Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"I Wanted to be an Adoptee": a Foster Kid's Desire for Love, Family. and Security

Guest Entry by Nathaniel Christopher

Nathaniel, a photo from that summer
Nathaniel is a foster alumni, the son of an adult adoptee, and a freelance journalist in Vancouver, British Colombia.  More of Nathaniel's work can be found at his website..  Here is one last post for National Adoption Awareness Month.

“Who was that couple who dropped you off?” asked an older girl sitting next to me on the swings at Franklyn Street Park in Nanaimo.

“Uh…,well I live with them,” I respond, digging my feet into the gravel, desperate for a cushion of ambiguity.

 “Are they your parents, or what?”

“No, they're my foster parents,” I said, tightly grabbing the chain.

I wished they were my real parents. They were young and had ambition for their future. I saw them going places and desperately wanted a place in that future, but every so often someone reminded me it was all a façade.

It only took one question to blow the fantasy.

“Why are you in foster care?” said the girl, her face fixed on mine. 

I was desperate for an exit but her calm mannerisms and probing interest in my affairs kept me shamefully tethered to the red metal frame.

That previous summer my first foster mother, who lived two blocks from the park, had enrolled me in a summer program there. My new foster parents, who lived on the other side of town, ensured that I remained in the program for the rest of the summer. At the end of every afternoon, like clockwork, they would be there to pick me up in their blue Chevrolet Cavalier.

Revealing the truth of my situation made me vulnerable. It had only been a year, but I had undergone a huge identity shift. I was no longer the "old" Nathaniel who was disruptive, hyper, and chaotic. I was now the “new” Nathaniel who was nice, good and calm.

Talking about my status as a kid in foster care in 1991 meant addressing my shortcomings as a child and student.

Judge me by what I am now, forget everything about who I was, I said to myself. 

The previous week my foster father, a straight  23 year old man visited every record store in town in a quest to locate a Nancy Sinatra album I wanted. “Do you have ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’’ by Nancy Sinatra?” he asked each cashier without a hint of embarrassment.

He and my foster mother stood up for me, protected me, and loved me. When people referred to me as their son I wouldn’t correct them - nor would they.

They fought with my social workers to get me a new bike; they bought me new clothes, drove me to school every day and even mused about getting me braces. "If kids ask you what happened to your teeth you can just say you lost a fight with a lawnmower!" said my foster mother with pride.

Although my social workers me as a foster kid in their notebooks, it wasn’t an identity I clung to. I saw myself as part of a new family unit the foster kid label s a necessary and unpleasant step toward my goal of family stability.

My plans were derailed when their marriage ended and I went on to live with my foster mother. Eventually that placement broke down and I bounced off to yet another home.

I thought the world revolved around me blamed myself for the breakdown. I felt intense anger and grief over the separation. In her status report my childcare worker noted my struggle with loss, anger, and confusion.

"To come to terms with his losses, Nathaniel will need to attend to his feelings about his relationship with his foster parents and process his change from extreme attachment to extreme separation from his foster mother,” she wrote.

Aside from a few board games and a record that I liked, school was the only thing I had left from that "golden era" of family, stability and hope. My new foster parents and social worker wanted to move me to a school closer to my new placement, to their practical reality of who I was and where I belonged.

“If we, as professionals, have Nathaniel's best interests in mind, we will allow him to complete, perhaps his happiest year of school life, at Chase River Elementary School,” wrote my grade six teacher in a letter to my social worker.

My request to stay at Chase River is one of the few things I said that resonated with my social workers. "My friends are there," I said in an attempt to mask my desperation for familiarity with a facade of childlike enthusiasm for friendship.

Eighteen months and four homes after my summer at Franklyn Street Park, it was up to me to maintain any links with my past.

To that end I took two GMC "goldfish" city buses to school and back every day. I paid the 75 cent fare with a book of light blue bus stamps provided by the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Families.

"Is this seat taken?" asked a smartly dressed woman of perhaps 80 years who ignored the many empty seats in favour of the aisle seat next to me. Perhaps it’s her wisdom of age or my dazed, dejected expression, but she lent a wise and intuitive voice to my grief that I thought invisible to others.

"I was young once like you, many years ago." she said in a flat almost inaudible tone. Her clipped British mannerisms belied her forward observations. "I was alone," she said looking straight ahead, but talking directly to me. "So I turned to God."

November's Online Art Exhibit: Lina Eve

Lina Eve

From the 1960's-1980's in Australia, over 80,000 mothers lost their babies to adoption during an era of forced and coerced adoptions.  Lina Eve was one of these women.  She expresses her thoughts and emotions on this experience through the song and video (below) as well as through other artistic media.  You can check more of her artwork out at www.linaeve.com.




"Clayton's Mother" Lina Eve, mixed medium on board

"Loss" from the "Bad Girl" series, Lina Eve

Artwork and video/song copyright Lina Eve.  Used on this blog with permission.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Separating Adoptee Rights from Homophobia

Guest Entry by Shannon LC Cate

Shannon LC Cate is a lesbian housewife and write-from home adoptive mother to two beautiful girls. She blogs about her life at Peter’s Cross Station and about writing at Muse of Fire.

Amanda asked....
There have been a few times lately where I have seen/read adoption discussed in relation to gay and lesbian rights where it is almost framed as homophobic for the original (biological) male and female parents to be viewed as important to the adoptee. Someone might point out that a loving parent (or parents) is what a child needs, regardless of the gender of the parent(s). I would agree. However, the assumption that valuing original parents is about saying the nurturing parents, in this case, gay or lesbian parents, are not adequate or capable parents is perhaps another instance where Adoptee Rights may be misunderstood. I decided to ask Shannon her thoughts on this topic. What would you say to someone who feels that placing importance on the biological roots* provided by the male and female original parents is homophobic or offensive to LGBTQ parents?"

*by biological roots, I mean it would be placing importance on anything from a relationship with the original parents, to access to ancestral information, to access to adoption records or original birth certificate.
Shannon answers.....

This sounds to me like yet another case of a misplaced sense of who adoptee rights are about. They are not about adoptive parents. Let me say that again, the adoptee rights movement is not a comment of any kind on adoptive parents. The adoptee rights movement is about adoptee rights. Period.

I think it’s a shame that we (“we” adoptee rights advocates and activists) must keep repeating this, clarifying this and explaining this, when all that energy could go into pursuing, you know, adoptee rights.

It’s a particular shame that queer* parents don’t come by an understanding of it more naturally, as it seems to me logically, they should. But perhaps there is some legitimate reason for the confusion. After all, there are times when children’s rights—adopted and otherwise—are adversely affected by a lack of queer individual and/or family rights.

Here are a couple of the most common examples.

Queer rights to fostering and adoption: Most large, well-researched, truly child-focused fostering and adoption organizations (for example, the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Ethica) recognize that allowing full and equal participation by queer adults in foster care and adoption are in the best interests of children, because they open a pool of potential parents to underserved children who are difficult to place. In this case, queer rights further the good of fostered and adopted people.

The right to same-sex second-parent (sometimes called “step-parent”) adoption: In many jurisdictions, two people of the same gender cannot legally parent the same child or children. This leaves such a child or children unprotected in the case of the legal parent’s death or in the case of a split in the parents’ relationship. An ugly breakup can result in the orchestrated loss of one parent (the non-legal one). A death can lead to court battles between the surviving (non-legal) parent and the deceased (legal) parent’s other family. Giving queer people the right to adopt each other’s children—or adopt as couples in the first place—means giving children more security in their homes and families.

These two examples are probably the most important places in which “gay rights” align with the best interest of children. However, the rights of adoptees to basic information about their biological origins have nothing to do with either of these two examples. The rights of adoptees to know their origins are simply human rights of individuals and are no comment on adoptive parents, whether straight or gay.

On the one hand, I can understand why queer adoptive parents might tend to undervalue the importance of biological ties in their children’s lives. After all, many of us are abandoned, scorned, disowned and otherwise abused by our own biological families when we come out. This legacy of rejection has led to a strong sense of community among queer people, one that is, in fact, often called “family” in queer slang.

On the other hand, isn’t this ability to reach beyond our immediate and most obvious relations to make family among strangers—perhaps to include adoption—something that should guide us in opening our hearts to the biological kin of our children, when we have an opportunity to learn about, or even get to know them?


Adopted people aren’t always looking for a relationship when they seek their natural relatives. But sometimes they may be lucky enough to stumble into the possibility of one, and the chance to build it. But even in the absence of such an opportunity, knowing more about our children—even if it is only the names and basic identities of their first parents—can be regarded as a treasure not just for them, but for us.

My partner and I chose open adoption first for our children, second for their first parents and finally, for ourselves. After all, our children are the most interesting people in the world to us and knowing more about them is a gift. The light in my daughter’s eyes when I can tell her she has her mother’s brilliant mind or beautiful smile is not something I would trade for the world. It does nothing to diminish her love for me to be given a deeper and broader sense of herself and her connections to the world through all her inheritance—biological and adoptive. In fact, one of my primary motivations in supporting the healthy growth of her fullest possible sense of self is to add to the foundation I am laying for our continued healthy, happy, attached relationship in the future when she has a choice about whether or not to call me “family.”

*I use the word “queer” instead of GLBT. Queer is a term embraced by many activists as offering the best coverage for the varied people who find themselves—or choose to step—outside of hetero-normative sexual identities and/or family models.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Queer in Care

Guest Entry by: Nathaniel Christopher

Nathaniel is a foster alumni, the son of an adult adoptee, and a freelance journalist in Vancouver, British Colombia.  More of Nathaniel's work can be found at his website.  Nathaniel agreed to have his piece, Queer in Care, published on my blog for National Adoption Awareness Month.  This piece was originally published at Xtra! on December 8, 2005.

I hear a voice calling me from upstairs. "Nathaniel, we'd like to talk to you."

I have been dreading this moment.

I make my way through the cluttered front hallway and creep up the stairs. I enter the kitchen utterly terrified of what seems like impending doom. My heart begins to pound and my knees shake uncontrollably.

An eerie calm fills the normally busy, loud foster home where I live. My foster parents are standing pensively in the kitchen. Although it is well into the evening they have not changed from their stuffy work uniforms to their usually comfortable "at home" garb of jogging pants and T-shirts; they have been waiting hours for me. There are no signs of dinner; the only dish in sight is my foster mother's quickly overflowing ashtray.

I am pulverized by my foster father's intense gaze as he pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket.

In one thunderous gesture he slams it down on the counter and bellows: "What is the meaning of this?"

Before I can answer, my foster mother interjects in a tone of frantic despair, "Nathaniel, it's like you've taken a knife and stabbed it in our backs... Why? Why did you do this to us?" To which her husband adds, "I've worked 30 years at my job. Thirty years down the drain now. You've ruined my career-thanks a lot."

They are husband and wife, mother and father, employees of the provincial government, prominent members of the community, and I am their foster child. With one damning letter I have destroyed all that, or so they claim.

I had to do it-I could no longer put up with their flagrant homophobia, so I documented every instance and submitted it to my social worker as a formal complaint.

I was placed in that household during a period of personal growth when I was beginning to fully realize the power of being a queer youth. My mental, emotional, and spiritual stability depended on the acknowledgment and nourishment of my queer self. I needed to explore and understand this identity which was integral to my growth.

Living in a homophobic foster home gave this identity search a sense of urgency and zeal which pushed me ahead at lightning speed.

In my first week in their household I realized that their views on homosexuality were not conducive to my own development. Every member of my foster family openly expressed their homophobic views.

I never came out to them as such-that was done for me.

One of their more inquisitive sons made an assumption about my sexual orientation based on my choice of music and awkward aversion to their conversations involving explicit descriptions of heterosexual sex acts. When the middle son asked me if I was gay and I answered in the affirmative, the news spread like wildfire.

Within days, neighbours were calling me "faggot" and my foster mother solemnly informed me that her husband was disappointed with my "choice."

While knowingly in my presence, my foster parents' sons used the term fag and faggot in reference to queer people and sometimes as a direct reference to me. On the issue of gay rights, the eldest son's views could only be described as vile, once declaring that "the only right that fags deserve is a bullet in the head."

My foster father believed my sexuality was a choice and went so far as to compare it with the choice of cars.

Although not a particularly religious man, he always peppered any discussion of homosexuality with Biblical quotes. In a judicious tone he would condemn homosexuality as a crime against the Bible and therefore a "sin against God."

When outlining house rules, he informed me I was welcome to live under his roof on the condition that I did not bring any of my gay friends over, yet his sons were encouraged to bring their girlfriends over. I was not to use his computer to write gay literature or correspond with prospective gay lovers.

By then, I had read several pamphlets and books on queer issues and was acutely aware of what was acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

I consistently challenged them on their use of homophobic language and let them know that I was not okay with what they were saying. Sadly, my bold attempt at educating them backfired; they felt that it was some kind of unwarranted attack on their freedom of speech.

When her four-year-old granddaughter uttered the word gay at the dinner table, my foster mother said: "We're not allowed to use that word anymore" in a hostile, mocking tone.

I needed to be in a queer-friendly space. I found one at a local queer drop-in centre.

It was a queer-positive space where once a week queer youth would hang out. We drank way too much pop, stuffed our faces with greasy pizza pops, exchanged tarot readings, listened to music and watched movies.

This downtime in a queer-positive space blossomed into a sense of community, belonging and identity.

There was a certain thrill to the drop-in, as it felt very much like a secret club. We met once a week in borrowed space. We had a queer library, poster collection, condom collection, and junk food stash that all went back into the closet at the end of the night.

The volunteers at the drop-in were mostly professional men and women. Among other things, they were professors, social workers, doctors, and nurses. There were two volunteers that had a particularly significant impact on my life; they didn't go back into the closet at the end of the night.

They were both professors at the local college. I was in awe of both of them as they were unlike anyone I had ever met before: they had lived in many countries, they spoke different languages, they had published books, and held post-graduate degrees. They both took an avid interest in what I had to say.

During my life I have dealt with dozens of professionals (doctors, social workers, lawyers, etc) but these two women were the first professionals to treat me as an equal. I was not their client, charge or pet project but a friend.

They were my brightest stars in the darkest nights.

My foster family viewed my participation in this "secret club" with suspicion and thinly veiled contempt.

Going to this drop-in strengthened a part of me that they could never understand or change. They expected me to be quiet and put up with their abuse. I refused.

I sent a letter to my social worker about my foster family's continuing mistreatment and callous attitudes. My social worker, who was acutely aware of queer issues and supportive in my endeavours to participate in the queer drop-in, promptly accepted it.

However, I later retracted the letter under immense pressure and intimidation from my foster parents. They told me that if I wanted to move that was fine, but it was unnecessary to make a "big deal" about it.

Unlike most of their possessions, which were haphazardly strewn about the floors and shelves, they wanted their hatred swept neatly under the rug. At the age of 17, I left this home, but before I did I left several queer liberation posters on my wall, which explained why I was a part of this movement.

As I left, I felt as if I were walking off into the light, ascending to better things and places-free to be queer or whatever else I wanted.

The sense of community and support I received from the drop-in centre gave me the confidence and strength to stand up against discrimination and oppression. I asserted myself against my foster family to ensure the ministry was aware of the plight of queer youth in care, sending a clear message to all concerned that the time for silence was over.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Biological Relatedness in my Adoptive Family & What it Meant for us Today

Today is my a-grandmother's 80th birthday (my a-mom's mom).  My mom and some other family members coordinated a huge get-together catered by a hotel where we all stayed yesterday.  By "we all" I mean my grandmother's three kids and spouses, all of their kids and their kids' kids (except for one granddaughter and great-granddaughter who were unable to attend) and some cousins.  My a-dad's brother and his wife, my aunt, were there too as they are friends of the family.  My family was last to arrive at the party; my husband was being super, firefighter, hero man out saving the day somewhere and we left later than we intended to.

Here I stood at this party, an adult with a family of my own who had done some serious work on figuring out who I am.  I also did some serious work embracing that identity.  I looked around, comparing faces, as I have grown so used to doing.

My cousin J and my a-mom look a lot alike.  They have about the same skin tone, the same dark eyes, and the same shiny black hair.  My mom used to wear her hair long and shiny like J does when she was J's age.  Sometimes I wonder if it is their Iroquois roots, the ones they know little about, shining through.

My dad and his brother have the same skin tone, the same nose, the same hair, and the same ears.  They wear similar clothes and glasses.  They both married women who have pale skin and like to wear their black hair in a perm.

The people we have lost in the past two years were there as well, carried in the faces of their relatives.

My cousin J looks like my a-mom but she also looks like her mother who recently passed away.  My uncles look like their father, my grandfather, who died two years ago this past month.  My uncle and my a-dad look just like their father, my grandfather, who passed away maybe 9 months ago.  I loved all of these family members who are no longer with us but yesterday at the party, I felt like they were among us.  I could see them in the faces of every one around me.  That's one awesome thing biology gives to us.

No one ought to feel insulted by me saying something good about biology.  Nature and nurture are not diametrically opposed.  Saying something good about the one should not be seen as an insult to the other.  When I reunited, I was excited to acknowledge that I am someones biological family too.  I carry the genes of my ancestors; you can see them on my face, and according to my aunt, in my hands too.  Where does this leave my a-parents?  You may not see them in my face but I carry their memories and social history; you can hear them in the stories I pass down.

Biology doesn't matter to everyone and that's fine; I am not here to tell them how to think.  But for me, it sure was nice to see my aunt and grandfather's again, even if it was just in the faces of their sons and daughters.

Photo credit: Rawich

Friday, September 16, 2011

Becoming a Mother (Part II)



My husband pulled the car over so that I could throw-up along side the road.

"Why in the world did you stop the car in front of someones driveway?"  I demanded to know though I was in no shape to really be preoccupied with such a question.

"I don't know" he replied, realizing there was no right answer to my question.

I closed the door to the car and we continued on the path to his mother's house to drop our son off for the night.  I was sick, I was nauseous: I was in labor.

------

After the birth of my first child I accepted the possibility that I might not ever be pregnant again due to fertility troubles.  16 months later, another pregnancy test came back positive; a pregnancy that I lost shortly after completing my seventh week.

I accepted this loss, but my adoptive mother was very upset. She told me that I would be sad each year on my would-have-been due date.  I never knew that she had been sad each year on her would-have-been due date for the pregnancy that she lost. I had always thought that adoption fixes that; that it was my job to take that pain away. I hadn't. That's not fair or realistic--for anyone.

------

Two months later, I became pregnant again with my second son.  People say that no two pregnancies are alike and it couldn't have been more true for me.

We made it to his mother's house before I got sick again. I considered blaming my symptoms on my husband's cooking. But no, I was in labor and I knew it. We made it to the hospital, but not without pulling over two more times along the road.

"Hear the froggies chirping?  They're hoping you feel better!" my husband said as I hurled my guts out over a bridge into a creek. I glared at him as he continued eating his bagel and drinking coffee. Paramedics have strong stomachs. 
------

We arrived at the hospital and I was taken to the triage room on the maternity floor.

"Are you sure you are in labor?" the nurse wanted to know.

I tried very hard not to be sarcastic. I promise.

Nonetheless, the nurse decided I had a stomach flu. She wanted to send me home. I protested; I refused to leave. As consolation, she strapped itchy monitors across my belly and gazed, utterly unimpressed, at the monitor.

They placated me and let me stay there but would not admit me to the hospital. Silly pregnant woman who thinks she's in labor.

I fell asleep.
------

I woke up as pain rippled through my body.  A few minutes later, I felt a gush of liquid.  I called the nurse; my water had broken.


"Are you sure?" she said as she walked in.

"I feel as though I am being slowly crushed by an iceberg," I replied.

Still, she tested me with her strip of paper before she announced "OK, you're in labor then" and slowly reached for a glove.  After a second of prodding, she retracted her hand with an alarmed expression.

"You're eight centimeters!" 
------

The moment the staff realized that my son was about to be born was the moment they realized they had put me off for too long. They were not prepared for this birth. I was not admitted to the hospital. I had not had my antibiotics indicated to be needed by prior testing. They had not asked me about my birth plan or preferences. They had told me that there was no need to have my doula or my mothers called.

I was rushed to a delivery room as the staff scrambled to admit me. A box of gloves fell to the ground, littering white, latex-free figures all over the gray surface. "I see a head of hair!" someone announced.

I looked at my husband, he looked back at me. "It's too late," I said. "I am going to do this myself." 

------

The staff argued. Was it too late to call the anesthesiologist for an epidural? I didn't want one anyway. No one knew that. Where was the doctor? No one had warned her a birth was impending.

 I took deep breaths.

With every breath I told myself you can do thisYou can do thisYou deserve a wonderful laborYou deserve a wonderful laborYou can do thisYou have the confidence to do this.  I looked over at the nurse next to me, who still did not have any gloves on.

"He is coming out."

The staff shouted at me not to push. They told me I needed to wait for the doctor.

"She knows what she's doing" said the doctor who had graced the doorway. "She's the only one who knows when she needs to push."

I focused on my hot pink socks. I sat up. I bore down. I swore I could have stopped time itself if I had deemed it so.

I was in charge.

 ------

They placed him on my chest as those wondrous cries left his lips.  He was a wonderment with deep blue eyes, a head full of chestnut brown hair, and a kissable button nose.  His little forehead was warm against my lips as I gave him a welcome-to-the-world kiss.  The same tears came to my eyes and a familiar lump formed in my throat; the indescribable mother-child bond. 

------

So many thought processes flew through my mind while in the hospital. Too many to explain at once. I thought about how much more my voice should have been considered in my birth process. I thought about the privileges I have and how women without those privileges might not be heard at all. The thought terrified me, for them.

White privilege, Christian privilege, straight privilege, cis privilege, class privilege, coupled/married privilege--my privileges in that hospital were endless. I could pay for my care; received unquestioned support during my hospital stay; and no one questioned my right or my husband's right to take our child home. But what if?

What if I were younger? A person of color? What if I wasn't a Christian and no spiritual support was available? What if I did not have a partner or the privilege of being able to be married and have someone to look out for me during a time when I felt vulnerable? What if I did not have the privilege and opportunity to obtain an education and manage a household with someone else who also had the same privilege, to pay for insurance and our needs? What if I were alone? What if I did not have the means to inform myself about pregnancy and birth and needed to rely more on what I was being told by others? What if there was a huge hospital bill waiting at home for me?

What if I were on the other side of privilege; surrendering my son.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Becoming a Mom (Part I)



I watched my husband transform our home office from a fire engine red, selected by the previous owner, to a soft yellow.  I thought a mellow color would provide a peaceful environment for my crafts and other projects. I hate painting; he doesn't even ask me to do it anymore because I make a mess and complain the whole time. At this point, he was bored.

"Let's go get wings and drinks," he suggested.

"Ok," I said, as I slid down from my perch on our over sized desk where I was dutifully overseeing the painting.  Gotta go be responsible first.  Due to my PCOS, we had been trying to conceive for 18 months with no luck.  I would take a pregnancy test before going out for sips of my favorite wine, just in case.  Each negative test was a reminder, no biological relatives for you--not ancestors, not descendants. Imagine my shock then when;

Positive.

I checked the pictures on the box three times to make sure I read correctly.  I used a second test.

Positive.

I re-entered the office, arm outstretched holding the test as if it would bite me. My husband was halfway through making a long yellow stoke on the wall with his brush when his eyes met the little plastic stick in my hand.

"Yellow is a good baby color," I said.

------

As my belly grew, so did the amount of unsolicited pregnancy and child-rearing advice I received. My pregnancy would no doubt be similar to my own mother's pregnancy with me.

"How big were you when you were born?"

"Was your mother late with you?"

"Were you cesarean or vaginal?"

People were kind, but perplexed with my pre-reunion replies of "I don't know."  Good grief, how could you not know if your own mother carried high or low, had trouble in labor, or how much you weighed at birth?  Who doesn't know something like that?

I read every book I could get my hands on, attended birthing and parenting classes, and made frequent use of the nurse line at my doctor's office.  I overwhelmed myself with information and worry, all-the-while rendering myself to the role of "clueless pregnant woman."

------

It was Thanksgiving day and four days past my due date.  I claimed the couch and announced that anyone who wanted to eat better find something to cook; "and if you want to do something for me, make sure there is chocolate or cheese involved!" My growing belly did nothing to diminish my sense of humor.

My water broke and I was in labor throughout Thanksgiving dinner that evening. At the conclusion of the meal, I shocked everyone when I calmly rose from my seat and announced I would be driving to the hospital to have a baby now.

"Aren't people supposed to scream, cry, run around and fling clothing into an overnight bag when a baby comes?" my mom asked, noting aloud she had never had a baby.

An hour later, I was admitted to the delivery unit and projected to have my son by the following morning. My mind protested, You can't be a mother. This can't be real.

Labor progressed slowly, and my thoughts questioning whether or not I could successfully mother a child did nothing to help the process. I nearly fainted during the epidural. The epidural did nothing but make my legs numb. I covered my face with my hands and I cried.

------

At 9AM the following morning, the doctor declared that it was time to push. Flanked by his side was a nurse--a stunning vision of Jennifer Love Hewitt in scrubs. I felt every bead of sweat and every clump of my tangled hair, my body barely covered in a paper-thin gown, as the Hollywood pair in front of me coached me to push.

After two hours of pushing, of covering my face and sobbing, panicking, hyperventilating, my son emerged from my body. They placed him on my chest, his face inches from mine. A loud, beautiful blast of first cries left his lips.  He was a wonderment with deep blue eyes, wild chocolate brown hair, and a kissable button nose.  I stared at this precious, tiny boy....the first biological relative I had ever known.

The sleeping baby in my own soul awakened. Tears streamed down my face as I held my son.  There was an immediate bond I cannot describe, but the thought of it brings tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.  I realized that I had this experience with someone else as a baby and I wondered if she had the same tears in her eyes and lump in her throat, the same indescribable feeling of connection, to me.

I cried for her, I cried for both of my mothers, and I cried for myself.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feministe Asks Some Questions on Adoption and Feminism

Brigid at Feministe wants to know if adoption is a feminist issue.  Brigid asks:
How can or should we view adoption as a feminist issue? As a class, race, or disability issue? Whose rights stand to be compromised when adoption is or is not an available option?

Does every child have a right to be raised by the people whose genetic material helped create them?

Does every genetic parent have a right to raise their genetic children?

Do people who are unable (though biology or circumstance), or do not desire, to conceive children have a right to raise children?

If you believe adoption is problematic, what circumstances would make it less so?
Yes, adoption is a feminist issue. Its structure of power regards one mother as being less worthy to parent than another because of her marital status or her income. Unmarried, pregnant women in the 50′s-70′s were scolded and ushered into maternity homes where their babies were taken from them. See “Wake up Little Susie” by Ricki Solinger and “The Girls Who Went Away” by Anne Fessler.

As feminists, we rightfully criticize how poorer parents are seen as lesser entitled to reproduce and parent children. Yet we fail to see the connection and the powerful presence of this stigma behind vulnerable pregnant women flipping through "Dear Birth Mother" letters written by prospective adoptive parents whose photos from the latest vacation and their four bedroom home are on clear display. A common practice today.

“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis [in adoption] has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year . . .” United Nations, Commission on Human Rights, 2003.

Feminists tend to see the "mother" role in adoption but forget that adoptees are women too, further marginalizing us. Heated debates take place about the privacy, needs, and desires of the parties in the "parenting roles" while forgetting to attend to the information and autonomy needs of those in the "being parented" role. Although we grow older each day, to society we remain as perpetual children, always too young or ill-informed to join the table for serious adoption discourse.

Ableism, sexism, classism, racism, all are huge issues in adoption. I have a blog because there's simply too much to say in one post or one answer on an internet forum. Adoption simply should not be trivialized like that.

Yes, every single child has a basic human right to be raised by his or her own natural (meaning biological) family, according to UNICEF and the UN’s “Rights of the Child.”

“Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible. UNICEF believes that families needing support to care for their children should receive it.” — UNICEF

Yes, every parent has the basic human and constitutional right to parent their own child. This does not mean that children should grow up in abusive households. This means that the right of families to stay together should be respected when and if at all possible.

Prospective adoptive parents have the right to be treated equally in the adoption process. Children who do not have parents and a family that can care for them have a right to receive a home and a family/caregivers who can. But no, no one has a "right" to adopt.

There are aspects of adoption that are incredibly problematic. What would make it less so? The billions that are spent on adoptions being put towards preserving families that can and wish to stay together. Adequate social welfare programs in place so that orphanages are not used to manage dependency. Domestic adoptions promoted as a way to provide truly needy children with homes. Encouragement to adopt one of the 120,000 children legally cleared for adoption in the U.S. foster care system who cost little to nothing to adopt. Appropriate adherence to ICWA and respect for indigenous tribes and their families. And resolution to a number of legal issues such as adoptee deportation, sealed records, and "re-homing," and largely unregulated practices such as internet facilitated adoptions. This is not an exhaustive list, just some thoughts to start.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June's Online Art Exhibit: Mia Severson

Mia Severson

"Photography is my main artistic love but I also enjoy many other forms of artistic expression including painting, sculpting and writing. I blogged for many years (Mia's Saving Grace) about my adoption experience and that was instrumental in my ability to maneuver through the rough waters of searching for my roots. Had it not been for that blog and all of the wonderful friends I met along the way I don't think I would have survived that period of search, failed reunion and self exploration regarding what it truly means to be adopted. I was born and raised in the closed record state of Colorado and currently live in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. Also a closed record state. I am blessed to share life with my amazing son Joshuah and my three beautiful daughters; Sophia, Hannah and Isabella. All of my children have followed in my footsteps and have a deep appreciation for art which makes me very happy!"







Mia's Links:


Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Post: Yes, I Have a Father

By Guest Blogger: Julie, iAdoptee


Julie is an adult adoptee who was born, adopted and raised in a closed-record state in the northeast United States. She was placed with her adoptive family as an infant through a domestic, agency-facilitated adoption in the early 1970s and has been in reunion with her paternal and maternal natural families since 1998. In addition to blogging about the issues facing adult adoptees, Julie works as a marketing copywriter and enjoys reading, practicing yoga and spending time with her husband and children. You can learn more about Julie's adoption experience and the importance of the bagel & coffee image by visiting her personal blog, iAdoptee.  I asked Julie to share something with us about her natural father, in honor of Father's Day.

My natural dad would be the first to tell you that he suffered a primal wound from losing his only child to the adoption system. He did not consent to my adoption. He wanted to marry my mother. His parents, my grandparents, supported the marriage plan and fought to keep me with them. But the year was 1971 and 19-year-old fathers did not have the right to raise their own children. My dad was a legal adult but my maternal grandparents and Catholic Chairities were allowed to place me with strangers despite the fact that he and my paternal family wanted to raise me.

Fortunately, the big plan to keep me from my father, and from being a part of my paternal family, eventually failed. My dad started seriously looking for me the year I turned 18-years-old. He became involved in natural parent support groups. He searched and just couldn’t find me. But he had left every breadcrumb imaginable and when I registered with the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR) in 1998, there he was. We've been together as father and daughter for over 13 years now. He is everything a dad should be and more to me. The love I feel for him as his daughter knows no bounds.

And yet there is no record that he ever fathered a child. 

I am one of the fortunate few adoptees who actually has a copy of my oh-so-elusive original birth certificate. Every section pertaining to my father on this precious document is blank. His identity was, and is, well-known to all involved in my adoption. So there is no reason for his information to be omitted from the factual, accurate record of birth. But he is not listed or included in any way. As I am his only child by birth, this means that there is no official documentation indicating that he is a father or that he has a descendant.

It's bad enough that my “official” amended birth certificate is a lie. But my original one is too--because conscious omission of a known fact is still a lie. My dad and I actually contacted a lawyer several years ago to see if his name could be added to my original birth certificate. The lawyer told us that my original birth certificate is not a legally recognized document and therefore does not exist. As such, we cannot “amend” a document that resides only in the adoption black hole. 

And yet that original, now-legally-nonexistent document was once amended to indicate that two people who had absolutely nothing to do with my birth were the ones who actually created me. But my dad--the man who did create me, who fought to keep me with him and who spent years searching for me--is barred from being acknowledged as my father on the accurate record of my birth.

I'd love to say that I don't need a piece of paper to know who my father is and in turn, to know who I am. But the truth is that I most definitely do--for him, for me and for future generations of our family.

Photo credit: Idea go

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Meeting Grammy for the First Time

 

My youngest met his grammy (my first mother) for the first time today!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why my Amended Birth Certificate is a Lie

 

This article has been read as testimony in Adoptee Rights hearings and has been widely republished, including appearing in a recent adoption policy anthology alongside essays from the National Council for Adoption and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

"Why would they lie?"  I thought to myself when I first saw my amended birth certificate.  I was 11 or 12 and it was out on the kitchen counter for some reason I don't recall.  I was alone in the room at the time, wondering if I was allowed to look at the document.  I didn't know my first mother's name, no one had ever told me before.  So I wondered, am I allowed to know?  Feeling very brave and rebellious, I took a peek only to be taken aback that it did not contain my first mother's name at all.  There it was, "certificate of live birth" from the state of Tennessee with my birth date, my name, my place of birth....yet my adoptive parents were listed in place of my first mother's name.  I couldn't believe it.  I vaguely remember asking my mom why she and my father were on my birth certificate and received a "we're your parents" sort of response and feeling like my question had not quite been answered.

Many thoughts went through my mind.  "Did the State save her name before they took it off?"  "Has my choice to one day know her name been taken away from me?  Why couldn't someone have asked what I wanted?"  "Why would you put wrong information about my birth on my birth certificate?"  "Is there something wrong with where I come from that it has to be hidden like that?"  Of course, I had no concept of what an original was, that it was sealed, and that this wasn't really my factual birth document.  I didn't learn about that until my early 20's .  My sense of injustice from seeing this "birth certificate" was not about me weighing in on who my "real parents" are.  Rather, I felt a conflict between the lesson of the truth being important when there were exceptions to the rule.  But what, however, was it about adoption that there was an exception to telling and knowing the truth?

What Birth Certificates Are
When a child is born, the State government collects and keeps vital statistics information.  It makes various pieces of this information available to the person who was born in the form of a birth certificate.  Birth certificates are government recorded and issued documents that contain the vital statistics information collected at the time of the persons' birth.

The Arguments
In my journey in Adoptee Rights activism, I have encountered several points others will make in defense to the practice of amending and even sealing of a birth certificate.  Some say that it is easier to have one amended certificate with the adoptive parents names on it.  Some say that amending and sealing is necessary so that no one will have to know that someone is adopted unless the family or the adopted person decide to disclose it to others.

Some say that the amended certificate isn't untruthful at all.  Despite the fact that it says "certificate of live birth" and contains birth information, they argue that the "mother" and "father" spots on the birth certificate containing the adoptive parents names is understandable because they are mother and father.  They'll point out that the birth certificate does not specifically state "mother who gave birth" or "father who fathered the child."  Some other will simply flat out state that there should be a new birth certificate made with the adoptive parents' names on it because they're the real parents.  They are the ones who did all the hard work, and they deserve the acknowledgement of being on an amended certificate.

Some might also point out that birth and biology are no longer synonymous because of surrogacy and donor conception.  They'll claim this means that adoptees cannot claim a right to know biology and birth information through their birth certificates.

Here's the Truth
It certainly is not easier for many adopted persons in adulthood to have an amended certificate and not their original--just ask those who cannot get passports and driver's licenses, to name just a few complications.  Also, want to compare your amended to the original to verify that you know correct information about yourself?  Want to know your first parents' names?  Tough cookies.  Adoptees in 44 States have a great deal of difficulty doing so.

Birth certificates are not "hide your family drama" certificates.  They are birth certificates.  During his childhood, my father had no amended birth certificate to hide that his mother did not raise him or his brother since the ages of one and two.  My grandfather could not have amended his birth certificate to hide that his mother sent him to live at a boarding school for "fatherless boys" after his dad died while keeping his brother.  Foster kids do not have their birth certificates amended and sealed to hide that they are not being raised by their first parents.  No one else, regardless of the situation, has their birth certificate amended and sealed.  Adoption should be no exception.  When there is a different rule for adoption, we assert that there is something inherently wrong with being adopted.

What are "mother" and "father" are intended to indicate on a birth certificate?  I think that the fact that the document is recorded and kept by the Vital Statistics office and that it contains all information pertaining to birth, "mother" and "father" generally speaking on anything claiming to be a "birth certificate" are clearly intending to indicate the mother who gave birth and the biological father.  Specifications of "mother who gave birth" and "biological father" on a birth certificate would be completely superfluous.

What would perhaps be ideal in the place of amending and sealing is for original birth certificates to be amended to include the names of legal parents, without any other information removed or changed.  A redacted copy could be requested for identification purposes containing whatever specific information the adoptee requesting it saw fit.  However, this is not what the current amended certificate of each adoptee is.  It is a document that presents itself as the original and in place of the original in every single way and that is why it is untruthful.  It does not indicate that it is not the original or that information on it has been changed to include information other than birth information so that I can be aware and informed that I do not have the same birth certificate others do.  There is nothing on it that indicates to me that I am adopted.  When I request a birth certificate from Vital Statistics, they don't address me as an adopted person and ask me "which one?"  They send me the amended one and only the amended one.  Should my parents had chosen not to disclose to me that I am adopted, I would recieve no knowledge or hints by looking at my amended birth certificate.  It in every way shape and form presents my adoptive parents as being the parents who gave birth to me.  Very simply put, it is a lie.  It is my government lying to me.  It allows others to lie to me if they wanted to.  It robs me of the basic human right to truth, identity, self-determination, and autonomy.

What Wanting Truth is all About
Not being on my birth certificate does not mean my parents are not my parents.  It has nothing to do with that.  I love my mom and dad.  It needs to be acknowledged that all of the parents in my life are real; if this were not so, I would not be a real person.  I would not exist.  If I choose to favor some people in my life more than others or apply some sort of heirarchy, that is my choice and not something anyone else or the state has the right to do for me.

Remember, we're talking about birth certificates here, not "I'm the real parent" certificates.  Adoptees deserve the same birth documentation all others get.  Period.  This issue shouldn't be made to be about anyone or anything else or any about any other issue.  My birth, my record, my right.  The idea that birth documents are to be altered to show which family the adoptee belongs to more or which family is more entitled to claim the adoptee is perhaps the most offensive view of all.  Adoptees are people, not property.

As for surrogacy and donor conception, a birth document lacking biological and birth information is also unethical.  It is not a justification for the way adoptees' birth certificates are changed.  We cannot argue against adoptee rights or for the practice of amending and sealing based on what rights that have been stripped off the backs of other groups.  Since birth and biological information is what is contained on birth certificates for most people, birth certificates for other individuals such as those carried by surrogate mothers and those who were donor conceived should provide all pertinent issue about birth, biology, and parentage as well.  Other countries get this right or are working on it.  I will get to that later.

My Birth Certificate as an Example
My "birth certificate" isn't even all that bad as compared to those of other adoptees (and some have no birth certificate of any kind at all).  The "birth certificates" of many other adoptees out there have been found to contain incorrect information such as anything from the wrong race (race changed to the adoptive parents race), to the wrong birth place (claiming the adoptee was born where the adoptive parents live), to the wrong birth date.  I am fortunate to have had little discrepancy from one document to the other.  There is actually more lies on my birth certificate than just the fact that it presents my adoptive parents as though they gave birth to me.  Further editing on my amended birth certificate has tried to hide that it is lying.

In plain print, my amended certificate claims to be the true and original document on file with the Vital Statistics office.  As someone who has been granted the legal privilege of accessing not only my uncensored adoption file as well as access to my original birth certificate (and my hospital long-form), I can tell you that this is not true.  My amended birth certificate is not the true and original document on file.

My amended certificate also contains a filing date that is dated one month after my birth.  Yes, the birth certificate with my parents names along with my adopted name on it claims to have been filed in June (I was born in May).  This is odd because my adoptive parents did not even meet me until October.  I did not legally carry the name "Amanda," the name listed on my birth certificate, until January of the following year.  Yet my amended certificate claims to be filed a month after my birth, before any of the information on it happened?  There must have been a time machine or a psychic in the Vital Statistics office.  The fact of the matter is, my original birth certificate was likely the document filed in June.  Making the filing date closer to the date of birth on the amended certificate simply serves to make it appear as though it is an original document.  Very simply; it's a lie.

My Identity Denied, Her Motherhood Erased
My first mother, who did not know about amending and sealing, was shocked I didn't know her name.  It was hard for me to have to tell her "my parents names took the place of your name and the certificate with your name on it was sealed."  It was when I had to explain this whole process to my first mother, a real person with real feelings who is proud of all of her descendants, that I realized just how disrespectful amending and sealing is--and not just to me as the adopted person.

Truth be told, amending and sealing is completely disrespectful to my adoptive parents as well.  If we have really come to a place in society where we accept adoptive families and other non-traditionally formed families as equal then why do we need a process and a birth certificate for adoptees that hides the fact that they were adopted?  If biological birth is not the only legitimate way of becoming a parent then we do not need a certificate that makes it look as though the adoptive parents are the biological parents.  Adoptive parents love their children; they are perfectly capable of accepting a child for who they are without denying or changing parts of the child's identity and history.

The History of Amending and Sealing Shows why it Needs to Stop
Georgia Tann was the first adoption worker to convince the Tennessee Vital Statistics Office to amend and seal the birth certificates for her adoptions.  Tann's adoptions were illegal; all 5,000 of them.  She pushed for the anonymity of the adoptee and of the adoptive parents by issuing the adopted person a new birth certificate, claiming it would protect the adoptive family from interference from the original family as well as protect the adopted person from the stigma of their impoverished and illegitimate origins by making it appear as though the child had been born to married parents.  In actuality, she was trying to leave as little recourse as possible for original families to find and reclaim their children who had been unlawfully removed by Tann.  Tann's goal was to handle adoptions across the United States and her push for policies of secrecy spread far and wide.  Alabama was first to make amending and sealing and official act of the state for all its adoptions (it is now an open access state).  Tan's stomping ground, Tennessee, was second (Tennessee is now an open access state for adoptees of Tann's era and conditional open access state for those born after Tann's era).  The practice of sealing Original Birth Certificates spread to all the States but two, Alaska and Kansas.

Birth records were amended and sealed in those 48 states based on ideas on the shame of adoption, the stigma of illegitimacy, and the attempt to hide the adoptive family from the very socially scorned original mother.  We should be past this shame and stigma and the need for such measures.  Unfortunately, these laws are still on the books.  The sealed OBC law in New York, for example, is nearing its 80th birthday.  This law was no doubt influenced by Tann herself as the governor who signed it into law adopted two children from her.

The origins of amending and sealing are steeped in shame and stigma and horrendously unethical practices.  In my opinion, the modern day justifications not only fall short but do not erase how sincerely offensive it is to me to have amended and sealed birth certificates that were not designed for my ease and comfort, but to hide who I am and where I come from, because it isn't good enough by society's standards.

Rejection of Difference
H. David Kirk, in his book "Shared Fate," hypothesized that rejecting difference or the "rejection of difference" model, as he calls it, is a coping mechanism in adoption that is employed to deal with differences between biological and adoptive families.  Adoption policy, up until recent decades, has sought the validation and the legitimization of the adoptive family by trying to make it appear as close as possible to biology.  This means people were often matched with children based on similarity in appearance.  Kirk hypothesized that couples adopting a baby which each new adopted child younger than the previous sibling is done to simulate how children enter a biological family and follow birth order in a biological family.  Amending an adoptee's birth certificate is a prime example that he used as being a part of the "rejection of difference" in adoption as it puts the adoptive parents on a birth certificate in the same way biological parents appear on their childrens' birth certificates.  We adoptees are legally equal children and equal heirs in our families because we are compared to biology as the law says we are "as if born to."  I am not equal on my own; I am "equal to" based on the biological ties others have to their families.

There are many differences between adoptive families and biological families.  Rejecting that fact doesn't make the differences go away.  In fact, ignoring of being "blind" to differences adoption brings indicates that society still thinks there is something wrong with adoptive families and adoptees as perhaps might have been thought fifty years ago.  Denying difference denies the reality of the adopted person.  What is there that denies difference more than to alter a birth certificate in this way as if the first chapter of an adoptee's life never existed?

Additional Resulting Problems
The resulting problem, as BJ Lifton so eloquently states in her books (see "Lost and Found" and "Journey of the Adopted Self"), is that practices in adoption that involve secrecy and lack of access to information have had a silencing effect on mothers and adopted persons.  As University of Baltimore Professor, Elizabeth Samuels, has written, the same has contributed to the formation of adoption stereotypes, misinformation, and assumptions (see "Families by Law: an Adoption Reader").  As Barbara Bisantz Raymond laid out in her historical account of Tann's impact on adoption policy, (see "The Baby Thief") how can ethical adoption practice be ensured when it lacks transparency so that ethics can be clearly seen and proven?  Is lying ethical?

Bottom Line
The bottom line for me is that it is just plain invalidating and insulting to be a grown adult and be lied to.  Not only does the amended birth certificate present a lie but it allows adoptees to continue to be lied to about being adopted altogether.  Yes, this still happens in this day and age.  Just a few days ago, I had a friend who recently found out I am adopted, inquire if I was a Late Discovery Adoptee (abbreviated "LDA," and no, I'm not one) and ask me numerous questions about LDAs and about being adopted in general.  Why?  Because she has a friend who hasn't told her daughter she is adopted yet. 

Every single person on this planet has the right to know the DNA they carry, the access to truth, to maintain and form their own identity how they please, and to be incontrol of their own narrative at all times.  To seal pre-adoption information is not only to treat adoptees differently than the non-adopted, it is to take the story of an adoptee's life, rip out the first chapter, as if their narrative does not even belong to them.  For adoptees who haven't been told they are adopted, they may be giving their physicians false family medical information and using it to make health care decisions.  So much self-determineaiton, adulthood, respect, and autonomy is taken from adoptees by the way our birth records are treated.  I suppose the state cannot help what adoptees are or are not told by others in their lives.  However, the state is the one who amends and seals the records; the state should never take part in deceiving its citizens.

We Can do Better
We really can do better.  There is a way to provide both adoptees, donor conceived persons, and those born to surrogate mothers with as much information as the average biologically-raised/non-adopted person gets when requesting a birth certificate.  There is no need for amending and sealing of birth documents for the adopted.  I think Australia gets the closest to having this right.  Court records, birth certificates, and adoption files are all made available to adult adoptees.  Birth certificates contain both birth and adoptive information.  A person who does not want to share the entire contents of their birth certificate can choose to request a redacted copy.  As for donor conception, New Zealand is an example of one country the United States could learn from in terms of birth certificates as biological, birth, and parentage information is all contained on the birth certificate.  The United Kingdom, which has outlawed anonymous egg/sperm donation, is considering similar reforms (and already also allows adopted persons to receive their original birth certificates upon reaching the age of majority).  We can do better too; we really can.  We can do better than handing certificates to people with information that is not correct and expecting them not to feel slighted.  We can do better than that.

In addition to works mentioned in this entry, also see works by Dr. Katrina Wegar and Dr. E. Wayne Carp

Monday, May 30, 2011

May's Online Art Exhibit: Kate Dahlquist

Kate Dahlquist






"I'm a freelance artist (photography, art, & writing) who is currently living in the lovely state of NC with my husband and our two boys. I have many connections to adoptoland including being the sister of an adopted brother from Vietnam, mother of two children lost to "open" adoption, and a former NC GAL (5+ years of service and I'm still in touch with several of my former clients). Adoptee rights, family preservation are two subjects that are near and dear to my heart and I currently volunteer for several organizations which support these causes."

Collages



"Piece of my Heart," 2008   &   "Silent Heart," 2008


"Before you Sign," 2009   &   "After you Sign," 2009


"Every Night," 2009   &   "Amerikan Justice," 2009

About the Collages:
"1, 2 & 5 A reflection of my feelings about my adoption experience.
3 & 4 How I feel I am seen/portrayed by my children's APs (who were, at one point, friends of my family).
6 My general impression of family court after my some of my experiences as a GAL."

Acrylic on Canvas



"Waiting," 1999


"Making Due," 2004

"When I was a GAL, I went to visit a client at the home of her foster parents on a truly sweltering July day. As I was coming down the street, I saw an adorable little girl about 6 or 7 "making due" with an industrial trash can and a garden hose. She was having a fabulous time and waved at me as I drove by. I wished I had my camera! To me this picture is an example of how money isn't necessary for happiness."

Photography


"Spring Colors" Burlington, NC, 2010



"Gerbera Couple" Melbane, NC, 2011


"Carolina Bride," Wilmington, NC, 2011


Images Copyright Kate Dahlquist.  All Rights Reserved.  Used on this blog with permission.