Category Archives: Books

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

A Quickie

Not a full post, just two alerts — one an invitation and the other an announcement:

Lori Holden's book on open adoption1. Melissa at Stirrup Queens is graciously hosting a virtual book club tour of my book today. It feels a bit voyeuristic to listen in on conversations about my creation, but I’m enjoying myself immensely as I hop around to the blogs of the participants. The questions the participants asked each other are thoughtful and their responses are equally canny.

You are invited to read along, as well, and listen to what people are saying. (I’ll delurk and comment soon, and I’ll answer participant questions in a future post).

BIG thanks to Melissa.

2. This just in: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole is now available on Kindle.

Favor: The book’s first wave is doing well, thanks to so many of you. As it ripples outward, one of my goals is for the book to find its way to adoption agencies so they have a resource for how to “do” openness. As we know, for years, adoption professionals have been telling their clients, both adopting and expecting, why to do open adoption without necessarily providing the resources for how. Now they have an easy and inexpensive way to support and empower parents on their lifelong journey.

If you are in a position to alert an agency/facilitator/attorney to this book, I would be grateful for you to do so.

BIG thanks to you.

Q&A: Adopted Reality, where adoption and mental illness meet

The word “bipolar” has called my attention twice in recent years. The first was during the time Roger and I  were waiting to adopt our second child (“Meaghan’s Baby“), and the second was this past winter when I read Laura Dennis’ memoir, Adopted Reality. Knowing her story makes me wonder how accurate were the ideas I had about bipolar disorder all those years ago.

I again present my friend Laura, a mom to two small children, a trained dancer, an adoptee-in-reunion, and an author. Laura is a busy busy person. Besides revising her first book, writing at her own blog, Expat (Adoptee) Mommy, and at Lost Daughters, she has also been compiling and editing the soon-to-be-released book, Adoption Reunion Conclusions (to which I am a contributor), which will be available later this year.

Laura has generously answered a bunch of questions about being an adoptee, about mental illness, about writing. Read on, and see information at the bottom about a giveaway of her book.

Laura Dennis, author

You know now that your parents meant well when they told you “Your birth mother loved you enough to give you up. And now we love you.” How did that well-intentioned phrase come across to a small child, and what effects did it have?

The subtext was apparent from an early age: Yes, my adoptive parents love me, but they, too, could give me up. And so I resigned myself to be the perfect adoptee, the one who “has no issues with being adopted.” I was overcompensating to make 100% sure I was loveable.

The second edition of your memoir is about to be released. What changes have you made?

Adopted Reality by Laura DennisThe second edition of Adopted Reality includes more insights about my recovery. It’s funny, Lori. I am still processing, even as I outline, write and publish. I thought I was “over” my breakdown; normal enough to write a book about it, even.

The reality is that in the first edition I glossed over the gory details of my recovery. It’s hard to think about, even 10+ years later. It’s hard to remember being out of the mental hospital and not completely sane, barely functioning and yet completely determined to prove my lucidity.

Sense of Self

In various parts of your book, you show how disconnected you were from your body. You could go with little food or sleep for long periods. You didn’t miss a dance performance despite the pain of putting on your costume over second degree burns. When your birth mother asked you, at first meeting, what you felt like eating, you couldn’t grasp that concept of feeling like something. What causes may be at the root of this non-bodiment you experienced?

Wow. I love this question. And it especially resonates with me because I know how deeply you yourself have connected your physicality with your emotional and psychological well-being. So I’m going to get a little philosophical here …

Disembodiment or feelings of “non-bodiment,” are often connected in psychological terms with disassociation. Disassociating, or detaching from real-life experiences can be a coping mechanism. On one hand it allowed me to “dance through” excruciating pain, set it aside and detach from it.

But that’s the rub with denial and disassociation, and coping mechanisms in general, isn’t it? Unless you recognize them as such, they tend to come back to bite you. Later, in my delusional state (which I did not realize I was delusional–likely the biggest problem), I took this non-bodiment much, much further. I believed I was bionic — not human after all. In that state, I was inadvertently led to self-harm. I was so detached; I didn’t even feel physical pain, and I wasn’t aware that I’d hurt myself.

Freud and Jung would have a field day with this — connecting my divided sense-of-self with my tendency towards dissociation. In fact, I talk more about the root causes of my breakdown, and specifically this feeling of disembodiment in the second edition.

In many ways, the coping mechanism of “non-bodiment” went into overdrive. Accompanying the guilt I had over searching and having this amazing reunion, I felt I wasn’t grateful enough to my adoptive parents. My divided sense-of-self — adoptive vs. biological person — combined with the not eating and not sleeping. It was a perfect storm, leading my mind to kind of collapse in on itself and enter a paranoid delusion.

Recovery and post-adoption issues

Have there been any adoption issues that have impacted your marriage or the way you parent your children?

I wrote about my recovery in Adopted Reality, but the memoir pretty much ends in the year 2003. In the ensuing ten years, I’ve done a lot and maintained my sanity. The funny thing is, throughout the therapy I received following my bipolar episode, no one … no one asked me about having been adopted. Potentially unaddressed post-adoption issues did not come into play.

Having said that, I’m still working through my post-adoption issues. That’s not to say that every adoptee goes through the same things. It’s just that so many seemingly mild “issues” were not examined in my childhood and young adulthood. It compounded, and now, sorting it all out is an arduous task.

So, to answer your question, yes, my post-adoption issues do impact my marriage and my children. Attachment, fear of rejection, those are big ones in my marriage. Projecting my own fears onto my non-adopted children … these are things I’m still sorting out. I actually wrote about how I recently explained my adoptedness to my five-year-old.

Laura Dennis was adopted in New Jersey, raised in Maryland, and learned how to be a (sane) person in California. A professionally trained dancer, Laura also worked as sales director for a biotech startup. With two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade, Serbia. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality, a Memoir, available on Amazon. She currently blogs at Expat (Adoptee) Mommy. Connect with her on twitter @LauraDennisCA, or email laura@adoptedrealitymemoir.com.

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Laura is giving away an ebook of Adopted Reality to a random commenter. Leave a comment by May 9, 2013 and make sure I’m able to reach you. The winner will be announced here and Laura will attempt to contact that person by May 12.