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anne heffron's memoir

“You Don’t Look Adopted”

Anne Heffron is a highly gifted writer. In fact, she’s spent decades teaching writing to others, amid her own struggles around identity, brokenness, self-destructive habits, and conflicting emotions about her own mother (it’s mere coincidence that my last post was on the Happy/Sad of adoption). Her memoir and first book, You Don’t Look Adopted, was published four months ago (though Anne is already an accomplished screenwriter), and I have just recently begun reading it.

anne heffron's memoirWriting her memoir — finally — about the things most pressing but most difficult to talk about is but one of the therapies Anne has pursued in her quest for wholeness and self-worth.

Problems? We Have No Problems.

A contemporary of mine, Anne shines light on the natural consequences that come from growing up in the closed adoption era, in which everyone involved in adoption was to treat it as a one-time event, as something that would never arise again.

you don't look adoptedBut, as Anne shows us, mothers can still be haunted by unaddressed shame and stymied by parenting children she didn’t expect; fathers can be clueless about the importance of teeny scraps of one’s early history; birth mothers, due to mortifying shame, can concoct elaborate stories about not really being the one who was pregnant; and someone at the vortex of all that can spend FIFTY YEARS sorting through layers and layers of stuff that wasn’t even supposed to exist.

I’m loving Anne’s memoir, as I love anything well-crafted that takes me out of a concrete world of black and white and into slippery shades of ambiguity. I recommend that you read her book, too, for her ability to take the non-adopted into the adoptee experience, to help readers understand adoptee feelings in metaphor and in visceral terms.

I Become a Ghost

In a powerful passage, Anne says,

Language makes talking about adoption difficult. But I am going to try because I want people to understand what it is like to be adopted, and to, ideally, never again say to people like me, “Oh, you’re adopted? So your parents aren’t your real parents?”

Because as soon as you ask me that, my whole world disappears, if only for a nanosecond. And it doesn’t matter how many times I have heard that question, how many times I have answered it. My brain goes through the same routine: If my parents aren’t my real parents, then my brothers aren’t my real brothers, my house isn’t my real house, my friends aren’t my real friends, and, so, ultimately, my life isn’t my real life either, and, like that, I become a ghost.

I have dozens more passages marked in my book, and I haven’t even quite finished yet. It’s been apparent since page 1 that You Don’t Look Adopted has a place on every family’s adoption book shelf — and is  a compelling read, too, for those not focused on adoption.

Caveat: If you are an adoptive mother or birth mother in a tender place about adoption, portions of Anne’s book may be difficult to read.

Then again, Going There may be part of your own healing.

A quote I highlighted from the opening page: “When you are in conflict with yourself it’s like you’re a car whose gas pedal is also the brake. It’s hard to get anywhere.”

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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12 Responses

  1. Those were a powerful couple of paragraphs you quoted and that I’d like to read that book…when the time is right.

    Really, something like that should be required reading for everyone, *especially* if they have no connection to adoption. There are just so many misperceptions out there about what adoption is and how it impacts everyone involved.

    FYI I got an error message when I tried to comment logged in with Twitter. Apparently, it made me look like spam.

  2. Very timely considering the happy/sad post by Linda. And I’m glad that adoptees are a growing voice. It truly counters the “just” culture about this road for expanding one’s family. Added to my reading list.

  3. This book sounds amazing…will add to my reading list! I’m also glad that adoptees have a growing voice, and I have really enjoyed opening myself up to more and more writing by adoptees and birth parents to truly understand all the facets of adoption, especially the hard ones, and how (hopefully) I might use that to be a more empathetic parent whenever that comes to be. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Whoa, what a powerful passage. I have chills from it.

    It’s sobering to think about the words we throw out into the universe, and how they could deeply effect another human being who hears them.

  5. I’m adding this to my to-read list. I found the collection of mothers’ stories in Ann Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away” to be eye-opening. I think learning more from the side of the adoptee will be enlightening for me as well.

  6. It’s so convicting how words can do so much healing and so much damage. I’m currently trying to rework some of my adopted daughters language about herself. And the “real parents” mentality is still so pervasive! I’ve heard it numerous times, mostly from children, but it’s definitely a definition that needs new understanding.
    I’ll have to keep this book on my wish list!

  7. Anne’s book is an important contribution to adoption literature–a gift to parents currently raising children. Her willingness to reveal her experiences and shine a light into the corners is a gift to any parent willing to listen, and learn.

  8. Thanks for sharing this book with us, Lori!

    The best books for me are the ones that are hard to read so Anne’s book sounds like a must read.

    From your review and her quotes, I’m already grateful for her honesty.

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