It’s a new year and while I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago, I decided this year to make an exception. There was something I wanted to get to that was just too important to let fall by the wayside of my busy life. And that ‘something’ was to read Lorraine Dusky’s newest memoir, Hole in My Heart. Previously, we had published a guest post giving an adoptive parent perspective on this book. But I felt it was equally important for me to read the book, not only for my own edification, but because I wanted to share an adoptee perspective on it with our readers.
Let me first say that Hole in My Heart is much more than a memoir. It is a fierce, well-documented argument for family preservation and adoptee rights. It covers the gamut of all aspects of adoption, from the trauma of being adopted to the pitfalls of reunion, to the long-term effect on first mothers, all interwoven nearly seamlessly with Lorraine’s personal story of how felt she had no other choice but to relinquish her only child for adoption. Or as she put it, back in the day, the rare “unwed mother” had whispers clinging to her like pollen in springtime (p.221).
I should advise you this book is not for the faint-hearted. And is not a book that readers should hurry through, either. It is best taken in bite-sized pieces: read a little, reflect, become a little misty-eyed, and then return to the story. I especially appreciated how the book is written in short chapters so the reader can do just that. The juxtaposition of the writer’s personal narrative with facts and figures on the institution of adoption makes this memoir a stylistically unique and compelling read.
The story is written in the clear, concise and persuasive style that Lorraine is known for. Her exquisite use of metaphor nearly knocked my socks off at many points throughout the book. From describing herself, not long after relinquishment, as a loose log in a raging river, drifting in the turbulence, (p.52) when considering a new romance, to her description of a woman she met who turned out to be both a first mother and an adoptee, the layers of her sorrow are backed up like planes at LAX, if one leaves, another is ready for takeoff (p.84), Lorraine brings readers right along with her as she relives the most painful and life-altering experience she has ever been through. As she reminds the reader, Giving up my child was the worst thing I ever did, the worst thing that ever happened in my life…(p.200)
I can relate to this story because some of the experiences were similar to my own. Lorraine mentioned a mother’s first words to her relinquished daughter were: “I always thought you’d find me” (p.67). One of the earliest things my first mother said to me was: “I always knew you’d find me.” And when Lorraine described the long-term effects of relinquishment she wrote that unresolved grief, self-punishment and low self-esteem were among the most common difficulties (p.60). These, of course, are also issues that are found too frequently among the adoptee population as well. And describing the clandestine searching required under the closed adoption system as a mother-and-child reunion railroad (p.109) must have hit home for many searchers. When she wrote about how reunion at first seems so splendid but too often makes you feel as if you are swimming in a witches’ brew of eye of newt and toe of frog (p.156), I had to laugh. How many of us can relate to that? And many reunited adoptees and first mothers have felt the life raft of our relationship break apart again on the rocky shoals of divided loyalties (p.214).
I had previously written a post about how my life was dramatically altered by Lorraine’s first memoir, Birthmark. And I must admit that book packed a more powerful emotional punch for me than this second memoir did. But that is not surprising. When I read Birthmark I was in a very different place in my life. I read that memoir thinking, “Say what? You mean natural mothers didn’t all make a rational decision that they just didn’t want a child at that time in their lives and were freely giving them up? Well, turn everything I ever believed about adoption on its head and knock me over with a feather, why don’t you?” Now while I can’t say that Hole in My Heart has changed my life, I am grateful to have further details of the story filled in. I had come to like the people in this story, cared about them, and wanted to know more about what happened to them. I had begun to feel like I knew them. And in this newest memoir, from her bold statement that I know it sucks being adopted to not shying away from the long-term effects of adoption on the adoptee, my daughter, she was eternally sad (p.165), Lorraine demonstrated many, many times throughout that she is not only an advocate for natural parents but is an equally strong advocate for adoptees as well.
But moving from the personal to the political, I have to disagree with Ms. Dusky’s point of view that adoptees are the ones primarily responsible for opening the sealed records. It is the natural mothers (and fathers), after all, who put us in this position, and it is the first mother’s privacy that is supposedly being protected by our original birth certificates being sealed in the first place. Just as the slaves needed the white abolitionists and the early feminists of the 19th century needed men to fight beside them to change society and win their rights, first parents, especially mothers, must be there in large numbers, side by side with adoptees, to overturn this unjust denial of our civil rights.
I have no doubt that that the “choir” will be impressed with this latest offering from Ms. Dusky. But it is not the choir I am most concerned about. This book needs a wider readership. This is a book that tells it like it is, and its message needs to get out into popular culture to counterbalance the ever prevalent and simplistic “adoption is such a beautiful thing” gobbledygook that is so pervasive. So, here’s an idea: Why doesn’t every reader of this blog post, and of the memoir itself, contact one person in their circle, someone who is not a first parent or an adoptee, and encourage him or her to read this memoir? I think it will be well worth their time, and it may help your loved ones and acquaintances to better understand your personal experience with adoption.
Now, before I leave you, let me just mention one other thing. After finding her lost daughter, Lorraine finds herself thrilled, beyond words, actually, when she discovers that her daughter also wanted to find her. As she wrote, Now I see that my daughter needs to know me just as much as I need to know her (p.127). Well, that revelation came as no surprise to me, because, as most adoptees know, there’s a hole in our hearts too.