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'Love, Loss and Longing'

Telling touching stories of adoption

By Carolyn Pogue

“The need for origins is more basic to a person than sex drive.” This arresting statement is from Carol Bowyer Shipley’s book, Love, Loss and Longing: Stories of Adoption. She should know. She is the mother of an adopted child, a social worker specializing in working with adoptive parents, adoptees and birth parents, and was, herself, an adopted baby.

Love, Loss and Longing shines a light on a subject that is not often discussed and was once taboo. The laws, all striving for “the best interests of the child,” have changed dramatically even in the past few years. I read Shipley's book in two days flat. It is a scholarly report, a personal memoir and a hands-on book for anyone touched by adoption all rolled into one.

I next read an adoption memoir by Margaret Singleton with the intriguing title, The Box in the Closet: My Journey to Claim Who I Am. The box in the closet described in the book contained information about the author’s birth family. As her adopted mother was dying, she directed Singleton to look for the box if she wanted to know about her birth mother.

Photo by Tammara McCauley via Creative Commons/Flicker
Photo by Tammara McCauley via Creative Commons/Flicker
The Box in the Closet is both an adventure story of how, when closed adoption was the rule, she attempted over and over to discover the identity of her birth family. One scene was especially harrowing. After getting the nerve to see a lawyer, she showed him her one clue to her identity — one written on a single piece of paper. He literally snatched it away, declaring that it was against the law for her to seek her birth parents.

Recently, I met both authors at a luncheon hosted by mutual friends, Reverends Garth Mundle and Dorothy Naylor, in Ottawa. We spoke about writing in general, and writing from the heart in particular. They told me about the pre-Mother’s Day service held at their church, First United, in Ottawa. This service began some years ago when Reverend Sharon Moon was minister.

The night before each Mother’s Day, a tender service is held to honour everyone in the “adoption circle:" adoptees, birth and adoptive parents, as well as other family members touched by adoption. Shipley has a chapter in her book about this service, which could be a template for others to use. It struck me as a gift to be shared, too.

In both of these books, readers can learn authentic stories from birth mothers, adoptive parents, adult adopted children and parents of international adoptees. They can trace recent changes in laws that have led to the “open adoptions,” which are more common today.

Last year, Hollywood produced a compelling, heart-rending (and oft-repeated) true story of adoption, Philomena. In it, an Irish woman played by Judi Dench sets out to find her son 50 years after he was spirited away for adoption. It is a love story beautifully told.

About one in five North Americans is impacted in some way by adoption. These books and the film offer a fresh way of seeing how we have touched.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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