact) was absolutely imperative for some members of my birth family. As in, “Open adoption? What’s the point of that?”
Monika: I personally wonder how much of the secrecy for the birth family was pounded into them by society in general and adoption in specific. I know that mothers who were coerced into adoption were told in no uncertain terms that it would be better for them to move on, forget, and never tell anyone – that they could act as if the sin of pregnancy outside of marriage had never even happened. I’m not saying that your birth family, Laura, were terrible people or that they really didn’t believe it was the best for them and for what they needed to do. It just makes me think, that’s all.
In your blog post of October 10 on maintaining adoptee reunions, you talk about the similarities between maintaining an open adoption relationship and maintaining a relationship between a first family and adoptee in reunion. I love the analogy and especially the comment about just keeping at it!
Now that you’ve reached the point of “normalcy” in your reunion, do you imagine that adoptees growing up in an open adoption might feel this way? Has your experience as an adoptee and as an adoptee in reunion inspired you to speak for the benefits of an open adoption relationship?
Laura: Growing up, I would have benefited from less secrecy. Had it been possible to meet my birth mother, get to know her, it would have been amazing, but hard. During those difficult teenage years when I thought I knew everything (but really knew nothing) it would have been difficult for me to understand why I couldn’t just go and live with my birth mother.
Open adoption is still so new, we have so few adoptees who have grown up and can start to comprehend and talk about their experience. I know a girl who’s twenty and grew up in an open adoption. She’s so young! She’s still processing her emotions! She’s glad that she knows her birth family, but she feels sadness for not having been able to live with her biological siblings.
Honestly, I would rather see families who want to help, to “adopt” both the mother and the baby. This might sound rather unorthodox, but I personally would want to encourage families to stay together if at all possible. Adoption as a social issue is a fraught institution.
That said, there will always be those who want/need/choose, however we want to phrase it, to participate in adoption. And there will always be couples who would like to adopt an infant baby. I agree with your stance that we need more regulation to improve this adoption process.
Monika: That is definitely not the “accepted” way to adopt, though I like the perspective of adopting both the mother and the baby. That’s rather how adoption should be viewed anyway, even if it doesn’t happen literally. When someone adopts a baby, even a brand-new infant comes attached with a family already. Adoptive parents (in general, not specifically) should not only be aware of this, but should welcome all that child possesses, including his or her biological family.
You write about how so many of us are connected to adoption. I myself grew up as the child of an adoptee (who still hasn’t found any member of his birth family), but didn’t truly feel connected to adoption until I relinquished my daughter. Did the connection to adoption happen when you reunited with your birth mom and members of your first family? Or did you feel it happened sooner than that?
Laura: Well, I always knew I was adopted. My adoptive mom practiced explaining it to me even before I could really understand. It was very important to her that I know that my birth mom loved me. Being adopted is a huge aspect in how I’ve defined myself my whole life.
Growing up, the only person I really knew who was adopted was my brother. So, when I reunited with my birth family (on my maternal side), it was the most amazing experience of my life.
Monika: It’s still amazing to me that one experience not only literally affects the birth mom for the rest of her life but adoption has such an impact on the adopted child for the rest of his or her life and the families of that adopted child too. It has continual repercussions on all members of that child’s family, both adopted and biological.
On a similar vein as the previous question, do you think you feel more of a connection to other members of the triad now that you’ve been in reunion or does your connection just extend to other adoptees because your stories are more similar?
Laura: You know, it was only after I wrote my memoir, Adopted Reality, that I began to be connected to adoptees, and other members of the (extended) adoption triad. I feel the most connection with other adult adoptee women who are searching for meaning. But at the same time, it’s been really great to get to know adoptive parents, birth moms, even biological grandparents.
Monika: That experience seems pretty typical, especially from the adoptee and birth parent sides of the triad. Our experiences may be unique, but the loss each of us feels from our own point of view are so similar to other people who share the same “title.” What has been interesting to me, however, is that I feel a much deeper connection to my father and other adult adoptees than I ever did before I relinquished my daughter. I believe my ache to understand my daughter’s point of view is so strong that I seek out others who have perhaps felt similarly to things she might feel.
You mention on your blog that by writing you’re pushing against adoptee stereotypes. I know I feel similarly from a birth mom point of view. There are so many stereotypes about “us” that sometimes it feels as though I’m speaking to a brick wall! Does it ever feel hopeless to you? Have you felt like you needed or wanted to take a break because it can be so emotionally draining sometimes as inspiring as it can be as well?
Laura: Well, I haven’t been blogging for as long as you have. I’m still surprised by how much I do have to say on certain subjects!
I can relate to the emotionally draining aspect with regards to writing my book about my adoption reunion and brief bout with insanity. … When it came out, I thought my family would be my biggest supporters! Yes, my husband, my two moms, my adoptive brother, and others are my greatest fans. On the other hand, there are many family members who have told me point blank they will not read my book: It’s too hard for them, it’s too sad of a story for them to read, knowing me.
I stood in my truth and I told a compelling story. And so, it was disappointing and sad to realize that there are people who won’t support me. But I’ve toughened up.
There will be militants in the adoption community, and yes—insensitive, idiot know-it-alls, everywhere we go in life. They’re not just online, in forums, and writing blogs. They are at the grocery store giving us unsolicited advice. They’re our friends, colleagues, and, yes, even our family. But, I’ve been the quiet, smiling, perfect child for too long. I shed this persona in young adulthood, but it’s only now that I’m beginning to talk about it!
Amen, Laura, amen. The damage in adoption is done when we hold on to secrets. This includes not talking about the way we feel, as well as adoptive parents not talking to their children about their birth parents and birth parents keeping the secret that they’re birth parents. That is exactly why I write my blog. Though I cannot speak for adoptees or adoptive parents as I’m neither of those things, I believe the more I stand up for what I believe and my personal experiences with adoption, the more the world will have a chance to possibly change their minds about birth parent stereotypes in specific and adoption stereotypes and biases in general.
By the way, I will be writing a review of Laura’s book on my blog, but I wanted to say here too how very much I enjoyed her book. To be honest, I have difficulties being riveted to books related to adoption in general because of possible triggers or even allowing myself to get distracted thinking about certain themes in the book itself. But Laura’s book held my attention from start to finish and though I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago, I still remember things I read in the book.
Thank you, Laura, for your wonderful responses, and thank you, Heather, for hosting this fabulous event! Now go and read the other interviews here.