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.

Hillbilly Elegy, The Movie

I recently watched the movie, Hillbilly Elegy and loved all  one hour and 56 minutes of the experience. 

Director Ron Howard and the superbly assembled cast nailed it in the sense that the acting was spot on and the message in the story was clear. Book version author, J. D. Vance, (who is also an adoptee-lite raised by his mother’s people), tells the family saga of his Appalachian ancestors and their struggles with raising a family, finding employment and managing sobriety while facing economic, geographical and educational limitations. Both the book and film could have been echoing the story of my ancestors as well. 

Many people of Appalachian descent represent a marginalized community seldom thought about. While so often they are perceived as racist red necks and 2nd Amendment supporters, there is another side. It’s a lifestyle ensnared in a web of ignorance, apathy and helplessness. Finding freedom and enlightenment from these constraints is not easy. These folks do not always make the best choices for coping with their angst due to misinformation and fear.

A big part of the Appalachian culture is putting family first, even when you disagree. You end up defending parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and even the memories of the dearly departed because family sticks together. While having family ties and respect for your elders are normally good things, Appalachian alliances can become smothering, preventing the younger generations from pursuing their own interests and educations because if they leave the fold, there will be a gap in the cohesiveness of kinfolk. Not only are they more prone to having addictions to substances; they are also addicted to certain ways of life. This creates a sort of “Hillbilly guilt” mechanism for those who wish to venture onward, thus spiraling future adults into another wave of under-educated people who hopelessly believe that sticking with the family community is their only life purpose. 

This guilt or psychological oppression becomes a messy cycle creating little opportunity to expand one’s learning and social connections because they cannot break free. My grandparents’ generation fought their way out of this lattice of seclusion, dysfunction and narrow understandings when the second World War beckoned men to battle in distant areas around the globe and women to assume new jobs outside the home left open by the men who were away. My folks gradually migrated from the hollers of rural Kentucky and eastern Ohio to Cincinnati where there were jobs in industry, retail and entrepreneurship. As a result, my adoptive mother grew up cultured and well-educated. My adoptive dad was able to come of age with improved schooling and among people who valued learning in spite of still being a “poor kid”. My birth father left Kentucky after the navy to find steady, respectable factory employment. My birth mother was brought to this area by her dad after WW II to find a more favorable living and “networking” environment because she had health problems. In some cases, on both sides of my family, even (great) grandparents plus aunts and uncles traversed to the “big city”, which kept the families mostly together.

As a kid in the 1970s, we often piled in the station wagon to take long weekend pilgrimages back to where the old folks were from. Even my modernized and “worldly” parents would never dream of breaking away 100% from their heritage. We paid our respects at the quaint country cemeteries, had picnics and BBQs with the extended cousins who remained on or near original properties, perused old photo albums and listened to the stories of long ago. I treasure the family lore from all sides. I have even taken my kids back to some of those often-visited, beloved “homelands” where I have loving memories of eating my cousin Lois’s mandarin orange and marshmallow Jello salad with fried chicken and green beans, Cousin Elizabeth’s ham and mashed potatoes plus the fresh tomatoes from Bob’s garden, oh, and my other cousin Mildred’s caramels for dessert, (which I still make at Christmas, but they are never as good as hers were).

My modern-day family members support issues involving pro labor and family values, but do not equate these ideals with only accepting one religion or only one societal group as being superior. We cherish the parts of our ancestry about food recipes, family history stories and celebrating members past and present as individuals who loved their country, wanted their kids and grandkids to have more and better than what they had, worked long hours and earned honest pay. While some ancestors from 100+ years ago might regard us contemporary “young’uns” as “hippies”, I’m okay with that. That was then, and here we are now. 

We still love our country, but we don’t want / wear MAGA hats.

We enjoy our fried chicken, but might believe that vegan enchiladas are better.

We embrace some country music but not all because many forms of music have meaningful messages.

We have friends from diverse walks of life because it’s cool and it’s the only way to keep learning.

We respect our parents and other older relatives, but we don’t have to agree with everything they say.

We do not have to agree with every law or policy, but we defend everyone’s right to be their own person and have separate ideas.

We can still be caregivers when needed, but work to find a healthy balance between a toxic, soul-sucking relationship and finding our own paths.

We are not ashamed of from whom and where we come, but we can be ourselves today without fear of reprocussions from one another.

We vote with our hearts and not with dogma.

We are filled with gratitude for the gifts of knowledge, care and other “life-hacks” from the past, yet we feel empowered to think for ourselves, blend what is blendable between old and new ways and share what we can with future generations.

Hillbilly Elegy is not an easy book or movie to get through in many spots. The Vance family’s struggles are not sugar-coated in a Hallmark Channel ending, however, the book and film do an excellent job at good old fashioned story-telling, character building (especially the grandma) and promoting empathy and understanding for Appalachian citizens trying to function in an ever-changing society.

A review of: Un M Othered

Actress, author and recent PhD , Liz DeBetta has a beautifully choreographed, written and expressed one-woman play regarding her experiences as an adoptee. The show is cleverly titled, Un M Othered.  

I can’t begin to list every poignant line in her play because there are so many, but she has eloquently and accurately expressed many of the ways we adopted people view and interpret the world in which we live and cope. 

Her acting and writing are elevations of the adoptee voice perspective. Her thoughts and emotions reflect what many of us have felt either currently or at some point in our lives. 

I hope every adoptee can experience this play. It is available on Vimeo, and given that going out to see a play is a rate and wonderful thing right now, this show is a real treat in many ways. Some of my favorite lines are as follows:

Books gave me permission to escape the confusing reality of my life…” (So incredibly true!)

Loneliness keeps me from me...”

She refers to a life of “…accepting crumbs...” when it comes to relationships and personal info about her origins, and here’s a real zinger of a line:

I just want to find the center point of myself again; see me clearly; clearly see me…and it’s hard to find the center point of yourself when you spend so much of your life confused and conforming to ways of being that are expected of you.”

As I said, I could go on and on citing amazing, heartfelt, raw yet eloquent excerpts from this evocative stage production.

This is the link to Liz Debetta’s extraordinary work:


standing ovation GIF

Review of Synchronicity & Reunion: The Genetic Connection of Adoptees and Birthparents

Have you ever searched for and found a missing biological relative? Have you discovered quirky, unique or crazy similarities or common patterns in your lives, even though you’ve lived apart?

Although this book was written back in 1992 by the late LaVonne Harper Stiffler, the information is quite timely and suitable for today’s adoptee or bio parent. The author begins the book with a basic introduction in adoption psychology, which may or may not have anything to do with synchronicity or meaningful coincidences but is spot-on. It sets the stage for later chapters and the information provided is useful for any adoptee or 1st parent who is considering the search and reunion experience. She describes the need to search as a “…the human homing mechanism…”.

Stiffler also frequestly references the “mobius connection paradygm strip:

Mobius-Strip.jpg | Copley Raffas a way to explain the interconnectedness of paths between the adoptee’s life and that of the biological family’s regarding amazing coincidences and other phenomonae which exists but cannot be scientifically explained (yet). She cites various heavy-hitting adoption “all-stars” such as Betty Jean Lifton and Nancy Verrier along with reputable phsychological theorists from history: Jung, Freud, and Kammerer, plus many others.

This book also contains a plethora of adoption-related coincidence stories collected by the writer, which are amazing and fun to read. Unexplained yet existing synchronicities can happen with dreams, career choices, names, common birth, marriage and death dates among families, even ESP-type happenings and “gut” feelings.


Book Review of Togethermore Rejection and Reunion, by Roderick Edwards

Togethermore Rejection and Reunion is simple, concise, and a very quick read. It is the story of an Indiana man who interestingly describes what many adoptees label “the Fog”  in a unique way: “a state of virtual amnesia for fifty years”. The reader does not learn much about how Roderick grew up regarding his adoptee experience. (Perhaps because the author does not have many positive things to say.) Instead, the story takes you right into the moment when he receives his OBC in the mail a year after he and his wife decided to take DNA tests. He builds a family tree based on the sketchy information he does have and finds a nephew who puts him in touch with a sibling who, in turn, connects him with his other siblings.

The rest of the book tells in detail about Roderick’s critical and life-changing first year in reunion as he meets an elderly aunt, sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews. (AKA “niblings“) Roderick’s emotions soar through the understandable spectrum of instant elation, never wanting to separate from the family again to, as the author puts it, “…trying on a suit that doesn’t fit”. Many times he feels torn between two unique worlds: his constructed, traditional family via marriage and his very large and diverse biological relatives. Roderick does a good job of explaining how prior to searching, some adopted people have perhaps constructed a biological or birth family of a certain image, which does not pan out in reality. This can be a good or a bad coping strategy, but it is important for those searching for important people to be aware that reality and imagination do not tend to match perfectly.

Togethermore reads fast and is relatable and understandable. It could be a great resource for adoptees, especially for those who are beginning to gather facts and search tools.  As more states open up records, there will hopefully be more people searching for their first past, and this little book might be very handy because it is realistic, contemporary and easy to absorb in one sitting.

Adoptees & COVID-19 Quarantine: We have a plan!

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say regarding this topic as it relates to adopted people. Of course, there is a spectrum of responses because no two adoptees (or people in general) are alike, so this is hard to qualify.

Many of us are trying to find ourselves all over again since this pandemic. Maybe we had a functioning identity we’d finally come to terms with because of our profession or other roles in society, but now our jobs are different or in some cases, nonexistent. Perhaps we have had a significant relationship change during this time so that now we don’t see ourselves connected to others in the same way as before due to separation or loss. Adoptees who could define themselves by certain activities like sports, arts, tourism or other forms of leisure services are searching for new ways to find a role that feels necessary yet emotionally fulfilling.

Then there’s the fact that many adoptees are already struggling with who they are regardless of world circumstances because they have a lot of missing information about their past. Pandemics do not stop us from wondering where and from whom we came. In fact, as we feel our existence threatened, we might be sensing this more intensely, especially if we fear time is running out and our options for self-discovery might become even more limited not just by out-of-date laws but now because of nature.

It’s more important than ever to connect with other adoptees and folks who may be on a similar path. We might not be able to be in the same building together, but we can join through social media interest groups and participate in online chats via Face Time, FB messenger, Skype, Zoom and many more. This is why I am encouraging you to join the Indiana Adoptee Network’s series of Zoom “Happy Hour” chats on Friday evenings. We are a fun, caring group and are sharing our talents, passions, and connections as we would as if the actual conference occurred. Whether you wish to join actively in the conversations or just be an observer, you are not alone, and you are welcomed!

Here is a link to this Friday’s gathering:

Zoom is easy to use if you are not familiar. Once you register (it’s free) you will receive a link. Download the Zoom app (also free) and then follow the invitation link!

See you there!

‘Tis the Season…

of Adoption Conferences!

I am thrilled and thankful to be going once again. Due to timing, I am unable to attend ANC’s Journeys of Discovery gathering near Cleveland, OH March 20 and 21st, 2020. It celebrates the 5th anniversary of the opening of adoption records in my state, Ohio, back in 2015. I went to that one five years ago. We marched in support and solidarity in the rain while creating a historical moment.  It was magical, marvelous and so much fun.

Here’s a link to this year’s Ohio conference: and also a big shout out to Betsie Norris and the other Adoption Network Cleveland folks who have strived and continue to work tirelessly to support members of the adoption community while advocating for laws which have opened the way for many satisfying and enlightening biological family reunions for Ohio adoptees. Go to their event if you can. I’m sure it will be worth it.

As for me, I will be attending and presenting at the Indiana Adoptee Network’s 4th annual conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 27th and 28th. It will be two days of speakers, workshops, networking and fellowship with members of the adoption constellation from all over. Pam Kroskie, Marcie Keithley and Jennifer Fahlsing head up another amazing team of advocates for adoptee rights and adoption-centered events. This year, my adoptee friends/colleagues: Lynn Grubb, Laureen Pittman, Marcie Keithley and I will be participating in an author panel discussing our experiences in adoption and Writing Our Truths. We hope to cover the creative writing process, helpful advice for how to pursue writing and stick with it, publishing options, promoting and marketing your written work plus fielding questions from members who join us. This gathering will also feature classes in yoga, genetic genealogy, search & reunion, loss, adoptees in recovery, fun merchandise for purchase and so much more.

Here is the IAN site:

For anyone reading this entry, I hope you can find a way to attend an adoption-themed conference, sometime, somewhere. It is very powerful and inspiring to be in rooms filled with kindred spirits because our lives have all been touched by the same general thing: Adoption. I would attend both of these worthy events if it were possible. No matter how many conferences I go to, after all these years of experience, it is always a best decision to go and it’s totally worth it.

Attending an adoption conference is a form of self-care. It’s about connectedness, learning, and friendships. There are moments when you feel in the presence of rock stars, and there are times to reflect on your own priorities and needs. It’s a unique retreat. Just go and be. You will not be sorry.

Oh, and have fun!

The Shoebox Effect:

Marcie J. Keithley’s newest book, The Shoebox Effect, is both memoir and self-help. It’s about how so often we humans tend to suppress painful feelings and old memories by creating an emotional/virtual shoebox. (Sometimes too, we create an actual shoebox with actual mementos.) We store old thoughts and sensations as well as physical items away so as to avoid or escape the reality of their existence. It’s a coping mechanism. Sometimes it’s what we need to do in order to get through a difficult time. The problem is, it becomes a bad or wrong thing at some point when suppression or subconsciously forgetting hinders our or our loved ones’ quality of life. Triggers will always come back, and you never know when.

The Shoebox Effect tells of Marcie’s experiences as a young adult mother, struggling to come to terms with family disruptions and unplanned situations during a time when society and women’s roles had different assumptions than today. Her writing is effective in “taking the reader back” to a simpler but challenging time in history when women and mothers had more traditional and conservative expectations. Changes were slow in coming, and helpful resources for struggling, unmarried young mothers were limited.

In some ways, The Shoebox Effect also reads like a self-help or a workbook because reflection pages are provided where the reader can journal or make notes about their personal thoughts. This interactive approach which includes spaces for questions and answers can help readers feel as though they are a pair of a conversation instead of just reading someone’s life story.

Author, Marcie Keithley genuinely cares about helping any reader who has emotionally or physically stored away pieces of unfinished life business by sharing the experiences endured by herself and other significant family members. This book will be very helpful for adoptees seeking the point of view of a birth parent, fellow bio/ first parents who have followed a similar path, therapists, counselors and other professionals in social work who may not be aware of the past history of adoption involving the Baby-Scoop-Era’s adoption practices. Adoptive parents will appreciate this book so that they can gain better insight and sensitivity for what their adopted son or daughter might be feeling, especially if they consider a reunion with biological family.

Keithley’s account is descriptive, honest and rich in emotion. This is a story of resilience, strength and optimism while confronting many oppositions. She tells her side, as a biological mother with dignity, class, and compassion.

It’s #NAAM! What do YOU think about that?

Happy #NAAM, AKA National Adoption Awareness Month. It’s still early in “the season”, and I am seeing many viewpoints, which is good. Here are the messages or points that stand out to me the most (for now):

1- That #NAAM should be National ADOPTEE Awareness Month rather than ADOPTION.,

2- That it’s a month to be aware and observe. It’s not necessarily a month to celebrate, which is quite different. #ConversationsAboutAdoption

3- If you feel you must celebrate or commemorate this month, why not read literature created by actual adoptees? #LaureenPittman,

I am OK with representing the many sides of adoption, but it is imperative that as far as the adoptee perspective goes, as many facets of the adoptee experience as possible should be represented; the “happy” stories as well as our struggles. The most honest presentation we can make is to acknowledge that we share many viewpoints and have an impressive array of ideas based on our personal experiences.

If we have so many viewpoints, imagine what the biological and adoptive parents plus social workers must also have if they are honest with themselves. Their stories should also be shared, not just the ones with positive outcomes, but also the times of grief, and worry about making some very difficult, life-altering decisions.

Historically, our side, (the adoptee side), has been the least represented in a balanced way. This needs to change. While it is not wrong to recognize differing opinions from other groups of the adoption sector, adopted individuals need to have their voices (or keyboards ; )  heard and respected with the same enthusiasm and as their respective adoptive and foster parents, social workers, therapists, and biological family.

Not everyone feels that #NAAM is a time to celebrate. Not everyone in the adoption community has had the greatest experience. I’m not saying you should never celebrate the good parts if that is what you feel, but also be mindful that adoption means different things to different individuals.

There are many reputable books, films, podcasts, and social media groups that illustrate an array of adoption and foster care-related experiences. I urge you to both enjoy and also learn from what you take in. If you are a therapist/counselor, honor the month by seeking out professional development opportunities that address adoption concerns. Yesterday’s adoption was only about possibilities, love and better times ahead for all. Today’s adoption has added some modern yet valid opinions and research to this concept showing that it is not simple and easy to be an adoptee, bio-family member or adoptive parent all the time.

Even when it is not simple and easy, however, it is still always right to shed truth and humanism when acknowledging November as #NAAM. It’s not a time to tell adoptees what to think or how to feel, but it can be a time to ask us, “So what do you think about #NAAM?” This should be a time for those who struggle with their adoptee status to find meaningful connections with adoptee peers and colleagues. Connecting with like-minded folks does wonders. Seek out upcoming conferences such as #IAN (Indiana Adoptee Network, #ANC, (Adoption Network Cleveland), #NACAC in Toronto, and the #NAC (National Adoption Conference) in Maryland in 2020. This can also be a time to explore different schools of thought and gain understanding as to why members of our constellation feel the way we do. Also, if you do have expertise in an aspect of adoption, consider becoming a workshop presenter or volunteer for this worthy interest group.

Links to events:

There are many ways to educate and network about adoption. The above are just a few.