Mother, blog writer, my friend, regular commenter on this blog and author, Denise Roessle, was kind enough to talk with me about her recently released memoir Second-Chance Mother. As noted on the books website, Second-Chance Mother is a multi-generational adoption saga that follows Denise into the black hole of lost time, connection and self-worth, as she struggles to restore the bond with her son, discover her own mother’s secret past, and revive the authentic self she’d left behind after surrendering her only child. The book is scheduled for release by Red Willow Digital Press— as an e-book and trade paperback. The e-book can be purchased today via Amazon or at the Smashwords site.
Your story, memoir, is a deeply personal and perhaps even a controversial one. Have any of the individuals mentioned in the book read it yet? If so, what was their reaction? Did you have them read it in advance?
My sister and brother read an early draft, as did most of the friends who are mentioned. Also my Auntie Em and Cousin Pam. No one had a problem with it, except my brother, who said if I published it, “people will be hurt.” (I’m sure he meant our parents, since the book is explicit about their role in my relinquishment. My mother has since passed away.) I told him people had already been hurt. I offered it to my father and my son, and they both declined. My son said, “You know I don’t like to read” and “you can say anything you want about me, I don’t care.” I think I portrayed everyone honestly, without invading their privacy.
(If there is anyone you are particularly curious about their reaction, let me know and I will address it. One of my concerns is that my grandchildren not read it until they are older.)
The challenges you experienced and shared in your book are not uncommon in adoption reunion. Many mothers have found their children to have lived lives far from what the adoption machine promised. What advice would you give to mothers who find themselves in reunions similar to yours?
Expectations can be very detrimental. But I believe that everyone in reunion has them — my mother will be like this, my child will be like that. Or maybe it’s just hope. That we will fit together naturally, like missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. If only that were so.
In 1970, I bought into the whole adoption package, believed that my son would be better off without me when I relinquished him. Or maybe I just wanted to believe because that was where it was going, i.e., not my choice. Although I can’t be certain that I could have done better as his mother, given my flaky 19-year-old self at the time, I am absolutely sure that separation from me and his family of origin affected my son in huge ways. I think that’s obvious in the book. I’ve given it much thought and I can’t simply blame it on his adoptive parents, how they raised or treated him. In my humble and un-medical opinion, he is the poster child for separation anxiety, the best example of the primal wounded.
That being said, try to set aside your expectations. Be open to what you find and do your best to accept and love what is. Instead of fighting it, trying to change or fix it (I did that in spades). Again, that being said, set boundaries early on. If you’re like I was, that’s hard; you may never have set them before, been afraid to, lest you lose someone you love. Don’t wait until you’ve been emotionally trampled to step up.
Slow down. Think, even though that’s the hardest thing when you’re in this situation. Find a support group or therapist. Don’t go in alone. Talk to trusted friends. Write in a journal. Visit blogs like Suz’s. Whatever it takes to keep your head when your heart is in the lead.
What advice would you give to expectant mothers considering adoption?
Don’t do it. Find a way to keep your baby. Unless you are honestly unwilling/unable to parent and have no family members who could step in and help raise your child. Ask for help, find support and don’t listen to social workers, adoption agency staff, adoption attorneys, or whoever. Seek the advice of mothers who have relinquished children. This is a life-altering decision. The repercussions, to both you and your child, are not likely going to be worth it. The mother-child bond, while strong, can’t always be restored, at least not with any degree of normalcy. Also, keep in mind that if you are offered the “open adoption” option, these are not generally legally enforceable. If the adoptive parents change their mind, they can cut you off in a heartbeat and disappear.
There are individuals in the adoption reform movement that object to anyone making money off of adoption, selling their story, making money off of their child’s story. What would you say to them?
I won’t likely make any money from my book. Few authors do, unless they become best sellers, which is not likely in this case. Most people don’t want to hear depressing adoption stories. They want to believe adoption is all hearts and flowers. I shared my story to educate the public, help other mothers, adoptees, and perhaps even adoptive parents who are open to understanding the truth about adoption, not to make the big bucks.
Did you ever have any contact (verbal, written) with your son’s adoptive father?
No. I wrote to him once, early in my reunion, without judgment even though my son had told me about his upbringing. I was hoping for photos (since my son had none from his childhood) as well as information. He didn’t respond. A few years later, I tried to locate him and call, but he had passed away. I don’t know how he would have reacted if I’d reached him. Still, I wish I had, that I could get some confirmation (or another side to the story) about my son’s childhood.
Did you change the names of any of the characters in your story to protect them?
Yes. Not all, but some.
Is there a single, specific, message in your memoir that you want readers to grasp?
I want people to understand the life-altering impacts of mother/child separation, to think in terms of family preservation. I don’t want to discourage search and reunion, even though my story addresses some problems and outcomes that may occur. I hope that adoptees who read it will gain an understanding of what their mothers went through, that they did and do love them, and that mothers searching or in reunion will learn from my mistakes. And heck yeah, I made a lot of them. I cannot say often enough how difficult it is to think straight when you’re in this extremely emotional situation.
How did you find your editor? Your agent?
I am an aggressive marketer. That was my profession. You have to be aggressive — shoot for the top agents and publishers and then work your way down the list. Write a great query letter and a stunning first chapter. Then, be prepared for rejection. It’s not personal. Publishing is a harsh and competitive business. They’re looking for the next star, best-seller. Remember that even if you get published, and even with a major publisher, in this day and age promotion will be up to you. Knowing and accepting that, you might consider self-publishing. At least your story is out there, plus you have a lot more control over the timing, cover design, etc. than you will with a traditional publisher.
Do you have plans to write another book?
I’m working on a novel, semi-autobiographical, a story from my hippie days in the seventies. Although I’ve put it aside to focus on the release of “Second-Chance Mother.” Pretty much everything that I write has some basis in my life experiences. I wish I had the gift of making stuff up!
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book? I realize you cannot change your life story per se, but anything you might have left out, or put in?
No. It took me so many years to finish, rewrite after rewrite, that I had to let it go. This kind of story never ends. Where to stop? Because it changes every day, week, year. I stopped where I did, on a hopeful note, about seven years into our 15 year reunion, because otherwise it would never be finished. Hence, the need for the epilogue.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Reaching deep into the experience, the painful memories, of losing my child and the aftermath. When editors and peer readers read my early drafts, they accused me of holding the reader at arm’s length, not going far enough, being completely honest. I worked through it and I think achieved a pretty gut-wrenching honesty. At a seminar with Dorothy Allison, one of my favorite authors (Bastard Out of Carolina), I told her about having to go to bed and cry regularly while writing the book, and she responded that if that happens, then you’re doing something right. I believe she was correct. If it doesn’t hurt to talk or write about it, then you aren’t there yet.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just do it. Write your story. Empty your mind and your soul. Don’t worry that it’s a “shitty first draft” (as they say). Get it on paper or on screen, then let it sit. Put it aside for a month or two. Then go back and edit. Once you’re satisfied with it, let peer readers look it over, or join a critique group. Finally, hire a professional editor. Because ultimately, you are too close to it to see any flaws.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I started this book during the full blush of reunion. I thought it would be cathartic. And it was. But it didn’t heal me from the experience of losing my child, nor do I think it would have even if our reunion had gone better than it has. Ultimately, it became about sharing and helping others who find themselves in a situation like mine.Reunionis hard. I’ve never heard a “perfect” reunion story. I’d like other mothers, adoptees and the general public to know that it’s a struggle. Again, not to discourage. Because knowing — for a mother, but I think adoptees as well — even if what you find isn’t great, is better than not knowing.