Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: Hole in my Heart by Lorraine Dusky

For many decades we have been working toward a fundamental re-thinking of adoption.  The necessity of re-thinking adoption is based on the flaws of our cultural, legal and historical approaches to adoption.  We are culturally enveloped by an adoption savior mythology that often begins with the orphan and skips the fundamental facts of loss and disconnection involved in adoption---as though “orphans” were brought to adoptive parents by the proverbial stork.   We still are under a legal approach to adoption that treats the adoptee “as if” she or he had been born to the adoptive parents, with officially faked birth certificates---and unfortunately still in most states original records closed even to the adult adoptee.   We have the horrific heritage of the baby scoop era, when so many unmarried mothers were forced or pressured into giving up their children for adoption---a phenomenon increasingly acknowledged in many nations around the world.   

Lorraine Dusky’s newly published book is in part a mother’s gut-wrenching record of one of those baby-scoop era adoptions.  Dusky goes further, however, and takes the story into the intergenerational realm of reunion with her daughter, the complex relations that follow with her adult daughter and adoptive family, and what happens as her daughter also has a child.   I don’t want to give away any of the story, except to say that the part of the book dealing with post-reunion relationships is critically important.   This is not a book about “happily ever after” (although Lorraine herself is definitely a survivor).   This is a book in which everyone bears scars and seeks, not always with success, to overcome them.     The story quite frankly is sometimes very hard to read simply because it is so painful, and I admire Dusky’s courage in telling it.

Hole in my heart is appropriately subtitled as “a memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption.”  Indeed, adoption viewpoints have often been divided and stereotyped by triad identification.   The older adoption savior mythology has often been identified with adoptive parents.   First parents and adult adoptees often have been politically aligned in challenging that culturally dominant narrative.    Dusky’s memoir suggests, however, that equally important is the fault line between adoptees and first parents---and especially between adoptees and their mothers.   Most of us already know that reunions and the relationships that follow can be difficult.   Although Dusky of course is only giving us one particular story, her compelling narrative can give us increased insight into why those relationships are so difficult.   If we are going to re-vision adoption correctly, we badly need this kind of brutally honest narrative.

I was honored to be asked by Lorraine to write an endorsement for her book, and was pleased to do so.  Of course the point of the endorsement was to do so as an adoptive parent, to make it clear that this is not just a book for first parents and adoptees.    Indeed, as adoptive parents, Desiree and I helped arrange a very complicated reunion between our daughters and their mother and family in India.  While I personally believe in all-manner of openness in adoption—open records, open adoption, open communication among all triad members---I had already learned the hard way that there can be no “politically correct” set of expectations around post-reunion relationships.  They are complex and difficult because the separations and traumas that preceded them run so deep.   They are raw because they re-open scars, which does not make them any less important and necessary, but sometimes makes them painful even when they are healing.   Dusky’s book confirms what I have seen so often elsewhere---that the adoptee journey of discovery and identity operates according to rhythms that often clash with the desires and expectations of first parents, and that at least some adoptees have difficulty getting past a core anger against their mothers for not being there with them during their childhoods, no matter how good the explanations.       

Read Dusky’s book.   It is one of the antidotes to the simplistic adoption narratives we have been fed for too long.   But don’t stop there.   We need more stories like this.  Not everyone can and should tell their stories to the world, but we can at least tell them to one another.   Dusky gives us courage and honesty, which is a great gift and example.

David Smolin

1 comment:

  1. Hole in my Heart is indeed a great book, a much needed addition to adoption literature. I'm a birthmother and reviewed it on my blog:
    I hope everyone, with or without a connection to adoption will read it!