Thursday, February 28, 2013

5 Things Adoptees Need to Hear from Absolutely Everyone

One of the things people consistently ask me is, "I have a family member who doesn't understand my adopted loved one, how can I help them understand?"  There are many ways to respond.  I could refer them to information on adoption history.  I could make them aware of adoption statistics that dispel stereotypes.  I could send them links on adoption trauma theories or identity theories.  I could reference memoirs of other adoptees that prove any given adoptee isn't alone in how they feel.  Yet I still need to ask myself, "how helpful is this to the individual and their individual situation?"

Books, research, and narratives are vital components of understanding the adoption experience--especially for those who are not adopted.  There are common adoption-related thoughts, feelings, and experiences among adoptees.  However, how these things intersect in an adoptee's story differ because every story is different.  When we talk about making interpersonal relationships better, we are really talking about how to listen and be sensitive to an adopted person.  Here are five things that I personally think adoptees need to hear from those around them.

"I will give honor to your story."
I realize that if I am not adopted or have a different adoption experience, I cannot force your experience through my lens.  I cannot demand that you adapt your story to my comfort level.  Your story, the conclusions that you draw from it, and what it means to you are yours.  I don't have to agree with your opinions to honor and respect the story behind it.  I will let you lead when you tell your story rather than interjecting assertions and making assumptions that leave you wary of saying another sentence.  I will use the terms and language that you use for your story when I ask you questions about what you've told me.  I will deal with the emotions that your story made me feel before I respond to you.

"I will embrace those whom you embrace."
I will not use my own lens of how I was raised or how I view family to tell you how to view yours.  If your reality of having two non-biological parents, feeling you have four parents, or wanting to include your original parents in your life seems peculiar to me, I will understand that I need to investigate why I feel this way before I respond to you.  I will do this to handle your feelings with care.  I understand that your connections are important to you.  Even if I do not understand your connections, they will be important to me because you are important to me.

"I will ask about and listen to your story when it helps you."
I will ask you to talk about being adopted when I sense you want to talk about it.  I will carefully think about my questions before I ask them, and make sure I ask them in a way that is respectful.  The questions I ask will only probe as deep as is appropriate for the level of closeness and intimacy in our relationship.  I will ask questions that help me learn how to support you and other adoptees.  I will not ask questions simply to satisfy my own curiosity.

"I will validate your feelings."
I will not always understand will how you feel but I will do my best to empathize with you.  I will examine how my life experiences may differ from yours which impacts my ability to fully understand what you're feeling about your own life experiences.  I will acknowledge that wanting biological connections as most other people have, or not feeling ready to reach out for them right now are both normal aspects of being adopted.  I will not use my own life experiences to tell you that you feel the wrong way.  Our conversations will be a safe space for you to be yourself.

"I will advocate for you."
I will help you as best I can with what you need.  If you have a petition that addresses a need or inequality, I will sign it.  If you need to petition the court for information, I will drive you there.  If you are calling a loved one for the first time, I will hold your hand.  I will not make you feel as though adoption issues are silly, out-dated, or unimportant because that's simply not true.  If you need to talk, I will listen to you.  I will write to my legislators and tell them that I support the issues that are important to you.  When I hear adoption stereotypes or ignorance spoken about adoptees, I will confront it immediately.

I am sure someone is going to tell me that these active listening skills are not unique to adoption and could be employed in daily life or with any other circumstance.  I absolutely agree.  Responding sensitively, letting the person you are listening to lead their story and supporting them as best you can are key pieces to good dialogue in just about any situation.  What people need to know is that adoption is no exception.  People do not always let adoptees lead their story, accept the adoptee's given family reality, or validate their feelings.  We as a society have become so sure about what adoption means that people not connected to adoption at all sometimes think nothing of shutting an adoptee down completely and walking away.  Adoptees deserve the same time, sensitivity, and attention as anyone else.  Let's give it to them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why I Don't Support Compromise Legislation but Won't Fight About it Either

Ahhh.  The art of demonstration poster making.
Bills that seek to restore original birth certificate access to adoptees are popping up all over the country.  These bills come in two general forms; "increased access" (a.k.a "compromised") and "equal access."  There's a lot of debate about these two categories and whether or not the "increased access" bills should be supported by Adoptee Rights Activists.  Many heated arguments have been exchanged between activists in both camps.  This time around I'm asking: shouldn't the exchange about the validity of "increased access" and "equal access" take place between voters, policy makers, and large adoption lobbyists, rather than becoming a line drawn in the sand between activists?

It is not a question as to whether or not "increased access" bills are inadequate.  It's generally agreed that equality is what everyone wants and is ideal.  The issue is whether or not they're acceptable policy in the meantime until "equal access" can be achieved later (not forgetting that the first "increased access" law instated in the U.S. has not been revisited in 14 years).  The even bigger issue is that drawing lines in the sand over bad or inadequate policy takes attention off of the powers that be who drafted it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Do we Really Know What Adoptees Are Thinking? 4 Reasons why I Reunited

Some truth to this?
Mary* was excited about her "gotcha day" each year.  "Gotcha day" is the day when adoptions are finalized, or for some adoptees, when they entered into the home of their adoptive parents.  Mary's "gotcha day" was like a second birthday, full of excitement and love.  Mary's fondness of her "gotcha day" was something I just couldn't identify with when she explained it to me.  I did not like my "gotcha day."  The year I was old enough to realize I had a special day in my family that acknowledged my adoption, I stated my preference not to observe it.  Even when a trip to the aquarium was arranged in the day's honor, I asked not to go.  "I have a birthday," I told my adoptive mother.  And that was that.

After reading this brief glimpse into the life stories of Mary and I, I wonder what people might assume about us and our experiences that led to our views on our "gotcha days."  It would be one of many assumptions people make when they encounter adoption and adoptee stories everyday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who is Entitled to my Gratitude?

Have you ever seen an adoptee bristle, or felt yourself as an adoptee prickle, when someone mentions that adoptees need to be "grateful?"  Where does this reaction come from, and what's wrong with being "grateful" anyway?  Gratefulness is a wonderful attitude to have for life and blessings in-general. However, there's a distinct and unfortunate stereotype of "gratefulness" that adoptees tend to encounter.

The "gratefulness" seen in family systems causes one generation to look with fondness and care on the previous generation, if they were well cared for by that generation. The adoption-stereotype-gratefulness takes this to an extreme.  It expects adoptees to leave things behind so as not to "upset" some invisible apple cart people imagine adoptive parents to have.  What we may be expected to leave behind are our original families, original identity, a quest for reunion or original documentation, or mentioning any personal feelings of loss in adoption.

This is an unrealistic "gratefulness" is directed at adoptees, and their families, often in an unkind way. In reality, adoptive parents, like all parents, shouldn't want their kids to put aside what may be important to them. It is the job of every parent to nurture the interests, feelings, and ideas of their children. No one, adopted or not, needs to be any more grateful than anyone else is to their parents for doing what parents are supposed to do.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why the Conflation of Adoption and Abortion Isn't Really Helping Anything

Some activists in the reproductive justice realm, on both sides of limiting or expanding access to abortion, tend to shy away from reforming adoption policies and critically discussing adoption.  Some may have very strong opinions that they believe adoption is an option for unplanned pregnancy but lack an understanding adoption's impact on those who live it.  If their primary definition of adoption is that it serves as an alternative to abortion, they may be hesitant to question or change adoption policies, or may support bad policies, based on how they feel it may impact abortion issues.  This brings me to ask the obvious question.  Shouldn't people active within the abortion debate expand their knowledge of adoption itself, within the framework of serving the needs of children, before forming their opinions?

Yes, there are women who become pregnant and do not wish to have an abortion and also do not wish to parent.  However, when this becomes every woman's story, we've created a stereotype.  With stereotypes, we overlook the needs of women who have abortions for reasons relating to health and pregnancy, or who have unplanned pregnancies but wish to keep the babies born to them.  When we make policies based on stereotypes, we run the risk of being oblivious to the net effect of a policy on the real people that our perception of an issue did not take into account.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cibu International Suggests Asian American Adoptee Takes Racist Product Names "too Personally"

According to Cibu International, all one needs to know about Asian culture is "karate" and "take-out."  Sprinkle in a little sexist exotification of Asian women and viola, you've got yourself an entire line of shampoos and conditioners, including a detangler called "Miso Knotty" marketed alongside an image of a completely nude "Geisha."  Apparently, anyone with a dissenting opinion on Cibu's severe lack of judgement is being deleted from their Facebook page, including women of color who are considered "radical" for their concerns.  I got to interview the adoptee responsible for the petition that asks Cibu to do the right thing and change their product names (and imagery) at Land of Gazillion Adoptees.  Head on over and check it out.