When I was twenty-two, I worked weekends at an independent bookstore on the Sunset Strip. My shifts were usually quiet, punctuated by conversations with drunk people, occasional celebrities, and a guy who was always looking for books on animal hypnosis.
I had a lot of time to read, and to shelve the parenting section, which was how I came across The Kid. With candor and wit, sex columnist Dan Savage wrote about wondering who would possibly choose him and his partner, Terry, as parents, and the woman who did.
Meanwhile, in another part of Southern California, my future partner was reading the same book, and when we met in 2006, we had a common foundation for what parenthood might look like for us.
We didn’t sign on with our open adoption agency until after trying hard to get pregnant, getting pregnant, and miscarrying. The Sunday after our agency’s orientation, we stood in line at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to have Savage autograph It Gets Better.
I gave a nervous, ten-second summary of our story.
“Stick with it,” he said. “We got lucky, but I know a lot of folks who’ve had a hard road with situations that didn’t work out. But if you hang in there, you’ll get your kid.”
In other words, it gets better. And it did.
The corollary is “It doesn’t get better, you get stronger.” That happened too. For our lives to bloom through adoption, someone else’s heart and body had to break. I had to lose and find hope a dozen times. That’s part of why I kept reading about adoption, and why I want our son, Dash, who is four and a half now, to have guidebooks of his own. Here are a few of each.
Palimpsest by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom: It’s tempting to read every memoir by an adoptee who longs for their birth family as a cautionary tale for adoptive parents: If only Sjöblom had been raised in LA’s Koreatown rather than über-blond Sweden. If only she’d been adopted at birth rather than living at an orphanage until she was a toddler. Then she wouldn’t have wrestled with a “sense of not fully existing” that pushes her to the brink of suicide.
But these are my defenses. Every adoptee processes loss, and no adoptive parent can predict what path it will take. Sjöblom’s graphic memoir takes readers across continents, into the dark truths of foreign adoption (in which market forces create dubious “orphans”), and through mountains of red tape and paperwork. And while I related to her hapless, loving Swedish parents, I also related to the ways in which Lisa’s pregnancy opened the floodgates of grief for her birthmom. I was only pregnant for a minute, but when I miscarried, I lost my mom—who died eight years earlier—all over again. Palimpsest paints an intergenerational umbilical cord whose cutting we mourn throughout our lives.