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Education & Outreach


An Interview With Lori Holden, Co-author of Adoption Unfiltered

We are so excited to have the opportunity to sit down with Lori, Sara and Kelsey at their Chicago stop on the Adoption Unfiltered book tour next week. Because we just couldn't wait to see them in person, Torie DiMartile, MA, sat down with all three incredible women to discuss the book, adoption, and lessons learned, and we are excited to share those interviews with you over the course of the next week. First up, Lori Holden, MA, who you may know as Lavender Luz, is an author of three books, including The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, host of the podcast Adoption: The Long View, adoptive mom to two amazing humans, and has been honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. 

What is your connection to adoption?
Almost 23 years ago, my husband and I became adoptive parents to a newborn baby girl and two years later to an infant baby boy. They are now young adults. I learned a lot through those years. Of course, everybody's learning about parenting when they become parents, but we had the added layer of adoption.

When we went through our home study we were beneficiaries of an infant adoption training initiative that our agency used. While open adoption was fairly new at this time, the agency did a pretty good job of helping me understand why open adoption was better than what came before.

My best friend in elementary school through high school and college had been adopted through the same agency we went through. She had a closed adoption from the 1960s, and it never made sense to me. It never felt right that nobody ever talked about it. She knew she was adopted, but she didn't seem to wonder about her birth parents. I would have had a burning curiosity. And she may have too, but it was just the era where you didn't talk about birth parents. 

When we started pursuing adoption, I was actually relieved to find out that it wasn't like what I thought it was, that it had changed and evolved. We got chosen by an expectant mother, Crystal. We met her and less than two weeks later her baby was born. During her time in the hospital, her friends and family had been in to see the baby  – everyone  except for her beloved grandmother who had cancer and couldn't leave her house. 

So on our way home from the hospital, instead of going to our house, which is what we were advised to do, we went to where the grandmother lived. We had these moments of trust, building these cords between us that dropped a lot of the defenses and insecurities on my part, and we sought ways to let Crystal know we were now in it together. We all just really wanted to make this work well for this little baby girl. We stayed in touch for many, many years, until my daughter got old enough to call her own shots about it.

I didn't get that same situation with my son because his birth mother didn't want that. She wasn't prepared to have that kind of contact and so that was a little bit heartbreaking for me, because now I had an expectation. He was about three weeks old when he came to us.

In the meantime, in those early years, I searched out both our children’s birth fathers because I thought, for all of the reasons that birth moms are so important, birth fathers must be very important too. If not now, someday. So we navigated four different relationships with two different kids over the years. I had the sense all the way through that I was preparing them to handle their own relationships. I was not anything more than a temporary caretaker of these relationships. I think if anything, my kids would tell you that I erred on the side of too much contact. Too much, Hey, have you spoken with AJ lately? Would Joe like to come to your volleyball game? I know now about being more adoptee-led, but in my zeal to be inclusive, I may have gone a little far at times.  

If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice from your current self to help you along the journey of adoption, what do you think you would say?

I would say to drop the expectation that raising these two kids in this day and age will be a lot like how it was for your parents raising you. I think that's a long way of saying that consequence-based discipline and traditional parenting based on behavior is not your friend.

One of the things the agency did as part of their post-adoption services was have us attend a workshop on love and logic parenting. And it made so much sense to me. But, you know, consequence-based, separation-based parenting didn't work really well in my home, because . . . what we were actually dealing with were separation (relinquishment) and attachment issues. I wish I had known more about connected parenting and polyvagal theory and “connect before you correct" because focusing first on connection is so much more important than focusing on behavior. Until I knew better, I focused too much on behavior and not enough on connection.

That's a good piece of advice and good self reflection, too. So when it comes to having written a book and shared this meaningful process with Sara and Kelsey, what were some pieces of their stories that really resonated with you as an adoptive parent?

With Sara, I think it has to do with a guest post she wrote for my blog about, I want my real mom and what that really means when an adoptee says that. Adoptive parents like me tend to think it is them pushing away. Sara explained it in this really, really brilliantly written post that it's actually a bid for connection. So that was a total re-framing that I can now use when I go out and talk with adoptive parents. 

I've also learned a lot about attachment theory from her work with the Neufeld Institute, which has really supplemented all the work I was already doing on my own in different things. There are a lot of ways to look at attachment and I feel like now I have a good toolkit with lots of ways of looking at things. All of that was super helpful. 

One of the main things that I've learned from Kelsey is to look for the context. This goes for adoptees as well, but if the birth parents in your life are doing something that either really makes you mad or doesn't make sense, try to imagine what context could be going on. Kelsey covers that in the book a lot. Why don't they reliably show up for a visit sometimes? Why do they always need to bring a friend? Why is it hard for some birth parents to show up not in an altered state? 

When we start to look at the context of the grief underneath we see those are all coping strategies, not people being "jerks." In all cases, one thing I've learned,  in parenting, in marriage, in any relationship, is that people are usually doing the best they can with what they have at that moment. And so context is applicable to not only birth parents but also adoptees, kids, grown kids.  

You have so many insights from your own experience, but also from learning from other constellation members. What does that look like in practice? What projects have you undergone to share that knowledge with the larger adoption community? 

I have a podcast called Adoption: The Long View Podcast and it's a little different from some of the other adoption podcasts where somebody comes on and tells their story. With mine, I always try to find a person who can teach me something that I didn't already know or that I had to learn the hard way.

I had Suzanne Bachner and Maggie Gallant on once; they're two playwrights and adoptees from the closed era. They talked about how even if your child's birth parents aren't available and you can't have that contact, you as the adoptive parent can still carve out space for them. It's okay to wonder about them. You can still just make that space so that the adoptee doesn't feel like they have to do it behind your back.

A couple of the episodes are just really striking to me of things I hadn't thought about that way before. Joanna Ivey is an adoptee and an adoptive parent and she talked to me about the entrance narratives that adoptive parents tell of how we became a family. This is where I started thinking more deeply about concepts like we were meant to be and God wanted you for us, and  how we adoptive parents present to the world why we adopted, how this person came into our family –  and how that looks from the adoptees' viewpoint. So that episode was another one where I thought wow, I wish I'd known this earlier! I take the things that I wish I'd known earlier and try to share them with people who are in the early stages.

So when it comes to Adoption Unfiltered, can you talk a little bit about the process of including the perspectives of three different constellation members. How did the book idea come about and how did it logistically happen across three minds?

Sara and I had met when I attended her book signing for her memoir about four years ago here in Denver. She grew up here in Denver and Anne Heffron said, Hey, you might want to go to this. So, I went and I brought my daughter with me and I got to meet Sara – she was a celebrity at that event. I don't even remember this, but she took a picture of us together, and we stayed in touch. 

We decided she would write a guest post on my blog. She did that a couple of times and they were so well received. It was the start of the pandemic and she wrote an article about what adoptees need at this time of anxiety. The way she tells it (and I don't have any memory of this because I must have blocked it out) is that I started getting pummeled online about something in adoptionland. She reached out to me, she said, "How are you? I see the humanity in you , you're not just an evil adoptress or whatever. But how are you?"

In hindsight I am blown away that she would even reach out. We had a good conversation and we got into solving all the problems of all the things. And she kind of said flippantly, We should write a book together. We're both writers. A month later, we were both at the AWAKE Conference attending a panel that Kelsey was on, and behind the scenes, Sara, and I were like, oh, my gosh, she's a birthmom. She knows current practices. She's smart. We need to ask her!

We asked her if she’d write a book with us and she said yes. So we started just throwing ideas out and we decided to get an article published and see what we even have to say. The article that ended up in Severance Magazine about talking with each other and looking at adoption through all three perspectives. Then we decided to write up a book proposal, which takes a long time. We ended up going with my agent for my first book, who ended up going with my publisher for my first book. And once you get a publisher, then you actually write the book!

So if you had to give this book and make it mandatory reading for one group of people in the adoption world, who do you think that would be and why?

It's a toss up between adoption professionals and adoption lawmakers. I say that just for going as far upstream as we can. 

I  think adoptees really need to have their experiences normalized the way Sara did. And for Kelsey, too, I think normalizing and de-marginalizing birth parents is so important.

And adoptive parents need to have their experiences brought more to the surface -- so much of what happens within us is subconscious – our insecurities and our entrance narratives that aren't super truthful or effective. 

If you could make one important change that would shift the way adoption happens, through agencies, adoption professionals and adoptive parents, what do you think that would be?

It's hard to say anything other than more awareness and knowledge by reading this book. I know that sounds self serving, but I feel like if people knew better, they would do better. I like flipping the lid off of things like Oh my gosh, really? I never thought of it that way!

And I see it happen. I leave the workshops and sessions I lead for adoptive parents and get to see them thinking a different way about their child's experience and opening up to learning more and doing things a different way. I did an article for NCFA last August that talks about the qualities that I think are necessary for adoptive parents - openness, curiosity, and humility being some of the most important.

Join us (in-person!) at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL on Wednesday, February 28th from 6:30-7:30PM for a panel discussion and book signing with Lori, Sara, Kelsey and guests. The event is free with registration. You can also order your copy of the book at the end of the registration form, and help support The Book Stall, an independent book seller for more than 75 years. Plus, they are donating 20% of all Adoption Unfiltered book sales to On Your Feet - order your copy from them today!

Thank you for recognizing the importance of post-placement support: