It’s time for another adoption book review. This week, we’re focusing on You Don’t Look Adopted by author Anne Heffron. I started reading this book last Saturday and by Monday I was done. I couldn’t put this book down. It went into immense of detail about Heffron’s personal life and how adoption deeply affected her. I found myself relating to a lot of the emotional turmoil that Heffron experienced throughout her life as a result of her adoption, and how she began to heal once she started writing about it. Since the book is 159 pages, it’s an easy weekend read for any fellow adoptee or an adoptive parent. I’d encourage everyone to read this book if they’re interested in the topic of adoption and how adoption affects adoptees throughout their lifetimes.
Heffron’s book doesn’t have chapters, rather, each section of her writing has a short header summarizing the piece. Some of the unique titles for sections that I found to be very poignant and important to me were “Here I Am,” “This Pool of Myself,” and “Big Macs Cost Money.” Heffron’s titles are similar to poetic titles and the length of each section varies from a paragraph to about one or two pages. I liked that Heffron didn’t stick to a chronological way of writing about her adoption. With a lack of numerical chapter titles, she allows herself to write in a way that’s free of constricting prose and allows readers to understand how processing her adoption takes her a lifetime. Heffron’s unique writing and formatting style allows readers to digest her work in short intervals of time and allows readers to jump in and out of Heffron’s story as she processes her past.
The main focus of You Don’t Look Adopted is how adoption has caused Heffron emotional trauma and how she’s learning to heal. She describes how adoption has negatively affected her sense of trust in various relationships over the years, and her sense of commitment. Heffron talks about how she can’t commit to finishing things (college, jobs) as a result of the damaging effects of her adoption. Adoption has affected her self-confidence and her ability to see herself and, for a majority of her life, she doesn’t believe that she can succeed.
Throughout the book, readers learn that Heffron was adopted into a white middle-class family on the east coast. She had two other siblings, brothers, who were both adopted as well. Though all the children in the Heffron family were adopted, each one of them processed their adoption differently. Heffron describes “struggl[ing] with the way things [were]” and how “the idea of stepping into the spotlight and talking about [her] needs would be like trying to peel off [ones] own skin.” Heffron never felt like she could talk freely about her adoption, and because of it, suffered emotionally until she started healing through her writing.
As the book continues, readers transition alongside Heffron as she revisits her past, and updates readers on current events in her life. We learn that Heffron has attempted several times to contact her birth mother and her birth family. However, her birth mother refused to meet with her but, after her death, Heffron was able to meet with some of her birth family to try to better understand herself. The rejection of her birth mother was very painful and upsetting to Heffron, and in some ways furthered the negative thoughts that she had about herself. Since Heffron’s adoptive parents were very closed off about talking about adoption, and her birth mother didn’t want contact with her, Heffron felt very alone in processing her adoption. It was damaging that she didn’t have any allies supporting her adoption journey and was consistently told that adoption couldn’t be a painful part of her past.
Though Heffron marries and has a biological daughter, Keats, she still feels very emotionally isolated. During most of the book, Heffron continuously notes that her daughter has left her to attend college. This, along with the emotional baggage and trauma that Heffron has carried from her past into her present causes her deep emotional distress. She’s been married and divorced twice, her daughter is gone, both her birth mother and adoptive mother are dead, she’s just gotten fired from a teaching job, and she’s just been broken up with by her long-term boyfriend. Heffron feels as though she’s hit rock bottom, she’s at her breaking point. She’s not sure what she can do to help heal herself anymore.
A fellow writer encourages Heffron to go on a writers retreat to help her process her emotional baggage. Feeling helpless, Heffron accepts and ends up going. She takes a chance on herself and for the first time in many years, she feels like she’s found relief from the pain of adoption as she writes. She shares some of her pieces centering around adoption like “The Baby Momo Story,” with other writers and is met with praise and encouragement to tell her story. The positive praise at the retreat allows Heffron to begin to process some of the trauma of being an adoptee while letting her writing flourish. She begins to heal and trust herself for the first time. The book ends on a triumphant note, as readers understand that while Heffron isn’t fully fixed from the trauma of adoption, she has made steps in trying to support and heal herself through her writing.
I’m glad that I read Heffron’s book. I too have felt unable to understand my adoption and how it has affected me. It is only later in my twenties that I’ve begun processing how some of my personality traits have been affected by my adoption. Like Heffron, I find myself having a hard time committing to things. I’ve left jobs over little reasons and in the past have jumped in and out of relationships instead of staying to explore how I could be a better partner. As I read Heffron’s accounts of some of her relationships, I too realized that being adopted at birth gave me a keen predisposition to feeling abandoned, and, not wanting to feel it again, I would rather give up on jobs and relationships then feel as though another person might leave me first.
As I’ve started reading more about adoption, blogging, and processing, like Heffron I find myself feeling freer to process and discuss my emotions around adoption. I appreciated the honesty in Heffron’s prose and the realizations that reading Heffron’s book gave me. For adoptees who are now adults, Heffron’s story can be a milestone in understanding one’s adoption and allowing oneself to acknowledge difficult and complex emotions that exist around one’s adoption. I applaud Heffron for bravely telling readers about her triumph as a writer and adoptee. I’ll be recommending this book to friends and other adult adoptees.
Until next time,