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New Memoir “Adopted Reality:” My Interview With Author Laura Dennis

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.

About Amanda (22 Articles)
Amanda serves the adoption and foster care communities through individual and family clinical work, group work, writing and presenting, and policy advocacy. Her writing and presentations reach broad audiences through multiple books, magazines, news and radio interviews, and conferences, and she has engaged legislators at the state and congressional levels. Her writing and work focuses on the experience of being adopted, intersecting social justice issues, and adoption community centered & initiated movement toward positive change. Amanda is a Yahoo!Voices featured mom activist and is listed in the Top 20 Adoption blogs by Adoptive Families Magazine.

7 Comments on New Memoir “Adopted Reality:” My Interview With Author Laura Dennis

  1. Love what you have to say here, Laura!

  2. Well, I thought “awesome” until I hit this sentence: <>

    Huh? What does that mean?

    Someone(s) certainly *knowingly* pulled off 9/11. There was nothing “unknowing” about whoever did it. Thinking that means you are suffering from a delusion? Also, a delusion that you are a spy? With the technology that is around, being a spy and not totally knowing it could happen in “real life” as well very easily … Does possibly being a spy and having levels of your consciousness confused about it mean you are mentally ill? Does thinking this at all (if true) mean you are “mentally ill”?

    I think that line of thought is a very dangerous avenue to go down —> adoptee = “conspiracy theorist” = mentally ill.

    It is true that being an adoptee taught me a specific lesson very early in life — that you can never fully trust another person, and no matter how important/special the relationship, it can (and maybe will) be tossed aside cavalierly. When my mother abandoned me, I knew there must be a reason (if she didn’t die), and so I sensed that there was trouble and the world can be a very unfriendly and unsafe place.

    I mean, after all, there is the old saying, “If you can’t trust your mother, who can you trust?!”

    Does learning this so profoundly and early lead one to be more likely to see conspiracies in the world? Are adoptees more likely to think critically and/or be theorists about cultural/social patterns? I wonder.

    However, combining such aspects in such a memoir in such a way worries me. Is it an effort to sway public opinion?. Most people will not read the book and that is all they will see.

    I hope this memoir is in good faith and not an attempt at manipulation or any type of maligning – of adoptees or the people in our society that think outside the box -, or even associating valid questions about reality with mental illness.

    • Free Thinker,

      I cannot speak for Laura but I would like to point out two things.

      Several times in the above interview, Laura disclosed that she has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder which caused her to experience a period of altered reality which occured the same time as the 9/11 event. As to what indicates whether or not she is mentally ill is up to Laura and her mental health providers to determine. At no point in the interview did I feel she was equating adoptees as conspiracy theorists or mentally ill–she does make a point to state that many adoptees do not share her experience at all.

      Per the context of her statement, she was also not saying that 9/11 was done “unknowingly.” Again, she was explaining her perception of the events that transpired that day as she remembers them during a point in her life when she was in very poor mental health.

  3. Thanks, Free Thinker for contributing your thoughts to the conversation. And, I agree with everything Amanda has said to clairfy my comments. I’m glad we can discuss this, because mentioning mental illness in the adoption community is a very tricky subject. Just because adoption can be traumatic, doesn’t mean that all adoptees are at risk for mental illness.

    But that’s what’s so great about memoir: My story is not a peer-reviewed scientific paper, it’s the experience of one adoptee who went through something traumatic and, well, lived to tell the tale. And isn’t that part of what adoptee activism is about? Even if we don’t have the same adoptee experiences, we can learn from one another.

    People have been surprised that I remember so much of my bipolar breakdown, and that story was something I wanted to relate to my audience. It’s the merging of reality and delusion, it’s what the brain does when it’s overloaded with information and lack of sleep. It’s the fact that I felt guilty about abandoning my adopted family in their time of need (when my uncle was killed in Tower 1), and so my DELUSION was that I was in fact guilty of 9/11. See? My manic brain made a delusional connection. Don’t worry, I’m okay now!

    It’s not about equating adoptees with conspiracy theorists with craziness. Quite the contrary. Explaining the circumstances that led to my breakdown could take up a whole book … And they did!

  4. Very interesting – thank you.

    I think we (adoptees) should be very aware of not shying away from talking about any subject that might “hurt” perceptions of adoptees. If we shy away we are doing exactly what the “Adoption Community” does to any Adult Adoptee who wishes to see changes in adoption – saying they are “Hurting” adoption by speaking negatively about it.

    “Hurt” is not the right word so please don’t latch on it but I cannot come up with a term right now that is better.

    Hopefully that made sense.

  5. Tao,

    Thanks so much for your comments. It’s true, we have to try to come up with ways to talk about “touchy” issues, and try not to get too upset when others say they’re offended. For me, it’s important that I come from an authentic perspective, and make sure my comments aren’t vindictive. Certain family members have been upset by different sentences (yes! just a sentence)in my book, the way I portrayed this or that person. But I know that I wrote with honesty, and I wrote from my perspective as I saw things at the time. So, I stand by my work. Thanks for reminding us to stand up for our beliefs!

    Laura

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