“Wow. She is not your average birth mother!” This was my immediate thought as I saw Lorri Antosz Benson speak at the adoption conference, Talk About Adoption. The overall goal of the conference was to educate each other and form connections regarding adoption. There were various speakers there that shared their stories and their work in adoption. Lorri’s message, “Family Matters: Ending the stigma of birth moms and encouraging adoptive parents towards healthy relationships with their child’s birth parents”, walked us through her journey of motherhood, from the time she placed her daughter for adoption to reconnecting with her 16 years later along with her husband and their kids. The warmth and passion in her voice as she shared her experience as a birth mother of an adopted child inspired me and captured my attention as I sat and listened with about 40 other people. I left the discussion with the resources I needed in order to share with my son the story of his birth mother. Also, I found myself wanting to read her books that she wrote about her life and the life of others in the adoption triad.
As a writer, Lorri is able to take challenges that she faces as a mother and turn them into a masterful story to encourage and educate the reader. Months after the conference, I was able to reach out to Lorri and connect with her just as she was about to submit the manuscript for her third book about adoption, Adoptees Who Change the World, which was written for children. In her voice through writing and speaking regarding families, I am inspired by her passion for family advocacy and her hope for the evolution of adoption.
Photo Provided by Lorri Antosz Benson
Who Is Lorri?
Lorri Antosz Benson is an award-winning television producer, writer, author, and former internationally syndicated columnist. Remarkably, she worked on Donahue, the Emmy award-winning show hosted by the legendary Phil Donahue, for fifteen years, eight of which were spent as Senior Producer. Lorri received two Emmy Awards and ten Emmy nominations for her work with Donahue and was awarded the American Women in Radio and Television Commendation several times. After Donahue, she went on to write a nationally syndicated column for eleven years called “Talk the Talk”. The column was a behind-the-scenes look at the world of talk television. Additionally, she spent two years as the executive producer of Golden Lifestyles, a regional talk show in SW Florida.
Lorri said that she felt that at the end of her producing career, her life shifted into family advocacy in order to create a mission in her life “on how she would like to make a difference in the world”. Lorri’s work led her to become a family advocate and a speaker/expert on eating disorders, adoption, and resources for parents. Today, Lorri participates in speaking engagements, has several writing projects in the works, writes for various family advocacy and adoption websites, and also maintains a blog for empty nesters: Feathering My Empty Nest. She and her husband Steve reside in Santa Monica, CA. They have four children and six grandchildren.
Lorri’s Testimony Through Stories
To Have and Not to Hold
Signed with Familius, a company that publishes books geared toward finding resources for families, Lorri worked with her publisher to create a three-part series focusing on adoption. The three books would target three different audiences and three different topics within the umbrella of adoption. The first two were To Have and Not to Hold, sharing Lorri’s story about placing her child for adoption, and Adopting Hope, sharing the stories of lessons learned throughout the adoption triad.
Based on my experience with the media, the stereotypical birth family contains unwed parents, between 14-21 years of age, with no emotional and financial stability. This was my expectation of the birth mother as I was adopting my son. In the book To Have And Not To Hold, Benson shares her story of being an unconventional birth mother and the issues she had to navigate placing her daughter for adoption. When Benson was 24, she was rising to the top of her career through her work on Donahue. In the middle of this amazing opportunity, Lorri became involved in a relationship that resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. She explained in our interview that with no guarantee of a partner, she could have had the means to raise her daughter, but knew her job would prevent her from actively being a mom. “I worked nights, weekends, whenever necessary, and I knew she’d be raised by strangers. I wanted her to have a mom and a dad.” She explained that emotionally she did not have support at the time and was not in the right place to mother a child, so she began to research adoption.
While in Chicago, she linked up with an agency called The Cradle. The Cradle is a well-known agency in Chicago that provides adoption education, adoption services, and counseling for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. At The Cradle, she was introduced to Temple and Anne Stark and instantly felt a connection to their profile. Though it was heartbreaking, she picked the Starks for her only choice–a closed adoption. Lorri expressed the grief she experienced after Katie went to live with Anne and Temple. After three years, Temple and Anne were ready to adopt again. Meanwhile, Lorri had spent the three years petitioning the Cradle to allow written communication that she and the Starks had approved. Her advocating led to the eventual changes to more open adoptions at The Cradle. With the Starks’ request to adopt again, The Cradle was able to notify Lorri and this began the letters between Anne and Lorri updating Lorri on Katie. It is this communication that opened the door to Katie and Lorri’s reunion.
First Reunion: Katie and Anne go to visit Lorri
Lorri, Katie, Taylor, Halli, Steve, Taryn & Anne
First Reunion Weekend
Photo Provided by: Lorri Antosz Benson
Katie always knew about her adoption, and at 16, she decided she wanted to meet Lorri. From their first reunion, they were able to move toward a relationship. They all bonded immediately and began to really get to know each other. Lorri believes that this connection worked out, because all parties came “from a place of love, and it was because of the love of Katie.” While she admits there were fears, everything was able to fall into place for their reconnection because of the love factor.
As an adoptive mom and storyteller, I always want to know the story behind each person in the adoption community. Adoption Hope starts off with Lorri and Katie’s story told from the perspectives of Lorri, Katie, and Anne. Another one of Anne’s daughters, and Katie’s sister, also shares her own story in the book. This difference in perspective shows the differences in thoughts regarding adoption. Lorri wanted to tell the story of her daughter’s adoptive mom because she felt as though Anne did right by both of them, raising Katie and keeping in contact with Lorri.
Katie’s Wedding Day in Dallas, TX
Lorri, Katie, and Anne- June 2, 2012
In processing the relationship between the three of them (Katie, Lorri, and Anne), Lorri decided that she wanted to share the various stories of other people in the triad to share the complexity of adoption. As she said, “It would be Pollyanna for me to think that every adoption story is like my story. Each adoption story begins differently and is complex in its own way.” She felt that Adopting Hope would be realistic and show both stories with happy endings and those that did not work.
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Amazing Adoptees Who Change the World
The third book in the adoption anthology also goes with another series her publishers have that discusses courageous people in the world based on background, race, and gender. Lorri’s book adds adoptees who have worked to change the world to the conversation. From Nelson Mandela to Faith Hill, Lorri provides developmentally appropriate information about the adoption stories of famous adoptees for school-aged children. She let me read the book before going to the publisher, and the list of people that were in the book shocked even me. The book itself is well-written and can be shared with all children. I’m excited about the conversations that I will have with my 4-year-old son about this book.
Lorri’s Work with Eating Disorders
According to the National Eating Disorder Organization (NEDA), eating disorders “are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses” that can affect all types of people no matter their background. According to NEDA, “National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America” will struggle with an eating disorder. In our interview, Lorri described Distorted as her entrance into this national discussion. Her work in this field began with her daughter Taryn.
Distorted is a memoir, co-authored by Taryn, that delves into Taryn’s struggle with an eating disorder, and its effect on the family. Lorri and Taryn each chronicle their own experience from the moment Taryn was first caught purging. They unveil a true picture of what happens to the family dynamic when a member has an eating disorder. The memoir educates and empowers the reader by offering various resources for those who are struggling or affected by an eating disorder.
Lorri’s Advocacy Work: Harvest Home
When I became an adoptive mother, I found purpose in adoption related issues. I wanted to do all that I could to educate myself and others about the complexity of adoption. I felt this was my purpose in my mission. I felt this same connection with Lorri. Today, Lorri is the vice chair of the Board of Directors of Harvest Home. According to their website, Harvest Home supports homeless pregnant women by providing “housing, support, and programs that equip women to become great mothers.” Lorri feels that despite her having a wonderful end result of her adoption story, that it does not “erase the impact that placing her daughter for adoption had on her.” She expresses that the more she wrote her first adoption book, the more she felt that she had a mission to help other birth mothers that were in her shoes when she was 24.
Lorri’s Message of Hope and Purpose
It is common to end every interview with adoption.com by asking the interviewee what adoption means to him/her in one word. Lorri was unable to give one word. For me, that speaks to a definite understanding of adoption because adoption is so complex that it really can’t be described in one word. In our exchange of the question together, the words that Lorri used were opportunity, love, complex, and beautiful. After our interview, I felt that she embodies the very heart of adoption. Her journey through adoption has afforded her daughter the opportunity to be raised by a family that Lorri herself wanted her daughter to have. I’m sure that was not an outcome that she could foresee at 24 years old, pregnant, and confused.
As a firm believer that life is the best teacher for us all, I feel that it is up to us all to take the good and challenges of life and to create the best result out of both scenarios. I believe that Lorri is such a beautiful example of taking the struggles of life and turning them into something more hopeful. The hope that she has for her life and others is shared in an interview with psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman Ph.D. entitled “The Decision to Become a Birth Mother”. Lorri expresses her belief “that we are here on earth to learn lessons; that we are here for a reason on our own purpose-filled journey. A life well-lived is one where we do the work and figure out our purpose and the personal lessons we alone are meant to learn:” A life full of purpose and hope.Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.