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Late Discovery Adoptee and Original Mother, Carlynne Hershberger, Shares Experience Within Adoption Through Art & Writing

Carlynne Hershberger "Self Portrait"

Carlynne Hershberger “Self Portrait”

I first met Carlynne online when I started following her blog.  We connected on Facebook and have been friends for several years now.  I am excited to have one of Carlynne’s pieces on the cover of my soon-to-be-published book.  Carlynne did our interview.  This is what she had to say.

How do you identify?

I am a mother of 3, grandmother of 4 with #5 on the way, wife and artist. I’m also an author and art instructor with a studio in central Florida where I’ve lived for the last 40 years. I am a mother who lost a child to adoption and I’m also a step-parent adoptee. I had no idea about my status as an adoptee until I was 26 years old.

What is your primary work, focus, or interest when it comes to the topic of adoption?

The main thing I focus on with regards to adoption is getting the word out about the realities of the industry and what it means in people’s lives. Although my situation is different from adoptees who were adopted at birth and grew up with no connection to their natural families, I still feel like I got a double whammy when it comes to adoption. Although I was raised by the woman who gave birth to me it was still a shock to find out as an adult that my father was not my biological father. I lost an entire paternal history in one moment and that news can really turn your life upside down. Suddenly I was not only grieving the loss of my daughter but also the loss of who I thought I was. This knowledge came to me 6 years after losing my daughter to adoption.

There was a lot of secrecy surrounding adoption for me. My daughter’s adoption was in 1980 through Catholic Social Services and it was completely closed. I was expected to keep the secret of my daughter – even from my husband and the 2 children I had later (didn’t happen, I told them). The information about my natural father was kept a secret from me for 26 years even though everyone else in the family knew about it. As a result, for a very long time I felt truly alone with all this grief. Finally coming out of the adoption closet was only possible for me after searching and finding my daughter. We reunited in 2002 and the ability to have a relationship with her has given me the strength and reserve to open my mouth about these experiences.

Because of my own experience with the harm of not only adoption but of the secrecy surrounding it, I focus on how adoption affects mothers and children. So many people, when learning about adoption from the POV of the adoptee or the mother are really shocked by what they hear. It disturbs the happy story presented by the media and the industry.

Are you working for change in adoption?  What are the positives and/or negatives that you see?

I started a blog about adoption in 2010. I felt compelled to do this after seeing and reading others speaking out about it. It started out as something cathartic, something that could help me sort out my feelings about my own situation. I certainly never considered myself to be a writer. I’m an artist, a visual person so I was very nervous about it. Seeing the strength of so many mothers and adoptees helped me realize that I could put something out there and not be afraid.

After reuniting with my daughter I felt another level of emotion. It was like a new surge of grief that had never been acknowledged before. After seeing her childhood pictures and meeting her adoptive family I had to reckon myself with her childhood that was forever lost to me. During this time I also started reading more about the history of adoption, learning about the injustices that were done, learning about the coercion used on me, understanding more about my own adoption situation and my birth records, and I just couldn’t stay quiet anymore. I spent literally decades swallowing so much about adoption, hiding who I am and what I’ve experienced. The time came to start talking so, I kind of slid sideways into the activism role.

Because of the internet and the ability to connect with so many people a lot of doors and minds have been opened. It certainly has opened mine. Unfortunately, even with the network of so many people  it can be hard to get the point across. Adoption has been so glorified and such a large part of the culture for so long that people don’t want to see the damage that’s been done and continues to be done. You know there’s a long way to go when every time you open your mouth to criticize something in the adoption industry you get told you need help, you’re ignorant, you’re bitter and angry, and on and on. Just look at the TV show, I’m Having Their Baby – it takes exploitation to a whole new level. Myself and many others are writing to the network and sponsors of the show, commenting on the Facebook pages and articles. Of course we get blasted quite a bit and told we know nothing about adoption. That just makes me chuckle.

Sometimes it feels like what I do is less than a blip on the radar. It’s going to take many, many more people talking about it before society’s consciousness can shift toward a different way of thinking about caring for our children.

What your favorite adoption-related project that you’ve worked on, if any?

A couple of years ago, when I started the blog, I also started a sketchbook of ideas about images related to adoption. Being a painter I decided to combine the 2 things I’m very passionate about – art and adoption. Currently I have 11 pieces done and have put them together  with narrative poetry in a book called Silent Voices. It’s available in paperback or Kindle version on Amazon. Over the next few years I plan to continue the series so I’ll eventually have a revised edition with more work. Ultimately my goal is to have a traveling exhibition that can bring awareness to the subject.

Aside from the blog and the painting series I’m also on the board of Origins-USA where we’re working on education about the realities of adoption separation and supporting family preservation.

Do you have any favorite books, authors, speakers, or any other adoption-related person that you really admire?  Tell us about that.

The first book I read on the subject of adoption was Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away. I cried through the whole thing. Their stories were my story and it was the first time I felt I wasn’t alone. Of course since then, I’ve tried to fit in as much reading as possible – books and blogs. Some of my favorites…. historian Rickie Solinger, Claudia at Musings of the Lame, iAdoptee, Robin at Motherhood Deleted, Cassi at Adoption Truth, I just started reading Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier, Cedar at Adoption Critic, of course here… LGA and Amanda at The Declassified Adoptee. There are many others and hopefully the list will continue to grow as more people talk about this.

What do you have to say about adoption?

One thing I would like to spend more time on is our rights to our birth records. My daughter’s OBC is trapped in FL and mine is trapped in NJ. It still surprises me that in the year 2012 we have to fight for something so basic as a birth certificate.

Another issue that I like to emphasize about the industry itself is its current treatment of expectant mothers. There is still the perception that the era of coercion is over. This view is perpetuated by the notion that the BSE (baby scoop era) ended in 1973 when in fact it didn’t. The treatment of those mothers is exactly what happened to me in 1980. It happened to others later in that decade. The only thing that’s changed now is the coercion technique. Infant adoption is a baby selling business and I won’t stop talking about that until people get it and it stops or I die – whichever comes first.

Thank you to Carlynne for doing this interview!

Edit: visit Carlynne’s Amazon page to pick up a free copy for your e-reader on November 1st, the first day of National Adoption Awareness Month.

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.

1 Comment on Late Discovery Adoptee and Original Mother, Carlynne Hershberger, Shares Experience Within Adoption Through Art & Writing

  1. Thanks for the work you do to educate people, Carlynne. Every word you spoke about adoption resonated with me and my story. Adoption coercion is alive and well and needs to be exposed. Bravo!

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