My guest this week is Sara Easterly, an adoptee who wrote a book, Searching for Mom, about her quest to find her birth mother. But, more than that, her book is a spiritual and emotional search that tries to come to terms with something experienced by many adoptees, a feeling of abandonment. Along the way, Sara learned many surprising things about her adopted mother, her birth mother, and herself.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On Why she Wrote the Book
I’ve written the book in hopes that by sharing my raw and honest perspective, I can help others understand the often-misunderstood hearts of adoptees.
On Fantasizing About her Birth Mother
I heard the DJ say that Madonna’s birthday was that day and she was 30 and I was 15 at the time, and so, I thought, “Oh my gosh, Madonna is my birth mother! That’s why she gave me up for adoption!”
Listen to my Interview with Sara Easterly
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of my Interview with Sara Easterly
Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy, and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. Every week I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, to find out what inspires them and how they, are an inspiration to other authors. Our guest this week is Sara Easterly, an adoptee who wrote a book, Search for Mom, about her quest to find her birth mother. But more than that, her book is a spiritual and emotional search that tries to come to terms with something experienced by many adoptees, a feeling of abandonment. Along the way, Sara learned many surprising things about her adoptive mother, her birth mother and herself.
Sara Easterly: Well, hi, my name is Sara Easterly. My memoir “Searching for Mom” is my debut. It’s a story that’s about many things. It’s about my mother-longing as an adoptee. It’s about experiencing the premature death of my mom, while trying to make sense of our complicated mother/daughter relationship. It’s about my struggles with my faith, as impacted by my adoption and some of the evangelical messaging around it, and it’s about my battles with anxiety, perfectionism, fear, to name a few, and my path to stepping fully into motherhood myself. So, there’s some grittiness in it and there’s also a lot of love and light in it. And I’ve written the book in hopes that by sharing my raw and honest perspective, I can help others understand the often-misunderstood hearts of adoptees.
Howard Lovy: Sara is an Indie Author, but she is definitely not a newbie to publishing.
Sara Easterly: I spent a lot of my career running my own company and, in that realm, working as an event planner, and an author publicist. I also was the Co-Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators of Western Washington, out here on in the Seattle area.
And I think part of what drew me into working as a publicist was because I was already pursuing, you know, my writing career on the side and just working in honing my craft. So, I’ve been working and honing that craft for 20, some years and then I started writing a few middle grade novels, graphic novel, with the friend who’s the illustrator, and a young adult novel, none of which have been published yet. I did publish a children’s book, but I haven’t, hadn’t gotten into doing the memoir until I started searching for my birth mother. And then I just started writing my way through the search.
Howard Lovy: So why did she become curious about finding her birth mother after all these years? It’s complicated, but it began when she became a mother herself.
Sara Easterly: It really started when I gave birth to my first daughter, and it was the first time I was able to look at my own genealogy. Someone related to me by blood, through my daughter. What kept happening is everywhere I went, everyone was telling me, that she looked just like her father, my husband, and he’s a good-looking guy, you know, it was a really nice compliment. But it was really, I didn’t realize it at the time, that it was really affecting me because, you know, I wanted, I needed her to look like me. I hadn’t been able to see myself reflected in anybody in my family, ever, and this was the first time and so, I would do all kinds of things, I would take photos of her and line them up next to photos of me as a baby and I’d even tried to kind of recreate scenes from photos that I had and try to match them. You know, it just kind of started slowly, kind of pulling me out of what is often called, the fog of adoption. There’s kind of a notorious phase that many of us go through called, “living in the fog” and I was definitely in the fog and that was what first started to bring me out of the fog. And then just, over time just came to realize that I really had some issues that I wanted to get through and find my birth mother.
Howard Lovy: What Sara calls the fog of adoption is something that’s experienced by many adoptees. For Sara, it was a rich fantasy life, of a famous birth mother.
Sara Easterly: You know, I think I was unconsciously searching for my birth mother everywhere I went, and it was it was definitely unconscious to a degree. The information that I had growing up was that my birth mother was 15 years older than me so, as an example, when I was an adolescent, and we were listening to the radio and I heard the DJ say that Madonna’s birthday was that day and she was 30 and I was 15 at the time, and so, I thought, “Oh my gosh, Madonna is my birth mother! That’s why she gave me up for adoption!”
You know, it’s kind of looking for that answer and trying to understand why. Because I think I always felt like I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t, you know, good enough to keep, that relinquishment, just was — pain was there and wanting to make sense of it. So, Madonna was, you know, a wonderful fantasy. I did the same thing with Oprah Winfrey, but I’m a white woman and that, you know, that was a fleeting, fleeting thing that didn’t add up either.
So, I was doing this unconsciously, and then I ended up getting into a parenting group and turned into being a women’s group and the facilitator was someone I admired, she was very charismatic and so I think, I know I did, this is when I kind of became conscious of this lifelong thing that, any woman that I admired, I was kind of deciding she was my birth mother.
And so that happened with the women of this women’s group and it turned out to be not a very, you know, there were ways that it was useful. But there were a lot of ways that it was what’s known as a conflict group and ultimately, not good for me. It was kind of everybody meeting and getting together and talking about how narcissistic their mothers were and, in the meantime, becoming just as narcissistic because there was just a lot of drama and a lot of things that were sweeping us away from our families, frankly. But through that, when I realized that the leader of this group was not my birth mother, I just said I have to, I have to resolve this, I have to go find my birth mother. This is — I’m turning 40 and a few months and I can’t keep doing this.
Howard Lovy: It was while she began looking for her mother that she decided she needed to write about the search at the same time. Then her adoptive mother passed away, and she knew she had a story that was more than only about the search. Sara realized she had a deeper spiritual longing within her, that she needed to include in her memoir.
Sara Easterly: When I first was going through this search, I was, you know, meeting regularly with my writing group, and one of my writing group members said, “have you heard of these, this new thing called an immersion memoir?”, and I didn’t even really look up what it was or what you were supposed to do. But I thought, well, I’m in the middle of my search right now, why I’m a writer. That’s how I make sense of my world. I’m going to just start writing now. So, I thought that my book was purely about the search for my birth mom and then what happened is, as life happens, shortly after I found my birth mother. And, you know, I was like I said, I was in this group that was turned out to be quite spiritual so, I think there was a spiritual kind of story in me and a longing. Then about a year and a half later, my mom began to die. She went into my adoptive mother. She went into a rejection from her double lung transplant. And so I came to see that my story was really not just about searching for my birth mother, but it was, you know, a story of my mother longing, and, you know, my reticent faith and then my relationship with my adoptive mother and the healing that ended up, you know, coming out during her death.
Howard Lovy: Sara’s adoptive mother passed away in 2014. But it took four years of what she called grieving and writing through the grief to finally finish her memoir. Some of the issues she needed to get through are coming to terms with something that many adoptees deal with, feelings of being unwanted or rejected. Her adopted mother found comfort in religion, and so did Sara, up to a point. I’ll let Sara tell the story.
Sara Easterly: One thing that’s interesting about the evangelical messaging around adoption, and at least in my case, and I think it’s fairly prevalent is that it really focuses on the adoptive family. So, there’s a lot of, you know, God brought us to you and God gave us this gift of you, as the baby that we always longed for. I was told by my mom, you know, many times that the reason I was brought to my family was to turn them into Christians because there was a story between my mother and I, when I was a little girl, I was seven years old chasing a butterfly all around the yard, and sadly, the butterfly went into the street and I saw it was kind of like my first time lapse experience where this car came and I saw it coming down the street and it crashed right into the butterfly. And I stayed with my butterfly friend until she died. I decided her gender, that I stayed with her until she died.
And I was so hysterical that my mom took us right away to church, you know, she needed some something else to answer and I didn’t understand what Heaven was when she tried to describe this. So, she whisked us off to church, and then on the other side of that, she turned out to be herself a born again, Christian. So that became a really huge family story, in our family. It was, you know, kind of my mom loved to share that story. In fact, she went on a speaking tour of sorts, speaking at various mothers of preschoolers groups at churches, sharing that story and always you know, feeling that that was why I came to the family.
You know, that’s all well and good for her, as the adoptive parent, but it didn’t leave a lot of room for the feelings that I had. I had a lot of grief growing up. I had a lot of fear and feelings of rejection and feelings of being unwanted. And then it’s really hard because there was also pressure put on me to live up to that, you know, kind of special baby story. So, there’s just a lot wrapped up in it. So, I think I didn’t realize it, but it was keeping me at an arm’s distance emotionally from both my adoptive mother and the faith that I grew up with.
Howard Lovy: This feeling of rejection is something that many, if not most adoptees have to deal with in their lives.
Sara Easterly: I hesitate to speak for all adoptees, but pretty much all the adoptees that I know and I’ve been really fortunate enough to have in my adoptee groups and community, yes, it’s, I think it’s a pretty universal feeling. We don’t always say it and you know, I think I’ve been blindsiding a lot of people in my life, in recent years now that I’m talking about it because it’s a very private thing, and many of us would never admit to that. We have to, you know, our brain has defenses, to put up the walls to protect us. We can’t focus on that or we won’t get through life, but it is. And it affects the mental health of adoptees, you know, one in four adoptees statistically commit suicide. So, there are or attempts to commit suicide. It’s — there’s real, real pain there so, relinquishment pain. And so, I think that’s where, back to the faith that just you know, it was hard to have that unacknowledged and live a life where I had to pretend that didn’t exist. And you know, I would say the same is true from my birth family. That’s a loss for the birth family as well. That doesn’t get included in that story because birth, mothers experience the same kind of trauma upon separation from their infant, no matter the circumstances.
Howard Lovy: Sara found her birth mother and is developing a relationship not only with her, but with a newly discovered extended family, including half siblings. But there was one more surprise in store for Sara, something her adopted mother told her before she died and then confirmed by her birth mother.
Sara Easterly: You know, I think one of the things that for me was really freeing. I had found this out shortly before through my adoptive mother, but I did not know that my birth mother had actually tried to keep me. It was back in the 1970’s in Montana, which was the tail end of what’s known as the baby scoop era. And there was a lot of corruption in the adoption industry. And the obstetrician who delivered me, just threatened her and yelled at her and berated her when she was trying to take me home. So yeah, my birth grandmother had gone out to get diapers and onesies and bring me back home. They were fully in support.
It turned out my birth mother was not 15 she was actually almost 18 which, you know, to me, still sounds young, but at the time, it wasn’t as young, they were planning to do this. But my, the OB just, you know, basically shamed my birth mother.
I have to say, I mean, it was hard to hear that, it was, I had, to do some forgiving of my adoptive mother because I do think she, you know, she didn’t, I don’t know if she knew but I think she didn’t ask any questions. So, there was a way that I kind of for a while was like, I was kidnapped. The other piece of it, it’s, you know that, you know, just my mom had told me that she had had a change of heart and she told me that only right before I was about to begin my search, and she kind of said it out of venomous anger at the time. So it reframed just knowing that even before I had heard that full story, just even knowing that, reframed a lot of my life almost instantly, I mean, I just, you know, this huge shift, wow, I was wanted and, gosh, I wish I hadn’t been told that before. That would have been really important information to grow up knowing.
Howard Lovy: So that’s a lot of emotion and memory and reframing of childhood for one person to endure, during the four years it took to write this memoir. For Sara, the trick to immersing herself into the topic, while also staying calm, is to use Scrivener. Hard to believe that a word processing program can do that. But I’ll let Sara explain.
Sara Easterly: This might be a little more practical than lofty, but I write in Scrivener. I love Scrivener. I’m a huge fan of Scrivener. And so, I just think it allows so much playing and helps me kind of compliment the working part of writing with the playing that I need in order to access my heart and get my heart to show up. So just some examples. I put photographs into Scrivener in the notes panel, that’s how I use the notes panel. And I’ll put either childhood photographs or photos of my mother, photos of, I have a lot of theme of butterflies because you heard that butterfly story. So butterflies, whatever, whatever kind of evokes the kind of feeling that I’m trying to bring out in my scene. I’ll have that in the notes panel and then I also listen to music. I usually have one song per scene. And I put that, I note that in the notes panel, and then I play it on my headphones while I’m writing. And so, it just plays over and over. And I’ll just put it on repeat and I eventually don’t even hear the words. But it just really gets me into my emotions, and it feels like playing. It just starts to be a channeling of the story at that point.