Book Review: Reaching Out by Nelson Handel

This post was originally published on on November 10, 2010. Republished here with permission.

reachingoutbookOne of my favorite adoption books is Reaching Out: The Guide to Writing a Terrific Dear Birthmother Letter, by Nelson Handel. One of the first things Handel does is explain that the term “birthmother”, as used here, is incorrect. First, a woman is not a birthmother until she has placed her child for adoption. Until then, she is an expectant mother, just like any other pregnant woman. Second, the term “birthmother” does not include the biological father, who very well may be involved in choosing an adoptive family for his child.

Handel gives some great advice. Do I agree with all of it? No. But I do agree with where Handel is coming from. He lays out ten Golden Rules, philosophies for writing a “Dear Birthmother Letter”. He gives concrete examples of these rules. He briefly covers the mechanics of writing (grammar and spelling, for example) but really goes into what a “Dear Birthmother Letter” should cover. Handel wants to help you create a “Dear Birthmother Letter” that reflects who you are.

After several chapters about what to write, Handel offers suggestions for the writing process. My husband and I used his suggestions five years ago when we wrote our first “Dear Birthmother Letter”. Although we are professional writers, the “Dear Birthmother Letter” is very different from anything we’d written before. Handel suggests that each parent jot down ideas separately. Over the course of several days, write whatever comes to mind. If each spouse can put these writings in letter form, that’s great, but the whole point is to just write. After the brainstorming, the prospective parents can come together to compare notes, organize their thoughts, and prioritize what is important. Together, they write a letter, then they leave it alone for a week. They come back to it and revise as necessary.

I completely disagree with Handel’s brief chapter about selecting photos. I’ve discussed my own thoughts on that subject on the Hoping to Adopt blog.

Handel offers a lot of great examples throughout the book and in two appendixes. He includes his own letter, which he wrote with his wife. It’s really quite good. Sure, you’d probably expect that it would be, but haven’t you ever read a book by an “expert” only to find that he couldn’t take his own advice?

If you’re planning on writing a “Dear Birthmother Letter” then Reaching Out is a must-read book. I highly recommend it!

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