Candace Cahill lost her son Michael twice, first to adoption and the second time when he died at age 23. The story follows Cahill from the moment she makes the decision to give birth to her baby, to her tortuous decision to relinquish him to adoption, through the subsequent years of doubt and yearning, to their reunion, and finally, to his heart-wrenching, untimely death. It is an intimate story of child relinquishment and child loss as well as a sensitive and intelligent exploration of motherhood and forgiveness. Today’s blog is thanks to LINK>an interview of Candace by Michèle Dawson Haber for Hippocampus Magazine.
As a writer, trying to get my own family’s story told, her insights into the publishing experience are informative. I know about the need for a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter to keep the reader wanting to read more. Candace says “I wanted readers to feel as if I was sitting next to them telling the story. It was about finding the right balance between exposition and scene.” Writing is harder work than I once believed. She also made an interesting choice for her narrative arc – “I originally opened the book with the scene when I hear Michael has died, and then I interspersed my pregnancy and his childhood. It worked, but not as well as when I arranged the events chronologically. I’m much happier with this structure; it feels more intuitive.”
Michele notes – Your story about . . . one first mother’s experience of adoption from pregnancy, relinquishment, years of no contact, and then reunion, is an important contribution to the discourse on the impact of adoption. To which, Candace noted – until recently, stories from the point of view of a member of the first family have been mostly non-existent. In sitting down to write it, her only thought was, “I’m just writing my story for me, it’s not going to be published. It was only when I got about halfway into it that I realized it should be out there, because it is a story you just don’t hear.”
In this blog, I do advocate for family preservation, even though I would not even exist if there had not been the adoption of both of my parents. Michele says “There are many who believe that adoption should be abolished altogether. These advocates say that the effort and resources that are put into adoption should be redirected to family preservation.” Candace realizes that “My story puts me on both sides of that issue. It could be used by an abolitionist, and it could be used by adoption proponents as well. Writing my story has helped me come to see that two things can be true at one time. I don’t believe that we are ever going to get to a place where adoption isn’t needed at some point. There will be times when the natural parents are incapable, unavailable, pass away, or whatever it may be, and there are no other kin that can step in. But we do need to make much more of an effort at family preservation, or at the very least, we need to quit stealing children’s identities.”
Michele notes – “only after reading your book did I consider that a first mother might also undergo an identity crisis. Do you mind telling me what you discovered about your own identity over this period?” Candace replies – “My biggest struggle was recognizing that I was a mother. That, despite the fact that I relinquished my child, I still was a mother. I’m not a parent—I was never a parent. But I am a mother.” As a mother who really didn’t raise my own daughter beyond the age of 3, I understand this perspective.
Candace says I “started querying agents in February 2021.” Then she mentions, Legacy Book Press. She thought it was perfect because they only do legacy stories. That is when she decided to skip the agent thing and go straight to publishers. She says that “Legacy accepted right away, and I decided to move forward.” In the interview, I learn that Candace had training as a social worker. I have great respect for the field because my beloved, decease mother-in-law was a member of that profession. She says that the field – encompasses empathy, the ability to recognize and see other people – and I would say from my own experience that was very much true of my mother-in-law.
Candace expresses her intention this way – I am using my memoir as a case study to develop a curriculum that can be used in social work departments and as continuing education materials for adoption professionals. I also hope to help adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents learn to be more open regarding everything related to adoption, but especially in talking with their adopted children openly and honestly. Michele ends her interview acknowledging how that – “work is so necessary to help transform understanding of the impact of adoption and forge a path toward systemic change.”