Kay Trimberger and I have been discussing her inspiring new memoir, Creole Son: An Adoptive Mother Untangles Nature and Nurture. I learned so much from her book and from our discussions. (The first part is here and there will be more after this one.) But some people think she had no right to write this book. In this part of the interview, I ask Professor Trimberger about that issue. I am also curious about her reaction to the wonderful Afterward written by her son.
Bella: Some adult adoptees and their advocates say that adoptive parents don’t have the right to tell their stories. Why did you decide to write this memoir and to be unsparing about the difficulties you and your son faced? How do you think you found the fortitude and the motivation to put all that on the page and share it with the world? What was Marco’s reaction?
Kay Trimberger: I struggled with the issue of whether and how any parent should write about a child. I don’t think there is any one correct position, but something that each parent has to face and resolve. When a son or daughter is an adult, I think they should be involved in the decision. Marco was in his late twenties when I started writing and from the beginning I told him what I was doing and he approved in principle. He read and gave his permission to an early article I wrote. Not all offspring, whether adopted or not, would feel the same way. They may be more private or have a variety of personal reasons why they don’t want to see themselves in print. A few may want to tell their own stories. But adult adoptees or any adult offspring face the same issues in writing about their parents or other family members.
Marco was always very open with me from the time he was a small child, so I learned a lot about his experiences from him. I also am an open person who does not keep secrets and I’m not easily embarrassed. When Marco finally read the whole manuscript, some years later, I was relieved that he liked it. I don’t think I would have published if he had objected, or I would have changed a lot. He said I had got most things right and he only wanted a few alterations in revelations he felt were too personal. I readily complied. Other incidents that he found embarrassing he left in, saying that they led to who he is today. He read the behavioral genetics research with interest; for he said it helped him better understand his life.
I think Marco was pleased that I had spent so many years trying to understand him and wrote a book with him at the center. It increased his self-esteem. He saw that I loved him and that I didn’t think he was to blame for his addiction. All these factors, I believe, led him to choose to use his real name, even though I had written using a pseudonym for him as for almost everyone else in the book. I even considered using one for myself. When copies of the book arrived in late March, Marco was delighted, as he proudly showed it to the neighbors and his friends. To repeat: Not all adult adoptees, nor adult offspring, would feel the same way. But I reject any rigid position on this topic.
Bella: I loved the Afterword, the chapter written by your son. Was there anything he said there that surprised you?
Kay Trimberger: I was pleasantly surprised that he wrote so well, with his own clear voice. When others too praised his writing, I suggested he take a writing course and tell his own story. He didn’t respond. I didn’t persist, for I realized that he had to further resolve his addiction issues in order to have the discipline to write, something that may never happen. I also recognized that this might be another example of my trying to impose my interests on him. Adoptees, as well as biological children, can find their own means of self-realization, one often different than that of their parents.
I was surprised that Marco wrote so openly about his birth parents, with more detail than I had known or used. Perhaps this was his way of beginning to deal with the ambivalence that many adoptees feel in a reunion after a honeymoon period.
Lastly, I was surprised that Marco wrote that he felt responsible for his birth mother’s relapse into addiction after his reunion with her and his birth father when they all used together. Although she was only seventeen years older than Marco, and his birth and adoption were traumatic for her, she was still the parent. But I didn’t say anything to Marco or try to change what he wrote. Later, I considered that it was positive that he didn’t blame her, for it kept open the possibility of an ongoing relationship.
Kay Trimberger is a professor emerita of women’s and gender studies at Sonoma State University and an affiliated scholar at the Institute for the Study of Social Issues at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The New Single Woman, among other books, and she also blogs about adoption.