Adoptee Author Interview: Christine Murphy

A few weeks back a Facebook adoptee friend recommended the reading of Taking Down the Wall by Christine Warmus Murphy. The recommendation had popped up several times in different places during that same week and I took it as a sign I should read.  I am so glad I did.

Without question this is one of my favorite adoption memoirs to date (and I have read many).  I want to cite the many wonderful things I found in the book yet at the same time I do not want to color any one else’s reading of it.  Ultimately what I appreciated most was the author’s raw honesty, self-awareness and willingness (and ability) to share with readers the very complex emotions of a found adoptee.  In my opinion, this book really is a must read for mothers that have been rejected/limbo’ed/refused/insert your own word here in reunion.

I also want to offer that I realize reading and enjoying a book is rooted in not only the author’s story and skill but in the reader, as in, me.  Years ago I read Ithaka and disliked it. I also read The Mistresses Daughter and disliked that.  Yet I read Found by Jennifer Lauck and enjoyed as much as did Christine Murphy’s story. Each of these books was read by me at different stages of my own reunion and ultimately, recovery from adoption trauma. It is not lost on me that I read the books through the lens of my own experience and that effects my interpretation.  But enough about me.  Let’s chat with Christine (and when we are done go by the book here).

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You are a busy working mom.  How did you find the time to write a book?  Can you share your process? When you found the time, how you organized it, went about publishing?

The writing of the book was really a purge. It took me a lifetime to live the experiences but only 18 days to type the book. Yes, 18 days. I had so many friends and family telling me to write it all down and I finally agreed. I spent a couple weeks just drafting a timeline of events. I had journals and lots of emails so I referred to them frequently. Then one day I decided it was time to start typing and 18 days later I felt I was “done”. I typed at night, usually 4-5 hours at a time. I sent the new material each morning to a few friends for their review. I searched online about self publishing and made a few inquiries. I eventually settled on a company named Xlibris. I chose a middle of the road package in terms of cost. I spent about a month or so after I was “done” writing doing some editing. My adoptive sister is a writer so I asked for her help as well as a family friend who is an English teacher. I submitted the finished project in late September and had the first book in my hand two months later.

I was very moved by Danny’s story.  As a mother having surrendered her first born child to adoption, I found myself wondering if your family ever considered finding Danny first family to tell them he had passed.  Mothers like me spend our days looking, wanting, and wondering about our children.  I could not help but feel for not only you and your family but Danny’s first family as well. I worry his mother is out there looking for him or hoping he will find her.

Danny’s loss was such a shock. In the initial days, weeks and months I didn’t think about much other than making sure my immediate family was surviving. My natural brother asked me immediately if I was going to find Danny’s family but I didn’t think I had it in me to do it. Months after his death I found out Danny had put his information on a search site. If someone were to google his birthdate and “adoptee” it would bring you to the search site and it lists his full adopted name. If someone googled his adoptive name it would lead to the obit and my name, my parents names and my sister’s name. At this point in time I do not have a plan to search on his behalf. If someone ever contacted me for information, I would provide all I could. I do think of his mother and what she may be feeling. I have reached out to two children he had (but was not raising) in the hopes of providing some information to them. It has been enough on most days to handle my own situation. So while I don’t have an intention to engage in a search now, I don’t know what the future will bring.

I was unsure if your adoptive mother was really on board with the reunion.  You seemed to be unsure of her feelings, always protecting them (like most adoptees do). I was left with a confused feeling that caused me to wonder if Mom was really on board.

I think all human beings by nature are insecure people. So I think my mom was on board as much as she possibly could have been. My own hesitancy may have actually led to hers. Mom was willing to invite Diane over for dinner on that very first day, I was the one who couldn’t handle it. So sometimes I think when there was any hesitation on her part, it might have been out of concern for me. My mom referred to Diane as my “mother” right from the start. Never birthmother or natural mother, just mother. She knew another woman (Diane) had given birth to me and my mom never pretended otherwise.

Yes I think adoptees frequently feel protective of their adoptive families. It’s what we know and thoughts about it somehow changing can be uncomfortable and scary. I didn’t understand in my younger days, or when Diane found me, or even 7 years ago when I pursued reunion about inner child work and how it influenced my thinking. I ask people all the time to think about separation, adoption and reunion from the perspective of a 6-7 year old child and think about how confusing  and scary it is to understand. A young child doesn’t understand things the way adults do.

I do not recall if you mentioned your paternal father in the book. Did you know about him at the time you wrote it and chose to omit or did that information come afterward?

I knew his name from the time Diane found me but within a day or two I learned he had passed away years before. So he didn’t really play into the early years of being found or reunion. He had moved away not long after I was born and did not learn of me until I was about 1 year old. To my knowledge he never told his family. He was significantly older and had other children all older than me. I have since met 3 of them and those stories will be included in the next book. Those meetings and relationships have been challenging.

What advice would you give to someone considering writing an adoption memoir?

I would tell someone to write from the heart. Over and over the comment I hear most is that people, as they read, feel as if I am sitting with them and telling the story. They hear my “voice”. I encourage people to be respectful, you really never know who might read the story. It’s possible to be honest and forthright without being petty and mean.

Did you write your book during the reunion process or afterwards? I was so struck by your intense self-awareness and raw honesty.   Is that a trait you have always possessed or was it refined following reunion? Seriously. It is very impressive. I compare your book to A.M. Homes “The Mistresses Daughter” and Sarah Saffian “Ithaka”.  Drastically different tone and level of awareness of the complexity of adoption.

Diane found me in August 1992. It was April 2007 when I called her to let her know I was trying to sort out my feelings. (In between had been a handful of letters but no phone calls or meetings). We met a couple months later and I wrote the book about a year after we met. I think I have always been insightful when it came to subjects other than my adoption or reunion. I definitely had a block when it came to those subjects. I was lucky to find a great therapist, some great books to read and supportive family and friends. The self awareness and honesty came slowly and painfully. I read “Ithaka” when it came out and found comfort in someone voicing similar feelings to my own.

Silly question but do you look like Diane?

Diane and I have the same shape and color eyes. We are both short. Only recently did I see a high school picture of my father and I see similarity there as well. I actually look a great deal like my adoptive father so I was not an adoptee who looked vastly different. That being said, if someone pointed out that I looked like my dad I was very quick to say, “That’s funny because I am adopted.” Danny had brown eyes like our adoptive mom but he was significantly taller than our parents. I don’t know if he ever felt out of place in that way, we rarely discussed being adopted.

 My own children look very much alike. So even though I have many natural siblings (7 in total), we are not full siblings and I don’t feel I look a great deal like any of them. A few similarities here and there but nothing where someone would stop me on the street and say, “Are you related to so and so.” (That happened to my son just a week ago in a doctor’s office. A nurse came out into the waiting room and asked if he was related to my daughter. When he confirmed it she said, “I knew it! you look so alike.”)

Diane seemed so reserved, considerate and restrained.  Was this the case or is it just my interpretation?

In retrospect I agree with each of those descriptors. At the time, as I was going through it, and as I struggled it didn’t feel that way. Each phone call or letter or question felt invasive. That spoke more about my lack of healing than her personality.

Did Diane have much adoption reunion “education” before finding you?  Going back on my reference about her apparent respect, restraints, etc. I wonder if this was a result of knowledge she gained before finding you or her inherent personality?

Diane had been a part of support groups and had read many books. We have discussed this and she admits that in the support groups they mostly discussed searching, very little about the emotions associated with the trauma of separation. I have read some books a few times over and what I took away the first time was different than subsequent times. I think she frequently took away the positive and encouraging aspects, not considering that her finding me would be shocking or upsetting.

 We attended a weekend retreat together two years ago. It was enlightening for us both and was perhaps the first time she dealt with some of her feelings from 40+ years before. With respect, I would offer that her restraint comes from more of a place of not being able to assert herself, placing her needs behind those of others. I would think like so many other women who have been though similar trauma, restraint is somewhat based about low self esteem and self worth.

Diane’s restraint was (and is) based in fear. My silence and difficulty with reunion have caused her to question every word and every action for fear that I will go silent again. I take no pleasure in this and it honestly causes me great sadness. This is where it is so important to understand that someone’s difficulty with reunion is not personal. It was difficulty with the trauma and the aftermath of the trauma.

From an outside perspective (and for me in retrospect) Diane was very restrained. At the time though, I describe our interactions from 7 years ago similar to being proposed to on a blind date. I was just not in the same emotional space she was in.

What advice would you give to mothers like me that have been rejected/refused/limbo’ed in reunion?

The one thing I try to share is that I never felt that I rejected Diane or reunion. I just wasn’t ready to accept. In my mind they are different, I know to others it might be one and the same. I would suggest finding support whether it be online or in person, preferably with someone trained in adoption related PTSD issues. Continue to work on your own feelings regarding the pregnancy, how it happened, how family and friends reacted, the loss and what happened after. I have talked to so many mothers who aren’t able to see how difficult feelings from the past influence behaviors of today. (Grief blinds us in my opinion. I couldn’t see how my feelings influenced my behaviors either.)

I would say try to keep the communication open. A short card or letter every few months. It was ultimately a birthday card from Diane that had me back at therapy to try to figure out why I couldn’t face reunion.

I would offer to keep things light at first. The first letter Diane sent in 1992 was 6 pages front and back. Way too much to take in at first. As mothers, you have a different knowledge than we do. My adoption was a closed, sealed record. It never occurred to me that I could be found. Diane thought of it continuously. I frequently say to her….you have a 37 year head start on me in terms of desire for reunion.

I know the last thing anyone wants to hear is….don’t take it personal. Even if someone made it personal, I would be willing to bet it still isn’t. If Diane had moved in down the street from me and I didn’t know who she was, I am certain we would have been friendly to each other. She is a church going, pie making, quilt making, nice lady. I am a church going, hard working, outgoing, nice lady. What happened to have things go so awry?? Trauma. We were each traumatized and the trauma involved each other. We each had to learn to deal with the trauma, I would dare say the hardest thing I have ever done, can’t speak for Diane on that front but I would guess the same. Going through it is enough, but to process it all these years later and try to heal….very hard work.

Finally, how are you and Diane today? Better, worse or about the same?

Things with Diane are better. We have both worked hard individually and together to come to better understanding. I have always said my relationship with her is a work in progress and it probably always will be. Reunion is complicated. Human emotions are complicated. If it were only Diane and I that we had to contend with perhaps it would be easier, but there are siblings, spouses, parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends too. Nothing happens in a vacuum, least of all reunion. As difficult as things were when she first found me and for all the years later, I think we are in a pretty good spot now. What does that look like? We talk on the phone once or twice a month. We see each other every couple of months. We text or email several times per month. Is there room for improvement? Of course. I would say that about every relationship in my life, my spouse, my children, my siblings….room for improvement in all those relationships. I think society puts too much pressure on reunions to be perfect and “clean”. Life is messy. Reunion unearths so many feelings and some are really challenging. Grief, sadness and shame are tough to shake. It takes work.

One more finally, when can we expect the next book?

I have started the second book a few times already. It is much harder this time around. My adoptive mom passed suddenly and unexpectedly in feb 2009. Writing about that will be hard. I do really want to write another book because I want people to know I moved beyond where I was at the end of the first book. Healing continues…..and I want people to know that.

5 Thoughts.

  1. Started reading this book when you were across the pond :), got half way through and have not been able to continue. Painful and so close to what I believe is the truth in my “reunion” (if you can call it that). I have made the decision to continue reading as Mother’s Day marks a year since my daughters rejection message. Thank you for further understanding with this interview. XOXO

  2. This afternoon. I read the interview you shared with Christine, and would like to
    recognize her marvelous way of expression. I can say that the strength of her writing is the continual work she does. I am her mother by birth and did plan and dream all her life of reunion. We are more today than yesterday.. the journey did have some hard turns but we are both still going forward.The open and honest

    • Diane! Thank you for visiting and for commenting! As you likely read I really appreciate your daughter sharing your story. Love and hugs to you both.

  3. Christine and I can say that trust is a constant goal toward yourself and toward each other. I feel such a love for her as the child I carried and lost through adoption..to developing an deep love for her as a woman who is opening her heart to mine. Before meeting each other we each had a projected image of the other . Gradual the real people we are learn the strength that is within the other.. The questions you posted were ones that target specific conditions faced by reunion. Others who are beginning a journey in hopes in finding the mother/child relationship. Thank you for helping other be aware of what can be so m e aspects of what may transcend as they proceed. Have a nice day.

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