Monday, August 16, 2010

Seeking the Past, Changing a Future

As an adoptee and a mother of three, I spent a number of indecisive years debating whether to look for my biological mother. Finally, at the age of 60, I did. What I found was that most of the tales told by agencies and adoptive parents are whitewash jobs or just plain fiction.

My non identifying information—all I was entitled to despite the $900.00 I paid the lawyer and the agency—was less than adequate. It did provide limited help putting together the pieces missing in my life story. Most important, the information inspired me to turn my birth mother’s life into a novel, a projection of what might have been.

Tangled Web is so named because of all the deceptions surrounding adoptions: the lies in the family, lies to the neighbors and the illegal aspect of some adoptions. The shame that was associated with illegitimate births in my day was life changing for birth mothers.

The only facts that I had to go on were in the non identifying information, which talked about my extended Welsh family and my own personality traits as described by two different social workers. My adoptive family turned out to be different from my humble beginnings. I’d spent nine months looking "adoptable" like a puppy in a shelter—two Welsh foster homes and later in Germantown, a section near Philadelphia. Once I was part of a family, my personality might have changed. The reality was that it did—briefly—later all the old survival techniques and coping skills returned.

After the non identifying information was delivered, a kind social worker spoke to me on the phone. She told me more and let my mother’s real name slip. Otherwise I’d not have known who she was. Having the real name made the entire story come to life. I did not use those names in this book. If my birth mother had wanted her name used, she’d have okayed identifying information and not changed all the names on the birth documents. Instead, I was able to use her personality and her circumstances as a jumping in spot for her life story.

I call her Catherine, the name that she gave herself on my first birth certificate.
Catherine had to rebuild her life and reputation by moving to a big city and minimizing contact with the people who’d betrayed her. She sets new goals and priorities in a time of political upheaval, post depression and WWII. One could say that Tangled Web is a combination of "Cinderella" and "The Little Match Girl." She evolves from the family drudge and a lonely seeker, always on the outside looking in, to a personal and professional success. I was able to give Catherine her happy ending along with a couple of gotchas. I really enjoyed writing the gotchas.

Julie Eberhart Painter


Rhobin said...

You are right when you say that not so long ago, pregnancy outside of wedlock marked a girl, or woman. It never affected the fathers, who mostly remain anonymous because they were just 'sowing their wild seeds.'

Many women today work to diminish some of the rights women earned during the last four decades. I have to believe they have no idea of what can happen. Since you were given up for adoption, the stigma against women has been removed and the very core of adoption changed. I hope we never return to those judgmental times. I'm glad you wrote about this topic

Big Mike said...

Great story, Julie. I've often tried in my mind to walk in the schools of someone that was absence of their roots. I guess unless you've been that route, you just can't knew the hidden specters it can cause.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Thank you, Rhobin, for your supportive words.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Big Mike,

You are as kind and understanding as ever.