Jana Wolff answers questions about “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” (part 1)

As many know, we started an online book club, and today is the day we will begin discussing “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” on Facebook. The author of “Secrets”, Jana Wolff, agreed to answer some of our questions about the book, and here is the first of two posts with her answers. The second half will be posted this afternoon.

Q: Do you still agree with everything that you wrote in the book?

JW: Because it started as a diary, I wrote with brutal honesty—without the constraints of thinking that I had to be politically correct or act like an authority on adoption. I’m not sure whether it was naïveté or courage that allowed me to be so revealing … but it seemed to validate the feelings of many other adoptive parents.

I do not agree with everything I wrote in the book (see next question), but I still think it accurately captures the anxiety and ambivalence that are commonly felt early on in the adoption process.

Q: Was there any part of the book, such as your version of the birth mother letter, which you thought of leaving out?

JW: That unsent version of the birth mother’s letter, which I wince at now, came from feeling utterly powerless and also indignant that we couldn’t have a family in the “normal” way. That letter—with its gross generalizations about birth mothers—is a much more scathing reflection on me than on birth mothers.

I hope that the insensitivity I let readers see at the beginning of the book with the imagined letter is moderated by the dawning enlightenment I show once I’ve had the chance to get to know and like a real live birth mother (namely, my son’s).

I’ve been slammed for that letter, but it underscored the strong ambivalence I felt at the time. Leaving it out would make me look better, but then I wouldn’t be sharing secret thoughts, I’d be sharing sugar-coated ones.

Bottom line, I would not have allowed the book to be published without the blessing of my son’s birth mother, who felt it was a hard but important and honest story to tell.

Q: How did you get over your thoughts of “this wasn’t the real thing” as it relates to birth and adoption?

JW: The short answer is time.

As I came to learn what Ari’s repertoire of cries and faces and grunts meant, I became the one who knew him better than anyone else. Part of owning the role of his Mommy was feeling able to handle his needs.

Another aspect was psychological.  Part of me felt like I didn’t deserve to be the real mother because Martie had done all the hard work—I was there and saw for myself. I was conflating the debt I owed Martie with the ability to fully embrace the real mother mantle, as if my claiming Ari was negating Marcie. I found it comforting to remind myself that Martie picked me because she thought I would be a good mother to her baby.

I had to get over another hurdle, too. The fact that I didn’t resemble Ari in the slightest was a constant reminder that I was not his biological mother. Sometimes I felt like a real mother inside our house but not outside. The question of feeling like the “real thing” faded over time. It’s a big issue that becomes a non-issue.

Q: There are some adoptive parents who speak about how they knew it “was meant to be” as soon as they held their son/daughter. Do you think more adoptive parents have your fears and are just uncomfortable admitting it? When did you begin to see your son as yours?

JW: When we first met Martie, three months before Ari was born, my husband and I felt that this was “meant to be.” But having come to know her, and being present at the delivery, actually made it harder to see our son as ours exclusively, and a bit of a stretch to think that the baby that I had just seen Martie deliver was “meant to be” ours all along.

Ari became “mine” when I gave myself permission to claim him … not at a particular point when he did something, like call me “Mama” for the first time. I think there’s a pressure on adoptive parents to feel instantly like a family, but it’s really a process that most of us grow into.

Even if you don’t start out feeling like it was “meant to be,” you end up feeling like it was.

Q:You wrote that it took time to fall in love with Ari; was there a specific moment when you realized that you loved him?

JW: I hurt for my baby when he had blood taken from his toe the day he was born … was that love? That was on the way to love. I was always very tender with my son … but my feelings of love for him had to catch up to my actions. It’s related to the process of “claiming” your child as yours. There wasn’t a specific moment when I realized that I loved my son … it happened with time and shared experiences.

Against the prevailing image of parents who fall instantly in love with their child, it’s easy to feel inadequate and unmotherly if you don’t. I can tell you that a slow start is not a predictor for how well you’ll do as a parent or how deeply you will ultimately fall in love with your child.


We would all like to thank Jana for taking the time to answer all of our questions. If you have read “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” and would like to join the Book Club conversation, please join us on the Adoption STAR Facebook page.