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Our amazing video by Bryan Tucker.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

American Adoption Congress Conference AAC - Part 2

Diverse Narratives in the Collective Adoptee Voice

Karen, Cathy, Angela, Rosita, Amira Rose, Amanda, Rebecca, Annette KassayeTrace, Jenn
Photo courtesy of: Light of Day Stories

Today, we're packing up our things and heading home to our little ones, our loved ones and our lives. Our responsibilities lie in wait - jobs, school, kids, spouses, households, commitments.

In the day to day, being a part of Lost Daughters is something that we squeeze in between all of these competing duties. Being a Lost Daughter is something that most of our families and friends don't really understand. It's a bit like a secret identity. Then again, as adoptees we know all about having a secret identity, don't we?

But, for a weekend, we were flying! Being a Lost Daughter was recognized at the conference, and we were welcomed with open arms. That people knew who we are was humbling. More than that, it was empowering. It meant that what we've been writing about has been connecting with readers. It means that adoptee voices matter. As Karen stated in the introduction of our presentation, "The only position we take on adoption is that adoptee voices make it better."

The title of our talk was, "Diverse Narratives in the Collective Adoptee Voice." The concept of the workshop was to bring the voice and feel of the Lost Daughter round-tables into a live setting. We talked about everything from how to respect differing views to how adoption is like the Matrix (don't worry, I'll get to that in another post).

Sitting side by side and talking with the other Lost Daughters was like doing one of our round tables. We all had plenty to say and I felt inspired by the others. But, what was also special for me, was getting to feel the audience react and respond to what was said. Feeling the connection not just between us on the panel, but among everyone there. They got it. We were connected. 

In fact, if I had one complaint, is that there just wasn't enough time. I could've spent another whole hour just having back and forth with the audience. I wished there was more time to connect.

And then I remembered - there is. This is it. We get to have that same kind of connection every day on Lost Daughters. Yes, here we have to squeeze it in among our responsibilities - our job, our spouse, our school, our taxes (shoot - that's two weeks away! - never mind). And, when we're here, we're back to our secret identities, our time in Lost Daughters one role among many. But, we do get to steal away and, at the times we most need it, connect with our other Lost Daughters. All of us. Because you get it.

We are connected.


Cathy Heslin is a reunited adult adoptee of closed domestic adoption in New Jersey. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two boys. She met her birthmother when she was just 18 and moved out to Portland after graduating college to live with her birthmother. She has been in reunion with her birthmother for nearly 25 years, and with her birthfather for 15 and has a complicated extended family that includes all sides. 

She writes about adoption with a focus on long-term reunion. She has written a memoir in partnership with her birthmother called Kathleen-Cathleen where she and her birthmother write alternating chapters sharing their experience of reunion from both the perspective of the adoptee and the birthmother (not yet published). They also write parallel blogs on shared themes: Cathy's blog is Follow Cathy on Twitter @CathyHeslin.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

American Adoption Congress Conference - Part 1

I admit it, I was a little star-struck at meeting some of my Lost Daughters sisters for the first time. After all, I have seen their picture and read their work for the past few years. They've influenced and inspired me. There's something about getting to know someone through their writing, and then meeting them in person, that makes it richer and deeper from the start. It's like you already know them, a least a little bit.

There are several of us Lost Daughters at the American Adoption Congress Conference in Cambridge Massachusetts this year. We're presenting in a round-table tomorrow (okay, since it's 1:30am then technically, it's later today). For some of us, it's our first time at an adoption conference, and for others, it's one of many. For me, it's my third.

I attended my first AAC Conference in 1997 with my birthmother. It was eight years after we first met and we were in the eye of the storm of reunion, we were sorting through the rubble of the post-honeymoon phase. Seventeen years later, we attended again, just last year, but as presenters on long-term reunion.

This time it's different. It's the first time I'm here without my birthmother. I'm not alone. I'm with my sisters from Lost Daughters. All of us are adoptees. We all have different stories, but we have that crucial core that links us together. You can only understand how powerful that is when you've experienced it. Suddenly, you share in common one of the things that is most private and unusual about yourself with everyone else in the room. Suddenly, you're normal. Suddenly, everyone gets you.

Being in a room full of adoptees, and hearing them talk about adoption is a kick. All the things you think but can't usually say, are said. Things you think of as strictly forbidden, are fodder for mockery. And things you think you shoulder alone, are shared.

Even with my birthmother, with whom I'm close, there is a separation in how we've experienced the conference. Although we've gone to it together as a pair, we come at reunion from two different sides of the same experience. This time, with my Lost Daughter sisters, I get to approach it side-by-side.

In a few hours I get to meet another group of my Lost Daughters sisters. Ten of us will be presenting. We get to sit together and talk about our experiences in person. But we won't be alone. We will be with a room full of our other sisters, many lost daughters like us, and share our stories ... together.


Cathy Heslin is a reunited adult adoptee of closed domestic adoption in New Jersey. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two boys. She met her birthmother when she was just 18 and moved out to Portland after graduating college to live with her birthmother. She has been in reunion with her birthmother for nearly 25 years, and with her birthfather for 15 and has a complicated extended family that includes all sides. 

She writes about adoption with a focus on long-term reunion. She has written a memoir in partnership with her birthmother called Kathleen-Cathleen — A True Story of Adoption and Reunion, where she and her birthmother write alternating chapters sharing their experience of reunion from both the perspective of the adoptee and the birthmother (not yet published). They also write parallel blogs on shared themes: Cathy's blog is Follow Cathy on Twitter @CathyHeslin.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Congratulations Ohio Adoptees! You can now have a copy of your original birth certificate!

As a proud Ohioan, it brought me great joy to be able to stand beside my fellow Ohio adoptees this past weekend in celebration of the unsealing of adoptees' adoption files and original birth certificates for those adopted between 1964-1996.  This is a momentous event and one I was happy to be part of.  Early on in the process, two other adoptees and myself sat down with Representative Jim Butler at my local Starbucks who advised he fully supported this legislation and gave us advice on how and when to write in support of getting this bill passed.

The event kicked off Thursday evening, March 19, 2015, at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Colombus, Ohio where there was a light reception, speakers, and an information table for Adoption Network Cleveland.  Adoption Network Cleveland supports all members of the those in the adoption consellation.  There was an open mic for first parents, adoptees and anyone else supporting the cause. Lots of crying and cheering ensued throughout the evening.  In the corner of the room was a Selfie station for taking pictures and attaching the hash tag #OHadopteesROAR.  There was also a banner on the wall for each adoptee to sign.
Betsie Norris, of Adoption Network Cleveland, our hero!
Bright and early on the morning of March 20, 2015, we all met in the lobby of the Drury Inn hotel at 7:30 a.m. and walked in the rain to Vital Statistic which opened at 8:00 a.m.  Lots of media and coverage of the event was taking place as evidenced by this event being recognized not only locally in Ohio, but nationally.  Documentary film maker (and adoptee) Jean Strauss had the idea for the group to chant about our birth certificates on our walk over to Vital Stats.  The very helpful staff  at Vital Stats had been planning for this event and many adoptees had pre-registered. Notaries were on hand at the Thursday night event and on Friday morning.  It only took 2 hours for all of the waiting adoptees to make it through the line at Vital Stats.  Adoption files will be mailed to those who requested them and will be received in approximately four weeks.

Later on the 20th, there was a formal Adoption Law Event held at the beautiful Riffe building where four adoptees and all those who made this law happen would gather to hear inspiring speeches and would witness the four of the 400,000 adoptees this law pertains to receiving their original birth certificates and adoption files.  One of those adoptees was Senator David Burke (R).  The other three Ohio adoptees receiving their documents were Wendy Barkett, Jeff Costello and Steve Kelly. Senator Bill Beagle was the bill's sponsor. His first and last words at the podium were,

"Thank you for changing my life!"

Sen. Bill Beagle, Rep. Nickie Antonio and Sen. David Burke

It is reported that this new law will effect 400,000 adoptees in the state of Ohio.  Original mothers had the opportunity to redact their names off of adoptees' original birth certificates if they desired and reportedly, only 114 out of 400,000 chose this option.  Original mothers who chose to redact were required to fill out an extensive social and medical history.  Critics of the law state that those 114 who will receive redacted documents are still having their civil rights violated.

Karen Pickell, of Lost Daughters, is quoted as saying,

"And even though I’ve had my OBC for nine years now, I plan to download the the adoptee records request form  from the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus when it is available on March 20. I will fill it out, get it notarized, copy my two forms of identification, and mail it in along with another $20. Why? Because I need to see for myself that this process will work for my children–and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to come. This isn’t just about me. It’s about my descendants also having the ability to trace their lineage in future decades."

Lynn Grubb of Lost Daughters

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dear Elton John, It’s Not All About You

Photo by Richard Schatzberger via Flickr

Dear Elton John,

I’ve heard about the argument between you and fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana over their recent comments about gay couples becoming parents via IVF.

I understand why you were offended on behalf of your own two sons when D&G called children conceived through IVF “children of chemistry, synthetic children.” There is no such thing as a synthetic child. All children are conceived when an egg from a woman is fertilized by a sperm from a man, whether this fertilization takes place inside or outside of a woman’s body. I join you in outrage on this point.

And I understand why you and others are offended by D&G saying, “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one . . . .” I was adopted as a child, and I support gay couples adopting children who need families.

What I cannot support is anyone, gay or straight, creating a demand for adoptable children that results in babies being relinquished unnecessarily, or that results in paper orphans being created to fulfill someone’s desire to “build a family.”

And I cannot support children being created with the express intention of denying them full knowledge of their biological identity for the sake of satisfying someone’s desire to “have a child of my own.”

I have read that you and your husband, David Furnish, created both of your sons via IVF using a surrogate mother and a mixture of both of your sperm. It has been reported that the identity of your children’s mother—i.e. “the surrogate,” or was there a separate “egg donor,” I’m not sure—will never be revealed and that you do not wish to learn which of you is the father of either of your children.

As a person who lived more than thirty years without knowing the identity of my biological parents and whose original, factual birth certificate has been legally kept from me, I feel you have deliberately done the unconscionable to your sons. You are purposefully deceiving them, not only in denying them knowledge of their mother, but even more ridiculously, denying them the knowledge of who their biological father is, though they live with him! Why put them through years of guessing and the inevitability of a DNA test? What a sick joke to play on someone’s life—and yet you gush on about how much you love the boys!

Do you know that we adoptees are having to fight every single day for the right to our own identities?

Dolce and Gabbana make an excellent point when they say, “You are born to a mother and a father.” We are all conceived when an egg from one woman is fertilized by a sperm from one man. This woman is the biological mother. This man is the biological father. They are not inconsequential. These facts do not change, no matter how many other parents a person may have.

Yes, gay people should be able to marry and create families through ethical adoption, however gay rights should never trump children's rights. Children's rights are human rights.

Every person is entitled to know their own biological identity.

An Adoptee

Karen Pickell was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. She reunited with her birth mother in 2005 and with her birth father in 2007. Her husband is an adoptive father of two children, now grown, from his first marriage, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Karen and her husband live in Florida with their two biological children. She holds a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Georgia; she has published poems, essays, and stories, and is currently drafting a memoir. She previously served on the board of directors of the Georgia Writers Association, as editor for the Georgia Poetry Society, and as associate editor of the literary journal Flycatcher. Karen recently founded Adoptee Reading Resource

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dear Mr. White … Sincerely, Your Twinkie

Mama Bear is pissed.

I handled the abuse as a young adult Twinkie; I handled the racism. For so long, I have awkwardly smiled when faced with horrible comments and micro-aggressions.

But inside, it ate away at me. I vowed to minimize this for my children. Now finally, the trauma of my high school days has hit home with my son inheriting my discomfort.

So, here I give you my thank you note to white America.

Thank you, Mr. White …

… for the title of “Oriental;”

… for passing down to your children the hurtful words I thought would eventually disappear;

… for the glorification of your learning that “other language” and not understanding why native speakers, hoping to save their children from their stigmatized accent, refused to speak this language you covet in their homes;

… for the separation of my fellow adoptees from their parents who you deem unfit because of the poverty your privilege costs;

… for accusing me of hurting your feelings when I use the word “white” in a general terms (Really, it isn’t about you personally. Everything isn’t always about you, but I understand your white fragility.);

… for showing me how you know best because you control the media; 

… for using our Black President as a means to appease me;

… for stopping my black and brown brothers because they “all look the same;”

… for feeling you own my black and brown sisters’ hair (It is beautiful, but no, you shouldn’t touch it!);

… for assigning me the general term, Asian, when you want to be thought of as German, English, Irish, Italian, Caucasian (Are you really from the region of Caucasus?), etc.;

… for butchering my Puerto Rican name;

… for downplaying racial bullying by comparing it to other forms of bullying;

… for pitting me against black and brown people;

… for confusing me with my Taiwanese and Chinese friends because we “all look alike” (Insert your laughter here.);

… for more and more white movies (How many times do we need to see yet another Cinderella rendition?);

… for judging my curriculum vitae solely on my Puerto Rican name; 

… for asking me if I need an interpreter (Um. I am speaking English to you over the phone.);

and finally, for instilling so much internal conflict and fear within me and my children for simply just being non-white.


Your faithful Twinkie

Feminist columnist, Rosita González is a transracial, Korean-American adoptee. She is married to a Brit who refers to himself as an Anglo-American and is a mother to two multiracial children. Rosita was adopted in 1968 at the age of one through Holt International. Her road has been speckled with Puerto Rican and Appalachian relatives and her multiracial sister, the natural child of her adoptive parents. While quite content with her role as a “Tennerican,” her curiosity has grown recently as her children explore their own ethnic identities. She considers herself a lost daughter, not only because of the loss of her birth family, but also because of the loss of her adoptive parents. Rosita has recently started her search for her natural family. With the help of G.O.A.’L., she visited Korea in August 2014. When she is not supporting her children on their individual paths, Rosita spends her time as an art educator, ceramicist and an art photographer. She also shares her adventures as an adoptee and parent on her blog, mothermade.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Love of Furr

Don't let the title of this particular post scare you away, if it does I don't blame you.  No this post is about the only form of unconditional love that I so far has been able to experience (besides that of my mum and dad). Guess who managed to capture and steal my heart some 7 years ago? A little innocent - or so it seems soft, furry kitten. 

It might seem pathetic or tragic that I so far has yet to discover , create and establish a love relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Who I do love? A pet, my pet - I decided to get the little guy once I moved away for university and had my own place even if it was a bit restricted. I resoned as such that I had a lot of time instead of space. Dad being the city boy that he is didn't approve of the idea while mum at the time seemed more understanding she's a country girl who had pets while she grew up she even approved.
As much as I love this particular cat I know he isn't the best cat or even suitable around children-not that I have any. Not yet. The thing is this lovely cat is anexious in nature, and extremely scared of the tinest thing we're similar that way. 

Maybe my relationship to my beloved cat embodies all my past friendships and connections that I managed to both create - and ultimately destroy. Being an adoptee has meant, at least for me that I have created bad friendships or destroyed the ones that had potential. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Baby's Hair: Will It Look Like A Black Girl's Hair?

When I think about my baby growing hair in the womb, I wonder if her hair will appear "ethnic" at all like mine and if it will affect how people view her racially.

I've been lucky to have a relatively smooth pregnancy so far, the only discomforting thing has been acid reflux and occasional heartburn for the second half of trimester #2. But the strangest thing was this: when I mentioned this symptom to people, one of the common responses was, "That means your baby is growing hair!"

I figured it was one of those old wives tales that people have used to guess a baby's appearance or sex--like how supposedly carrying your bump high means it's a boy. But then I found this scholarly study about the issue that seemed to confirm the idea that heartburn = more baby hair.

I like the idea of my baby growing hair in there. And I wonder if it will be kinky/curly like mine. My husband is white and his hair is straight, so of course there's a chance his genes will influence her hair more than mine. It would be special, I've always thought, to share physical traits with someone-- as an adopted person who grew up outside her birth family, it was one of those things I felt like I was missing out on. But when I think about my own experience with my hair, I'm reminded of how complicated it was for me growing up. It was my main racial marker in an environment where it was not safe to be a person of color or mixed heritage. My skin was passable, my eyes were light. But my hair was "different." It was beyond curly, but in my white town and with my white parents who had believed they were adopting a white baby, we had no language to describe what it really was. Kids at school would taunt me with the word "Afro" like it were a sin. I was called the n-word, not only from kids but once from an adult who detected that I was not just a white kid like everyone else. So, I began to hate my hair, try to hide it, and when I discovered chemical relaxers I thought I'd finally found safety. I quit telling people I was adopted. I claimed that I had relatives from far away who had curly hair and that's where I got it from--it must have skipped a generation because my parents' hair was of course not textured in the same way.

It took going away to college and finding black salons to finally understand how to take care of my hair, and embrace it. This was concurrent with my search for birth family, a family that was white on the maternal side and--surprise!--black on the paternal side. So embracing my hair went hand in hand with embracing myself and my ethnic background and family, which had previously either been ignored or shunned. I discovered that many black women--not adopted, not mixed--go through an experience of relaxing their hair, which some say is a self-hating thing because straight hair conforms to Euro-centric standards. There are scores of books and articles on the issue. Every time a high-profile black woman in the media chooses to relax her hair or not relax her hair, or even cut it off, a maelstrom erupts. Chris Rock made a documentary about what he thought was a perplexing "obsession with hair" among black women. (He recently said he might make a sequel inspired by Halle Berry launching a lawsuit against her ex for straightening their daughter's hair.) There's evidence that with the Natural Hair Movement it's getting better, which is good, but I think we still have a long way to go.

So, on the one hand, I want my daughter's hair to be like mine. I will know how to care for it, to encourage her to know and love it, and I certainly will NOT relax it. She will be raised in an environment where she will see and know people of various races. She will know her black biological cousins and grandfather. But yet, there's still a lot of negativity out there, especially for women, and especially for women of color, and of course I want to protect her from all negativity and pain (an impossible task, I know.)  

Her hair journey, whatever it is, will likely be a walk filled with more grace--and more support--than mine. Isn't that what we all want for our kids?