Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adult Adoptees on the Kojo Nnamdi Show--Tomorrow!

Adoptee Rights will get an incredible spotlight tomorrow as Amanda Woolston, Susan Branco Alvarado, and Joy Lieberthal Rho are interviewed by Nnamdi on tough post-adoption issues and policy problems.  Among topics discussed will be the discriminatory way adoptees in the U.S. are expected to access their original birth certificates.

The permanent link to the show can be found here.  You can listen to it live on the web during the noon hour (the last 40 minutes of the hour are expected to be dedicated to these three adoptee professionals).  Transcripts and a recording of the segment should be made available on the page sometime after the conclusion of the segment.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How to Read an Adoptee Blog Without Getting Offended

Reading other people's perceptions about adoption isn't always easy.  There are people within the adoption experience who have different roles in adoption that give them different perspectives.  Regardless of role in adoption, there are different feelings, opinions, and experiences.  Adoption is so deeply personal to those who live it.  Even though another person's experience may be different, when adoption is involved, it still may evoke an emotional reaction in ourselves in response.

Often times, the personal discomfort brought about by reading a discussion on adoption, or something difficult about being adopted, must be addressed first before the message can be heard.  Here are some things that I keep in mind when I am reading another person's story and think readers of adoptee stories should keep in mind too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

6 Ways I've Come to Appreciate Biology Post-Reunion

My hair.
When it comes to reunion, some might argue that it is not a biological connection that the adoptee is seeking but rather a rekindling of the brief social relationship that began early in life.  As a reunited adoptee, I have never been able to categorize my reunion and reasoning for reuniting so neatly into two clearly separate parts.  At the moment of my birth, my connection to my original mother was comprised of biological, social, and legal ties.  Adoption cut off the social and legal ties with my family.  Adoption practices at the time attempted to cut the biological ties simply by limiting what I was permitted to know about my biological family.  However, adoption did not change my DNA or the fact that I am and always will be the biological relative of my first family.

When I  reunited, I sought to re-establish my social connection with my biological roots.  With my planned incorporation of my original surnames into my legal name, I am seeking to regain some of the legal connection as well.  For this post, I thought of ways that the rekindling of my social connection with my biological family has made a difference in my everyday life.

I've stopped trying to beat my hair into submission

In my teen years, I could never just get a trim when I visited the salon.  Every haircut was different.  I donned both long and short styles.  Twice, I went from near-waist-length hair to cutting off an entire ponytail to donate, embracing a new do that sat well above my chin.  I also never dyed it the same color twice.  Every time my roots started to grow out, I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent my look.  I started dying my hair when I was about twelve years old and by age 20 couldn't tell you what my natural hair color is.

I have battled with my hair for years trying to get it to look the way that I wanted it to.  I had a rule that if I couldn't blow my hair dry and flat iron it, I would wear it up.  When my hair air dried, It would always flip out in the opposite direction that it was cut to fall.  It would never look the way the haircut was styled without some serious intervention from the flat iron and some hairspray.

It never occurred to me until reunion that my hair might actually be naturally wavy and might look nice if I cut and styled it using my hair's natural waves.  Most of the young women in my maternal family wear their hair long, and wavy.  There is nothing like seeing a feature that you have be mirrored by someone else that makes you think, "wow, that's beautiful."

I haven't dyed my hair in four years.  My original mother went gray at a young age; I'm going to enjoy the natural brown hair color I share with several relatives for as long as I can.  I cut my hair in long layers that compliment the waves in my hair when it air dries.

I warily integrate my family medical history

I spent a long time ignoring what relevance biology may have in my life.  Like it or not, I was not dealt very good cards health speaking.  My biological father died from brain cancer when I was eighteen.  Almost every ancestor for three generations in my paternal family has had cancer.  Both cancer and benign tumors run in my paternal biological family.  My aunt was not at all surprised to hear that I had a benign tumor at the age of 21.  I am also genetically predisposed to diabetes on both sides of my biological families.

I did not want this to be my family medical history.  This is what it is and I need to acknowledge that.  I need to wisely use this information with my doctors to make health care decisions.

I have become the "rescuer" and "preserver" of heirlooms

When my husband suggested that he didn't want his grandfather's antique pocket watch any longer and was considering giving it to our four-year-old to play with, I all but hit the floor in response.  I took the intricately engraved bass piece in my hand and found the spring to pop it open.  Inside was a photograph of my husband's great-grandfather as a child.  It bears a striking resemblance to my oldest son.  It is now hidden away with all of my other treasures: old photographs of family members, my grandmother's hairdresser's charm, my grandfather's medal for decades of factory service, my paternal family's china, and my maternal great-grandmother's adoption papers and original birth certificate.

I have created some "heirlooms" myself.  Before I was reunited or even married, I walked into a jewelry store and the most beautiful ring and matching pendent caught my eye.  It was a citrine stone enveloped in a circle of tiny diamonds.  I immediately thought, "this is what I want to wear at my wedding and pass on to future generations."

My husband's disconnect from the pocket watch heirloom is the result of knowing his grandfather but never having a strong connection with him personally.  I keep this in mind with the traditions that I start and the heirlooms of mine that I save to be passed down.  These are not just objects.  These are gifts to my descendants, generations of which I will not be around to meet but helped bring into the world.  These items are my way of saying, "this is who I was," "please remember me," and "please know I loved you all before you were even born."

I reminisce about memories in new ways

Some of my fondest memories are ones I like to turn over and over again through new eyes.

When I was in high school, my friends would eagerly gather at my house to have their hair done before a school social or party.  We'd sit around with curlers in our hair and paint our nails, do horrific amounts of plucking of eyebrows, and convince ourselves that this overpriced mascara really did add volume to our eyelashes.  I'd set up a chair and style everyone's hair into some outrageous up-do.

Can you imagine how excited I was to learn that my grandmother was a hairstylist and had her own salon?  I look back at these memories and wonder how much of my skill at styling my friend's hair was influenced by skills I inherited from her.

I can talk about heredity without having to say "I'm adopted" to make sense

When I was pregnant with my first son, I cannot tell you how many times people asked me these questions:

How much did you weigh when you were born?
I don't know, I'm adopted.

Were you an easy delivery for your mom?
I don't know, I'm adopted.

Did your mom get stretch marks?  They're hereditary.
1.  That's an odd question and 2.  I don't know, I'm adopted.

People asked me "are your parents...?" questions throughout my life in relation to anything from my height, my sensitive skin, my ever-expanding list of things I am allergic to, my skills and interests, and my career path.  I suppose asking someone where they got a skill or interest can be categorized as "casual conversation" or an "icebreaker."

You probably could file casual questions about heredity as, "not too big of a deal."  Unless you're adopted, of course.  The casual icebreaker of, "wow, you're tall, are your parents tall" (aka "who did you inherit your height from?") all of a sudden gets real deep when you respond, "I don't know, I'm adopted."  Subsequently curiosity wins over and a barrage of rather personal questions ensues.  "Do you want to know your birth mother?"  "Are you glad she gave you up?"  "Do you think about her all the time?"  "Why did she give you up?"

Post-reunion, I was able to answer questions for my second pregnancy like this:

How much did you weigh when you were born?
8lbs 6oz.  Exactly one pound lighter than my firstborn.

Were you an easy delivery for your mom?

Did your mom get stretch marks?  They're hereditary.
1.  That's an odd question and 2.  I don't know, I'm not going to ask my mom about her stretch marks.

I don't feel guilty talking about heredity

I have read in more than one research article that one common characteristic of closed adoption is that it can cause the adoptive parents to fear or be intimidated by the unknown biological family.  As a result, the adoptee can begin to mirror this fear.  My parents spoke very highly of this mysterious woman who very much had a psychological presence in our home.  Despite this, heredity was like the proverbial elephant in the room.  It was hard for me to wonder aloud if something about me was learned from my adoptive parents, inherited it from my biological parents, or if was something somehow unique to me.  This is because a huge chunk of information was missing from the equation.

Post-reunion, now we know the answer to many of those questions.  Believe it or not, knowing definitively what I inherited from my biological family has not made my adoptive family feel threatened.  Rather, they learned what things were inherent to me and received confirmation that they had done a good job nurturing those things.  Eliminating the secrets created by the nature of closed adoption and fostering an atmosphere of openness has improved my relationships with both of my families.

These are a few of the ways that I have come to embrace biology post-reunion.  How about you?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Guest Post: What do you Mean "Half Adopted?"

Damian is a donor conceived person, a Medical Researcher, and blogger at Donated Generation who lives in Southern Australia.  As we've chatted and read each other's blogs over time, we've discovered many shared thoughts and experiences.  I asked Damian to post as a guest here today, and to share with me his perceptions of how adoption and donor conception are similar.  By expanding my understanding on the experience of being donor conceived  and perhaps a reader's understanding too, I hope we can also expand the opportunities to be allies for each other in the quest for truth, identity, and all of our various family ties.  Building empathy for others has helped me immensely on my own journey being adopted; I wanted to share a bit of that with readers today.

What do you mean "Half Adopted?"

By Damian Adams

I thought I’d use this post to discuss some of the similarities between adoption and donor conception (DC). While there are certainly some key differences between these two things, which I won’t go into here, there are also many similarities which I will discuss to hopefully give the reader an idea of how they are intertwined. Please bear in mind that this is not meant to be an exhaustive representation of these similarities/links, so if anyone wishes to add some more or discuss these further as comments that would be fantastic. As this post is being placed on an adoption blog I will assume that the reader has an understanding of adoption and in particular the outcomes that can occur for the adoptee. Furthermore it must be stated just as in adoption, in donor conception too, there can be a whole range of emotions and outcomes for the child conceived this way, in that some are completely happy with what has happened to them and feel no loss whatsoever, and there are those at the other end of the spectrum that can be completely traumatised by it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Want to tell you a Story of What I Overcame

"These were tough things in my life that adoption intersected through like a cannonball,  striking me right in my gut, leaving me feeling winded and sometimes defeated.  I would not get around these things.  I could not pretend like they did not exist."  I continue what I started here over at Lost Daughters.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I am Going to Tell you a Story

I was uncharacteristically silent on my blog three years ago when I reunited.  I did not announce here that I had found my original family or that I met my original mother.  I mused about events in popular media in blog entries during that time, staying far away from my personal narrative.  I was frozen in silence from the shock of how real my story had become.  I was balancing a complex spectrum of emotions which I couldn't imagine putting into words.

Two years ago, I told the stories of opening the envelope that contained my mother's contact information, contacting her for the first time, and of our first face to face meeting.  What I had gained throughout that first year of reunion was confidence.  What I had received from both families was the reassurance that I could view, interpret, and express my own story, even when it intersected with their stories, in my own voice.  Today, I am taking those stories I told last year and I will view them and write them through new eyes for my book.

This month marks the third anniversary of my reunion with my original family.  This time of year, I again feel the need to tell a story.  At the close of this past semester, we were asked to go around the classroom and say what we had learned throughout our academic career thus far.  My academic career corresponded with the beginning of many things: my activism, my writing/blogging, my reunion, my unsealed records, and finally embarking on the specific career path that I know without a doubt fits my passions and talents.  

To express this to my fellow students, I told a short story.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Social Justice & the Russian Ban on US Adoptions

Photo by Photo: Dmitry Astakhov published at USA Today
In a recent political maneuver, Russia's Vladimir Putin announced that he was placing a ban on adoptions from Russia to the United States.  Putin's ban is reportedly in response to Obama signing the Magnitsky Act, a law which aims to punish Russian officials for human rights violations.  The media has responded in a frenzy.  News articles responding to this ban tend to represent a blend of two angles: the disappointment of prospective adoptive couples who will not be able to adopt from Russia, and the injustice of fewer available homes for institutionalized Russian children.

Critiques of the ban largely neglect to mention what Harlow's Monkey pointed out in this eloquent piece, that this ban is exclusively for adoptions by U.S. citizens.  It does not mean Russian children are not being adopted domestically or internationally to other countries.  The responses of major media sources rely heavily on the view of the United States as superior to other countries in terms of child welfare, including purporting the idea that Russia is incapable of ever caring for its children.

Announcing this ban would have been an opportune moment for Russia to provide further discourse on meeting the needs of their impoverished and institutionalized children as the UN urged.  As Susan Branco Alvarado pointed out in the comments section of a radio interview she participated in,
"President of Russia's Executive Order On Measures Concerning the Implementation of Government Policy on Orphaned Children and those without Parental Care that was issued on 12/28/12. This order aims to provide for more in country care of its children which, at minimum, appears to be moving in the right direction."
Alvarado also stated, the issue of the deaths of the 19 Russian children adopted to the United States cannot be dismissed. Alvarado, who is an adult adoptee, Ph.D. candidate researching adoption dissolutions by death, and Licensed Professional Counselor, pointed out the higher death rate among children adopted from Russia than other adopted children.