Department of Writing prof and Associate Dean of Fine Arts Lynne Van Luven is back with another book, Somebody’s Child: Stories about Adoption (TouchWood Editions)—the third in a series of anthologies about the 21st-century family that also includes Nobody’s Mother and Nobody’s Father. This latest volume of 25 stories of “longing and belonging” sees Van Luven reuniting with Nobody’s Father co-editor Bruce Gillespie to reexamine traditional definitions of the concept of “family.”
Van Luven appeared at TouchWood’s latest At The Mike reading series on October 25, alongside UVic graduate Barbara Stewart (Campie) and Jane Johnston (whose story, “A Mother Out Of Time,” appears in Somebody’s Child), all of whom were discussing the idea of “Life Writing” at Cadboro Bay Books. As part of that reading, Johnston shared some of her own experiences with adoption, which reflect the intimate and personal nature of the essays found in her new book.
“I gave birth in 1971 as a so-called ‘unwed mother,’ during the aptly named baby-scoop era. At that time, you may as well have killed someone, the shame and punishment for being unmarried and pregnant was just that great. We pregnant girls were hidden away in ‘homes for unwed mothers’ in neighboring towns, cities and provinces. We naturally grieved the loss of our families, our friends, our schools, our communities, our activities, our churches, our pets—well, everything that gave us an experience of belonging. We became lost to ourselves. We were taught that if we truly loved our children, we would let married people raise them. New birth certificates were forged with new names and the original records were then sealed for all time.
We mothers came home empty-armed, expected to behave as if all was well. We were not to make anyone uncomfortable with our grief. The rule for silence was all-encompassing. So, why would anyone so stigmatized want to revisit the shame and pain and expose themselves, and their families? Well over a million mothers and children are still carrying the burden of this time. Many adoptees don’t know the truth of what happened, and many older mothers will go to their graves silent and shamed.
While even murderers may be freed and pardoned, most provinces still have permanently sealed adoption records—a life sentence that keeps mothers and children apart. Some, like myself, have found ways around that system, but the toxic secrecy and shame of that era prevails in law. The past has not really passed.
It has been said that we are each a part of the greater tapestry. When we stand back we can see patterns emerging and how our part fits in the greater picture. So, writing about the dark decades separated from my son, followed by the overwhelming joy of finding both him and his adoptive family (with no government help) has been transformational. Sharing my voice means finding my place in the bigger story, and also the possibility of helping others see themselves in a healthier way. Adoptees might realize the possibility that their mothers do want them. Do love them. Adoptive parents might realize there are no finite amount of people to love and be loved by in return. And importantly, grieving mothers who see their lives reflected in the stories of other women may begin to heal, if even a little.”
Barbara Stewart was also interviewed recently by UVic’s Martlet, and offered high praise for the Department of Writing. “The writing department faculty has a spirit of generosity that extends beyond the cost of tuition or the borders of UVic,” she said. “Time and again, help has been there when I needed it, even now.”