Akin to the Truth

Unknown-2Akin to the Truth is a memoir written by Paige Adams Strickland after reconnecting with her birth family. Throughout Paige’s childhood, her adoption is never kept a secret, but there is little discussion of any details. When she does ask her parents about her adoption, they tell her to “have gratitude and not fuss so much” because out of all the kids they could have chosen, she was “the one they fell in love with and picked.”

Although Paige yearns to know more about her birth family, she feels powerless to do anything about it. Afraid of being labeled an outsider or a freak, Paige keeps her adoption a secret from almost everyone.Like most adolescents, she wants to just blend in, and but as much as she tries to hide her adoption on the outside, she can’t deny it on the inside. As Paige continues to experience important milestones, the identity of her birth parents, especially her birth mother, becomes more important.

Every summer Paige and her family vacation in Florida, which eventually prompts her parents to relocate the family from Cincinnati to Saratoga. Paige says goodbye to her high school sweetheart, Scott, and enrolls at Manatee Junior College. Eventually she transfers from the Junior College to Florida State University and graduates with a degree in Multi-lingual/Multi-Cultural Education. Paige makes her way back to Cincinnati and Scott where they eventually marry, and she begins her career as a high school Spanish teacher.

The newlyweds settle into married life, and Paige sees that many of her friends around her are having babies, which makes her think about her own family and her missing pieces. With Scott’s encouragement, Paige takes the first step to getting the answers she’s always wanted. She writes the state of Ohio for her official adoption papers and begins lifting the veil that had kept her in the dark for so long.

Paige’s story helps readers understand the experience of an adoptee from childhood to adulthood. Paige never stopped yearning for the truth of who she was. Although she is at first motivated by knowing the truth more than she is finding her family, Paige finally gets the answers she was looking for. At the end of her journey, she is finally “free to walk, work, fly, or be anywhere without obsessing about who was who ever again.”

Read on for our interview!

I can relate to your avoidance of talking about your adoption, and you pretty much kept it a secret outside of a few close friends. Growing up, you wanted to take “amnesiac” breaks from your thoughts of adoption. When did you get to a point where it became natural to discuss your adoption?

It became more natural after I found birth relatives.  Then I felt I had something meaningful with honest answers to talk about.  As I met new people, I felt more at ease discussing what happened.  However, with old friends, it was still difficult to talk about because I’d been in such a habit of covering up for so many years.

Your adoption was considered closed as you had no option to contact your birth family, and the unknown information was a source of frustration for you. What are your views on the more open adoptions today?

I think if the adoptive and birth parents agree to it, it’s the best plan out there.  It’s the most honest form of adoption there is.

I cringed when you were assigned the family tree project in 7th grade. You turned in a project that was not “scientifically factual”, because admitting your adoption “was a potentially deadly move, especially in junior high school.” You also wrote that during this time “adoption made you feel like an outsider or a freak.” What would you say to a young person who is struggling with their identity because of adoption?

At some point you will have to come clean about who you are and who you might be.  For example, I knew my future husband had to know.  I would never have wanted to lie to my own children either.  If you are struggling because you aren’t satisfied with who you are or because you only know a “fall-back story” and you want more facts, then go search as much as you can.  Learn everything you possibly can. I felt that finding out who I was may have been more important than meeting the birth family.  Getting enough facts about how I started out in life was my first goal.  Meeting relatives was like getting bonus points or the game-winning grand-slam.

Towards the end of the novel, you start searching for your family. You waited until you were married and completely independent of your parents before you started searching. Do you think the timing helped or hurt your search?

Timing overall helped.  I was still a kid and would never have had the power to find and meet my birth mother.  She died too early on.  Had I procrastinated my search by more than a year, my birth mother’s former (widowed) husband would have sold the house and moved out of state.  I had one address from her death certificate.  Had he moved out of there, my letter might have come back to me, and I wouldn’t have been able to connect with my sisters.  In my case, timing was everything.

Like many families, yours had its share of secrets and lies. Did you feel any apprehension about writing a book that included some very personal details about your adoptive parents? How is your relationship with them today?

I had a lot of apprehension about writing about my adoptive parents. My Adoptive dad passed away in 1996, so I didn’t have him to deal with.  I don’t think this book would be out to the public if he were still living.  It would have been impossible unless I were to write it secretly and just wait for some day.  As for my adoptive mom, she has mixed feelings, but I made the decision to publish it and hope she would have enough understanding, like she did when I conducted my actual search.   My dad’s situation is no longer a secret, and hopefully readers will see my mom as a woman who came into her own, grew stronger and more independent because of what happened in their marriage.

How does your experience as an adoptee shape your role as a mother today?

I do the best I can to not be a “helicopter mom”, but I think I have more fears than most parents about my kids’ safety and being unintentionally exposed to harm.  My biggest fear, when they were very small and unable to speak for themselves, was that somehow,  we would become separated from one another. That may have to do with not just being adopted but because that did happen to my birth mother when she died young. I have tried to instill in both my girls a deep appreciation for their heritage(s) and who is who in our family.  My daughters are over 21 now, but I’ll never stop wanting to find enriching experiences to teach them or ways to protect them from wrong-doings. Oh, and as a pet “mom”, I adore my animals and feel for all homeless fur-babies.  I’d have a barnyard and a kennel if I had the resources!  LOL

Do you have any future projects? Will there be a follow up book?

I am in the process of compiling reflections and stories about my 30+ years in education.  It won’t be adoption-related so much.  I have thought about writing a sequel to Akin to the Truth.  Many people have asked about that, and I left the story open for that possibility.  I have written an “epilogue” of sorts, which equates to about 10 book pages, so obviously I have more work to do if I go in that direction.  My other writing related projects involve writing adoption-themed essays and entries for anthologies, which will help to promote my book and my name as an author in the adoption community.

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Paige Adam Strickland is an educator and writer and currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and two daughters. You can find out more about Paige on her blog at www.akintothetruth.squarespace.com

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Interview with Jody Cantrell Dyer

In my last post, I reviewed The Eye of Adoption by Jody Cantrell Dyer, and I also had the pleasure of interviewing her. Jody is just as personable and open in her interview as she comes across in the book, and she is honest about her struggles in order to help others. Read on for the interview!

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In parts of the book you describe your various methods of trying to conceive and the obstacles you faced – did you find it hard to be so transparent?

I wrote The Eye of Adoption to help, in a real, raw, way, families who are trying to conceive or adopt. I felt that transparency was key to meeting that goal. I wanted to be approachable, flat-out honest, and believable, so I gave details. Infertility treatments can be humiliating and costly, and I felt readers would appreciate me saying so. I was concerned I would offend someone who used IVF. It simply was not a healthy option for me financially, physically, or spiritually. Financially, I would have had to gamble smart by implanting at least two embryos. That would put them at a physical disadvantage because of my clotting disorder, “bumpy” uterus, and other issues. Finally, I did not want to “wonder” about any embryos left over. (I had good, plentiful eggs, so that was a true possibility). I didn’t spell all that out in the book because every woman’s body is different and I didn’t want to come across as judgmental. I tried to describe my treatments so that other women could relate, but not question their own decisions.

 You mention MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and the movie Juno made an impact on you during your adoption journey.  Do you think media depictions of adoption are accurate? 

I think that MTV did a much better job than Juno writers did. Of course, 16 & Pregnant is a reality show, but they could have edited to control the message. I would like to have seen some stats about adoption, abortion, and open adoption in the broadcasts. So many young girls watch that show—why not give them hope through details about agencies, adoption information, etc.? Catelynn and Tyler are wonderful advocates for adoption. You can see that, though they grieve, they are healing well and moving forward in healthy ways. I sent them a copy of my book and they loved it! They Tweeted me really sweet messages, as did their social worker, Dawn. I loved Juno. I felt that Jennifer Garner did a great job of capturing the desperation and emotion and sometimes business-like approach to adoption. What wasn’t realistic was her husband’s strange affection for Juno and Juno’s parents’ cavalier attitude toward losing their grandchild. Media has so much power. Unfortunately, most media messages (particularly in the entertainment industry), gloss over the heartache and stereotype birth parents and adoptive parents.

You struggled with your inability to conceive and others’ ability to do so quite easily. At one point, you joke with your doctor that “If I’m not pregnant in six months, I’m going to start smoking. If I’m not pregnant in a year, I’m doing meth. Smokers and drug addicts get pregnant.” All jokes aside, now that you have adopted Scotty, do you feel less resentful towards pregnant women?

Not being able to conceive is an incurable, frustrating loss. To be honest, I still look at pregnant women and think, “Please be humble and grateful and modest. So many women are struggling through gut-wrenching heartache to just be normal and be mothers.” I am happy when someone I know becomes pregnant, but I don’t think I’ll ever be completely cured of the hurt of not being able to have more children. I truly think that turning 40 helped me more than anything, i.e., I feel too old to have a baby now, so I don’t want to be pregnant! Adoption doesn’t cure that loss, but adoption does cure the longing for a child.

 On the topic of infertility, you called it “traumatic” and despised advice from anyone, including the popular “Just relax and you will get pregnant.” What is the best thing to say, if anything, to a woman or couple struggling with infertility? 

Ha! Amen! Unless you are an ob/gyn or fertility specialist, simply say, “I am sorry you are having trouble conceiving.” I urge people to help those going through any struggle by doing something specific. We can pray, donate money to the cause (treatments and adoption are expensive), give a gift that demonstrates faith but won’t be too sad for the recipient (a baby blanket, a photo album, diapers, a devotional, a massage, a gift basket). Any tangible token of love would be thoughtful. Basically, women struggling with infertility can feel isolated. What we need is friends who will listen without judgment or criticism.

 Your book is unique in that it includes many different perspectives of adoption. Your husband was adopted as an infant, and you thoughtfully include his story. Along with your own narrative, you also include an interview with Scotty’s birthmother, Kerri, at the end of the novel. Why was it important for you to include the different perspectives? 

One of my goals with The Eye of Adoption is to build kinship among the adoption triad (birth family, adoptive family, adoptees). Adoption is a dynamic, extremely complex “industry” and experience for all parties. Adoption has been mishandled so many times and I don’t think the general public really understands it even know. By sharing all the different views, I could illustrate the positive and negative aspects of adoption for all of us. Kerri wanted to dispel myths and communicate hope to adoptive parents and birth parents. Adoption situations are as unique as the individuals involved in each match. It is important that families are educated so that they make right decisions for their children. It is also important that family and friends read books like mine so they can empathize with and support loved ones struggling to conceive, adopt, or place a child.

You also share emails exchanged with Scotty’s birthfather Bryant. At one point, you and your husband flew him down to visit. Are you still close to Bryant, and how do you see Scotty and Bryant’s relationship in the future? 

We feel emotionally close to Bryant, but we don’t talk with him very often. Kerri does. She shares information and pictures with him every time we get together. Bryant is hoping to visit this summer. At this point, I have no idea what Bryant and Scotty’s relationship will be. Jeff and I speak of Bryant and Kerri with love and respect, so I think Scotty will feel love and respect for him. But, Bryant lives in Pennsylvania, so I don’t think they’ll be too close. Open adoption is open-ended. We’ll have to see how Scotty’s relationships evolve. We all agree that his mental and emotional well-being are the most important concern.

For anyone considering adoption, by either placing a child or welcoming a child, what would you tell them?

To birthparents, I say “Do what your heart tells you to do.” If you want to parent, parent. If you need help, work with an agency to help you secure the resources you need to maintain a healthy pregnancy and be a successful mother or father. If you are considering adoption, read as much as you can about all types of adoption and get as much counseling as you can from social workers and pastors. Talk to other birth parents who have placed. Pray for good judgment and peace of mind. Know that you can negotiate the adoption relationship that is best for you and your child. Know that adoptive parents appreciate, love, admire, and respect you more than you can ever imagine, and that many want a continued relationship.

To adoptive parents, I say, “Do what your heart tells you to do.” Be willing to spend every dime, every moment of time, every ounce of energy, and every bit of your heart on the beautiful, burdensome, blessing of adoption. You will question, doubt, worry, and suffer. You will also gain the spiritual education of a lifetime. I think adoption is the most intentional process in the human experience. Pay attention to the miracles that happen along the way and allow yourself to grieve and heal. No matter what happens, if you want to be a parent, keep moving forward and do not give up on your dream.

Do you anticipate a follow up book or other adoption books in the future?

Kerri and I have talked about writing a book together. We’d like to write something that ministers to birth parents. My mother tagged me a “compassionate humorist” and my friends have begged me for years to write a “funny book.” I am currently writing the funny book one chapter at a time through my blog, Theories: Size 12. Basically, the posts are weekly rough drafts of chapters (my editor’s idea). I have a few ideas and projects in the works, but they may take some time to complete because I teach full time, write for a local magazine, contribute guest posts to adoption blogs all over the country, and, of course, have two busy little boys. Whew! I love to write, and definitely like writing with the purpose of inspiring others, whether that’s through emotion or humor. I am thrilled and honored when appreciative readers say that The Eye of Adoption ministered to them or that my latest Theory made them laugh out loud. I want my work to affect others in a meaningful way.

To find out more about Jody Cantrell Dyer, you can visit www.jodydyer.com

 

Book Review: The Eye of Adoption

The Eye of Adoption by Jody Cantrell Dyer is a candid look at the process of open infant adoption. The book takes readers from the struggles of Jody and her husband to conceive to the finalization of their adoption, and the title is based on Jody’s experience that adoption is “a storm of faith, fear, paperwork, hurt, healing…devotion and hopefully, a delivery.”

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Jody tells her story in a way that seems down to earth and relatable. It feels at times that you are a friend sitting across the table from her at a coffee shop as she describes both the best and worst of the adoption process. The book begins with Jody’s description of the pregnancy and birth of her first child, Houston, and her struggle in the years that follow to conceive again. Jody is honest with how infertility strained her marriage, and how she and her husband arrived at adoption.

Jody explains how the MTV show Sixteen and Pregnant, among other programs, showed her that infant adoption was very much an option.  Inspired by Catelynn and Tyler’s open adoption from Season 1,  Jody watched and was “mesmerized and enlightened by the birthparents’ loving attitude toward the adoptive parents, and vice versa.” The show gave Jody hope, and gave a face to open adoptions.

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Brandon, Teresa, and baby Carly with birthparents Catelynn and Tyler from Sixteen and Pregnant

Throughout the book, Jody shares the tremendous loss felt when a match falls through, and her determination to have a baby. For anyone considering adoption, she lays out the specifics. There are detailed accounts of filling out endless paperwork, completing a home study with a social worker, and creating a family profile book.  And then there is the wait. In the waiting period, Jody and her husband have to deal with The Question (Have you heard anything yet?), and consider practical issues like when to set up a baby nursery.

Jody’s book is not just an adoptive mother’s account, but she also includes the story of her husband, Jeff, who was adopted in 1963 at 10 weeks old. Jeff’s story of adoption, which was shrouded in secrecy, contrasts the Dyer’s very open and transparent adoption today. There are also parts of the book that heartbreaking. The real and raw pain of a birthmother placing her son in adoption was difficult to read, but necessary in understanding the full scope of adoption.

Adoption is a family affair, and Jody also shares how Houston felt about welcoming a new member into their family, and how both sets of grandparents offered their support. Finally, Jody provides an interview at the end of the book with her son’s birthmother that gives readers an intimate look at the relationship between the two women. From start to finish, the The Eye of Adoption was engaging and informative, and it is a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about open adoption.