Adoption and the Fish Ladder


My sometime favourite piece of advice  in life reads something like:

“This Life is a journey – you will take two steps forward and one step back – what ever you do , don’t give up or rather –  I have handled everything that has come my way so far and I will handle this too.”

And in a strange kind of way, this could sum up Katharine Norbury’s book, the Fish Ladder (Bloomsbury Publishing) which we reviewed here.

Truth is, I found the book profoundly moving as among the magical lyrical writing on the beauty of nature, Katharine writes as an adoptee and her experience of reunion.

There is a tidal harmony to the book – to the story telling – a very telling tidal ebb and flow as the author ventures out of her comfort zone up out into flow then back home again then up and out  – each time pushing harder and further out,  travelling new ground, contemplating the adoption and the impact on her life

Gently the seed of content is planted as the book grows to climax in reunion but in a reunion that never takes place.

A diagnosis of cancer prompts Katharine to question her medical history  and association for the sake of her own daughter, Evie.  An adoption intermediary writes to make contact ( mirroring my own experience) and sure enough after a number of weeks ( – weeks – but again my own experience too)  – a letter is received which Evie, reads aloud to her mum.

So in Katharine’s head the letter reads:


But in reality the letter reads:

or something like that – the exact wording elsewhere – for the truth is,  even the letter of response was never Katharine’s property  written instead to the intermediary cutting out Katharine (who she later refers to as “it”) from the whole exchange.

How powerful is that?

I cried when I read it the first time for the vulnerability and courage shown.

Do you understand the shame of an adoptee?

Over and over her story resonates with my own but I did meet Jenny and its only now I am trying to make peace with the actual fact that I was not wanted either and that I am also an “it” making an unwelcome, unscripted and unprompted guest appearance in my mother’s life story.

And my name is also Kathryn which means chaste or pure

Books, great books prompt deep thinking  and introspection.  

And I think that we few,  we chosen children few must stick together and find our voice to share experience because there are more and more displaced people living in the world today, orphaned children left without knowledge of parent or beginnings and every time one of us is able to speak out about our experience of feeling “cosmically adrift” we make it easier for the next as the path is already there.

“Cosmically adrift” by the way, comes from this quote:

which I love because this is why my blog is called the universe project because I have always felt cosmically adrift from the rest of the world.  Some of us have spent a long time unable to voice our thoughts and feelings.  We had to swallow the fear and shame of not belonging.  We fought off the homesickness, lost behind a thick glass window that tried to separate us from reality.

This intriguing, beguiling book has stayed with me for a number of weeks and is heartily recommended.


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