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.

….

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.

15 thoughts on “Adoptee Memoir: The Sound of Hope

  1. Oh, yes, I must admit this, too: “we were focused more on “passing” than on inquiring about our social worker’s credentials.”

    I really have to hand it to Anne for being firm in her own truth, despite her father’s rage, her mother’s preoccupation with appearances, and being the sole person in the family who was able to even know what Truth was (it seems like everyone else saw the reality they wanted rather than what actually was).

    I’m glad you reminded me of the scene in the psychiatrist’s office. That was the first time that Anne found someone who gave her any validation.

    So glad you were on this tour, Liz! Great point that adoptive and adopting parents, the ones who have the funding that keeps the adoption wheel turning, are the ones who are in a good position to effect change.

  2. I always thought there could be a better way for pre-screening too but it’s very hard for a social worker to get an accurate view of family life when the visits are scheduled. I was a foster parent for a while and when I knew my social worker was making a “visit”, I made sure the place was spic and span, etc…
    I agree with your comment about the need for more visits. My parents told me they only had 2 before the adoptions were finalized for me and my brothers.

  3. That need to connect with birth parents can be sooo strong. My daughter has always been fascinated by her adoption story — even before she understood what adoption really meant. And I know she often struggles with wanting a connection with her birth parents. Her birth mom has become more connected in recent years, but I know it’s still not at the level my daughter would like. We know almost nothing about her birth father — and, as of yet, her birth mom has chosen not to share much information, and my daughter really struggles with not knowing anything about him.

  4. I wondered about the screening process as well. I felt like they dug so deep into our “stuff” that it must be a good screening. Then again, people can be great actors when they want something.

  5. Thanks so much for your post.

    I’m coming over here from Lori’s Blog Tour, and since this is the first time at your blog, I hope you don’t mind if I ask you whether “tummy mommy” is a phrase that the original mother to your daugther came up with, or suggested… I ask this because I’ve seen terminology to be a very touchy subject–original mothers absolutely do not like to be called birth mothers, BMs, or tummy mums … they consider this to reduce their contribution to their child’s life.

    I do think that more education on the part of agencies is needed. Unfortunately, not all, or even many adoption agencies emply actual social workers. They may be “agency workers,” but they may not be licensed and trained in detecting some mental illness, substance abuse or potential issues. I actually brought this up in my post, as I was pointing out that as long as prospective adoptive parents are the “paying customers,” it will be difficult for agencies to be impartial in determining who gets a pass. Also, this makes me wonder … how many prospective adoptive parents who are able to pay fees are actually turned away? What an interesting study that would make …

    Thanks for your post!
    Laura

    • Hi Laura, Thanks for your comments! To answer your question, “tummy mommy” is a phrase that our daughter’s mom chose. However, we suggested it as one of a possible list of titles when we asked her what she would like to be called. She told me she doesn’t like first mom or natural mom. We’ve talked a lot, her and I, about our experiences of motherhood and how few people want to give her the title of “mom” or acknowledge the role that she has in our daughter’s life. Since we see her often, my experience is that she didn’t make a “contribution” but is, in a very real, ongoing way, family. I have referred to her in other posts simply as my daughter’s mom.

      Reflecting on what you said about screening, I doubt that many people are turned away. I know the agency we worked with told us that a few times they told people to meet certain requirements before they could proceed, usually counseling or treatment of some kind. I know there have been studies about adoptee mental health, but I haven’t seen any studies about rates of abuse in adoptive families vs. non-adoptive families. I’m curious about that…

  6. “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.”

    Hi Liz, I can’t even imagine having so many family and total strangers making judgments and literally taking sides on such a personal choice. I was amazed at not only Anne’s perseverance, but for her not turning back and having second-thoughts about reconnecting with her first family based on all the negativity. I wondered how long ago her reunion was and if the mind-set has changed with those for example like her husband’s family who it didn’t appear to have had any real exposure with adoption in the past.

    • Hi JoAnne, Good to see you here on the blog tour. 🙂 I was also amazed at Anne’s perseverance, and hope it will be an inspiration to other adoptees, like my wife, who are searching for their first families despite negativity from others. I am hopeful that the mind-set is slowly changing, but think we still have a long, long way to go.

  7. Hi Liz,

    Thanks so much for this, I really appreciate it. I believe that those in the adoption constellation ought to be able to say what they should be called. Even in my case, I refer to my mom as either “birth mom” or by her first name. That’s okay with both of us, and yet, some original mothers take GREAT offense to even the two of us choosing this name. That’s why I was asking about “tummy mom.”

    Yes, rates of abuse would be interesting. Although, I’m also of the opinion that abuse happens in adoptive families and non-adoptive families. Either way, it’s not okay. And, just because I was adopted didn’t necessarily guarantee me a better life, merely a different one.

    It’s great to “meet” you …
    Laura

  8. Thank you for your insight on the social workers. I’ve often wondered if we should have insisted on a home study for my granddaughters adoptive parents. It wasn’t required because it is her uncle and aunt (my husbands brother and his wife). Reading Anne’s book and your remarks here have led me to believe it wouldn’t have done any good.
    We thought we knew who they were, but we didn’t. I sincerely doubt a home study would have uncovered any issues if we were blind to them and had known them, in my husbands case, all their lives.
    I also have to say “tummy mommy” caught me off guard, too. I know my daughter does not like to be called that so I guess it is automatically offensive for me, too. However, I understand this is what your daughters birth mother prefers to be called.
    My granddaughters adoptive parents once asked my daughter if they could call her B-MO. She gave them a horrified look and told them to just call her by her first name.
    Great job with the review.

    • I’m replying to my own comment! I just wanted to say I think I was incorrect in saying we didn’t know what kind of people my brother-in-law and his wife were. We did know, but we chose to ignore it. Sorry, I after thinking about this, I felt the the need to correct myself.

    • Wait, WHY wasn’t a home study required for a kinship adoption? That surprises me, but I guess I’m pretty naive. In my community, there are moms who have to adopt their same-sex partner’s child in order to be a legal parent. They have to get a home study, even though they are already parenting and married (in our eyes) to the child’s mom. In my view, those social workers failed you. From what I have heard from our daughter’s mom, the pressure to make a decision for the life of your child while you are pregnant is intense, both for the mom and the family that supports her. The social workers *should* be the ones who can ask the hard questions of potential adopting parents, whether an adoption is kinship or not. Just my two cents.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about that phrase. It is what my daughter’s mom chose and uses on her blog, but I will be more aware in the future.

      Best to you,
      Liz

      • Kind of funny where home studies are required and where they are not. I don’t know if it was the state we lived or what. It was a private adoption and no agency was used. I’m not sure why truthfully.
        I’m sorry about the “tummy mommy” comment. I didn’t mean to offend you. Adoption is filled with terms people do not like. It sometimes hinders communication, I believe.

        So glad to have found you through the book tour.

  9. Here via Lori’s Sound of Hope book tour and really enjoyed your post! I like your writing style and what you shared about the book and its themes, especially from your perspective as an adoptive mom and being married to an adopted person. Reading Anne’s book was eye opening for me, as the aunt of two adopted children and friends to many adopted people throughout my life.

    This part of your answer to the last question you addressed really struck me, “I worry that birth parents are encouraged to place because potential adoptive parents will give their child a “better” life.”

    Awhile back my sister and brother-in-law had an adoption match fall through, when the birth mother and father decided to parent. At the time there was a lot of discussion amongst our family and their close friends about what was “best” for the child. So many people insinuated and even out right stated that they thought the child would have a “better life” with my sister and her family. But I give so much credit to my sister and her husband for not going there. They were hurting so much, but handled it so well and encouraged others to think about what happened positively, in that the child could have a wonderful life whether or not they got to adopt her.

    I can’t wait to read Lori’s book either! My copy just arrived in the mail today and I am looking forward to participating in the book tour that Melissa Ford will be hosting for Lori’s book soon! Hope to see you again to discuss that! 🙂

    • Thanks Kathy! My copy’s on its way and I’m looking forward to that book tour also. Nice to meet you!

Comments are closed.