Interview by Karen Pickell from Lost Daughters

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2015

We Are Not Our Story:

An Interview with Author and Adoptee Claire Hitchon by Karen Pickell from http://www.lostdaughters.com
I recently reviewed Claire Hitchon’s latest memoir, The Wall of Secrets, in addition to its predecessor, Finding Heart Horse (you can read those reviews here). Claire’s life has been affected by adoption in profound ways, and I thought she might be able to give important insight to those of us who continue to struggle with processing trauma from our own adoptions.

I am grateful to Claire for the open and honest answers she’s given to my questions on difficult topics. There is encouragement here for all of us. It is soothing to hear Claire’s words.

How did you become comfortable talking about the difficult circumstances of your childhood and adoption? What types of reactions have you received from others, both inside and outside of the adoption community?

I survived by disassociating at a young age from the pain of abuse, rapes, and street life. The Wall of Secrets was a real wall in my parents’ library. I carried it in my mind until my adoptive mother passed away and I found my biological family in 2003. I could relay my story to anyone and not feel anything, until then…then the drawers started flying open and my worst nightmare became real.

It wasn’t until I began to write that I actually crawled into the places that hurt the most. I relived each and every secret. It was the most painful journey I’ve ever experienced. It was as if, once I found my birth mother the secrets had to be hauled out, one by one. I was already fragmented from reunion and all the secrets had to be dealt with in order to become whole and healthy. I went into seclusion, exhausted and physically ill. There were many times I wondered if I would ever reach the other side.

Each rewrite became a bit less traumatic and finally, the parts I had disassociated from were spread out in front of me in words, including the primal wound of adoption. Only then could I speak freely and without hesitation knowing I had dealt with, processed, and accepted all of it. The story that had been inside me, poisoning me, was now nothing more than words between the covers of books. I was no longer my story.

I’ve received various reactions, more positive than negative. You’re in a place of complete vulnerability when you share a story such as mine. I decided those that judged were not the people I wanted in my life anyway. Reactions have been from absolute horror and shock and being told, “Things like that are best left untold” from an older woman at a book reading, to tears of gratitude and validation that one is not alone. I’ve had women of my generation open up about their experiences with narcissistic, mentally ill mothers, comments from young adults about finding hope, to people unable to listen or read as it is a trigger, a piece of their pain not yet processed.
Have you connected with other adoptees who also experienced abuse in their adoptive homes? If so, have you discovered any commonalities in how adoptees who have been abused process that trauma throughout their lives?

I’ve been able to connect with others in various settings. I was an RN in psychiatry for over twenty years and many histories of patients held the secret of adoption in them. Most of us survive by disassociation from abuse suffered at the hands that were supposed to care for and love us. We tend to self-medicate when we get older with alcohol or drugs, not realizing the core issues of our pain. A disconnect keeps us from being re-traumatized or even loved. We live from a fear-based place. I’ve seen some that act out and then there are those of us who crawl up inside and just go on, carrying the pain until we are ready to look at it, if ever. There is a need for search even if it doesn’t lead to reunion for most of us to face our initial trauma, the primal wound. All adoptees begin with the initial trauma of loss. You can come from an adoptive family full of love and still experience similar issues; the abuse is just another layer to dig through.
As an adult, you cared for your adoptive mother for many years until she died, which seems remarkably compassionate considering her treatment of you. How were you able to reconcile your complex feelings toward your mother during that time?

I held on to the hope that things might change for many years. We all want our mothers to love us, adopted or birth. I realized nothing was going to change so I had to find a way to care for her without destroying myself. I had to work and I had a daughter to raise. I was a practicing Buddhist, yet finding compassion for her as my mother was beyond my abilities then. I had to look at her as a psychiatric patient, nothing more, just an ill person needing my care. I was an only child, there wasn’t anyone else, my father had died years before. I felt an obligation as one human to another. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to find forgiveness and also compassion for her.
Did you receive an explanation from your birth mother about why she relinquished you for adoption? If so, were you satisfied with her explanation?
Claire Hitchon
No, unfortunately my birth mother was quite ill and also emotionally detached when I met her. My understanding is that her mother insisted she give me away. This was in the early 1950s. She was twenty-five years old, not a young girl. She went on and had two more girls and a boy and kept them. Her mother even moved in with them to help. I have no words.
In The Wall of Secrets, you discover that your birth mother had two other daughters. What is your relationship with your sisters today? Have you been able to develop a close connection with them?

Yes, she also had a son. The two sisters and I share the same father although she wasn’t married at the time. I grew up, as I mentioned, an only child. To find siblings was beyond my wildest dreams. So many synchronicities and similarities we immediately connected. (This is so very painful to even think about.) Unfortunately, trying to integrate into a family after fifty years of absence is difficult. I looked at reunion as a chance for the whole family to heal and grow together. I found my birth mother and lost her. I found my family and now they are lost as well. The second and third rejection only magnifies the pain and loss of not growing up with them. Adoption affects everyone. History won.
What advice would you give to other adoptees who have experienced abuse or disconnection from their adoptive families? What has been most helpful to you in coping with and recovering from the trauma of your early years?

Understanding that it wasn’t your fault is huge. To know that all babies are born innately pure and none of us deserved the pain handed down from generations past. As adults, we have to take responsibility for re-parenting our inner child, healing the wounds and discovering that we are not our story. We have to break the cycle for our children. You must clear your life of toxicity no matter who it is. Leave the negativity behind and create the life you deserve. One filled with love and acceptance of self.

Thank you Karen Pickle from the amazing website http://www.lostdaughters.com for this interview.

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Lost Daughter’s Review of Finding Heart Horse & The Wall of Secrets

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Two Memoirs by Claire Hitchon: Finding Heart Horse and The Wall of Secrets
Those of us who speak out in favor of adoption reform are frequently accused of being angry and maladjusted due to having a bad adoption experience. We are dismissed as anomalies. Show us the happy adoptees who are on your side, many say. Most adoptees are happy about their situation, don’t you know? Most adoptions give children better lives than they would have had otherwise.

We feel compelled to make the case that there are so-called “happy adoptees” in our ranks who also recognize problems within the institution of adoption that need to be addressed. But what about those of us who did, in fact, have a bad adoption experience? Are we not entitled to speak? Do we not count in the big picture of adoption?

This was the thought I couldn’t shake as I read Claire Hitchon’s first memoir, Finding Heart Horse. Labeling her adoption experience as “bad” would be a gross understatement. She was placed with a physically and verbally abusive adoptive mother who clearly had no love for her and a meek adoptive father who did nothing to intervene on her behalf. To make matters worse, the family attempted to keep her adoption a secret, even from Claire herself.

Young Claire had a passion for horses and found escape from her daily abuse by creating an imaginary pet, the way some children turn to pretend friends for solace:

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“I always wanted a horse . . . And so it was that when I was eight years old, I gave myself my own horse, my imaginary Heart Horse.”

But not very long after she leaves home at fifteen, Claire makes her way to the rough streets of 1960s Toronto where she becomes entangled with another horse—Street Horse, her private name for heroin.

The title of the book refers to her quest to find a real Heart Horse, both literally and figuratively. The memoir chronicles her struggles on the streets with dangerous substances and relationships. All the while, Claire holds tight to a vision given to her as a child by a kind uncle—that out West, there was a place where wild horses roamed the land. She retreats to this place in her mind, imagining she will someday find her Heart Horse there, while in the real world she strives over and over again to create a home and family for herself.

Finding Heart Horse is a difficult book to read, because Claire’s early life was very painful. Yet, it is also a hopeful book about finding strength within oneself to keep trying, to never give up, even when there seems to be no one and nothing you can count on. Claire learned to count on herself and ultimately was rewarded. The tenacity of her spirit could not be broken.

Her first memoir left me with questions that I was pleased to have answered by her recently released second book, The Wall of Secrets. In addition to her imaginary pet Heart Horse, the young Claire also concealed her most private secrets in the wall of antique bank deposit drawers in her father’s library—the place where she would hide to escape from her cruel mother.

In her second memoir, all metaphorical drawers are opened, their secrets revealed. We learn how she discovered that she was adopted when she was eight and that her adoption was more complicated than even she had ever imagined. We see all the ways her adoptive mother continues to torment her into adulthood and how her adoptive father shrinks under the weight of his wife.
Claire Hitchon
Despite the devastation of being virtually family-less, we watch Claire grow into a capable, caring woman who raises a daughter on her own and cares for her aging adoptive parents—even the mother who has been only vile toward her. None of the bad that’s been done to her can squelch Claire’s true, innate nature as a compassionate human being, though her ability to trust in other people’s love for her seems to be indelibly damaged. Claire is a good person, worthy to be loved, yet she struggles to see herself as worthy.

At the age of fifty, Claire resumes the search for her birth mother that she started and then abandoned when she was thirty. All of the drawers in her wall of secrets are finally emptied.

“. . . I was standing in the same spot I’d been standing in just minutes before, but I’d become an entirely different person.

I was someone . . . .”

Along with her original identity, she finds the reason for physical ailments she has struggled with her entire life. Reunion does not mend all wounds—she calls herself the “almost daughter”—but it allows her to view herself and her difficult life with a new perspective.

“Life is not without suffering of some kind. It doesn’t mean that something is necessarily wrong. It just usually means we are clinging to the hope that things will be different.”

Although all is not resolved, The Wall of Secrets concludes on a hopeful note. I wanted Claire to be okay, and by the end of her second memoir, I felt confident that she would be.

Of course, her being okay now does not—and should not—erase all the wrong that was done to her via her adoption. Nor does it mean that she no longer struggles or that she is always happy. None of us who have endured a difficult adoption experience should be expected to never struggle or to keep quiet about it. It is only by opening up all of these walls of secrets that we can understand where changes need to be made to ensure that every future adoption truly brings more good than bad to a child.

Claire Hitchon’s two memoirs describe myriad ways in which adoption affects a person throughout the entirety of her life. Rather than dismissing adoptees like Claire, we need to be listening and learning.

Thank you to Karen Pickell from the amazing website http://www.lostdaughters.com for taking the time to read and review my books.

ESSAYS OF AN ADOPTION ACTIVIST by THE DECLASSIFIED ADOPTEE

I have just finished reading Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston’s new book “The Declassified Adoptee-Essays of an Adoption Activist”.  Twice in fact.

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I’m sure most of you know her as “The Declassified Adoptee” through her website, blog or The Lost Daughters network.

Amanda is the founder and editor of Lost Daughters as well as being a Social Worker, Author, Speaker, Award winning blogger, Feminist and Adoption Activist.

ImageI’m sorry, I don’t know who to credit for that description of what being an Activist means.  I felt it important to let people know just how important it is we all take this stance and learn from Amanda how important it is to speak our truth.

When I found Lost Daughters it was like finding my home.  Finally, a place where i belonged, where I fit in and knew I would be understood.  Having followed their blogs for some time I have been fortunate to experience the essence of what it means to be part of a sisterhood (and brother), to be with “those who get it”.

In JaeRan Kim’s foreword she puts it so eloquently in stating that Amanda, through these essays “calls for a more equitable and humane conceptualization of adoption.”

We, as adoptees are the last to speak.  Because of people like Amanda, others have found their voices in blogs, rallies, memoirs, and groups.  Because of this, CHANGE WILL HAPPEN.

That’s what being an activist means.  Creating a better future for those in the world of adoption.

  When she was born, I was 33.  Having participated in the Vietnam War Protests back in the early 70’s I considered myself, at the time to be quite the activist.  In my 30’s I was an R.N. working in Psychiatry fighting for the wounded, yet I was unable to find “my truth.”

Amanda, in 2009 at age 24, the age I would have walked in protest navigated the maze of government requirements and obtained her birth certificate and adoption file, thus eliminating the “secret information”.

 The Declassified Adoptee came into being.

I share my timeframe because it’s important for everyone to be included no matter what age.  This is a book of inclusion.

The essays within the covers of this book were born from her blog and cover the topics we all wish someone had spoken to us about before we began navigation and maneuvering  around  adoption land mines.  It holds information that is helpful to everyone touched by adoption.

I spent my life searching, finding my biological family when I was 50.  For myself, attempting to join, merge with a family already well established in how they functioned, was nothing I could have anticipated.  Perhaps, if we all had been better prepared in knowing what to expect, how to navigate the emotional roller coaster reunion is known for, our chances would have been better.  Having Amanda’s book would have shed some light on what has been a forbidden topic for years, especially in my era.

There are no wasting of words in this book.  I turn the page and the title is How to Listen to an Adoptee without getting offended.  I was tempted right then to scan the pages and send them out to the world.  It’s not an easy journey, this life as an adoptee, nor is it easy to unite with the family you were first born to.  This dialogue is needed between all of us, sooner rather than later.

Page after page I could feel the Love and Compassion in between the lines as she spoke about her adoptive parents and her first mother and family.

I was moved to tears in the essay “A Letter to my Prospective Adoptive Mother.  What that little baby might have wanted to say.”  She had a wonderful mother of adoption.  I know, despite the different environments we all grow up in that deeply ingrained beliefs lie in the tangled web of the limbic system.  It’s how and what we choose to do with them that makes the difference.

The need to know is there.  We search faces, countries, records..anything that will prove, that yes, we do in fact…exist.  Yes, we have a right to be here and yes…we do belong.

We need to feel empowered, not silenced in our search for self.  We need more Amanda’s in our world.  Each one of us must find our voice and let it be heard.

Tough topics are embraced in these essays.  From Abortion, Children of Rape, to Mother-Daughter-Mother Connection.  Her words are clear, concise and relative to each and everyone of us.

Adoptees live in a world of secrets.  From the lack of access to our own history and heritage to the amended birth certificates that so many of us still carry.  Secrets and Lies…How can we know who we are…when we don’t know who we were?

Amanda states she was around 11-12 when she first saw her amended birth certificate.  I was around that age as well.  It is, of course nothing more than a piece of paper with a lie written down, stating that your adoptive parents are in fact the ones who gave birth to you.  Like Amanda, I felt as though the wind had been knocked right out of me.  How could this be?  How could they lie about something so important.  As Amanda states, “the lies need to stop.”  I was intrigued with this essay and the research Amanda had done, because I, at 61 still do not have “a real birth certificate.”

Nearing the end of the book, I was left wanting more.  To read such a moving, yet provocative book of essays that apply to all of us, no matter what colour, what circumstances, what age, is inspiring and at the same time reassuring and comforting.  You are not alone.

For adoptees who have lived with secrets and silence for so long, these essays bring to light the many tough subjects that need to be discussed, written about and discussed some more.

I was so moved by the last couple of essays for many reasons.  Honouring each other’s stories with love and compassion and truth is vital to healing.  As Amanda is a Social Worker, she is acutely aware of all aspects of self disclosure.

To listen, truly, completely listen is a gift as well as an honour and so greatly appreciated.

To be heard, really heard and to be held in the hands of truth and love is where healing lives.

I feel honoured to be writing about this book and bear witness to Amanda’s story.

The Declassified Adoptee Essays of an Adoption Activist is a book I believe should be  on everyone’s coffee table, out in the open, where everyone involved can pick it up and ask questions, discuss the hard topics.  It needs to be in book cases in houses where adoption has touched lives in any way.

From the words in between this cover you will find your voice and you will be held with such compassion you will speak your truth.

Imagehttp://www.thedeclassifiedadoptee.com

http://www.thelostdaughters.com

Book available on Amazon.com