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How Adoption Unfiltered Provides an Honest Take From All Perspectives

Adoption Unfiltered shows the full spectrum of the adoption process, authored by adoptee Sara Easterly, birth mother Kelsey Vander Vliet Ranyard, and adoptive mom Lori Holden.
Ranyard, Easterly, and Holden (L-R) are the authors of Adoption Unfiltered: Revelations from Adoptees, Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents, and Allies
Ranyard, Easterly, and Holden (L-R) are the authors of Adoption Unfiltered: Revelations from Adoptees, Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents, and Allies Lena Eivy
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Adoption has been around forever. But the first modern American law about adoption was only established in 1851, and even then, it was poorly recorded. Despite the number of adoptions increasing significantly in the twentieth century, reporting was only required between the years 1945 and 1975 — and even then, only on a voluntary basis. It took until the year 2000 for "adopted son/daughter" to be included as a potential category on the national Census. So the history of adoption — much like the process itself, which is as unique as a fingerprint for each person involved — is a hard thing to define.

Still, its discussion, if not its definition, is important. Statistics from the Adoption History Project out of the University of Oregon state that by the 1970s, 175,000 adoptions were being finalized annually. Not including informal and unrecorded adoptions, conservative estimates suggest that there are five million adoptees in America today, and 2.5 percent of all American children under age eighteen are adopted. And those are just a record of the adoptees themselves; when you consider all those affected directly by the adoption experience — the biological and adoptive parents and siblings — the number rises dramatically.

That breadth will be illustrated by the expected crowds at the launch event for Adoption Unfiltered: Revelations From Adoptees, Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents, and Allies at the Arvada Library tonight, December 1. While success at a book event is often measured by the dozens, the number of RSVPs a week out from the launch had already hit triple digits.

Adoption Unfiltered is by a trio of authors: adoptee Sara Easterly, birth mother Kelsey Vander Vliet Ranyard, and adoptive mom Lori Holden. Together, the women encompass 75 years of combined adoption experience, and represent generations from the Baby Boomers through the Millennials.

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Rowman & Littlefield
This isn't the first media venture for the three co-authors. Easterly and Holden both have previous books about adoption (Searching for Mom and The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption, respectively), along with a host of nationally published articles. Easterly is the founder of the Adoptee Voices support group, Ranyard hosts the first birth-mom-based podcast, Twisted Sisters, and Holden also has a podcast, called Adoption: The Long View.

The idea for the book began here in Colorado, at the Tattered Cover book launch for Easterly's 2019 memoir. Holden came to that event, and an alliance was struck. "We kept in touch; I did some writing for her on her blog," recalls Easterly. "We were on a phone call one night — one of those long calls where you and a friend are solving all the world's problems, right? — and we said sort of offhandedly that we should write a book together."

That idea percolated for a couple of months, getting ever more serious as they continued to talk about it. They knew they needed to find a birth mom to round out the book idea, and when Ranyard was one of the presenters at a Colorado-based adoption conference put on by the Adoption Search Resource Connection (ASRC) in 2021, they knew they'd found their third. "She was so articulate and savvy and well-versed in advocacy and policy," says Easterly, "it was just really clear."

They began the writing process, meeting weekly and sometimes daily to outline the book, toss around ideas as to organization and style — all the things that go into building a collective work from the ground up. In gathering their materials, they did fifty interviews with the four groups that define the four sections of Adoption Unfiltered: adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents and those devoted to the support of people moving through the lifelong adoption experience. "We're three white women," Easterly says, "and that doesn't represent enough of adoption. We wanted to be as inclusive as we could make it."

Inclusivity is one of the goals of the book itself, the three writers agree. "We came into it all knowing that we were in our separate bubbles," Ranyard says. "The whole point was to foster communication and connection, to talk to people with very different ideas of what adoption is, and what their perspective and experiences are. The more you pursue connection with people you perceive as different from you, the more you find that you really have significant common ground."

Holden warns that the "win-win" narrative upon which the adoption system has been based is just one of the dangers to those involved in the process: "People will say things like 'You should be grateful' and 'You would have had a terrible life,' and that prevents people from seeing the nuances. So part of the un-filtering that we're doing in the book is about preparing those just starting the process for the realities of it. I came in new [as an adoptive parent]. I had no idea of the complexities. I thought love conquered all. I was unprepared, and it was a disservice to my kids, and to their birth parents. It's not a win-win. It's not a lose-lose. It's both-and."

"Adoptees are really used to living in dualities," Easterly adds. "You're so special; you were chosen. These were the talking points of the time [in the 1970s]. It just leaves no room for grief, for dealing with the losses that are involved. I felt such loyalty to my adoptive parents, but I was looking for my birth mom everywhere, all the time. It was a secret wondering, something I couldn't express even to myself. It was like it would burn me."

Holden and Ranyard nod while Easterly recounts this detail from her past — actually, all of them nod when one of them is explaining their point of view, which speaks to how much discussion, both speaking and really listening, all of them had to do in preparation for Adoption Unfiltered. The book isn't just a deconstruction of a too-often-underestimated process; it's not an advocate for one side or another. It's an honest and compassionate look at adoptive identity and the natural insecurity that implies for those involved in it. Holden recalls something one of her podcast guests said: "We all come to adoption on our knees, all of us from all perspectives. If we choose to just smile through it and keep saying, 'I'm fine, I'm fine' — it's all going to collapse somehow."

Sara Easterly, Kelsey Vander Vliet Ranyard and Lori Holden launch Adoption Unfiltered, 6 p.m. Friday, December 1, Arvada Library, 7525 West 57th Avenue, Arvada. The event is free, but an RSVP is requested.
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