Interview with JoAnne Bennett of The Adoptee Survival Guide
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?
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?
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