From Infertility Grief To Adoption: How to Heal From Your Infertility Grief and Make Way for a Child Transcript


Episode 6 Podcast > Full Transcript


Lori Holden, Intro:

I've said before that no babies should come into a home or a heart that’s shrouded in grief. And I don't like quoting Dr. Phil, but I believe I must attribute this truism to him; “No babies should be born with a job. It's just too much to expect a baby to fix anything; a relationship, a heart, a life.”

Let's acknowledge the fact that many (not all, of course), but many people come to infant option after experiencing infertility and enduring some sort of loss or even a series of losses. People might think that finally getting a baby, filling their empty arms will heal all the hurt. And it does heal some of the hurt.

Bringing a baby into your home through adoption does resolve the issue of parenting, but it does nothing to address the wounds of infertility. And those can be profound when it feels like you're not good enough to swim in the gene pool or not having a child who looks like you and your beloved, parenting a child who on occasion you just don't get, not to mention the more obvious, heartbreaking tragedies like miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss.

Of course, when you finally bring your child home, it's a joyous time, but if you haven't actually acknowledged and processed your grief, it's unlikely to go away on its own. It can lay dormant and sneak from behind, attack you at the most inopportune times on your parenting journey when all you want to do is be a good parent to your precious and longed for child.

So, let's start with the proposition that grief needs to be addressed and processed. But how?

Today's guest is an expert on one way to do that. She's been doing it for herself since at least 2015, and she's been helping others do so as well through her workshops.

But there's a twist here. Anne Heffron's wound is not one of infertility; hers is a primal one. She's an adoptee, the daughter of parents who hadn't worked through their feelings of inadequacy and insecurity; their grief and loss. Parents who couldn't talk about adoption when Anne tried to bring it up with them; her mind so curious by nature.

Her journey, healing some of her wounded places, is chronicled in her memoir; You Don't Look Adopted, which she wrote in a frenzy in just ninety-one days back in 2016, when her famous author unexpectedly gifted her the use of her Manhattan apartment. This is the place where Write or Die was born. Anne first tested it out on herself. And now it is the name of the writing workshops she offers around the country to people seeking healing via writing.

I'm aware, being a subscriber to Anne’s writing space, that Write or Die has had a profound impact on other adoptees whose work she publishes there. So, I thought to myself, “I wonder if writing would be a way for adoptive parents to heal their wounded parts also." I asked Anne and she gave me an emphatic, “Yes.” Voila.

Here with us today is the thoughtful, curious, beautiful and amazing Anne Heffron. Welcome Anne.

Anne Heffron:

All those adjectives. Thank you.

Lori:

All of those and more. Let me fill people in on your brief bio. Besides being the author of the memoir, You Don't Look Adopted, Anne Heffron is also the co-writer with Antonia Bogdanovich of the movie, Phantom Halo.

Anne Heffron was born in Manhattan in 1964 to a college student. 51 years later Anne returned to Manhattan to find the roots of her story; the one that began with her birth instead of with the phrase, The Day We Got You. You can find her blog and more of what she does as a writing coach anneheffron.com. Anne has an E on it. And we'll have these and other resources for you in the show notes at lavenderluz.com and at adopting.com.

So, Anne, could you briefly tell us your two-story threads; one of being an adoptee and the other one of being a writer? How did you get to this moment in time on both of those counts?

Anne:

Sure. I think that they're intertwined. It occurred to me this morning, when I was doing yoga, that maybe my whole life is about trying to reconcile the moment when my first mother gave me up and my body mind wasn't able to process it. Because it seems like everything that I do, I can trace back to the dissonance of that moment. And I think that maybe the most honest thing I can do is to stop pretending that I have a lot of other concerns. And well, I do have a lot of other concerns, but stop pretending that this one isn't so primary that it doesn't, in some ways, block out the rest. Maybe the rest is just noise and this is the real issue.

Lori:

And writing has been your way to address this real issue. Well, you've tried other things, too. How did you land on writing as a way to help other people do this work as well?

Anne:

It's really frustrating trying to use my words. If you and I were to sit across the table from each other, I don't always say the right words. Sometimes I use words just to see how they'll hit or how you'll react to them. But I didn't really consider them. The words spill out when I talk more easily than when I write.

And when I write, it's almost like I get to – it's not almost like it is now. I get to focus and I get to be more intentional. And it feels more like prayer to me than talking does; talking sometimes feels like trying not to drown. Or like if I have a little bit of social anxiety, there's a lot of tap dancing with talking. Where with writing, I picture it's me and the ear. And I don't have to win the ear's affection; I have the ears affection. And I get to hunker down and go into the core of myself and asked myself, what is it that I really want to say and then say it.

And it's after a lifetime of checking in with other people to see how they respond to me and what I say and what I do to make sure I'm safe; am I okay. With the writing, I've learned to check in with myself. And it's such a different experience.

And I think, especially if you're a child and you're with your parents who adopted you, communication can be complicated; even eye contact can be complicated, because there is some dissonance there. There is part of your brain is trying to process who are these eyes that are your parents’ eyes that are also not your parents’ eyes. And at the same time, you're trying to use words to communicate meaning. And it can be easier to put your face to a piece of paper and drop the eye contact.

Lori:

And when you are putting things to paper, is it always for other people's consumption or some of this is just for you to pull out of yourself, for clarification purposes? It doesn't have to be for other people to read, is that correct?

Anne:

I think it has to be for other people to read, because I think that if it was private, I would just write in a journal and it wouldn't matter to me that other people read. But I do post publicly and I do put rough drafts; I'll sit down for an hour and write a blog post and put it out there. And it's the putting out there that feels really important.

The very first time I posted a blog post – my friend had given me the blog. I never would have thought to do something so public; like, look-at-me kind of thing, like my opinions matter or…

But she gave it to me. And so, I wrote something. And I wrote it in a coffee shop. And it wasn't anything. I forget even what it was about; it was just I have an opinion about something or I noticed something. And I stepped outside with my computer to post it because just in case God struck me down, because I didn't want anyone else to get hit. Because there's such arrogance in putting my opinion or my vision out into the world; like I matter. Like this is good enough.

And then when I didn't get struck down, I found this sort of main line of joy that said, “You can speak and you will be listened to.” I mean, one of the great things about a blog is that you can have an audience of people that respond to you. And respond to you; I've had negative responses and, you know, that's part of it. It's not all positive, but it's an ongoing conversation. And even the negative responses can evoke a conversation. And then I can write back; I can have something to say.

But there is this feeling of – In my blog post, even if they're so silly in light and “unimportant”, they're still coming from this sober, clear river of truth that runs through the middle of me. And I'm not changing it for anybody. I'm not trying to think, “Oh, this is going to make someone angry” or “This might hurt my mom's feelings.” That doesn't mean that I write without regard to other people while I'm writing, but it's with a very clear decision that I'm following my own truth. While also, truth is the most important thing to me, but kindness is right up there. So, I wouldn't want to write something and intentionally hurt someone.

That doesn't mean that I didn't think about how what I wrote would hurt my family. I knew it would hurt. But childbirth also hurts. That doesn't mean we don't give birth to children. There's intentional cutting-someone-with-a-knife hurt and then there's growing hurt. And I am a lot less afraid of growing hurt than I used to be.

I think that as an adopted person, growing hurt can be fearful, but it can be scary because it can feel like it means you're growing away from your parents and everyone that you know. And that can feel like death. So, it's important to be able to discern that growing up doesn't mean growing away. And writing helps the process.

Lori:

I love your concept of growing hurt, because I think that can apply to adoptive parents as well. When the adoptive parenting journey isn't what we thought it would be, we sometimes find ourselves ill-equipped. And to get equipped, sometimes it's a growing journey to feel like you're adrift and not competent and then work on trying to figure things out and not pretend like you don't need help.

And I hear you also saying that finding your voice and exploring your truth can be so empowering in being able to occupy the space that you occupy.

Were you a writer before that Write or Die experience in the Manhattan apartment?

Anne:

My mom was a writer and my first mom also wrote a book and my birth father wrote a book. So, part of it, I think, is this; it's how I communicate. I had a dream since I was 18 to either write a book or a movie. And I don't know if that was my mother's dream or my dream, but it's so deeply embedded in me that – I'm not sure.

So, in a funny way, I don't really consider myself a writer. I'm just trying to figure out how to live my life. And writing is like the shovel that I try to dig myself out of confusion with. And it's also my way of saying thank you, that like I was here and I saw this and thank you for this life.

Lori:

You mentioned your birth father. Can you just briefly fill us in on where you are with your four parents?

Anne:

So, my birth mother, I never met; it was too much for her. I talked to her briefly on the phone. And the way I wrote about her was deeply, deeply upsetting. I wrote a blog post. I wrote it as a joke; I was being ironic. And I wrote, “You owe me, bitch.”

And I was writing about my attitude towards her; that I was criticizing myself that I had gone in with that attitude. But the family missed the irony and read it like it was a fact. But I was a lot for them to take. They were very kind to me. And I was having my somewhat public tantrum. So, I don't blame them at all.

And then my birth father, I met him. He flew out to San Jose and we spent a day together and it was wonderful. And his brother flew me to Montana a couple of times and I met his family and they were very – I've gone more than once and they took in my daughter and it was very, very, very wonderful.

And then my mom has died and my dad is in New Hampshire, 3000 miles away from me. And I'm trying to learn to think less about how my parents affect me, because I'm fifty-six and I would like my narrative to focus more on myself and my life than on my parents.

Can I go back to something that you said about the adopt- I love what you said about the adoptive parents and the healing. And I was thinking about my mom and my dad. And with the chaos of three adopted children. And I feel like my parents spread themselves so thin, just trying to lay themselves over the fire of their family. And they kind of got burned up.

And I always wished that my mom would just take care of herself. I always wanted my mom to understand that this was a chaos she couldn't fix and we needed her to own her truth more than we needed her to be upset or that the family wasn't the way she wanted it to be.

And I think that having an adoptive parent, you know, and I don't love the term adoptive parent. I mean, I only got to have one set of parents. I would rather have them be my parents than my adoptive parents.

I feel like it's a real opportunity for everyone involved to get to live out their own truth, in a way that may feel selfish, but I think that that label is misguided in that it's the old adage about putting your mask on, on a plane, before you put someone else's on. And that adopting a child is an invitation for you to step in to work on yourself, as well as supporting the child and having the child have the opportunity to work on themselves and then drop the narrative of our lives started the day we came together.

Lori:

And I love your emphasis on truth for your mom. Because I talk a lot on this podcast about dealing with what is. And when you're trying to pretend that things are different than they actually are, that takes a lot of energy. And it skews it; it makes it go somewhere where it's not helpful and then it's not where it should be helpful. So, I really appreciate what you said about that.

With your situation, with your own parents, how do you think writing, or some sort of grief clearing, would have served you as their daughter?

Anne:

I think I would have felt like I was driving a car that the windshield had been cleaned, instead of driving a car with a really dirty windshield and always having to focus on the dirt. I find that I'm actually distrustful of people that I keep wanting to know what's the story, end of the story with everybody. Like I listen to people and I'm listening twice as hard as they think I am because I want to know the truth underneath what they're saying.

And I feel like my mom and dad, by trying to live a life of two parents with three children that were “theirs”, they skipped a level of the story.

And so, if you don't talk about the struggle, the struggle is still there. It's really just what you said about it uses energy to pay attention to what's under the surface. And it's so much cleaner when you don't have to do that, even if at the time it doesn't feel clean, it feels actually dirty.

Lori:

That's a perfect metaphor. A clean windshield as opposed to something that is kind of streaked and dirty and you just can't see or navigate your way from as well. Yeah.

You found that writing can be so healing, specifically for adult adoptees. A lot of your work is done with adult adoptees; not all. Do you have an aha story or a revelation or a healing through this process that you've witnessed that you were able to share with us?

Anne:

Yes.

I mean, the way I came up with Write or Die and the way I was able to finally write my book was I had gone to New York to write. I had given everything up, just decided, “Okay, I'm sick of trying 80 percent. I'm going to try 100 percent to write this book.”

And part of the time in New York, I had two weeks at Martha's Vineyard; had a writing thing. And I was there and I couldn't; I was failing. Like I was writing the same way I'd always written. And the narrative wasn't hanging together. I couldn't do it. And I felt like I was waving the white flag and saying, “This was my only dream. And I can't do it.” And so, I have no idea what I'm going to do with myself because nothing else matters except for my daughter to me.

And I wrote to my friend and in despair, I wrote, “I can't do it.” I said, “I don't know what my story is. I don't think anybody cares.” And I listed all the things I was struggling with. And at the end I wrote, “And I think that if I keep writing, I'm going to have to say that I have value and I'm not sure I'm ready to do that.”

And I was so shocked that I said that. I didn't even know that; it just came out. And normally, I would have a race that sentence, because it was so revealing. But I was so defeated that I just press send. And I thought I would get back arguments from him; no, you're great. You've got this. And I sort of braced myself because I didn't have it. And I didn't know what I was going to do with those arguments because it wasn't going to be helpful.

And he wrote back right away and he said, “That's your voice.” And that's when it was like, I finally – it’s like when you're driving a car and you're supposed to be in fifth, but you're in third. I threw my car into fifth and I cleared – I was able to access my clear voice and my clear voice said things that I thought were secret and should be hidden.

And once they knew that I could say those things, then I had plenty to say. Because I had lived a life of learning to cover up the deepest things; like how am I going to wake up in the morning, as a sixth grader, and tell my mom, “I hate my…” – I don't even know the word for it. Like everything's wrong. And I think I'm going to die if I go to school. I didn't have language even for how bad I felt. And so, I couldn't connect with people or myself.

And that moment, when I did connect with language and someone did hear me, felt like the horns blew. And so, I listened very carefully to the people that I work with and I listen for them to say true things; things that sound true to me, so I can point out to them, “This is your voice. This is what it sounds like” and see if that resonates with them.

Because once you have that, you can say anything. It's the river inside of you. There's nothing between you and you are the river.

Lori:

And I'm remembering a few years ago, I attended your Write or Die workshop, and you were so helpful at finding the true voice from the put-on voice. And when you do find that, you're right, there's such a sense of resonance that you feel in your body and coherence between what you think, what you feel, what you what you are when you find that coherence. And it all kind of lines up. It’s a beautiful thing.

Anne:

It's gorgeous. I mean, I can see it. It's like when Lady Gaga hits her notes. You just get chills because it's perfect.

Lori:

You mentioned that you didn't know what your story was and you didn't feel like anybody cares. Do you find that in your observation of other adopted people that you work with? Is that kind of a common thing that adoptees have; they don't know what their story is and that anybody cares that they get their story?

Anne:

Yes.

And the irony is that a lot of them, the way they tell their stories, it's actually kind of boring. Because they're so afraid to reveal themselves that they just tell the same basic story that so many adoptees are telling. And so, there isn't much that differentiates them. And they don't understand that the very things that they think will protect them, if they cover, are the things that will save them, if they tell their story.

I think adoptees really, really want to believe their story has an import. But when you have been asked to not talk about it or you receive confusing feedback, you learn that your story is dangerous or not valuable. And so, you focus on other things like what you're wearing or what you weigh or what your friends think about you instead of what you think about things.

Lori:

I think it's really important for adoptive parents to hear the adopted person's experience.

But I do want to also shift back to adoptive parents. Often people who seek to adopt a newborn do so after some sort of significant loss. Almost always, around that whatever that loss is, is the loss of a dream; that's kind of a common theme.

So, how do you think that such writing therapy would work for people who have experienced this sort of trauma and grief?

Anne:

Well, I think when you have that kind of grief in your body, it's a physical block that keeps the pure energy of you from flowing. And your child's going to sense that; there's going to be some form of holding. And the child is going to probably take it personally and think it's something they did wrong. Like there's going to be just this body confusion in relation to your body.

And so, I think partly it's important to get the story out in some way, in some way, so that your brain's not spinning, trying to organize it in a way that you can understand it. If you write it or talk story it or have it have a beginning, middle and end – And it doesn't have to be like in high school where it's all organized. It can be all over the place, but you start somewhere and you end somewhere – then that little blockage isn't in your body anymore. And energetically, you're going to show up more as yourself and less as something hurting.

When my daughter was little, we were going up an escalator in a mall and I started crying. And I said to her, “I don't know why I'm crying.” And I was embarrassed and I was just sad. And this just happened. I usually try to hide it from her. And she said, “Maybe you're sad.”

And I wished, going back, that I had known that kind of language. And I could have just said to her, “I am sad” and said something about, “This has nothing to do…” I don't know. I'd have to find a therapist so I could word it so that she understood truly it didn't have anything to do with her.

But then she could see she as a mother that can have feelings and they can still go buy a pair of shoes and that there's safety there.

Lori:

Isn't that one of the basic tenets of emotional intelligence is to stop and name the feeling?

Anne:

Yes.

Lori:

And it seems like this writing process would allow lots of opportunities. I don't know what talk story means; maybe you can tell us that. But as you're telling your story and replaying the movie in your mind of wherever the hurt and wounds are, you can kind of get to those rivers of grief or anger or sadness or aloneness or fear. And just getting to them and knowing that they're there and naming them neutralizes them a little bit; it doesn't like complete take care of them, but it starts the path that work.

Anne:

Yeah.

I mean, if you've had a miscarriage or several miscarriages or you can't conceive, I mean, there's this grief there that can be really hard to name and to even talk about.

And talk story, that was something from my writing teacher at University of Oregon, Garrett Hongo, who's from Hawaii. And I think they talk story; talk the story, but… I lost my train of thought.

Lori:

No worries at all. I can almost hear some of the objections that people may be thinking as they listen to this. Hopefully, those people have listened to this point.

But what would you say to people who say, “I'm no writer. I could never write. I'm not a writer. I don't do words.” What do you say to them?

Anne:

Yeah.

I would say I super get it. And writing is not the only way. You could do collage, you could paint it. It's doing something so that this blob that's inside of you, that's eating you up in some way, that's confusing you, that's keeping you up at night, that's spinning, that something where you can get it from inside your body to outside your body in a way where you feel like, “Okay, that mirrors how I feel inside.”

So, could be writing, it could be breaking a thousand dishes and looking at the pieces all over the place and saying, “Okay, that's it. I got it.”

You know, that feeling of when you're staying in the grocery line and these words are spinning in your head of, “Okay, so this happened like so back then and this happened and this happened. And then no one understands. And I feel torn up about it. Why am I still thinking about this?”

There's something about the creative process where you're honoring your feelings and you're trying to bring them to light, so that you could ideally show someone and say, “This is how I feel inside.”

Lori:

So, what you're talking about is a way to take a tangled mess of feelings from inside you and put them outside you some way. Maybe it's words, maybe it's sculpture, painting; anything.

Anne:

And to not dismiss it. I mean, so many people, I think, were trained to dismiss that tangled thing; to make it less than it is. And I think adoptive parents do it adoptees, adoptees to adoptive parents.

It's also acknowledging that if there is something in you that confuses you or that you think about, it's worth bringing out into the light and talking to other people about. And don't think of yourself as a child. And if a child comes to you with a hurting thumb, hopefully you're not going to say, “Well, it's just your thumb. It could have been your whole hand” and then send them back outside. You tend to the thumb, even though it's small. And the same with the things that we carry inside of us, I think.

Lori:

Hmm.

Is there anything else that I haven't asked and that you'd like to share with us?

Anne:

No. I really appreciate this. And I wish more than anything I could have had an open conversation with my mom about how much I loved her and about how much pain I was in and that it wasn't her fault, but that she still could have held me and we both could have cried about it. That would have been amazing.

Lori:

And had that moment of coherence and resonance around your shared truth?

Anne:

Yes.

Lori:

Even if it's not shared. If you're both coming at it from your truth.

Anne:

Yes.

She had cried that she hadn't had a baby; it would have felt like we were playing good tennis.

Lori:

Hmm. Beautiful.

Well, this is the last question that I'm asking of all guests this season. From your perspective as an adoptee, what do you think people need to know to adopt well and to adoptive-parent well?

Anne:

I think that there is this idea of really, really tend to the inner well of love that is inside of you, and to not have it ebb and flow, depending on what you receive from the outside world; that your source of love will keep everything okay as long as you focus on that. Does that make sense?

Lori:

Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Thank you.

Well, Anne, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing your heart and your method. And we will have shown notes on how to reach Anne if writing therapy and Write or Die sound like something you would like to explore.

Also, I encourage you to go to anneheffron.com and just pick a few of the essay she's written or they work she's published of other people to get an idea of what coherence looks like to other people. Thank you for being with us, Anne.

Anne:

Thanks, Lori. Thanks for all your work.

Lori:

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