Friday, July 26, 2013

An interview with Rhonda Noonan-Churchill

Adoptee Rhonda Noonan
By Trace A. DeMeyer (contributor to Lost Daughters)

Rhonda, your new memoir The Fifth and Final Name is captivating in so many ways. It reads like a mystery suspense novel and you are a detective. As an adoptee, you show such courage and persistence; your search to find answers and family has taken 28+ years and really still hasn’t ended. What part of your journey has been the most difficult?

RHONDA NOONAN: Without a doubt, the hardest part was looking, running into dead ends, and continuing forward; many times with absolutely no clue what to do next. I commanded myself to think, look at it all again, and think some more. It certainly didn’t help when I was lied to by the “system” and treated as though I was “troubled” because I had the audacity to ask for my own identity!  Praying was involved… and good friends were called upon to cheer me up when times were rough. 

In three decades, are you surprised how many states do not help adoptees by releasing their birth records and original birth certificates?

RHONDA: Because of my work, over the years, as a therapist to many adopted kids, I knew all too well the “rules of engagement” with the record holders. I have never truly been surprised, as adoption has become such an enormous  money-maker and keeping records closed, and secrecy looked at as a matter of “procedure,” if you will -  assists those who would use children for profit.  If you can keep perpetuating lies to the ignorant masses, that birthmothers were promised anonymity, or that open records increase abortion rates, taking babies away from their mothers will continue to line the pockets of adoption agencies and attorneys. My personal experience with adoption was a good one. I was certainly a child in need of a family! Sadly, however, it is often the case that birthmothers and babies would benefit much more from assistance aimed at keeping that child with their mother. In a better world, we will come to understand that.  At the very least, that child’s knowledge of their identity should NEVER be compromised in the process.

Has the genealogy of your birthmother Pat revealed any surprises for you? I was thinking of the one psychic who revealed you may have Native American ancestry.

RHONDA:  Actually, the Native American blood would have to be on the Churchill side, as it is believed that Sir Winston’s grandmother was Iroquois. My birthmother was not Native American.

Has your work in adoption and attachment disorder treatment changed, knowing what you know about adoption, being an adoptee yourself? Are you still the Clinical Director of Shadow Mountain Hospital, an in-patient psychiatric facility in Oklahoma?

RHONDA: It would be more accurate to say that learning about attachment disorder explained ME.  Even as a very young person I knew what it FELT LIKE to have those struggles with intimacy and relationship but didn’t know why. My work and education has provided those answers, for which I have been very grateful.  Attachment disorder, because of the cellular trauma that often sets it in motion, is difficult to address, and change or work on, EVEN IF you know all about it!  What you know cognitively is one thing, but who you are through experience is quite another.  For me, it has been a life-long work in progress.

I am no longer working in in-patient facilities and left Shadow Mountain some time ago. I prefer outpatient work and continue to see children and families in my practice.

In Chapter 10 “The Equal Sharing of Miseries” you shared your riveting presentation with Chicago’s Cook County DHS departments. How did they respond to your “Truth in Adoption” presentation?

RHONDA: It was a great day. The response was wonderful and interactive. The “front-line” workers- those who deal with the naked realities of our human services organizations every day - know all too well the importance of children being with their parents. All one has to do is ask about their toughest cases…and how many of them are adopted kids, or kids living away from their parents. The general public needs to come to realize that children know, internally, what has happened to them when they lose a mother. They KNOW. They were there. They experienced it. They were not an unconscious blob of matter with no incoming stimuli! You can give them another mother but you can never erase that experience or its impact.

Many times I hear “but (so and so) is adopted, and they don’t want to search…they are just fine without it!” That, of course, comes with the insinuation that I must NOT be fine (whatever that means). The hundreds, if not thousands of adoptees I have worked with over the past thirty years, in mental health settings, taught me one thing: it is most healthy to want to know something of your past; to have a curiosity and openness, rather than  pushing  it aside as though it never happened. It is a sign of resilience and strength, confidence and hope.

You learned your birthfather is Randolph Churchill. Do you think he met you prior to your being placed in a closed adoption? Is it possible he checked on you when you were growing up?

RHONDA: Based on what the state employee shared with me about her meeting with Randolph, I suppose it is quite possible he saw me as an infant. There are many unanswered questions about that period of time. I still hold hope that someone may emerge with some knowledge about the particulars but I know that time is running out. After all, it was 57 years ago! As for checking on me later, I would have no idea. It is all possible, as there were several people who knew about me and they certainly knew my adoptive grandfather, so it would have been easy to do. I have learned that NOTHING is impossible!  

For adoptees like me, hearing “your grandfather loved you” is so terribly important. How did this message affect you, knowing how important a man Winston Churchill was?

RHONDA: My discovery, that Winston Churchill was the Grandpa I had so wanted to find, didn’t happen until 2009. So, I had “known” him, internally, if you will, as an ordinary man up to that point; certainly not a world leader. The belief that he cared about me was, literally, the only thing that mattered to me for many years. I always find it a bit difficult to explain how I look at him now. He is still “just” my Grandpa; not to minimize in any way, but the fact that he saved Britain (and possibly the world as we know it) has little to do with my feelings for him. I have boundless pride and admiration for his accomplishments. I am just thankful to have him in my life, and I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he has worked “behind the scenes,” to not only help me find him, but also to forward the cause of truth in adoption. Winston Churchill was a force to be reckoned with. I suspect he still is.

A significant constant in your life, and such a supportive woman, is your adoptive mom Jean.  What can adoptive parents learn from Jean?

RHONDA: Courage. Even in the face of something she did not understand, my mom assured me she would always be there for me. I knew it scared her for me to search but she never showed it to me. Instead, she assured me that she knew our relationship would never be “less than” because of my need to know. She did not personalize it or try to make it about her. Mom saw it for what it was…my right to know who I am.  My dad, Jim, passed away in 2005 so he didn’t see me find my family. The whole idea scared and worried him and nothing I said ever seemed to help that. In my case, with my parents, their responses to my need to search had everything to do with the status of our individual relationships. If the relationship was open and honest, things were not as scary. If the relationship was not as solid, the search was scarier. Mom and I were closer and had more open communication. I think it was really that simple.

Rhonda, your writing is perfection! Are you planning to write a sequel, about making your connections to relatives in England?

RHONDA: Thank you, but unlike my illustrious grandfather, or my father who was also quite an artist with the English language, I do not fancy myself as any sort of master! As is obvious from my writing, I am a rather plain-spoken, to-the-point kind of person. If you had asked me, even five years ago, if I would ever write a book, I would have assured you I would not! This story is too important, however. I had to put the pen to paper.

As for another book, it is too soon to tell! I cannot imagine it, but this tale is certainly not over. We’ll see how things unfold. Never say never…

Visit Rhonda at her website:  Her new book (ISBN: 978-0-9886597-0-4, Chumbolly Press) is available online (at and in other fine bookstores.