About Your Mother is a monthly podcast hosted by writer Jennifer Griffith. Each podcast features a conversation with a dynamic guest exploring the influence their mothers had on the trajectory of their life.
027 A Journey to Sobriety | Laura McKowen
Do you long for the freedom of a sober lifestyle in a world that constantly celebrates alcohol? Laura McKowen joins us in this conversation to share her own experience and journey to sobriety. By unraveling the complexities of societal pressures, Laura will guide you towards a life of clarity, strength, and sobriety. Get ready to discover the solution that will empower you to thrive in a society that may not fully understand the beauty of living alcohol-free.
"Leaving that mental door open just gave me a lot of freedom until eventually I knew I would never drink again."
- Laura McKowen
About Laura McKowen
Laura McKowen is a powerful voice in the world of sobriety, providing guidance and support to individuals navigating the challenges of living in a society that normalizes alcohol consumption. With almost a decade of sobriety, Laura's journey has been marked by honesty, vulnerability, and a deep understanding of the complexities of addiction. Through her writing and speaking engagements, Laura explores the connection between trauma and addiction, shedding light on the underlying reasons that drive individuals to seek solace in alcohol.
Her relatable and compassionate approach offers a beacon of hope to those struggling with their own relationship with alcohol. With her platform, Laura has created a safe and supportive space for individuals to share their stories and find the strength to embark on their own path to sobriety. Her insights and experiences serve as a reminder that recovery is possible and that there is a vibrant and fulfilling life waiting beyond addiction.
Sobriety in a Society That Normalizes Alcohol:
Laura McKowen's journey to sobriety began with a flood of questions. How did she end up in this place? Why was she the one with the problem while everyone else seemed to be able to drink without issue? And why was society so protective of alcohol, making it taboo to talk about the truth?
These questions consumed her, and in her search for answers, she turned to writing. Laura had always been a writer, using journals to navigate her emotions since she was nine years old. Writing helped her uncover the underlying reasons behind her drinking and provided a much-needed outlet for her struggles.
She started sharing her writings, initially with a lack of clarity about what she was going through, but as she continued on her path to sobriety, she became more open and transparent. It was through writing that Laura found her voice and began to speak her truth, no matter the consequences. Writing became her tool for self-discovery and healing, allowing her to shed the lies and embrace the power of honesty. And now, as an author, she uses her words to inspire and connect with others on their own journeys to sobriety.
You can read more about Laura’s writings at lauramckowen.com.
Overcoming Social Expectations and Pressures with Alcohol
The societal expectations and pressure to consume alcohol can quickly turn a casual drink into a perceived need. It becomes, distressingly, often easier to conform than question or challenge these deep-seated norms. Breaking this cycle requires a radical, conscious rethink of our personal choices and their alignment with societal expectations.
Laura shares about the gripping social pressure to drink and the subsequent feeling of alienation for those choosing sobriety. Laura’s account provided a real-life illustration of social expectations and their impacts. Her story is a testament to the strength of will it takes to question and alter these deeply entrenched patterns. The conversation amplifies the urgent need for societal change and individual resolve in choosing sobriety.
If you’re struggling with alcohol,
026 Mother's Day Reflection
On this Mother's Day, I want to celebrate not only my guests, but also the lessons I've learned from having my show for almost two years. In my dozens of interviews with guests and casual conversations with people, I have learned that our mothers are the beginning of our identity, who we are is inherently linked to the woman who carried us directly and indirectly. The decisions they made in their lives shape our early existence, which determines who we become.
If we're lucky, our mother's hands are the first hands to hold us, their eyes the first we gaze upon. A mother's love is a love that knows no limits. Again, if we are lucky. If we are fortunate to have a mother who is balanced and in control of their mind, heart and life, we have the chance to not only survive, but thrive. If our mothers are broken, there is a chance they will break us to prove their brokenness. Children are strong and have endless resilience even in the most troublesome environments, they can thrive.
As a mother myself, I'm aware of the cracks within my spirit, and how they spill over in plain view of my son. The reality is we were never that far away from where we began, yet we get up every day with the best intentions, and always strive to do right by our children. Life gives us the opportunity to rise above our circumstances, every person I've interviewed has found a way to go beyond the experiences of their childhood and create a beautiful life.
Changing Lives with Empathy ft. with Peter Mutabazi
The kindness of a stranger can be so powerful. Peter Mutabazi experienced this firsthand as a child, which changed the course of his life. Now, Peter changes the course of other children's lives.
“But for the very first time, I had been seen as a human being, I had been seen as someone who had potential. The rest of the world saw me as I will never amount to anything. I was garbage. I was useless. Before he met my lowest there, he saw the potential in me. He didn't see the dirty thief boy, but he saw a little boy that had the opportunity to be someone and he said, ‘I will offer that I will be there for him.’ And that's why it changed for me; it was in the school I was going to, but for the first time that someone saw me as a human being, and that’s how I changed my life.” - Peter Mutabazi
Listen to Peter’s Full Episode >>
The Girls Who Went Away ft. with Ann Fessler
In the decades before Roe vs Wade, many women had the role of mother stolen from them due to the societal and systemic pressures; forcing them to surrender their babies. This became all too familiar for Ann as she learned more about her own birth mother.
“I understood what my mother had been through. I really did believe that she wouldn't want this skeleton in her closet to reappear and show up on her doorstep. And as I'm talking to this woman, she's telling me a completely different perspective. I realized as I'm standing there, that here I am a 40 year old adoptee who thinks they're well informed and is very well informed about women's history, well read about all those things—never heard anything about this. And I realized that I was completely wrong. I had never considered that losing a child through adoption was any different than losing a child in any other way—that it's a loss. It's an enormous loss. People talk about losing a child is the worst thing that can ever happen to you, but they never talked about that in relation to a mother who surrenders a child for adoption. Somehow they think, well, she wanted to give this child away, so she doesn't care. Right? As I continued to talk to this woman, I thought, my God and it was like a giant light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, this is something I have to look into.” - Ann Fessler
025 Defending Identity | Keshia Adeniyi-Dorsey
Keshia Adeniyi-Dorsey is a family defender, educator, and activist who brings her experience with the foster care system into the heart of her work as a family defense attorney. Keshia tirelessly advocates for parents who risk losing their children to the system.
Past episodes in our What Happened Then series highlighted a time in history— at risk of returning— where primarily white single women were forced to relinquish their children. Often, we fail to realize similar systems are still in place today—although they look slightly different and affect communities of color.
Adoption and foster care are rooted in identities, those stolen and those hidden. To know these stories is to hope that one day we understand and we can change.
“How can I fight for folks— and I see the struggle— right, and that at least give my birth parents the opportunity to tell me their stories. As opposed to the stories that were being told to me about my parents.”
– Keshia Adeniyi-Dorsey
Becoming a Family Defender
While attending UC Irvine, Keshia’s professor researched Adoption and Safe Families. This work centered around the collateral consequence of incarcerated mothers losing their children due to being in custody for too long. This research inspired the career path that Keshia would take in becoming a family defender.
Federal legislation says if a child is in the foster system for 15 out of the last 22 months, states must initiate termination of parental rights proceedings. Unfortunately, this is a cap, not a ceiling, allowing individual states to be even stricter.
With the average sentence of a woman being 18 months, mothers are losing parental rights due to incarceration. We refer to this as the civil death penalty because there isn't a meaningful mechanism to reverse your parental rights once terminated.
These sentences could result from any misdemeanor crime, including petty theft or an estes robbery. Most of the women that Keshia is fighting for go into custody and lose their children for nothing related to abuse or neglect of their children, but simply because they're in custody for too long.
In regards to the data, of parents who go into the system, there is a 90% termination of parental rights (TPR) rate—it’s even higher when it’s the mother in custody. Those children are then placed in the foster care system.
Keshia is very familiar with the system, as she was placed in it at two years old, ultimately aging out when she turned 18. Through her research and work around this subject, Keshia went through an incredible healing process as a consequence of her efforts.
As Keshia was practicing in court representing incarcerated parents, she realized it wasn't just moms that were facing this injustice, it was entire communities. The reality is the system disproportionately impacts black and indigenous families.
As she learned more about the history of the infrastructure and the ways in which it has frayed and separated black families, it gave her more grace for her birth parents. This resulted in her deciding to find them and get to know them.
Meeting Her Family
Since adoptions within the foster system in California are closed, Keshia didn’t have the information needed to find her parents, however her family found her. Before the reunion, she’d struggled with foster guilt and told herself that her birth parents were dead.
The oldest of the eight children (whom Keshia had never met) hired a private investigator to find her family. This led to Keshia, who had met her oldest sister and her grandmother before,
024 Manifesting Your Dreams | Linda Sivertsen
Making it as a writer isn’t an easy task, but Linda Sivertsen has found the secret sauce. Known as the best writing coach, agent connector, and Book Mama, Linda has authored and co-authored eleven books, including two New York Times best sellers. Today, she joins us to share her journey to writing, what makes a good writer, and how she found herself sharing the stories of so many New York Times Best Selling Authors!
Plus, did you know that About Your Mother was born while I attended Linda’s writing retreat? What a full-circle moment this interview has created!
“How did I get so lucky? You know how I got lucky? Because I trusted; I trusted what I knew in my gut, which was it didn't matter that I didn't have a college degree. It didn't matter that I wasn't a PhD. Was I ashamed of those things early on? A little, but I was like, you know what, fuck it. That doesn't mean I don't have some kind of innate intelligence that maybe they don't have. Maybe my intelligence is intuitive. Maybe the mystical sort of spirit connection I have to books is enough to help propel people's destiny. And I just freaking trusted and I'm so glad that I'm naïve and grandiose enough to have done that, because it's worked out.”
– Linda Sivertsen
Linda’s Journey from Dog Walker to Author
Linda began her career in her dream job as a dog walker in Beverly Hills. For her, it was the perfect job. What made it so successful for her was that the celebrities weren’t important to her; it was the dogs. Through that love of each dog, she built trust with the animals and the owners.
Therefore, when she was about five years into that career, she had a dream that told her to interview the dog owners about the behind-the-scenes details of their lives. As random as it was, she trusted it—and it happened.
Growing up, she was a fun, athletic child, while her sister was more academic. Despite the fact that she wanted to be a writer as a child, she didn’t pursue it because she didn’t feel smart enough. Ironically, when the calling came to her in a dream, it was fitting that she went after it.
Her Mother’s Influence on Her Work
Both of Linda’s parents were very influential in her life. Her mother raised her with an awareness of spirituality and a protectiveness of the environment. Her mother was still alive when Linda had the writing dream which was motivation enough for Linda to pursue a book with the message of environmentalism.
She knew this topic would be a hard sell because no one seemed to care about the environmentalists who were in the trenches and doing the hard work. Still, if she could interview environmental celebrities and combine them with tabloid-esque tales, readers may be interested. This could make a difference.
This was inspired by her mother’s life work, followed by her death, which ultimately drove her to do this very thing.
“Part of what drove me was that I thought, well, I can interview environmental celebrities. People in the trenches who are doing this heroic work to save our natural world, that the press doesn't give two s***s about honestly, at the time, nobody seemed to care. Certainly readers didn't seem to care. I thought, well, if I combine those environmental details with the tabloid-esque tales that these celebrities are telling me about being incested by the royal family, being bulimic, overcoming drug addiction, and whatever. If I combine their heroic work with the environment with those stories, they'll be educated through the back door and actually maybe care. Maybe we can make a difference. So I was so motivated by my mother's life,
023 Searching For My Identity | Jan Beatty
When adoptees search for their birth parents, it's the pursuit of identity. Where do I come from? Who gave birth to me? What is my medical history?
AYM guest, Jan Beatty, wanted to know her name – not the one given by her adoptive parents, but the name on her birth certificate. This quest began a decades-long search. An experience documented in her memoir, American Bastard.
"When I met my birthmother, she was full of shame and was crying. We had very different agendas. She wanted to apologize and know that I had a good life, and I wanted to find out who my father was. It was so hard to get information from her...I'm not upset she gave me away; I was upset she wouldn't tell me my name."
– Jan Beatty
Walls of Protection
In the decades before Roe, unwed mothers relinquished their children under secrecy and shame; this pain carried through to the next generation. Jan's mother was a girl who went away, which meant finding her through the institutions that organized the adoption would be difficult. Locating her mother and father would be a test of perseverance and patience.
"I had assembled huge walls of protection over the years to stay alive. An adoptee needs to have a strategy from a young age, whether conscious or not -- a way to manage this hole of abandonment, loss, and grief."
– Jan Beatty, excerpt from "American Bastard"
Throughout her book and our conversation, Jan addresses the concept of an adopted child being "saved." This notion paints over the tremendous hurt central to the experience. As she explains, there can be gratitude for being adopted while acknowledging it's rooted in a broken maternal connection.
"The cost for being adopted is compulsory gratitude. You are supposed to be very, very grateful. And that's another part of it; there is no room for questioning. There is no room for being unhappy about it. It's a primary, lifelong trauma that no one puts in those terms, or few people do."
– Jan Beatty
Identity and belonging are such an integral part of our existence. Jan's revelations surrounding her adoption are essential to understanding the intricacies of emotion for adoptees.
Locating her birth parents allowed Jan to ask questions but does not resolve the pain; that is something an adoptee needs to repair on their own.
"I would suggest they meet with them and see what their child has to say... everybody wants something different. I didn't want a family, and I didn't want birthdays and Christmas'; that's the last thing I wanted. But some people might want that. I would just say to listen and try to be open."
– Jan Beatty
To hear more from Jan Beatty and her story, download and listen to the episode.
Jan Beatty’s seventh book, American Bastard, won the Red Hen Nonfiction Award. The University of Pittsburgh Press published the Body Wars in 2020, and a new chapbook, Skydog, was just released by Lefty Blondie Press.
In the New York Times, Naomi Shihab Nye said: Jan Beatty’s new poems in “The Body Wars” shimmer with luminous connection, travel a big life and grand map of encounters. Beatty worked as a waitress, abortion counselor, and in maximum security prisons. For years, she directed Creative Writing, the Madwomen in the Attic workshops, and the MFA program at Carlow University.
Connect with Jan!
Jan Beatty Website
Red Hen Press - Jan Beatty
Facebook - Jan Beatty
022 The Girls Who Went Away | Ann Fessler
Ann Fessler's critically accompanied book, "The Girl Who Went Away," gives voice to the millions of women forced to surrender their babies in the decades before Roe v Wade. As an artist and a teacher, listening to Ann tell her story feels like you are walking into a lecture hall about to learn something new, and you are.
As an adoptee, adoption has always been central to Ann's life. However, her understanding of adoption changed in 1989 when she had a seemingly casual greeting that changed her life.
"I was teaching at a college in Maryland and Maryland Institute College of Art, and I went to an opening for a graduate student I'd been working with. I was walking around the gallery, and a woman walked in. And she looked really familiar to me, but I couldn't remember where I knew her from. A little bit later, I see her coming across the room directly towards me. And I'm thinking, 'Oh, who is she?' She walks up to me, and with no introduction, she said, 'You could be my long-lost daughter; you look exactly like the combination of myself and the father of my child.' And I actually started to have a kind of physical reaction to that."
– Ann Fessler
Ann was one of those adoptees who had never given much thought to the possibility of finding her birth parents as she felt they didn't want to know her. The chance meeting opened her mind to learning more about what both sides experienced during separation.
The Girls Who Went Away
Ann's parents were very open about her adoption, but that didn't address the societal issues that led to millions of women surrendering their babies. In the 60s, before Roe v Wade, many young women were being sent away in shame because being a single mother was taboo and unacceptable at the time. A single, unwed mother would harm their family's reputation.
"The women I interviewed, many of them are my age. And I knew what happened if you became pregnant -- you got out of town as fast as possible, because you would be absolutely ruined. If anyone knew, your reputation is ruined. You were told no man's ever going to want you."
– Ann Fessler
Young ladies would disappear from school one day and return in a year with some excuse for their absence.
Family Confessions: Real Adoption Stories
Ann leveraged her curiosity and artistic talent to reveal a side of infant adoption few people understood. After decades of silence, women told of having motherhood stolen from them through a nefarious infant adoption system and a society that supported it. These confessions brought light to family secrets held for decade.
An Adoptee Perspective: The Other Side of Adoption
Ann was exposed to a different perspective when talking to the woman in the gallery. As someone who had gone through life as an adoptee and was well-versed in women's history, she felt she had uncovered a painful secret.
"I realized that I was completely wrong. And that I had never considered that losing a child through adoption was any different than losing a child in any other way, that it's a loss. It's an enormous loss. And people talk about losing a child as the worst thing that can ever happen to you. But they never talked about that in relation to a mother who surrenders her child for adoption."
– Ann Fessler
To hear more from Ann Fessler and the story of The Girls Who Went Away, download and listen to this episode.
For more than 35 years, Ann Fessler's work has focused on the stories of women and the impact that myths, stereotypes, and mass media images have on their lives and intimate relationships. Fessler turned to the subject of adoption in 1989 after being approached by a woman who thought Ann might be the daughter,
My Single Mom shaped my destiny|Ronda Moulton
Jennifer, I loved this podcast, the first of your series. I’m so impressed and moved by this very honest 30 minutes, this is so relevant and helpful. You are such a strong, kind, and thoughtful woman - and a perfect moderator. I cannot wait to listen to the rest of your series, please keep them coming! I’m lucky, I inherited step kids - several of them over the years - but I also inherited a tremendously powerful - funny - determined & lovely daughter in law- who has a heart of gold - and I feel so very grateful for you...
This podcast spoke to me in so many deeply personal ways, thank you Jenn. XO Gingo