Tag Archives: foster care

The Memoir

1 Jul

For the past five+ years, many of my writer/editor friends have said to me more times than I can count, “you need to write a memoir.”  I can now safely (and happily) say, that I am.


The memoir, tentatively titled, What Took You So Long, is a work about adoption, foster care, and the exploration of self through the detritus (letters, photographs, emails, and recipes) of birthparents who are wholly absent — one through a tragic death, the other through choice.  It is a book that examines the notion that a person is not who they are as a result of biology alone, but the sum of the parts of nature and environment.  What Took You So Long is a work of exploring the delicate threads of a biological past wound in mythmaking and tragedy in order to find forgiveness and understanding for two imperfect birthparents.  Ultimately, it is a book about learning how to love two families and discovering one’s role in both.


I decided to finally write this memoir — and if you’ve been following me here, on Twitter, or on Facebook, you know a little of the story of my birthfather and the subsequent finding of my birth grand-parents — because in my research, I’ve found that the adoption narrative is lacking in scope.  There are a lot of books out there about adoption, but most of these are how-to books (how to adopt international children, specifically), or books on how to tell children they’re adopted (hint: don’t just shove a book at them and say, “Congratulations!  You’re adopted!”), and the like.  There are several good adoption narratives, specifically A.M. Homes’s The Mistress’s Daughter, Jeannette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and the lovely Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, and I’ve read them multiple times.  However, sadly, adoption memoirs are few and far between.  According to the Adoption Institute, there are “1.5 million adopted children in the United States, over 2% of all U.S. children,” and, I can safely say, nearly all of these children want to understand the answer to the proverbial questions, “where did I come from?” and “what makes me the way I am?”


I always knew I was adopted. There was never a moment where my parents called me into the kitchen, sat me down at the table, and said, Listen, we have something to tell you.  There was never a time when I was digging through my parents’ closet and found a box filled with adoption papers, a sheet identifying me as once having been someone else. They never hid it from me.  I sort of grew up always knowing.  I have heard so many adoption stories from people over the years and I feel that my story will help give voice to these more-common-than-you’d-think narratives.  This book is not only about adoption, of course, but about selfhood, discovery, identity, things that all people consider at one time or another in their lives.


I feel great about doing this.  I’ve been working on the memoir for such a long time “in my head,” that the book is almost writing itself.  I’ve written poems about it (in my first book, The Glass Crib), a handful of essays, and now have almost 1/3 of the memoir completed.


My birthfather’s mother has been so helpful in this process — giving me photographs, stories, letters, journals, my birthfather’s poetry, his death certificate from the US Coast Guard, and so much more.  Four years ago, I met her and my paternal grandfather (who died shortly thereafter).  Four years ago, my world changed.  I am so thankful.


There is grief in this — a sort of delayed mourning and yes, even anger — but also much joy.  This process has made me appreciate my adoptive family in a way that I hadn’t before.  It has also made me love, among other things, my little round nose, my laugh, and my Italian-Irish-Mexican heritage, which for so long had been a mystery to me.  For the first time in my life, I feel like I belong, and the place I belong to resides in two wonderful families.


I am also appreciative — and writing about — that I grew up in a family as unique as mine.  We were a foster family and I first came to my family as foster child (weighing a whopping 4lbs, 1.9 oz at birth due to my birthmother’s starvation to conceal her pregnancy) and wasn’t even adopted until I was almost two.  My life included helping to take care of all sorts of babies — a myriad of races, babies with cleft palates, babies who were blind, shaken babies, babies with holes in their tiny hearts.  I have gotten in contact, recently, with some of our previous foster babies, and am just so thrilled to have been a part of this special process.


I feel that with the writing of this book, that I am doing the work I need to be doing.  There are 1.5 million people out there who know what it means to be given up and then chosen to be part of a family.  Yes, my family is different: 8 children (5 biological and 3 adopted), but my experience as a foster child, an adopted person, and a foster sister, has helped me in immeasurable ways in the writing of this memoir.  Adoption is love, pure and simple.  It’s a struggle, it brings pain, confusion, marked identity disturbances, but overall, it’s love.  It is the love I want to encapsulate.  It is the love that takes you home, sits up with you at nights, gives you a new name, holds your hand, wipes your tears.  It is the love that makes you forgive the past.