Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When Grief Goes Unrecognized

I've always been a crier. Some would probably call me a cry baby. I regularly bawl while watching movies and reading books. My eyes even tear up when I hear good things about my kids from their teachers.

So it didn't surprise me when I cried while sharing a personal piece of writing for the first time with a classroom full of other aspiring authors. Putting myself on display always makes me nervous, plus I had written about my private thoughts and feelings. I just needed to get used to talking about myself and I would be fine.

Only I wasn't. During my first semester in graduate school, I broke down in tears several times while reading my work out loud. Every time it happened, I felt more than embarrassed. I felt flawed. There must be something wrong with a woman in her forties who can't read a few paragraphs without going off on a crying jag.

Over the next year, I worked very hard at maintaining composure whenever I had to read my own writing. I learned to focus on the sound of the words rather than their meaning, so that I could make it through a piece with dry eyes.

But then I worked on an assignment directly related to adoption. At the end of the semester when it came time for each of us to discuss our projects, I literally broke down sobbing in class. I was so sure I had gotten a handle on my emotions, but there I went again, crying like a little girl. What in the world was wrong with me?

After my humiliating presentation, the woman seated beside me leaned over and whispered, "It's the grief." The grief. I hadn't thought of that. She and I had been in the same critique group in the class, and in order to explain my interest in adoption, I had shared some of my own story. She also happened to be a counselor. And she immediately recognized what I never had, that I was still grieving the loss of my biological family.

Why had I not realized this before? I had certainly longed for my birth relatives even as a child. I remember consciously admitting to myself that I wanted to find out about them when I was in my teens. I also remember feeling lonely and depressed and being angry much of the time, though I didn't know what I was so mad about.

Even though reuniting with both of my birth parents answered many of the questions I'd had, I still carry around this weight that until recently I wasn't able to name. Now I know it's the grief. It's the little girl inside of me who is still crying over what she lost, who still wishes she could have grown up with her own biological family. It doesn't matter to the child me that the grown up me understands why I was relinquished and adopted. The child me was never able to admit she lost something important, so she never went through the typical grieving process one does when they miss someone who was dear to them.

In a way, knowing my birth parents has made my loss more profound. It was easier to accept the course of my life when they were just dream people I imagined. It was easier to blame my hypersensitivity on other things. Now that I know how my birth relatives look and sound and behave, the life I missed out on has become a sort of alternate universe where I can never go. My grief is no longer something I can hold in. When I try to ignore it, it bursts out and makes me take notice.

I'm hoping that since I now understand why I've been so fragile, I'll be able to deal with my emotions openly rather than bottling everything inside as I've done in the past. Admitting the magnitude of my loss to myself was the first step. Talking about it feels like a good second step. All I can do is keep taking steps.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Adoption and Grandparents

Our family relationships extend beyond our parents and siblings. What's your experience been like with your extended family (either adoptive/natural or both)? How does adoption play into those relationships (or not)?

"Broken Heart" by Gabriela Camerotti
at PhotoRee
Growing up, I was extremely close to my maternal grandmother.  I have fond memories of overnight visits where we would sleep back to back, her top arm draped lightly over my body.  Our visits had a predictable rhythm.  She would paint my nails, fingers and toes.  I'd rummage through her jewelry box then parade around wearing her treasures. In the morning we'd sip coffee, hers black and mine with plenty of cream, from a china cups that clinked against their saucers.

It was at her house that I often donned my mother's green taffeta and chiffon bridesmaid dress and twirled to the music of The Lawrence Welk Show.  She made my christening gown, the same dress my daughter wore for her baptism,  and countless other outfits.  I was her first grandchild of five, her only granddaughter, and I was treasured beyond measure.

In a time when the popular advice was to let babies "cry it out", my grandma told my mother to hold me as much as I needed.  Thanks to my grandmother's wisdom, I was rocked, walked, bounced, and snuggled with a tenacity that would delight even most ardent attachment theorist.  It's impossible to know how much I was held in my foster home.  What I do know is that those were the days when fussy, grieving babies awaiting adoption were sometimes drugged to keep us calm and quiet, and that a bottle of phenobarbital accompanied me to my adoptive home, along with information on the dosage I'd been receiving.  Knowing what we now know about human development, I can only think that the high level of physical contact my grandma encouraged was greatly beneficial to me.

Did adoption affect our relationship?  It's hard to say.  It didn't seem to, but then, we didn't really discuss it.  I was little after all. I was never her adopted granddaughter, as some grandparents say, and I've never thought of her as my adoptive grandmother.  She was just my grandma.  Today, the term adoptive mom sounds normal to me.  I've been discussing adoption online long enough that I've had to do a fair amount of clarifying to let people know which mother I'm talking about.  I can acknowledge it as truthful without it taking on a negative connotation. But adoptive grandma? It has hard edges.  It seems like such a poor description of what we had.  Yet it's true.

Would she approve today of my activism?  Of my speaking out against harmful adoption practices? Would she see it as a slight to her daughter, or would she be proud of my efforts to elicit change?  I have no way of knowing.

I recently met my biological paternal grandparents.  I think it was hard for them.  It being everythingAll of it. Not just meeting me, but having the past dredged up again, having to deal with things they thought were behind them.  Difficult things.  Because in the 1960's an out-of-wedlock pregnancy was certainly difficult.

They didn't want to meet me at first.  I don't begrudge them that because I understand a fair bit of the mind-set of the time thanks to hours of discussion and books like Ann Fessler's The Girls Who Went AwayI suppose though that if I allow myself to admit it, it did hurt. All I knew of them for 43 years came from two short paragraphs. Hair color. Eye color. Height. Occupation. Nationality. Allergies.  This was the totality of my heritage, and I clung to it.  How many times did I pour over their descriptions?  And yet they did not share my delight when the possibility of meeting arose.  Twice my grandmother declined the opportunity to meet me. 

When we did finally meet, they were gracious, and I think maybe even a little relieved. They wanted to know what my life had been like with my adoptive family.  They said they remembered the day I was born.  My grandmother gave me a tour of the house and showed me the family pictures adorning the walls.  I wondered, as she pointed out all the grandchildren, if she thought about the fact that her oldest grandchild was missing from the photos. 

We hugged and took pictures.  They let each of my children choose two stuffed animals.  They told me to keep in touch, that they would like to know how I'm doing, and that they hoped I would stop by and see them the next time I was in town.  I think they meant it.  I think that meeting me was probably much easier than the anxiety that precipitated the visit. 

As pleased as I was to meet them, my emotions were surprisingly tepid.  I felt like I was meeting my father's parents, rather than my grandparents.  It was like meeting someone else's family, rather than my own. 

Perhaps that was because we have no shared memories, or maybe it was because they weren't as adoring of me as my adoptive grandparents had always been. Though my relationships with my paternal adoptive grandparents were not as intimate as those with my maternal adoptive grandmother, they were still very loving. My dad's family was a bit louder than my mom's.  Quite a bit, actually.  There were six other granddaughters, and three of them lived close enough for very frequent contact.  They knew our grandparents better than I did, and their outgoing personalities and tom-boyish interests provided an avenue for my grandfather to relate to them in ways that he couldn't relate to me.  I was the quiet, gentle, studious one.  Prized. Delicate. They loved me, but I'm not sure they ever knew quite what to do with me.  I think they thought I might break.

One particular memory of my grandfather stands out.  I was a young adolescent. We had just arrived at their home and they were greeting us at the car.  My grandfather reached out and swept a lock of my long hair behind my shoulder.  It was a tentative, tender gesture that said more than any words.  I knew I was loved.

My adoptive grandparents are all gone now.  Three of them passed away in our home.  I remember their gaunt faces, their labored breathing.  I remember both the peace and the emptiness that accompanied their passing.  I was blessed to share in their final weeks and moments. 

Now there are new opportunities, new relationships to build, blessings I had not dared to hope for.  How strange and wonderful to find at 43 years of age that I still have grandparents walking this earth. 

How sad that we are strangers. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Grandparents and Adoptees

Is at a difference in the way one becomes a grandparent, biology or legally … I’m not too sure but I’m starting to think that it is. 

Why else would there be special classes aimed at future or soon to be grandparents. I am a intercountry Korean adoptee so naturally my now parents attended adoption education courses, but at the time of my birth in the middle 80s there were few if none for prospective grandparents.

Picture Shaula Haitner via PikiWiki on the 9th of August 
I wonder what they discuss at these classes the grandparents I mean, do they have to talk about ethnicity and race … ? I’m guessing that they do. Although I love my grandma there are times, I have to admit that she really manages to upset and irritate me. I don’t think she’s aware of it , or would understand my feelings if I tried to tell her how upset she makes me. My grandma adamantly refuses to acknowledge my new name (which deserves an entry all to itself) she seems oblivious or ignorant to the fact that I’m not ethnically her granddaughter yet she manages to present  rather contradictory sides of herself whenever she mentions my birth family; my first family.

She seems to think and I’m quite convinced that the adoption process and approval somehow managed to erase my ethnical belonging because to her I’m as Swedish as can be as she once told me. For obvious reasons such a statement doesn’t exactly make me happy or helps to further lighten up my day. And I think you could see why it wouldn’t….

It’s true of course that I legally speaking belong to another family and even learned their ways, habits and values. However nothing can change the fact there once was other parents that looked forward to my birth … I know it might seem totally unnecessary and unexplainable at that but whenever grandma makes a statement such as the above it honestly only manages to produce a rather unwelcoming feeling of infuriation inside me. Because too me she’s not only insulting me but furthermore or more importantly she is insulting to me and my birth parents.

Maybe she can’t help to think the way she does because I and my brother are the only grandchildren on our mother’s side… So you see grandma has no other children that she can call herself a grandmother of, maybe she just doesn’t know the difference because nobody bothered to tell her. And now it may all be too late because my grandma is quite old… And grandma is the only grandparent that is still living, my dad’s parents have both passed as my grandfather did very long ago.

It Follows Me

Rudy and I were on our way to meet up with my sisters for the first time. I was nervous as heck (understandably) so Rudy was a gentleman and offered to drive. I spend most of the ride staring out the window trying to focus on my breathing. We got stuck in traffic (the worst) so I was trying my hardest to keep calm. My natural father called me, a call which I naturally missed because I was focusing out the window and missed the standard "buzz buzz" of the phone.  I listened to his voice mail wondering why he was calling.  Were they cancelling?  They'd already pushed the time back an hour due to a rescheduled previous commitment.  Could I handle that?  The voice mail itself offered no clues as he merely asked that I call him back. My panic rose. What if they cancelled?  What would I do?  I took a deep breath and dialed.  He answered right away.  He just wanted to let me know they were leaving and asked again where we were meeting even though I thought we'd figured that out the night before.  Sigh.  We confirmed that we'd meet near a particular store and I hung up pretty quickly.  I did not want to talk on the phone.  I just wanted to meet my sisters.

Back I went to my glazed over look.  I counted cars as they passed by.  I read bumper stickers.  I absentmindedly hummed along with the songs on the radio.  Anything to pass the time in traffic.  A song came on that I hated.  My blood pressure was high enough without listening to something annoying so I changed the station.  I got to hear a special treat on my choice of a new station!  It was a country top forty show, one of the ones where listeners can write in letters and sometimes they get read over the air.  This weeks letter was from an adoptee.  I kid you not.  Here I am, on my way to meet my sisters for the first time, and the letter was from a reunited adoptee.

Rudy and I looked at each other as the letter went on.  Long story short, the adoptee grew up happy in a fantastic adoptive family, just like me.  She started searching because she realized just how important it was to have an accurate family medical history, just like me.  She was able to easily find her natural parents, just like me.  Her natural mother didn't want anything to do with her, similar to me.  Her natural father did, just like me for a while.  Her father had other children, with whom she had a fantastic relationship with.  How much I hoped that would be just like me too!  The letter ended with the adoptee writing that she finally felt like she belonged and how happy she was in her reunion.  It was her "Live Like You Were Dying" moment.

Rudy started laughing first, and I shortly joined in.  I've never heard something like that on the radio before.  I've heard about others hearing things like that, but I've never actually been privy to a radio or television plug before.  Rudy had to catch his breath before he was able to choke out, "Oh my goodness, it follows you everywhere!"  It really does though.  No matter where I go, I seem to find references to adoption.  I can't escape it.  There's the overheard conversation about adoption.  There's the adoptive parent I work with.  There's the sign on the bus we're talking on our way back to the sign-making party.  There's this on the radio.  I'm constantly being bombarded with adoption stories and advertisements no matter where I go or how much I try to avoid it.  Or perhaps everyone is and I just notice it more.  Either way, Rudy says he only seems to notice it when he's with me.

I got to meet my sisters an hour later.  We met in a crowed public place during the height of tourist season.  I'm sure we looked like an interesting group.  Very clearly we were a family unit, or at least we should have been a family unit.  We looked like we fit together.  We're all around the same height with the same facial features and the same coloring.  My sisters and I are nearly carbon copies of each other.  We even sound alike.  We have some of the same mannerisms, have similar accents, and our personalities are pretty alike.  My youngest sister was even wearing an outfit I nearly chose for myself.  To someone on the outside, it must have seemed like a normal family outing.  An observant person would have noticed how everyone looked just a touch uncomfortable, or how a few people weren't really speaking to each other.  Or that the conversation was pretty basic, getting to know you sorts of things.  I'm not sure what I would have made of it.

There will be things that I'll always remember about the day that I met my sisters for the first time.  And I have hope for the future that I'll be like that adoptee on the radio.  I want to have a successful reunion with my sisters more than anything and so far, it seems like we're on the right path.  So I'm going to live like I'm dying and enjoy this time with them.  I'm going to focus on the good things in our relationship and look forward to the future.  And when adoption seemingly follows me everywhere, I'm going to smile because now I've reclaimed something that was taken away from me, a chance to get to know my sisters.  It's a chance I for one will not throw away.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Open the Door and See all the People

Guest Submission by Michele Leavitt

'Union-Station-version-2' photo (c) 2011, photoguyinmo - license:
The train’s slower, more ragged pace woke me.  Outside my murky window, an illuminated monument pointed toward the night sky. “Washington,” I thought, “a twenty-minute layover.” I stashed my bags under the seat and ran from the underground platform up to find a payphone. I had to reach my brother, to tell him that an early spring snowstorm in Boston had delayed my train to Savannah, that I would be arriving late to meet him and the rest of my family for the very first time.

Lateness frightened me; I was already too late to meet my mother, who had been dead for a year, who had given me up thirty-three years before, when I was an infant and she was fifteen.

No one answered my brother’s phone. I ran back down to the platform, but my train had vanished as if my plans to finally meet my family had been smoke.  Back up in the station, I discovered this stop was Baltimore (home of another illuminated monument), and my train had paused only to discharge old passengers and take on new ones before chugging off.  “I’ll bet you see people thinking this is D.C all the time,” I said to the Baltimore stationmaster, a compact, wiry man who was welded into his uniform. He didn’t stop looking through schedules for a way to reunite me with my train and my belongings, and he didn’t look at me, but he said “Lady, I have never seen this happen before.”

He helped me, though. Thanks to the deadpan stationmaster, I caught up with my train in D.C., breathless at my near miss.  “You’ll never believe what just happened,” I said, spilling my story to my seatmate, a businessman with a briefcase on his knees.  He yawned. Another person bored by my drama.

The train pushed south through the night into a late March dawn, and the vegetation alongside the tracks grew increasingly green, increasingly intertwined.  I scanned the trackside of each town for southern place names all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, and my breath sputtered as we crossed the Savannah River into the place I am from.  A Southern girl, raised in the North, with a lifelong hankering for soft evening air.

A group of small people stood huddled close together on the platform where the trains’ first car stopped. My sister – I knew it was her from the photos she had sent – stood with a cigarette spiking up from one petite hand, her shoulders seemingly weighed down by the fringe on her suede jacket. 

For about a month before I arrived in Savannah, I had been writing letters and talking on the telephone with my five brothers and my sister, my two aunts, my uncle. I was ready to love them, but I was not ready for the sensation of my sister’s small hand in my small hand, for seeing my own eyes staring out from my brothers’ faces. I was not ready for their exclamations – just like Momma’s – over my hair, my eyes, my hands, my feet.

When I found them, I found the difference between being loved by people who bring you into their lives and being loved by people into whose lives you have been born. In some ways, it’s as simple as the difference between thinking about what you have in common with others and experiencing, through your five senses, what you have in common. For my family, even when time and distance separates us, even when we betray or disappoint one another, we come back to the flesh and blood we have in common, to our way of thinking in metaphor, to our startling laughter and our easy tears.

I had felt like an outsider all of my life until I got off of that train in Savannah. Today, I am a woman stretched: one foot in the North, one in the South, one hand holding onto my family, one hand holding on to my life before I met them, one foot in the door and one foot out. The stretching keeps the door open.

Michele was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1957 and privately adopted soon after. When she was twenty-one years old, a favorite cousin told her she was adopted. The day she learned this truth was one of the happiest days of her life.  In 1992, she hired a search professional and was reunited with her original family. Michele has been a high school dropout, a trial attorney, a teacher, and a hepatitis C survivor.  Her poetry and prose appear recently in The Journal, Dogwood, Platte Valley Review, PerContra, The Tower Journal and MezzoCammin: an online journal of formalist poetry by women.  She blogs at Michele Leavitt: Poetry and Prose and Unity House.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Adopted Ones

by Deanna Shrodes
Over the years, I've noticed how people point out adopted children in newspaper articles, or in various introductions. It's never just, "Isabella and Connor, the two children of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman," but it's "Isabella and Connor, the two adopted children of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman."

 Here's just one example, published today.  In every single news article that's ever caught my eye about Cruise/Kidman that has included a reference to their children, the word adoption or adopted is also contained in the article.

If being adopted is no big deal and we're just the same, why make this distinction about us all the time?

Recently those in my circle of friends and acquaintances have been asked to pray for couple whose two children survived a terrible accident and are hanging on for dear life. In hundreds of pieces of written communication about the accident, whether personal or in the media, it has been noted that those surviving are their two "adopted children."

Each time I read it I bristle.

My heart breaks. I pray fervently for their recovery. And yet I want to scream, "will you please quit referring to  these two kids as the 'adopted ones', all the time?"

Why does this bother me?

I believe it's because on one hand so many people in the world seem to think it's no big deal to be adopted. What are any of us all whipped up about or trying to heal from?

On the other hand, they don't hesitate to introduce us as the "adopted ones."

And to that I say, you can't talk out both sides of your mouth.

If they're going to refer to us as "the adopted ones" all the time, then maybe they should get a clue about the fact that we have so much to unpack by virtue of being adopted.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Adoptee Reaction to Timothy Green

by Karen Pickell

A new Disney movie, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, opened in theaters this week. I saw the film's preview several times in the past month, and I have to tell you, I had a very strong reaction to the premise.

Here's a description from Disney's official synopsis:
". . . an inspiring, magical story about a happily married couple, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up on their doorstep one stormy night, Cindy and Jim—and their small town of Stanleyville—learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life’s greatest gifts."
In the preview, we see the young couple seated across from a doctor who seems to be breaking the bad news that they won't be able to have children of their own. Then we see them scribble a wish list for their child onto scraps of paper, which they place in a box that they bury in their backyard. Lo and behold, some time later a child appears on their doorstep. Apparently he sprouted from their wishes buried in the garden. He has stems and leaves growing out of his ankles to prove it.

No doubt Disney intends this to be a feel-good, tearjerker of a movie. The preview alone almost moved me to tears, though not the feel-good kind. I immediately felt anger rising up in me at the idea of an adopted child being portrayed as sprouting full grown out of nowhere, with no messy past to deal with, no biological ties to worry about.

Sorry, Disney, there's nothing magical about being an adopted child. We weren't created just to fulfill the wishes of perfect couples struck with the misfortune of not being able to conceive. We do have pasts. We came from somewhere, from someone. One of the first things that happened to us was being removed from everything we knew and being placed into a completely foreign situation with strangers. How dare you reduce our tremendous loss to a little dirt disturbed in a garden!

I don't think I'll be able to stomach watching this movie, but I'd love to hear from other adoptees who do. Let me know your reaction to this "magical story" in the comments here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What Does "Ambivalent Adoptee" Mean?

"When my mother gave me up, she...."

That's how much I was able to get out before I was interrupted.

"Your mother didn't 'give you up.'  She made an 'adoption plan.'  There's a difference.  Making an 'adoption plan' is a loving choice.  You make it sound like she abandoned you!"  A person at the adoption discussion group inserted, feeling compelled to correct me.

"Since you haven't yet heard a thing about my adoption, you don't really know that.  You're just asking for me to change the way that I speak so adoption can look to you how you want it to look.  The fact of the matter is, no, she did not 'abandon' me, and I never said she did.  I was going to describe to you the feeling of loss I experience as a result of being adopted anyway.  You are suggesting that because my mother may have loved me or wanted adoption for me, that I can never have a sad feeling on the topic," I replied, trying not to sound incensed.  

I continued, "If you must know, she felt pressured during the adoption process, and she didn't feel like any plan she made was really her's.  Adoption has been lifelong pain and grief for her.  What I was trying to say is that better protections and advocacy should have been in place for her, and for all mothers, so that after receiving unbiased support they can know that adoption was really their decision," I finished.

"Oh, well now you just sound 'angry,'" she dismissively hissed at me.  Her cheeks were burning a hot red hue as a result of my dissent.

So do you, I thought to myself. You're angry on behalf of an institution.  I'm angry on behalf of the people in it.

"I like to think I'm angry about things that matter," I muttered.  

Shut down by the "angry" label, I didn't say anything else for the rest of the discussion.

Recently, someone asked me, "What does 'ambivalent adoptee' mean?"  She wondered this after reading the term in adult adoptee writing.  Why do many adoptees make the specific distinction that they are "ambivalent?"  "Ambivalent adoptee" is a re-framing of the "angry adoptee" label.

 The infamous and stereotypical "angry adoptee" label sets up a framework for how others ought to view an adoptee and what the adoptee says.  "Angry adoptee" suggests that a given adoptee is completely irrational.  Because an "angry adoptee" is "irrational," then listeners can be satisfied that nothing the adoptee says is valid. "Ambivalent adoptee" exposes the unreasonable expectations given to adoptees regarding how they must think, feel, or talk in order to avoid being shut down by being labeled as "angry."

If I said that the institution of marriage is perfect, people would laugh at me.  

If I said that the institution of education in the U.S. was ideal, people would call me ignorant.  

If I said that the institution of religion is perfect and that there are no controversies in religion, people would debate me vehemently on that. 

If I said that the institution of medicine is flawless and that we have a cure for every disease, people would ask me what planet I live on.

However, when I say anything that sounds even remotely negative about adoption, people call me an "angry adoptee" and suggest there's an issue with the way that I think or how I was raised. 

"Labels are for cans," as the saying goes.  But like it or not, people are going to give you labels so you might as well determine which ones you want and how you identify. The phrase "ambivalent adoptee" suggests that being adopted is much like being involved in any other institution where there are both happy and sad parts about it.  It helps other people, especially those who are not adopted, use their own ambivalence about events in their life to identify with the fact that the adoptee has ambivalent feelings about the institution of adoption just the same.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Adoptee Rights Protest - Chicago 2012

Now that I’ve returned home from Chicago, I had a thought today about how it felt like to be in the majority, instead of the minority.  Sitting at the sign-making party Sunday night was one of the first times I could look around the room and know that the majority of the people sitting at my table and the tables close by were either adopted or within the adoption triad and/or were married to someone in the triad.


What an awesome feeling to just be understood without having to explain.  Nobody at the party asked me how adoptees are discriminated against.  Nobody asked me how it felt to be adopted.  Nobody asked me about my “real parents”.   We just colored our protest signs and ate our pizza and enjoyed getting to know one another.

Don’t get me wrong . . .I value these questions from the non-adopted as an opportunity to educate (ok, I admit if I’m in the wrong mood, these questions can irritate me) but that is part of what I signed up for when I became an adoptee rights activist and adoption blogger.  People look to me and my fellow adoptee bloggers as a source of knowledge. 

Truth be told, we are no more knowledgeable about how it feels to be adopted than any other adoptee; however, we just happen to be the ones writing about adoption. I will make two exceptions. One for our founder here at Lost Daughters (Amanda). She is definitely an expert on all things adoption.  Reading her recent post at Declassified Adoptee about how to contact the legislature and explaining adoption terminology, I felt like I just received a bachelors degree in Adoptee Rights Lobbying.
I would say the same for John Greene (pictured left), one of the driving forces in opening Rhode Island’s sealed birth certificates this year.  Speaking with him for hours on the bus, in the hotel bar and during the protest, I learned so much and hope to use that knowledge in my home state of Ohio.  You can visit John's blog here.

I also had an opportunity to meet Jean Strauss, creator of For the Life ofMe. (my favorite all-time documentary on adoption) at the protest.  If you watch nothing else on adoption, watch this!  This documentary was instrumental in helping my a-mom "get it" from a source other than her daughter.

The best part about the weekend was its informality.  It was organized, but we were given the time and space to just get to know each other, talk about our families, reunions, lack of reunions, information, lack of information and anything we wanted to talk about FACE TO FACE, instead of through Facebook.

Before the protest, three of us got separated from the group at the convention center while using the restroom.  When security saw our signs inside the convention center, they escorted us the long way (apparently Chicago’s convention center is the largest in the country – 2 city blocks!).  We thought we were going to Cook County jail, but finally, relieved, we saw the group in the distance. (see picture above).

A fun time was had by all after the protest at Ed Debevic’s.  Rude waiters are part of the charm of the place and I thoroughly enjoyed watching my cohorts yell back at them. Pictured left are the waiters dancing on a ledge.

I was pleased that my husband came along with me this trip (he stayed home for the Louisville protest).  I think he was overwhelmed in some ways, but he at least had the Readers Digest version of adoptee rights from living with me.  He admitted that he would have been very confused had he not already understood adoption issues prior to coming to the protest.  He has walked with me through my reunion and has put up with my adoptee-issues so I was really happy he could be there to experience all my adoptee-kin and especially when I went back to my adoption agency for the first time to visit The Cradle of Evanston, Illinois.

It’s hard to describe exactly how I felt during the 24 hours living in adoptee-land but I will steal one of my fellow bloggers’ terms. . . it was one heck of a Bastardpalooza!
Looking forward to doing it all again next summer in Atlanta!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just Another Lost Daughter

Karen Pickell
by Karen Pickell

Hello everyone. I'm thrilled to be blogging here at Lost Daughters, and very grateful to Amanda for giving me his opportunity to speak about my own experience with adoption.

I was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. Growing up I always knew I was adopted, though I don't remember being told. I imagine it happened around the time my parents adopted my younger brother. My parents were a bit older, and when I was very young, I thought their age was the reason I often felt different from the other kids I knew. But by the time I became a teenager, I realized that my feeling of being different had more to do with how I didn't fit with my family, how we didn't function the same as other families I knew. I also became accutely aware that I looked physcially different than my parents, with my red hair and fair, freckled skin.

I often thought about my birth mother, whom I was told had been a teenager when I was born. What had that been like for her? How was she able to give me up? Where was she now? Deep down, I missed her very much. When the internet started to become widely available in the late 1990s, I started lurking on adoption message boards, hoping to find a message from someone searching for a baby girl born in Ohio on my birth date. I never found that message. I began leaving messages of my own, but no one ever answered. I wasn't brave enough to do anything more. I knew my parents would be terribly hurt by my wanting to search, so I didn't tell anyone about my feelings.

After I gave birth to my son, my desire to find my birth mother grew even stronger. Then my adoptive father passed away. Suddenly, I felt more free to find the answers I was looking for. It seemed the guilt I had about hurting him had been holding me back. I knew my mom would have her own doubts and insecurities as well, but I also thought that over time she'd come around and be ok with me knowing my biological family. To top it off, I had married a man who was an adoptive father himself--he and his first wife had adopted two children, one of them from Korea. My husband had always been ready to help his own adopted children if they ever wanted to search for their birth families. He supported my search 100%.

In Ohio, a person adopted between 1964 and 1996 cannot obtain her original birth certificate unless a signed release from her birth mother is on file with the state. I doubt that many birth mothers even know they can do this. I couldn't find my birth mother without the help of a professional searcher. I was luckier than most because I knew the first name my birth mother had given me when I was born, and because I knew her ancestry from my non-identifying information. The searcher was able to find a name that was likely my original name on Ohio's birth index. After that, it took less than a week to locate my birth mother's address and phone number.

I was also very lucky that my birth mother was overjoyed to hear from me. We corresponded by telephone and email for several months before we met in person. (I moved to Georgia a few years before I began my search, so distance has been a factor in our reunion.) Seeing her and hugging her for the first time was like finally going home. I gave birth to a daughter, and my birth mother was able to come and hold her the way she had never been able to hold me. Soon after, I met my birth father, with whom I share many similarities. Without knowing him, I would not be complete. I also discovered I have half-siblings on both sides. The entire landscape of my family, and by extension, my children's family has changed forever. Our history is no longer a gaping black hole. Last year, my son's class talked about immigration, and I was thrilled to be able to tell him where his own ancestors had emigrated from.

Everyone who says that reunion is a rollercoaster ride is absolutely right. My birth relatives and I have had our ups and downs since this all began back in 2005. At this point in time, I'm in a good place with some and in not such a good place with others. I continue to hope that one day we'll all get to a place of love and acceptance of each other.

I'm looking foward to sharing more of my thoughts on adoption with the other adoptees here at Lost Daughters, as well as with others touched by adoption, and even, with any luck, with those who don't have an adoption connection at all but who want to learn more about how we navigate these journeys we're all on. I know I'll learn from all of you as well.

Monday, August 13, 2012

When People Leave

by Deanna Doss Shrodes

“Do you want to go up and see Pop?”

I was just small girl, not even in school yet when my father took my hand and led me to Pop’s casket. Pop wasn’t my grandfather or even a relative, he was a man in our church who everyone called, “Pop.”

This was the first death I ever experienced, the first funeral visitation I ever attended in my life.

“Yes, I want to see him…” I said softly.  I looked at Pop and then asked my dad why he was lying there in the box. Why he looked like he was sleeping. If he would ever wake up.  Where he was now.

My dad patiently answered all the questions. I was told that Pop went to heaven. He would not be coming back to earth, but we would see him one day when we went to heaven.

I never said anything but I remember thinking all of this over during the next few days following the visitation. I was articulate as a child -- placed in advanced reading and writing in first grade. I was good at verbally communicating, singing and reciting poems in front of others since the age of four. Yet I stayed oddly silent about these new revelations.

I was scared out of my mind.

I remember a few days after Pop’s funeral I was outside playing in our fenced-in yard. I ran to the other side of the yard, to be alone.  Holding on to the fence tightly with my knuckles turning white, I stared out into the sky trying to make sense of the whole idea of people going away.

I had always been told I was adopted. I don’t ever remember not knowing because I was often told the story from my very infancy of how my parents came to adopt me. I knew there was a first mother who gave me to an adoption agency and went away and then my adoptive parents came and got me.

Gripping on to the fence that day, squinting into the sun, I was consumed with thoughts of death and abandonment. I remember feeling so anxious and sad. I cried and wanted to hide it for some reason. So I made no sound. I stood at the fence and quietly wept.

Sun was setting and my mother opened the door and called out to me to come inside. 

I was unusually subdued and she sensed something was wrong.

“What’s the matter?” she said.

“Nothing,” I murmured.

I never told her that until Pop's visitation, I didn't realize people died.

I never told her that even though I wasn’t close to Pop I felt so much overwhelming fear and loss that I couldn’t explain it, even as a verbose child.

I never told her that the thought occurred to me that my first mother had gone away and never came back.

I never told her I was afraid that she and my dad were also going to leave and never come back.

I never told her or my father so many things because I didn’t feel the comfort level to do so. Like so many adopted kids, I kept a lot inside, at least about my adoption or things that emotionally touched it.

I feared my adoptive parents would leave, and actually one of them did. Later on in life, my dad moved away and filed for divorce, and our family broke apart in dysfunction. It was one of the most painful times of my life. I took the loss of our family unit doubly hard as an adoptee. The sale of my childhood home after their divorce emotionally killed me.

I can remember sitting in the family room when my mother told me the divorce was impending and she would be selling the house. She asked what I was feeling.  Although at that time I was preparing for a career where communication and public speaking are major factors, I was at a loss to speak.  It was too enormous -- a crushing weight on my heart that literally hurt my body. I could only choke out through sobs, “I always thought I’d have a place I could call home…and now I don’t…”

Loss never got easier over the years. For me, an adoptee, it is particularly hard.

I’ve been adopted for 45 years now. I wish I could say loss gets easier, but it doesn’t.

My husband and I are in full time ministry and have been co-pastoring for 25 years.  Over these years I have not only attended countless funerals, as a licensed minister I have officiated them.  I cry, even though I am in charge. No one seems to mind, in fact it oddly endears them to me and they thank me for caring so much.

Sometimes people leave our church for various reasons. I feel the pain and rejection so deeply, more profoundly than anybody could ever imagine. Prayer helps a lot, yet it still hurts profusely.  At times it's affected me so greatly, I've wondered if I'm really cut out for the ministry.

Other times people move away.  A few years ago the person who was my closest friend in the church and her family moved away because of a job transfer. She didn’t want to leave but economic and career reasons dictated the move. I held my head high in front of everybody, but the morning her moving truck pulled out of the driveway and we waved goodbye was the start of two weeks of bawling in the shower every morning before work. In a few weeks time I was able to get up and shower without crying. It got better each day but I had to go through the process of grief in order to correctly heal. 

The reality is that sometimes our fears of abandonment come true all over again, and it hurts. It aches so bad. 

At this point in the post it may seem plausible that I have an issue with crying and maybe a prescription would make it all go away. Ironically, I'm a person who rarely cries which is why occasions when I do make it so memorable. I can go months without shedding a tear, but these kinds of losses will bring me to my emotional knees every time. 

For many years I just thought my feelings and reaction were all due to my personality profile. I thought, “Okay, I'm just an organized and regimented person who doesn’t like change that comes with loss” or “goodbyes just suck.”  Then I came to realize that it’s more than that. Yes, change is a challenge for most anyone, and goodbyes are no one’s favorite. But for an adoptee these things are often triggers for emotional reaction based upon what was the first and possibly most traumatic event of our lives. 

Though it never gets easier to deal with fresh wounds,  I have discovered coping skills and the importance of connection.

Perhaps as an adoptee you face the challenges I've just expressed. 

Some things I’ve learned that have helped:

Become familiar with the stages of grief, by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross.
Recognize them, go through them, don’t rush them. To heal properly from each loss we have to process it properly.

Connect with people who understand. When it comes to adoptee fear of loss and abandonment, I’ve found other adoptees or a therapist understand it best. At times when I’ve shared with non-adoptees the response I get is, “Well, we all face loss. I mean, how is your feeling of loss any different from anybody else’s? Loss is loss.  Are you just hyper-sensitive?  Are you making everything about adoption or using it as an excuse?"


 All I can say to that is, it doesn’t pay to argue with fools. 

Be kind to yourself. You should always be kind to yourself, but during times of loss, be especially kind.

We can navigate the waters of loss without emotionally drowning. Throwing yourself the life preserver time and time again works but it’s so much easier when someone else who understands can throw you the lifeline and help pull you in.

Lost Daughters is a great place to find those kind of people.  I’m so thankful for this safe place for adoptees to land. It's a place that connects those who share a commonality that is unexplainable to those who haven't lived the experience. A place where we understand that we are not alone.  

Blessings & love, 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Grandparents and Relationships

Our family relationships extend beyond our parents and siblings. What's your experience been like with your extended family (either adoptive, natural or both)? How does adoption play into those relationships (or not)?

I have a large adoptive family and a large natural family.  It's one of the things both families have in common.  My adoptive mother comes from eight siblings and my natural father is one of ten.  So it's one of the few things that feels familiar as I learn to deal with extended family as an adoptee.

I am not in reunion with any of my natural grandparents.  My maternal grandparents know that I exist, but not that I am back in the picture.  There's talk of cluing them in, but I'm in no hurry.  As someone who is currently dealing with new relationships, I don't want to overwhelm myself at the moment.  My paternal grandparents were never told about me.  I like to think that my grandfather knows about me know that he's gone.  My grandmother is still clueless and someday I hope that's not the case.  She sounds like an amazing woman who I would someday love to meet.

As for my adoptive grandparents, I've seen plenty of examples of how my adoption has played into the mix.  On my adoptive father's side, out of the eight cousins, four of us are adopted.  My family likes to act as if adoption means nothing to our family because its our "normal".  However, my grandmother has some pretty strong feelings about family.  I am a part of her family, and her family alone.  It's no secret that my adoptive father doesn't always deal with the adoption stuff as well as he could, and she'd do anything to protect her baby boy, including throwing myself or my sister under the bus.  Whenever she has a beef with my (adopted) cousins, she is the first to say that they don't feel like her granddaughters because they were adopted later in life, although they have been in our family since they were little girls.  It is because of this grandmother that I have kept my reunion a secret.  It's common knowledge in my family that my grandmother, who I am very close with, will disown me and make everyone else miserable about it.  I've been asked by several aunts and uncles not to say anything, as well as my parents.  I know my grandmother well enough to know they speak the truth.  That's not to say that my grandmother isn't a nice person.  She's wonderful and I have wonderful memories with her.  We used to bake cookies together.  She calls me all the time to check in on me.  She's been supportive of my relationship with my fiance from day one.  But she's set in her ways and at 80 years old, she's not going to change.

On my adoptive mother's side, there are over twenty cousins.  My sister and I are the only adoptees.  Growing up, I felt a difference in my relationship with my grandfather.  I cannot tell if it's because I'm an adoptee, or if it's because I am a girl.  All I know is that my grandfather would attend every single one of my cousin's baseball games but could not make it to a single one of my soccer games.  We never really got along and I remember sobbing as my mother would hold me at night asking her why he said the mean things that he did to me.  She never really had an answer but I do know she spoke to him a few times.  As I got older, things changed.  Now I'm one of the few grandchildren who call the house at least once a week just to check in.  I stop over after work to see if they need anything.  I'm the "good grandchild" now.  I think that as time has gone on, my grandparents have learned to accept me as who I am, and have stopped wishing I was more like everyone else.  Everyone else is too busy doing their own thing.  Because I'm different we have a better relationship.  It's worked out rather well.

I'm getting ready for my reunion to not be a secret anymore.  I'm gearing up for the hard conversations that I'm sure will follow.  And it's going to be hard.  My family understands on one level, but doesn't on another.  They will never truly "get it" because they haven't lived it.  We'll have to wait and see how this one goes!