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The Declassified Adoptee Book Reviews

The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of an Adoption Activist was Amanda's first endeavor into the publishing world. Released by adoptee-led publishers, CQT Media, this book showcased an edited selection of Amanda's most popular posts from her groundbreaking blog of the same name. Nearly ten years later, readers continue to send Amanda and her team emails and direct messages noting how the book continues to help audiences think about adoption in new ways.

The historical context of this book cannot be ignored. Amanda wrote these works  while pursuing her Bachelor's in social work during a time that these conversations were stigmatized (and often continue to be) in social work education. It was, as it is now, difficult for adopted people to seek publishing and recognition among mainstream media sources which are mostly dominated by professionals and adoptive parent authors and influencers. It was terrifying to publish this book and face the stereotypes about ingratitude as adopted people voicing opinions on adoption still gained public scrutiny at the time. Yet it was the right thing to do. Adopted and fostered youth deserve to see as many adopted and fostered adults as possible working to change the world.

As is a hallmark of much of Amanda's activism and career, her release of this book is as much (if not more so) the product of the dedication adopted people and their allies as it is of her own labor. Amanda is proud to continue the work of a long history of adopted and fostered people activists in support for justice, understanding, and acceptance for adopted and fostered youth and adults. Even now after obtaining her master's, advanced clinical licensing, years of practice and collegiate teaching experience, this book still is a transformative milestone in Amanda's career.

These reviews were originally published on Amanda's old website. Amanda remains humbled and deeply appreciative of each and every one of their words.

Dr. Gretchen Sisson

Adoption and Reproductive Health Researcher, University of California San Francisco

Adoptees live at the intersection of political, moral, religious, and philosophical debates about how we, as a society, define family and self; their every day is shaped by an institution subject to the same cultural systems of privilege and hierarchy that influence all social institutions. This complexity takes root in the lived experiences of adoptees in moments both small and large: dealing with petty middle school bullying, facing a medical crisis, forging romantic relationships, holding one's newborn son for the first time, having a well-meaning acquaintance ask a question or comment that one's children look "just like you." From addressing the experience of adoption -- both on the sweeping social scale and the intimate, personal level -- adoptees have found a generous, self-aware, and profoundly wise voice in Amanda Transue Woolston and her collection of essays in The Declassified Adoptee. When discussing a flawed system that has fostered mistruths and secrecy, or the clumsy or mean-spirited questions that follow adoptees, or the politicization of adoption by those with little understanding of its impact on those living it, or her reconciliation with the story of her own conception, Woolston finds a framework that is graceful without being conciliatory, and sensitively diplomatic without being placating. In doing so, she criticizes a system without condemning individuals, and challenges us all to not only place adoption within its appropriate cultural context, but to listen to the stories of those most impacted as its own form of social justice activism.

Martha Crawford, LCSW

Adoptive Parent, Psychotherapist, What a Shrink Thinks

"A clear, patient, intelligent voice speaking to all those interested in adoption on negotiating the joys and vicissitudes of life as an adoptee.  Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston is not only a cogent and effective advocate speaking on behalf of adult adoptees and their right to be heard in adoption policy, she movingly articulates the complex emotional and psychological realities of forging a self-regarding identity as an adoptee.  The Declassified Adoptee also offers a compassionate education for non-adoptees and adoptive parents about how to be a true ally and source of support to the adoptees in their lives. There is something here for every member in the diverse and sometimes fragmented adoption community. I would encourage first family members, adoptive parents, adult adoptees, extended family members and friends  as well as all adoption professionals, mental health providers working with adoptees, and prospective adoptive parents to read it,  let it touch them and teach them something."

Dr. Damian Adams

Donor Conceived Person, Medical Researcher, Flinders University

"Within the words that Amanda writes lays the truthfulness of an adoption story, her adoption story and experience. It is these narratives that provide the reader with an in depth view and analysis of what it may be like to be adopted. This is extremely important as no other person will know what it is like to be adopted except an adoptee, and while each adoptee’s experience will be different, every story is valid and a real outcome of an institutionalised process of both family severance and construction. It is only through truly listening to narratives such as these can society better understand and empathise with adoptees, but more importantly learn from their experiences and improve the current paradigm. I have found Amanda’s approach to both the analysis of her own adoption as well as the adoption process to be insightful and full of critical analysis while taking a sensitive approach that will endear this work to the reader. I am sure that every reader will learn something from this book just as I have."

Trish Ortiz, LCSW

Adoptive Parent, Therapist and Clinical Social Work Supervisor

In The Declassified Adoptee, adoptee and social worker Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston unpacks a
myriad of issues that are remarkably personal and intrinsically important to the adoption community,
and, indeed, to society-at-large. Transue-Woolston tackles difficult topics, including the circumstances of her own conception, with grace. While she is unflinching in the candor with which she discusses the world of adoption, the author manages to adeptly navigate its varied landscape without passing judgment upon those with differing experiences.

An inherent respect for the individual, unique narratives of every adoptee is woven throughout The
Declassified Adoptee. Transue-Woolston is careful to clearly communicate to the reader that she is
sharing her own narrative, and her own personal purview; at the same time, however, she successfully
honors a broad diversity of adoptees’ experiences, never rejecting the stories of those who have had
experiences dissimilar to her own. In this collection of essays, Transue-Woolston’s voice is both
sensitive and candid, and her writing style produces a narrative that is accessible to – and that should
resonate with - all members of the adoption community. We are privileged to accompany her as she
navigates the challenging terrain of adoption, eloquently exploring and deconstructing the many
emotional spaces that adoptees, and those who love them, occupy at various times in their journeys. As the reader is provided with a front row seat to the lived experience of this adoptee, The Declassified Adoptee persuasively illustrates that the emotional process of the adoptee is fluid, not linear. The curtains are parted to reveal a full spectrum of emotions, from pain to joy to rage.

In addition to exploring the emotional experiences of adoptees on an individual level, The Declassified Adoptee also provides an articulate, even-handed critique of a system that is flawed, without condemning individual participants in that system. Transue-Woolston is a champion for the
marginalized, and seeks to increase transparency in adoption practices. She urges freedom from the
secrecy that has long plagued adoption, and continues today in many cases.

As an adoptive parent, I urge all prospective parents, adoptees, and original and adoptive families to
read. The Declassified Adoptee for a comprehensive, sensitive deconstruction of the diverse perspectives that may be involved. As a social worker and therapist, I highly recommend the addition of this valuable resource to the bookshelves of all who work within the various sectors of the adoption profession, as well as mental health professionals who work with members of the adoption community in their practice.

Lorraine Dusky

First Mother, Author of "Birthmark" and "Hole in my Heart"

Adoption, to the adopted, is rife with hard questions: Aren't you glad you were adopted? How do your adoptive parents feel about you searching for your other family? What do you want from them? What if you find out your father raped your mother? What if you search and she doesn't want to know you? Aren't your [adoptive] parents enough? You never said anything about adoption, so I figured it didn't mean much to you...? What do you say when someone says their friend's sister is adopted and she "loves it?" And the biggest question of all, that most people never asks: "Why is it that lying in adoption isn't seen as wrong?"

Amanda Transue-Woolston, known to many as The Declassified Adoptee, answers all of these questions and more in her collection of revealing essays drawn from her popular blog of the above name. Why declassified? Because Transue-Woolston was able to unlock her own original birth certificate and her adoption file, thus her birth and adoption data was declassified.

As always, Transue-Woolston--or as I know her from our emails, Amanda--brings clarity of thought and depth of understanding to the myriad questions that adoptees face in their lives, and she does it without bitterness or rancor, no small feat.

Transue-Woolston writes that she regrets she did not speak up more to her friends about the realities of being adopted when she was growing up, but certainly she is making up for that now. Her essays--32 in all--cover the big questions anyone might have about what it might be like to be adopted in a good family, feel the need to search, do the search, reunite with that original family, and integrate both families into her life. She writes that she can be honest about her feelings to both, but that honesty needs to be "delicately balanced with acceptance of my families," and that should no one should be "barred or talked out of sharing grief."

She writes that she relates to her two mothers differently, "but not in a way that needs to be seen as competition between the two." Transure-Woolston was fortunate in that though her adoptive mother had fears and insecurities, she has come to understand her daughter's feelings and needs. This happy marriage of minds and spirits is partly what makes this collection of essays so valuable to all members of the adoption triangle for it provides a welcome template for others on the brink of search and reunion.

The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of an Adoption Activist, in clear and plain language, provides a wealth of emotional intelligence answering the difficult questions that adoptees face from the moment they learn they were not born into a family, but adopted instead. Without unnecessary verbiage, Transue-Woolston gets to the heart of the matter of what it means to be adopted, and what needs to change in adoption today. First mothers reluctant to search, adoptive parents fearful of an adoptee's reunion, and adoptees anywhere on the journey will all find much to savor in this wise collection of essays from someone who is destined to be among the leaders of the next wave of adoption reformers.

Dr. Marianne Novy

Adopted Person, Professor Emerita of English, University of Pittsburgh

Amanda Transue-Woolston's book The Declassified Adoptee does an expert job of combating some of the widely held beliefs about adoption that stigmatize or otherwise harm many adopted people. Showing what she has learned from a persistent search for her birth records,  it is full of love for both her adopted and her first family; she proves that honesty and valuing knowledge about  heredity need not be a threat to adoptive parents." The forces nature and nurture in my life are not opposed to
each other; they are both irreplaceable parts of who I am. . . . My genes--my nature--are not bad. My genes are not a foe to be conquered but rather resources to be nurtured."  Her emphasis on the diversity of adoptees' experiences is an important observation, well expressed; telling us about her own experiences, she deflates some frequently evoked stereotypes. As a social worker, she argues against the dishonesty of some agencies' policies as well as that of the closed birth record policy of her state; however, her essay "Am I Adopted At Work?" shows how she appropriately puts her clients' welfare above discussing her own experience in a professional setting.

This is a wise and readable book, helpful for adoptees or for anyone who has or will have an adoptee as a friend, client, co-worker, or family member.

Dr. Mary O'Leary Wiley

Adopted Person, Psychologist, Fellow of the American Psychological Association

Written with the eye of a seasoned social worker and the perspective that only someone who has lived the life of adoption can bring, Amanda H. L. Transue Woolston expresses herself in ways that are both individual and universal. The Declassified Adoptee reads with the power of a novel, yet provides a perspective that I have not yet seen in adoption literature or memoirs. She does this by sharing her own experiences as an adoptee and then broadening her lense to allow the reader to share a broader view of timeless issues in the adoption world. She tackles topics that some find difficult with deep insight, humor and sensitivity. 
This book will be a very valuable resource to mental health practitioners, students, researchers, families and others who would like insight on the adoption experience. It is also a true gift to adult adoptees who will find their experiences validated and expressed in deeply profound ways. Thank you to the Declassified Adoptee for bringing us a remarkably current and fresh look at the experience of adoption.

Joy Lieberthal Rho, LCSW

Adopted Person, Therapist, Founder of I AM ADOPTEE

I am tremendously grateful for Amanda Woolston and her declassified declaration proclaimed in this book of her personal essays.  The Declassified Adoptee is a challenging, beautifully woven narrative of how adoption has impacted a life. While I subscribe to the idea that no two adoptees have the same story, Amanda was able to encapsulate so many of the challenges of being a whole person with a history full of holes, lies, misunderstandings, half-truths, stereotypes and other people's fears imposed on the adopted one.  So neatly organized, Amanda was able to give the non-adopted and the adopted the full breadth of experiences and feelings that are entwined in the journey to self discovery. Amanda shows how she tackled the toughest and most sensitive issues in adoption with grace and compassion all the while pushing the reader to stretch commonly held beliefs on who is right and who has rights.  I sincerely hope that fellow adoptees, adoptive parents, adoption professionals, child advocates and legislators alike read Amanda's words. 

Diane Renee Christian

Adoptive Parent, Author & Founder of The An-Ya Project

In her mid twenties, shortly after the birth of her son, Amanda Transue Woolston found herself in reunion with her biological mother. In those first emotional moments of reunion, Woolston was faced with the gutting task of unraveling lies and sifting through adoption laden secrets.

Woolston’s collection of essays, contained within The Declassified Adoptee, invites readers on a riveting and educational journey. It is a journey which flows seamlessly through turbid adoption issues, adoptee realities and some unexpected truths.

The Declassified Adoptee is a compact book covering a broad scope. As an adoptee, Woolston offers a poignant narrow personal lens. As a social worker, she widens the lens and offers an enlightening and comprehensive point of view.

Written with a tender hand, this book speaks with clarity and strength about the complexities of an adoptee’s life and the complexities inherent in adoption. In the opening of The Declassified Adoptee, Woolston writes, “I am pro-human.”

Her powerful and moving words will cause readers to reflect on what it means to
be humane.

Highly recommended reading for anyone touched by adoption... and beyond.

Maureen McCauley Evans, MA

Adoptive Parent, Former Executive Director of the Joint Council of International Children's Services

An unknowable number of stories exist in the world of adoption: compelling, inspiring, heartbreaking, provocative, introspective, poignant, and powerful. These words also describe Amanda H.L. Transu-Woolston’s new book, “The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of An Adoption Activist.” Amanda is a calm, clear, thoughtful, lyrical storyteller. Like the best storytellers, she writes from her heart, leaving the reader with much to reflect on, much to mull over, much to savor and learn.

Amanda writes evocatively about her experiences as an adoptee, born in 1985, placed in foster care at 3 days old, officially adopted at 8 months old. Hers was a same race, closed adoption—though her first mother had been told it would be open. Amanda, after a lot of time and expense, has reunited with her first mother and several members of her original family. She remains closely connected with her adoptive family as well.

As the former executive director of 2 adoption agencies and an international adoption nonprofit organization, I believe that “The Declassified Adoptee” should be required reading for all prospective adoptive parents, for all adoptive parents, and for social workers and other professionals who work in any way with adoption. It should be required reading for all adoption agency executive directors, for those who sit on the board of directors for adoption agencies, and for those who provide
any and all post-adoption services.

As an adoptive parent, I believe that “The Declassified Adoptee” would have provided me with both insights and icebreakers when talking about adoption with my children when they were growing up. I plan to share the book with each of my now-young adult children; though the details of their experiences may vary, I have no doubts Amanda’s story, and her insights, will resonate with them.

Like Amanda and most other adoptees (whether from the US or internationally adopted, whether adopted as infants or older children, whether adopted through private or public agencies), each of my children has dealt with the complex realities in adoption that Amanda writes about: trust, bullying, identity, truth, fantasy, secrecy, loss, grief, confusion, laws, lies, and love.

Her brief, insightful essays reflect the challenges that adoptees face: not knowing when to ask what questions, being startled and angered (and occasionally amused) by society’s views of adoption, and dealing with the truths of their stories. Those truths can be painful. One of the best gifts for first parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees from reading Amanda’s book may be her reflections on dealing with the painful circumstances that bring children to be adopted. Amanda writes candidly, gracefully, and hopefully about facing difficult truths in adoption, accepting them while not letting them overpower or define, and moving ahead with strength and resilience. “The Declassified Adoptee” deserves a wide audience in the adoption community, among adoptees, first parents, adoptive parents, social workers, adoption researchers, and anyone interested in better understanding what it means
to be family.
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