Category Archives: Books

Novelist Q&A: The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore

A local friend, breathless on the other end of the line, says, “My husband heard you on NPR this morning talking about your new adoption book — congrats, Lori!” I then admit I have no idea what the caller is talking about.

A bloggy friend: “Lori, there’s an author talking about open adoption in an article in The Atlantic. There are already 200 comments but you should weigh in, too!”

Jennifer Gilmore, novelistA Google Alert delivers to my inbox an article in the LA Times about a new novel with open adoption as its backdrop.

These are a few of the ways I first learned of Jennifer Gilmore. Her book about infertility and adoption came out the same week my own did. I contacted her and we exchanged books, hers fiction and mine nonfiction, both with open adoption as a core theme. Below is my review and her candid Q&A with me.

Main character and narrator Jesse asks herself mid-novel What is opened and what is closed? — a question I, too have pondered.

My Amazon review of The Mothers

Jesse and Ramon failed at fertility treatments and were turned away from international adoption. So they turned to this newish thing called “open adoption” and ended up opening themselves up to all kinds of drama — even trauma, feeling unsupported by the adoption facilitator(s) whom Jesse/Ramon thought should be doing a better job at protecting their fragile hearts.

The Mothers chronicles a torturous journey toward motherhood by a woman who is still figuring out what it means to be “the mother.” Jesse seems to understand the role of the mother only in the negative, in what was lacking in her own mother and in her mother-in-law. Throughout the book we find Jesse trying to figure out just what occupying the vaunted status of The Mother means, should mean.

My journey to parenthood was similar to fictional Jesse’s, and I recognized myself and many of the emotions that come with infertility in some of the book’s scenes. Gilmore covers baby lust, singular focus, magical thinking, marital wear-and-tear, and frustration about the inability for an otherwise capable woman to have any control over an outcome. The novel reads much like a memoir, and Gilmore is gutsy to show the inner thoughts and foibles of her main character/narrator.

Author Q&A about birth mothers, race and class in adoption, and novel vs memoir

“…the agency was there mostly to protect the birthmothers” (p 234). If you could advise the various adoption facilitators Jesse and Ramon used to connect with placing mothers on how to better serve their clients, what would you say?

The Mothers by Jennifer GIlmoreWhat I can say on the matter is this: there is a lot of coded language out there.  It isn’t IF you get your baby, but WHEN, for example. But that’s not always true. There are, in the end, more prospective adoptive parents than there are infants who need them. This is not including the foster care system that has its own set of laws and statistics. In regard to adoption, however, the only thing I can say is agencies need to offer more support by way of truthful information to prospective adoptive parents. There needs to be more preparation about what can actually happen. Of how laws differ in each state. How, because of the transparency of the open adoption process, you will more than likely have your heart broken before it is mended. Agencies have the best interest of the birth mothers in mind, as they are often seen as the commodity here. It’s really a market driven idea — and if you don’t put the birth mother first, then there is no child to get to your clients. This is the hidden part of it. It makes sense, but it is hidden.

The Mothers addresses topics like race, class and sexuality. Have you taken any heat for the ways in which your characters approach these touchy subjects?

When people talk about race — out in the open — it makes some uncomfortable. In an open adoption, one has to think about her feelings about race, in regards to the ethnicity of the child she feels comfortable parenting. My narrator is shocked that people want only a white baby, that many are not checking the African American or the Hispanic box on their profile forms.  My narrator checks all the boxes, but she does so without thinking deeply about it. Perhaps she doesn’t have to. She wants a child and she doesn’t care about his race.

But even to have a box you check or don’t check is shocking to a lot of people. How does this — race, ethnicity, color — define a person? Of course, everyone is a story, everyone has one, and this steals that narrative. When we talk about this — and for me when I wrote about it — I did receive pushback from people who found the process offensive. The were offended when I said in interviews that if you don’t want an African American child, you certainly shouldn’t parent one. And yet this is true. We lose sight sometimes of the most important thing, which is that we have to think first about what is best for the child. My character — and I — chose the African American box. Its mere mention, the mention of race talked about directly, does anger many people.

Other interviewers have broached the question regarding why you chose to write a work of fiction rather than a memoir. Doing so gives you ways to explore varied story lines, scenarios and issues. But the downside is that readers may see you as your main character. How would you describe the gap between your own story and Jesse’s?

I am a fiction writer. I have two previous literary novels that have nothing to do with adoption.  So for me, the most authentic way to tell the truth is through fiction.  While that may sound bogus to some, fiction is the way in which I view the world so there was never a question of whether it would be a memoir, only how I would tell it as a novel.

Would you tell us about your path to getting this book published? Was it an easy birth or a complicated one?

Because I had the same editor and publisher for my first two books, I suppose the publication was “easy.” They had the option to read the book before others did and they chose to buy it.  I don’t know what the experience would have been like if it were my first book.  It’s very hard to publish novels — perhaps had I NOT been a novelist first, I could have written the story as a memoir.  Perhaps that would have been easier to publish, I can’t say. But a novel is like a valentine. It lasts forever.

You mention in a Publishers Weekly interview that earlier this year you became mom to a son. Would you like to share any parts of that story?

After a very long and traumatic adoption journey, my husband and I did bring home a son at the end of January. It is an open adoption, which, as you know, means we know the birth mother — and in this case the birth father — in varying degrees.  We feel lucky. There were many moments we stopped believing that we would have a child. Every day we remember that, even if it’s just in the back of our minds, how almost this never happened.

~~~~~

Jennifer Gilmore is the author of Golden Country, a 2006 New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Jewish Book Award, and Something Red, a New York Times Notable Book of 2010. Her work has appeared  magazine and journals, including Allure, Vogue and The Washington Post. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn.

Measure of Love: Book club post about Melissa Ford’s latest novel

Soooo, some of us are sitting around in a virtual coffee shop, talking about a book we signed up to read. Some have read the book, some are be in the process of reading it, and some are going “D’oh! I knew I was supposed to have something ready today!” Others are sitting within earshot of us, not participants in the book club but intrigued by what they’re hearing, and are saying to themselves, “Hmmm….sounds like a book I’d like to read.”

Measure of Love by Melissa FordThe first selection in this GRAB(ook) Club (Gonna Read Anyway Book) is Melissa Ford’s Measure of Love, the second in a three story arc (preceded by Life From Scratch and followed next year by Apart at the Seams.)

Each of us on the tour is posting one question, and the others will answer in the asker’s comment section.  My question happens to be one that you don’t have to have read the book to answer, so don’t click away just yet. I’d love for you to chime in below.

Can you remember a time when you’ve struggled with loyalty? When you’ve found it hard to be loyal to two people at odds with each other or when you’ve found your loyalty to a person to be at odds with what you yourself think or feel?

As Rachel remembers Arianna’s loyal-but-blah boyfriend Ben from college (Chapter 11), she recalls how she supported Arianna in breaking dates with him, how she rolled her eyes about him, how she steered Arianna away from stable and caring Ben in lieu of the edgier Pete. Now that Rachel’s brother Ethan is the caring and stable boyfriend in Arianna’s life, she reconsiders the value of loyalty. Rachel must figure out how to offer her loyalty to both her best friend and to her brother when loyalty to one appears to be at odds with loyalty to the other.

Have you ever found yourself in a bind when it comes to loyalty?

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for Measure of Love.  You can get your own copy of Measure of Love by Melissa Ford at bookstores including Amazon.

What I Learned About Openness in Adoption By Writing a Book on Open Adoption

Happy blogoversary to me! Six years ago today I popped my blogging cherry with a short post about my intent to join the Barren Bi+ches Book Brigade. We were soon to discuss Peggy Orenstein’s fabulous Waiting for Daisy, and that book tour turned out to be my entrée into the ALI (Adoption/natal Loss/Infertility) community.

popping a cherryI’ve been the participant and the host on numerous occasions, but on this day of note, I get to be the book club’s author answering reader questions. How perfectly aligned is that?

A few days ago, Mel led a virtual book tour for my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole. Fourteen bloggers signed on to share their take on the book and answer each others’ questions about it. They also posed two questions to me, which you’ll find here.

Did you learn anything new about open adoption through writing this book? Did anything surprise you? If so, what?

I did. And that’s because, as Heather put it, “this is the adoption book the Internet wrote.” I learned a lot by asking others in the adoption constellation about their experience with adoption. I learned from adoptees how it feels to be asked who your “real” parents are, and not to be able to get your own original birth certificate like others can. I learned alternatives to the dreaded family tree assignment in school. I learned from first mothers what has and hasn’t worked in their moving forward through grief. I learned from other adoptive parents cases for and against pre-birth matching, paying pre-birth expenses, and formalized adoption agreements.

Though it was unfunny at the time, I can now say that it was funny-peculiar that Crystal and I got a chance to practice what we preach. While writing Chapter 4 about establishing boundaries, a situation arose that Crystal and I had to work through. I was quite frustrated at first, mostly at myself, until I realized the incident was a chance for me to figure out something firsthand so that I could then teach what I knew, not just a theoretical concept. Crystal and I have had mostly smooth sailing over the years, and with our cruise control on I had gotten complacent. The situation required me to go off auto-pilot and figure out what was really bothering me by going deep within: breathe, be mindful, dig, gain clarity. Then zoom back out with clear communication with Crystal and a commitment to our relationship — and to Tessa.

It’s clear, in hindsight, that this uncomfortable episode was actually an amazing gift.

The additions from Crystal are a lovely and really informative piece of the book. I’m curious as to how this collaboration took shape. Did you develop the framework of the book together? Did you have an idea of where you thought Crystal’s voice would be most helpful and just ask her for that specific input? Or Did you work to find or create spaces for things she wanted to add to the conversation?

Crystal and I have talked for years about how we might help others develop the kind of relationship we stumbled into with each other. First we had to take a look at what we did and didn’t do and what has made our efforts a openness successful. For years we have taught classes in the Denver area (hi, Denver Laura!) to share not only that such a relationship doesn’t have to be contentious, but that it can also be enjoyable. More than anything we say in these sessions, people seem to get a lot just out of seeing a template for how an open adoption can look.

The framework of the book is mine. Crystal and I had extensive interviews about her thoughts and emotions at various points of our journey, as well as her own deconstruction of how we got to where we are. For a book that is largely about how adoptive parents and birth parents can be on the same “side,” rather than the traditional concept of competition between the two sides, it seemed important for us to work together on this book.

As for which came first, her words or a space for her words, I believe it was mostly the former. We had a few jam sessions in which we put as much on the table as we had in us. I took notes and the book began to take shape. Sometimes the book fit around her words and sometimes her words fit into the book.

I suppose in that sense, the way the book took its form is much the same way Crystal and I have taken our form.

I am deeply grateful to Mel, KathyApril, Luna, Jessica, Geo-Chick, BabySmiling, m, Esperanza, Leah Jane, AnneAndy, Liz, and Alicia for devoting precious time to reading my book, sharing their thoughts, and participating in discussions with each other about it. This has been an amazing experience for me and I thank you.

Image courtesy of ping phuket / FreeDigitalPhotos.net