Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Hi - This is Your Mother" - an excerpt and interview with JoAnne Bennett from Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: an Anthology

"The woman's voice on the other end of the line sounded unfamiliar.  As I was right in the middle of cooking dinner for my family, I paid little attention to her words,

"Hi - this is your mother."

Without any hesitation, I quickly responded,

"I am sorry: you must have the wrong number.

Again, this woman insisted she was my mother, but never specifically asked for anyone by name.

Politely, I ended our call.  At the time, it never crossed my mind that the woman on the telephone might have been the woman who had placed me for adoption at birth"

(an excerpt from contributing author JoAnne Bennett from Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An Anthology--edited by Laura Dennis-- and now available in paperback and Kindle through

As a contributor to this book myself, I feel honored to have taken part in this project.  I was reading through the list of contributing authors and was shocked to realize that I know each one of them through on-line friendships or from reading their blogs or other writings.  It seems the adoption community is getting both larger and smaller at the same time and I have hope that with this book and others like it that the adoptee voice and perspective will be getting more consideration in the adoption world.

Today I am interviewing JoAnne Bennett about her amazing story in this book.

Lynn:  Good morning, JoAnne!  I am excited to do this interview at the suggestion of our hilarious and amazing editor and fellow author, Laura Dennis.  She makes adoption so much fun to talk about!

I have a few questions for you so let's get started.

1.  JoAnne, you mention finding your maternal birth family and learn of a buried secret -- did you feel a close connection with your maternal side? 

JoAnne:  My oldest sister was 14 when I was born. My brother was 12, and my younger sister only 8 years old. The two oldest said that their father had shared with them while on a camping trip as young adults that their mother had placed two babies for adoption. I also have a close-in-age younger brother that was placed in a separate adoptive home from me. 

Our mother had already passed away when that camping trip occurred. I believe the timing had something to do with my adoptive mother because she would have just been remarried. My only birth certificate still had both my sibling’s father and my birth mother’s name on it.  At first, one might think that it was just a simple error -- perhaps my original birth certificate had never been replaced with the amended one with my adoptive parents' names.  But even with my second "adoptive" father's extensive money, my parents couldn't fix the issues with my so-called "missing" amended birth certificate because it was a bogus adoption.

 I sense my sibling’s father was worried back at that time that my adoptive mother, or her lawyer, wouldn’t stop at just contacting him to try to figure out a way to straighten up the mess with my birth certificate, and his older children would somehow find out, too. It’s only speculation on my part, but I am sure I am not far off from the truth.

My two oldest siblings hadn’t spoken to each other in many years when I contacted them. If anything good came from disrupting their lives it is that they had to be somewhat civil to each other :). At times, it felt like I had to take sides in order to fit in because there seemed to be a power struggle going on with the two oldest siblings. Having not grown up with them and being a lot younger, I had no idea how to handle the often uncomfortable situations. My relationships with each of my three-siblings were short-lived, but although I felt a sense of rejection, I was relieved at the same time. I had too much on my plate at that time and I couldn’t tell anyone what I desired or needed.

2.  You don't mention your birth father in your essay.  As an adoptee still seeking my own birth father I am curious -- can you share the circumstances or your thoughts on him?

JoAnne:  I've had 4 absentee fathers throughout my life. I never saw my first adoptive father again after my parent's bitter divorce when I was the tender age of 6, a marriage and divorce that had been fueled by his alcoholism. 

Adoptive father #2 led me to believe he had adopted me at a young age, but then sprung it on me when I was 32 that he never had. With no honest explanation, he asked to adopt me at that time. When I asked him to tell me the truth to the many lies and secrets, his only answer was—I thought my inheritance would be more important than the truth. I chose to walk away knowing I had lost what was most important to me, a father's love. The courts confirmed the fact that he still never adopted me. 

And when I met my birth siblings for the first time and one said, "You do know the man on your birth certificate is not your father, but just ours?" I was caught off guard. He would be considered father #3 by law, but only on paper. I was conceived during my mother's marriage to him, but regardless of what the birth certificate said, he was not my biological father.

To get to your question, I was determined to find my birth father (father #4), but sadly, I learned he was deceased. Because his identity has always only been small town rumors and gossip, I’ve been trying to connect the dots with fascinating, but frustrating DNA tests. I am determined that one of these days I will have my family tree.

All my fathers had passed away before setting my heart straight.

3.  You mention kind strangers who helped you along the way in your adoption search.  Can you share more about these kind strangers?

JoAnne:  A 95-year-old man called me long distance and said that he had his wife dial my phone number because he was blind. He just wanted me to know that he and wife were praying for me after receiving my letter inquiring if he happened to know the identity of my birth father.

How many of us can say we have the real-deal, genuine clown friend? I've never even been to a circus :). Robert (clown friend) and I met when I was searching for my birth father. As it turns out, his late father had been best friends with my younger birth brother's biological father, the mayor of the town. I had no plans to find my brother’s father. I thought because my brother and I were so close in age, we would have the same father.

Well, my new "clown" friend Robert was adopted, too. Interestingly, I was conceived in the small town where he was born and placed for adoption, and he was conceived in the "big city" where I was born and placed for adoption. We instantly became good friends. He had no desire to search, but made it clear he would be there for me. He helped me by getting names and addresses for all the old-timers from the small town that might have had some recollection of who might be my father.

He is one of many wonderful friends I've made in my journey. Robert is a clown for Shriner's Hospital and once a year he sees my oldest birth sister and her husband at a charity function. They also knew each other from school. It's our secret that he and I are friends, but he shared some helpful insight for me to ponder. Even when he sees my birth sister while he is dressed up as a clown, she is still a very unhappy woman with never even a hint of a smile. He reminded me more than once not too be so hard on myself, that he was sure I had given our sisterly relationship my best shot.

On a side note, one evening I received a phone call from Robert. He said that he had been at this party with a lot of friends from his hometown. "Your ears must have been burning," he laughed. Apparently, I came up in the conversation with the guests. I was the young mystery woman looking for her birth father. Some wondered where I got their addresses. Of course, he sat there very quietly just listening. He said it became quite a debate in trying to put themselves in my shoes, and why would I make myself so vulnerable verses just leaving it alone.

For the most part, those at the party considered me brave and daring. But then again some were critical about why would I do this if it might hurt my birth siblings. In my letter, I had made it clear that my intentions were to never hurt my birth family, and out of respect for their feelings to please not involve them in this personal matter. None of them have lived in that area for many years. I know now, no matter how I would have gone about searching for my birth father, there would have been negativity from some individuals with different mind-sets.

Lynn:  I like the advice you give to adoptive parents in your essay, JoAnne. . . that was a great idea because my experience of adoptive parents these days are parents who want to know better how to guide and raise this generation of adoptees.  

It is my hope through this anthology and others like it, we will provide the tools to accomplish just that and one day, adoption mythology will be a thing of the past and the issues we adopted people face will be textbook knowledge and will be part of adoption certification and therapist education of the future.

Thanks, JoAnne!

Visit JoAnne at her blog.

If you want to read more interviews from the authors of this book, go here

Monday, January 27, 2014

Introducing Lost Daughters Anthology

This has been a long time coming!

Today I am officially announcing the Lost Daughters Anthology:  Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment & Peace edited by Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, Julie Stromberg, Karen Pickell and Jennifer Anastasi, published by CQT Media and Publishing, LGA.

This book is a compilation of the best of the best of the Lost Daughters blog -- 30 female adoptee writers who chose their best essays to be included in this book.

In my own essay, I describe what it feels like to experience genealogical bewilderment as it relates to ethnicity.

I have always looked Italian, Greek, Spanish, Mexican, South American and/or Persian or fill in here _____for the never-ending opinions about where I came from.  Growing up with English-looking parents always made people wonder.  But nobody wondered as much as me, growing up without any access to my background information.

The age-old question I was asked my whole life,

"How does it feel to be adopted?" is answered in my essay and the other amazing voices you can now purchase as an E-book.  Paperback will be forthcoming in the near future.

All profits from this book will be donated to charity.

To purchase the book, go here.

For more Lost Daughters essays, visit us at our website.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Adoptee Rage and a Mother's Love

I wanted to blog on the first day of the year but I just didn't have any good material -- so I spent the day gathering material for today's blog, unbeknownst to me, by catching up with one of my oldest, friend's, Bonnie*.   We went to the movies (We saw Gravity in 3D--highly recommend it) and did a little shopping at J.C. Penny.  (truth be told, she shopped for me, because clearly I am shopping-impaired).

We had a great time -- afterwards, sitting in her car, catching up on everything from husbands, jobs, teenagers, etc.  We went deep into the conversation when the subject of her mother's recent passing came up.  We both cried together as my friend described the enormity of wrapping her brain around the fact that she will never see her mother again in this life.  I was there for the Memorial Service and I have never been the same since.  I cried a river of tears as we all passed around the Kleenex box while one family member after another stood up to give testimony to Grandma's life and quirky personality -- always saying the funniest things and being so dearly missed by her family.  Grandma didn't want a stuffy service -- just wanted everyone to enjoy ice cream -- her favorite -- as she was slowly losing her ability to breath in the end days.  She wanted others to enjoy ice cream at her service and enjoy it we did!

This Memorial Service changed me forever.  I had never experienced anything like it.  In my family, death is more of a stoic occasion.  We might tell a funny story, but nobody sits around crying!  The raw emotion and love i felt during that service was palpable and unforgettable.  I was still crying the next morning when I woke up and relived it in my mind.

As fate would have it, this old-dear friend is also an original mother.  Bonnie placed her daughter for adoption when she was a junior in high school.  At that time, her adoption agency was a little more progressive than most and allowed her and the family to write letters for her daughter Karen* to later have and read if Karen, as an adult adoptee, inquired about her original family.  The agency also passed along a gift that Bonnie had wanted Karen to have.  Karen had the letters and the gift in her possession at the time Bonnie found her several years ago.

Bonnie is estranged from her daughter Karen as this "reunion" didn't really get off the ground. Bonnie was able to find Karen through a search angel and Karen was in her mid-20s getting ready to graduate from college and planning her wedding.  Karen was not in the least happy to be found; in fact, I think it is fair to say she was irate.  I would also say I have never heard of an adoptee who had this much rage and anger directed toward her original mother for no obvious reason. Karen felt that since Bonnie's family gave her away, they had no right to locate her and expect anything from her. Karen also refused to accept that Bonnie loved her.

At the time this almost-reunion went down, I would listen to Bonnie's stories of exchanged emails and something just was off -- I couldn't put my finger on it.  At one point Karen agreed to allow Bonnie to see her, but not to meet her.  There was a public event that Karen invited Bonnie to but instructed her not to come up to her family and talk to her.  I felt the humiliation that my friend Bonnie must have also felt by being invited but not really invited.  Bonnie still attended with Grandma and one of her other daughters.  I am sure seeing Karen live and in person was bittersweet for Bonnie and Grandma. Especially because Grandma was never in favor of Karen being placed for adoption all those years ago.

Bonnie then described to me that recently she was feeling at peace with knowing that Karen had a good life and that the visual scanning and searching that had gone on for most of her adult life had finally stopped. The agony of wondering what happened to her daughter was no longer an issue.  Her daughter had a good life with a wonderful loving family and for Bonnie, that was enough.  I sat in awe as Bonnie explained this to me.  I was feeling so proud of Bonnie for being the loving person that she was -- for taking the risk of reaching out to her daughter, even in the face of rejection.

Then Bonnie described a recent exchange between one of her other daughters and Karen via Facebook that was not the least bit sympathetic to Bonnie's "kept" daughter when learning of Grandma's passing.  No condolences -- just anger and rudeness at the information being provided. Bonnie seemed to believe that this was just more proof that Karen wanted nothing to do with her because she had such a good life (even though she was obviously angry at Grandma).

The adoptee rage had reared its ugly head.

I went against my normal way of being (not bringing up adoptee issues so as not to trigger my friend or others) and explained to my friend about adoptee rage.

The adoptee rage is powerful but many times it is not acknowledged by the adoptee her/himself.  I explained that the adoptee rage stems from a place deep inside our baby-hearts where we can access emotional memories of being given away/abandoned/placed/relinquished.  (We don't care what you call it -- we know it as one thing: pain and fear.)  Control is another factor in this rage.  We didn't have any control as a baby.  The adults all around us made decisions for the rest of our lives and we didn't have a say in any of it. Karen clearly felt like control was taken away from her by being "found" by Bonnie. Apparently the mere mention of Grandma's death also took away Karen's sense of control.

I felt the adoptee rage when hearing my friend's story.  My own Grandmother was one of the driving forces behind my relinquishment  (I suspect Karen erroneously believes that her Grandma was too).  I explained to Bonnie that you can't just switch mothers and have no consequences to a child.  Bonnie seemed confused because she is one of many people who have no interest in genealogy and has never tried to get information about her own biological father.

I gently explained that she had her original mother -- the woman who birthed her and who she is now deeply grieving the loss of.  Karen did not get to grow up with her own mother.  And no matter how wonderful the replacement parents -- there is still pain deep inside for the loss of that mother-child bond.

I told her about my own adoptee rage -- how it is still slowly burning underneath my friendly, personable demeanor and certain things can trigger it on a dime.  Like when my original mother forgets my birthday.

My friend sat quietly taking all this in.

I told Bonnie that it wasn't her fault that Karen treated her poorly.  Nobody expects a teenager to understand all the ramifications of relinquishing a child.  Bonnie's heart was in the right place.  She wanted a better life for Karen and Karen had one -- but a better life does not replace a grieving heart.

I reassured her that one of these days after the birth of Karen's first child or the death of her other mother, a realization will finally set in -- the fog will lift, maybe only briefly, and Karen will understand that the bond between mother and child is both mysterious and unbreakable.  She will finally understand the enduring love that Bonnie has had for Karen her entire life.

*not their real names

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