Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lost Life

I not only lost my family of origin due to adoption, I lost a great majority of my life battling multiple health issues without any family medical background.  Health issues not only affect work and finances, they are also destroyers of emotional and mental health, and take a huge toll on relationships including marriages.  Chronic illness steals away days, weeks, months, and years from its victims especially those who have no current and updated genetic history to give to doctors to help with diagnosis's.  My children also lost out because I could not function as I should have, or be the mother I could have been spending so much time sick between doctors and hospitals with few answers.

I started to suffer from female problems at age 15 that slowly affected my ability to function in school.  I had always been a good student.  I tried to tell my adoptive parents I was in a great amount of pain and fatigue and spending time in the nurses office at school, but this was written off as ploy for attention.  Luckily, my dwindling grades and increasing class absences caught the attention of teachers and finally the realization I was not physically well.  But, these problems would continue on until age 29 I was finally diagnosed with the same health problem my biological mother had surgery for at the same age.  I would not find that out until age 39 upon petitioning the adoption court.

At 24 after the birth of my first child symptoms of pain and nausea plagued me off and on and became increasingly an issue for me being able to eat and or keep food down.  Testing that was ordered revealed nothing.  I was finally taken to an eating disorder clinic and convinced I was anorexic and bulimic.  But, I loved food and eating I told them.  When I was served meals I ate salad and light fair as heavy, fatty, greasy foods made me sicker.  That only cemented the doctor's theory that I was in fact an anorexic and or bulimic.  I was released after insurance refused to pay for any further stay.  After years of wasting away and unable to eat anything but crackers, broth, bread, and living on Ensure, two more months of testing finally led to a final procedure that gave doctors the knowledge I had a rare gall bladder disease.  It was rare and only 6% of all people with gall bladder problems suffered from it.  It also was I found out VERY hereditary.  It was removed and three weeks after surgery I was up and about eating and back at work and putting on weight.  My non-identifying information later revealed that my biological parents were very thin and small people.  So was I.  Add a gall bladder disease and what do you have?  I person who LOOKS anorexic and bulimic.  I had not had all the information to give to doctors that could have changed my life.  Instead, I lost life yet again.

I've been told that opening adoption records is not necessary and that this is just an excuse for adoptees to obtain identifying information about their biological families.  As if we didn't DESERVE the same information as every other person does JUST because we ask for it.  Genetic testing is expensive and time consuming.  Adoptees should not have to spend any more time and money and unnecessary medical testing to get crucial medical background.

I have just touched on two of the five or six health problems I have battled, and am still fighting to this day.  I have half the answers to my family medical history but thirteen years later I am on my fourth court petition for the other half.  No one should have to endure guess work where their health is concerned and life and death medical issues are involved.

This is just another example of the disaster that the closed records system of adoption is.  I have lost the majority of my life in the pursuit of answers to medical mysteries.  We deserve the right to our own family histories and information, not just because we are sick.  But because it is ours.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Thank you on Women's Equality Day

Lost Daughters thanks women everywhere for their hard work towards equality for women on this Women's Equality Day.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reunion? Not really.

Oftentimes, "adoption reunion" seems to be referred to as a permanent state - such as, "I've been in reunion with my mother for 26 years." Now that I'm living through the demise of my own "reunion", I see things a little bit differently.

If you ask me now, I would say that the "reunion" with my mother happened at Chicago's Midway Airport six years ago, when we embraced after seeing each other for the very first time since I was born 35 years prior. We ran outside for an immediate stress-relieving cigarette. At that point, looking back, we weren't "in reunion". Not really. We had already reunited. What we were was two adult women with a painfully obvious biological tie attempting to get to know each other and forge a relationship that was comfortable for both of us. That's different to me.

That's not to say that I'm trying to deny the uniqueness of the relationship that forms between adoptees and biological family members that meet again after years of separation. But I wonder how often that "reunion" label might actually cause some problems.

In our case, hanging onto that "reunion" mentality gave my mother and I unspoken permission to sabotage our own relationship.

I used it as an excuse to devalue myself. I was the "reunited" daughter - the one who surfaced unexpectedly after a long absence. Therefore, despite my natural family's attempts to bring me into the fold, I separated myself. You know, because we're "in reunion", so it isn't the same, no matter what that family tells me. Right? "In reunion" implies a state of non-permanency. It could go either way, and we ever-vigilant adoptees have to be prepared for the worst.

My mother used "reunion" to beat herself up. She never was really able to accept that I simply saw her as my mother. The fact that we were "in reunion" reminded her of the 35 years that she wasn't around. Every mistake she made in our relationship turned itself into what an awful non-mother she was, in one way or another. She would disappear physically and emotionally at times, seeing herself as disposable.

Perhaps if we'd managed to not lose sight of the bigger, simpler picture, things would have worked out between us.

She is my MOTHER. I am her DAUGHTER. We are FAMILY.

Denial is never, ever a good thing.

The Trouble with Sharing Things

To be cross-posted at Declassified Adoptee on 8/26/2011

I was at the gym the other day doing some horrendous exercise, reminiscing on the days when I was fit and athletic.  I started thinking about my basketball days and other memories from high school.  I loved basketball and was a good player.  An unavoidable part of thinking back on my sports days is remembering a coach I didn't really get along with.  I liked her at first.  She was friendly, hip, and pretty.  But she was too friendly with the boy's head basketball coach, who also became our assistant coach.  He was also a deacon at my church and the father of a boy I had been good friends with since we were toddlers.  I don't know exactly what happened or if the male coach was confronted by my church leaders or not but he ended up leaving our church, taking my long-time, childhood friend, his son, with him.  I was devastated.  I don't know if they were actually having an affair or not but their public flirtatiousness in front of students and athletes, and me, made me uncomfortable and in true Amanda fashion, I voiced my discomfort.  Of course, they didn't like this.  I was one of the star athletes of the team but one of the least favorites (though it would seem).  I was captain of my team for two years, the All-Star team captain, I was All-Star, All-Conference First String, and we had just won an All-Star game where I had scored triple-doubles.  The coaches congratulated everyone but me.  My father, aware of what was going on, stepped in and said "uh coach, you forgot someone," before she finally gave me a high-five.  By the time I graduated high school, I was so sick of basketball that I turned down a full-ride scholarship to a good school with a good basketball program.  I shouldn't have let the behavior of my coaches and the drama effect me so much, but it did.

You would think that the last place that I would accept relationship advice from would be my basketball coach.  But I always, always remember something she told me.   I still think of it to this day.
"Sometimes we have to work out things with the person we have a problem with before we tell anyone else.  What happens when you go vent to someone else about the person you're mad at, is they get mad at that person too.  When you and the person you're mad at make up, you feel better, but the person you vented to hasn't had that closure of being able to make up with the other person as well.  That might cause relationship problems between the person you were mad at and the person you vented to."
She was trying to get team mates who were also school friends to foster better relationships between themselves, to strengthen the team.  I thought that the coaches, who were both married to other people, not hanging all over each other in front of 14-17 year olds would have been a great start towards building teams spirit--eh, but what do I know?  I wondered how a woman so oblivious to the impact her own behavior in her own relationships had on others, could dish out such good advice about other people's relationships.

Her words came back to me a few years later as an adult when I started to think about relationships and support.  If I vented to my mom or a friend about someone or something else, they would get all upset on my behalf.  I would later work it all out and feel better but how much better did they feel?  They didn't get to work out their emotions about the situation in the same way I did.  I decided to be more careful about what I share when I am angry or upset--or how I share it, rather.  Not because seeking support and confiding in others isn't important but because while I expect them to care about my emotional welfare, I should care about theirs too.

This is when it gets rough when it comes to adoption reunion and integrating two families into my life.  My adoptive parents are Facebook friends with my first mom and several of my aunts.  They send cards back and forth for holidays and occasionally email each other.  It is important to me that they have good relationships because I would never want to be in the middle of a disagreement.  Too often do adoptees feel in the middle of choosing between their nurturing family and their natural family and I don't want to go there.  But I lose an important source of support.  I can tell my adoptive mother lots of things and normally do.  But I am hesitant to share anything with her that is challenging about reunion because I do not want her to harbor negative emotions against my first family.  Likewise, I can tell my first mom loads of things.  But I am hesitant to tell her things about my childhood that might have been hard or times where I am upset with my adoptive parents, because I don't want her to harbor negative feelings against my adoptive family.

This is why I have found it so helpful to find the support of other people who are adopted, also being mindful of their emotions as well.  I think it is important to have positive relationships where you can support each other and be mindful of each other's emotional needs and boundaries when supporting one another.  I am glad that I have that with my friends.

Does anyone else have trouble sharing things with either one of their mothers?  or both?

Photo credit: Simon Howden

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: Discussing Adoption in Front of Your Adopted Child


Can you speak to APs discussing adoption in front of their child? We are often told by strangers, new neighbors, or friends of friends "OMG, she looks just like you" to my husband. While this is true, our daughter seriously resembles my husband's family, she is adopted.

While we don't want her to feel her adopted status is shameful or something to hide, we also do not feel we should tell every Tom, Dick and Harry her story. It is hers to tell. And, "she's adopted" rarely ends the conversation, it only begins the barrage of inappropriate questions. It's hard to know where to draw the line between educating people ("was the mother very young" "was she on drugs", um no, and no) and respecting our child's privacy. I suspect as she grows she will signal us to STFU, but aren't we setting the tone right now?

Julie's Response:

As a BSE adoptee, I find the issues raised here rather interesting. If only because my adoptive parents would never (and I mean never) have even considered how to field inquiries about my adoption. Heck, my adoptive parents pretty much told me I was adopted and then never brought it up again. So, I am admittedly a bit shell shocked that this adoptive parent actually cares enough to ask us the question. Way to go!

That said, people often commented to my adoptive parents and me that I resembled my father. This makes sense seeing as Catholic Charities purposely matched the physical appearances of my natural parents to prospective adoptive parents and went with the ones who most closely resembled them. It was a very in-depth selection process apparently. Both of my dads are 6'4" with fine, light hair and blue eyes. I'm on the tall side with fine blonde hair and blue eyes--just like my natural dad.

Anyway, when such a comment was made, my parents usually nodded and redirected the conversation. Being the spitfire that I was, however, I would announce "It's just a coincidence. I'm adopted." This then resulted in my mother shooting me the "we don't talk about that" look.

As far as I know, nobody ever asked about my natural parents. At least they never did in front of me. This is where the BSE probably comes in again. I'm sure the assumption was that my natural mother was one of those loose, sinning girls who got herself "into trouble" and did the right thing by giving me up. As such, the question probably never needed to be asked because people clearly knew everything about everything. Facts, schmacts.

So, how would I suggest that adoptive parents handle such inquiries today? It is my feeling that the adoptee's background is nobody's business but the adoptee's. As such, I'd say that when the adoptee is old enough to speak for himself or herself, a supportive adoptive parent would listen and help the adoptee develop a personal narrative based on whatever information is available at the time, and at an age-appropriate level. They key here is to empower the adoptee instead of answering for the adoptee. 

If the adoptee is too young to field such inquiries, an honest response would most likely be the best option. Explain to the questioning party that you intend to help your son or daughter learn about and develop their personal narrative in an age-appropriate manner and that at the current time, he or she is too young to speak for themselves. So you are keeping that subject a family matter for now.  

As far as the physical appearance question goes, an honest, simple answer would probably suffice in most cases. "Why yes, we both have blonde hair" or something similar would work just fine because it neither ignores nor highlights adoption. Instead, it is a simple statement of fact.

Look, the adoptee is always going to know that they are adopted. And comments about how they look like so-and-so in the adoptive family are most likely going to sting a little because it's yet another reminder that there are a bunch of other people out there who they really do look like. The best thing for an adoptive parent to do is be aware that such issues are completely normal within an adoptive family structure--and then focus on doing whatever it takes to support and empower their adopted child when such situations arise.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: When is it over-sharing?

"Can you speak to APs discussing adoption in front of their child? We are often told by strangers, new neighbors, or friends of friends "OMG, she looks just like you" to my husband. While this is true, our daughter seriously resembles my husband's family, she is adopted. While we don't want her to feel her adopted status is shameful or something to hide, we also do not feel we should tell every Tom, Dick and Harry her story. It is her’s to tell. And, "she's adopted" rarely ends the conversation; it only begins the barrage of inappropriate questions. It's hard to know where to draw the line between educating people ("was the mother very young" "was she on drugs", um no, and no) and respecting our child's privacy. I suspect as she grows she will signal us to STFU, but aren't we setting the tone right now?"

I have a little sister who like me is also adopted. She however is blessed with looking somewhat like my adoptive mother’s family. While my dad and I have similarly colored hair (mine’s still a lot darker) and we both tan, that’s about it in terms of myself with family resemblance. That means that when the four of us were together as a family when I was younger, people would make assumptions about me. I was mistaken as a friend of the family a number of times. If my dad wasn’t with us, people would say things like “She must resemble the father” when they learned I was my mother’s child. So I get where you’re coming from here. I lived it.

I like the way my parents handled it. They ignored it. People are rude. They aren’t owed an explanation. My mother used to wink at me around people that would go fishing. She would say to me later, “Jeeze, aren’t people nosy?” It was our private joke. She kept it lighthearted and made it seem like no big deal. So as a child, that’s how I took it. As I got older, we would laugh at those questions. I would clue people in who I felt comfortable with, and the rest of the world was left scratching their heads.

I think the trick isn’t what you say; it’s how you say it. No matter what you say, people are going to judge. They are going to react the way they are going to react and it’s up to you as the parent to let them know that they have to be respectful. If someone says something like “she must have been young” you can politely tell them “she had her reasons. For whatever reason, we’re very lucky to have [insert your child’s name here] in our lives!”

Another important part of this is to follow up about it later when you are back in the comfort of your own home. You never know what your adopted child got out of the conversation. I know there were times when I was uncomfortable but my mother didn’t know. I wish she would have asked me about it later when I felt more comfortable at home. It’s hard to deal with in public sometimes.

Family and friends may want to know the story. It’s different and interesting to them. But the nosy neighbor doesn’t need your child’s whole live story to judge. Leave it up to your child to share with them. That’s what I would have wanted anyway.

Ask an Adoptee: How Much is too Much When it Comes to Sharing an Adoptee's Story?

"Can you speak to APs discussing adoption in front of their child? We are often told by strangers, new neighbors, or friends of friends "OMG, she looks just like you" to my husband. While this is true, our daughter seriously resembles my husband's family, she is adopted. While we don't want her to feel her adopted status is shameful or something to hide, we also do not feel we should tell every Tom, Dick and Harry her story. It is hers to tell. And, "she's adopted" rarely ends the conversation, it only begins the barrage of inappropriate questions. It's hard to know where to draw the line between educating people ("was the mother very young" "was she on drugs", um no, and no) and respecting our child's privacy. I suspect as she grows she will signal us to STFU, but aren't we setting the tone right now?"

When it comes to something like this, I can only say what I would have wanted as a child.  When I think about it, there seems to be a very fine line between sharing too much (a.k.a telling an adoptee's story on their behalf, things they might grow up and wish hadn't been shared) and not sharing anything which may lead an adoptee to believe they shouldn't talk about being adopted or think being adopted is shameful.

Answering this question is also a challenge for me because I do not recall very many instances where things about my adoption were asked or shared in front of me.  I am the same race as my adoptive parents so most acquaintances likely did not even know I am adopted.  We operated largely under the "Denial of Difference" model (see "Shared Fate") and everyone around us seemed to accept this ("Denial of Difference" copes with adoption differences by pretending that they do not exist).  People didn't ask about adoption because they assumed it was no different.  We "passed" as the "adoptive family that's just like a biological family any way."  I am sure people were curious and asked my parents things in private.  Sometimes when I go back home, I wonder what people think they know about my adoption, especially because some of the things we thought were true, as per the agency, turned out to be completely different.

Things I Wish my Parents Wouldn't Have Shared....
My mother's age at my birth and my conception circumstances.  This is not because I am ashamed of her or myself but because I see no purpose in other people knowing this information other than when I or my original mother are comfortable sharing it about ourselves.  Too often I feel like adoptees are put in the place of being entertainment for other people.  I feel like sometimes people ask questions or want to hear our stories as nothing more than a quest to get that fix the Hallmark channel just didn't deliver this week or, well, just plain gossip.

When I was old enough to learn more information about my adoption circumstances, it dawned on me that some other friends and family members in my life may have been made aware of this information about me before I even knew it for myself.  I am not suggesting that it's a good idea to engage in topics that are not age-appropriate with minor adoptees by complaining that things I was still too young to know got shared with others so that they knew more about my life than I did.  But consider what it would feel like for you to have something that you'd prefer to keep private, told to others.  To me, it's no different.

I also did not and do not like the adoption form of ventriloquism--which is speaking on behalf of someone who isn't there to speak for themselves.  Sometimes I wonder how my opinion and my truth about my own narrative might conflict with what my parents thought and shared to others, and if I'm seen as being contradicting to them (contradicting as in the disrespectful sense of the word) because I am voicing a narrative already presented on my behalf, with different opinions.

And over-share.  Though many details may seem innocuous, my parents telling absolutely everything down to the last detail to someone else just makes my own story less mine.

I am honestly don't know how much they shared or to whom.

Stuff I Didn't/Don't Mind Being Shared....
Stuff that refutes stereotypes.  My mother was not on drugs.  She was not "irresponsible."  She was not any of the sexist, classist, disablist things people have to say about mothers who lost children to adoption.  While I don't think her story, or mine how it interlocks with hers, should be broadcast to all the neighbors, I wouldn't want my parents to allow people to make assumptions or talk trash on her either.  She's my mom too.  If people don't respect my roots, how can they respect me?

The only stereotypes/questions to my parents or about me I really recall being repeated in front of me were adoptees being "unwanted" or "saved" from abortion.  There's where I also would have liked someone to say "hey, hold on, don't make assumptions."  But in my religious upbringing, these were perfectly acceptable assumptions to make.  Acceptable to some but still hurtful to me.

I didn't mind when appropriate things were shared with appropriate people for a reason: such as mentors and doctors when it came to my health care and lack of family medical history.  So on and so forth.

I don't mind them sharing their own thoughts and experiences understanding that where adoption is concerned, it does interlock with my story and experience.  Again, just so long as they weren't speaking for me and deciding what my opinion should be for me.  Sometimes parents talking about adoption speak about it as though they own the adoptee's narrative and roots:  they use phrases like: "it's our adoption," "our records," and "our story."  Like how people say "our birth mother" nowadays.  For me it was "we weren't given that information in our file" when I would ask a question about adoption as if my file was "our" file, not "my" file.  It's not "our" anything.  It's mine.

What I do Realize....
Is that my parents are human beings.  They make mistakes.  They made decisions unable to see the past in some aspects (as in, mine was sealed) and certainly unable to see the future--all with good intentions.  They love me.

Things I Think Would Have Been OK....

In response to nosy acquaintances.....

"We want to empower her to own her story and don't want to share too much until she's old enough to tell us it's OK or to share it herself."

"No, her mother wasn't on drugs, or any of the other assumptions people like to make, but these are things we really don't want to share on her behalf."

While things relating to my adoption weren't brought up in front of me often, people would occasionally say I look like my dad.  Other adoptees might have a different perspective but when it comes to this specific comment, I don't think there is anything wrong with not mentioning adoption in response.  If she resembles her adoptive father, she resembles her adoptive father.  You don't necessarily have to point out that it's not genetic in response.  Now, if they go on to say "which side of the family did she get her cute button nose from?" (a specific biologically-related question), then maybe say something like "her beautiful features were inherited from her original family, she's adopted."  When I talk to people about being adopted now, I find that subtly pointing out the fact that I have an entire original family, rather than polarizing the conversation/response around just my original mother, does negate some of the sexist, inappropriate responses about surrendering mothers.

Sometimes it negates the ignorant responses.  Not always.  But then again, there's nothing wrong with telling someone that something just isn't their business.

(Not wanting my post to be construed as parenting advice (I hate giving parenting advice) I'll just reiterate that my response comes from my own experience as an adoptee and what I would have wanted or had done differently.  I hope it helps shed some light on the issue).

Photo credit: Ambro

Monday, August 22, 2011


There are things that continue to amaze me about adoption all the time. Recently, I met friends of my uncle's. We were all at the beach together and the topic shifted to my new job. They asked polite questions which I answered as best I could (I had after all just started there) and we got to talking about their son who is starting to look at colleges. As parents who's first child is going away to college, they had a lot of questions that a recent grad could answer. I have no problem answering questions about any topic, so we had a nice chat and I felt like maybe I helped them calm down a little bit. Overall it was a nice conversation. Out of nowhere the friend asked me a question that really threw me for a loop.

"Your mother is a nurse, why didn't you go into nursing?" Now, he was talking about my adoptive mother and I can understand where the question came from. He did not know I'm adopted, and I didn't feel the need to bring it up. He was asking because his wife is a nurse and his seventeen year old daughter wants nothing to do with nursing as she's starting to look at schools with her brother. He mentioned that he knows several mother-daughter nursing combos and was wondering why some follow their mothers and others don't. Laying aside the sexist connotation to his suggestion, I struggled with the answer to give him. I backed off because a) we were at the beach which is not a great place to discuss personal things with all the extra ears around and b) I was with my aunt and uncle, who I love dearly but don't want to have this conversation in front of.

I gave the standard "I don't like blood and can't imagine dealing with it all the time. Also my mother was a pediatric nurse and I can't handle sick children. I guess that's why I never wanted to go into nursing because I didn't know there were other kinds." Stupid answer I know. However, that is the answer I used to give before my reunion. I always believed that there was something wrong with me that I didn't want to be a nurse. It's a noble profession. My mother had loved it, why couldn't I follow her path? She did raise me after all and her nursing skills were put to the test more than once.

In adoption however nothing is simple. My real answer is more complicated than a simple "I don't like blood". Had I had the courage to discuss the issue, I would have explained that my skill set was more inclined towards computers. I have always had a knack for them and was good at anything electronic since I was five. The joke in my family is that if it involves any type of circuitry, I'm the one who will figure it out fastest. This particular skill set propelled me to software engineering. Added to the fact that unbeknownst to me, my first family has a history of going into computer fields. My first grandfather owns and runs his own IT company and my first uncle is the vice president. It runs in the family. Without even trying, I ended up mostly in the family business.

It will never stop amazing me that there are stories like this out there, let alone that it's my story. It also amazes me how many times conversations of mine can take a turn towards adoption. At the moment I'm steering them away from that particular topic, but hopefully someday soon I'll be able to delve right in!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: Returning to Your Child's Origins

Is it good for the internationally adopted children - as children - to be taken back to see their first family , by their second family? And if so - under which circumstances? What are the possible dangers one should be aware of if planning to do so? What are things that should be taken into consideration, from the point of view of an adopted person looking back at the child's perspective?

I don't have the time I'd prefer to cover this topic.

In short, as an adoptee who has traveled twice to Korea to reunite with my original family and who still maintains contact, I answer with a resounding, YES, to the initial question. Yes, it is good for adoptees to be able to return to their original countries and families.

And yes, of course, there are always complications involved. There are always potential "dangers" emotionally, socially, etc., but that's just part of the package, folks. And you're not going to avoid emotional hardships by not engaging with your child's origins. In fact, you might ultimately end up doing more harm than good, particularly if you have a child that clearly shows signs of wanting to engage with his or her origins.

However, I say all this with some caveats. Firstly, reunion does not "fix" anything, and it can further complicate an already complicated situation. Secondly, the emotional complexities of reunion and maintaining contact with one's birth family require wisdom, patience, compassion, understanding, and maturity. I recommend seeking out your child's origins based on your child's maturity, circumstances, and desires. If your child is already expressing interest and initiates with you, then, heck yes, listen to your child and provide the appropriate support.

Ultimately, however, there are no simple answers to the above questions. How to proceed must be considered on a case by case basis. But in my small opinion, you want to always keep the door open, and if your child expresses a desire to walk through the door, don't prohibit or inhibit him or her. Of course, the delicate and fragile nature of reunions and maintaining contact with the original family requires discernment and wisdom, but let your child lead--meaning, read your child, both the overt and covert signs and expressions. And don't let others make you second guess yourself. You know your child better than other parents.

I will also say to be ready for heavy emotional processing if you do take the leap, both for you and your child. The processing might be veiled or it might be in your face, but either way, pay attention and realize that returning to one's origins, whether the adoptee is 5 or 55 will have profound effects. This is not dangerous, just scary at times for both the parent and the child. Face it head on, though. Don't fear it. You don't want to teach your child to fear his or her emotions about his or her adoption and reunion. You want to teach your child to deal with it all in a productive and healthy way. Avoidance accomplishes the exact opposite.

My parents took me back to Korea when I was 10. Neither they nor I knew what to look for back then, but as I recall that time in my life, I was heavily processing. I wish my parents and I had known how to make the most of it. But instead we let those opportunities slip by and I became a darkly suppressed individual.

The "dangers" adoptive parents should concern themselves with are not whether returning to your child's country is good or bad, but rather whether you are creating an environment that suppresses or cultivates those origins. Whatever you decide, remember that your child's origins are always with him or her. The very thing that you fear will not be avoided by avoiding your child's origins. They are inextricably who your child is.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lost & Found

Something dawned on me the other day about being adopted that I had never thought about before. And, believe me when I say I've spent a lifetime thinking about adoption because, as an adoptee, it IS my life. In finding the adoption community and working with, communicating with, and becoming close to other adoptees I have found them to be some of the most considerate, loving, nonjudgmental, and supportive people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Now, this is not a small case study for me either.  I've been involved in adoption reform, support groups, healing sessions, conferences, seminars, and education for nearly thirteen years now.  The adoptee population is made up from every segment and portion of the population nationally and internationally. Being adopted crosses all social, ethnic, age, educational, and religious boundaries.

I've had the pleasure of working with thousands of other adoptees over the course of my discovering these group's existence.  I've been a witness to strangers reaching out to people they do not know, and friendships forming across miles between people who may or may not ever meet face to face.  So how can this be? And, what do we all have in common?  My opinion, the realization of how important it is to be understood and accepted for whatever experience we have in life and the right to express it openly without fear of being labeled or judged by those with no understanding of the issues and concerns adoptees face day to day.

I wonder if in being adopted it makes us so more introspective about ourselves? And, in attempting to constantly figure ourselves out and where we fit in the world and who we are, we more deeply examine ourselves and our motives, desires, and actions and their impact on others and the world around us? Because it seems to me that we, as adoptees, are more open hearted, understanding, and able to comprehend how we effect other people (not all I never deal in absolutes).  Maybe as we have had our voices, our issues, and our struggles dismissed, discounted, and misunderstood, that we go out of our way to not to project that onto others and try and instead to take the opposite path of being careful of preconceived notions and inaccurate view points in interacting with others? 

Maybe, despite the pain and loss and trauma so many of us experience from our adoption experience we can refuse to be closed off and shut down to participating in helping those in need, adopted or not.  Whether it is simply a kind word or gesture and lending an ear or a shoulder when needed.  Helping in a search in whatever capacity we can.  And or, spending precious time, energy, and money working to change an unjust system so that no one else has to struggle like we have if it can be prevented.  Adoptees in my eyes are some of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of not being related to in any biological or adoptive form, but call “family” anyway.

I am still angry and sometimes bitter.  I certainly still feel lost to the system of adoption.  But, I am found in unconditional understanding and acceptance by so many other adoptees who over and over extend benevolence and charity to others, in the face of overwhelming adversity.  And, isn’t that what “family” is for?

Our Other, Other Mother

"Gosh, Amanda, how many moms do you have?!" I can imagine people (non-adopted) thinking when I talk about all the moms in my life.  I have something like five moms, really.  I have a first mom, an adoptive mom, a mother-in-law, a foster mom, and my paternal aunt, who has become like a mother-figure to me on my paternal side, which I like, because I will never meet the man who fathered me.  Of course, when people ask about "my mom" as most people mean when they say "mom," I answer about only two: my first and my adoptive.  When it comes to adoption, we're all accustomed to the "what do your a-parents think?!" whenever an adoption topic comes up but interestingly enough, few people have ever asked me what my mother-in-law thinks.

When I was first searching, reuniting, and meeting my first mom, my mother-in-law did not really say a whole lot about it or ask me very many questions.  I never really wondered why until someone volunteered that she may have her own challenges to overcome with my reunion because I have children with her son.  Now the grandchildren are not only "shared" between two grandmothers, but three.  Will this mean less time and fewer holidays spent with her because there are more grandmothers/grandparents to visit?

The only response to this suggestion I had to was to let out a heavy sigh.

So many people's feelings to worry about, so many people to please, where is this mythical, legendary "triad" or "triangle" people reference that suggests one single adoption only impacts and involves three parties?

When your son marries an adopted woman, I suppose adoption impacts your life too.  As I increasingly grow more aware of just how many people in several families that just one adoption can impact, I can't go into "make everything wonderful for everyone" mode.  This is my life; this is how it is.  What is best for me and my kids, and yes, even better for my husband too (not saying it is best for anyone or everyone else) is for us to have all of my families in our lives.  It may be difficult for others and even hard for them to understand but I just have to trust that they will support what is best for me because that is what being family is all about.  So, no more worrying about it.

What has your mother-in-law said/thought about your adoption/reunion?

Saturday, August 13, 2011


AMERICAN INDIAN ADOPTEES: Lost Children, Lost Ones, Lost Birds: HEAR ME READ LIVE: SATURDAY - 8 pm EST: "Author Trace A. DeMeyer reads from her book One Small Sacrifice Secret adoptions had a purpose - to break up North American Indian familie..."

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm really only eleven.....

I was lost for over 39 years.  That was, until I petitioned the adoption courts for my non-identifying information and received a letter (non-id of course) from my biological mother.  And then, found the online and offline adoption community.  It has been a whirlwind of change ever since.

My whole life I could never connect the dots between what I was, to what I was told I should be.  My adoptive parents continually told me everything about me was wrong.  Maybe not so much in those exact words but many times it WAS in those exact words.  Adjectives like “crazy”, “liar”, and “horrible” were terms applied to me on a regular basis.  I could never understand what it was that they thought was so bad.  They looked at me and only saw a child that was nothing like them (meaning "wrong").  I was being the only thing I knew how to be, myself.

My husband is still appalled and shocked at how my adoptive mother speaks about and to me.  I am not.  I am used to being “tolerated” by them and long ago gave up this changing into any sort of love or support.  Comments like “Well, we love ya but we don't like ya much” <insert severe southern twang> resonates in my soul some still.  I'll admit it still hurts, but it no longer devastates me.

Why?  Because now I have so many other adoptees I've joined hands, hearts, and arms with to help others in the quest to realize how adoption has affected them, and in what ways they too can learn to heal.  That is why I am adamant about remaining in adoption reform and education until all adoptees have what they need, the truth about themselves.  

This week I got to educate pro-adoption advocates, most who were not adoptees or biological parents, on the realities of adoption.  They were actually realizing there was so much about it they were unaware of.  Some people were asking questions and wanting honest answers to be provided to them.  I've actually recruited one or more to foster care and adoption reform who were asking for information on how to become involved in changing the system.  To work with us to eradicate the secrecy, fraud, and lies from children and future adults lives.  It's exhilarating experiences like this that can take me from feeling the defeat of being raised in an abusive adoption situation gone wrong, to feeling triumphant in educating the world to the wrongs of adoption, and offerings solutions to right it. 

Such a total waste of life for any person to wait until they are 40 years old, or some later as LDA's (late discovery adoptees) do, to find out who they really are.  But, not having the truth about yourself can often do that.  Some too, are never able to find it and spend their lives searching for it.  That is wrong on so many levels it makes even the most advanced video games look simplistic.  Not that I know much about video games except what I've heard.  I don't have time for them nor do I like them.  Because my own life has been reduced to a game of seek and find, and sometimes with unfair, outdated, archaic adoption laws "destroy", but unfortunately it's not pretend, it is very much reality.

I'm such a different person now than I was at age 40.  It's like looking back at whole other, or really "unwhole", person.  I'm still trying to fit the pieces together and the puzzle is far from complete.  I joke and tell people I am really only eleven years old.   It gets a chuckle and laughing about life is healing.  I look forward to growing up even more into the person I could have been long ago in better circumstances.  And, in my opinion, it's never too late to have a happy childhood. :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Adoptee Rights Demonstration 2011 Video

A video I made about the Adoptee Rights Demonstration this year.  Hope you can attend Chicago, 2012!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Show- Switched at Birth: Adoptee Related?

I've been watching the new show on ABC Family, the one where two girls are switched at birth and learn of the mistake at age 16. The show explores various aspects of the switch, how everyone deals with it, and other issues surrounding teenage issues. On top of it, one of the girls is deaf, which leads to further "What if?" scenarios because if she was raised by her biological family, she wouldn't have gotten the horrible disease that took her hearing. While these girls were not adopted, there are a lot of parallels. The acting isn't the greatest, there's a lot of drama that makes me personally roll my eyes, but I still love this show. I love it because it points out a lot of problems with adoption only in a more "acceptable" level because these girls were switched at birth, something that people feel sympathetic about.

I've made a few observations. *SPOILER ALERT* One of the mothers found out when the girls were three that there had been a switch. She hires an investigator who tracks down her daughter. She makes the choice to keep it a secret. Her raised daughter was already "hers" in her mind and her biological daughter was already "theirs". The show does a pretty good job in painting this decision as a bad one and everyone is pretty mad at her when it comes out (because secrets always come out). Her raised daughter is rightfully angry and lets her mother know it. She felt she had a right to know her family (much like adoptees feel they should have the right to know where they came from). The mother and her get into a big fight and the mother says that "she's" the one who made the daughter who she is. The speech is full of entitlement and doesn't come across well, but it's not supposed to. That's a common attitude with adoptive parents and it's shown for what it is, something that is about the parent, not always the child.

There is a huge feeling of "We all need to get along for the sake of the girls" and "It's important to know where you come from". The girls always felt like they didn’t belong (blonde blue eyed girl on one side, dark hair dark eyes on the other) and that they didn't quite fit with their parents. One of the fathers is missing through most of the season and just finally comes back. He approaches his biological daughter at an art show and she later brings him home to meet her parents. Cue WWIII. The parents (now like adoptive parents) are not happy they didn't have control over this situation freak out. They kick him out and try to find a way to control the situation. The conversation that the mom has with her raised daughter reminds me of adoptive parents who want complete control over their child's reunion. I get that this girl was only 16, but it's kind of silly to tell her that "there's a right way and a wrong way to initiate contact and he did it wrong" as if it explains why four adults can't get along. What is old enough to know? At what age do you want to know your background? When the girl and her father met for the first time, her first questions were "Where do I come from?" and "Why did you leave?" Ding ding ding! The adoptee in me was nodding along.

This show is fiction, but I think that it's a start. It's not really about adoptees, but I think it's a great thing to have these feelings and these issues out there in pop culture (though I'm not sure how big this show is). I also think that any show that attempts to start to change perceptions that biology doesn't matter is great in my book.

Has anyone else seen this show? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I know most of you follow Lorraine and Jane's blog  but in case you don't, or are, as we say in Australia, 'a blow in', here's her latest on reunions which I found most interesting and revealing.
I long ago came to the conclusion that only adoptees truly understand adoption from the adoptee point of view. Others try, make a good stab at it and often get the big picture, but fall short on some other aspects, like that of loss for instance. Our loss of attachment is not cured by reunion and in some circumstances might be made more difficult to deal with.
What Lorraine seems to bring out in her post is that adoptees are triggered by circumstances, events, remarks; nothing new to us, but clearly something not understood by some mothers who see and understandably feel it as something that makes reunion and establishing a relationship more difficult, if not at times impossible, inexplicable and painful. Adoptees too may not always understand the triggers and as most of you can state from your own experience, they arrive unbidden, unexpectedly and surprisingly when we sometimes least expect it or are prepared for it.
Perhaps the way forward is to begin a dialogue on such areas of difficulty, to seek support in reunion and to understand that it is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult things, we will ever do in terms of relationships.
 A comment, or part of one, from Kate Ingalls-Maloney, Adoptees Have Answers Manager on an article -
While the Star-Tribune article focuses on adoptees with challenging individual histories, let us not forget the multitude of adoptees whose stories may be less profound yet who nonetheless struggle with vestiges of their early loss - grief, abandonment and trust issues, identity confusion, and more.
Often adoptees simply need adopted peers to connect with to help them process emotions that, if unattended, can become immobilizing. AHA helps to fill this need. Families who provide their adoptees the emotional space to explore their own histories and psychology are our greatest partners in this effort.
The emphasis here is mine, while I certainly hope this group are doing a good job, as support is much needed from all quarters and wish them well. It is distressing to find a hierachy of adoptee loss indicated, in which some adoptees' stories and therefore lives and loss, are considered less profound than others.Perhaps all communities and communities of adoptees struggle with the fact that loss is loss, abuse is abuse and trauma is trauma and that those things cannot be rated on a scale of one to ten. We can never say 'You suffered more than I did' or 'My trauma was worse'. Where these ideas creep in, we know that we need to take special care not to be competitive, critical of the stories of others if they are unlike ours and judgemental where there is difference.
It is central to what is happening here in Australia. We are making some headway, but the attitudes of non-adoptees and the adoptees they influence, have resulted in a divided adoption community, sometimes in turmoil and trying to forge ahead to a new understanding and a new future. Change is coming; but as everywhere it is slow, laborious and sometimes difficult.
Congratulations on all of you who were in San Antonio and did such a wonderful job of promoting awareness, without it nothing changes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

We Came, We Protested, We ROCKED!!!

The Lost Daughters authors would like to thank the Adoptee Rights Coalition for another amazing demonstration.  I don't think very many people understand how intense the year-long planning process is nor how much work goes into planning something like this.

Several of our authors were able to attend.  I am hoping more ladies post their pictures and stories!

Lost Daughters author Allison and our friend and fellow activist Liz.

Liz, Lost Daughters author Allison, Cassi, and Lost Daughters author Amanda

Addie and Amanda and Lost Daughters author, Linda.

I will be posting a re-cap on my blog later tonight.

Photos are property of Amanda and are posted with permission of those that are pictured here.  Please ask before using.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Has Covert Adultism Made Feminists Forget Adopted Women?

Cross-posted at Declassified Adoptee.

Bloggers and commenters have been buzzing on feminism and adoption since Feministe asked a series of questions about how the two topics intersect. I was glad that I and other Adoptee Rights and Adoption Reform activists had the opportunity to talk about feminism and adoption from a perspective people least consider and least expect. The usual discourse of this topic in my experience centers around supporting the ability of the middle class woman to adopt while ignoring that this often takes place at the expense of marginalized women and impoverished families. Less often included in these discussions are perhaps the invisible group: adoptees, namely, female adoptees We experience the double oppression of being commodified twice over, first for the "adoption fee" placed on us often based on our gender, our age, our skin color, and other attributes, as well as experiencing the comodification that women endure in society.

I think most adoptee rights activists reading many of the comments by fellow feminists in the Feministe post would agree: there is an obvious need for the feminist community to be educated on adoption issues. This discourse should, of course, be lead by women who live adoption each and every single day. Some of the concepts stated there are certainly not the first time I have heard such things said; I would like to address some of them here, specifically highlighting how covert adultism shapes these views. You will notice in the ideals hailed as "feminist," adopted women get the short end every.single.time (and those of you who know me know that by saying this I do not mean to suggest that these things are uplifting of surrendering mothers either).

Note that these comments are not verbatim, rather, are quotes I've created from frequent concepts I saw expressed in the Feministe post, as well as from my experience hearing what other feminists have to say about adoption in-general.

"There is no right of a child to remain in his or her own original family because women have a right to choose not to parent."

This is a failure to understand what the right of the child to remain with his or her family means. It means that we understand how important it is for a child to be raised by her or his biological family whenever possible and will explore that option first before others. When a child is born to a family, this is the child's first family; separation is loss and we ought to seek to reduce the losses of children. This means that the biological parents have rights. If they are unable or unwilling to parent, then the extended family has rights. If they are unable or unwilling to parent, then the child has a right to remain in his or her own community, culture, and country of origin. Drastic loss should be a last resort and avoided whenever possible.
As I've explained, this does not at all mean "forcing" mothers to parent. The false claim that there are conflicting rights, and as a result the child can have no rights because the mother's rights are better, is morally reprehensible at best.

"Women have the right to choose not to identify as 'mother.' This means that perpetual anonymity for women who have surrendered babies to adoption is their right."

I agree that a woman should identify however she pleases. But this should not translate into the legal right to alter another woman's reality or negate another woman's right. What this says for an adopted women is "you have no right to know your origins because another woman says so." Where is the adopted woman's right to identify how she pleases and to define her own family relationships?

Feminists may feel they are protecting the right of one woman by saying birth certificates should be sealed or have conditional access allowed to them. But they are forgetting about the other woman it impacts. This means adopted women cannot be equal. It means their rights are conditional. It means that feminism has failed to see us, an entire group of women, as fully human.

"Adoption is important because it allows people who do not want to give birth to children or cannot give birth to children a way to form a family."

While it is true that many families have been formed through adoption (and by saying that I will also acknowledge the losses that many families also endure because of adoption, and the adoptee's loss of their original family). However, the needs of adults should not be the focus of adoption. Adoption should seek to find parents for kids (kids truly in need, without erasing their heritage); not kids for parents. Saying that the purpose of adoption is to form families for people who want to have a family turns children into a commodity.
And as I said previously, adopted women experience the double commodification of women in society, as well as in adoption.

"Parents who adopt children have a right to choose closed adoption so that they can form their family how they choose."

I take this to mean that the amount of information an adoptee is or isn't allowed to know about themselves (including being told nothing at all) as well as the amount of contact they are or are not allowed to have with their original family is dependent upon the wishes of their adoptive parents---for the purpose of allowing the adoptive parents to view their family how they choose. In other words: it's OK to pretend the adoptee's ties to their original family don't exist because the adoptive parents do not want to be reminded of them.

This not only ignores the reality of the daughter who has been adopted, it takes away the right of the original mother to identify as mother of her daughter. Everyone has a right to know about their life from chapter one: adoptees included. Whether an adoption is opened or closed, it should be about what is best for that particular adoptee, not the adults involved.

"I know an adoptee / first mother and they......"

Stop. Just stop. You cannot stand behind a friend, a friend's cousin's sister, someone you met one time, your hair dresser who is adopted, or your boyfriend's boss who surrendered a child to adoption, and pull the puppet strings--voicing our narratives for us.

Some more examples of unacknowledged privilege:

  • Those who do not think adoptees should have unrestricted access to their OBCs likely have unrestricted access to theirs.
  • Those who think adoptees have no right to know their roots likely know their own roots.
  • Those who think adoptees have no right to define their own family relationships likely have defined their own.
  • Those who have had trouble defining their own family relationships but are still insensitive to adoptees fail to understand that how they felt about being oppressed in this regard: adoptees feel the same way.
  • Those who do not think family medical history is a big deal likely have the knowledge of their own.
The scenario below has been adapted from "Shared Fate."

A woman desires to have a baby with her partner. However, since she has a family medical history of diabetes, grew up watching her own mother suffer with diabetes, and has had many problems and complications as having diabetes herself, she decides that it is best that she not have a biological child. So she uses a "donor" egg instead of one of her own eggs when she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter.

However, because of the "right" of the adults involved a.) to "donate" eggs anonymously and b.) to receive eggs from an anonymous "donor," the inequality of the daughter has been formed. While it was very important to her mother to have a child and avoiding that the child would also have diabetes, the manner in which this happened left the daughter born to her unable to make the same decisions for herself. Half of this daughter's medical history is unknown.

The daughter will have half of the available information to make her own decisions as her mother had for her own (just because someone is healthy at one point in their life does not mean that other issues will not arise later, e.g. after the "donation" has been made). If donor sperm was also used or if she had adopted instead, then it is likely her daughter will have none of the same information about herself to make the same health care choices. This is not because the information wasn't there. It is because "anonymity" for the adults s involved was more important than the daughter's right to information. This imbalance remains the same even after the adoptee or donor conceived adult reaches the age of majority. The position of "child" and the imbalance of rights is perpetual for us.

How is that fair?

I do not mean to say that the above points and quotes made by feminists, though they seem to want to uphold the best interests of surrendering mothers, are actually uplifting to or are actually respectful of surrendering mothers. I read adoption research, I know many, many mothers of loss and I do not at all recognize perpetual anonymity or children's rights being opposed to their rights to be at all something that respects them or acknowledging to how they feel. These points and quotes were summaries of ideas expressed by women who had not surrendered children to adoption. This is a form of ventroloquism: where someone speaks on behalf of a marginalized person as to how they "imagine" how they feel or how they thinks a-friend-who-has-experienced-this feels.

I also do not mean to say that the above quotes and points made by feminists are in fact upholding of feminist values. As someone mentioned to me in the comments section of a previous post, feminism is about seeing women, all women, as fully human. It is about seeing women as equal. This means considering that adoptees are in fact women and that their rights deserve equal consideration to the rights of others. Lording the "adult" and "parent" position over adoptees past adulthood is not feminism, it is adultism. Treating children as if their culture, language, narrative, original information and original identities do not and are never allowed to matter because the adults may feel differently is adultism.

No, the quotes and points made by feminists above do not demonstrate feminism to me at all. Instead, they show that there is a need for dialogue about adoption within feminism where those women who have experienced adoption and live adoption lead. It shows that adultism and ventroloquism need to be replaced with a genuine desire to listen, to learn, and to acknowledge adopted women as all women: fully human.

Please note that I acknowledge that there are adoptees who identify with genders other than female and that issues for them are the same as I've described here for females. I acknowledge the same for donor concieved individuals. As this post is about feminism, I am specifically mentioning women to demonstrate the power balance of women within adoption which feminists tend to ignore or be oblivious to. Donor conception was not a part of the Feministe discussion and I regret not inclusing these individuals more in my responses.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Didn't Think Adoption Was THAT Bad Until...

-        I learned that something really bad changed in my maternal source after she ‘went away’
-        I learned that my biological father DID want me and tried to keep me
-        I found out that my paternal grandmother wanted me and tried to keep me
-        I realized that the secret of my existence created walls and pain throughout my biological family – both sides
-        I realized that my maternal ½ sisters were so poisoned against me that they won’t even acknowledge me
-        I realized that forcing me away again and again was easier for maternal source than ever looking in my eyes
-        I realized that my first few months of life, I was in limbo – neither here nor there, belonging nowhere
-        I found out that there was extended family willing to take me in
-        I found out that there is a long history of teenage pregnancy in my bio-families, yet I was the only one who was adopted out to strangers
-        I realized that I’ll never fit in
-        I found out that giving away a child is a life-changing experience that affects not only the maternal source, but deep into extended family
-        I found family members were deceased before I was ever able to meet them
-        I realized that my sisters had to grow up with me as a ghost
Elaine Penn