Tag Archives: adoption

Interview: Tish Cohen & The Search Angel

In the theme of adoption as it shows up in fiction, I’m continuing my interview series with authors whose novels touch the world of adoption.

TISH COHEN‘s The Search Angel  (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) releases in July 2013. She’s the bestselling author of both YA and adult novels, including The Truth About Delilah Blue, Inside Out Girl and Commonwealth Writers Prize finalist, Town House. The last two works have been optioned for film.

At what point in your novel process did you know you’d want one of your themes and character(s) touched by adoption?

With The Search Angel, I actually had fully formed characters in my head before I had a theme. My protagonist, Eleanor Sweet, went from being a suicidal librarian to the infertile owner of Boston’s finest baby store after a family member went through the process of looking for her birth parents. This person’s story was particularly poignant to me because what she learned about her birth family was not at all what she expected.

I then became obsessed with the entire adoption process and what each person involved might experience. Can the adopted child ever truly understand her birth mother’s choice? How does the birth mother cope with her choice years later, especially after having subsequent children? What about the adoptive parents—what fears and worries might they face?

As I went further along in my research, I became fascinated by search angels—individuals who dedicate much of their lives to reunite people with their birth families. Search angels have often given up a child of their own and help search when the state or province can no longer be of help. Typically, search angels work for free. That anyone could be so generous has touched my heart in a big way.

So while The Search Angel is about adoption, even more it is about the relationship between Eleanor Sweet and her search angel, Isabelle Santos, and about sometimes families take unexpected forms.

How does anything in your personal or professional life influence the use of adoption in your novel?

I’ve always been fascinated by relationships in which a person’s attachment bond has been severed at some point in childhood. A mother’s decision to give up her baby seems as big a choice as one can make. The lives of everyone involved would ripple with aftershocks from that day forward. I had to explore that.

Also, as I mentioned above, a close family member started the search for her own birth mother when her own child’s health required in-depth family history. What she found was not at all what she expected. There was joy, yes. But there was also a great deal of pain and a truth she never could have foreseen. It was almost as if she faced being given up a second time.

If you’re not touched by adoption in your immediate family, or even if you are, how much, if any, did you feel the need to research adoption?

Aside from the family member I mentioned above, I do have several close friends whose lives have been touched by adoption and all were generous enough to share their experiences. I also spoke to women who have given up infants and read every real-life adoption story I could find, whether in book form or on online adoption support forums. The very best part of my research was speaking to a search angel. Her insight shaped the entire book.

Why adoption? Why this as a life force in your novel and characters?

To give up your own child seems to me the most unselfish thing a parent can do. The decision would be exquisitely painful and complicated. All of my novels so far have featured at least one decision with lifelong effects and I don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

 

The Mother Who Waited

The week of Thanksgiving, and I pause to recall the five days of solitude I took years ago at a retreat run by Franciscan nuns. I also joined them in their vow of silence for those days.

I committed myself to frequent silent retreats then, to write with more seriousness, by now relieved to end my long-lasting rebellion against my parents and their careers, both English professors and writers.

This particular retreat, in the dead of winter in Wisconsin woods, landed me in a one-room cabin heated by a wood stove. I’m a city girl and had to learn how to keep the wood dry and ready to stoke the fire. I loved the challenge, and rather than write that week, I meditated about my mother and our battle of a relationship.

This is the mother who endured a few decades of my rejection as I reminded her she wasn’t my “real” mother. This is the mother whom I plotted to gas to death, and also the woman whose face my fist grazed before it punctured sheet rock, my every bone shattered in my right hand.

This is the mother who stood by me no matter what, the mother who waited, as did my father, for me to come out the other side of hate, fury, and pain.

My parents adopted me around three or four from foster care. Before foster care I’d spent a year with my other mother in prison. When authorities removed me around age one, I unconsciously held out for over twenty-five years for my prison mother to “come get me,” held out without knowing it.

Fast forward through a disturbed childhood and a more troubled life as a teen and adult, a life of drugs, crime, and violence. When my mother was in her 70s and I was thirty-something, I finally “hired” her as my Mother. At last the girl my parents adopted, turned into their daughter.

This is the mother I never mention on-line. I don’t Tweet about her, or blog with stories about us (the way I do about my prison mother.) Not exactly a Facebook status update kind of woman.

At last I learned to release the past, to accept what I imagined for years would never happen — my return to live in prison with my other mother. At last I opened my heart to the woman who loved me day in and day out, even when, and probably especially when, I’d been estranged and absent for years.

Along with acceptance, gratitude replaced anger. Compassion and forgiveness healed our wounds. I learned the art of forgiving. I forgave my mothers, forgave myself.  The journey to achieve our redemption, my own and ours as a family, is the story of the memoir I’m working on.

For the two years up until this retreat, almost every weekend I flew to visit my mother, now in chemo treatments for ovarian cancer. I had to catch up for a lot of years. We’d sit and read magazines, watch TV, and nap together. I massaged her swollen feet, puffed from cancer now in her liver. We talked, something new for us.

I flew in on the Thanksgiving after my silent retreat in the Wisconsin woods and my mother sat, almost a pile of bones, in her wheelchair through the whole dinner. She scolded me when I tried to force feed her whipped cream. Some hours after I arrived that day, right after our family feast, my older brother wheeled her back to bed. She died in my hands, my father and brother on the other side of her hospital bed.

I’m grateful for our victory, the six or so years of our mother-daughterness. Without this, I’d be a different person, not a woman speaking in prisons, not a writer. Probably not a mother myself. She’s the woman who taught me to see humor even in the darkest of moments.

I’m convinced my mother waited until Thanksgiving, waited for my arrival, to die. Every Thanksgiving week I honor her, my mother’s stamina, her maternal endurance to wait for me for thirty years to accept her.

Sometimes attachment takes a long time. This is the woman I call Mother.

Look Forward and Take Your Place in the World

Some may be wonder about me: doesn’t she take anything seriously? Can’t she plant her feet on the ground for at least a moment, or even put several moments together and get a grip on life?

Listen, if your collection of mutti-racial identities started behind prison bars — yes, I said prison, federal prison — then you’d have a bit of a curious twist on life, too. But it wasn’t the “born in prison” part that gave me an interesting view of the world. It was what happened after. Here it is in a muttshell, and this is all the serious you’ll get out of me, at least for right now on this page.

What would you do if your multiracial was a multi of you-didn’t-know-what, you were born heroin-addicted, in prison, lived inside for a year before your prison-toddler-self got shuttled into foster care, and then later adopted? Mutt-cinating, you might say.

Not so much for me, though. At least not in the beginning. Now, okay, life is pretty interesting.

Don’t we all have pockets of ourselves, pieces of our past (or present) we might struggle to accept? If you say you don’t then look again. It’s not those pockets that hold us back, it’s the way we look at them, what we do with who we are.

I’ll have more on this later.

Meanwhile, the thought for the day: Be comfortable being yourself. And whatever comes your way, make the most of it.

Reach Out and Touch

If you always yearned to be a mutt, you can build one.

Kind of like the Build a Bear franchise. Build your own mutt family. Take Madonna and Angelina Jolie, for example. Do I dare approach this, the Divas of Our Day? They’re two hot women, admirable philanthropists, and talented businesswomen. But what about their United Nations tactics for family planning?

They do good things in the world and we can all tell that each of their families brim with everlasting love. It’s just something to wonder, and no harm meant. Why didn’t they adopt white kids? But who am I to say. Be honest, though. Since when does Reach out and touch mean Reach out, acquire and possess children from another race?

It’s always good to make sure that your children are more than purchased commodities and fireplace mantel souvenirs that you want to show off. No matter what, love and accept them for who they are, muttiness and all.

Thought for the day: Doing the right thing is more important than having the right things. That’s a caution to adoptive parents, especially celebrity mothers. Children are not fashion accessories to “have.”