Laura Dennis was born in New Jersey and raised in Maryland, but she learned how to be a (sane) person in California, where she lost her mind and found it again in 2001. A professionally trained dancer, Laura gave up aches and pains and bloody feet in 2004 to become a stylish, sales director for a biotech startup. Then with two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality. Laura let Land of Gazillion Adoptees pick her brain.
What is your primary work, focus, or interest when it comes to the topic of adoption?
During my birth mother’s pregnancy, the private agency offered bi-monthly “counseling” sessions. Close to her due date, my birth mom asked the social worker if she would ever know if anything happened to her baby. The social worker looked at my birth mom like she was crazy.
The accepted wisdom at the time was that the young woman would forget about her baby, and since the baby was given to a loving family, it would bond and have a wonderful life. “It” was me, I’m a person, not something to be given away. I didn’t forget. She didn’t forget. We felt that loss.
When I reunited with my birth mom, the hole in my identity that I’d lived with was suddenly filled. That “accepted wisdom” was presumptuous and wrong. Overcoming the secrecy, correcting the misguided advice that everyone “get on with their lives,” are my primary interests when it comes to adoption.
Are you working for change in adoption? What are the positives and/or negatives that you see?
I’m still educating myself about the way adoption works today, so I can make informed suggestions as to what specific practices ought to be changed. However, I can say with certainty that I would advocate for reducing the need for adoption through 1. access to birth control, and 2. services to help young parents (and their extended families) keep their biological children.
Although some would like to argue otherwise, adult adoptees are still experiencing adoption, even if they were “just” given away in infancy. I would like change the secrecy and shame that led to the practice of closed adoption in the first place. This is one reason I’m so excited to be a part of The Lost Daughters (www.thelostdaughters.com), a writing project for adult women who were adopted as children. I write from the perspective of a mom raising biological children, working to integrate my extended family, and to find my place within it.
What your favorite adoption-related project that you’ve worked on, if any?
I’m new to the “adoption activist” role. I would say the biggest project I’ve completed so far would be publishing my memoir, Adopted Reality. My story describes the unwitting ramifications of closed adoption, and shares the amazing experience I had reuniting with my birth mom. Since I have struggled with bipolar disorder, I also attempted to show the troubling intersection of adoption and mental illness.
Many adoptees grow up to be “normal,” never struggling with the circumstances of their birth. I was not one of those people. My reunion in April 2001 with my birth mom changed my life, it caused me to question all of the decisions I’d made up to that point. It set in motion a series of life changes that ultimately led me into a bipolar delusion that I was a spy for the “evil” Illuminati who had unknowingly perpetrated 9/11.
In telling my story, I’ve been contacted by many adoptees who could relate to my experiences of questioning one’s identity, or who had struggled with mental illness and found strength in reading about my path to recovery.
Another result of publishing my memoir is that I’ve come in contact with a community of adoptees who are also writing about their experiences. What’s been the most interesting has been finding out that the feelings I’ve had about adoption—but kept inside because I thought I would sound ungrateful or petty, are actually real and justified. Seemingly little things, like how I always hated celebrating my birthday. Come to find out lots of adoptees feel that way. In contrast to non-adoptees, not only was the day of my birth filled with sorrow, it set in motion a series of life-altering events, starting with being raised by a stranger!
Do you have any favorite books, authors, speakers, or any other adoption-related person that you really admire? Tell us about that.
Reading The Declassified Adoptee has been an eye-opening experience. She writes from an unapologetic adoptee’s perspective, providing solid arguments to combat naysayers and overcome preconceived notions about living as an adult adoptee.
Before reading her blog, I took for granted the original birth certificate I have from the State of New Jersey, that has my original name and the name of my birth mother. My adopted birth certificate had always been what I considered “official.” To learn that others have to struggle for their OBS, and can’t get access to certain security clearances, for example … those are the things I’m talking about when I say I’m still educating myself.
Want to check out Laura’s memoir and read a thrilling, psychological adventure that brilliantly follows the ups and downs of bipolar and closed adoption? Visit her book’s website.