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.