Q&A: Quest to raise awareness about adoptee rights

April 10, 2013

in Adoptee, Book Club, Books

Her memoir’s subtitle is An Adoptee’s Quest for her Origins, but in talking with Anne Bauer, I know that the another reason she wrote The Sound of Hope was to “get people to realize how damaging it is to make adoptees feel guilty when they want to know about their origins,” as she said to me in an email.

We have wrapped up the book tour, but we are fortunate to have Anne answering the questions that members of the book club posed to her.

Sound of Hope adoptee memoirAre you still an active champion for the rights of adopted persons, specifically original birth certificates and open records?

Yes! I keep in contact with NJCARE (NJ Coalition for Adoption Reform & Education) which is a grass roots organization that supports honesty in adoption through educational outreach and legislative advocacy. This group keeps many adopted individuals and first-mothers informed about upcoming bills and involve us in letter writing campaigns in support of the bills trying to be passed. The latest bill is the Adoptee Birthright Bill which would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. This bill was finally passed in NJ last year but Governor Christie (who coincidentally has an adopted sister) conditionally vetoed the Adoptees’ Birthright bill. Right now this bill is in limbo in NJ while thousands of adult adopted individuals wait patiently to obtain their own information.

In 2009, I appeared on a television talk show called “RealTalk.” There was a panel of four people including me, representing the adoptees, a birth mother, a social worker and a lawyer who was advocating keeping records sealed. It was an interesting experience and it felt good to voice my opinion. However, these opportunities to appear on network television are few because the general public doesn’t seem to demand attention to the plight of adult adopted people. This could be the result of many people assuming that all adopted adults can access their own information. Education about the need for adoption reform needs to be publicized to those not within the adoption mosaic. There are too many false assumptions and prejudices still circulating which need to be addressed in order to have legislators approve new laws.

You wrote The Sound of Hope in 2008. You share in your memoir, “The day I realized I has two mothers I was cut in half.” and “The bruises and scratches weren’t visible. They resided inside the heart. These injuries hurt the most and take the longest to heal.” How has your healing journey progressed since the writing your story?

Writing this memoir has been such a tremendous healing experience. So many memories and feelings were brought to the surface as I wrote each chapter of my life. I never realized how much stuff I actually went through at such an early age and saw that I had pushed a lot of my feelings down deep inside. Bringing up these memories actually forced me to face these issues head on. As I recollected my childhood, scenes were brought back to the forefront of my mind and I spent time analyzing possible intentions on the parts of everyone involved. I tried to get into my family member’s shoes and did my best to see the situation from their perspective.

This process was extremely healing because I came to understand that everyone in my family truly loved me. Although they disregarded my feelings over and over, I feel the reason for this was them being so absorbed in their own unresolved problems such as the hidden grief from infertility, stresses of working full-time and having to deal with an alcoholic in the family. When it came to dealing with the fact that they had adopted children, they had no ongoing counseling available to them at the time and they truly didn’t know that it was in the best interest of the child to talk about adoption in a positive light.

Since writing this memoir, I no longer get teary-eyed when I think about how lonely I felt when nobody supported me with my search or the highly emotional day when I first met my first-mother. These two experiences were the hardest for me to face at the time. I find myself now looking back on those memories –even the one about whom I could invite to my own wedding — with a smile on my face, and now consider these past experiences valuable lessons in life for all parties involved.

Do you find that your experience of being an adopted person has impacted your parenting? I think of the passage where you share, “The difficulties lie on the inside, deep beneath the outer layers-where the heart and soul reside.”

I definitely think my experience as an adopted individual has greatly impacted my parenting style. I have made it a point to be completely open and honest in regards to all family matters with my children. I keep the information at the level of their age and their ability to understand the issue, and I make it a point to never gloss over any problems that may be happening within the family. Because they are always in the loop, I never have to worry that they may overhear something that they shouldn’t know about because we do not keep secrets.

I also am an avid genealogist and have involved my children with the research. Documenting the family lines fosters a sense of belonging, and finally being able to obtain my original family history has been a project of ours for the past decade. This is one of the reasons why I am so adamant about obtaining my original birth certificate. There is no accessible paper trail linking me to my biological family, and if a future relative of mine decides to trace the genealogy, they would believe that I was in fact born to my adoptive parents. My future generations should also know their true heritage and be able to accurately trace their own lineage as well.

How did your family members respond to your book, and how supportive were they of you writing it? This must be a peril of writing a memoir: how do you be true to your observations of a person but also aware of their reactions to your observations? It’s an interesting boundary to define.

Everybody in my family knew I was writing and publishing my memoir because I was required to have everyone sign a release form so I could tell their part in my story. Sadly, nobody has mentioned the memoir to me since except my first-mother and my adoptive father. My Dad was not surprised about how he was portrayed and has since apologized profusely to me and my brothers for his treatment of us over the years. I know without a doubt that he never intended to hurt any of us. He has his own demons from his childhood to deal with and these unresolved issues come out in bursts of rage in his daily life. My first-mother told me she was sorry that she never tried to find me sooner and offered that she was willing to go to counseling or whatever it was that I needed in order to heal from the experience. Writing this memoir was healing and since then I have felt whole and complete.

My mother died three years before I published the memoir and I honestly do not think she would have been happy about me broadcasting to the world about family problems. I’m sure my cousin Maggie has read it but no comments have been made. As for Sara, I cannot say whether she has read the memoir. My first-mother has a copy and I am sure she offered it to Sara but there has been no mention about it. As for my brothers, I do not know if they read my memoir. I told them both about it and gave them the information when it was released but neither has acknowledged the subject nor wanted to talk about it since signing the release form. They know it’s there and someday maybe they will be ready to read it.

~~~~~

That’s a wrap for the book discussion of Anne Bauer’s The Sound of Hope: An Adoptee’s Quest for Her Origins. Should you wish to know more about adoptee rights, being raised in a closed adoption, or any of the other topics mentioned here, read Anne’s book.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Dennis April 10, 2013 at 9:06 am

Anne,

This is such an interesting thing about memoirs. I thought that my family and friends would be the biggest advocates of my own memoir, when in truth some found the subject matter too disturbing and upsetting even to read. Even to read!

I do think it’s amazing that your dad apologized and has seen the damage that he did inflict during your youth. And I’m so happy that your first mother offered to go to therapy, do whatever she needed to help you–I love that. Some people do step up to the plate and are willing to go to bat for us adoptees when push comes to shove, and I like that.

Laura

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Alicia April 10, 2013 at 9:23 am

Wow – another reminder that openness and honesty are the way to go. I am thankful that my own daughter will have experiences such as this one guiding our parenting path.

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Cristy April 10, 2013 at 9:38 am

This is an incredibly eye-opening discussion. Though I’ve been well aware of how important it is for openness and honesty in any adoption situation (seen way too many examples where lack of it has been destructive), to actually hear from an adult adoptee how important it is to have access to information about their birth family is something I hadn’t considered. I think one of the biggest fears for anyone who’s adopting is that accessing this information will result in their child forsaking them for their birth parents. But I think Anne is making a very strong case for the exact opposite: hiding information and keeping secrets is actually the thing that drives the wedge.

Thank you Anne for being so brave to share your story with the world. And thank you Lori for helping open my eyes a little more every day.

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Lori Lavender Luz April 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Yes, yes! What a succinct way to put it: “hiding information and keeping secrets is actually the thing that drives the wedge.”

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Kathy April 10, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Thank you Anne for taking the time to answer these questions and Lori for sharing them here. I have most definitely taken away from this book tour experience the importance of the rights of adopted persons. Prior to this I naively believed more had changed, with regard to open adoption, than actually has in the U.S. I get that for younger adoptees things seem to be a lot better, but didn’t realize how many adult adoptees are still struggling to find out more about their biological roots.

This really struck me too:

“I definitely think my experience as an adopted individual has greatly impacted my parenting style. I have made it a point to be completely open and honest in regards to all family matters with my children. I keep the information at the level of their age and their ability to understand the issue, and I make it a point to never gloss over any problems that may be happening within the family. Because they are always in the loop, I never have to worry that they may overhear something that they shouldn’t know about because we do not keep secrets.”

I really appreciate that is what Anne took from her experience and brings to her parenting. I try to be as open and honest with my children too and believe they are better for it.

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JoAnne Bennett April 10, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Anne,

I would really love to see you write a follow-up book, “Sound of ______ along with your adoptive father. In my opinion, I believe it takes a lot for a loved one to say they are sorry. I wasn’t as fortunate as you were to have my family members admit to their mistakes or for any open dialogue. It would be really interesting to read a story about the dynamics of an adopted daughter and an adoptive father’s relationship before and after a reunion with their birth family. I would love to hear his voice on family matters when it came to possibly how he perceived your adoptive mother’s insecurities as well as his own short-comings. It was so apparent that your adoptive father had a lot of love for you and we never hear how our fathers feel about us wanting to find our origins.

Thanks for sharing your story!

JoAnne

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Anne Bauer April 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm

JoAnne, Yes, that is a good idea to write a follow-up, I have considered it a couple of times and will give it more thought. I am actually closest with my Dad, always have been and our relationship never changed since the reunion like it did with my Mom. Men’s memoirs are seldom ever told and one from the perspective of the adoptive father would be a nice change.

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Liz April 20, 2013 at 11:48 am

I’ve been traveling and offline for a while, so this comment is late, but I wanted to offer my thanks again, Anne, for the gift of your book and your thoughts here. I agree with JoAnne’s comments about your dad and a follow-up book…yes, please!

I loved this line(above): “This process was extremely healing because I came to understand that everyone in my family truly loved me.” YES! How important to see this, and to know that the ways that we were hurt in child hood wasn’t because we were unloved (or worse, unlovable) but because the people loving us were wounded and struggling. I so resonate with this in my life.

Many blessings to you, and look forward to reading more of your writing!

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loribeth April 24, 2013 at 1:52 pm

This is fascinating… I remember when I read A.M. Homes’s “The Mistress’s Daughter” & she talked about tracing her birth family’s genealogy. It was quite a “duh” moment for me (particularly as a genealogist myself) — simultaneous surprise that someone who was adopted would do that, and at the same time realizing, why wouldn’t they??

I also never realized, until just a few years ago (again, thanks to blogs) that adoptees (at least in the States, not sure what happens in Canada) get new birth certificates that makes it look like their adoptive parents are their birth parents. As a genealogist, that just doesn’t seem right to me. I just though that information would be blacked out on any copy issued.

I learn so much from you & your blog, Lori! Thank you!

Speaking of adoption & genealogy… someday I need to blog about my grandfather’s great-aunt M. — my great x2 grandmother’s younger sister — who, as it turns out, was adopted (not sure if it was done “by the book” or the family just took her in). A bunch of us who are into the family history starting e-mailing among ourselves about her, and through Ancestry.com, Scotland’s People & other online resources, we actually managed to track down the people we think were her birth parents… back in 1860! We’ll never know for sure, but it was amazing how it all unfolded. M. was actually a pivotal figure in our family history: she saved a collection of family letters that are now preserved in a local museum. They have played a huge role in our knowledge of our family history, and provide important insights into local history as well.

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