Montclair’s Zara Phillips, a local musician and the former model/muse for Andrew Cohen, the Montclair photographer we lost to cancer earlier this year, is also an author and an adoptee activist who has helped campaign for adult adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates.”
Alma Schneider caught up with Phillips to learn what motivated her to write her most recent book, ‘Somebody’s Daughter’.
You’ve already written a book about your experience as an adoptee. Can you talk about that a bit?
“The first book I wrote, ‘Mother Me,’ was more on becoming a mother and the impact that had on me as an adopted person. I then began to do more talks on this topic and others.”
What inspired you to write this new book?
“My story took a whole new twist, I actually thought I was finished with writing about this topic and then something huge happened which I will not reveal. You have to read the book…”
How would you sum up this new book for someone who knows nothing about you or your work?
“This book will give anyone that wants to understand the adoptee experience an in-depth look at the life cycle, the emotions that we have to deal with, the milestones in one’s life that re-trigger the adoption experience. Hopefully this will help people that live with adoptees or raise them to understand the issues.”
What changes have occurred in your life since you wrote the last book?
“I got divorced and met my birthfather, both huge things in my life. It’s been an emotionally charged time full of more opportunity to go deeper into looking at my stuff and hopefully heal!”
What are you hoping to convey to readers with this new book?
“I want to give a voice to adoptees who do not yet know how to express their pain and grief. I want adoptive parents to be aware so that they may know it’s nothing to do with their parenting. I want the mental health profession to understand more so that they may help their adopted clients.”
Do you feel your experience is similar to those of other adoptees and why?
“Yes. I have spoken over the years to many teenage groups, adoptive families, heard adoptees share their stories and that has really helped me to heal, just by talking. Of course, there are adoptees who say this is not an issue for them. The experience for others is a deep grief, feeling of loss, not feeling we fit in our adoptive homes. I always describe it as feeling ‘Somewhere in between’.”
There is some controversy in the adoption world about closed and open adoptions. Can you speak to that a bit?
“Closed records are where the adoptee is given to a new family and has no information at all about where they are from, names of parents or any other information. In England they now know that this was a form of mental and emotional abuse and see this as a disservice to a human being. Open adoption is where the birth mother is supposed to have visitations or letter writing, but unfortunately, these can get closed down by the adoptive parent feeling threatened or worried about their child. They are not legally binding.”
What are you thoughts on adoptive parents?
“The more you talk about [your child’s] birth family the closer the relationship with your child will be. The crazy thing is for so many adopted people once we go search and find we then feel closer to our adoptive parents. Adoptive parents can be afraid their children will leave, but we never do! Our birth parents cannot replace you.”
What would your advice be to adoptive parents who have adopted children or who are considering adopting?
“To be open, aware and inclusive. Your child is made up of four parents.”
What is your advice to adoptees about help they should seek out, if any?
“Support groups are very important as well as reading books and articles about the adoption experience. There are many books out there now that are very helpful and a huge community online as well. Don’t stay alone, you don’t have to. Listening to people on all sides of adoption has made a huge difference in my life!”
A Wide Range of Adoption Experiences
Many adoptive parents and adult adoptees are looking forward to reading Phillips’ memoir. Some with whom I spoke had a few thoughts about their own adoption experience that they shared with me, choosing to remain anonymous:
“As an adoptive parent, I am always grateful and appreciative of adult adoptees who share their experiences as it is helpful in understanding what my children may be going through.
Adoption is complicated and people experience it very differently. Some experience grief but some do not. It can be very individual.
As far as open adoptions go, it’s important to remember that the adoptive parents are often very interested in keeping the lines of communication open with the birth family but that the birth parents are often the ones to pull out of the communication. There are multiple people involved in every adoption, often with competing needs and rights, and it is not always a simple and straight-forward issue.”
One adoptive parent felt strongly about advocates understanding all sides.
“Everyone I know who has done open adoption has experienced the situation where the birth mom disappears and stops returning letters or calls. Ours was closed as of day 1 at the birth mother’s request. We never met or spoke with her and we signed up with an open adoption agency! She wanted this and we agreed to her requests even though we feel open adoption is a good thing.”
An adoptive mother who was also adopted herself felt that for as many people who feel the grief and desire to meet their birth parent, there may be just as many who have no interest or feel that it is not a huge, all consuming part of their identity.
—“My brother, adopted at birth like me, has ZERO interest in his biological parents and doesn’t seem to feel any pain or grief about the subject. What works for one family may not for another.
— Did I often feel totally disconnected from my adoptive parents? Sure. But who hasn’t, adopted or not? I met my birth mom when I was 30 (my adoption was closed as it was the 60s) and I’m a lot different than her, too (but do see some similarities for sure).
—I’m always happy to share my experiences if someone asks, but feel strongly that there are no clear cut answers when you’re speaking from your personal experience and those of your circle of friends or adoption community in your situation. Adoptees can have vastly different experiences and feelings about adoption from one another and we should accept and respect those as truths.”
Zara Phillips will be doing a reading from her new book, ‘Somebody’s Daughter’ and performing a few songs at Watchung Booksellers on Thursday, April 26th from 7-8 PM.