I’ve been a strong supporter of open adoption for many years. However, being in one has been a lot more difficult emotionally than any of us anticipated. I mentioned this in a blog post, and Jan Fishler, an adult adoptee and author, responded by sending me a copy of her book, Searching for Jane, Finding Myself, which centres on her search for her birthmother. She stressed that our open adoption was absolutely essential, and no adoptee should have to endure the sense of abandonment, shame and grief that plagued her until well into adulthood.
Jan’s debut novel is a raw, painful account of a girl growing up in the era of closed adoptions. It’s a memoir, a portrait of mid-century middle-class family life, and a riveting mystery with a surprising conclusion.
Baby Jan was placed for adoption with her Jewish parents in the 1940s and grew up in an emotionally repressed environment that shunned open communication. Her mother was meticulously turned out at all times, loved a strong drink, and smoked while ironing. While Jan knew she was adopted from a young age, her parents never talked to her about it, avoiding the subject completely as they had been advised by the agency. When young Jan got up the nerve to ask about her birthmother, her mother told her that she had died in childbirth. For years, Jan thought she was the cause of her mother’s death.
Here is a quote from Jan about the culture of closed adoption:
“The most insidious aspect of adoption is its invisibility. At the very heart of adoption is a world that can be permeated by loss, shaped by lies and deception, cloaked in shame and guilt, surrounded by abandonment, and shrouded by fear, anger, and grief.”
The ensuing years saw Jan jump from town to town and relationship to relationship filling her emptiness with alcohol and struggling with anxiety and depression always wondering who she was and where she came from. Years of therapy helped her cope, and she did marry and raise two children. But the hole inside her was always there.
While raising her two young children, Jan embarks on a wild goose chase to track down her birthmother full of potholes, wrong turns and bent signposts. Eventually, she makes headway leading to a series of shocking discoveries, which I won’t reveal because the ending is so remarkable.
I recommend this book to adoptees that have searched or are searching for their birthfamily, birthmothers, and anyone involved in an open or closed adoption. It serves as a potent reminder of the importance of knowing where you came from, for better or for worse. I also found it illuminating simply as an adult to think back on my own personal history and how it helped shape the person I am today.