Kathleen Silber and Phyllis Speedlin
The pioneering godmother of the open-adoption movement in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Silber did ground-shaking work to bring transparency to the adoption process, which ultimately, is better for the mental health of all parties involved. In Dear Birthmother, a primer of sorts, she helps adoptive parents understand the love, humanity, and loss intrinsic to placing a child for adoption. I love this book because it shines a light on the much-deserved compassion to these women who give up so much in search of a better life for themselves and their children.
Everything You Ever Wanted
In this exquisitely written poem of a memoir, Jillian Lauren splays her heart wide open, on every page as she transforms from an addict whose used up most of her luck to a mother whose role requires great stores of grit, determination, and love. We’re right there with her as she and her husband decide to adopt a boy from Ethiopia, and we’re along for the bumpy, often painful, occasionally joyful, ride through the challenges of parenting this tiny person who has already lost so much but has so much to give. Outside of motherhood, she’s so funny and interesting that I kind of want to be best friends with her. Not in a weirdo-stalker way, though.
God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother
Deciding to place a child for adoption is one of the most excruciating decisions in the human experience. When Amy Seek, a promising architecture student, becomes pregnant, she’s not yet ready to become a parent. But she’s also not ready, completely, to hand over her child to a perfectly lovely family. Her tale of love, heartbreak and acceptance is a reminder to parents and non-parents of all circumstances that there are lots of ways to make a family—and in this case, it was the best, most perfectly imperfect option. I think this is a really important book for everyone in the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees) to read, because it really gets up close and uncomfortably personal with the struggle some birth mothers undergo, despite the unlimited love they have for their babies.
Born With Teeth
Kate Mulgrew’s ascent to stardom as star of Ryan’s Hope, Star Trek: Voyager and Orange Is the New Black would have read as somewhat of a fairy tale—coming from a large, loving family to the big city to hone her talent, win roles and find love—except for one decision that would haunt her for most of her adult life. When Mulgrew unexpectedly became pregnant early in her career, she knew that her child would be better off in a home where parents were wanting and waiting for a child. Nuns whisked away her newborn daughter, and it would take deep searching and 22 years to see her again. There are many ways a birth parent-adoptee reunion can go down, but fortunately for Mulgrew and her daughter, Danielle, theirs was all you could hope for, and maybe more.
One of the earliest works in the adoption-memoir genre, Dan Savage tells how he and his husband navigated decisions on how to become parents and settled on open adoption. The book follows the harrowing journey of their son’s birth mother, Melissa, a homeless teenager who isn’t exactly going to Whole Foods and taking Pregnant Lady Yoga classes. Savage tells the story of their relationship with Melissa with great compassion, love, and hope for all involved. This was a hugely important book for me to read, so long ago, because it showed me the complex, imperfect and ultimately loving dynamic involved in parenting through adoption.
First of all, My Big Fat Greek Wedding actress Nia Vardalos is just hilarious. She could write an Ikea assembly brochure and it would probably be side-splitting. But in the book, she tells about being a rising star (a great story on its own) who had it all—except a baby. After a grueling battle with infertility, she eventually came around to the idea of adoption and started to learn more about the fost-adopt process of taking an older child who is unlikely to reunite with their original family. With great heart, she tells the roller-coaster story of bringing a 3-year-old with attachment challenges into her life—and the inevitable universality of motherhood. “Nothing prepared me for the love I would feel for my child. Nothing prepared me for how quickly it happened for me. And here’s what I just figure out now: no one is ever prepared. In a way, we’re all instant moms.” She’s just so good.
When writer Jerry Mahoney and his husband decided to become parents, they didn’t exactly adopt—but they did become dads to twins with the donation of eggs from Jerry’s sister and a borrowed uterus from a surrogate carrier. This funny, nail-biter of a book brings you along for the ride from hope to dashed dreams and back as Mahoney creates his sweet family with the support of his tribe. I think this is important because it highlights another common but not often-told story of how families are made with the complex weaving of love and biology.
Corduroy 40th Anniversary Edition
This was one of the first books I ever bought my daughter, Grace, shortly after I became her mom through adoption. I’d not picked it up for a good 35 years, and didn’t remember much except for a cute picture of a bear with a wardrobe malfunction. But when I lay down to read Corduroy out loud to Grace, I burst into tears as I realized the great beauty of this simple story. Nobody wanted this little teddy bear, Corduroy, who lived in a department store, because he was missing a button on his overalls. When a little girl, Lisa, sees him on the shelf, she loves him instantly. So much so that the next day, she brings her own money to buy him, bring him home, fix him a little bed next to her own, and yes, sew the button back on his overalls. He’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for her and they belong together. Damn it, I can’t even think about this story without crying. There I go again.
Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption
After two years of waiting to adopt—slogging through paperwork and bouncing between hope and despair—a miracle finally happened for Vanessa McGrady. Her sweet baby, Grace, was a dream come true. Then Vanessa made a highly uncommon gesture: when Grace’s biological parents became homeless, Vanessa invited them to stay.
Without a blueprint for navigating the practical basics of an open adoption or any discussion of expectations or boundaries, the unusual living arrangement became a bottomless well of conflicting emotions and increasingly difficult decisions complicated by missed opportunities, regret, social chaos, and broken hearts.
Written with wit, candor, and compassion, Rock Needs River is, ultimately, Vanessa’s love letter to her daughter, one that illuminates the universal need for connection and the heroine’s journey to find her tribe.
Every major hero/ine’s journey and epic tale has an adoption component. From Bible stories and Greek myths (adoption worked out well for Moses, not so much for Oedipus) to Star Wars through This Is Us, we humans are obsessed with origin stories. And it’s no wonder: “Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?” are questions that confound and comfort us from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath.
Even more specifically, books specifically about adoption give us light and insight into how families are created and what it means to be a family—by blood, by love, and sometimes, the combination of the two.
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