On February 17, I had the pleasure of attending the first book-reading and signing by my client Zara Phillips, whose memoir Mother Me was just published by GemmaMedia. I sat in the front row of chairs set up at the independent bookstore (and local treasure!) Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, New Jersey, like a proud mama, watching my talented, articulate, and engaging author describe how she grew up as an angst-ridden adopted child with a huge void in her life. Zara eventually searched for and found her birth mother, discovered much about herself along the way, and went on to become an adoption activist. When she married and became the mother of three children herself, the experience of being in a biologically related family for the first time presented its own set of issues but finally allowed her to move beyond her own “primal wound” and begin to truly appreciate the pain of the other members of the “adoption triad”: her birth mother’s double trauma of an unplanned pregnancy and relinquishment of a baby; and her adopted mother’s pain at infertility.
The small bookstore was packed, largely with people who had had some experience of adoption themselves, and the audience hung on Zara’s every word. The problem Zara identifies most poignantly is the fact that society tends to see adoption as an entirely happy experience when, in her view, it is an event that is almost always born first and foremost out of grief and loss. Her mission is to give voice to those who have trouble articulating their grief and to encourage openness and honesty in the entire adoption process right from the beginning.
However, to be sure that the event wasn’t overly somber, Zara read aloud the story of her family’s recent “adoption” of a baby guinea pig:
My children really wanted a guinea pig from the kindergarten teacher – babies had just been born and were ready to be taken home. I watched the teacher as she brought down the cage containing three guinea pigs – mum, dad, and baby – but before she handed over the baby, Fluffy, I asked her if I could have a few moments alone with Fluffy’s mother. She looked at me a little strangely. I knelt down by the cage and told the mother that I would take good care of her baby and whispered all kinds of reassuring things into the guinea pig’s ear. The teacher eyed me all the time, probably remembering a conversation I had had with her some time ago about adoption, and said firmly, “Zara, if Fluffy stays with his mother, he will have sex with her. It is really time for him to leave.”
Following the reading, Zara further enthralled the audience by playing guitar and singing three songs she wrote on the subject of adoption, one of which had been originally recorded as a duet with Darryl of Run-DMC, also an adoptee (more specifically, an “LDC,” or “late-discovery adoptee,” which means he didn’t find out that he was adopted until he was grown up). When the floor was opened up for discussion, the questions poured out of people as did the many personal stories of adoption angst.
I was struck, as I have so often been, by the power of words to heal—by the profound effect that the mere sharing of experiences has to soothe troubled psyches. And also by how good it feels in this age of Facebook friends, virtual friends, avatars, second lives, smart phones, online dating and online shopping (sort of the same thing?), to engage in the purely “analog” experience of humans interacting face to face, “oral” storytelling (just like our ancestors), and the sharing of emotion through live music. I felt proud to be playing a small part in this transmission of human thought and emotion as an editor and agent. It is a richly rewarding profession.