Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BBBT--The Mistress's Daugther

This leg of the Barren Bitches Book Tour was The Mistress's Daughter by A.M. Holmes. It is a memoir by an adoptee. This book offers an interesting look into a closed adoption family and how the adoptee is effected by the discovery of her birth parents. It brings up very interesting points about closed adoption and about both birth parents and adoptive families. If you haven't read it and find memoirs interesting you should keep it in mind.


Why do you think the author's biological father went through the DNA testing if he was still going to go along pretending she didn't exist? How did you react to that emotionally as the reader?

This puzzled me as a reader, just as it was clear that it puzzled the author. I think he felt that he did need to know if she was his daughter and that he may have wanted a more active role but that his wife greatly influenced his interactions with the author. I was amazed at the lack of emotion that seemed to come from her father. He seemed very in control of what he wanted her to know and what he didn't both informational and emotional. The whole scenario with her father and his wife at the restaurant along with his comments after the event just boggled my mind of how cold some people can be. Later on when he refused her access to the results just made me wonder what was going on in his head and what a hold his wife had over his life.

There are several instances in the early chapters where AM is struck by references to her arrival in her adopted family as a "gift" or a "present" one that's wrapped in pink ribbon at that. As an adoptee, I too have felt somewhat commodified in my adopted parents' retelling of my arrival into the family. We waited and waited and then you were handed to us... And this is something I worry about when I think about sharing origin stories with our (hopefully, someday, maybe) child. Will they feel like they were a commodity? More so than other children? What are your thoughts on this?

I honestly hadn't thought much about it until reading this book. I would hope that most people think of their children as gifts but at the same time, I can see the problem that it would cause when it becomes the most prominent explanation for their being. I don't know how to balance it but at the same time going on and on about it seems that would lead to negative feelings in the future.

Genealogy -- the quest to learn more about her birth family's history -- forms a large part of the latter half of the book. On page 152, the author notes, "I remind myself that the quest to answer the question Who am I? is not unique to the adoptee." How much do you know about your own family history? Is it something that interests you? How has it influenced your decisions related to infertility treatment (if at all)?

I don't know a whole lot about either of my family histories. I know that the information is available if I want to seek it out as others have copies of various documents. The most that I am concerned with is the medical history of the most recent members of my family. I would like to know how far back it has been since my father's family came to the United States but other than that the medical issues are the main concern.

The family history has not really influenced mine (our) decisions about infertility treatments as much as our own personal medical histories have.

Reading the book encouraged me to think of my own family "secrets." For example, most members of my extended family want to hush up any discussion of IF, as though it's a contagious disease. Do you think that secrets strengthen a family or tear it apart and, how does your family process secrets?

I have realized that most of the "secrets" are not always things that are "secrets". There is a very different idea of freedom of information depending on the age of the person involved. The older a person is in any of my families the more closed mouth they are about things and the more "ashamed" they are of discussing medical or emotional problems that may be unique or negative. Obviously we can't get away without discussing some of it but for the most part things are not shared with the masses.

I think that some secrets do have the ability to tear a family apart. It is all about the information and the consequences that this secret may have.

AM Homes has a way of writing so distinctive, so enigmatic, that I folded myself into a chair and read the entire book in one sitting. She couldn't not know. Neither could I. Her stream of consciousness style writing had me hooked, and I read each page and kept thinking the same thing: What would it mean to me? What would I do? I am not adopted but I have often battled with that great question: Nature versus nurture. As she says on page 7 of the version I have, "I am dealing with the divide between sociology and biology: the chemical necklace of DNA that wraps around the neck sometimes like a beautiful ornament – our birthright, our history – and other times like a choke chain." How do you feel about your own birthright and DNA – is it a history or a choke chain?

The medical influences are definitely a choke chain. There are more than a few chunks of the DNA that makes me that I would love to cut out and throw away. Yes, I realize that these are also things that would change me as well but it would be nice not to bear the burden of certain medical influences.

And finally, I want to answer my own question... check out group A for other answers to this question.

The story about Ellen’s boxes and the fact that the author was unable to go through them for several years struck a cord with me as I have my own boxes that are hiding in the house waiting for unpacking. Have you experienced something similar with a project, book, or other item that plagued you with emotions that prevented you from tackling it? What was the situation? How did it resolve– did you become zealous about something you discovered during the resolution (like the author’s quest for her genealogy) or did it just all fade away?

I have boxes of my father's items sitting in our cluttered third bedroom that is amuck with many other items that have been waiting disposition since we moved into this house. His boxes have been there for over 5 years and I can't even go into them to get out his flag display case to put in the China cabinet. I have gone through some of his papers but it is always a bit of a shock to see his old driver's license or his name on papers in the house. Unfortunately, I haven't resolved this issue and the whole room brings out a strong emotional reaction that it is hard to work through the boxes. It needs to be addressed and I only hope that the strength will come one of these days.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (with author participation!)


loribeth said...

Thanks for some thoughtful answers. I agree with you about the biodad -- his wife clearly wasn't too thrilled about the whole thing, & I wonder if she put her foot down about it. I also wonder how much if anything his other children knew/know about their half-sibling. In the end, he just didn't want the disruption that acknowledging another daughter would have on his cozy little world.

Re: family secrets: every family has some,I think (I know mine sure does). I know about some that I clearly wasn't intended to. I don't see them as any big deal, but I haven't felt any great desire to confront the people involved about them either.

I have a relative who I know gave a baby up for adoption in the early 1970s. My mother just assumed my sister & I knew about this (the relative stayed with us for awhile during her pregnancy), but when she mentioned it one day when we were teenagers, we were floored. I don't believe her other subsequent children know anything about it, & certainly it's not my place to tell them. The baby would be in his late 30s now. I sometimes wonder where he is, what kind of a life he has had, & whether he has ever wondered about his birthmother.

josh said...

Great answers! And a great question from you, which I dodged. I only last week got the nerve to go through my grandfather's old suits and shirts and decide what I would actually keep (because I would wear it) and what was just taking up space in my closet because I couldn't bear to part with it. He died five years ago.

The Town Criers said...

I thought the whole idea that you looked at medical history as opposed to ancestry (who's who) as so interesting. Definitely more useful, though it wasn't something I considered before.

Queenie. . . said...

I think the concept of holding onto the boxes of items, but not being able to go through them, is a common reaction. I have (somewhere?) a packet of letters that were sent to me by someone who was once important to me. I saved them, because I thought that if I could ever bear to read them in the future, I would find them facsinating. It's been 18 years, and they remain untouched. I'm at a point where the writer is no longer even remotely relevant to my life, and I'd love to read the letters. . .if only I knew where, exactly, they were.

Lori said...

I'm glad you answered your own question. It was a good one. I think you show that the material and the emotional are so intertwined.

JuliaS said...

I am glad to meet the author of the boxes question. I wasn't in the group to get the boxes question - but I too, have boxes. I have a box labeled "Sentimental Sappy Stuff" that contains stuff from my childhood, letters from grandparents, etc - things that have no real value, but I couldn't just throw away - because they had value to me. So, they sit in a box. I have a box of things I have collected - thoughts, poems, quotes, stories from others or those I have written. Again, I have no idea what to do with them - so they sit in a box. I can't get rid of them - they are part of who I am in a way because each touched me and that was why I gathered them. Still another box holds the few mementos I have from my angel babies.

All these boxes that sit on shelves in our basement storage gathering dust. I don't see them, or think about them all the time - but yet I am bound to them - me and my cluttered heart!

Kristi said...

I have an e-mail folder of items I can't bear to read, yet can't make myself delete - yet. Someday I hope they become so meaningless to me that I say to myself, "Why in the world do I still have that crap around??" DELETE