Author Q&A: Melissa Ford on The Art of the Sequel

We’ve wrapped up the book tour for Melissa Ford’s third novel in the Life From Scratch series, Apart at the Seams.  And we’re fortunate today to have the author herself answering questions our very curious book group put to her.

On Writing

Book Tourist: How did you accumulate so many foreign-words-with-no-real-English-equivalent?

Novelist Melissa FordMelissa Ford: It started with a word that actually wasn’t used in the book: protekcja.  I was working on a draft of the book and had to use that word in conversation with someone on Facebook.  It’s this huge idea of protections/connections/favourtism that we don’t have in English because it isn’t really part of our culture.  The person I was speaking with is also a Hebrew speaker, so while the rest of the message was in English, I left that word untranslated because… well… it’s an untranslatable word, but I knew they would understand it.  Then I went back to working on the novel and thought, “Noah seems like the type of guy who would get excited about untranslatable words.”  I wrote down all the untranslatable words I knew in Hebrew and then started collecting them by asking others what words they knew.

Why a sideways sequel? How did you ever think of such an awesome idea? Did you write both books at the same time or separately? What did you learn from the experience about your own perceptions of other people and situations?

I’ve seen it done a bunch of times, and I’ve always enjoyed it myself.  And it made sense to apply it to this situation.  I think we all think we know things about our friends, and if we were to actually be able to shift perspectives, we’d see how little we understand.

You’ve written on your blog about visiting The Daily Show in researching this book. What other research did you do (for this or your prior fiction?

I spent a lot of time speaking with a designer at Narciso Rodriguez too.  I knew NOTHING about television production or about fashion — so why did I choose two professions I knew nothing about to become major plot points?  Never again.

I feel as if everything potentially becomes research for a book: travel, interesting conversations, visiting someone at their work place.  I’m always tucking aside little things I notice and thinking, “that could bring some verisimilitude to a future book.”

On Characters

Arianna is single, a mom, and driven, however she cohabits with a guy who appears to be the opposite and balances her type A personality. She shares, “Ethan isn’t exactly the poster child for responsibility.” I disagree. Ethan is in his own way; he softens her edges, loving and supporting her for who she is. He is familiar, safe, and wants commitment. She fights it all, which is why Noah is so tantalizing. And scary. One of the fascinating triangles in your book. I  appreciated how the men respected each other. Did you play with writing this triangular relationship another way, and if so how?

Yes!  In the first draft of the book, Arianna was much more interested in Noah from the get-go.  She had a crush on him after they had coffee together, and she was much more proactive in pursuing him.  Then the book swung in the other direction with Noah pursuing Arianna from the get-go.  And finally, I settled on the relationship forming organically over time; a crush is born as they spend time with one another and see how much they have in common.  That crush isn’t necessarily romantic on Arianna’s end; it’s more of an I-wish-my-boyfriend-understood-me-like-he-understands-me thing.

Ethan tries hard, and does pretty well navigating Arianna’s contrasting messages. She appears to make a lot of assumptions about what she feels he should do without having the discussions and creating an environment of understanding. Communication is an issue throughout the story. She makes assumptions about her friend Rachel’s blog, and about others. She talks in her head, a lot. Why doesn’t Arianna communicate better with Ethan, Rachel, her co-workers, and others? Why doesn’t she speak up?

Why don’t any of us speak up? I say that tongue-in-cheek.  There are so many times when I could easily tell someone something, but I don’t because I don’t want to rock the boat, or I think there is no point in saying the words aloud, or I think I know something when it turns out later that I don’t.  I think we all make assumptions every single day.  And part of what makes life interesting is when we realize how off we were in what we first assumed about each other.

I know that as an author you might regard your characters as “children”, hence you love them all, even if sometimes it is a different kind of love. That said, who was more fun to write, Arianna or Rachel? Whose “pain” touched you more, Arianna’s not wanting to marry Ethan or Rachel’s divorcing and then marrying Adam?

I never thought I’d get into writing from Arianna’s point-of-view — it was very difficult for me at first.  But ultimately, I think I enjoyed Arianna more because she is so different from who I am.  I ended up really loving her by the time I said goodbye to her.

How challenging was it for you to take yourself out of writing as Rachel & place yourself as Arianna?

As I said above, it was really hard at first.  Arianna holds her feelings close to her chest and doesn’t discuss difficult things.  I can’t say that I really understand people who operate this way even though I know plenty of people who do.  I think writing from her point-of-view helped me to understand those people better.  And love them just the way they are.

On Happy Ever After

Does Arianna really love Ethan for who he is, what he offers and how he offers it? Can she? I came away feeling she could not over the long haul. I felt she did not really delve deeply enough into who she was or what she wanted and why, other than her son, who was on the peripheral. I picture her in the future as single, sometimes happy with her choices but not fully understanding why she makes them. I never got a feel for her as a mother or her relationship with Beckett, little warmth and maternal overtones. By the end of Apart at the Seams, Arianna seems to be moving towards meeting Ethan half way, however I had little faith that the relationship would be long term. What did impression did you intend to leave your readers with?

I think they’ll make it for the long-haul, unmarried well into old age.  I think Ethan is a pleaser, and he’ll be attempting to please her into the future.  Attempting being the operative word because he doesn’t always get that what would make him happy may not make other people happy.  And I think Arianna genuinely loves him.

There was a lot more about Arianna parenting in earlier drafts of the book which were taken out because this was really a story about her relationship with Ethan and Noah.  We all have many aspects to our identity and infinite pages worth of time to explore them on a daily basis, but in a book, you need to keep a laser focus.

On Blogging and Friendship

About 4% of the way through the book Arianna tells us she “misses” Rachel. She says, “Sometimes I feel as if the blog is the only door I have to her brain lately.” She then goes on to discuss various changes which have impacted their relationship. Do you feel sometimes that starting a personal blog can have a distancing effect on relationships all by itself? If so, how do you think this happens?

Wow… that’s a really interesting question.  I think it can if you assume your friends are reading.  I have a friend that I know reads from time to time because she’ll bring up a post.  But I go into every conversation assuming that she hadn’t read my blog that week and repeat information I wrote about because I never want to take it for granted that someone reads or knows something about me.  So I think as long as you never expect your friends to gain important information via social media, you’re fine.  The second you start putting social media between you as the conduit for the relationship, you run into danger of creating distance.

On Sensibility vs Passion

About 7% of the way through the book, Arianna describes her reasons for choosing the safe career option rather than the fulfilling one, referencing her priorities in life and how they’ve changed and evolved. She says, “I’ve been working to support myself, but not really working to fulfill myself.” How have your priorities changed and evolved throughout your life so far? How do you see them changing and evolving over the next ten years? Can you tell us about the trade offs you’ve made and are prepared to make?

Again, a really interesting question.  I could earn a lot more if I wasn’t a full time writer, but being a full time writer gives me the space to be the parent I want to be while still having an income.  How many other jobs slip into the hours a person wants to work without detracting from the rest of their world?  I get to volunteer in the twins’ school and at their computer club, run a book club for kids, and be “off” (for the most part) the moment they walk into the house.  But the trade off is the financial piece — I’m definitely not earning what I could be earning.  It means checking out library books more often than buying new books.  It means opting for a DVD at home rather than going out to a movie in a theater.  Not things that particularly bother me, but something to consider if you’re ever thinking about writing full time.

That said, one thing I am really struggling with is writing the book I want to write vs. writing the book that I know will sell.  I have tremendous jealousy over writers who have written the sort of books I want to write.  I know — totally useless emotion, but there you go.  It becomes a struggle to justify writing the book I want to write, which likely won’t sell because I can’t do it as well as the writers I admire, or writing the book I’m happy to write, which probably will sell.  I usually go for the book I’m happy to write.

And to be clear, I am really happy with the book I’m working on now, which is — once again — women’s fiction.  I enjoy working on it.  I like the characters.  It’s a great project.  But there’s that book in the back of my brain, my passion project, which is always begging me to work on it.  I obsess about that book, specifically about the fact that I probably shouldn’t put my time towards it.  Did I mention that I’m obsessed with it?

~~~~~

I bet I’m not the only one who would line up to read Mel’s passion project (well, if people still had to line up to get books). Write it, Mel, write it!

Help an author out: If you’ve read any/all of Mel’s books, make sure to review them on Amazon.

Thanks to all book tourists for their participation on each other’s blogs, and to Mel for entertaining our questions. Find Mel at her blog, Stirrup Queens, and as section editor at BlogHer.

In case you missed it the first time, here are links in this book tour. Click around to see what we’re discussing in Apart at the Seams.

Lori of LavenderLuz.com
Kim Court
Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully
Anne Bauer of The Sound of Hope
GeoChick
JodiFur
Kathy at BloomingBurghBoomer
Mina
Bronwyn Joy of Journeys of the Fabulist
Tiara
Katherine A of Inconceivable!
Elizabeth of Project Progeny
Judy Miller
Kathy of Bereaved and Blessed
APlusEffort
A

A new book tour announcement is coming soon. Here’s a hint. Stay tuned!

The Apart at the Seams Book Tour is Here!

Melissa Ford's third novelSeveral book lovers are sharing our thoughts about Melissa Ford’s third novel, Apart at the Seams. Even if you aren’t part of the tour and even if you haven’t read the book, check out what people are saying — you might find that this book is one you want to put on your wishlist.

NEWSFLASH: Apart at the Seams has been chosen for the Kindle Amazon Daily Deal for TOMORROW, September 5.

Via the links below, you’ll hear from book tourists as we answer questions put to each other in our virtual book club. Next we’ll hear from the author herself as Melissa Ford responds to the questions we posed to her about her characters, her sideways sequel, her writing methods, and other juicy tidbits from behind the scenes.

See the master list at the bottom of this post, following my own contribution to this book tour.

My stop on the Apart at the Seams book tour

Melissa is adept at exploring big themes for women who are trying to have it all. She lets us peek in as her characters sort out competing emotions: Self vs partner. Career vs relationship. Ambition vs presence. Excitement vs stability. Creativity vs contentment. These conundrums appear in my own life and are likely to have near-universal resonance.

As a companion novel to Life from Scratch and Measure of Love, this third book in the series takes a sideways narrative with Rachel’ best friend Arianna (you don’t need to have read the prequels for “Apart at the Seams” to work for you). This single mother and aspiring fashion designer has just taken her relationship with Rachel’s brother, Ethan, to the next level. And Arianna gets an incredible opportunity through her fashion house, one that involves hanging out with a Jon Stewart-esque cast on a late-night TV show.

But! Inevitable cracks appear in her relationship as demands are made on her and priorities shift. How can Arianna be both true to herself AND in relationship with a man who has such differing values?

Melissa examines these knotty problems from all angles. As I read, I see so much of myself in her heroines.

~~~~

 Three questions from the book group and my responses:

Why didn’t Arianna ever loser her temper and go off on people who were annoying her?  She’s the straightforward, no nonsense, Midwestern girl who gets things done.  As a straightforward, no nonsense, Midwestern girl, my expectation would be that someone would get a serious dressing down…especially considering her stress level.  But maybe Minnesotans are more like Canadians than other Midwesterners?

Maybe geography isn’t the main thing that goes into straightforward-no-nonsenseness.

I first had to gain clarity (a very gradual process) within myself before I could express to others my emotions and preferences. In previous stages I have experimented between the extremes of being aggressive to get what I want (my teen years, during which I was an erratic bulldozer with my parents) to being very passive about it all (early romantic relationships, hierarchical work relationships). I’ve modulated that pendulum in recent years and in most situations I can be appropriately assertive.

But it took trial and error — and time. I think time, rather than place, is what kept Arianna from being as straighforward-no-nonsense outside her head as she was inside her head.

It feels as though Arianna would become irritated with Ethan for not doing things she needed him to do yet she often wouldn’t verbalize clearly what it was she wanted or needed. Why do you think asking for exactly what you need makes you feel so vulnerable?

This goes back to having clarity within, with having healthy boundaries around what is and isn’t reasonable to expect from a person and relationship, and being able to articulate those expectations — asking for what you need. These are traits I continue to develop (there is no there there).

When not quite confident of where one person starts and another begins, and when unsure of a code of behavior, Arianna resorts to what so many women do — being the “good girl.” I have been taming my inner Good Girl for decades. She emerges when I feel out of my element. And when she does, I become a consummate people pleaser, taking care of the other’s needs while seething that my own aren’t being addressed.

I think it is very vulnerable to be authentic — to live without a mask, without a barrier between you and the world (or just the other in a relationship). To do so, you are clear within yourself, you set and patrol boundaries that are respectful to you and the other person, and you have courage to ask for what you want. It’s a very vulnerable state — and paradoxically, a sign of incredible inner strength.

Arianna has several major events that are downplayed by Rachel. How would you have reacted if this had happened to you? Would you have made the effort to repair the friendship?

My first inclination with discord is to look within. Was I the one who didn’t share enough? Am I expecting my friend to read my mind? Are my expectations too high regarding the important people in my life? Do I expect that others will supply for me something that I could very well supply for myself?

After my exercise in introspection, I  take a look at the other person. Did she know what I needed in that moment? Should she have known (and how?)?  Did she deliberately slight me? Is there other evidence that this relationships is waning?

I may decide to speak up to my friend, I might say:”Hey, when that big thing happened to me, I feel as if you weren’t really there for me. What was going on for you?” If my friend has repeatedly not been there for me and I’ve tried to address it multiple times, I may simply let the friendship die. If I myself am in a funk, I would tell myself to “snap out of it! — stop being a victim and move on.”

So yes, I would make an effort to repair a friendship by looking within, by talking it out, and by asking for what I want. But if the person is unresponsive to my overtures, I would not belabor my efforts. I would not close the door forever, but I would not continue my efforts on something that’s just not there at a point in time.

To continue to this book tour, please visit the links below. Comments are much appreciated by the book tourists!

  1. Lori of LavenderLuz.com (see above)
  2. Kim Court
  3. Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully
  4. Anne Bauer of The Sound of Hope
  5. GeoChick
  6. JodiFur
  7. Kathy at BloomingBurghBoomer
  8. Mina
  9. Bronwyn Joy of Journeys of the Fabulist
  10. Tiara
  11. Katherine A of Inconceivable!
  12. Elizabeth of Project Progeny
  13. Judy Miller
  14. Kathy of Bereaved and Blessed
  15. APlusEffort
  16. A

Thanks for following along on our book tour, and be sure to come back for Saturday’s batch of posts!

Birth Mother Stories: A Longitudinal Walk Through the Decades

Previously, I introduced you to three women who had the experiences of placing a child for adoption in the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. They told us their adoption stories as birth mothers and shared their thoughts on what needed to change with the way adoptions were done. We continue the conversation here.

Lee, 1960s | Kim, 1980s | Monika, 2000s

birth mother stories

Adoption Activism

Give us some context by telling us a little bit about you and how your adoption experience has influenced your interests and activities.

Lee: In 1976, I founded Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), the first organization in the world to support and advocate for birthparents, a term I coined to dignify the birth connection between parents and the children they lost to closed adoption. Between 1976-1980, I was appointed by the then-head of the then-named “US Department of Health, Education and Welfare” to sit on a panel of 17 adoption experts to draft model adoption laws for the country. Although kicked out of high school in 1962 due to my pregnancy, I also returned to the educational system in 1978 and began to make up for lost time. After earning a doctorate degree, I began an almost 30-year career as a college professor in the social sciences. When I retired I reconstructed more than 10,000 pages of CUB’s history for the women’s activist center of the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University and oversaw the digitization of 4,000 of these pages for CUB’s website. 

(Lori: Wow.)

Kim: I’m a writer, blogger, mother to two wonderful daughters and birth mother to one amazing son for the last 25 years. I blog about parenting, motherhood, family life, adoption and life in general at kimcourt.com.

Monika: I’m the author of Monika’s Musings, a blog dedicated to speaking out about the good and bad in adoption today (but which has been dormant lately as my schedule’s been full with school commitments). For years I’ve volunteered with BirthMom Buds, an organization dedicated to women who have surrendered children to adoption, whether by choice or not.

On Guilt, Shame and Unworthiness

Kim: Lee, I watched your video from The Donahue show and was absolutely mesmerized by your poise and composure in the face of a lot of ignorant comments and questions. I was struck by how much and also how little things have changed with regard to how people think about adoption — and especially how they perceive birth mothers.

You mentioned feeling shame and guilt and wanting to appease the wishes of your parents. I can relate to these feelings in such a powerful way. I’m curious how you reconciled these feelings as an adult? Did they affect your other relationships (as a wife, parenting mother, etc.)?

Lee: As you know from my book, Stow Away, I was in the amnesia phase of PTSD during the early years of raising my two parented sons. Having lost their older brother to adoption wasn’t anything I allowed myself to remember. But maybe because I had lots of babysitting experience with my younger siblings pre-Michael [placed son], I was able to tap into unadulterated caring feelings to raise Scott and Todd. There wasn’t anything negative in my mothering. Just the opposite. If anything, Michael missing within my memory and beyond, in adoption, made me more devoted to my children than I may have otherwise been. On a level deeper than my awareness, I felt privileged and awed to be able to keep my boys. I could have taken my devotion to an extreme; I could have become a smother-mother. But somehow I intuited that I needed to rein in my devotion — to hold back just enough investment to avoid hurting them — or avoid hurting me.

You may have wondered about my relationship with my parents. As you also read in Stow Away, my parents sacrificed my motherhood and Michael’s rightful place in my family to “protect” my younger siblings. The upshot of their abandonment of Michael and me was that I emotionally distanced from my original family. At the same time, I felt a huge responsibility to make something of myself, to prove “they” couldn’t beat me down. Now, as a backdrop, you need to keep in mind that my parents were awesome parents. We had a close and loving family. This contributed to the dissonance I felt with their willingness to sacrifice Michael and me. How could such great parents do that to us? It added more bewilderment to my already staggering bewilderment

As my mother aged, she grew very dependent on me. I resented that. It was, I now realize, a “where were you when I needed you” kind of thing. On some level, I wanted to “pay her back” by delaying my duties as a dutiful daughter. If she needed me “now,” she just had to wait a few minutes longer. My father, whom I had adored, always mystified me post-Michael. I knew he and my mother had lost their first child (my older sister) when she was only a couple of months old, and he had never gotten over it. Why he would be willing to put me through a repeat of his own family history, I will never know.

Interestingly, when I first wrote the journal upon which Stow Away was based, my antagonist was my mother. As a woman and a mother, as my semi-conscious reasoning went, she should have understood and helped. But when I wrote Stow Away, I discovered I was actually more angry with my father’s insensitivity than I was with my mother’s.

Bottom line is, if parents don’t support their daughter’s need to keep her child in the family, assuming that’s what she deep-down wants to do, then be forewarned: there will likely be some kind of fall-out. 

Kim: In the Donahue video you said you felt “unworthy to struggle.” This is exactly how I felt. I became pregnant at 17 and had my son shortly after I turned 18. I was in a loving relationship with my high school boyfriend and was not at all promiscuous. However, the pressure from my family (and really from society in general) was so profound — sex out of wedlock, having a child out of wedlock, etc. — all of it was scandalous. I buried my feelings and placed him in an open adoption. His parents are absolutely phenomenal. It has been open since day one. We are all close — my husband and children, my family of origin, the birth father and his family, and my son and his family. It is truly a wonderful relationship. But my personal struggle has been difficult at times (bouts of depression, anxiety, fluctuating self-esteem, etc.) I would love to know how you coped; how you overcame the feelings of unworthiness.

Lee: Looking back, I chose activities that provided good feedback for my self-esteem. While forming CUB scared the heck out of me and was risky for my self-esteem, as time went on, I received much appreciation from other mothers like me. That told me I was on the right track, and tracing back that sense of being on the right track, only a good intuitive person could have risked taking that track, yes? Actually, there’s science to support the notion of “risk” being a four-letter word that enhances self-esteem. If you risk, you can’t lose. Even if the risk fails, you can pat yourself on the back for the courage to go for it.

Lori: I love this way of thinking about risk.

I went into my pregnancy with healthy self-esteem. But no one else held me in esteem, so I ended up being the only one who thought I had something to offer, which was erosive. I began to question my sense of self as much as I questioned everything else, which was a lot. Much later, I found that my lost-then-found son loved me, which I hadn’t expected (I thought he might want me in his life to get answers but his feelings for me went much deeper). So having Michael’s love gave me back a lot (but not all) of the esteem my pregnancy had cost me.

Meanwhile, as my second book Cast Off shows, I learned and learned and learned through CUB. I also unlearned and discarded old beliefs. It was exhilarating. I wanted more learning and unlearning. I hungered and thirsted for it. What else was out there, I wondered? I gave up my resistance to the education system — which kicked me out due to my pregnancy. Each course taught me something new. I began to earn one degree after another. I began to teach at the college level. My students gave me affirmation, one saying — and others agreeing — she would have taken a course with me if I taught how to make concrete. I kept all their accolades and have them to this day.

Bottom-line: Try to reclaim any good stuff you thought about yourself before others’ reaction to your pregnancy began to strip-mine you. Take risks; the bigger the risk, the stronger the potential boost. Find out what excites you and develop that as fully as you can. Don’t be shy; ask for good, specific feedback (“general” feedback will not do).

What progress has been made in adoption world since your era?

Lee: Thanks to the agitation created by Concerned United Birthparents, alternatives to surrender are more likely to be presented to needy new families. If a parent at risk freely chooses adoption as an option to further explore, a process called “open adoption” can be, and is in 95% of today’s adoptions, invoked.

Kim: There has been good and bad progress since my era. While there are still, unfortunately, stories in the media about bad adoption experiences, the positive stories about open adoption are making their way into the collective consciousness. Books like Lori’s would have made a world of difference for me, had it been written a couple of decades ago.

Lori: Thank you, Kim.

Monika: I haven’t seen much, to be truthful. Bio/first/birth parents (especially mothers) who speak out against coercive adoption practices are labeled negatively and pushed aside. Coercion is still way too rampant. Though, like Lee said, open adoption is more common now, I’ve also seen agencies and adoptive parents both admitting to promising (or encouraging, in the case of the involved agency) an open relationship prior to surrender and then promptly closing off contact completely after the ink has dried. I see it used as a bludgeon and a tool to coerce more often than I see it committed to by all parties involved.

Lori: That’s unconscionable, to do a bait and switch like that. Better pre-adoption education is key to helping prevent that. As you know, I’m a proponent of helping people move from an Either/Or mindset to a Both/And heartset.

What are the top two things you’d change today about how adoptions are handled?

Lee:

  • I would make “open adoption” more than something that is in name only. Like Monika says, too many “open adoptions” are betrayed by prospective adoptive parents who promise the moon to get a child and then slam the door shut once the ink is dry on the adoption degree. Open Adoption Agreements should be supported in law and enforced by the courts. The betrayal of this ultimate trust should be grounds for litigation and penalties.
  • I would require that only supportive members of the birth family be allowed to visit the mother and baby in the hospital or birthing center. A child-centered open adoption should be developmentally-respected. The baby already knows its mother’s scent and sound, and needs the assurance that she remains there for him or her. Meanwhile, the mother needs to fully grasp the reality of her child, who is no longer theoretical but an actual extension of herself and her own family. After some prolonged alone time between mother and baby, if the mother wants to continue to explore the possibility of transferring custody to another unrelated family, members of the other family should begin to acquaint the baby with their own distinctive scent and sound by adding their senses to the mother’s. Custody should be offered and accepted slowly and sensitively.

Monika:

  • I agree with Lee’s second comment completely. Legal surrenders of children should NOT take place in the hospital, period, though I’m less firm on the idea of not allowing hopeful adoptive parents to be in the hospital at any point. There should be no adoption case workers on the premises of a hospital, ever. Forced surrender, in the cases of drug abuse by the mother, is a different circumstance.
  • As an add-on to my statement, I’m actually for the idea of a person unrelated to either the hopeful adoptive parent(s) or the biological parents taking temporary custody of an infant when adoption has been decided upon prior to birth. This would give the hopeful adoptive parents a chance to figure out that an adoption IS about “sharing,” and would give the biological parents a chance to see the reality of adoption while they are still legal parents. I’m not certain how this would be accomplished, but I think it’s a great idea.

Kim:

  • I would love to see some of these reality shows that glamorize adoption and teen pregnancy cancelled! I know that is wishful thinking, but young people are so heavily influenced by what they see on TV or on social media, why on Earth would we not want to give them as much truthful information as possible!
  • I would love to see more stories that show the realities of what it’s like to choose adoption and how positive an open adoption can be.

For those of you later in the timeline: how did the efforts of activists who came before you change the birth mother experience in your time period? For those of you earlier in the timeline, what changes are you most proud of or pleased to see?

Lee: Until I realized open adoption agreements were frequently betrayed, I was proud of the work early CUB members and I did to make that option available. Another facet of CUB’s work was to allow adoption-separated family members the opportunity to discover their counterparts’ identities, if these had been sealed by the state. At this writing only eight states allow adopted persons the same unconditional access to their truthful, original birth certificates as allowed to non-adopted persons in their states. Only one state (OR) allows birthfamilies’ access to adoptees’ identities. Only one state (CO) allows birthparents the right to copies of original birth certificates, and to copies of surrender and adoption documents that they signed or were named in, while named parties of non-adoption events and transactions are automatically given copies of their records.

Kim: I am in awe of the work that Lee began so many years ago. From founding CUB, to creating the term “birthmother”, and working to make sealed records more open, her work has made a positive difference for me and so many families. Sharing her story in the 70s and 80s was extremely brave. I cannot imagine the backlash she faced. But she did it anyway. And she made it easier for people like me to tell my story.

Monika: Since I’m the “earliest” in comparison to the other ladies on this panel, I can’t say I’m pleased to see much change at all. Adoption as a whole is very complex, both in idea and practice, and I realize this complexity means that it will take a while to make change. I hope that with time, an emphasis toward fixing the foster care system will take precedence over encouraging hopeful parents to seek private adoption. But since it’s only been four years since I surrendered, there hasn’t been much that has changed.

Lori: Thanks to each of you for sharing you experiences and views with us. I, for one, have enjoyed taking a longitudinal walk through the decades with you.

~~~~~

Readers: What are the top two changes you’d like to see in Adoption World?

Open adoption parenting & mindful living