Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Weird is This?

This morning I was sitting out in the shade of the tulip tree, enjoying the cool autumn morning, drinking coffee, and watching my four-year old ride his bike back and forth on the sidewalk while I was talking with my birthmom, Kate, who was sitting there next to me, and I thought, "How weird is this?" Here is the idyllic parenting scene and there we were in our strange family combination.

Before I met Kate, before I was in reunion, I would have never pictured sitting around on a Sunday morning with my kids and my birthmom. It's not even that it was forbidden or strange, it just was never an option that occurred to me regarding how my life and family situation would turn out.

We share a world that is filled with unusual situations that are creating the  new look of family that is different from what it was when Kate was first pregnant with me forty years ago.

I am new to Lost Daughters and am excited to be a part of such a meaningful, interesting group. One of the things I enjoy most is getting to know other adult adoptees and sharing experiences together - all the things we have in common, the shared experiences, the ways we've become who we are because of who we've been.

As we forge ahead in our lives, I am happy to get to know, and share, one another's stories. I think that by sharing our stories and recognizing them as real and true and genuine, we get to transform not only our world but the world around us. When we share our stories, they become real, and so we become real. I love that my kids see the family I've created as perfectly normal. So while I am thinking to myself, "How weird is this?" they're not thinking much of anything. This is their normal, and there's nothing weird about it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Perfect Name

When I decided to pursue writing as a vocation, one of the earliest struggles I went through was deciding what name I would publish under. Many writers consider using pen names to protect their privacy, and privacy was one of my considerations as well, but the question of a name went much deeper for me.

By this time, I had reunited with both of my birth parents. I knew that my birth mother had named me. I had a copy of my original birth certificate proving that the name she gave me was mine. I also felt a strong connection to my birth father's ancestry even though his name is not listed on my OBC.

I briefly decided I would publish under a moniker combining these two names. I would become, if only on paper, the person I could have been if I had been born in a perfect world where my birth parents had been a happily married couple and had raised me together.

To be clear, I understood that the "perfect couple" scenario had no relationship to reality. My using this pseudo-birth name did not mean that I wished they had been a couple or that I harbored some kind of delusional fantasy about them one day getting together. To me, the name signified who I was rather than who they were. It was my declaration that I came from them, that I was a part of each of them. I liked the way my new name tasted when I let it roll out of my mouth. It tasted like the essence of who I was. It connected me not only to my birth parents, but to my grandparents, great-grandparents, and all of my ancestors.

I set up an email address under my new name. I posted on message boards using my new name. I even published a poem as my newly named persona.

But I never told anyone besides my husband about that poem. How could I? Everyone would question why I chose my pen name, why I didn't want to use my "real" name. My adoptive family would want to know why I didn't use my maiden name, the surname they gave me. My birth mother would ask why I hadn't used the whole name she gave me at birth. My birth father might think I was trying to align myself with him in some unscrupulous way.

And what would people call me? If I ever had the good fortune to be able to read my work in public, I would then have to answer to my pen name, while in private everyone knew me as Karen.

Should I legally change my name, so that everyone could call me the same thing? I couldn't imagine my husband ever whispering a new name into my ear at night, or my children explaining to their friends and teachers that Mom decided to call herself something different.

To be honest, my pen name didn't feel exactly like me. It certainly felt like an important part of who I am, but it didn't include all of me, because I'm not just the child of my birth parents. I'm also the child of my adoptive parents, the wife of my husband, and the mother of my children. I'm a relative and friend and colleague of many others as well, and all of these people, including my birth family, know me as Karen. This is the name I've known myself as since as far back as I can remember. This is the name that feels most like me.

As for my last name, I could have chosen any old name if I just wanted privacy. My adoptive maiden name reminds me of a girl I once was who I no longer am. None of the other names I might have gotten from my birth family quite fit. The truth is, the place I feel most at home is with the family I've created myself. The surname that suits me best is the one that's legally mine, given as a gift from my husband.

Why did I make things so complicated by trying to hide behind a pen name when my everyday name works just fine? I guess because deep down I knew I would have to write about my experience of being adopted and all the very private feelings that go along with that. I knew my friends might read what I wrote. My parents might read it. Some people very close to me might not like everything I had to say. It would be so much easier to hide behind a pen name and not have to face any negative reactions people might have to my very strong opinions about adoption.

But much of the pain that comes with adoption is created by secrets, and I didn't want my current identity to become another thing I had to hide. The whole point of writing about my experience is to be open about what it's like living as an adopted person. How could I truly be open if I tried to keep my real name a secret? I realized I couldn't.

I also realized that I had to let go of the fantasy person my pen name belonged to. She never really existed and she never will, even though my birth parents always have been and always will be a part of me. Ultimately, I am a combination of the genes I inherited and the life I experienced. Reuniting with my birth family left me feeling split into two, sometimes three, different people at times. I needed to be whole. I can't be anyone but who I am right now.

Using my everyday name means I'm declaring to the world "I am adopted and this is what I think about that," which is scary, but also empowering. I am standing up for myself and choosing the life I want to live.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Adoptee Family Tree is Actually an Orchard

My Broken Family Tree ...

When my fifth-grade teacher assigned a family tree project, I did mine using Mom’s and Dad’s families. As in my adoptive heritage (sounds like an oxymoron). Dad in particular took the activity very seriously, calling his mother for correct name spellings, five generations back.

No big deal, it’s just a family tree. And yet even at age ten, something about the whole activity felt strange. Only I didn’t have the words to explain what that weird feeling was about.

Family Trees are About Documenting Lineages

No one thought to incorporate my biological branch, which was strange because family trees track bloodlines. Even though my adoption was closed, we did have a letter from the private adoption agency, which I cherished.

The letter had no identifying information, of course, but it did include the age, height and weight of my birth mom’s siblings and her parents, along with a few details about my biological great-grandparents.

We could’ve somehow integrated those tidbits into the project. Okay, I know, we didn’t have names. But we had birth years, and genders, and well, something is better than nothing, right?

No One Mentioned the Family “Hiccup”: My Generation

I have had a lovely reunion with my birth mother over the last ten years. And now it’s great that my two (biological) kids have my adoptive mom and my birth mom as grandmas. More love to go around and all that.

Nevertheless, the hiccup that is my generation will now haunt my children, and so on and so on down the line. I’m left wondering: Who will go, and who will get to stay in the family tree?

What about my biological father’s side? I’m not even in contact with the man—he truly wants nothing to do with me. He doesn’t even consider his three children to be related to me. “They’re my half-brothers and sisters,” I once explained.

“I never thought about it that way,” was his response. Baffling. 

My Family Tree isn’t Broken, it’s Actually an Orchard

I’ve decided that while there is a hiccup, my family tree isn’t broken; it’s just got a helluva lot of branches. It’s also more than one tree—an orchard, really—with some trees way, way off in the distance. And, I have to admit, there are a few diseased branches, which, with love and care and open-mindedness, have the potential to grow beautifully.

Today there are so many ways to create a family. My four-year-old daughter has a friend with two moms. She says, “Just like you, Mommy!”

Not exactly, her friends’ mommies are married to each other. No matter. My daughter will understand everything eventually, and I have no intention of hiding the messiness. Families have step-, biological, adopted, foster children ... you name it.

Family life is messy. Heck, life is messy.

Perhaps if we acknowledge this reality, we can be embrace reunions and accept families whose structure is different than our own. Maybe.
... If only my birth father could look at it that way.

* * * * *

This is my first post at The Lost Daughters, and I couldn't be happier to be a Contributor! I'll be sharing stories about my ongoing process to understand how adoption and reunion impact my identity as a mother.
Laura with baby Danica,
way before she started talking my ear off
Laura Dennis lives in Serbia with her husband and two (biological) children. You can learn more about her adoption, reunion, and subsequent descent into insanity in her 9/11 memoir, AdoptedReality available on Amazon. She blogs about surviving and thriving as an Ex-pat Mommy in Serbia. Meet by tweet! @adoptedreality

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What's In A Name?

Have you ever considered a legal name change ? If you were considering a legal name change would you choose to change your surname or your personal name ?

 My name is Jaesun, it’s a Korean name that was given to me as I was born by an social worker in Korea.  I have always had it, even when my new adoptive parents decided to christen me with a Swedish name they decided to keep my original name as a second name. As a link to my heritage and passed perhaps, that is at least a nice thought. My mum once explained that to me but I do think I can recall many occasions when we discussed that topic.

I have always felt like name that was given to me didn’t really suit me, but I can’t deny that having a Swedish name did make any likely misunderstandings related to my supposed ethnicity and name was avoided then. Or maybe the fact that I as a child often was accompanied by my parents made people assume that I was an adoptee (my mum and dad are Caucasians). 

Even in times like that once I had meet my Korean birth family for the first time; I finally knew what new name I would pick for myself. I settled for taking back my Korean name with some minor alterations in terms of numbers of names. Because the cost of a legal name change was such a large amount of money I decided to use that opportunity to add a second name besides the two I finally settled with. The only name I kept was a name that my parents had given me, and it was a name that runs in the family. I was thinking that even though I would be changing my personal name and retake my Korean name the fact that I kept a family name would seem like a nice compromise, like I managed to honor my Korean family and my new family in Sweden.

But I should have been prepared for the big reactions because of my family’s initial response to my name change. Maybe they thought it was just a fix idea that would pass and go away but that subject always managed to return back into my mind. Once I received the official grant of a personal name it meant my name change was validated by the Swedish law and thus my new name became a part of me. A part that, neither of my two families reacted positively to not even my Korean birth family, that my mum and that raised me would react so strongly in the way they did. That I sort of was prepared for but I was a little taken aback by one of my sisters' first responses to my name change; she tried to advise me not go through with it. Today I understand why my birth family reacted in such a strange and to me unprepared way.

My birth family was proud of me and the fact that could say they had a relative or sister in Europe. I think they even bragged of me tried to show of using me in some way. When I changed my Swedish name legally it meant the link to Sweden would become less apparent and maybe my siblings even thought I tried to claim a place in my birth family. It is true I sort of did that in way, but only with the intention of receiving the love I always craved and missed during my childhood.

I see my original birth name as the only thing I got with me from Korea to Sweden, the only I rightfully could my own that nobody could try to claim. That is way I sort of feels like my name is something if not the only decision I am entitled to decide on by myself. That is way I feel so strongly like I do which makes assume that the heated arguments that sometimes end in tears is not likely to come to an end in the near future.

Would the reaction I received from my parents and my birth family have been any different if I had decided to change my surname legally instead of my personal name ?

 I think my Swedish parents might have felt that that would have been easier to accept in comparison to my actual legal name change. On the other hand I do believe my birth family would have felt much more threatened by the thought of me changing my legal surname... because that instantly leads you in on the subject of inheritance. Of course, I have no interest of any kind in any inheritance from my birth family and it has nothing to do with the fact that I believe any inheritance would be in the form of huge debts. Furthermore according the law, I legally have no right to claim any inheritance from either of my parents or siblings. I know that, but I doubt my siblings know that....

At this point I have to tell you that I suspect that my parents' wants more than believe that I'll eventually revert the name change. But to me my real name signifies so much more than just being a name it's a part of my identity and the real me. As I see it and I've made up my mind I'm keeping this name. Enough said.

Even with a new more honest name I guess I'll go through life with a constant ever present feeling of confussion and longing. Longing for something that never will be...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

When You Get That Feeling

Standing at the American Airlines ticket counter at the airport, I passed my documents to the employee at the bag check-in. She typed a few words into the computer and then, wrinkling her brow and pursing her lips said, "Hmmm...interesting, I don't have any record of your reservation here..."

I got "that feeling".

Sitting in my elementary school class the teacher began to divide the class up into groups, and send us on our way to study a new unit. After all the children were assigned their groups, I was left there and the teacher said, "Just a moment Deanna, we're not sure where we're going to place you yet..." I sat there for quite a while as they figured out where to place me.

I got "that feeling."

Meeting with my doctor in my mid-twenties for a consultation after x-rays, he said, "Deanna, you have a rare type of growth in your throat that is benign, however it must be removed. It's a type of cyst that most people will never have but for some reason you do..."

I got "that feeling."

Each time something in my life happens that makes me feel different, singled out, and unique from the rest of the population, it becomes a trigger. Instantly I experience that feeling... a flash of rejection, linking whatever the latest happening in my life is, all the way back to 1966.

I realize the universe is not conspiring against me. If I sit and rationally think about this, I know that American Airlines, my childhood elementary school, and an ENT specialist are not in cahoots, against me. I'm a person of faith, and I also don't believe God is devising evil schemes to single me out and make life different for me in a difficult way. In fact, I firmly believe God is for me.

But whenever I get...

Left out
Singled out in a negative manner

I instantly go all the way back to my childhood and have this flash of a thought that I'm somehow doomed to be different, singled-out, left out, over-looked, uninvited and forgotten because I'm adopted.

I know that's not true.
I know it's not even realistic, whatsoever.
But the next time I get left out, or my-name-isn't-on-the-list-but-should-be-because-I-paid-and-have-a-receipt-darn-it, I still have these flashes of, "Here we go again..." 

 I may be the only one having these type of thoughts that I've just mentioned but my gut tells me I'm not.

If you face these kind of thoughts when things like this happen to you, I thought it might be helpful  if I share what I do that helps me.

Take a Deep Breath

Everything feels better when I just stop for a moment when I'm triggered, to just take a deep breath. Pause. Pull myself back to center and focus on truth. 

Positive Self-Talk

After a few deep breaths, I talk to myself. Sometimes I do it out loud, if I'm alone, for extra emphasis. I  remind myself of truth. I am for me. God is for me. The people in my life are for me. (If they're not for me, I don't make a habit of hanging around with them, so I can safely say, those in my life ARE for me.) I remind myself of the truth that the world is not in a conspiracy against me, and lots of people love me and are in my corner.

Open My Eyes to Others

People cannot relate to our adoption experience, unless they are actually adopted. But as I open my eyes to truth I see that lots of people can relate to being frustrated at the airline ticket counter. In fact there are long lines of people at the airport that are frustrated with all kinds of stuff that is screwed up.  When I examine the other irritations or sorrows that sometimes triggers me, I realize everyone in life faces inconveniences and tragedies, non-adoption related. I just sometimes feel like I'm the only one, because in error, I have connected the two. My post-adoption issues are reality, but have nothing to do with these other occurrences.

Opening my eyes to what others go through when they are left out or singled out in a negative way helps me to reach out and be a voice of comfort and a hand to hold. Though others may not be adopted, being the one who is left out or singled out is an experience and a feeling we will all share at some time. Helping others always makes me feel better and gets me moving in a healthy direction.

I've learned, adoption triggers won't go away. I'll have them all my life because I'll always be adopted. But I don't have to let them lead me around. I can take a deep breath, speak truth to myself, and open my eyes to a world in need.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Jeanette Winterson: Author and Adopted Woman

by Julie

During a recent trip to the library, I was able to pick up a copy of Jeanette Winterson's memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. Winterson is an adopted woman--like all of us here at Lost Daughters--and her memoir focuses on her childhood with Pentecostal adoptive parents. More specifically, she focuses on the complicated persona of her adoptive mother.

I was immediately taken in by Winterson's writing style. She offers glimpses into her past with prose that is poignant with a bit of wry, British humor. Those glimpses come across as snapshots. It is as though you are flipping through a photo album or scrapbook. You turn the page and another image pops up in the form of several new paragraphs.

It didn't take long to arrive at an adoption-related snapshot. She offers up the following thoughts on being adopted right there on page five:

Adopted children are self-invented because we have to be; there is an absence, a void, a question mark at the very beginning of our lives. A crucial part of our story is gone, and violently, like a bomb in the womb. 

The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of story--of course that is how we all live, it's the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It's like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It's like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you--and it can't, and it shouldn't, because something is missing. 

As an adopted woman reading the work of another adopted woman, I immediately reacted to Winterson's words. I wanted to extended my hand and offer her an adoptee fist bump. Non-adoptees might read this book and quickly move their eyes across these words because the thoughts presented are not something to which they can relate. But me? As a fellow adopted woman, I hung on every single one.

In fact, her thoughts made me want to run over to the nearest book club taking on her memoir, hold the book up open to page five, and shout "See? See? This is what it is like! This is how adopted people feel!" Because anything that gives any sort of legitimacy (ha, ha, ha) to our experience as adopted women should be required reading for everyone. Because our thoughts are so often unheard or disregarded. Our experiences are not something that general society really wants to dive into.

Winterson manages to give anyone reading her novel a snapshot of life as an adopted woman. And as an adopted woman myself, this brings me happiness and makes me feel just a bit more normal.