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A Conversation with Author & Birthmother Lori Prashker-Thomas

If you've never read Lori Prashker-Thomas's memoir, you are missing out. It's candid, and unflinchingly honest, and the kind of book you read in one sitting because it is impossible to put down. We don't know how Lori finds the time to do it all—she's a writer, a photographer, a paralegal, a wedding officiant, and runs several social media accounts talking about adoption, in addition to founding her own non-profit—but we are so grateful to her for taking the time out of her impossibly busy schedule to talk to us, because she has an incredible story of resilience, courage, and personal growth to tell, as she found her voice and began to use it.

We always start our interviews with the same question: who are you, and what is your connection to adoption?

My name is Lori Prashker-Thomas. I am a birth mother, and I have been in-reunion for a few years. I am the author of “From Mistakes to Miracles: A Jewish Birthmother's Story of Redemption, Hope, & Healing,” published in October of 2022.

Your book is incredible, and something that really resonates is how you talk about the way our culture sees birthparents versus adoptive parents.  In your book, you describe these diametrically opposing viewpoints: a Jewish adoptive family?  They are good, admirable people, but a Jewish birthmother?  That's shameful and terrible and should be secret and hidden.  How do you reconcile that?

I've often wondered whether I've truly reconciled this within myself. Living in a newly predominant Chasidic community has prompted numerous discussions on this topic over the past year or so. Despite being unfamiliar with my neighbors and them with me, the common occurrence of encountering babies sparks the typical exchanges about their cuteness. However, when the subject of adoption arises and parents mention their child is adopted, my focus shifts immediately. I find myself asking, are you in contact with the birthmother or birthparents? Unfortunately, the response sometimes leaves me taken aback—we wish they didn't exist. While it's challenging for me to remain silent, I often choose to walk away at that point. Engaging in a public argument with strangers, unaware of my identity as a birthmother or my personal story, doesn't feel like the right path, especially considering our shared Jewish background.

You placed a child for adoption, and then you were told you can have no contact with them.  And then one day, after eighteen years of no contact at all, you get a letter from your daughter, and end up finding out that her adoptive parents thought they were honoring your wishes to not be contacted by them three months after placement, because that is what the adoption attorney told them.

I scoured every corner of the internet in my quest to find her over the years. During that time, adoption bulletin boards were the go-to online spaces.  Back then, the internet was not as advanced as it is today. I tried to share my story and information on every available bulletin board and online platform. Interestingly, in subsequent Google searches, I stumbled upon my past posts from those years of searching.

The ordeal with the adoption attorney, however, is a story in and of itself—one that could fill an entire book. It goes beyond mere deception towards me and the adoptive parents; it involves complex layers. The attorney attempted to charge me for locating my own file, the very records that should have been rightfully mine. After their retirement, the mystery deepened as no one knows the whereabouts of their files. Determined to access my records, I contacted the Florida Bar Association for assistance. Currently, I am collaborating with them in the pursuit of obtaining my records. Even though they are retired, I firmly believe my files must exist somewhere. In the realm of adoption, the conventional seven-year rule does not apply.

What is the Seven-Year Rule?

Typically, legal records are kept for seven years. But in my research, and I am NOT an attorney, so I may be incorrect, the documentation I’ve looked at, the seven-year rule does not apply, because those records may be needed outside of the seven-year limit. But again, nobody seems to know where my records ended up. When an attorney retires, the standard procedure is that their records are either supposed to go into another attorney’s possession or to a holding repository, but mine are nowhere. And if my records can’t be found, I can only imagine how many others are missing. But I would like my adoption records; they are my records. Do I need to pay for them?  I will pay for them. I work for an attorney. I understand there might be a small records fee to retrieve them, but $500 for my records? [ed. note: a story detailed in the book] No, absolutely not. I would like to see said records because I would love to see what the documentation is in them that states that I only wanted to be contacted for the first three months and that I could have no contact with them. I'd love to see what is actually documented, if anything.

In your book, you talk about wavering in your decision to place, and how a paralegal in your attorney’s office then showed up at your door and whisked you away for what, on the surface, looked like a mini-vacation, but is more about keeping your under control and not able to change your mind.  I wonder if that was documented as well?

It was a well-oiled machine, that operation. I do feel like they kept me busy. From the moment they picked me up to the moment they dropped me off on Sunday evening, I had no time to think, which was the whole point. I’ve made my story very public, and the attorney knows that I wrote the book. I don’t know if she read it, and I don’t care. But I want to see all of the documentation from my adoption attorney. I am a paralegal, so I understand the importance of accurate, complete documentation, with time-stamping and date-stamping.

When my daughter contacted me, she repeatedly said, I didn't want to get in trouble. And I didn't understand what that meant.  I questioned myself: why would you get in trouble? My whole thing was that I wanted an open adoption. Again, nobody was honest with me, and Florida was not an open adoption state, which I was never made aware of. I didn't know that because, if I did, I might have made different decisions. I don't know if I would have or I wouldn't have. But I was never told that, and again, disclosure is everything. I had to disclose things that I didn't want to disclose, so the fact that Florida wasn’t an open adoption state should have been disclosed to me.

Can you have an ethical adoption without absolute transparency?  If it wasn’t transparent, and you don’t understand the entire process, including the financials of it (because your book touches on that, as well), how can it be ethical?

Absolutely not. Certainly, during that period, following the birth, there was a three-day window of recission before the legal paperwork had to be signed. Strangely, my recollection of that time is a bit hazy. While I recall going to the lawyer’s office and signing the relinquishment documents, I distinctly remember being informed that I would have my own legal counsel. However, I cannot recall having legal representation. Consequently, I am eager to review the documentation from that moment, as it would have recorded the presence of any counsel.  I'm eager to examine those records.

It’s hard not to get enraged reading about your adoption experience.

Oh, I get it because I lived it. Even when I was writing it, there were times when I had to step away. Reliving everything was hard for me, but I wanted to tell my story. I’ve read a lot of books on adoption that talk about adoption from a Catholic/Christian standpoint, but none or very few from a Jewish perspective. For me, it isn’t the only thing I discuss in my book, but stories like mine and those of women like me are not told. We are just sent away, hidden, or kept a secret.

The first time I addressed the temple, my Rabbi and the congregation had no idea what they were in for.  They asked me to speak, and I started with, “…put your seatbelt on because this is going to be a bumpy ride..." Now, when they ask me to speak, they know what they are getting, and luckily, the Rabbi is okay with it.   

After sharing my story at the temple, particularly about the unsettling practice of sending away birthmothers, a ninety-five-year-old woman approached me. It was unclear whether she experienced this or had a family member who did, but she looked me in the eye and remarked about being sent away, "...or they put you in the attic". The gravity with which she stated it suggests a personal connection, either through her own experience or that of someone close to her.

You tell your story in such an honest and unflinching way.  How did you find your voice and start to use it?

 It took me a long time. I mean, I'm 51(almost 52) years old, and it took me until I was 50 to publish that book. At 50 years old, I finally took the leap to publish my book, a project that had been in the works for quite some time. Initially slated for release before the onset of COVID, various circumstances unfolded, leading me to believe that the timing just wasn't right. During this period, I collaborated with someone who transformed the narrative beyond my adoption story to encompass the entirety of my survival journey, addressing all themes of survivorship.

My motivation to find my voice stemmed from a frustration with the overwhelming focus on adoptive parent perspectives, neglecting the voice of birthparents. Tired of bullies redirecting the narrative to center around them, I realized it was time to speak up. Having endured bullying since my early school years, I refused to let the bullies prevail. I may have upset some individuals along the way, and I'm perfectly fine with that.  If someone chooses not to read my book, that's their choice. I recall an acquaintance inquiring about their connection to the book, aware of their actions indirectly mentioned.

My decision to find my voice was driven by the need to share my survivor perspective—a survivor of suicide, trauma, illness, and as a birth parent. Frustrated by the absence of my point of view in the discourse, I made it resoundingly public. I've fulfilled my purpose if my story can help just ONE person. In finding my voice, this book aims to represent the survivor side that often goes unheard.

There is a great Anne Lamott quote about that: You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

The Anne Lamott quote beautifully captures the essence of owning one's story, emphasizing the importance of authenticity over warmth when depicting the actions of others.

Prior to sharing my story, I engaged in conversations with my husband and both daughters, ensuring they were comfortable with me going public. Their consent was paramount; had they expressed any reservations, I would have respected their wishes. Subsequently, I extended the courtesy to my daughter's adoptive family after the book was written, providing them with a copy. I believe their portrayal in the book is fair, acknowledging their positive role in raising my daughter. My intent was honesty, and I think that if my story were not told in MY voice, it wouldn't have been told accurately.

Lots of people say they want to write a book, but most never do.  It’s a huge endeavor!  What was the catalyst that got you from I have this story to tell to I wrote a book about it?

I came across an article by Erica Pelman from In Shifra’s Arms, and it felt like I was reading my own story.  The parallels were so striking. I distinctly remember it was during Christmas/Chanukah break, around 6 am, when I stumbled upon the article. Without hesitation, I emailed Erica at that early hour, and to my surprise, by 7:15 am, she responded, suggesting we talk after the holidays. After our conversation, I felt a strong desire to contribute in any way I could. Unexpectedly, this led to me being invited to join the board. While I typically prefer working behind the scenes, this opportunity was the nudge I needed.  I've since written numerous articles on this topic, and it has evolved from there. Yet, I always knew it was my story to tell, and it needed to be told in my own words.

In crafting the book, I took into consideration my learning disability, a point I addressed in the book. I intentionally wrote it in a way I believed would be accessible to anyone. The feedback has been incredibly affirming; readers and non-readers alike have expressed how they found the book amazing, easily digestible, and often finishing it in just three hours.  Such responses are genuinely heartening to hear.

What advice would you give to birth mothers, either about writing a memoir or even just starting to tell their story?

Do it!  Take the plunge! It is as simple as that. Do it and disregard anyone's opinions or judgments. Your story belongs to you, and you should be the one to narrate it. So, go ahead and do it. Whether or not you decide to publish, even if you're writing solely for yourself, it's perfectly valid. Writing for personal catharsis is powerful because, down the line—be it 10, 20, or 50 years—circumstances may change, or, G-d forbid, something unexpected might occur. Someone could stumble upon your words and discover aspects of your life they never knew. Therefore, just do it. Sit down and put pen to paper, whether it transforms into a book or stays confined to a journal. The process is immensely cathartic; I, too, found closure by addressing various aspects of my life through writing.  My advice remains: do it.

We originally found your book because you post on TikTok and Instagram. There is a growing community of adopted people and birthparents telling their stories on social media, and connecting with each other, and it is fascinating that that these two sides of the adoption triad have a way to meet and talk without the intermediary of adoptive parents or adoption professionals.  It’s like social media has built this brand new place where the two most important parts of the triad can now talk directly to each other.  What has that been like for you?  

I love it. The good, the bad, and the ugly—I do love it all. I'm finding more birth parents that are coming on [to both platforms], and even if they may not yet be telling their story, at least they're talking, which is huge. I will also say I don't always agree with everything that every other birthmom says or every adoptee, but I do know that these are their stories, and I will always listen, and I will always gain knowledge from listening. My one daughter keeps telling me, Mom, you need to go live. You need to go and do it.  I have yet to go live, but I did ask my followers if I went live and started with just reading a chapter of my book at a time, would you want me to do that? The answers that I got were all yes. So, at some point in 2024, I will go live, start reading my book, have discussions, and go from there. I never really imagined having this platform. I did not think that social media would be the place for either my story or me.  But I'm finding more and more that it is, and I love being the fly on the wall many times and just listening. And I always tell people I may not say a lot, but I take in everything, and I will take it from there. It's still hard for me, at times, to put my two cents in because I still have that feeling of, what are they going to say about it? What if I get pushback?

Then there are times when I go, you know what?  I’m just going to do it. There's one person that I have become friendly with—The Outspoken Adoptee—go follow them.  She and I talk often. We don't agree on everything, nor should we, but I listen to them and to other adoptees’ stories. Some talk a lot about their great childhood, and I think, I'm very happy to hear that. More times than not, though, you don't hear about the trauma. And people don't think about the trauma.

One of the things that I do say all the time online is not every birthmother is a drug addict, an alcoholic, etc.  I recently did a local talk show, and we dispelled some adoption myths like those. We only got to three, but it was just a four-minute segment. Those myths hurt people. I think that had I been given the help and the resources that I needed, I would have been able to make better-informed decisions than I was able to do. (S/N:  There was no Google at that point in history, so you could do very little research online.)

Published author, advocate, and public speaker: you have a lot on your plate.  What else are you doing that we missed on this list?

Well, I have a non-profit organization called I Picture Hope.  We do photo sessions for anyone who is either currently fighting cancer or a cancer survivor. Absolutely free. I’ve been doing it for quite a few years, but just got to the point where we became a registered non-profit in Pennsylvania, and now we are working on our 501(c) 3 status. We have twenty-seven months to do it, and it will happen. I’m proud of it, and it’s been getting bigger every year because, unfortunately, the need is getting greater yearly.

I am also the owner and lead Wedding Officiant at Ceremonies by Lori, Co-Owner with my husband, Michael, of ShadowCatcher Photography, a paralegal for an attorney who has been nothing but phenomenal to me and so very supportive, and cannot forget—a Bubbe! 

That is amazing!  Is there anything that you can’t do?

Well, I don’t ski or ride a bike!!! I am sure there is plenty I can’t do, but if it interests me, I learn it!

 To learn more about Lori, you can visit her website, or find her on TikTok and Instagram. An accomplished public speaker, she shares her story here, here, and here. Visit I Picture Hope to learn more about her non-profit organization, and if you are looking for a Wedding Officiant, she can do that, too. She is also an accomplished photographer, and of course, her book, From Mistakes to Miracles: A Jewish Birthmother's Story of Redemption, Hope, & Healing is available on Amazon, BN, Rakutan/Kobo, Apple Books, or can be purchased/ordered from your local bookseller.