Monday, June 13, 2011
Author Interview: Adoption Perspective From an Adoptee and Her Birth Mother
I read Jessica Lost in a matter of two days (and that's with two babies!). Every nap, every spare moment, that book was in my hands. Upon completion, I did some online digging and found a way to contact one of the book's authors. She immediately responded and agreed to an interview.
I rarely read a good adoption book, and I've read well over one hundred adoption books. Most books are fluffy, artificial, and one-sided (the adoptive parents' side). Jessica Lost is raw, heartfelt, and the best part, the authors do not claim to have all the answers.
So, I am honored to introduce my readers to Jil, the co-author of Jessica Lost.
Tell me about yourself. (Your job, your personality, and, obviously, your connection to adoption).
I live on the upper west side of Manhattan with my husband. I have two sons, ages 28 and 21, one in college and one in graduate school. You can tell by the ages of my children that I’m no longer young. But I’m not quite old. Middling, I guess. I’ve worked my entire career as a copywriter, for ad agencies and at magazines like New York, People, and Parenting. Since last year I’ve been freelancing and also working on a second book.
I was adopted at the age of five months through Louise Wise Services, a Jewish Adoption Agency that is no longer in business. My adoptive parents had registered several years before—waiting for a Jewish baby, even in the 1950s, took quite a while. I don’t ever remember being told I was adopted, but I always knew I was. When I was four, we adopted my brother, and I remember going to pick him up from the agency and the visits from the social worker after he came home.
In "Jessica Lost" you write (p 205), "For adoption to work---to really work, not just to be a bandage over a wound----we must acknowledge the wounds, mourn the losses, and open them to the light, and accept the scars” and then later, “Giving birth is a simple process, but in the end there’s nothing simple about it. Biology may be destiny, but it’s a hell of a lot more powerful than any of us give it credit for.” Many of my blog readers are adoptive parents. I'd like to know, what is the best and worst things an adoptive parent could do in terms of talking to their children about adoption?
I regret that I’m not more of an expert in this area. My family handled it so badly, that I probably only know all the wrong things to do. I wish my mother could have been more comfortable talking to me about adoption but she was so threatened, so scared. It would have meant a lot to me to be able to talk about it with her.
Of course, honesty and openness are the fundamentals. But parents want so badly—understandably—for their children to be happy, that to open the door to what may be painful emotions or uncomfortable discussions can be very hard. And I can only imagine how much an adoptive parent wants to believe that everything is okay, that their family is happy, that their child is happy.
But sometimes believing is really just pretending, as it was with my family. Acknowledging pain is hard, but it’s the only way to get through it. I think having books around that talk about adoption at the child’s level is a great way to start the discussion and open the door for questions. Of course, any question a child has about his or her adoption or birth family should be answered, even if the answer is, “I don’t know, but I’ll try and find out, or help you find out.” And I think it also helps to acknowledge that the questions and the discussion can be difficult. If a parent can be honest and direct enough to say, “This can be hard for us to talk about sometimes but that’s okay, we’ll keep trying,” it can defuse a lot of anxiety.
There are many terrific books that adoptive parents could read to help them understand the psychological affects of adoption. Although they might seem a bit scary, since they do tend to focus on the negative, they can be informative and enlightening. And perhaps if the adoptive parents cannot bring themselves to talk about adoption, they can find a “safe place”—in the company of a therapist, close friend, grandparent, or another adoptive parent—that can help them open up.
As I'm sure you know, adoption has changed in many ways since you were placed for adoption. Open adoptions are common. What is your opinion of open adoption? (I thought about open adoption a lot as I read your book).
I believe anything that sheds light is better. Open adoption seems less like pretending to me, which is what the closed adoptions of my time were. Even the concept of “closed” seems negative—like something hidden or shameful. There’s a fascinating book called “The Baby Thief,” a true story about a woman named Georgia Tann who basically invented the modern system of closed adoptions, not because of any social good, but to cover up the fact that she was stealing babies from poor or unmarried women, powerless women who often spent decades trying to find their vanished children but couldn’t because records and birth certificates had been sealed.
***SPOILER ALERT***In the book, you write of your birth mother's death. If she could see you right now in the moment, what would she find? What do you think her response might be?
I wish more than anything that Faith, my birth mother, could be here to be part of the excitement and joy of seeing this book in print. We worked on it a long time—almost ten years off and on—and it was such a dream of hers that it be published. She was a writer and had published several books, but this one was very special to her. She was here, at least, to see it sold, to finish writing it, and to know it would be published soon. I know she would be very happy for me, and proud, and excited. And as wonderful as this experience has been, and as terrific as the response to the book has been, it would be so much more wonderful if she were here to enjoy it with me.
As an adoptee, what is the most hurtful question or comment you have faced. How did you respond?
I think the most painful question I’ve heard—and I’m sure many adoptees have heard it—is, “who are your real parents?” There are many people who can’t imagine that your “real parents” can be your adoptive parents. But I have never met an adoptee who would consider their adoptive parents as anything other than their real parents, even those who had a difficult relationship with them. My adoptive mother and I had a very rocky relationship, but she was my mother, my real mother, one thousand percent. And the fact that people didn’t understand that was hard for me to grasp. I don’t think I ever found a great way to respond, other than to explain, over and over, that these were my real parents, fully and completely. To some people, biology is the only way to evaluate relationships and there’s no getting past that.
Finish this sentence: Adoption is...
…so many things…and some of them seemingly in opposition to each other: Life-altering. Challenging. Wonderful. Profound. Amazing. Beautiful. Painful.
If there's anything else you'd like to share, such as your next project, how you can be contacted, etc., please share!
I’m happy to share. I’m working on a YA novel right now, about a girl whose father, an English teacher, is very ill and wants to share his love of books with her. He gives her a list of books to read—the books he believes should be read to call oneself a full human being—and as she works her way through the list and shares her responses with her father, the books themselves begin to affect how she sees the world, her family, her friends, her father’s illness, and her place in it all.
Other than that, I also write poetry, take Italian (I have a fantasy of living in Rome someday), think about taking yoga but never quite do it, do volunteer work, cook (a lot), read (a real lot), knit, and try to “cultivate my garden.” If anyone would like to reach me, they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jil, thank you so much for your insight and for having the courage and conviction to write your book. You will touch and change many lives for the better!