Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Interview with JoAnne Bennett of The Adoptee Survival Guide

Hi JoAnne! Thanks for being willing to do this interview today!  


You state you live in the Pacific Northwest.  Being from the Midwest and never visiting the  PNW (yet!), I am curious to know what it is that people love about living there?

I still remember with fondness when I first moved from California to Oregon with my husband and our oldest daughter. We have three daughters, one was born in Los Gatos, CA, one born in Kirkland, WA, and one in Portland, OR. The beautiful Pacific Northwest is so green from the tops of the tall trees to the golf-course-looking grass. I had previously lived in many cities across CA and in Reno, NV, up until the age of 6, but I feel the most at home in Oregon. At first, my lungs weren’t acclimating to the dampness in the air, and I ended up in the hospital, and then Mount Saint Helens blew a short time after we arrived. After moving here, we had just changed our license plates when I walked out of the grocery store. There was a sign in the back window of the car next to me saying, “Go home Californians.”  After over 35 years of living here now, I believe I have earned the title, “a true Oregonian” fair and square and I wouldn’t trade it for any other place in this world. What I love most about the PNW is, although I live in a suburb of Portland, the mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and my ultimate favorite past-time … fishing on the many lakes … is a short distance from my home.

I know that you have a heart for children, and you and I participated in another project together.  Can you tell us about your participation in Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted & Fostered Youth and what it meant to you?

I remember how I would keep going back and looking at the submission guidelines for DWY, but I thought the editors had already picked all the authors. You explained to me that those were the authors from the previous book project. At first, it felt a little intimidating when I read their bios and life experiences; some were much more diverse than mine. However, because of my mission in life to make this a better world for our children, I knew it was a sign when I kept returning to the website. It was my favorite writing project for 2014.
  
In The Adoptee Survival Guide, the essay you wrote is called, "The Replacement Doll.” In that essay, you reveal that you never really felt bonded to your adoptive mother and you state, “When you are placed with a new family, realistically, it is not possible that every child and mother will always bond with one another."  Could you elaborate on that statement and what you believe the barriers to mother-child bonding are within adoption?

Both of my brothers said to me separately when we were adults, “Mom sure didn’t like you very much!” Even when the brother (my adoptive mother’s only bio child) felt the need to share with me that our mother admitted she couldn’t love children that were not her own, I surprisingly didn’t fall apart. No matter how mean-spirited my adoptive mother could be to me and others as well, I knew for once in her life, she was keeping it real with her feelings. For me, there was a sense of relief with the confirmation from my brothers that how she treated me wasn’t all in my head.
At first, I took it to heart that we didn’t bond because of something I did wrong. Maybe if I had been prettier, smarter, or didn’t talk quite as much, our relationship as mother and daughter could have been different. But it was a remark my adoptive mother made back when I was a teenager that was food for thought as I have tried to process the losses. Her comments would be so random, “You sure have a lot of friends and everybody likes you!” I never saw it back then that she was jealous of me; mom had very few friends and it seemed like a lot of people just didn’t like her overbearing personality. She often embarrassed me. My choice was to be kind to others; her choice was to push others away out of her own insecurities.

I believe the barriers to mother-child bonding within adoption can cover several factors. First of all, I don’t think my adoptive mother ever grieved over her loss of not being able to have any more biological children. Although she walked away as an adult from her religious upbringing that places a strong emphasis on children and family, I know her mother’s approval was still extremely important to her. It must have felt like a competition with her four sisters and one sister-in-law being able to give birth to many children. Even if she had been in a good place in her life and had a husband without a serious alcohol problem when I arrived in their home as a newborn, or that she hadn’t struggled forever with serious mental health issues, I think my adoptive mother would have always kept me at arm’s length. My brothers and I never remember her holding or giving any of us a kiss or a hug. I spent my childhood trying to get her to love me, but the truth is she made it impossible to see her as a caring, nurturing mother figure. It came at such a high price with years of verbal and emotional abuse. Why as adoptees should we have to settle for less when an adoptive parent is obviously flawed and incapable of totally bonding with anyone?
 
photo credit: transadvocate.com
  
In your Biography, you mention that you felt a strong sense of community when participating in The Adoptee Survival Guide book project.  Could you share with the audience about this community and what it meant to you?  Also, how does the bonding of the writers in a community help with a book project?


While growing up, I never lived anywhere long enough to feel like I truly belonged. Up until the 7th grade, I didn’t know anyone else who was adopted besides my close-in-age brother. Even as adults, my brother and I never talked between ourselves about how being adopted affected each of us personally. When you are raised in a family where you are not supposed to tell anyone (like it's a shameful secret) that you were adopted at birth, or had another adoptive father, the lenses from which we see the world can become so lonely and distorted.
The opportunity to participate in your book project has been fun to be able to connect and make new friends with a group of some of the nicest adoptees/writers/individuals. I love feeling a strong sense of community where we still continue to root for one another as we share bits and pieces of our adoption journeys, even after the book has been published. With the stories I’ve had published over the years, I seldom have had a chance like this to meet many of the authors.
For me personally, the lack of negativity and drama in our group has been refreshing because I had such a dysfunctional upbringing. Usually I run as far away as possible from conflict. It has taken me a long time to feel safe and know that my voice and feelings matter. As I continue to make great strides in reclaiming my self-worth, I am thankful when a writing project like yours challenges me to grow as a valuable human being.

I know you recently got a website makeover (It looks great!), what special projects are you focusing on now?

Thank you so much for the compliment!  I love writing on my blog … it gives me a sense of empowerment. I know there are a number of estranged relatives, etc., that for perhaps once in my life are hearing my silenced voice that somehow got lost in all the craziness.
My website is my way of saying, “See, speaking the truth just continues to make one a stronger human being!” as I continue to discover the answers to the never-ending lies and secrets that are so convoluted. Sadly, all the deception has much more to do with my adoptive family than it ever did my birth family. I couldn’t possibly put it into words what it means to know there are a number of people following my journey, some go way back as part of my life story. I appreciate all the little notes and comments of love and encouragement filled with “I believe in you!” from so many of you.
By almost four months into the New Year already, I am usually full-swing into new writing projects. Must be because I have something great in the works that I am currently in a holding pattern :). In 2015, I want to put my focus and energies more into our young people – addressing the tough issues that are close to their hearts. One example, I would love to find ways through sharing my personal story for teenagers to not feel so alone and suffocated as I did while growing up. In my particular case, I had two family members struggling with serious mental health issues as far back as I can remember. I believe as a society we must start talking more openly about mental illness and get rid of the stigma attached!
Thank you for you talking with me today, JoAnne!!

You can visit JoAnne Bennett go here!
To visit The Adoptee Survival Guide Facebook page, go here

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Proud to Announce the Release of The Adoptee Survival Guide

Hi friends!  I haven't had the time to post here on my blog as of late as I was taking on the monumental task of publishing my first book!  Its been an exciting journey and I want to thank everyone for their support over the last year.  This project would have never been possible without the courageous contributors who joined me in telling their stories.

30 adoptees, from different countries and states in the U.S. all came together for this project.

We have an Australian-born contributor, a Canadian-born contributor and a contributor born in Hong Kong.  The age ranges of adoptees are from 20's to 70's.  Some of the authors are writers for Lost Daughters, some are first-time authors and many who already have published books out.  I will be featuring each writer on a blog tour in the coming weeks and months.  We will hi-light each of the author's other writings on adoption or in some cases, their books and articles in other genres.

Last week was an exciting moment when I opened the box from Amazon to see the Proof copy of the Adoptee Survival Guide.  Here it is:



I am asking my readers to please like the Facebook page for The Adoptee Survival Guide.  You can also see a sneak peek of all the writers and their essays there.


I want to personally thank the following people for their help in making this project possible:

Carlynne Hershberger and Jake Mumma for donating their beautiful artistic talents in creating the chameleons used on the front and back cover and on the chapter pages.

Diane Christian of The An-Ya Project who mentored me along in this project and gave me very helpful information and completely understood what I was going through.  She also wrote a nice blurb for the back of the book.

Angela Manuszak who read the book prior to publication and gave valuable feedback.

Carla Becker who also read the book prior to publication and wrote a lovely review.

Rayne Wolfe for being willing to join me in this project without knowing me at all!  And for also mentoring me and being my personal cheerleader.

Elle Cuardaigh for being the brilliant person that she is and helping me when I was in a jam.

Joanne Bennett for listening to me and cheering me on when I was ready to yank out my hair over formatting issues (and for using her magic wand!)

Denise Haugen and Sherry Hardin for being supportive behind-the-scenes, non-adoptee friends.

Laura Dennis for doing such a great job on Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age which I used as a guide for setting up this book.

Richard Hill of the The DNA Testing Advisor who also wrote a nice blurb for the back of the book and was the reason I embarked on DNA testing myself.

Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao for writing a nice blurb for the book and serving as a role model.

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston of The Declassified Adoptee who invited me to write for the Lost Daughters and has served as a role model for me and many others in the adoptee community.

Of course, I am grateful to all of the contributors to The Adoptee Survival Guide, which without their compassionate and talented writing, this book would not have been possible.

A SPECIAL THANK YOU to my husband Mark Grubb and very patient family.  Mark is my rock and picked up the slack that was our house, our meals, our minor child, etc.

Go here to preview the book.

Go here to buy the book!