One of my favorite bloggers in the whole world is Lori Lavender Luz from Write Heart, Open Mind. Last year I participated in her book club for Melissa Ford’s “Life From Scratch” and had a tremendous amount of fun. Mel, I am still anxiously awaiting the sequel
So when Lori announced this year’s book tour, for Jennifer Lauck’s “Found”, I was eager to sign up. The topic, about a writer’s search for her birth mom, piqued my interest. While I have learned about adoption from bloggers like Lori, I don’t know that much about it from the point of view of someone who has been adopted. Adoption was a road not taken for me during my journey through infertility, but it was seriously considered.
Jennifer Lauck first came to public attention after Oprah singled out her memoir “Blackbird” and it became a New York Times bestseller. “Blackbird” detailed her extremely grim, almost Dickensian upbringing: think Oliver Twist minus the happy ending, plus a hippie cult. Adopted by a mother with a terminal illness, Lauck tended to her as a nurse until she passed away. Soon after her adopted father died too, but not before marrying a “wicked stepmother” who lent Lauck out to work for a sinister religious group. Lauck is then passed from family member to family member, sexually assaulted and used by the relatives who eventually took her in and formally adopted her. She worked essentially as a servant for them and they collected her adopted parents’ benefits, supposedly for her college education. Although when she’s ready for college, she’s told the money is gone.
To say that Jennifer Lauck did not have a positive experience with adoption is the understatement of the year. The people and institutions that were supposed to help her failed her time and time again.
“Found” details Lauck’s search for her birth mother, the hoops she had to jump through to find her, their reunification and the bittersweet afterward. Lauck is very honest about her feelings of abandonment, the physical sensations she feels being around her birth mother and why it is and was so important to her self-identity to know the biological DNA and definition behind her own temperament and personality.
I was especially moved by Lauck’s writing when she described how her son was physically removed from her after his birth. It made me identify with her in a flash:
“I was a mother now. I wanted my child. The baby fussed and the nurse patted his back as if he was hers. I sent my husband my best ‘If you don’t get that baby, I’ll kill you’ look. My eyebrows pulled together, my jaw went tight, and my eyes went narrow. As he reached out, yet again attempting to fulfill my primal wishes, the nurse shooed him away. She said something about hospital rules and my being overly emotional.”
Something I haven’t talked about here is that my physician recently diagnosed me with PTSD. She thinks it’s because of my miscarriages, but also the separation of my son from me upon his birth. He was put in the NICU when he was born, like Lauck’s son. I will never forget what bad shape I was in after my C-section: I almost suffocated due to an allergic reaction to a medication and I was in tremendous pain because they had to take me off painkillers altogether because of that reaction. (I imagine it’s how soldiers felt after being operated after the Civil War.) I was still so incredibly determined to see my son when I heard he could not be with me. Thankfully my daughter was OK, and had been brought in to be with me, but the morning after my C-section I walked to the NICU, slowly and in great discomfort. Each step I took was agony and the walk took 20 minutes (it felt longer) but the physical NEED to see my son was overwhelming. It overcame pain that was a level 8, exhaustion and fear for myself. Nothing mattered but that I see my son.
I have nightmares every night that I am unable to get to my children. That I am motionless, that some natural disaster or nuclear war is coming and I am powerless to stop it from coming for my twins. I wake up screaming many nights. So I am very thankful to Lauck for identifying so clearly that EXACT moment that caused the PTSD. And for telling me that I’m not alone in feeling that way. I thank her very much for that.
So, onto the questions!
1. Jennifer writes a lot about the first mom’s biological bond with her child. She writes of this bond as primal, almost as if adoptive moms will never be able to completely bond with their children, and I wonder what advice she would give to adoptive parents, particularly, women who want to be honest with their children about their birth stories and those who may even have functional open adoptions where every member of the triad respects the other.
Based on my own experience, I do think the biological bond is primal. But I can’t speak for all birth mothers: I was ready to have children, desperate to have them, even. I do think, after reading “Found”, that being aware of a primal bond is a really good idea.
What part of Ms. Lauck’s adoption journey challenged your idea of adoption the most?
I think what surprised me most was how small interactions with her birth mother Catherine could have so much more meaning than just face value. For example, Catherine opts not to pick Lauck up at the airport gate and instead tells her to meet her at the curb. Lauck’s reaction is this:
“Yes, Catherine is pissed.
No, she really didn’t want me to come.
Yes, my heart is broken.
No, I’m not surprised.
I cry as I stand at the curb, waiting.”
The smallest gesture causes a chain reaction, leaving her feeling utterly rejected. I think this is a most telling interaction, and a good one. From reading some open adoption blogs, it does seem that when a birth parent is late or doesn’t show up for an appointment, there is a big emotional reaction from the child. I appreciated Lauck’s honesty here.
In reading this book, I, an adoptive mother, was struck by how less than ideal Jennifer’s childhood was. My instinct is to blame the death of her adoptive parents and the subsequent bouncing around, abuses, etc that she suffered, for her trauma and feelings of abandonment as opposed to looking to the fact that she was adopted. Obviously I have a vested interest in this perception and I am acutely aware of this and that I need to force my mind to stay open to see the entire picture. I wonder what others think…am I alone in trying to downplay the adoption issue? Is her experience magnified because of her repeated experiences of trauma/abandonment or are her feelings fairly typical of adult adoptees?
I grappled with this question too. What if Lauck had been adopted by others? What if her situation were different? I haven’t read any other accounts of adult adoptees, so it’s hard for me to say. I do know her childhood was appallingly terrible, unique even in its utter lack of stability, love, trust and hope. The parents I know from the ALI community who have adopted children are so incredibly committed to loving them, providing the best possible environment for them, reading constantly about how best to parent them, and caring intensely for them. It’s therefore really hard for me to believe that excellent parenting doesn’t matter at all. I believe it matters a great deal.
And to continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list here.