Category Archives: Books

Q&A: Rachel Garlinghouse on Transracial Adoption

Rachel Garlinghouse from the blog White Sugar, Brown Sugar has published her book on transracial adoption, titled Come Rain or Come Shine. She’s giving away a copy to a lucky commenter — details below.

author rachel garlinghouseThis is a guide for adoptive parents who find themselves facing the combination of adoptism and racism — these “isms” refer to being treated as less-than. I like the way Rachel set up her chapters. As part of each you’ll find Questions from the Trenches (which Rachel answers), Questions for Further Discussion (which are open), Practical Application, and comprehensive lists of Resources for Parents ad Resources for Kids. These are some of the features that make Rachel’s creation not just a book but a practical guide.

Here are some questions I posed to Rachel, along with her responses.

What prompted you to make the transition from transracial adoptive mom to transracial adoptive author?
I was born to write! I always knew I’d write a book, but each time I attempted, something wasn’t right: the timing, the angle, the subject. Then it dawned on me that I should write the book that no one else has. I did a lot of research to discover that most books on transracial adoption were outdated, too simplistic, and too textbook-ish. Readers needed a current, conversational, practical, comprehensive guide to transracial adoption. So I wrote it!

Tell us how you chose the title of your book, Come Rain or Come Shine.
I chose the title to represent transracial adoption: it’s joys (shine) and challenges (rain). They go hand-in-hand. And without rain, you wouldn’t appreciate the sunshine.

What surprised you about the book writing process? What surprised you about the publishing process?
Writing and publishing the book was a labor of love and torture! I was up until the early morning often, writing and revising. I had to fight my own inner critic: that I was too young, too inexperienced, too “green.” But the truth is, I knew, deep down, that I was on the right path. I was giving readers the book I wish I would have had when I started my adoption journey. God didn’t bless me with the gift to write for me to ignore that gift or use it half-heartedly. There are distinct moments in our adoption journey where I can look back and say that those things were are leading me to the date when my book went from a manuscript to a publication.

How did writing the book influence how you parent? You did a lot of research and included advice from many sources — which advice wase most impactful in your own home?
Most of the research was done long before I started writing the book, because I was trying to navigate aspects of adoption (openness, transracial, etc.) in my own family. So I read everything I could get my hands on. There are so many fantastic adoption books available, but because adoption is a specialized topic, the books aren’t always easy to find. One of my goals was to make sure I listed these resources in my book so readers could further their adoption education (without having to do all the digging to find the titles!).

I believe the best thing I’ve learned so far in adoption is that, as one of my chapters is titled, it takes a village. Trying to go at adoption alone is not only isolating and confusing, but it can also be detrimental. I have an adoptive mom support group of 100 local women: my village. They are brilliant and hysterically funny and honest. I need these women to be the mother I am.

In the nearly two years since I began writing the manuscript for my own book, my children have moved into new stages of processing their adoptedness, meaning that there are some portions of my book that I would make changes or additions to if I were writing it today. Have there been any parts of your book that you would modify, now that you have more parenting experience under your belt?
I do plan to revise the book in the future as my children get older.  One of the demons I battled while writing the book is that my kids weren’t old enough for me to write extensively about what adopted children might face as teens, for example. However, my “village” includes many parents who have adopted teens, so I leaned on them, and many adoption experts, to fill in the gaps for me.

What are your relationships like with your children’s birth parents? How is it navigating these six relationships?
We have three children and three open adoptions. I will say that open adoption is bittersweet. I’m quite mindful that my children’s biological parents suffered a great loss in placing their children for adoption and that loss is not something someone just “gets over” or “moves past.” I believe it has to be dealt with time and time again throughout life. We have been blessed, incredibly, with our open adoptions which include visits, texts, phone calls, and e-mails. It hasn’t been easy, but I believe it’s the best choice for my children. I want to be able to tell my children that I did everything in my power to allow them access to both information and relationships with their biological families.

transracial adoption book by rachel garlinghouseYou give advice in your book about protecting your children’s privacy and stories. How did you come to develop these healthy boundaries when it comes to inquiring minds that want to know?
Because we are a transracial family and our adoption status is obvious, hardly a day goes by where I’m not asked an adoption question. I always answer with education and with respect for my children and their stories. However, I am human. There are times when I get tired of the intrusive and often hurtful questions such as, “Are the kids real siblings?” (The world “real” here refers to biology. So if my kids aren’t considered “real” siblings, than I’m not their real parent, and we aren’t a real family.) Rather than snap when a stranger is crossing the line (persistently), I have had to walk away or change the subject. I’m aware that my children are always watching and listening to how I respond. I want them to know that people will be curious about our family, but it’s not ok for anyone to be disrespectful or invasive.

What’s next for you?  What are you currently working on?  How can readers get in touch with you?
I have another book idea, but with three little ones, writing for Adoption.net (column called Ask the Adoption Coach), writing articles, blogging and facilitating an adoptive mom support group, I have no plans to write another book in the immediate future.

I love getting messages from readers!  I can be reached via e-mailmy book’s FB page , or my blog’s FB page.  Readers are also encouraged to head over to Adoption.net’s FB page and ask their burning questions.   The editors select questions for me to answer in the Ask the Adoption Coach series.

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Indicate in a comment below if you’d like to enter to win your own copy of Come Rain or Come Shine. Do so by midnight (MST) December 14. Rachel will use random.org to select a winner and send that person a book.

EDITED: April has won the drawing. We will try to reach you to fulfill the giveaway.

Congrats to April and thanks to all!

Speaking of adoption books, who on your list could make good use of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption? (Shameless plug? Why yes. Vanquish all forms of shame ;-) )

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.

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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.