Anne Heffron has written a memoir detailing how she believes having been relinquished and adopted has affected her life for those who are adopted, for adoptive parents and for the general public who are often curious and ask odd, if not inappropriate or uncomfortable questions.
She says she doesn’t think about adoption all the time:
“…but I do know that the fact that I am adopted comes into my mind every single day in one way or another…”
After all, how can you visit any health professional, and be asked your medical history and not think about being adopted? Or when you’re asked if you look like your mother or your father? Or where you get your athletic prowess, your sports ability, or writing talent from?
What is “real” is often questioned when you are adopted. Who are your “real” parents is a question often faced by those who are adopted. If the life you are living is not real, what is reality?
“…. we look different but we are still related. No, not by blood. No, not really related, but this isn’t something we talk about, you just need to play along. This is how adoption works: you acknowledge it but you also pretend that it didn’t happen…. [we are a family]. End of story….“
“You Don’t Look Adopted” by Anne Heffron is an insightful self-exploration of life as an adopted person. The author gives readers a deep, personal journey into her innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and confusion as she struggles to unravel her life and concepts of value, worth, and mattering.
Heffron writes with candor sprinkled with delightful metaphors.
“…it’s like you’re a car whose gas pedal is also the brake.”
“I was like the Easter Bunny without a basket or an arrow with no target.”
The result of feeling unwanted and unworthy wreaks havoc on many areas of Heffron’s life.
“Half the time I feel I will die of loneliness and the other half I feel I will die if I am not alone….”
“I spent my adult life pushing love away as vigorously as I have searched for it.”
Fear of failure – of not being “good enough” - paralyzed the author starting from an inability to cross the street to attend primary school, to being cast as Dorothy in a school performance of The Wizard of Oz and not being able to say the line “I want to go home”.
“If someone abandoned you, does that mean you are hardwired for abandonment, that it will be easier for you to leave things and people than for others it seemed that way for me…. I used to think the ability to walk away was my great strength, but I was learning it was greatest weakness. And yet I couldn’t seem to stop.”
It follows her as she drops out of one college after another, one job after another, failed romances, divorces and her longing to write a book. All of which she attributes to her feelings of having been abandoned by her first mother which translate to feelings of low self-worth.
“I was four people jammed into one: I was the me that my mom wanted; I was the me I would have been if my birth mother had kept me; I was the me I would have been if another family had adopted me; and I was the me that was just me. I couldn’t commit to one, and so I was a bit of all four, and thus made me unpredictable and unknowable both to those around me and to myself.”
Anne’s first call to the mother who gave her life is met with denial. “You were adopted by good people,” the woman said rather than ask if that was so. A year later Anne wrote to her and she admitted she was in fact Anne’s mother. Yet again, instead of asking, stated: “You have a good life. Please don’t contact me again.” They never met.
“You Don’t Look Adopted” (a title the author never explains) is brutally honest and written with a desire to help adoptees understand what drives many of them to self-destruct their lives. The push and pull of wanting to be loved and accepted and never feeling deserving. The need to reject before being rejected.
Heffron describes in great detail her fear that the mother who raised her, as well as boyfriends, husbands, her daughter and just about everyone in her life – will disappear - and her pattern of leaving them before they could (or would) leave her.
She felt a deep hole from her first mother having relinquished her, and clung with a fierce desperation to the replacement mother who she loved and emulated. A mother who cared for her and loved her.
“If the story of your origin is bad, that means so are you.”
Like many who are adopted, she notes that her adoptive mom “couldn’t bear to think about her “birth mother.”
“…I knew this as a child, as an adult, and so I talked about my birth mother as little as possible, but my birth mother was part of me, and so denying her was denying myself, and that meant that when my [adoptive] mother said she loved me, I knew she didn’t mean she loved all of me. She loved that part she considered hers.”
It’s interesting that despite all of Heffron’s efforts to reserve the word “mother” for the woman who raised her as opposed to the one who bore her … I caught these two very telling contradictions to her self-imposed rule:
“It’s hard not to take being given up by your mother personally.”
“When your own mother had decided to give you up, who knew what else could happen.”
Heffron wrote the book not just as a catharsis or to better understand herself, as she said on Facebook, to help them “find their voice”:
“More than anything, I want to encourage everyone to do the same. I have seen what happens to people's lives when they hide behind their fears and angers and their desire not to hurt others. People get sick. They drink. They get cancer and die. I think that's why I'm on the planet, to encourage people to write and live their truth.“
“You Don’t Look Adopted” is not merely a memoir as the title states because the author interjects conversations with adoptees and adoptive parents (though, none with parents who lost children to adoption.)
Adoptees will find a knowing aha and will perhaps discover that they’re not alone.
Adoptive parents may also find the book a helpful tool toward gaining a better understanding of the often silent inner turmoil of their adopted children and what might help them deal with the grief of loss and feelings of abandonment.
The book is available on Amazon.