Ideas to ink: How I self-published a children’s book on open adoption.

Posted by Sally Shuey | Last updated March 9, 2022

By Gabrielle LaFrank, Open Adoptee. I was in first grade when I understood that my reality was foreign to nearly everyone around me. Diversity was everywhere, but it didn’t include me. In school we read books about children of other religions, ethnicities, and genders, but adoption was almost never represented. When it was, it was usually in the context of foster homes or international, closed adoptions rather than child-centered open adoptions like mine. Growing up, I would proudly explain my family dynamic to anyone who asked, but when I got a response like “I’m sorry your mom didn’t want you” or “what was wrong with you?” I didn’t know what to say. I knew in my heart that my adoption is a beautiful thing, but it was rarely worth effort to try to explain this to other children. It was not until eighth grade that I decided to channel my frustration into something constructive and educational: a children’s book.

I met resistance quickly but decided not to let these obstacles decide the fate of my project. I was told there would not be an audience for my book, but I already knew that was not the case. Simply interacting with the folks at Open Adoption & Family Services showed me that there is a community of open adoption advocates who would appreciate a story like this.

Truthfully, I avoided writing the book for years because I was afraid of telling a story that I didn’t believe in. It was important to me to include a few pages about the questions and troubles that may arise with adoption because I want to tell a genuine story; and, the reality is, no matter how much I love my family and my adoption I do have questions and doubts sometimes, and that’s ok. Even birth parent relationships can be complicated, which is why I don’t touch on them much in this book. There were times in the past when I wished I could change the nature of the relationship between myself and my birth mom, but as I’ve grown and explored my own relationship with adoption I’ve come to accept our differences and to appreciate the connection that we do have. It took a long time to accept the not-so-easy parts of being adopted, but just because being adopted isn’t easy doesn’t mean it isn’t the most incredible blessing. I hope that Born From My Heart can assure other adoptees that it’s ok to feel complex emotions, even in happy circumstances.

Because this story is so personal, I felt that self-publishing was the only appropriate route to take. I was not willing to compromise even an ounce of artistic integrity to someone who does not understand adoption as well as an adoptee does. Of course, I made two exceptions for my incredibly talented illustrator, Abigail, and my editor Heatherly. Other than these two lovely ladies, I was the only person to see, edit, or build Born From My Heart during the entire eight years it was “in production” (AKA in thought), and that’s exactly what I wanted. I spent months online researching the best self-publishing services, comparing prices, and playing with page layouts on InDesign. The first time anyone got a preview of the book, it was already finished.

As soon as I posted on social media that I had published the book, words of encouragement and congratulations flooded in. Suddenly, I began to hear from people I hadn’t spoken to from in years. Nearly every conversation eventually found its way to my newfound authorhood, and as encouraging as the attention was, Born From My Heart took over my life. I listened to every comment, idea, and criticism that was given to me, and overthought every choice I had made over the last eight years of work. It took several stressful weeks before I was able to remind myself why I chose to take an independent publishing route and to feel empowered enough to take back control over my own writing.

Since then, I’ve been given many incredible opportunities to share my book with the community. Several copies have been sold at an independent bookstore in my hometown, and I regularly promote my book (as well as my own adoption story) at literary open mics around the Bay Area. Although many people have been encouraging me to send the book to publishers, celebrities, and competitions, I am content with simply having it printed for the moment. There is plenty of time to promote Born From My Heart after I finish university this spring. For now, I am basking in the glory of new authorship as I complete my quest to educate about open adoption by donating a copy of my book to every one of my local libraries. Preview and order “Born from My Heart”.

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