American singer Billy Joe Royal recorded “Tell it like It Is” in the 1980s. In The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, I tell what it was like to grow up as an adopted person in the 1950s and the decades beyond.
The Goodbye Baby is unique in its focus. As in no other time, the repressiveness of that era made it an embarrassment to be “not the real daughter.” The contrast between outward facade and inner pain could be dramatized only by going back in time. Instead of just recalling my depression, I used daily journal entries—by the younger me—to dramatize the emotional hard times.
The book is framed in essays: about adoption-induced hangups, about my growing acknowledgement of that dark side of adoption, and finally about rising above the destructive part of my adopted self. The heart of my book comprises journal entries I penned from age 13 through my mid-40s.
While there are some excellent memoirs about growing up adopted, only The Goodbye Baby relies so thoroughly on written diaries to tell the story. You, dear reader, might call it “experimental nonfiction,” consider it crazy or daring, label it as eccentric or egotistical, but utilizing selected diary entries was the only way I could deliver my message. And what, you ask, is the message? Basically this: that my life was my life, and the only way I could accept it was to stare it down. I reviewed my diaries to see where I’d been and to decide where I was going.
The diaries were not written for posterity. At the time, diary-writing was a powerful form of self-therapy. Little did I dream at the time that they would one day be published. Readers have given me feedback. I’ve been told that the diaries describe how they felt as teenagers, that the romantic relationships I describe could have been theirs. The emotions my diaries reveal are universal. As one reader pointed out, you don’t have to have been adopted to have an “Edgar” (my term for the monster of self-doubt that likes to rear it’s ugly head). Friends who’ve finished my book say that once they started reading, they were riveted. They read through to the end, often staying up until two in the morning. I am amazed and gratified that one woman’s path to healing and wholeness can help others along their journeys.
There are risks in revealing ones diary entries. Possible embarrassment was at the top of the list. People mentioned in the diaries might be angry or resentful. Over time, I overcame my fear of these risks. I had been trying to write a book about my adoption for 23 years. Originally, my title was “Reunions,” and the book was to include accounts of meeting my original parents. As an adult, I met the “originals”—Velma and Giovanni—and, while valuable, the reunions were not comforting. At long last, I literally had to “adopt” myself.
My self-adoption was extremely beneficial. It was a powerful validation. In “harvesting my journals,” I could finally let the past be past. I could begin to live authentically. It is a wonderful thing, I learned, to be true to oneself.