Book Reviews

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Taken at Birth: Stolen Babies, Hidden Lies, and My Journey to Find Home: A Book Review

Not knowing your history leaves you rootless. Jane Blasio dug into her hidden history, found her roots, and is now planted. Jane writes her story in Taken at Birth: Stolen Babies, Hidden Lies, and My Journey to Find Home. She worked with TLC as an investigator on the TLC Docu-Series, Taken at Birth. The series was interesting, but I wanted to know more about Jane. Her book fills in the blanks but leaves you wanting a little more. However, that is the nature of Jane’s story.

Author Jane Blasio

This story begins and ends in North Georgia in and around the town of McCaysville, Georgia. Jane Blasio digs around the town, trying to find documents and truth about Dr. Thomas Hicks. The paths she takes us down are dusty and confusing, much like the pig trails of North Georgia. These were pre-GPS days, and she often found herself lost, but the twist and turns were all part of a bigger plan. Jane did more than find out that Dr. Hicks sold her for $1000; she helped many others with their exact origin.

Jane exhumed the awful truth about Dr. Hicks and his black-market clinic. Then she helped other stolen Georgia babies find their roots. The TLC program starts with Jane’s story but meanders through the lives of other Hick’s babies. I wanted to know the rest of Jane’s story and her book delivers.

In Taken at Birth: Stolen Babies, Hidden Lies, and My Journey to Find Home, Blasio takes us on a road trip from Akron to Georgia several times. We are along for the ride from her first visit to McCaysville in the 1990s to her final destination.

Her book focuses on her decades-long hard, scrabbled search. Imagine Jane looking in dusty windows in a small, suspicious southern town. She pried up truth from a community that did not like to share but protect its secrets. Picture her trying to ask the townsfolk questions. At the end of the book, Jane rethinks the early days of her search:

 “If I had to do it over again, I’d drive into McCaysville and walk right into that small diner and ask all the right questions, make all the right moves, and eat my breakfast without worry. I’d roll that town up and put it in my pocket as though it were mine.” (211)

She found peace and danced upon the graves of those who had robbed her. Her dancing was not vengeance. She had left that to God. She danced with joy, for she knew what she had gained in this process. You will enjoy getting to know Jane. I know I did. Her writing left me feeling like I had met a long-lost friend.

I connected with Jane on many not-so-obvious levels. We both grew up near Lake Erie and were born in the 1960s. Here are some differences. I was born in Buffalo in Children’s Hospital. Dr. Hicks handed the four-pound Jane out the back door of his black-market clinic. I knew one side of my extended family, but knew nothing of my father’s side. I still long to know my bio grandmother, but Jane never knew either side of her family. In my teens, I moved to North Georgia, found God and found home. Jane came to North Georgia in her 20s to find her home and also found God. She discovered a legacy of faith and knew that someone had prayed for her to come home.

Jane gained more than the knowledge of her parentage. In her brief but affecting final chapters, she finds her people. In a GPS-deprived search, Jane made many wrong turns before but winded up exactly where she was supposed to be. She found a family she thought was hers for years until DNA proved her wrong. Jane found a woman with no relation to her who loved her like a daughter. “Carlynn taught me so much, but mostly she loved me and held me like a mother holds her daughter and tells her it will be all right. I had never known that before her” (214). Her biological nor her adoptive mom was incapable of loving her that way. Her journey was like a lost day on a red clay and gravel road with many unexpected stops.

She found her bio family after the detour. DNA proved it. She began sprouting roots in North Georgia when she found pieces of her family. The sound of the large wind chimes in Suches at her family home keeps bringing her back to her roots. Her language is matter-of-fact but also lyrical. Ernest Hemingway said of memoir, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Her northern raising gave her concrete words, but her Southern soul is lyrical. Listen to these words:

Blasio writes:

 “The invitation to visit here was a gift to me, and I listened as the breeze lilted through the chimes, as though it had as lightly upturned chin, gently challenging them to sing to me, to sing a new song. As the sun disappeared and the chimes kept on, the challenge was fulfilled with a serenade that stretched across those fields, rolling for some distance.” (168) 

She lost a great deal on her trips back and forth from Ohio to Georgia, but that was the price of passage. She admitted walking away from important relationships, including her relationship with God. Jane was on a journey – her authentic path. She became rooted and grounded. As her Georgia family was always there, so was her God. She was looking for one thing, but found so much more.

For a first published memoir, this is a remarkable success. Jane’s story will help others in ways she will never know. A mentor told me that when I write from my head, it connects to the mind. When I write from my heart, I will connect to another heart. This line connected my heart to Jane’s:

I found where I belonged. It took the journey of searching, not the actual DNA, to find who I am. I’m a child of God. He knows my name, and He placed me in this world. He knew where I should be and who I belonged to all along. I’m His.” (213)

Jane Blasio’s Taken at Birth: Stolen Babies, Hidden Lies, and My Journey to Finding Home reads clear and true. I must warn you: it will leave you wanting more. I want to talk to Jane and ask her for the rest of the story. Maybe – she needs to write a sequel,

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Grab Your Demons by the Neck

Grab Your Demons by the Neck

I suggest you stalk your demons. Embrace them. If you are a writer, especially one who has been unable to make your work count or stick, you must grab your demons by the neck and face them down. And whatever you do, don’t censor yourself. There’s always time and editors for that (Lerner).

Betsy Lerner in The Forest for the Trees, encourages “The Ambivalent Writer”
to find the real reason they write. Writers who do extensive research and read broadly in the face of a deadline are called – procrastinators. Learner describes ambivalent writers as those too frightened to share their emotional truth. This writer is stuck and sadly that writing may never stick.

Lerner speaks the truth with a mentor’s heart. She says we write because we are haunted, bothered, and uneasy in the world. Writers suffer from excessive feelings and must bleed on-screen to find motivation – the reason they write. Nobody has to read this first vent, but it is part of the process. If you do not connect with your own heart – you will not connect with anyone else’s. There is enough writing out there for the head. People want writing for the heart. This explains the reason Creative Nonfiction is so popular . They want history, biography, and science in story form; they want narrative to matter.

Recently while watching Book TV on CSPAN,  I was mesmerized by Rebecca Skloot discuss her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She writes about science, a topic I am not normally interested. She was talking about a woman, known to most medical researchers only by her cells, the HeLa cells. The author tells Henrietta’s little known story:

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like invitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

I would have switched the channels if they had told me the story of the women in their books that changed their world of medicine. They wrote science as narrative. I wanted to read this science book and know more about Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca Skloot allowed Henrietta’s life touch her own and it touches our heart. Skloot does more than write a textbook about cancer cells, she tells a

Henrietta Lacks 1940s

story she that haunted her about a poor black woman. “Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multi million-dollar industry.”

Writers carry around demons. Some of those demons are emotional, some are physical, some are spiritual, some are just stories that won’t go away – they haunt us and taunt us to deal with them. Writers are gifted with the opportunity to reach around and grab those things by the neck and wrestle it into words.

A wise graduate professor suggested that before we write anything else, that we deal with the elephant in the room. My Creative Nonfiction class has been a profound journey. It has forced me to look deep into the eyes of my demon and decide if I want to keep doing this writing thing. Why would anyone want to go through the agony of digging into the foundation of your soul, scaffolding your sentences so others can safely see what you are building? Then submit to the final humiliation – exposing your grammatical disability and giving your editor the power of life and death over your work? Why bother? That’s the question every writer must ask and answer. In that answer – you will find your motivation to write.