At forty-eight years old, I was sent for a breast biopsy. For most women this alone is a nerve-wracking experience, but for an adoptee it produces layers of complicated emotions. My health issues compelled me to launch a search into my closed adoption, something I’d delayed doing for years. While I evaluated search avenues, I resumed an old habit: journaling. And as I recorded the crazy twists and turns of my adoption probe, I toyed with the idea of eventually writing a book.
During the five years that it took to locate my birth relatives, I wrote various versions of my search story. Concurrently, I enrolled in writing courses. And as I studied the tools of my craft, I realized the narrative I had written lacked compelling characters, riveting scenes, and a clear story arc. Frustrated, I set aside the memoir and turned to the genre I loved to read: fiction.
For months I worked on conjuring a story world ripe with believable characters and an intriguing plot. The novel I created was influenced by my lived experience as an adoptee working with an intermediary tasked with locating birth relatives. Even though it was fiction, I was still writing what I knew. My novel progressed and it held promise, but as often happens, real life interfered.
And during that process of sorting, purging, and donating, I discovered a banged-up, heavily taped carton, a box that years earlier I had given up for lost. Inside, secreted below high school memorabilia, lay my teen journals. Finding them felt like hearing from an old friend. Journal after journal, I scanned entries penned in a familiar yet different handwriting. And while my adolescent musings lacked scenic details and dialogue, the young author’s voice was intuitive, reliable, and endearing. In the narrative, I rediscovered what the young-me thought about growing up as an adoptee.
As I boxed up the journals, a plan crystallized: Shelve the novel; Spend my energies injecting material from my journals into a fresh draft of my memoir about the search for birth relatives. Using the elements of fiction that I’d learned in writing class, the boring narrative I’d penned several years before sprang to life.
In May, my debut memoir Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging will be released. I began writing my story over ten years ago, sidelined it briefly to pen a novel, and then returned to the manuscript with the required skills to serve the story’s needs.
JULIE RYAN McGUE writes about finding out who you are, where you come from, and making sense of it. Twice a Daughter is her first book. Follow her at https://www.juliemcgueauthor.com.