Adoption.NET writer, Julie Corby sat down with author Jillian Lauren to talk about Jillian’s latest book, Everything You Ever Wanted, about adoption, trauma, and finding your family. Order your copy today. The interview is in three parts.
JC: You mention that this book was a eulogy for your friend. What do you think the difference was in your situations that allowed you to rise above and recover, and that ended in such a terrible way for her?
JL: It’s still a mystery to me. I don’t know (we are talking about my friend who died of a heroin addiction) she and I had come from very similar places and I don’t know why it was that she didn’t make it and I got everything I ever wanted, like the title of my book. I think that motherhood has changed me, and transformed my life, and given me a purpose beyond myself. I don’t think it needs to be motherhood that does that, but for me that has been it. And so I do think that that gives me a real reason to not go back to more self-destructive ways or to give into the call of the shadows and the scars. I mean it’s still there, it’s always there. It’s always a part of me.
JC: A very moving part of your book is when you talk about that feeling of “hungry darkness.” How often does that come over you?
JL: I’ve struggled with depression my whole life, and I’ve had various substance abuse issues at different times. I also feel that I am somebody who is always going to be examining the nature of consciousness, of time, of existence, of love, of connection, and those answers aren’t always some Pollyanna answers. Life is a hard and painful thing. Last night I just had this real sadness come over me, maybe it’s that I’ve been talking about all this stuff a lot, that I’ve been spending a lot of time with my friend who died, through my writing. It’s a much harder time in our parenting and I just felt so sad and my son came and he just lay next to me on the bed and he was like, “I’ll trade you a kiss for a tickle.” Like if I kiss you, then I get to tickle you for ten seconds, and I was like all right, all right, I’ll take it! And also you have to get up. You have to make him breakfast. You’ve got to get him to school, you’ve got to clean the dishes, and get him in the bath. There is a certain momentum that happens it’s both exhausting and reenergizing. So I don’t know what it is keeping me away from the self-destruction other than having a purpose beyond myself.
JC: I wanted to ask you your feelings about infertility treatments?
JL: What I tell people who are going through it, and are facing the gauntlet of infertility treatments and the huge cost of it, and the cost of it financially and to your marriage and to your body, I still think that you have to do it until you’re done. Because the psychic cost of wondering “What if?” I mean for me, I didn’t take it as far as I thought I would before I really felt done. My closest friend at the time was also doing fertility treatments at the same time and she went on after I had stopped and now she has twins, and those twins are my son’s closest friends. I feel like it was a happy ending for both of us, and there are lots of ways to go about it so I’m not against it. I wouldn’t do it again.
JC: The reluctant spouse syndrome-how did you deal with that? And what do you feel was the defining moment when your husband Scott Shriner came around to adopting?
JL: I hear a lot, just anecdotally, from women who say that their husbands are skeptical about adoption. And I always say, don’t give up on them. It sometimes takes people a little while to come around to the idea, to wrap themselves around this idea that may seem a little bit foreign or unfamiliar at first. I think Scott really loves the book and he is also really embarrassed about that part. He was like, “Of course you have to include it but I’m really embarrassed that I ever was skeptical about it.” Because, of course the very first time he saw a picture of his son he said, “He’s perfect, that’s my son.” And really those two are crazy soul mates. I was very gentle. It wasn’t that I pushed him and pushed him, and nagged him and nagged him, we went to a seminar about it, and he heard stories from other adoptive parents. He also has a very good friend who has a son who is adopted and his friend put a bug in his ear, which of course sometimes is just way more effective than your wife saying, “you should do this.” His friend and his friend’s son are so close and they just have this terrific and inspiring relationship. I think Scott was very moved by that, he was moved at least enough to investigate it a little more. I think that really, always, it’s just knowing someone who did it. It’s the personal connection. It becomes this thing that is not just theoretical but that you see at work in the world. And I think that’s one of the reasons that I wrote the book, so I could offer our story to that conversation.
JC: Do you feel like men get hung up a little bit on the bloodline thing?
JL: It’s a wild generalization, but I will just go ahead and make it, yes. And once again I think that you just have to see more non-traditional family structures at work to let go of that a little bit. I mean I had it, a little. I was adopted and I thought, I’m going to feel so much more connected to this world if I have a baby out of my body, and that baby looks like me, and looks like Scott, if I look into it’s eyes and see myself, but really what made me feel connected to the world was meeting all of these adoptive families who have similar stories. I have never felt more at peace and more of a sense of belonging than I do with the adoption community.
JC: Would you describe Tariku a little bit?
JL: My son is big and loud. He is a bright star, you can’t miss him. If he’s in the room you’ll know it. He’s always dancing. He loves music. He loves people. He’s really social. He’s very funny. He has an idea about how things should be going in his world and whoa to you if you should have a different idea of how things should be going. He’s stubborn. He is a fierce warrior. It is not the easiest kind of kid to parent, a warrior, because warriors don’t want to be parented by nature. I’m pretty sure that in a few years he’ll be ruling the world. So watch out for that!
JC: Let’s talk about trauma, about raising kids who experienced trauma. Maybe you could describe, a little bit, what you think your son Tariku was experiencing and why. You have a great list or resources for parents in your book, but maybe you could say what you think the best thing was you did to help him?
JL: The best thing we ever did for him was realize he was struggling with trauma. You know just bringing that kind of consciousness to our parenting was so helpful. People are often very surprised and skeptical when I say my son has PTSD. They say,“ but you adopted him at eleven-months old what could possible have happened?” I don’t know, he was terrifically ill, he had pneumonia twice before he was ten-months of age, he could not sit up unassisted; he was the size of a six-month old when we adopted him. He had been separated first from his birthmother and then moved from one care facility to another. He was quarantined for two weeks, and this all in his first year of life. All the specifics are not necessarily that important because all that you really need to know is that trauma, in the first two years of life, is incredibly impactful on the brain and to know how brain chemistry happens, and how people are neurologically wired and with trauma they are reacting to the world as an unsafe place. Anything that they come into contact with is potentially a threat. It is the opposite of an infant who has had a successful attachment cycle. A normal attachment cycle you have a need, that need is answered. Our children who have suffered trauma in their first couple years of life, they had a need and that need was not answered. What they learned was that they were at odds with the world. So they will often have a response to anything they perceive as a threat, whether it’s a transition, or a no, or anything that isn’t exactly what they wanted, exactly when they wanted it, as if it is a threat to their very existence. One thing that somebody told me that was incredibly hopeful to me was, “He’s not testing you, he’s testing his model of the world.” So his model of the world is that he needs to be in control of everything or he won’t get fed, or he won’t get loved, or he won’t get taken care of, and he will die. So when he was testing us in fairly extreme ways up until he was about four and a half years old, it was helpful for me to keep that in mind, that he wasn’t testing me, he was testing his model of the world. So I think that in Tariku’s case, who also has sensory processing disorder, which is not unusual for kids who have suffered trauma, becoming aware of that and having him in occupational therapy was really helpful. We have a trampoline for him that’s incredibly helpful. We have earphones, noise-canceling earphones. When he was younger we would bring them everywhere, to the mall, to the grocery store, to any place where there was over stimulating background noise, or foreground noise. Even at the movies, the movies are so loud. He could watch the movies if he had the earphones on otherwise he would literally just fall out of his seat and run around, so those things were at the top of our personal list.