Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Adoptive Parents and Misidentified Jealousy in Reunion (an Excerpt from the Book!)

Working on the cover.
(c) Carlynne Hershberger
After blogging for over 3.5 years, I have been given the unique opportunity to re-work my best blog posts into a series of short stories and essays. These freshly edited pieces will be collected together and published as a book. As I go through over 660 posts for the purpose of this book project, I am struck by the very physical representation of my growth as a person, especially where my adoptee identity intersects, over these years.

As I posted yesterday on Facebook, to me, this book project isn't just a collection of things I've mused about over the years. Each post is being re-worked, and part of that re-working enables me to breathe new life into my old ideas. I am able to come back to good thoughts that I had and redevelop them using what I've learned so far. I am representing in this process what I've said since day one of blogging: being adopted lasts a lifetime and what that means to me will change and grow as I change and grow.

I wanted to give my readers an exclusive sneakpeak of what this looks like by publishing one of the new essays.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Giving Myself Permission to Start New Traditions

Our tree this year
When I was nine, Christmas break was much more than a rest from school.  It was an escape from incessant bullying that lasted for two years of my life.  My job in December was to go to school and come home and enjoy Christmas.  And I loved it.  My favorite room of our apartment had bright red carpets and deep brown wooden walls.  It also housed our stereo.  I would go into that room, turn on Christmas music, and sing Christmas songs while dancing and spinning happily in a circle.  I tried to fill as many senses with Christmas at once.  My eyes tried to take as many decorations as possible.  My ears relished in the brassy, classic Christmas tunes.  My nostrils filled with the scrumptious scent of cookies baking in the next room.  My entire being felt warm by the Christmas glow around me.  I remember thinking how Mrs. Claus must feel at the North Pole surrounded by the wonders of Christmas all year long.

It's a thought I kept to myself.  My family did not incorporate the Santa tradition into our Christmas celebrations.  Part of my parents' religious belief system is the idea that Santa takes the focus off of Jesus.  They believe that Santa puts the focus on what we were going to receive, rather than what we could give.  My conservative Christian school echoed this.  All Santa "paraphernalia" was banned.  No images of Santa.  No mentions of his name or songs about his reindeer.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tough Conception Circumstances & How I Decided Not to Know

I was sitting in a small diner on the outskirts of a rather depressed town.  In between patient home visits, I munched on my sandwich while enjoying the harmony of clinking glasses, forks tapping against plates, and spoons chiming as they swirled through cups of coffee.  The stream of light that poured in from the window made my hand feel warm as the sun cast its beams across the case notes I was reviewing.  One of many news shows attempting to forecast the Presidential election was humming lowly on the flat screen that adorned the boldly painted stucco wall.  The gentleman at the table across from me was engaging a woman who was sitting across the room from him in conversation.  The TV screen broadcast something about the latest abortion debate, and a loud conversation between the two ensued.

"I do not think women should be able to have abortions.  That's a life and you shouldn't just be able to get rid of it!"  The woman called across the dining room.

Monday, December 10, 2012

NASW Media Awards: What Adoption Community Social Workers Would You Want to See on the List?

It's that time of year again. The NASW, through their blog Social Workers Speak, is giving out awards in 11 categories as a part of their "NASW Media Awards." Greg Wright writes at Social Workers Speak,

"NASW invites you to nominate newspaper articles, newspaper columns, magazine stories, websites, blogs, radio segments, television news programs, TV entertainment shows, TV reality shows, commercial films and documentaries that you think best portrayed the social work profession in 2012"

You'll notice that quite a few winners from last year had a connection with adoption or foster care in what they were nominated for. As we all know, there are so many adoptee social workers who write, blog, and create other media that reflects the knowledge, skills, and values of the social work profession--not just in adoption and foster care but other areas of social justice as well.

You'll also notice that the winners from last year either (1) did something to dispel a social work stereotype in media or (2) portrayed social work well by put social work core values into practice in the public eye.  So wait a minute, don't our fellow adoptee/original parents/adoptive parent social worker friends and allies in the bloggosphere do this every single day?

Friends, I encourage you to nominate your favorite social workers who represent the faces of both adoption and social work to the public/media and acknowledge them for their hard work.  Here are a few of my favorites and I apologize in advance if I missed anyone or got your credentials wrong.  I may be nominating more but these are the individuals I started with.  My brain is still recovering from this past semester....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Closed Adoption Adult-Adoptee-Adoptive-Family Stages of Reunion

"Well, that's it then" my dad bellowed at the dinner table.  "It's your mother's fault!"  Everyone around the table, even in my grandmother, snickered as my mom shrugged her shoulders and laughingly agreed.  Everyone returned to their plates and the sounds of chatting and of utensils hitting the blue stoneware resumed.  I became lost in my thoughts about the conversation.  So much so that I narrowly missed noticing the baby slime my arm with a grubby handful of what must have been a mixture of green bean casserole and twice-baked potatoes.  How did we get here, I thought to myself.  How we go from a family where nature and biology were the giant elephant in the room to actually joking about it?  I thought that--maybe--if I could figure out why, it might help someone else.

The topic of the conversation was my math skills (or lack thereof, rather).  I had thanked everyone who helped cook.  It spared me the excessive angst of trying to multiply fractions in order to transform recipes into dishes with larger serving sizes.  And what's a family gathering without teasing me about my extreme aversion to math?  Since my adoptive family is good at math, and I now know that my original family is also good at math, it's a mystery as to why I just didn't get that knack for numbers.  So my adoptive family decided at the table that day that my mom just must have taught me math the wrong way when I was little.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What Should we Call Those who are Connected to Adoption?

I feel how an individual or a group identifies themselves is important.  The words you use to refer to a person or group can mean the difference between insult or giving respect.  So what do I think people should call the various individuals connected to adoption?

My rule of thumb is that I always refer to someone and their loved ones in the way they wish and in the way they feel that they are most respected.  While I am not a fan of the term "birth mother," this includes the "birth mother" term.  It is not up to me to undermine someone elses' thought processes and the meaning they place on an event, and their role in it, in their lives.  I refer to people how they would like to be referred to.  After all, how can I expect that same courtesy if I don't extend it to others?

Read the rest at Lost Daughters..

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Does Adoptive Family Tolerance for Differentiation Predict an Adoptee's Likelihood to Feel "OK" to Search?

The conversation took place at this time three years ago, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was in the "searching" stage of reunion.  Although I wasn't really searching.  I was using my birth State's confidential intermediary system (CI) and my mother had already been found.  I just did not have clearance to reach out to her yet.  In the meantime, one of my friends traced my genealogy   For the first time, I held in my hands the names and histories of ancestors who were blood-related.  People who no doubt looked like me and could provide some clue to my natural abilities.  Excitedly, I told me adoptive mother who was on her own journey trying to accept my sudden quest for my roots and give it meaning in her own life and experience as an adoptive mother.  "I am English and Scottish!"  I told my mother excitedly.  But she wasn't very excited in return; in fact, it made her feel sad.

"I thought you were whatever we were," her reply was full of melancholy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Things People Say: "Sometimes I Wish I was Adopted!"

Throughout my life, I've had people say this statement to me a few times: "I wish I was adopted!"  It was said mostly in high school during times where teenage friends just didn't feel like their parents "got" them.  They viewed their parents expectations of them as biologically-based.  Their mother or father must want them to get good grades, join the track team, and stop talking on the phone late at night because that's how they're wired and they assume that's how their son or daughter is wired too.

They saw being adopted as an opportunity to be a free and unique individual in the midst of genetic strangers who would just embrace whoever you were.  It was an opportunity to be a blank canvas and invent oneself.  Of course, as I was urged to get good grades, push ahead in my high school basketball career, and was receiving my own "get off the phone!" threats even as an adoptee, I thought their perception of my life was silly.  Yep, my (totally awesome) parents still made me pay for my cell phone bill when I went over my minutes and get up on time for school too--even though I'm adopted.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

When Your Narrative is a List of Problems to be Solved

Every adoption conversation is in its own way unique. However there are definitely observable trends in adoption discourse. One such trend occurs in adoption reform discussions, whether in-person, at a meeting, or in the comments section of an adoption article online. Someone will suggest a problem within adoption that needs to be fixed or even suggest how families can be helped and preserved. Subsequently, someone will respond with an exhaustive list about all the things that were wrong with their child's original mother, or father, or their own original mother or father, as a reason why adoption does not need to be reformed or why there's no need to explore ways for children and families in need to stay together whenever possible.

While they may make their point in expressing how a child needed a new home and received one that benefited them, this communication sends an additional message loud and clear: original parents can be effectively reduced to a list of "challenges."

My adoptive parents always told me everything that they knew about my pre-adoption narrative. I had access to the file containing whatever papers they had regarding my adoption. When I unsealed my State-held adoption records, it confirmed for me that they had always told me the truth. In fact, once I had those records in hand, I ended up informing them about the entire story of what happened before I was adopted.

My pre-adoption narrative, the only story I knew about my adoption growing up, was shaped by my agency. It did not contain much of how my first mother looked, her talents, or the things she enjoyed. It did not contain proud family history or fond family memories. It did not contain her thoughts on life, or any hint about my first mother's personality. What my narrative said is that she was young, poor, disengaged from her immediate family system, a rape victim, and someone just desperate to "move on with her life." My first mother was a list of challenges. Her one strength? Her single, lone, positive quality?

Her loving act of choosing adoption.

There is much, much more to my mom than her adoption decision-making process and what a shame that information never made its way into my adoption file, and into my hands, where it belonged. She is passionate and adventurous. She is caring and kind. She works very hard and is very smart. She has pretty chestnut hair and brown eyes. She likes the outdoors and just listening to nature speak to her. She loves people and respects her elders. She is a fighter and a survivor.

None of this happened to make its way into my skimpy adoption file or my pre-adoption narrative.

She was presented as a list of challenges, and as a problem to be solved. In some ways, this is how I initially came to view my pre-adoption existence--as a list of challenges and problems to be solved. Though my parents knew so little about her, they did try to imagine good things about her--because they saw good things in me. And surely, those good things about me that I might have inherited whether biologically or through the collective unconscious were also from the good within her.

My parents also made the conscious choice never to speak ill of my biological father. What he did was unspeakably wrong. But my mother tells me to this day that she and my father were aware at all times when the biological father topic would pop up, though it seldom did, that I might feel condemned by his short-comings.

My parents did share with me the reason why they chose to adopt. The decision came out of their own list of challenges. Infertility, a miscarriage, waiting and waiting for nearly a decade. I felt compassion and empathy for those challenges and made it my mission not to remind them too much of them. This is one reason why I rarely talked about being adopted growing up. Who wants to have to reflect on lists and lists of challenges in order to establish the fundamentals of why you are "here" and not "there."

I am not quite sure how much my parents shared with others, other than what they said when I was around. They did not issue a list of challenges, just one simple sentence: "her birth mother was young, couldn't parent, and chose adoption." To my parents, I was not a list of challenges--nor was my first mother. We were all people who were doing the best we could with what we had. I won't say that they didn't have their insecurities--that my adoptive mother didn't wonder if I'd some day love my first mother more or have more in common with her. I won't say that she was never apprehensive of the day I'd announce my search plans and she'd face the prospect of "sharing" me with that mysterious woman, the woman with all the challenges, she'd never met.  Of course I noticed these things, and no, seeing your mother stifle panic over being faced with her child's roots does not feel good.  But this is what closed adoption does.

I was from the "blank slate" era of adoption. Now, we hopefully know better. People are not blank slates or lists of challenges. They are almost always somewhere in-between.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Why Aren't More Adoptees Putting up a Fuss About Sealed Records?

My heart nearly skipped a beat when I tore open a crisp white envelope from a mysterious medical billing company.  "You owe $800.00.  Please pay immediately."  There were two problems in that moment.  First, I did not have $800.00.  Second, I did not know who this doctor was that was billing me.  I was in recovery from an extremely painful tumor surgery, and this bill claimed to be related to my care.  After a few phone calls, I discovered that this doctor had been my anesthesiologist during the procedure.

Unbeknownst to me, the hospital, which takes my insurance, uses private contractors for anesthesiology.  The contractor does not take my insurance, and though my insurance paid them what they would normally pay one of their in-network doctors, this was not enough.  The anesthesiologist wanted the balance of $800.00.  From me.  Right now.  I was told that it was "my responsibility" to know what providers were covered before having choosing to have a medical procedure in order to avoid this in the future.  How can you choose something no one has told you about?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Giving the Adoptee's Credit to Adoption

Faith Hill, Steve Jobs, Dave Thomas, Sarah McLahlan, the list goes on.  All adopted.  All super successful.  All because....they are adopted?  Some might say so.  While I think it is a great and necessary thing to celebrate the accomplishments of adoptees, how this gets done determines the ultimate message that is sent.  Are we giving adoptees the credit for their great accomplishments?  Or are we giving credit to adoption for the great things adoptees have done?

I do not think that adoption gave Faith Hill or Sarah McLahlan their amazing singing voices or Darryl McDaniels his ability to rap and engage a crowd.  I don't think that adoption put all of the components that is the Apple company, and its products, magically in Steve Job's head.  I don't think that adoption endowed Dave Thomas with all of the secrets to running a successful food chain or running a large national campaign that advocates for foster kids.  These things were probably a combination of nature, nurture, circumstances, and a lot of hard work.

Let's give adoptees credit for their hard work.

Alternately, I think the main idea behind why these famous faces are so heavily associated with adoption is that adoption places children in affluent homes that can offer them better opportunities.  What we give adoption credit for in this instance is essentially the effects of inequality and privilege.

I went to a private school.  My adoptive parents could afford to pay for it.  My original mother probably could not have afforded it.  I did not attend a private school because of adoption.  I attended one because of class privilege.  In fact, a great number of my successes in life were influenced by unearned privileges.  White privilege, class privilege, Christian privilege, coupled privilege, married privilege, cisgender privilege, heterosexual privilege, the list goes on.

When we discuss the accomplishments that adoptees have made, we need to remember that the accomplishments were made by those adoptees, not by adoption.  This doesn't mean adoption wasn't beneficial to them.  It means that adoption is an institution; it is not a person.  We must put people-first, strengths-first.  We also need to stop sending the message that lower-income families by default can never provide opportunities for their children.  To help those in need, raise them up.  Work to alleviate poverty.  Advertising adoption using the faces of adopted superstars further draws a dramatic distinction between poor and wealthy homes.  It does nothing but further classism in our society.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What Does "Acceptance" Look Like?

At my internship, I was discussing the stages of grief with my supervisor.  We were commenting on how to help people progress through the stages.  Then she said something particularly profound:

"The final stage of grief is 'acceptance' not 'happiness.'  You can accept that something bad happened to you but that doesn't mean you are happy about it."

I think that this is an important part of processing life narratives.  Giving something meaning can mean to validate yourself for your strengths in how you overcame a situation.  You give honor to the personal strengths and skills you have to be a survivor and overcome future obstacles.  "Accepting" something we cannot change does not mean that we become happy about the event.  It means simply that we've decided to become happy with life.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kindness and Respect: Meeting Adoptees Where They're At

Someone posted on my Facebook page today asking if they are the only one who is hurt when someone dismisses their sharing of adoption-related grief.  I think most anyone is hurt whenever they share anything they feel is sorrowful or personal and it is dismissed.  Adoption is certainly no exception.  I think people get comfortable in the idea of what they think they know about something, like adoption, and forget to be open to other opinions.  Even the opinions and experiences of those who live adoption.  It can be easier to dismiss someone's pain or point of view as "drama" as an excuse not to help, listen, or show compassion.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Four Stages of Adult Adoptee Reaction to Reunion & Information-Sharing

There are a lot of blog posts around the bloggosphere as of late talking about reunion, rejection, and post-reunion rejection.  Since the first major reunion movements of modern adoption in the 50's, both adoptees and original parents alike have been theorizing about what causes reunions to work well, and what causes family members to reject one another.  Are there identifiable stages of reunion that can explain what emotionally is happening to each person within a reunion?

Some reunions work well.  In saying that, I can't exactly take a picture of what "working well" looks like to describe it because this is something that is self-defined.  "Working well" does not indicate a certain level of contact, a certain level of information sharing, or a certain level of family integration.  It simply indicates that whatever contact, information sharing, and integration there is, is respectful and satisfactory to those experiencing the reunion.  Even for reunions that have reached a level of homeostasis that involves a connected relationship can be tough work.  

For those reunions where the only stability that has been reached in the relationship is to discontinue it, the adoption community perpetually seeks to answer: what keeps long-lost family members from being able to establish the broken connection?  Other reunions offer dramatic push and pulls of high emotions, high hopes, and devastating let downs leaving those being taken for the exhausting journey asking...."is it OK if I just walk away?"

Friday, November 9, 2012

Adoption Ethics & Unregulated Internet Assisted Adoption Trend

I bring to you a summary, complete with my commentary (would you expect anything less?) of yet another fascinating article I have read recently.  Authors Roby and White published a 2010 article pointing out the lack of regulation of "internet assisted adoption."  

We know pre-adoption education influences potential adoptive parent’s emotional preparedness to adopt (Farber, Timberlake, Mudd, & Cullen, 2003). It would make sense to include the importance that all pre-adoption information, especially online, that a potential adoptive parent or potential surrendering parent might encounter in this. Not only in how the information influences their emotional preparation for adoption, but influences their knowledge, values, viewpoints, and attitudes toward adoption as well.  

As the authors discuss in their article, there are several risks involved with the presence of adoption services online. These risks are compounded by a lack of regulation specifically when it comes to the internet. This article is a very real discussion of pre-adoption ethics and the protection of all involved in the online spectrum.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Do Mothers Think of the Children They Surrendered to Adoption?

I just found an interesting study that sought to test theories mentioned in the works of Brodzinsky (one of the most famous adoption researchers in the U.S.) and Lifton (one of the most famous adult adoptees / adoption psychologists in the U.S.) that counteracted the "Happily-Ever-After Myth," as these researchers call it.  This myth purports the assumption that closed adoption helps adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents "move on."  It's the old adage  "out of sight, out of mind" sort of thing.  Lifton, Brodzinsky, and many others have been saying for quite some time now that secrecy and "forgetting" solves nothing--original mothers do not forget their surrendered children.  This study sought to test this empirically.

Adoption presents a phenomena known as "boundary ambiguity."  Although the researchers do not mention it explicitly in their article, "boundary ambiguity" exists quite extensively in reunions as well.  "Boundary ambiguity" refers to the idea that  someone may have a role within the family, but because of how a given family system may define its boundaries, it is unclear as to whether or not this person is "in" the family or "out" of the family.  Family systems are often defined by one's consistent physical presence in the family unit; when psychological presence defines your family membership, it can be difficult to assess whether one is "in" the system or "out" of it.  The researchers asked, are adopted children psychologically present with their original mothers even though they are not physically present?  Do original parents "forget?"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Adoption Activism, Self-Care, & Burn-Out

Do you know what happens when you give, give, give and never take the time to "fill up your tank" so to speak?  You burn out.  Self-care and boundaries are a vital part of life, not just in high-stress professions, but in everyday life and personal advocacy goals as well.  Adoption activism is no exception.  There's a great post at Lost Daughters today about taking breaks from all-things-adoption, or some-things-adoption, from time to time.  Lost Daughters wants to know, do you ever take breaks from reading adoption-related materials, visiting adoption forums, or browsing adoption blogs?  I wrote that I do take breaks, and I want to expand upon that in this post.

In my professional world, we call it "burn out" or "compassion fatigue."  Working in jobs where you are in high stress environments, exposed to a dramatic range of emotions, constantly in the position of having to pull people out of their worst moment, and hearing traumatic stories and experiences, like so many Social Workers, nurses, doctors, teachers, paramedics, (the list goes on) do, you give a lot of yourself.  It can be tiring work, and it can wear you out.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Am I Adopted at Work? Social Work, Adoption, and Personal Self-Disclosure

Yesterday, the blogging prompt at Lost Daughters asked in what ways being adopted comes into play in my professional life.  I decided to cover the topic in today's post.  The question is extremely relevant for me in social services, despite the fact that I do not work in adoption.  Technically, I do work in adoption but not in the traditional sense as a micro-level adoption worker.  As an adoption activist, I could be seen as doing macro (State/National scale) and meta-macro (global scale) adoption-related work.  It's funny because people always say to me, "Oh I bet you got into Social Work because you want to work in adoption and help other people have adoptions as wonderful as yours."  Adoption work is not why I got into Social Work, but that is beside the point.  That statement, the assumption of why an adoptee would go into Social Work, is loaded with complexity.  Even for adoptee Social Workers who don't work in adoption at all.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Idea of "Choice" Amidst the Rising Waters of Life

Seen in Hoboken, NJ
I felt my frustration grow with every news channel that I flipped through.  Hurricane Sandy was ripping through my hometown.  I wondered if those fabled ghosts that pace the "widow's walk" atop Victorian homes paced extra hard as the swirling storm closed in.  I watched the boardwalk that I had grown up walking along be washed away in the torrent.  I watched the waves pulverize the dunes where I discovered my very first conch shells for my shell collection.  I watched the cameras roll by the faces of the people standing among the destruction   The TV flashed images of people with shell-shocked faces standing on doorsteps wet with flood waters.  The cameras zoomed in on complacent folk sitting in their flooded backyards in lawn chairs.  TVs everywhere pictured boaters and jet skiers traveling on roads-turned-rivers to evacuate friends and family members.  No news story was complete without footage of a disenfranchised looking person wading through murky, chest-deep water with a few belongings held high over their heads.

Then, I heard a newscaster utter these words, "Those that chose to stay."  And I felt angry.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Letter to my Post-Adoption Social Worker

Dear Post-Adoption Social Worker,
I am one of your agency's adoptees; you may be familiar with my name.  A few years ago, you and I interacted because I was cautiously considering the idea of reunion.  I wanted to reunite but was afraid of hurting my adoptive family's feelings.  I was also afraid that your agency would judge as being an "angry adoptee."  I tried my best to communicate my feelings despite my fears.  You were very kind in response, and I thank you for that.

As I grow in my Social Work career, I cannot help but compare my Social Work knowledge, skills, and values to my own experience as a client of adoption.  Adopted children are the most vulnerable individuals within an adoption system and therefore are an adoption worker's primary client.  Helping professionals have the duty to secure the best interests of the child in adoption.  According to multiple international conventions on human rights, a child's human rights include preservation of biological family whenever possible, preservation of heritage, and preservation of identifying family information.  The NASW-PA itself has given written support for unrestricted adult adoptee access to Original Birth Certificates.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Writing Case Notes & the Importance of a Single Story

I have been working in health care and social services related fields off and on for the past ten years.  During this time, I have had countless opportunities to write case notes and read case notes written by others.  Short-hand over the years has caused health care practitioners to frame "what someone struggles with" as being "the label of who they are."  Time constraints, enormous caseloads, and character limits in data entry systems turn "Mr. Smith becomes more agitated in the evenings and benefits from reassurance and comforting" to "Mr. Smith is a 'sundowner.'"  Sometimes, shorthand is impossible to get around, but I have been trying to make a sincere effort to note in a way that explains the strengths a client uses to get around their struggles, rather than using a struggle as a label.  Why is this so important to me?

Monday, October 1, 2012

How the Idea of Gratefulness Hinders Reform, Progress, and Truly Helping People

"Thank you!" I called from the door as the donor drove away.  Someone had just delivered three huge boxes full of boxed and canned goods to my agency's food pantry.  I tugged each box to our pantry and smiled at my supervisor as she entered the room, just as I finished loading the last box onto the food room table.  We opened the first box.  Almost everything inside was expired, some food was opened, and some cans were covered in rust.  By the time we made our way through the second box, we were unwilling to so much as open the third. Everything had to go into the trash.  "What people don't realize is that, if you don't feel safe eating it, it's a good indication someone else won't either," my supervisor has said.  So why do well-meaning people donate expired or otherwise unsafe food to a charity agency to be given to others to consume?

It happens more often than you think, and I do feel terrible throwing the food away.  My rule of thumb is, if I wouldn't eat it, I don't expect my clients to take it home to feed it to their families. When people clean out their pantries at home, I think they tell themselves that if someone is going without food that person would be grateful for whatever food that they can get.  Even if the food is expired, or the can is rusty, or the box of pasta is covered in a thick dust from years of sitting in the back of a pantry--- they know that someone will be grateful to have it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reunion: the Merge of Two Realities

I chuckled when I pulled M's "family portrait" that he made at preschool from his tote bag.  All four of our immediate family members were present in the colorful picture.  I could not help but notice that his little brother, W, was a tiny baby swaddled and in my arms in this creation.  I could immediately imagine M sitting at his little table surrounded by peers, making his case to his teachers as to why W needed to be a baby in the picture.  W is eighteen months old, technically a toddler, and is only a head shorter than M.  M proudly calls him "Baby W" and corrects me when I tell W that he's getting to be so big.  M is not ready to share the status of "big boy" with W yet. How M views his family is his unique reality.  This made me think of another little boy I am related to and his family reality.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Conception From Rape: Filmmaker Brian Stanton Takes on the Politicians

In this clip, Brian Stanton takes on political attitudes and beliefs when it comes to conception from rape by raising his own voice as an adoptee who was conceived from rape.  I am so excited to have contributed to a project Brian is working on to give insight into the minds and hearts of those who conceived from rape and those who were conceived from rape.  Thanks, Brian!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Parenting Through an Adopted Lens: "You Don't Match Us"

"It's the red one with stripes!"  I hear my almost-four-year-old shout from the living room.  "No, not that one, Bert!"  He says.  "It's the other one!"

I chuckle to myself as I listen to him call out which socks on Bernice's clothesline match.  "M" loves to match things, and this Sesame Street segment where Bert asks viewers to "help" him find Bernice's (his pet pigeon) socks on a clothesline full of mismatched socks is right up his alley.

M makes a game out of things he observes each day.  Sometimes I'll find him starting at two objects intently, trying to figure out what is the same and what is different about them.  I like his curiosity; one thing that I particularly like is that he rarely uses differences to assign judgement to objects he is comparing.  He merely observes them and moves on.

One day, he looked at his family members and compared them.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Quote from What I'm Reading: "An-Ya and her Diary"

"An-Ya and her Diary" is a fiction novel that is composed of several short stories written as a diary.  The author, Diane Rene Christian, is an award-winning short story author and adoptive mother.  "An-Ya and her Diary" captures the thoughts of a 10-year-old Chinese-American adoptee about her life in an orphanage, her surrender by her Chinese mother, her adoption, and her adjustment to life in the U.S.  An-Ya was found as a baby inside a box with only a red journal and her name.  Her journal became her beloved companion.  An-Ya's blank, red diary was a symbol of the mother she could not remember.  While An-Ya writes each entry to her journal, "Penny," her first mother is the subconscious addressee of each note.  An-Ya writes to preserve her past that connects her with her mother and her present reality which her first mother can't share with her.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why Knowledge of my Birth is a Basic Human Right

I never connected much with the concept of "birth" or being "born" when I was growing up.  Of course, I knew I had a birth, but to me it was an abstract concept that I could not concretize because I didn't know anything about it.  For a very long time, I considered adoption to be the dawn of my existence on this earth.  While I couldn't remember my adoption either, it was a real event to me because my parents, who were there, could tell me about it.  My friends' birth stories would perplex me as a child.  As my friend's mothers got pregnant and had babies, my friends would ask about their own births.  My best childhood friend's parents had pictures of her in the delivery room framed and on proud display in their living room.  When I looked at those pictures, I wondered what made birth so important?  I didn't think it was important.  I had never seen a picture of me at younger than five months of age nor did I know anything about my birth.  That fact didn't matter to me.  Or did it?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Does it Hurt you When I call her "Mom?" Adult adoptees & the Accessibility of Post-Adoption Support

The Dress.

My hand paused over the "Enter" key after I typed my response on to my adoptive mom's comment on a picture of me wearing a certain dress, on Facebook.  This dress is the subject of an inside joke between us.  I didn't want to buy the thing at first, but my mom somehow managed to triumph over my stubbornness and convinced me to get it.  She finds it humorous that it is now one of my favorites.  I jokingly grumbled back to her in type, "You love it because you picked it out, mom!"

This simple interaction is in fact more complicated than you can imagine.  This is because she's not my only mom, though she was supposed to be, and I share times with her that I don't share with my other mother--and vice-versa.  As integrated and friendly as my families are with each other, especially despite the distance between them, adoption is still a tough topic.  Whether it be on Facebook or any other method of communication, letting my families know what I am up to always seems to involve what I share with one family that I do not share with the other.  And "mom" is such a loaded word.

For those of you not familiar with my narrative, I will give you some background.  I was adopted through private, domestic infant adoption in the "era of considering openness."  The agency's version of "post-adoption support" given to my adoptive parents was, "Tell her she's adopted.  She won't care about being adopted."  They said that my first mother didn't want me and wanted to "just move on with her life."  There was never any prospect of reunion or openness as far as my parents were aware.  Not that this is the reason they adopted me.  I was the infant available for adoption at the time, and these were the circumstances, allegedly, that I came with.

On the other side, my first mother believed we had an "open" adoption.  As was explained to her, it was for my welfare that it would be set up this way: I could know her and contact her when I was ready.  She simply could not reach out to me or know my identity or location so as not to "disturb" me before I was ready for contact.  These separate stories given to each family successfully kept us apart for nearly 25 years.

So, when reunion happens, as you can imagine, it's not so easy to depart from 25 years of expectations.  My adoptive mother who never considered the idea of sharing me with another mother must now acknowledge that I have another mother.  She must decide what this means to her.  No one can point a finger at her or tell her to just "get with the program."  Her "coming to terms" with her part of adoption was done by way of the scant professional advice she received and no post-adoption support.  Likewise, my first mother, who thought I knew her all along and just wasn't ready to reach out, must adjust to the knowledge that she was cut out of the picture by the agency.  Of course, the knowledge that we all had to "come to terms" with the idea of adoption where she might never be in the picture, especially contrary to the agency's promises, is unsettling to her.  It makes her feel like a piece that does not fit into the puzzle.

People often want to know why a given adult adoptee can't understand that they were wanted.  Or why some can't incorporate two mothers into their life after reunion like other adoptees can.  Why can't the adoptee see any given concept that someone else in the "triad" might be able to see?  I'll explain closed adoption like this:

I compare having family ties and family background that contributes to how one pieces together identity to having a picture made from puzzle pieces.  When were born, we have a set of pieces that makes one picture.  When we're adopted, some of those pieces are removed and even sealed.  New pieces are added to our picture from the adoptive family.  Many of us assumed we'd never have that original information or those ties again.  We had to bring together a new picture with the pieces that we had.  Though I think no person in someone's life is replaceable, we make a complete a picture as possible.  When reunion happens, you move on to what is at least your third picture in life.  You have new pieces that must be fit in to make a new picture.  It's a lot of work.  It's a hard process.  It's a learning process.  And it doesn't come as easily to some as it does to others.

I imagine it's the same for original families with adoptees as the missing puzzle piece.  Only it was likely easier for me to be integrated back into my original family because they have always awaited my return.  Year after year, they waited patiently to hear from me.  They never made a new picture, which is more painful than it sounds.

Whenever I share something that I did with one mother or one family that I did not do with the other, it brings about painful reminders of what each side has missed out on.  It makes calling one mother "mom" in front of the other and sharing aspects of everyday life that most people don't give a second thought to way more complicated than it should be.

When someone needs adoption-related support in my families, they just deal with it.  There is no post-adoption support for us.  It's gone, or it never existed for us, rather.  So you can imagine why it's so important to me to evaluate whatever I do or say so as to not cause anyone unnecessary grief.

It's not that the support, now, is absolutely non-existent.  It is unattainable, because I was adopted across and handful of States and due to everyone's location, we'd never be able to all go somewhere for support.  It's also ridiculously expensive.

Had I used my agency to reunite, it would have cost $220.  If we want post-adoption "support?"

$95 per hour.

Of course therapists and counselors should be paid for their work.  But this fee schedule from my agency entitles me, as an adult adoptee, to support so long as I can afford to pay for it.  I only work part-time.  I won't tell you how many hours I'd have to work in order to pay for one hour of post-adoption support.  It's also the principle of the matter.

With a lack of post-adoption support oversight among adoption agencies, the result is sad.  All youth adoptees, adult adoptees, original families, and adoptive families are equally human.  Yet their support in adoption is not equal based on fees, ability to pay, availability of support, competency of staff at their agency providing the support, whether or not their agency is still open to provide the support, and the location of all involved as to whether or not the support can be reached.

I have met so many other adult adoptees who have come to terms with being adopted, and whatever that means to them, all on their own or with the help of family members.  They are proud of this--and they should be.  It is a testimony to the amazing and strong people in our community.  However, they should not have had to come to terms with it on their own.  All agencies should be providing on-going, competent, and accessible post-adoption support to all members of the "triad" for a lifetime.

When adult adoptees say, "I want to talk about adoption.  I want to have a say," and someone replies, "But adoption is so 'different' now," we're not looking at the complete picture of adoption.  Adoption support is not just about adoptions that will happen in the future (which adult adoptees are also more than capable of providing competent feedback on).  It is about supporting and empowering individuals whose adoptions took place in the past--no matter how long ago.  A lifetime.

What Joy and Stephanie, and I think JaeRan and Susan also, touched on in this past Friday's meeting in D.C. was profound: there is such a focus in adoption on "how do we make more adoptions happen?" that we forget to provide adequate support for those in adoptions that have already taken place.  That's another part of "adoption synonymy."  "Adoption" is synonymous in part with "adoptions that are going to happen," so much so that we forget or engineer some sort of obsolescence for individuals of adoptions that have already taken place.  The act of facilitating adoption when it comes to "adoption support" is not good enough on its own.  Adoption support needs to be accessible, competent, and available for a lifetime for all members of the "triad."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Adoption Synonymy: the Erasure of Adult Adoptees From Adoption

I will never forget the day my doctor said these words to me, "I didn't realize adult adoptees existed."  I had a meeting in Harrisburg about Adoptee Rights, and was suffering from one heck of a sinus infection.  After two weeks of toughing it out, I was still as oppressed by my illness as ever.  Begrudgingly, I visited my doctor to beg him for some miracle cure so that I would not be a ball of sniffles and yuck for my meeting with legislators.

When I explained to him my need for the quick visit, he responded with a puzzled look, "I didn't realize that adult adopteees existed."  He paused.  "I mean, obviously, they exist.  I've done many health exams and those sort of things for adoption applications for adoptive parents--obviously there are adoptees.  Obviously adoptees don't just disappear when they become adults.  I guess it never occurred to me that adoption would still be relevant to adults."

My reaction to his statement was one of fondness.  At least he was nice about it.  A lot of times people scrunch their faces and say things like, "you're 27 years old and you still identify with being adopted?"  Why?  Because "adopted" is synonymous with "child" and I am no longer a child.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Adult Adoptees go to Congress: the Recap You've Been Waiting for

Those of you with whom I tread this weary path know what I mean when I say that Adoption Reform is tiring and often frustrating work. In the short time that I have been engaged in the dialogue of change and ethics in adoption, I have seen the tired, the burn-out, and the frustration. I have felt these emotions myself. Essentially, we often have to battle so many misunderstandings people have about adoption, and the bias they may have against us adoptees who are in the "child" role of adoption, before we even get to present our causes. Every once and a while, things happen that let you know its all worth it. Sometimes it's correspondence from a legislator who understood your message. Each year for the Adoptee Rights Coalition, it's when people stop their cars in the middle of the street seeing our demonstration, and say in tears, "I'm adopted and no one knows I want my birth certificate. Can I please have one of your papers?"  Yesterday's trip to Congress with some legendary adoptees, where we met with incredible people, was one of those experiences for me. So many of you asked for a recap. Here you go.

Friday, July 20, 2012

D.C. Bound & Ready for Sheer Adoptee Awesome-ness

On the 27th, I will be headed to Washington D.C. for the privilege of meeting with some legendary adult adoptees and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.  We plan to bring some adoptee issues to the attention of Congressional staff, and establish an on-going dialogue for future meetings.  

Of course, I can't go to this meeting armed without my papers, facts, statistics and all other necessary tools to share good information about Adoptee Rights.  I also indulged myself a little bit......

Thursday, July 19, 2012

(Guest Post) Motherhood: Day 1

Guest Post by, Laura Dennis

Even before I was completely sewn back together, I held my newborn. In those very first moments of hormones and love and crying baby, I knew with my entire being that I could not, would not, ever give her up. How could anyone give up such a precious, perfect little girl? How very devastated would I be if I had to give away this little person who I'd just made, who was mine, all mine.

I tried to push those terrifying thoughts out of my head. Today was a day for joy, after all. But that act of giving away someone whom you'd carried with you for nine months, who was a part of you right down to a cellular level, it was mystifying and horrifying.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Untold Nativity of a Blog Post

Jack thinks he helped me
write this blog post.

If you're not a blogger, have you ever wondered what goes into the making of a blog post?  For the first time, I share my secrets.  Do you blog?  Share your secrets with us too.

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Adoptive Name: is it Prophetic Etymology?

I am apologizing in advance because this blog entry has scarcely anything to do with its title.  I was reading through my last post where I noted that my adoptive surname appears oddly similar to an Old French word that means "to transfer" or "to make a copy."  When reading this, I couldn't help but comment to myself that the etymology of the name seemed prophetic.  I'm adopted and my last name means "to transfer" (actually, the OED says "to be transferred")--I mean, come on.  Furthermore, who better for a last name that means "to copy" to go to than someone who grew up to gripe about the incorrect copy made of her birth certificate?  I asked myself if it could be prophetic.  I decided the answer is "no."  The title of the post gets to stay though, because it is awesome.

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Review of the "Adoptees as Parents" Upcoming Anthology

Photo credit: worradmu
I just finished reading the manuscript for the ”Adoptees as Parents” anthology which I used my incredible powers of persuasion to get my hands on (translation: Kevin asked me to review it and I said “yes”).  As you might already know, Land of Gazillion Adoptees has partnered with CQT media to bring you an anthology of essays written by prolific individuals from the adoptee community.  These are my impressions.

The pieces that make up the ”Adoptees as Parents” anthology come from the minds of adult adoptees with a variety of impressive backgrounds. Several of the authors have a multi-dimensional view of adoption through numerous adoption connections, whether by having adopted siblings or adopted children, working professionally with the adoption community, or researching and writing about adoption. Themes that emerge from these combined essays include issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, domestic and international adoption, foster care, identity, attachment, belonging, trauma, addiction, genetic inheritance, and family systems–to name just a few.....read the rest at Land of Gazillion Adoptees

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fifty Shades of What? An Adopted Feminist's Nightmare in Print

This post has been updated and republished. Read the new version here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

On Fathers, a Lesson for my Children

Our kids on daddy's fire engine.

My kids' daddy is the man who lives with them, takes care of them, who loves their mommy, and who also gave them their DNA and ancestry.  All of these things, combined, for them, makes what is "father."  They will probably never hear someone say a bad word about him.  They will also never be asked an ignorant or nosy question or be told who their father can or cannot be whether based on nature or nurture.  They have a mother and an adoptive grandfather who are examples that not all daddies are involved the same way theirs is.  There are different connections, different relationships, and for some, no relationship at all.  They have four grandfathers, a biological one they won't hear me talk much about, a step-grandfather they'll get to see every so often, their grandfather through my adoption, and their grandfather through their daddy.  They have more great-grandfathers than they can count because several of their grandfathers' fathers were divorced and remarried.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Ancestors Help me With my Homework

Against my better judgement, I registered to take six credits in a five week session.  I just passed the half-way mark yesterday and the two classes I'm taking, which I did not know were writing-intensive courses when I registered, are really starting to heat up work-wise.  I won't lie and say the literature class that I need to graduate with isn't a challenge for me.  Outside of Shakespeare and Beowulf, I did not have that great of an introduction to pre-modern British literature in high school.  I also have not written in MLA in six years.  When I started this, I knew this class was going to be a challenge and I had a choice: I could hang on for the ride and just try to get through it or really throw myself into it and work hard.  I chose the latter, surprising myself, because I really love the class.  So, how did my ancestors help me connect with the text?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wrapping up Yet Another Chapter as a Social Work Student

I am about to conclude another semester as a Social Work major.  This blog has thus far been a journey of self-discovery and to explore the multiple systems in my life, both within me and outside of me, allowing myself to finally include being adopted in that overall life equation, my Social Work experience included.  Part of finding myself was finding a career.  It wasn't until I was in my early-mid twenties that I began to recognize the talents that I had that I could transform into a fulfilling career that fulfilled an important value of mine: helping others.

I interned at an Information and Referral (I & R) agency, that also provides direct and basic needs assistance, this entire semester.  I learned a lot.  I saw a lot.  I was not only able to recognize the various systems at play in the lives of my clients and the intersectionality of various elements of diversity that either presented strengths or challenges for them (or sometimes both) but I also learned first hand that some situations simply involve ambiguity. You help the best way that you can, knowing that few solutions are the perfect or ideal answer but hope to make an improvement in the life of someone with emergent or chronic poverty anyway.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Moving on up! (Again)

I passed my test and got my stripe for my orange belt.  Believe it or not, it is a whole new belt level, even though it's still the same orange belt with a piece of white tape on it (the fancy striped belts don't start until brown and red).

Next step, green!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Something I Still Cry About

Bears.  But not OUR bears.
The other day I was at lunch with one of my favorite adoptee friends where we fell so easily into the rhythm of adoptee speak.  I cannot put into words the catharsis of getting to talk to another adopted woman where you have common ground, an understanding of each other's perceptions of adoption, and a mutual admiration where you know you will not be judged for voicing your experience.  There are no lengthy justifications for each story or opinion you share in these conversations, as an adoptee might find themselves having to do with someone who does not have this shared experience or one like it.  You simply talk; you cross over an incredible amount of information in a short period of time without ever finding it daunting.  I suspect no one at the surrounding tables or walking by would have any clue or be able to follow the conversation like we could.  You talk like two people who have known each other their entire lives.  It is simply amazing.  You leave happy to have been able to talk to another person about something that a lot of people simply do not understand.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Fine Line Between Feeling and Fact in Adoption (a part of "Why the Adoption Establishment Annoys me" Week)

I have been becoming more and more concerned about a growing trend in U.S. society where how someone feels about someone else or something replaces all research, fact, and reason.  In fact, it almost appears as if people are encouraged and expected not to research, not to investigate, and not to question various topics at hand.  There are even political groups taking up gripes on college campuses claiming that teaching tolerance is an ideology and therefore, should not be a welcome part of college policy or curriculum.  Providing education about oppressed populations to reduce hatred is being called "indoctrination."  When did teaching students not to hate others, by providing them with facts and research that present accurate information and dispel stereotypes, become an ideology, belief system, or worse yet, a "cult?"  When did using knowledge, to solve problems that hurt people, become unwelcome in our schools?  There's an epidemic where factual information, or the desire to find it and embrace it rather, is being pushed aside and where voters expect to make laws and mandates for other citizens based on how they feel about those citizens and not based on facts or what is true.  Isn't this what Clayton Morris said on Fox (2/4/12)?  Regardless of the numbers, when it comes to election time, "it's how you feel."  This is not a political-party-thing.  This phenomena exists in all political parties where some people hold political views and views about other groups and views about other people and have not the foggiest idea why.  What's wrong with this, besides the fact that I can't imagine embracing factual information and learning something new would ever be a bad thing, is that we live in a society that says nasty things about women (yep Rush Limbaugh, I am talking about you), that believes horrendous things about the poor, that marginalizes individuals with mental illness, that treats the LGBTQ community unequally, and still has incredible racial biases (to name just a few issues).  Voting based on however we felt at the moment might be slightly more acceptable if we always thought the best of others but the fact of the matter is, we don't always.