Monday, March 31, 2014

Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity

By Lynn Grubb

Had I not known beforehand, I would have never guessed this was a book about adoption.  Author Paige Adams Strickland describes a very funny, quirky, interesting family that reads more like a biography than a typical adoption reunion book.  Paige’s memoir is an everyday story of life growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80’s. It made me laugh and it made me cry, but most of all it draws the reader into her life growing up adopted. 

Paige was raised in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio -- an hour away from where I grew up in Dayton.  Paige grew up in a very similar way as I did and many times, I felt as if I was reading about my own feelings from a journal.   I could identify with her vivid descriptions of popping Jiffy Pop popcorn and watching Lawrence Welk with her grandma Frances and playing card games like Fish and Old Maid.

I was smitten with the beautiful descriptions of Paige’s grandmothers -- wanting to crawl right into the book and experience those two amazing ladies.  I felt like I went along as a passenger on Paige’s annual family vacation to Florida to lounge on the raft she shared with her dad.  It was easy to get drawn into Paige’s book into another time and place.

Paige always knew she was adopted and blended in with her adoptive family enough that people generally did not ask her about adoption.  She refers to her unknown birth mother as “The Lady Who Had Me” which makes sense, considering adoptees from the closed era were never told their mother’s names.  The topic of adoption was rarely discussed within Paige’s family, although there was a “story” she heard about her adoption that Paige knew intuitively did not add up.  But like most adopted kids from that era, she just went with it, until she had the power to actually learn the truth.

Paige describes feeling different both within her family and at school, her secret beginnings, her insecurities growing up and her teenage angst.  I found it interesting that she never told anybody she was adopted for fear of something terrible unleashing.  This is in contrast to my own way of handling adoption by telling anybody who asked.  Paige describes it like this:

“I decided to forget all about it (adoption). I wanted everyone else to forget it as well.  It was an awful secret and a ‘cross to bear’, as Grandma Elsie would have put it, but I would live with that, resolved to never tell a soul that I was adopted.  I hated that part of myself, and the only way to accept it was to make like it didn’t happen. . .I was determined that not a single friend of mine would ever know my secret, no matter what sort of convoluted story I had to invent.”

She further states,

“With adoption never disclosed, no one would ever have a reason to treat me differently or regard me as flawed.”

 Like many adoptees, Paige both admired and felt different from the mother who raised her.  I imagine that having a younger brother (described as their “mother’s clone”) who was biological to her parents, added to the feelings of being different.  Paige describes her brother’s birth like this:

“During the days following his birth, I watched a parallel universe; the actual one I lived in and the one in which I saw what it would have been like had I been born into this family the way my brother experienced it. Even though I was six-and-a-half, I understood that I had missed out on this kind of fanfare and pageantry.  My start in life was different, and I wished intensely that I had been born the way Vince was.”

When Paige described her difficulties adjusting when moving during elementary school and then later post-graduation, I understood what she felt completely.  I have a theory that adoptees have a harder time saying goodbye and dealing with change than non-adoptees.  We want to hold on to the people, places and things that give us comfort for a lot longer than most. 

One interesting thing Paige demonstrates in her book is the difference between loving a favorite family vacation spot versus moving to that place forever.  After fantasizing about moving to Florida myself during many snowy Ohio winters, it was interesting having a secret peak into what living at a favorite vacation spot may have been like after being raised in the Midwest.

I was cheering Paige on as she met the love of her life even though her father did not approve.  My own parents had a difficult time letting me go when it was time and I admire how Paige holds on to her own dreams and goals even in the face of disapproval.

By accident in 1987, Paige learns that she falls favorably under Ohio’s (former) 3-tiered law and that legally she can order her original birth certificate.  Once the birth certificate arrives, a new chapter of Paige’s life begins, long before the internet age and search angels.  Paige begins to unravel the secrets about her beginnings and finds that the facts surrounding her birth are not the only secrets to emerge.

I highly recommend this book to anyone within the adoption community and outside of it, because it’s just a really good read for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Page Adams Strickland

You can purchase Paige’s book on Kindle or paperback here

Paige describes the process of writing her memoir here
You can read more about Paige's book here

Paige Adams Strickland is an author and teacher from Cincinnati, OH.  She is an adoptee from the Baby-Scoop Era who searched for and found her birth family. She is married with two daughters. In her free time, Paige enjoys her 4 cats, gardening, travel, reading, movies and baseball games.  You can connect with her via Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.