Review of My Unspeakable Loss, by Alicia Kay Lanier

My Unspeakable Loss, 2020, by Alicia Kay Lanier

This is a birth / biological/ 1st parent memoir from the Baby Scoop Era. Alicia Kay is from Texas, a state deep in conservative beliefs which still sadly clings to the antiquated notion of sealed and falsified birth records being an accepted norm. She was unfortunately caught in a clash between her conservative, Christian fundamentalist upbringing while becoming a young adult during the greater societal changes of the 1960s and 70s. 

Ms. Lanier shares in great detail about her whole life, and how she and her husband progressed in their careers, parenting, marriage other interpersonal relationships. Meanwhile, she never forgot about what happened decades earlier and how it has impacted all other segments of her existence. Eventually, before the Internet and social media existed for the greater public, the author goes on a long quest to find her missing family members and later becomes an activist for open records. Lanier presents her story with southern charm and kindness, even when explaining moments of disappointment and loss.

I chose this book for several reasons:

1- My birth mother is not living so I have never been able to learn from her perspective.

2- My birth mother was also from southern culture by heritage and had me in the early 60s. 

3- I want to read adoption books which means I want to learn from people like myself and also from other points of view in the constellation. I would not be a fair, unbiased book reviewer if I read and wrote about adoptee-only stories. 

My Unspeakable Loss is an excellent resource for anyone interested in what so many birth/bio/1st mothers experienced during the Baby-Scoop times of adoption. From personal experience, I know that adoption has affected every other aspect of my life as a parent, friend, spouse, and employee. After reading My Unspeakable Loss, I believe that being a parent of relinquishment would also impact other parts of one’s identity. Adoptees and adoptive parents could gain compassion and understanding from this very gracious writer. Fellow birth parents, especially mothers will be able to relate to Ms. Lanier’s sentiments and thought processes throughout this book. 

This memoir is available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. (I read the Kindle version.)

Review of: The Truth Project

The Truth Project, by Dante Medema, (2020)

The Truth Project is a fictional account about a high school senior girl who is assigned to complete a “senior project” prior to graduation. She chooses to take a routine DNA test and write about her experiences as she awaits her answers and then processes her outcome. Her results are unexpected.

Being an individual from an NPE /MPE, ( Non or Misattributed Paternal Event) has unique challenges.  Being adopted may or may not be a factor, but adoption would certainly add to the complexity. In The Truth Project, our heroine, Cordelia, has often had the sensation that she is “different” from the rest of her family and has even made wisecracks about being adopted, but she isn’t.  

Her school assignment becomes a quest to find her truth, grow her talent as a poet and come to terms with assorted familial and social relationships. It is a coming-of-age tale about romance, identity, facing the future, and dealing with unexpected news.

This YA novel is a fast and engaging read and could be appreciated by readers of many ages and backgrounds. It’s also a thoughtful, contemporary, and realistic family story. I found this novel in the library but it is also available on Amazon and through Barnes and Noble. 

#NPE #MPE #adoption #truth #DNAtest

Genotypes & Phenotypes

I worked 1:1 with a student in a high school biology class a few years ago. She attended school off and on due to extenuating drama outside the realm of high school  She was the hottest mess you would ever meet, but good people deep down. (But you had to look really, really deep to know that.) Finally,  I was able to successfully communicate with her on what is a Punnett square and how to work it on that afternoon. I never understood P-squares either until recently. It finally clicked after several decades.

Growing up adopted and not knowing my bio family, Punnett squares should have been called punishment squares. They were bullshit. They meant nothing to me, since, as a kid in school, I had a deficit in my real-life genetic knowledge. Genetics was such a turn-off when I was in school. It was a trigger/reminder of who I was (only I did not know who I was), and an evil reminder of all the things I might not ever be privileged enough to find out about my body and my being. It was one more piece of angst because I wanted to be not just legally related to my family but also biologically, but that could never happen.

(It’s a crime for adopted people to be denied their genetic/biological history, but that’s another topic for another day.)

As an educator, I understand why genetics is important to teach to all students regardless of their familial status: It’s on the state assessments. It can have a real-life applications if you breed animals or grow certain plants. Punnett squares can predict but not guarantee what traits an offspring might have or not have but still carry within their bodies.  (Genotypes vs. phenotypes)  What many educators and definitely state lawmakers who decide what we will teach, lose sight of is that the subject matter has a unique impact on learners with less “traditional” family situations.

Now I get it, and with this kid who was bouncing around in the foster care system for years, I could play my adoption card and relate a little. (Not completely, but a little.)

So I shared with her the fact that I have a birth father and mother. (I left out the parts about them being deceased because it wasn’t my intention to lay heavy stuff on her.) All she needed to know was that I also came from a less conventional family background (in the biological sense). I’d had my share of drama and information gaps because other people did not always get their story straight. I knew that there were secrets and lies about my start in life because someone with more power thought it was a good idea, but being denied facts sucked. I knew her situation was not simple nor easy to understand and cope with.  Most of all, I wanted my student to know that she was not alone in this murky, messy situation of finding family, truths and other relationships.

I learned a little more about this young woman that day. She had identity issues, even though she did know who her bio siblings and parents were, (but she’d lost contact with them). Who she was and who she wanted to be was a much more challenging assignment than figuring out the dominance, codominance and recessiveness among red, pink or white flowers. Freshman biology was the least of her personal priorities and with good reason. Still, there was that nagging state assessment looming, so all I could do was show compassion and offer explanations to help her learn.

When I have the privilege of working with a student like this, it’s golden. I will help in any way I can, and in this particular case the best assistance I could offer was to share that I knew what it was like to have a mixed up family story and to not know who I was nor who I hoped to become since I lacked biological and social family history while growing up. (I have it now but never had it at her age when it would have been helpful.)

Not knowing your true origins is crippling and completely unnecessary in this day and age.

I do not believe in stopping the study of genetics. We need this! What not just the schools, but the STATE needs to do is to publicly acknowledge that many members of school systems have differences and nuances and that our perspectives must be respected and recognized. The cut-and-dried textbook explanations do not reflect many students’ or staff’s realities, but acknowledgement is a start. It it could raise awareness for genetic and DNA testing so that in the future, others may choose to expand their understanding of genetics and discover their own info for a more personalized learning experience.

It’s “That Month”…

Is it Adoption Awareness or ADOPTEE Awareness Month…because it needs to be both.

Adoption…sure…fine…There are cases when it has to happen when the situation is that dire for the child/baby. (This was my case, and I know the facts about my start in life, so no arguments, please.) However, ABSOLUTELY, this month needs to recognize the amazing, resilient, magical, wonderful world of adopted people!!! Guys, WE ROCK!!! We are everywhere: in your neighborhoods, stores, workplaces, vacations, offices, subways, schools, airplanes, busses and trains. We’re in every country and speak every language. We are serious and funny, mad, sad and glad. We paint, educate, act, cook, dance, give, feed, lead, style, build, cure and care. We tear down, and rebuild. We dance write, sing work and play.

We make things; We make things happen…or as my friend Claudia has said, “We make shit happen”. LOL

I know the focus this month is on a lot of the serious matters associated with adoption like loss, grief, disappointments, separation, anger, betrayl, rejection, corruption, lies, abuse and self-destruction, but I just want to take one moment of one post and say how great I think you people are!

You all are great people.

November should be a time for us adoptees to celebrate ourselves and our achievements.

OK, Here’s the plan.

1- Think of any adoptee that you know either in person or on line or via a written/preformed piece of art, sport, etc.

2- Name them here in the comments and tell everyone why they rock.

Let’s see how big a list we can create this month, OK?

Oh, and if you think of someone who is already mentioned, you can second that but please try to add another name to the list so that lots of people can be represented and lifted up.

Ready, set….and…..go!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

No…not the Holidays…The NAAP (formerly IAN) adoption conference is coming up the weekend of September 9th and 10th! For me, it’s a mini-vacation where I get to hang out, meet and learn from people just like me: adoptees. You may also get to meet first/biological parents, therapists, social workers and adoptive parents too. Some of the attendees wear more than one hat in the adoption-land too! Gathering in-person is a huge blessing considering the year-and-a-half we’ve all had, but additionally, a virtual option is available this time around, so no one has to miss out!

For this event, colleague-friends, Lynn Grubb, Laureen Pittman, Marcie Keithly will be presenting on a panel as writers. We will be discussing and taking questions about our paths as storytellers/authors and how it has helped our lives, our writing processes, tips, concerns and ideas for getting started. There are many speakers and workshop events to choose from both days. The hard part is deciding which “class” to attend because they are all so good! You can’t go wrong!

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there, meeting new folks, reconnecting with familiar friends and having the adventure of putting online names and faces to real-time!

Review of the Anthology: Parenting as Adoptees by Adam Chau & Kevin Ost-Vollmers

This is an adoptee-centered anthology I recently discovered. It is from 2012 and the contributing authors are diverse and make important observations and points about life as an adopted adult who becomes a parent. I was curious about this book because I definitely believe that being an adopted person has influenced in some ways how I have parented and provided for my children, and it has made me extra watchful regarding their child development. 

The second entry by Bert Ballard, Ph.D. references the concept of intergenerationality, also known as multi-generationality. This concept is about patterns of behaviors and thinking being passed on throughout various generations of a family and how these patterns are disrupted when adoption occurs. It can be a good or a bad thing, but it is part of the loss adoptees experience regardless. This sense of loss plays into how we parent our own kids because we want to shield our children from having these gaps and losses. We often work extra hard to compensate to make up for what we did not have as children. In my case, I have worked above and beyond to make sure my kids and grandkids have an abundance of family heritage information plus photos and videos. 

Other ideas such as genetic ping (also referred to as genetic echo) and adultism (when opinions and decisions are made in favor of the adults’ interests and needs more than the children’s) are addressed in this book. For some adopted people, having biological children is healing and therapeutic because we now finally have a biological family member with whom we can mirror. For others it heightens our need to search for genetic family since the birth of our babies creates more questions. Until recently it has not been common knowledge that learning disabilities can be inherited as well. Trans racial/national/cultural adoptees also are hit hard with losses, confusion and bewilderment as to how to now explain their experiences to their own children.

This is a great resource for anyone seeking to understand the thinking or mindsets of adopted adults, and the twists and turns when navigating the dynamics of blended families through adoption. It is also a reminder that being an adopted person never stops, even when we grow up and that our children can become adoptees by default with losses and unanswered questions during their lives.

Wonder Boy: Documentary Review

In 2019, 30-year-old fashion director/designer, Olivier Rousteing created a documentary about how he searched for his biological parents and the feelings and thoughts he processed along the way. The film  is set mostly in France with English subtitles. Rousteing, (Ethiopian and Somalian by heritage) was adopted as a baby and raised in a white French family, which makes him a transracial/ transnational adoptee. 

This colorful, artsy film takes the viewer along on Olivier’s journey, literally and emotionally as he travels for business and in search of his origins. He shares his struggle of navigating the French adoption system (“red tape”) with various intermediaries who are required to read through his adoption files with him and forward personal letters prior to advancing in the search. While he understands it’s not the social workers as people who are being difficult, and instead it’s the system, his frustration is clear. His emotions run high as he discovers morsels of information which lead to more questions as time goes on. 

Olivier Rousteing brings up an excellent point and message for anyone conducting a search like his: This will impact the rest of your life, even if you never meet in person. The search stage is an unforgettable experience filled with unexpected sentiments and discoveries. In Olivier’s case, he wants to see people who look like he does, and he wants to know why the adoption happened in the first place. He wants to find out whether or not his birth story is one of sadness or love. As he forages ahead he describes his mindset as being in a “prison of anger”, because he has been very hard on himself throughout his young life to excel in his learning and profession. He hates what happened in his start in life yet grateful to be alive. 

Two quotes from the film, Wonder Boy, jumped out at me:

“When your parents don’t want you, you wonder what you’re doing here.” and

“As long as I don’t know who I am, I can’t love myself.”

Pow! He nailed it!

Watch this film. If you love travel and French culture you will appreciate it. If you are enchanted by the fashion industry it’s a must-see. (J-Lo makes a brief appearance as a model.) If you are considering or going through a birth/bio parent search, this movie will validate your feelings and remind you that as adoptees, we are not alone, no matter where in the world we’ve been brought up.

From Gypsy to Jersey: An Adoption Journey Book Review

Yael Adler has written an honest yet uplifting story about her experience as a Romanian adoptee, brought to the US and raised by loving parents. This book is further proof that even adopted people from wonderful upbringings and advantages still have curiosity and a longing to explore their original heritage and culture. Yael’s birth and subsequent adoption occurred during the time of the Romanian Revolution and the general fall of many communist-block countries in Europe. Millions of local citizens at the time lived in chaos and were desperate for food, health care, sanitation and safety, and as a result, Yael’s biological mother was unable to care for her. 

This book is rich in history and culture of a society most people hear or read very little about: Roma Gypsies. The author addresses typical stereotypes and discrimination experienced by these caring and family-centered individuals. Adler takes the reader on her journey (both literally and figuratively) of reunion overseas with her natural family members almost 30 years after the occurrence. The book includes fascinating photos, (mostly color in the Kindle version), along with a play-by-play of how she and a translator /guide/“angel” of sorts navigated her reunion with a large, welcoming family including a sister, nieces, nephews and an aunt. This reading experience is like going on a foreign exchange trip where you are able to appreciate the food, buildings, challenges of managing in a country where you don’t speak the language as well as becoming familiar with all the people involved in the story. 

The writing style is friendly and casual, as if you were sitting together at the kitchen table having a great discussion. The book reads fast too, so if you’re short on time but want to read something about how adoptees, birth mothers and even adoptive parents feel, this is an opportunity. 

Review of Dear Stephen Michael’s Mother

This is an outstanding new adoptee memoir by Kevin Barhydt. Barhydt bares his soul artfully and passionately as he unfolds two tales: the story of his coming of age in the 1960s-70s and early 80s and the story of his search for his elusive biological mother.

Substance addiction is a common concern for many in the adoptee community, and Barhydt spares few details as he shares his painful experiences which began as an innocent pre-teen lad and continued through his time in the military and beyond. Every social, romantic, work-related and familial relationship is tested to the brink as he descends further into the upside-down world of alcohol, drugs and multiple forms of abuse. There are painful parts to read, but this is Kevin’s truth and as most adopted people understand, our truths matter; ALL truths matter, including the difficult ones. 

The part about his search and reunion experience was very similar to my own in that it took place during a similar era, and he found siblings in a totally different time zone in what felt like a magical and “exotic” section of the continent unlike any other part of the US. It also happened pre-social media. There is one other similarity, but it would be a spoiler to disclose it in this review.

A few items that “jumped’ out at me while reading:  

  1. “…My mother and father had searched for a child, paid a fee, signed paperwork, and claimed me as their own. Now I did the same.” This is from the section when the author comes to the conclusion that he needs to put his faith in the services of a paid search angel. Most adoptees were “paid for” because of private lawyer fees, agency fees or even general courthouse fees. Typically our adoptive parents assumed these costs. Even if it is / was a norm of the day, the idea can make some adopted people feel like merchandise.
  2. It’s probably a coincidence but the fact that Barhydt was at one point deployed to a naval base in Rota, Spain struck me. (I’m a Spanish education major!) The adjective, “Roto / Rota” (feminine version) in Spanish means “broken”. How odd and poignant that as the author was hitting a “broken” point of his life he was sent to a town by the same name. 

This memoir is an easy-not-easy read. Not easy due to some of the sensitive subject matter; easy in that Barhydt writes with an engaging and clear, straight-forward style. I finished all 267 pages of this book in basically two days. (That includes the prologue to the acknowledgments.) I could not put it down, and I felt involved with every character in the story. This is a great addition to every adoption constellation member’s book collection and an especially brilliant insight for counselors / therapists and anyone with addiction experiences. 

Book Review: Watch Over Me (2020)

Watch Over Me is a new young adult novel by Nina Lacour. The main character is Mila, a recent high school graduate who has aged out of the California foster care system. She accepts a unique “teaching” position on a secluded farm where everyone lives off the land and works together to care for the crops, the home and the assorted younger children who live there. Mia struggles with the traumatic loss of her biological family, her so-called step-father’s eccentric and toxic behavior and her fear of rejection by the farm family and how she desperately wants to fit in, even as a 19-year-old.

Mila has the ability to see ghosts. The spirits both fascinate her and frighten her because she doesn’t understand them and why they appear to her but not always to others.

This story, while marketed mainly for people between 15-25, could be appealing to a wide range of readers including those who like family stories with a twist, readers interested in adoption and foster care, and those who enjoy an element of psychological and paranormal thrill. The chapters are written partially in present day and with bits of flash backs to help build the suspense surrounding Mila’s past. Watch Over Me reads fast, (I finished it in 48 hours.) So this is a great choice for someone short on time who still wants story telling with substance and quality.