Jessica Lost: A Story of Birth, Adoption & The Meaning of Motherhood
by Bunny Crumpacker & J.S. Picariello

Union Square Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-402-77570-3.
Reviewed by Linda Hoye
Posted on 06/03/2011

Nonfiction: Memoir

I have read a number of books written by adoptees and they echo many of the feelings and experiences I had as an adopted child; Jessica Lost is no exception. Jil Picariello was adopted in 1955 when she was five months old; she always knew she was adopted but doesn't remember her parents actually telling her. What she does remember is a version of the classic Chosen Baby story that was described to many of us as if it were our own. She, like us, believed her parents went some place where there was a long row of bassinets and chose her out of all of the other babies to be theirs. She was special, she was chosen.The problem with being chosen, however, is that one first has to be abandoned, and that has a profound impact on a child.

Jill describes herself as "a lonely and unformed child" with "no sense of myself, no image of who I was," and says she "could not choose even one word that defined me." She says she felt "invisible" yet "hypervisible," "acutely self-conscious and completely unreal." She talks about the fact that she "didn't have an identity" which meant "switching from one to another was as easy as changing socks." In short, Jil's experience of having been "chosen" was much like that of many adoptees.

Jessica Lost differs from other adoption memoirs in one significant way however; the co-author of the book, Bunny Crumpacker, is Jil's birth mother.

Due to the circumstances under which Bunny became pregnant, (which I will leave you to read about in the book) she planned, almost from the beginning, to give her baby up for adoption. She writes about the partial amnesia she experienced about the pregnancy and delivery of her daughter; she doesn't remember the baby moving and doesn't remember going into labor. Her memories of The Baby (as she refers to her) after birth are strong and clear, though. She kept her baby physically with her for four days before surrendering her to the adoption agency. During those days, Bunny named her daughter Jessica, and was told the adoptive parents would keep the first initial.

As a child, Jil, as her adoptive parents renamed her, was given a baby doll she named Jessica, and when she was older her Barbie doll was also named Jessica; it was her favorite name. This was the first of many coincidences and connections that bound birth mother and daughter together.

Bunny writes heartrendingly about the pain, loss, sorrow, and anger she endured, how she counted The Baby's birthdays every year, and ultimately how she had to force herself to shut down because she was afraid if she allowed herself to feel the pain it would paralyze her. She says that "if love counts—and it must, at least a little—then I am also her mother, because I loved her. I loved her for four days, and for forty-two years, and forever."

Jessica Lost is told through the alternating voices of Jil and Bunny and we have the opportunity to learn what the adoption experience is like for both adoptee and birth parent. Through their eyes we go with them as they are reunited when Jil eventually locates Bunny and we see how that reunion, and the subsequent one between Jil and her birth father, changes all of their lives.

I made a note inside the front cover while I was reading: "this is an important book." It is important because it educates us about what it is like for a woman to surrender a baby, the deep and inconsolable pain they feel; it is important because it helps us understand the equal, but different, trauma the adoptee feels; and it perhaps most important because it compassionately brings the two together and demonstrates what healing, truth, and forgiveness can look like.

Bunny Crumpacker was the author of seven books, including The Sex Life of Food. J.S. Picariello is a copywriter for ad agencies and magazines including New York, People, Parenting, and Reader's Digest.

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