Book Review: “You Don’t Look Adopted”

YouDontLookAdoptedOnce upon a time, this was an adoption blog that occasionally touched on other topics. Recently, it’s been an other topic blog that has occasionally touched on adoption. I’m going to try to rectify that over the course of the year.

I got a Kindle for Christmas and the first two books I read were adoption related. I found out you can check out Kindle books from Amazon! So I checked out Anne Heffron’s memoir, You Don’t Look Adopted.

I’m just going to get right down to it: Heffron blames every negative thing in her life on being adopted. This is not hyperbole. She blames her inability to navigate, her lack of skill with physical directions and maps, on being adopted. During an interview, she poops her pants. She blames this on being adopted. I thought maybe I was missing something, so I talked to a friend of mine who is an adult adoptee. She hasn’t read this book, but she knows Heffron’s work. She said I was probably right.

Heffron herself writes, “My issues with adoption were sacred. As someone who dreamed of being a writer, they were all I had. I’d been saying for years that the one thing I knew for sure was that if I were to die that day, the one thing I would regret was that I hadn’t written a book about adoption.” (I can relate to that as a writer, actually.) This book seems to be a catharsis for her.

Heffron discusses some feelings that I’ve seen come up in conversations with and articles written by adoptees. She does a deep dive into them, so I did gain some insight from You Don’t Look Adopted. There are also a few things that Heffron wrote that I intend to use as writing prompts for future blog posts.

The Feelings

Heffron talks a lot about feeling that she was supposed to pretend that her birth family didn’t matter to her. “So many adoptees don’t even realize the secrecy that is part of their lives. They think it’s normal, to have a life that they aren’t free to talk about at home.” This is a very common theme with adult adoptees I’ve encountered online. Their adoptive parents didn’t want to talk about their biological parents, so they pretended not to care about their biology. This is so hurtful. From very early on, I know I’ve tried to make it clear that my children’s birth families are our family too, and thus, are fair game to talk about.

Another common theme is feeling inadequate, abandoned, unworthy.

  • “For if your mother threw you away: if she left you, if she hurt you, even unintentionally, some part of your brain is going to think that was the right thing to do, and you’ll go down that abandonment path again and again.”
  • “If your own mother had decided to give you up, who knew what else could happen. The sky was the limit. The other shoe could drop at any moment and anyone, at any time, could disappear.”
  • “There are so many ways for parents to abandon their children. So many ways for us to carry these memories into adulthood, to remember our general lack of worth, to give us reason to fuck up the nice things that we have because we know in our guts that we don’t deserve them.”

I was aware of this line of thinking when we adopted Jackson. I’ve done a lot of reading, and sought out advice from adopted people. I’m not sure adoptive parents can ever fully mitigate those feelings. I know S tells Jackson she loves him, but I also know it hurts him that his birth father has never chosen to be a part of his live/our lives. We try to impress upon him that it’s K’s lack of character, not Jackson’s, at fault.

The Insights

“[T]he fact that I am adopted comes into my mind every single day in one way or another.” ~ I’ve known a lot of adoptive parents who say, “I forget my child is adopted.” As an adoptive parent, I understand. But I wonder, do my children think about being adopted every day? We’re a conspicuous family. How much does being adopted come to the forefront of their minds?

“It’s hard not to take being given up by your mother personally. Even if you did end up having a much better life than you would have had if she’d kept you.” ~ My kids have better lives than they would have had if they remained in their birth families. That’s kind of why they were placed. But it doesn’t change the fact that they’re not growing up with their brothers and sisters. They’re not going to have the same relationships with their birth family members that they would have if they hadn’t been placed. That is a loss, and that needs to be acknowledged.

“A powerful response when someone tells you he or she is adopted is ‘And what has that experience been like for you?'” ~ I hope to remember this one, because I think it is a wonderful and appropriate response.

The Conclusion

I certainly don’t regret reading this memoir. There were many worthwhile crumbs of wisdom and insight. However, when I finally finished, I have to admit, a quote from my childhood literary friend, Ramona Quimby, popped into my head: “I can’t believe I read the whole thing!”

3 thoughts on “Book Review: “You Don’t Look Adopted”

  1. I see Ann’s posts and am familiar with thoughts on adoption how it has impacted her. I’ve been meaning to get her book and based on your insights, I definitely will.

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