“Found: A Memoir” by Jennifer Lauck Book Tour


"Found: A Memoir" by Jennifer Lauck

"Found: A Memoir" by Jennifer Lauck

Welcome to this leg of the Found: A Memoir book tour.  If this is your first time dropping by Letters to Ms. Feverfew, it may be helpful to know it is not like a typical blog. Rather, it is series of letters I have written to my daughter, relinquished for adoption in 1993. I decided to stay with this convention when I wrote my book review and answered the questions posed by other book tour participants. You can read more about me here and why I write these letters here.

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you find something worthwhile during your stay. ~ M.

_________________________________________________________

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

This is going to be long so grab a cup of tea, make sure your laptop is fully charged, and find a comfy cozy corner in which to curl up. Be certain you are well situated before diving in.

~

It was the peak of summer season and I was between homes, neither here nor there. Rootless and wandering between where I had been and where I was headed. All of our household effects were stored somewhere in a warehouse in northern Virginia and we were living in temporary housing that butted up against the York River. I had just graduated with my Ph.D. and my life was stripped bare of all the trappings of domesticity and academic study. And so I read. A lot.

I read Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search For Self. I read Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience. I read The Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness. I read Adoption and Loss: The Hidden Grief. I read 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. I read The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. I read Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption.  I read The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. I read Adoption Healing: A Path to Recovery. I read Coming Home To Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up.

And I spent a lot of time crying.

Immersed in the literature of adoption recovery, I was awash in a river of grief. What had I done to you? I was drowning, choking on the question, “Dear God, what have I done to my daughter?”  The literature was confirming what I already knew at a cellular level: adoption, at least for us, was wrong. Completely and totally wrong. Utterly and absolutely wrong. It was my culture’s permanent and brutal answer for the temporary crisis in which I found myself.

Then I read Found: A Memoir by Jennifer Lauck and I stopped crying as much.

In her tale I found a way forward. I found hope. It isn’t so much of what she said, but how she said it. Found: A Memoir is a profoundly moving story of an adoptee’s journey to find her first family and ultimately, to discover herself.  What makes her story different is that Found: A Memoir is infused with a level of generosity and self-awareness rarely found in adoptee memoirs.

This generosity is like the finely aged Tahitian vanilla I have secreted in my kitchen pantry. Sweet, warm, floral, and delicate but never cloying. When used in spicy or acidic savory dishes, vanilla cuts the heat and acidity by half while imparting the warmth only vanilla possesses. In savory dishes, it is harder for the pallet to distinguish the vanilla, but it is still there, lifting and lightening the dish. This is the quality infused throughout the majority of Ms. Lauck’s book, rendering an otherwise acidic and difficult story more edible.

And edible it was. I devoured it both times I read it. The first time through I didn’t even stop to sleep or eat. I just read, like a mother newly delivered of her babe and starving for something of substance, some thing more than the ice chips that had been parsed out by Attila the Nurse during labor. I was hungry and it was hope that wafted up from the pages of the book. It was vanilla scented hope that allowed me to digest the difficult and dangerous passages where Ms. Lauck spoke plainly of hard truths, truths that only adoptess can know and tell.  It was vanilla scented hope that tasted of forgiveness and healing. It was a flavor, which, for the first time, helped me understand that perhaps you – my own daughter – might forgive me for what I had done to us.

~

This last fall, a call was sent out by Lori at The Open Adoption Examiner for participants in an online book tour for Found: A Memoir.  I eagerly offered to participate. As I reread the book in preparation for the tour, I was taken at how many of her words could be my own as I made way towards healing and wholeness. I didn’t remember them from before, but now they stood out like a bas relief to my own journey. For example, Ms. Lauck writes:

“In the way that Spencer’s birth began my awakening process, Jo’s birth continued to unfold my psyche and reveal the many dimensions of truth….My first mother felt very important to me in light of Josephine Catherine. Jo was a link in the lineage of woman that connected me to my mother and my mother to her mother and on back through the generations. I wanted to tell my mystery mother, that troubled young girl from so long ago, that Josephine was here—a granddaughter. I wanted to say, “Come look!” (p. 41)

As I read that passage for the second time, I saw my own experiences in her’s:

In the way that Luke’s birth began my awakening process, Penelope’s pregnancy and birth continued to unfold my psyche and reveal the many dimensions of truth…My first daughter felt even more important to me in light of Penelope Rose. Penny was another link in the lineage of women that connected me to my mother and my mother to her mother and on back through the generations. I wanted to tell my mystery daughter, that eight month, 27 day old baby now grown into a woman, that Penelope was here—a sister. I wanted to say, “Come look!”

And so with wonderment at the synchronicity of an adoptee’s experience with my own as a mother who relinquished a child for adoption, I answer three questions asked by other tour members.

I know what I write will make some adoptive parents extremely uncomfortable and perhaps even angry.  And also I know by writing these things, I run the risk of being labeled “bitter” and “anti-adoption” even though I am neither of those things.  But the truth calls me out; I have the luxury of writing with the freedom of one already marginalized by the dominant culture, of one who can risk everything because she has already lost everything.

Q1: On pp 17-18, Jennifer talks about a baby searching for her mother after being born. How did this sensory-rich passage strike you? What thoughts did it trigger about the role you play in adoption?

Trigger would be the right word. One of the hardest things for me has been to come to terms to with how adoption may have affected you from a life-long developmental point of view. I first became cognizant of the potential negative affects when I was in a human development class and we were studying attachment theory across the life span. Disrupted attachment bonds can profoundly affect a person’s willingness to explore their environment, thus reducing exploration and help seeking behaviors and ultimately impacting learning. Reading the original writings of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth convicted me and set me on a path to seeking a deeper understanding of what loss, particularly early parental loss, can do to a person.

It happened again when I took a human physiology class and the professor talked about the experiments he was running about newborns recognizing the scent of their mother’s milk and even more importantly, preferring it above all others. They also prefer the taste of things that the mother ate when she was pregnant with them. And yet more awareness came when I started pulling primary research articles from medical journals detailing how a newborn’s language center in their brain lights up and their heart rate quickens when they hear their mother speak – not the nurse, not the doctor, not their father – but their mother. And articles about how babies in utero prefer their mother’s voice to any other voice or sound. And articles about fetal-maternal microchimerism, where your cells crossed the placental barrier and now reside in my bone marrow, liver, and blood. And articles about mitochondrial DNA – the stuff that powers life and how it is passed only through the mother to her child. And yet more awareness came when I learned of the specificity of a mother’s milk for the individual child and how it changes across the nursing relationship.  And yet more awareness when I read primary research detailing the impact a mother’s touch and voice on infants in the NICU.*

And on it went.

Taken alone, each puzzle piece is interesting but when examined as a composite…dear God, how could I have been so foolish to believe you didn’t need me? And how can this culture go on thinking that somehow, magically, an adopted infant’s brain and body are exempt from these same physiological responses?

But back to us: I wasn’t a crack whore. I wasn’t abusive. I wasn’t neglectful. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I wasn’t sleeping around.  I was simply single mother, going to school, trying to build a life for our little family. How and why did I buy into the NCFA’s glossy literature that you deserved more than me? That you would be better off being raised by people who didn’t smell, sound, or move the right way? Yes, you adapted, but at what cost to your psyche and your soul?

So as you can see, trigger was the right word to use in that question about how those pages affected me.

The next question was a bit more involved, so I broke it apart into sections:

Q2, part 1: Jennifer writes a lot about the first moms biological bond with her child. She writes of this bond as primal, almost as if adoptive moms will never be able to completely bond with their children… Adoptive mothers have to be honest with themselves: they will never have the same deep biological connection with their adopted child their child’s first mother. Irrespective of the depth of her love for this child,  her mitochondrial DNA does not power every cellular process in her adopted child’s body. Her heart does not beat to the same rhythm within a second of locking eyes with her adopted newborn, her voice will not cause the language recognition centers in her adopted newborn baby’s brain to light up like the Milky Way.  She will not smell right or taste right or move right to a tiny babe. They will never share the bone-marrow deep connection that a first mother has with her child. This primal bond is a gift the first mother is given.

These are hard truths for some adoptive mothers to accept, but that doesn’t make them any less true. However, in spite of these hard truths, adoptive mothers can bond with their children. With love, time, and consistent responsive care-giving, a mother can forge powerful bonds with her adopted child, bonds that can be just as strong as the primal ones. This is the gift that adoptive mothers are given.

Q2, part 2: “…and I wonder what advice she would give to  adoptive parents, particularly, women who want to be honest with their children about their birth stories.”   I can’t speak for Ms. Lauck, but here is my take on it: Start by setting aside any me-I-tis or I-deserve-its and read the letter linked at the top of this page, “An Open Letter to APs and PAPs.”

One can only surmise what Lillie writes is equally hard for some adoptive mothers to read as it was for me but still…but still these are the testimonies of those who adoption is supposed to be helping. We cannot continue to dismiss them and marginalize their voices while paying lip service to adoption “reform”. We must listen to them. We must learn from them.

An adoptive mother can begin to honor and respect their child’s need to mourn the loss of their first family by doing the same for now-adult adoptees.  Learning how to listen and honor adult adoptees’ voices now may be one of the best things an adoptive mother can do for her child in the future. After all, her adopted child is going to grow up in a few short years into an adopted adult. If anything, it will give them a lot of practice in letting others tell their truth and not taking it personally. As the adopted child grows and matures, she can help them find ways to honor and respect their original family (even though this can be very hard in situations where a child was available for adoption due to abuse or neglect – I know this first hand, but I also know it can be done). She can tell them the truth, with love and compassion for their hearts. Respect their humanity. It’s all any parent can do for their child, adopted or not.

Q3: What did you believe was the take-away message of this memoir?  Did that idea change for you when you read the afterward?

Adoption is hard. Reunion is hard. But there is hope for healing and eventually the ability to move through the experience.

I believe things will not and cannot improve until we start listening carefully to what adult adoptees are saying  – even the difficult, upsetting parts – and extracting lessons from what they can teach us. This idea did not change upon reading the afterward. In fact, if any thing, I believe Ms. Lauck lays out a fairly humane and comprehensive agenda for reform when she says, “Adoptive parents must be better informed. Birth mothers must be better informed. Adoptees must be better informed” (p. 264).  The only way we can become better informed is to listen – truly listen – to others stories. Especially adult adoptees.

“Adult adoptees are a primary source for knowledge about adoption as an institution. Their perceptions are unique, for adult adoptees are actually the only persons who can tell us what it is like to live adoption in a society in which most people are not adopted.” —Child Welfare League of America [emphasis mine]

~

After reading Found: A Memoir last summer, I had to walk around for a few days and let it ruminate in my belly.   I was satiated and couldn’t read anything else for about a week. No adoption related books. No academic articles about learning theory, attachment, or problem-based learning environments. No memoirs, no classics, no slim volumes of poetry, no micro-histories about the color of mauve or the writing of the Oxford English dictionary, no books about pre-War II Germany, no histories of our founding fathers.

It was just me and Ms. Lauck during those final days of our stay in the temporary housing.

The high summer heat broke our last day in the Tidewater. Early that evening, before the sun had slipped entirely behind the treeline, I laced up my pink and grey New Balance shoes and took myself for a walk in the opposite direction along the river. As I rounded the last curve before the beaver pond, I saw a pregnant full moon beginning to bloom over the Atlantic. She moved carefully and slowly around the corner of the horizon, taking her time to not upset the balance of the gravitational forces tethering her in her fixed path. I audibly gasped at her sheer beauty when she finally broke free from the curvature of the earth. She slowly cleared the span of the Gloucester Bridge, releasing me from her spell, and then I turned for home.

When I got closer to the temporary housing, I could see your youngest brother dashing home from the pool behind his father. I hurried to catch up to them, my feet falling on the wet footprints left by my husband on the warm sidewalk. Did you see that moon rise!? It was – it was breathtaking! I mean, it almost made me cry!

“Gorgeous,  a lot of things make you cry lately.” My husband’s caterpillar eyebrow wiggled knowingly above his eyes.  “So that isn’t surprising but no, I didn’t see it from here. The trees were in the way.”

“I missed it too, Mom. I was too busy playing to see what happened.”

Oh man, you guys really missed out on one of the most spectacular things I have ever witnessed.

~

Much like my husband and son missing the moonrise, I realize readers’ reaction to this book may be the same. It will affect each person differently, dependent on their position in the adoption constellation and whether they are paying attention or just hanging out in the pool we call life. And you know what? That is OK. We are all at different points on this journey and sometimes it is nice to just float on our backs and enjoy the warm water. But I’ll be honest, it sure was nice to have witnessed something so beautiful.

Much love and belief –

M.

*All research claims will be addressed in subsequent letters, providing references and a brief discussion of how the study findings might impact an adoptee.

To continue to the next stop of this book tour, please visit the main list at The Open Adoption Examiner.

To learn more about Ms. Lauck and her writing, please visit http://www.jenniferlauck.com/

Jennifer Lauck, author of "Found: A Memoir"

Jennifer Lauck, author of "Found: A Memoir"

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32 thoughts on ““Found: A Memoir” by Jennifer Lauck Book Tour

  1. I have been reading the book tour althoug I have not yet read the book.

    But what strikes me is fact that adoption is complicated and potentially damageing. And the hard part is we do not know how to prevent that. Adoptive parents can read, and maybe be the best parents in the world, but babies and children are intuative. It only takes on stranger to exclaim, “oh isn’t he lucky you adopted him”, or one birth sibleing to receive preferential treatment from a great aunt, one mean schoolmate, or one blog post to surface, and further harm is done. Unless we change the culture, the dominate language and really listen to adult adoptees instead of trying to beleive things are better now, it will not change.
    This book is one of those voices.

    • Unless we change the culture, the dominate language and really listen to adult adoptees instead of trying to beleive things are better now, it will not change.
      This book is one of those voices.

      Well said, Lora. Changing the dominant cultural rhetoric seems nigh until impossible though, sometimes. But we have to keep trying, for the sake of the adoptee. I know there will always be a need for children to be cared for by those who are not their biological parents, but there are better ways than the way we currently do things. It all begins by listening to people like Ms. Lauck.

  2. This is priceless and I’m moved beyond words Melynda! Thank you for sharing your heart with such prose that I feel you were speaking to me personally. Seems that everything makes me cry these days as well. It’s part of the healing process. You are a precious mother and I love your blog! One day, probably very soon, your efforts are going to bloom and bring forth amazing fruits. Bless you and many hugs your way…(-:

      • Yes, we are meant to be ‘connected’ on many levels…can’t wait to share more with you. I’m confident that we have something for each other…where together, there is more power! XO ~Rhonda

  3. You are not only a remarkable thinker and an important voice in this process of awakening, you are a good writer. And as one writer to another…isn’t that what we want to hear most of all? Yes! Thank you, Melinda. Thank you.

  4. I love your response to the second question — it so nicely captures what I think is the reality of many adopted children – that they have two families to whom the are connected — in very different ways, but still deeply connected. I know my daughter in her 7-year-old wisdom often expresses the difficulty of missing her birth family and wondering what it would be like to live with them while also knowing that she wouldn’t want to miss us or be without us. .. Of course her solution is that we should just all live together — a little difficult since we live in NH and her birth mom lives in AZ. I enjoyed this post — as I do all of your posts.

    • Tonya, thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate them!

      You said, “I know my daughter in her 7-year-old wisdom often expresses the difficulty of missing her birth family and wondering what it would be like to live with them while also knowing that she wouldn’t want to miss us or be without us. .. Of course her solution is that we should just all live together…” This sounds just like my son from my first marriage when he was about that age. He had this dream of us all living on the same block so he could spend time with both of his families. Unfortunately, his dad lived in CA and we lived in VA and so that wasn’t a possibility. He hasn’t mentioned since he became a teenager but I know he still harbors that dream at some level.

  5. I love that you write with vanilla in your repertoire 🙂

    And good stuff here: the mom “can help [the child] find ways to honor and respect their original family…She can tell them the truth, with love and compassion for their hearts. Respect their humanity. It’s all any parent can do for their child, adopted or not.” (Oh, and I can’t get the Q2P2 link to work either, but I’ve seen Lillie’s letter elsewhere).

    Back when we were considering adoption as a way to build our family, we chose open adoption for one prime reason — to avoid the need for a reunion, which seemed like it would be messy no matter how or when it came about. Years later, I see so many other reasons to have a spirit of openness, but that was the one that shaped our outlook at the time.

    Thanks for adding your voice here, Melynda.

    • we chose open adoption for one prime reason — to avoid the need for a reunion, which seemed like it would be messy no matter how or when it came about.

      That right there tells me you are a thinkin’ woman, Lori. I think open adoption is one giant leap for mankind…er…womankind…er…children. I know open adoption is not easy on any of the parents involved -firstsecondbirthadoptive or otherwise BUT I believe in the end, it is far better for the child than what was offered before.

      Thank you so much for sponsoring a tour for this very important book. I know it was challenging for many adoptive mothers but Ms. Lauck’s voice is one that needs to be heard, again and again and again until we get this right.

      M.

      • You said, “I know open adoption is not easy on any of the parents involved -firstsecondbirthadoptive or otherwise…”

        I am not sure this is always the case. For me and for my daughter’s first mother, open adoption has not been difficult (she would tell you the same). For me, certainly not as difficult as the parenting part! (Which is, of course, rewarding).

        Open Adoption Bloggers addressed some of the assumptions that people make about openness about a year ago. Here are some of my responses here: http://writemindopenheart.com/2011/01/question-answer-about-open-adoption.html

      • Lori – It’s nice to discover there are some open adoptions that “work.” The ones that I am privy too, don’t. So it is good to hear from an adoptive parent who is so enthusiastic about it. Thank you for sharing the link. ~ M.

  6. Thank you for your views on the book. I was mesmerized with the vanilla comparison and could not agree more! I mulled over this book for a while, and then read it it a second time to make sure I took everything in. This memoir was very hard for me to read as a birth mother. However, I believe the thoughts and process of working through her fears and deep pain is what compelled me about this book. Although it was an extremely difficult road that Ms Lauck traveled to find who SHE really was, it was fantastic to see her turn the karma around and live life her own way.

    Your writing for this post is incredible, and I appreciate your knack for bringing your world alive for the reader. May there be many more moons that take your breath away!

    And thank you again to Lori for bringing such a diverse group together to share their thoughts on this book.

    • This memoir was very hard for me to read as a birth mother.

      Yes, me too, Kelsey. Most first mothers enter into adoption with the belief that it will be “better” than the lives we could provide our children, that somehow adoptive families are immune to the same forces the rest of the human race contend with. I have heard from plenty of first mothers about the struggle of discovering it was not “better,” in fact far worse than we could have ever imagined. I think this book is an important piece of the puzzle as it represents what happens when it isn’t “better” for the adoptee.

      Ms. Lauck is truly a courageous woman, both for writing her story, but for having the courage to live her life as well. That in and of itself is remarkable.

      M.

  7. I am finally getting around to reading the rest of the book tour posts…I want to write something profound in response to this but I am afraid my brain is still wrapping itself around the depth of *your* thoughts. I am going to let this sit for a while, and then I will be back. Your answer to the first part of question 2 is sitting with me particularly right now; I think it is the first time I have read a discussion of the primal bond an adopted child has with his or her first mother that acknowledges that the bond forged between a child and his or her adoptive parents can be just as strong – usually it is framed from one point of view or the other, dismissing almost entirely the validity of the other side of it. So for now, thank you for that. xo

    • You are welcome. I truly believe what I wrote as well. I have enough adoptive mother friends and friends who have adoptive mothers to recognize and appreciate the fact the bonds they have forged are just as real and just as valid as any that I have because of biology. Neither is better, just different and important in different ways. And honestly, I would love to discover that my daughter and her adoptive mother have a strong, healthy relationship based in mutual respect and honesty. What kind of mother would I be if I secretly hoped they didn’t, you know?

      ~ M.

      • When my daughter was born, the nurses in the hospital (who knew the plan was adoption) were very worried because my daughter’s birth mother had insisted on holding her after the birth and because she cried when she held her. I remember saying to my father at the time that I was glad for my daughter that her birth mom had held her and also glad that she cried — not because I was glad about her pain, but because I knew it indicated the love that she had for this little baby even when she felt she couldn’t parent her. And I was glad for my daughter to have those moments with her birth mom even though she has no conscious memory of them (although now that she’s older, I have shared that information with her). I agree that when we put our children’s needs and interests first what we all should be hoping is that our children are able to have strong ties with both their families. I really hope that when my daughter is old enough to manage her relationship with her birth mom that they develop a close relationship. I believe it’s entirely possible for her to have strong and healthy relationships with both of her moms.

      • I agree that when we put our children’s needs and interests first what we all should be hoping is that our children are able to have strong ties with both their families. I believe it’s entirely possible for her to have strong and healthy relationships with both of her moms.

        *sniff sniff* Amen and pass the kleenex, please. See, there really are adoptive mothers out there who “get it.” I am so fortunate to have so many of them in my life. It makes dealing with my “stuff” a wee bit easier. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Pingback: Links of the week … « International Adoption Reader

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