Adoptee Memoir: The Sound of Hope

book-tour-bauer-coverAlthough I’m an adoptive mom and married to an adopted person, I still often feel like an adoption newbie. So I was excited to read a memoir by an adult adoptee, Anne Bauer‘s “The Sound of Hope.” I found the book because of a “virtual book group” organized by brilliant blogging mama Lori Lavender Luz (who has a new book of her own, by the way, that I can’t wait to read).

Anne writes with courage and clarity about her journey to find her birth parents and establish a relationship with them despite the misgivings of family members on both sides.

This book wrenched my heart. I hurt with Anne during her father’s unstable, chaotic rages and her mother’s “unspoken rule: Don’t talk about it and it won’t exist.” I ached for the loneliness of her journey to find her birth family. I was frustrated by the lack of support and unfair blame, shame and guilt heaped on her not only by family but by total strangers who assumed a child can only have ONE family.

What surprised me most about this book was Anne’s birth mom’s withdrawal after their reunion. I hadn’t thought about how difficult it might be for a birth parent to reconnect with their adult child. I’m so grateful to Anne for telling her story, and hope that more adoptive parents will read it and consider how they might redefine family in the way that best benefits their child.

Below are a few more of my thoughts about the book, in answer to specific questions raised by our virtual book tour.

Question: In her adoption memoir Anne Bauer speaks of her connection to her birth mother and father, “The bond between us couldn’t be completely severed as everyone wanted it to be. Another part of me existed somewhere in the world, a part I was once attached to and depended on for life. To me, the umbilical cord served a function that was much more than physical. It was my essence, my origin, my connection to my biological ancestors. As far as I was concerned, the cord was still attached. Who were these people who were the cause of my existence? Did they wonder about me in the same way I often wondered about them?” What are your thoughts about this passage from your lens (adopted person, birth parent, adoptive parent)?

My Thoughts: This passage made me cry! As an adoptive parent whose child has a close relationship with her tummy mommy and grandparents, I feel so grateful that our daughter will not have to wonder like Anne did.  What captured me most was what Anne herself only gradually realizes: it isn’t just the back story of who her birth parents are (as people) but the story of how they made her and loved her that she longs for. My daughter’s story isn’t complete (her birth father is in a distant orbit, elliptical and askew) but it is rich in symbols, pictures, and stories — proof that she is overwhelming, abundantly loved by her birth family. I’m aware that the contact that we have (seeing each other about weekly) is sometimes hard for our daughter’s tummy mom. I know that contact may change as our lives change. But I know, deeply and with profound gratitude, that my daughter’s mom will always keep us close for the sake of our daughter. We are blessed, blessed beyond measure.

Question: Why didn’t the outspoken, loving maternal grandmother take a stand against the abuse? Did the added stress of raising children bring on the mental health issues with her father or were Anne’s adopted parents hiding this when they had the home study? If that was the case, how can social workers see beyond the smoke screen or when a couple appears too perfect?

My Thoughts:  I think Anne’s adoptive parents definitely hid their mental health issues. Several times in her story, Anne mentions her mother telling the kids not to tell anyone about their father’s rages. Anne’s mom is embarrassed when her husband screams at them with the windows open so the neighbors can hear. At one point in the story (before the family moves back to New Jersey), Anne’s grandmother does confront her mother about the father’s behavior, but she ties it to his inability to keep a job rather than to his (mis)treatment of his children. When Anne complains to her mom about her dad’s behavior, her mom responds with a “let’s be grateful” litany. So from my reading of the story, I think there is a larger system at work here: general avoidance of mental health issues by the public (emotional abuse isn’t taken seriously) and a belief that as long as kids are fed and clothed, how they are treated physically and emotionally is of lesser importance. I hope that this is changing.

Question: How does a social worker know signs to look for if one of the adopted parents is a functional alcoholic or has an undiagnosed mental health issue?

This question ties in with the last part of the previous one about seeing beyond smoke screens. This is hard for me to answer because I’m not a social worker, and hard for me emotionally because I am close to an adopted person who experienced abuse. I also feel a sense of corporate responsibility because I am an adoptive parent.

Here’s one example of a guide for social workers who are screening potential adoptive or foster parents. I don’t know if this type of screening would help catch signs of hidden mental illness or alcoholism. I do know, from completing a home study two years ago, that we were asked and answered hundreds of questions. But, to be honest, we were focused more on “passing” than on inquiring about our social worker’s credentials. Both of us have been in therapy for a long time, so I worried, too, that if we had “red flags” for parenting, we also had ways of talking about them that made us seem like we’d done our work. (Remember that Anne’s mom took her to a psychiatrist during the wedding fight…going to therapy is no guarantee.) I remember feeling a lot of curiosity: would we make good parents? Could they help us with training and resources? (Yes, they did). I think my natural love of learning was squashed a bit by my own paralyzing anxiety that we would never be chosen and never get a chance to be moms.

I worry that birth parents are encouraged to place because potential adoptive parents will give their child a “better” life. Agencies who are only interested in placements and not in child welfare are not going to be honest about the abuse that happens in adoptive families. So I think that’s one place we can start: we can push for more transparency and for agency follow-up. When I found out that we had two post-placement visits (from the agency) in one year, I was a little disappointed. Don’t they want to check with us in two years, four years, five years, ten years, and make sure we are still doing a good job? If I was a birth parent, that’s what I would want! Especially if my adoption wasn’t open.

Since follow-up and transparency are not naturally in an agency’s best interest, it has to be something that we, the adoptive parents with the agency fees in our pockets, push for and demand. We need to choose agencies that are truly child-centered.

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I encourage you to check out what other members of the virtual book group had to say about this book.

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list at LavenderLuz.com.