Sunday, November 29, 2015

Safe Haven? A Baby Abandoned in a Nativity Scene isn't a "Feel Good" Christmas Story

Copyright: kevron2001

Yesterday, a friend posted a link to an NPR piece that drew heartwarming conclusions of Biblical proportion regarding the recent abandonment of a newborn in a New York nativity scene. "Bible stories stay compelling over centuries," writes the author, Scott Simon, "because they show people struggle to do something good." The adoptive father of two seemingly likens the baby left at the church to Moses being placed in a basket to float in the reeds of the Nile river. In a world where parenting can be difficult and overwhelming, Mr. Simon invites us to find hope and inspiration from people, like this mother, who make hard choices. With this feel-good conclusion to this story, we almost miss the ache from the pit of our stomachs, a reminder that we're all somehow culpable for the separation of a mother and her much loved child.

The law under which this infant was abandoned exists less altruistically than as "a door in the law for parents who may feel...unable to care for their safely leave them, with some confidence that they will be....eventually taken in by another family," as Simon puts it. More accurately, Safe Haven laws serve to address unsafe abandonment and infanticide--enacted in all 50 states "[a]s an incentive for mothers in crisis to safely relinquish their babies to designated locations where the babies are protected and provided with medical care until a permanent home is found" (source). In other words, Safe Haven laws are based on the idea that decriminalized and anonymized infant abandonment will keep mothers--who may be in crisis from a variety of circumstances--from hurting their babies.

Certainly wanting to hurt her baby or not being prepared to raise him weren't issues for Moses's mother, Jocebed. After all, she was tasked with Moses's care after Pharaoh's daughter found him. So why did Jocebed have Moses placed into a waterproofed basket in the Nile? One source suggests that it was because Jocebed could not bear to watch Moses die, because the prophetess Miriam told her it would save Moses, or to convince astrologers advising Pharaoh that the savior of the Jews was one of the babies already thrown to the Nile--thus prompting him to end his slaughter of children.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dear Students and Social Workers Considering "Adoption Work"

When I was an undergraduate social work student, I found myself making a daily pass by a certain poster in the department lounge area. The 9x12 sheet listed dozens of fields that employ social workers, such as "mental health" and "juvenile probation" and "substance abuse" in various fonts and sizes. Upon close inspection, "adoption work" appeared near microscopically at the very bottom, perhaps indicative of how the profession views its overall presence within the adoption institution. Although a great number of adoption workers are also social workers, most social workers are not adoption workers. However, "adoption work" remains one of our profession's most iconic, if not stereotypical, areas of practice.

I am new to social work, but not new to serving people. 2.5 years ago, I attained the credentials to be a "social worker" in accordance with state law and CSWE standards, but have worked in human services fields for over 10 years. I am newer to working with a focus on adoption, but am not new to adoption itself. I have been writing, speaking, educating, and testifying on adoption issues for almost 7 years, but have lived the adoption experience for over 30 years. My current work focuses on family preservation--including serving families of all compositions, placement stability support for foster youth, and post-adoption support for adoptees and their various family members. 

As National Adoption Month sparks discussion in social work spaces about what "adoption work" is, I feel compelled to add to that dialogue with my "social worker" hat on, and with the reinforcement that comes from a lived adoption experience as a member of the adoption community.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Re-Framing Searching as Radical Empathy

My son was three days old when we left the hospital to go home. As I prepared to step through those sliding doors out into the sunlight of the parking area, I was acutely aware that my son was the same age I was when my infant self left the hospital in the arms of an adoption worker. As I secured his carrier into the car seat base, I tried to imagine what it would be like to leave the hospital still bleeding and empty-handed, as my mother had.

When my son was five months old, I realized he was the same age I was when my infant self left my foster home for my adoptive placement. I developed a paradoxical devastation and admiration for my foster mother, knowing intimately the bond we must have had and wondering how she could let me go, despite it.

I sought reunion to understand the human side of the choices--or lack thereof--made for me. It was a level of empathy that made my lungs burn

Today, a photo of me as a new mother popping up on my Facebook timeline, and an adoptee friend's recent words to me on her becoming a mother elicited memories I've thus far not articulated in words.

You could say that radical empathy, the willingness to be completely vulnerable to understand the experience of another person deeply connected to your own--is subversive. It disrupts the narrative that we are only to care about ourselves; or in the case of adoptees, that we are only to care about a rigid category of people. How often do people freely make themselves uncomfortable for the sake of another person when they have yet to figure out their own discomfort and grief?

People so often tell us that search desires are wrought from maladjustment and insensitivity. In truth, it's the exact opposite.


From the archives:
Becoming a Mother (Part I)
Becoming a Mother (Part II)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

6 Reasons why #ShoutYourAdoption as Push-Back to #ShoutYourAbortion is Problematic (at Best).

About 5 days ago, the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion made its debut on writer Lindy West's Twitter feed to her 60,000 followers, inspired by her friend Amelia Bonow's initiative to speak publically about her abortion experience. Bonow told Vice that she did this as a personal exercise to address the shame she internalized as the result of having an abortion, and as a response to the movement to defund Planned Parenthood. Shortly thereafter, #ShoutYourAdoption burst onto the scene as a push-back to online abortion speak-outs offering adoption as a replacement to abortion. Organizations such as quickly jumped on board directing (whom I assume to be) original parents, "Let's ‪#‎ShoutYourAdoption‬ instead of ‪#‎ShoutYourAbortion‬! Let us know why you chose adoption over abortion." But not everyone, including myself, is thrilled about this social media movement. And one need not be Pro-Life or Pro-Choice to understand why.

Its Intention is to Silence, not Empower
Hashtags are powerful tools that can draw attention to marginalized voices by creating a collective of thoughts and narratives. Last year, Lost Daughters launched #flipthescript, a movement that reached 30 million households in 30 days, to draw attention to voices of adopted and fostered adults who are consistently drowned out in the promotional activity of National Adoption Month. #ShoutYourAbortion too was created as a platform for individuals who have experienced abortion whose voices are drowned out in the noise of election season. Although some re-frame #ShoutYourAdoption as a movement de-stigmatize adoption, the original intention of the hashtag was not to empower the adoption community.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"Mommy, Which Mom is Your Real Mom?" When my Biological Children Ask my Adoptee Childhood Questions

Recently, my elementary schooler caught me off-guard. "Mommy, which mom is your real mom? Nanny or Grammie?" He was referring to my original mother and my adoptive mother. My thoughts collided and jumbled at once. I had no idea where he had heard the iconic (to me) "real mom" phrase. I fervently try to teach my children that my mothers, and all the ways in which women mother, are valid and important. Maybe I just wasn't doing a good job. Slow down, bring it back Amanda. This is not about you. "Buddy, can you tell me what you mean?" I finally managed.

My children have never known what it is like to not have three sets of grandparents. "How did we get so lucky?" my son has said.

I too have never known what life is like without three sets of grandparents: my mom's parents (who were happily married for a bazillion years) my dad's father and step-mother, and my dad's mother and step-father.

I was in elementary school when my peers were old enough to reason that I wasn't endowed with extra grandparents through magic. It was their questions that would later trigger the quickening of my heartbeat when my son uttered the phrase "real mom."

"How do you have three sets of grandparents?" They'd ask.

"My dad's parents are divorced and re-married."

"Then you don't have three sets of grandparents. Your dad's mom and dad are his real parents."

You couldn't tell me my grandpa in Arizona and my grandma in Pennsylvania weren't "real." I could see them and touch them; they felt real. My love for them was real. It finally hit me that "real" meant "biologically related."

My next realization hit me in the stomach like a well-placed punch. I'm not real. I was not biologically related to anyone I consciously knew and recognized as family. People also told me that my biological parents weren't real because they didn't raise me. As SooJung Jo wrote in her memoir, "I was just as related to everyone as I was to no one."

To me, conflicting messages about "real parents" ring reminiscent of old legal terms for children of extra-marital birth--nullius filius (child of no one) and nullius populi (child of everyone). An "illegitimate child" is "not accepted by the law as rightful."

We may think we have moved past the stigma of illegitimacy, but it seems we've only re-packaged it. Because, although the "real parent" concept in adoption intends to support the emotional need of adults to feel successful as parents, we continue to lose sight of whether our adult reasoning leaves room for the adopted child to feel real.

Flash forward a few decades. The responsibility now rests on my shoulders to explain adoption to my children. As Nicole Chung expressed in her beautiful Motherlode piece, I too worry that answering my little boys' questions about adoption gives them fears too big to hold. "Before I told her about my adoption, she never had reason to even consider what it would be like to be given up, or given to others," Chung wrote of her biological daughter. "Now she does."

At too young an age my son knows that every child's absolute worst fear--losing a parent, living without the care of a parent--isn't something simply safely explored in displacement through his favorite fairytales. You would think that being a children's therapist or having 30 years of a lived adoption experience would make it easier to explain adoption to my children. Yet the weight of my "unrealness" in our political and social environment sometimes suffocates me.

Working against me is a purity culture that condemns extra-marital sex and childbearing; a rape-culture that blames my mother for my conception and let my father off the hook; a culture of classism that questions the competence of impoverished parents; a racist and hetero-cis-normative culture that teaches my children to "other" families that do not look like theirs; an adoption culture that undervalues my connection to my roots; the fetishization of adoption in popular media; and a Christian Evangelical culture that hails one set of their grandparents as their mother's saviors and their other grandparent as someone their mother was "saved from."

I am tasked with offering developmentally appropriate reasoning as to why my sons will not lose me while taking care not to indict their Grammie for surrendering me or their grandparents for adopting me. I must emphatically embrace my own realness. I must give my children a voice in their hearts that pushes back messages of "unrealness" and leaves space for anyone they love to be real.

Above all, I must give them the confidence to always know that they too are real.

"I don't know." This was my son's answer to my haphazard response to his question. "You call them both 'mom,' but Nanny grew you and took care of you. That's just like you grew me and take care of me."

"Well, Nanny didn't grow me, remember?" I replied. "Grammie grew me and Nanny took care of me when I was growing up. Now Grammie and Nanny and Daddy's mom all look out for me and they all help take care of you."

"Oh," he donned a satisfied look. "I guess they're all real moms then."