Review of Saved By A Song, The Art & Healing Power of Songwriting by Mary Gauthier

Singer, composer, performer and musician, Mary Gauthier shares not only her personal story as an adoptee from the American south in the 1960s, but also the creative processes she has used to concoct innovative meals as a chef and also write and preform her ballads. 

Much of the content of Gauthier’s memoir focuses mostly on her life as a performer and song/ music composer because in her earlier years she admits she knew certain generic facts about her birth story but “…for the first four decades of my life…” she did not give being adopted that much thought. Native to the New Orleans area, she was raised with one younger also adopted brother and a sister who was biological to her (adoptive) parents. A stroke of synchronicity after a music concert led her to the idea of researching her adoption and the circumstances leading up to that situation. 

Saved By A Song contains lyrics to ballads; part fictional yet also real-life, and her words in the tunes at times seem as autobiographical as the memoir itself. Gauthier shares candidly about her recovery from substance abuse and how she found her “voice” as a woman navigating professions typically dominated by males. Gauthier’s memoir is thoughtful and candid as she addresses being a person experiencing recovery and as someone who lives by her own rules and beliefs after being raised in a caring but conservative Catholic home and society. She tells of her decision to change careers and take professional risks in uncertain times while struggling with self-doubt and moving to new cities. 

This line, as a fellow writer, especially stands out to me: “Imagination is where we go to discover new possibilities, what could be manifested, what is emotionally true….We can point to a song and say, ”This! This is how I feel.”  (p. 98, Gauthier, 2021) Gauthier’s adoption experience enhanced her musical career as she explored her feelings and beliefs about how she lives her life. “As strange as it may sound, I’d never thought of myself as actually being born, only adopted.” was another eye-opening line for me as a fellow adoptee. (p. 181, Gauthier, 2021) So many of us adoptees have felt “unreal” or not born at all.

Gauthier’s memoir, Saved By A Song is highly creative yet authentic. It is heartfelt and honest plus picturesque. Anyone adopted or not would benefit from an innovative standpoint to read this book. Adoptees, (we already know that many adopted people are highly creative and forward-thinking!), will appreciate learning from Gauthier’s search and reunion experiences. Any reader who has experienced the challenges of the rehab/recovery process will find a kindred spirit in Ms. Gauthier’s words of encouragement. Musicians, composers and lyricists will also benefit from Gauthier’s wisdom. 

Saved By A Song is available at Amazon.com.

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Review of Twice A Daughter, 2021, by Julie Ryan McGue

Review of Twice a Daughter by Julie Ryan McGue

Author and adoptee advocate, Julie McGue’s memoir of her search and reunion for her biological family, Twice a Daughter, hooks the reader right away and immerses the reader into her loving, busy family life while she pursues her quest to find her birth relatives and obtain family medical history. Two of the biggest messages from this story are: 1- Adopted people, especially from closed adoptions are systematically denied their right to accurate health information which is worrisome and unfair, and this practice has to change. 2- Balancing the care and concern you have for both biological and adoptive family members is a huge challenge, but it can be accomplished with a trusted support system.

McGue’s initial trigger for doing the research was a health scare, and she needed answers as she faced exams and screenings, which are scary enough even when you do have health history knowledge. Throughout her search and reunion journey McGue must deal with issues surrounding aging (adoptive) parents and her mother’s hesitancy to support the search plus the roadblocks planted by the closed adoption practices of the Baby-Scoop Era.

Something which makes this memoir unique from other books is the fact that McGue is a twin and was raised with her sister all along. This book demonstrates that even if an adoptee does have someone from which to “mirror” certain traits, it isn’t always enough. Factual wellness or disease history within the biological family should be provided and updated as well. Successful reunion on an interpersonal level is an added bonus, but is not 100% possible in many cases for many reasons, but inner peace can be achieved regardless if you have encouragement and patience from other family and friends.

This is a fascinating and engaging account of an adoptee search and reunion experience through the eyes of a twin. McGue’s resilience and creative thinking, along with support from her sister and spouse help her uncover synchronicities, stories and most importantly honest answers she desperately desires. Twice a Daughter is a great read for any adoptee and also graciously demonstrates the struggles and concerns adoptive parents might also experience as the search process unfurls. This memoir never states that all reunions are rosy and easy. (Many require patience, compassion and lots of time.) 

This memoir is available on Amazon.

Review of I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls

Review of:  I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls

I Must Have Wandered is a lyrical and descriptive glimpse into the coming of age experiences of an adopted U.S. military daughter in the 1950s and 60s and her emergence into young adulthood as she explores issues with attachment, trust, identity and direction. This is a well-written must read for Baby-Boomer generation and Baby-Scoop Era adoptees. However, Gambutti’s style of story telling is something anyone adopted and questioning their existence and circumstances can relate to, regardless of age bracket/era.  The complexity of the adoptee’s search for place and self in this world is universal, powerful and effectively explained in this memoir.

I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls might also be relatable to anyone who grew up in a military family where children’s schools and homes change(d) constantly, relationships are/were often challenged due to distance and unpredictability, and stressors from demanding work days are/were felt by all family members. Gambutti is respectful but frank about her volatile relationship with her rigid, career-driven, military father.

Gambutti addresses the all too common adoptee issues of acceptance, identity and self esteem in beautifully-versed vignettes. Her story telling is flavored with nostalgia from the 1950s and 60s, recreating the culture of times filled with secrecy, conservatism, manipulation and compliance with authority, even if someone questioned or disagreed.

This memoir reads fast, and the reader will not want to stop. It is easy to relate with, regardless of an adoptee’s circumstances. Gambutti’s adoptee story is engaging and honest. This memoir is a lovely, must-have addition to your adoptee/adoption-themed book collection. It is available at Amazon.com.

Review of Coming Together, An Adoptee’s Story by Martha Shideler

Martha Shideler is a Baby-Scoop-Era adoptee who was born in California, which is a closed records state. Her biological mother went to the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers. Her memoir about searching for her biological family is engaging and a fast read. Shideler packs a lot into a short book and will resonate with the reader about wanting to feel a part of humanity by having heraldry and true facts. Shideler’s story is a perfect example of someone coming from a mostly “good” adoption, but still needing to feel whole and real. 

Throughout the tale, Shideler must struggle against societal systems of both authority and incompetence as she forages toward her discoveries. In a few scenes and dialogues, I almost had to laugh because not only can I relate as a fellow adoptee but as a general citizen and consumer who at times must rely on the timely and accurate follow through of other professionals, which so frequently does not pan out unless you dog them and double-check their work. When we search for missing people, travel, write letters and make phone calls, many people become part of the constellation, and someone somewhere along the line is bound to make errors.

I found these quotes from Shideler’s work to be meaningful:

p. 52, “All children must establish independence from their families of origin, but for adoptees that effort may be more difficult than for others. Not only are they seeking spiritual identity and internal integrity; they are also searching for a physical connection to the rest of humanity.” Searching and finding facts as well as actual people does make an adoptee feel more human.

p. 58, Shideler, like myself explored identity through learning about another culture. I studied Spanish, and Shideler became an expert in Navajo language and lifestyle:  “I was drawn to these people who could trace their roots back generations when I couldn’t even go back one…and I related to the injustices suffered by the Navajo people.”

p. 98, Shideler shares a concern she had regarding aging when she saw two women shopping in a grocery store who looked to be related, and she thought to herself: “You can see what you will look like in 20 years. You’ve always been able to do that! You have a pattern for growing old. I don’t! I have no patterns!” Finding elders is a godsend because you can figure out a pattern.

This book is from 2011, but is available at Amazon.

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.