Monday, December 31, 2012

Adoptee New Years Resolution: Be the Trump Card

It's New Year's Eve, time to reflect back on the year, and to make resolutions for 2013. I have a somewhat "radical" suggestion, and I would love to hear what you think ...

First things first, full disclosure: I have always been a people-pleaser. I'm the eldest child. I'm typical 'type A,' perfectionist control-freak. Insult-to-injury? I'm adopted. 
As a child, the role of perfect daughter came easily to me. I was the adoptee who was subconsciously afraid of being given back, or given away. Not that it was possible, or threatened, or something I thought of consciously. It was simply the logical extension of the narrative my adoptive parents told me: “Your birth mother loved you enough to give you up, and now we love you.”

... So you could give me up, too.

I was aware of my desire to fulfill my adoptive mom’s dream of being a mother. I was determined to be the good child for whom she had prayed to God.

Meeting my First Mother

Reuniting with my first mother was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, as I've written before. Reunion filled a whole in my heart, it made me question all of the decisions I’d made so far in my life. My first mother and I connected on a deep, physical and emotional level.

Not only that, but my reunion was one of the first times when I realized that it was in fact “all about me.” I surprised myself in that I felt totally fine about this.

From the beginning of our reunion, my natural mother let me take the lead. She shielded me from her grief and she was careful to share with me painful pieces of information about my relinquishment little-by-little.

Everyone constantly asked, "How are your parents handling things?"
It’s a funny question, but it’s one that’s “normal,” among those who know little about how hard adoption can be on the actual adoptee! Generally, I brushed off the question, answering, “They’re fine.”

Sometimes, when I was feeling particularly sassy, I have to admit, I did add, “They’re not the ones meeting their biological family for the very first time in their lives, you know?”

Once reunion fever set in, I stopped worrying what my adoptive parents were going through. I didn’t try to defend my decision to search to people I hardly knew. This was my reunion. Feeling guilt about reuniting, or trying to manage others’ reactions was simply too much for me to take on.

Be the Trump Card

As I’ve gotten more involved in the so-called 'adoption blog world,' I’ve been reading over and over how worried adoptees are about how their adoptive parents will feel.

Will they think I don’t love them if I search? I could search, but I couldn’t tell my adoptive parents, they’d be too upset. Or, My natural family could never meet my adoptive family, that would be to hard for all of them.

I’ve seen adoptees go to such psychological, physical and logistical lengths to provide for the privacy, safety and emotional security of the people who raised them ... aaaand worry the same things for their natural families.

I admit, especially in the “honeymoon period” of my reunion, I believed my natural mom could do. no. wrong. It was maddening for those close to me (friends and fiancĂ©, not just my adoptive parents). I get it, for a time, I became a different person; in complete wonderment at the reunion for which I’d waited my entire life.

How can I suggest this delicately? ... Be the trump card

This might sound wrong, or presumptuous, or just plain bitchy, but ... Be the trump card. (Something that gives one person or group the advantage over another,

From the cultural dictionary, trump card =

In general, something capable of making a decisive difference when used at the right moment; in certain card games, trump is the suit designated as having precedence over the others.

We, dear adoptees, can make the decisive difference in how our family and friends view our own reunion.

Whether considering searching, or not. Whether found, or in long-term reunion. It’s all about the adoptee; we’re the children in this equation.

We're the tiny baby who didn’t consciously know what was happening;

We're the child who, of course, loved her (adoptive) parents!

We're the eighteen-year-old whose records opened up (in some states), but was unprepared for the opened emotional wound.

We're the adult who is still figuring out all of this adoption s....

Now, now, Be the trump card! ... That’s a mighty selfish statement!

Yes, it is necessary to explain our perspective on adoption (i.e. educate those who don't know or never tried to understand) to those close to uskindly, gently, with emotional intelligence ... But with boundaries. With the knowledge that whatever we feel, however we want to shape our reunions, it is up to us, the adoptee.

We, dear adoptees, are the trump card in this equation.

Just a suggestion ... let your New Year’s Resolution be to ... Be the trump card.

*  *  *  *  *

Laura writes about adoption and expat mommy life. Her memoir, Adopted Reality, is available on Amazon.
image from

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Accepting My Adoptee Fate, and How That Differs from "Moving On"

Lately, I've noticed a shift in how I perceive my adoptee experience. It's possible that I have moved into the acceptance phase of grieving my adoption-related losses. I am feeling lighter, more balanced, and holding a greater appreciation for all that my experiences have brought me. As an adoptee who has struggled to make sense of what it means to be a member of two families, I am perhaps more comfortable with duality, complexity, and ambiguity than I might otherwise have been. I tend to see things through the lens of "both/and" rather than "either/or." I've come to appreciate this about myself, to view it as part of what I have to offer the world.

When I encountered the following words a while ago on the blog of one of my fellow Lost Daughter contributors, they resonated strongly with me:
Adoptees will never not be adopted. But we can live our lives. We can take our unique life experience and allow it to make us compassionate beings. We are worthy of both giving and receiving love. 
-- iAdoptee
At about that same time I read the following words, which also spoke to me:
One cannot annul the fact that one was given up by one clan and taken in by another; one can only see the consequences of that fact in a new light that illuminates what happened in a healing way. 
Part of the healing process takes place when adoptees are able to accept that what happened happened: it was their existential fate to be surrendered by one mother at birth and raised by another. To accept that, with all the relief of finding out who they are, there will always be the pain of that special history.  
-- Betty Jean Lifton, Journey of the Adopted Self
I like these words, for the most part, but I've also noticed that I cringe a little at the line about accepting my existential fate. Let me unpack that.

I have known situations in which adoptee or first-parent expressions of pain were countered with platitudes such as "everything happens for a reason" or "it's all part of God's plan." As articulated so eloquently by the blogger "I am" of Statistically Impossible, such words comfort the person who is encountering the pain of another rather than the person who is experiencing the pain firsthand.

I have also met with the attitude that adult adoptees should "move on" or "get over it" or "stop dwelling in the past." I loved the recent post by Deanna Shrodes (another of member of the Lost Daughter sisterhood) about why that is so difficult for us to do. Our "past" is our is our history, our identity, our connection to family. (I will also add to this that for those of us adopted in infancy, our trauma happened at such an early age that we have no pre-traumatized self to return to as a norm. Another complicating factor is that adoption-related pain is not commonly acknowledged as valid as a result of the mostly positive view of adoption that is held by the general public. Pain that is regularly invalidated is harder to release.)

But as I sit with Lifton's words, I realize that she not asking me to "move on" or to accept that things have worked out for the best. Her words are not about "better" or "worse," but rather are a simple acknowledgment that what happened happened and cannot be undone. This works for me. Something bad occurred: I was separated from my original family at a tender age. I have struggled because of this separation, and I will struggle likely still. In the words of my sister blogger, I will "never not be adopted." And yet I am also OK. I am a survivor, with a survivor's strengths and gifts. Accepting my existential fate doesn't mean viewing adoption through rose-colored glasses. It doesn't mean that I won't speak my mind, tell my story, or work for change in a system that I view as deeply flawed. It doesn't imply turning a blind eye to the pain that I and others have endured. To the contrary, advocating for change is a big part the fate I am embracing!

You might ask what has taken me so long to reach this understanding. The answer is that there simply was no short cut. There never is. The only way to reach dry land, in my experience, is to slog through the muck.

Image courtesy of Pixomar at

Friday, December 28, 2012

Teaching Adoption Concepts: Consistency Creates Trust

No matter a child's age, they need consistency to create trust. As mentioned in my first segment, adoptees are particularly sensitive to developing trust.

Children thrive with a certain poetry and balance between structure and creative play. So, find out what inspires your child and create consistent structure surrounding the meaningful experiences.


Well, children love to do different things at various developmental stages. A 6 year old, a 10 year old and a 15 year old have all very different development milestones to meet. But, the trust thread is always there.

One major theme in the relationship with your child needs to be communication. We also need to pour consistency into the relationship.

So, as adults and parents of adopted children, be available. Be the consistent touchstone in the relationship and provide a safe place.

When your precious little 6-year old, comes to you and can't figure out why they don't belong and connect, be Open, Every time. Talk to the child on her/his age-level.

A conversation:

Child: Mommy, I don't like playing with this or that (insert whatever your child dislikes)

Tip: Now...As an adult, take this as an opportunity to continue the adoption story for them. It is very important to pull in the lifelong influence of their natural families. Be strong emotionally and cognitively for your child. Be careful that your own interests and desires don't overpower theirs. Yes, this is true of non-adopted children, but with adoptees, we seek the genetic connection through our entire lifetime. Be sensitive and thoughtful to this fact. Especially, when and if the adoptee is paired with a family that is inherently different with personality and interests. As parents, extra attention and effort are needed to explain these differences at all times. In essence, the trust will continue through consistent parental presence and communication.

Parent: Everyone is made different and special. Mommy likes to ( the piano), but that does not mean that you will love to play the piano. You may want to dance or explore the stars. You might, but you might not. And we will try lots of wonderful things so that you can find what you love. But remember, that you had a natural family before we met. And inside of you there are things that they passed on to you. Special gifts and interests. We will figure out what you love together.

Tip: These consistent chats and consistent parental presence and guidance may seem simple, but simplicity allows an openness. As the child grows and develops, the conversation will become more complex. Your child will want to come to you, if you can remain strong and open to all things. Even and especially when these things may not be your passion. Every single time. Even when you are having a bad day or stress overtakes you, explain these things. You don't have to be perfect. Be a loving and consistent guide and keep the conversation going.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thank Goodness for Different Perspectives

"Oh wow.  Come over here for a minute, would you?"  My fiance Rudy was sitting on my couch with my iPad playing around.  He was flipping through some pictures and found a video my natural father had sent me a few days before.  At that point, Rudy had never seen anything other than pictures of my natural family members.  He was curious, so he hit play.  That's when he started freaking out and wanted to compare me to the video.  I was annoyed at the time because I was trying to do my hair but wondered what caused my fiance to interrupt the blow dryer, something he knows never to do.  Down he looked at the iPad screen, up he looked at me.  The video was filmed with the front facing camera of a cell phone.  It was pretty much square on, the best way to view a person.  And my natural father's face filled up the whole screen.  So this was probably the best way to compare things.

Rudy had seen pictures before.  This wasn't the first time he'd noticed similarities.  However, this was the first time he'd seen my natural father move and talk.  This was the first time he noticed expressions.  And the similarities were there and it freaked him out.  Up until that point, he never really got that he hadn't met a natural relative of mine.  He was used to me being different.  He was used to me being unique in my family.  He took his own relationship with his family for granted and never fully understood what I was missing.  That is, until he saw the video.

At the time, I didn't realize what a big thing it was for him, though I did quickly lose the annoyed feeling when I realized he was having a moment.  I had my own freak out a few months before when I met my natural father for the first time.  I didn't think about how things would affect him.  

It's funny, because I tend to forget that he's been along on this ride since the beginning.  We'd been dating for three and a half years when I entered into reunion with my natural mother.  He was there through the good times and bad, my subsequent reunion with my natural father, and now the beginning stages of my reunion with my sisters.  He attended the Adoptee Rights Demonstration in Chicago with me.  He's been so supportive of me and has been my rock through this entire thing.  And I have loved having him to hold my hand.  But I forget a lot that he's seeing things with different eyes.  It's not his whole world the way it was for me when I was going through reunion.  He's supportive, but he views everything differently.  And that's been fascinating to me.

Rudy was there with me when I met my natural mother for the first time, and again for my first meeting with my sisters.  He actually offered the most insights and helped me remember through the fog.  I was so wrapped up in my whole world changing that I missed things, especially the details that I cherish now.  He was able to walk me through it again and tell me what he thought of everything.  He knows me so well and knew what I needed from him.  And again, I forgot in those conversations that he went through it too in his own way.

Rudy has seen the similarities more than anyone.  He's seen the mannerisms better than even me, who can only see mine from my own perspective with the help of a mirror.  He sees where I get my nose so clearly without effort, while I need to hold up two pictures to see the full effect.  I forget that a lot.  He likes to remind me by saying deep and meaningful things when I least expect it.

Rudy once told me that in his eyes, reunion is like a game of battleship.  You aim in the dark and blindly shoot, hoping that you make contact somehow.  I think that's one of the best descriptions of reunion I've heard (and it came from a non-adoptee!).  He knows this because he's seen me shoot and miss.  He's also seen me shoot and make a connection.  He was there, and he was the one trying to help me figure out my next move on many occasions.  He know realizes just how much he values his own history and how important it is for everyone to have access to their own.  He told me just a few weeks ago that he's tired of me being treated like a second class citizen because it's just not right.

It's been interesting to get a second opinion from someone who's there, but in a totally different sense.  We plan on having children together one day and he's starting to see how this will all affect them as well.  Some of my questions will be passed down to them.  I get frustrated sometimes and he's starting to realize just how many of those could in theory get passed down.  Those things directly affect him.  He sort of got dragged into this situation because he managed to fall in love with an adoptee.  So it's been very interesting to hear his side of things and see how he views things.

These days, Rudy is struggling along with me trying to figure out where my sisters fit into our lives.  Rudy and my adoptive sister are close, but that came with time (years of dating me I suppose).  Like me, he's realizing that holidays are much more complicated than they used to be.  When we went shopping for Christmas presents, he struggled along with me trying to figure out what was appropriate in the situation and what wasn't (I think we picked well).  We're merging our lives, and a lot of our personal drama.

He has to learn to play battleship now too.  It's interesting to watch and I'm sure we'll both learn a lot along the way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Oh, The Places You'll Go" ~ Adoptee Style


My first introduction to "adoption poetry" was a framed version of an old classic, "Chosen Child". It hung on my Mother's bedroom wall right next to an ever-growing collage of my school pictures as I grew up. I never understood why I hated that wall. It felt as if when I entered that room I needed to avoid eye-contact with that wall, those pictures, and that poem. But I couldn't understand why. I thought I hated myself and my pictures, but now I realize it was the poem.

The poem had alot of contradictory statements which is confusing to an adopted child. The first stance says "I had to tell you, Dearest Heart, that you are not my own" ~ it goes on to explain how much she wanted and desired a baby and how we were brought together through adoption ~ then the last stance of the poem states that I am "her's, and her's alone". Now HOW can that be?

How can I NOT be her own, and also HER's alone? It didn't make sense. Yet that is just one example of many "double-messages" adoptees grapple with in a life-time.

Think about it ~ according to the adoption industry, in order to increase the number of available babies for adoption (the commodity) we (adoptees) get mixed-messages galore ~ we are "unwanted", "crisis'", "abandoned", "orphans"; yet "chosen", "special", "lucky", "gifts". Our mother's are told they are "incapable", yet "heroic". Our very identities are "amended" in order to fulfill a role, and we're expected to cut ourselves off completely (the message of "sealed records") from the identity, heritage, and family-line we were born of.

Adoption is a legal contract that tries to do the impossible ~ "as if born to" can never replace the reality of profound loss for an adoptee, yet we are asked to live a life-time of splitting ourselves off from our very core. We become masters at people-pleasing and compliance because we are given a message that our adoption has made us "worthy". It cleansed us of being a "bastard". Our original identities are "sealed", and therefore, must somehow define us in shame. So we work extremely hard to earn our place in a world where everything about us had to be "amended" in order to be accepted. What a heavy burden for any child, any human.

As a young child I was the master home-made card maker. I would make elaborate cards for my Mom proclaiming she was the BEST Mother in the world. I think it was my way of trying desperately to ease the insecurity in both us. With the words of "The Chosen Child" poem always looming, I can now understand that insecurity.

Years after my reunion with my first family, I went to an art class which turned out to be a life-defining experience. We were asked to read the Dr. Seuss book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go" and then compose a poem, and create a companion pastel drawing. I had never taken art before and felt like because I had no talent that my pastel would be embarrassing at the least, but decided to go for it and try...

Well, something like 4 hours later, feeling like time was literally standing still, I brought myself back into the real world a different person. A person who had finally given myself permission to grieve and shed tears over my adoption. I had always heard that art was good for the soul; that it somehow unlocked the right (more feeling) side of the brain, and by the time I pulled myself away from this project I was a true believer. I vowed to take more art classes, set up a studio, and dive into this new found healing passion. Five years later here I sit without going one step further into that dream...

I'm just thankful for the amazing experience of that class, that teacher, and the healing that flowed through it.

"Oh, The Places You'll Go"
by Samantha F.

You'll wake up one day and find yourself floating
on Rivers of Golden Tears....
In deep scars of black and purple, too
Streaming from your hidden view
Amidst eyes of blue.

Encircling your heart is crimson red...
Blood of the fathers you never knew.
Heart enshrined....
Finally you'll find the real 'you'
Though brown eyes still loom.

Safely hidden in this prison of blue
Your only chance now is to ride the hues.
Grief unlocks the colors of life....
You'll find your "purple" deep inside....
after the ride.

So close your eyes, and feel the depth
You'll find you're not alone...
Surrounded by the throng, the unseen tears...
Hold on.

I must visit the eyes of my forefathers...
The pain of my unknown
Connect with the blood with whom I found life
Love through the tears of my own.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why Adoptees Don't Let Go of the Past

Every adoptee needs one of these.

I found this journal when I was Christmas shopping at Marshalls on Friday night. I believe it was intended by the manufacturer as a joke. Whatever the intention, I love it!  I wish I could purchase one for every adoptee. This was an early Christmas present I bought, just for me. 

Healthy adoptees are perpetually processing not only our feelings but the reality of family, in order to move forward, spiritually and emotionally.

The Truth About Moving On

"Just move on. Leave the past behind. Are you going to waste a lifetime thinking about this? Don't you know God has bigger plans for you than that?"

I've heard this before. Maybe you have too.

Let's unpack that thought for a minute.

 I've been a pastor for 25 years, and in all that time, I've never heard anyone advise a non-adoptee:
"Just move on. Leave your family behind. Are you going to waste a lifetime thinking about your family? Don't you know God has bigger plans for you?"
No, you don't hear that, and it would be pathetic if you did. People are often encouraged, as it should be, to love their family, to be committed to them, to invest time.

Except adopted people.

We're expected to leave our families behind, shake the dust off our feet, and go on with our lives. And then we're supposed to profusely thank God we got the opportunity to go through it all. 

Here's truth:  

For adoptees, "the past" isn't just a feeling, but a present reality that involves but is not limited to:

  • Our identity
  • The truth of our origin
  • Our family

Who IS Your Family?

What some people fail to realize is that for an adoptee, our past is actually our present.

We will always be related to our original family no matter what a an amended birth certificate leads anyone to believe. 

Whether they like it or not, past is present. Because a piece of paper doesn't eliminate relatives, as much as some people would like it to. Does it legally eliminate them as a relative? Perhaps temporarily -- on paper, it does. However they are never eradicated from our life, from our very being. They are ever present, spiritually and emotionally.

They are there.

 And there is nothing anyone can do about it.

I think of the adoptee who recently shared with me that a little boy was asked by his adoptive parents, "How often do you think about adoption?" He said, "hardly ever at all." The adoptive parents were thrilled with his answer, convinced their son didn't really care about his original family and was perfectly happy to be adopted. Someone gently suggested they rephrase the question. Instead they asked him, "How often do you think of your birth mother?" He got somber and said, "Every day. All the time..." to the shock of his adoptive parents.

Your Original Family is Your Present...Even if You Don't Know Them!

Many people who are not adopted don't consider adoptees' birth family as family. They consider them strangers out there in the world somewhere...who basically have nothing to do with them now.

 Did they ever stop to consider that perhaps the adoptive family are actually the "strangers"?  At least, it begins that way. Adoption is the only world where people think it's perfectly normal to take a child and place him in the arms of strangers and take him away, erasing evidence of the original parents through careful altering and sealing of legal documents. And they see nothing odd about this. 

The truth is that adoptees will forever be on a journey of reconciling past with present, because it's impossible to completely sever the two. Asking an adult adoptee to separate from their origin, identity and family is akin to asking them to cut themselves in half and keep on walking. 

Many of us adoptees know what happens when people try to do that...they can emotionally bleed to death. The sooner we come to grips with the reality that being an adult adoptee is a continual journey of wholeness, the better off things will be for everybody concerned, adoptee and non-adoptee alike. I say everyone because when adoptees aren't physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually healthy, it affects everyone in our world.

Here's to the continual pursuit of spiritual and emotional health!

I love all of you who read here, and pray much healing and wholeness as we go forward in the new year.

Pursuing together,


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Round Table: Extended Family

Rebecca Hawkes: When I started my reunion search years ago I was focused on finding my biological mother and perhaps siblings. I hadn't given much thought to other family members but soon learned that I had an aunt and uncles who were eager to meet me. In fact, for geographical reasons, I ended up meeting an aunt and uncle before meeting my mother. Now I'm in a new phase of reunion with my biological father, the oldest child of a large family, and have been invited to attend a big family reunion this coming summer. I've been told I have "about a hundred" cousins. I'm excited but also nervous about the opportunity. If you are in reunion, have you attended large gatherings of natural family members? How was the experience? Were their any awkward or amusing moments? Do you have any tips or advice to help me make it through my gathering later this year? Do you have other reunion stories involving extended family?

Laura M.Dennis: My first mother organized a bbq so I could meet my uncles and cousins, about a week after she and I met for the first time. It was amazing, but it was sad. They sat and listened to me, they wanted to know everything about me. But it was very hard to talk about "my life in my family growing up." I had a whole other family. And here I am with my biological family, meeting me when I'm 23, and we're all pretending like it was no big deal. But it was one of the best days, ever. Meeting them was bittersweet. All these cousins who have all this shared history, and I'm not a part of it. ... My advice would be to try to keep an open mind, and to remember that when people are nervous they often say weird, emotionally insensitive things. My first mom's best advice to me: Always give people the benefit of the doubt.

Julie: My natural dad had been in first parent support groups for several years before we found each other. He was very concerned about our reunion moving too fast, too soon. There was so much emotion involved on both sides as my paternal grandparents had done everything they could to stop my adoption--obviously without success. Nobody spoke of me around my grandfather because he would get too upset. And my aunts helped my dad search for several years. Holding them all back during reunion would be hard. So we focused on the two of us for a bit. Several months into our reunion, my dad told my grandparents that we had found each other. I spoke with them on the phone and then my dad finally brought me "home" to them. From there I went on to meet my aunts, uncles and cousins. This gradual approach worked well for me. I was still overwhelmed but could manage it in steps. When my oldest son was three months old, we spent Thanksgiving with my extended paternal natural family. It was amazing. We took photos of my grandfather holding my son, his great grandchild. We all had a good laugh with this. While fighting with Catholic Charities to stop my adoption, my overly emotional and sensitive grandfather told the priest representing my maternal grandparents to f-off. The priest responded by telling my grandfather that he would never live to see his grandchild. Well, my Gramps lived to see not only his grandchild but his two great grandsons. And thanks to our many family gatherings, we have photos of four generations.

Jenn: I'm currently still a secret to my extended natural family. Most of them have no idea I exist. Someday....

Image courtesy of adamr at

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Erasure of Mother & Seven Years of Life

My birth mother was bi polar. She had times where she couldn't get out of bed, and times where paranoia took over and she ran from county to county, town to town, in Northern California trying to escape with her child. Keeping us safe. Finally when I was seven, her struggle to raise me was ended by the local authorities, and I was placed in the custody of her best friends. The adoption was finalized seven years later when I was fourteen. I was given my birth certificate when I was eighteen. The original document. Showing the mother who bore me and birthed me on a gurney, in a hospital in San Francisco. I lost it. Honestly, I don’t even know when, and never really thought about it.

One day, I moved to Minnesota and needed to get a Minnesota drivers license. They wanted my birth certificate. Here is where things get fun.

I was born in San Francisco, and adopted north of there, in Sonoma County. The city of San Francisco no longer had my birth certificate, of course, it is sealed. Sonoma County also did not have it. So I had to petition the state of California for my birth certificate. It took weeks, and I was deeply annoyed. An inconvenience of mass proportions.

Then I got the birth certificate. When I opened the envelope and read it, the breath was pulled out of me. I had to sit down and read it again, because it was wrong. There, in the place where my mother’s name should have been, was my adopted mother, and in the spot that should have read “unknown” was my adopted father. It was wrong.

Bureaucracy had erased my Mother. They had erased my first seven years of life and replaced them with new names and my imagination. I can now pretend that I had a whole different first seven years, because that would be better, right? But even beyond the loss of my mother on paper, I felt a loss of myself as well. If my flesh and blood mother had been erased from a document proving my birth, where does that leave my existence? I felt my heart break, and part of it just fell away. I grieved for us both, torn apart in almost every way.

Now eight years after receiving my birth certificate, it sits in the file with the birth certificates of my husband and children. I flip through the documents on the way to social security cards every tax season, but I have never looked at it since. My birth mother died in 2005, which makes everything so much more final, and unreachable. I feel orphaned. I have no record that I ever belonged to her, not even her words to vouch for it.

Guest author, Aza Donelly, is 42, married and has 3 children. She grew up in California and moved to Minnesota nine years ago.  At the age of seven she was placed in foster care with her mother’s best friends who officially adopted her at the age of 14.  She resumed contact with her birth mother and met her biological sisters when she was 19. Aza loves homeschooling her kids, writing, singing, and exploring the world with her family.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Equal Education Unequal Pay

Lost Daughters was sent this fascinating Infographic by Jessica Wallace.  Take a look!


Created by:

Friday, December 14, 2012

I Dared to Go There!
(And Some Literally Fell On the Floor, Sobbing!!!)

Recently, Amanda approached me about writing the spiritual column here at Lost Daughters and I couldn't have been more delighted, and humbled at the opportunity.  

I'm on a new journey of integrating adoption issues and the spiritual side of things. Frankly speaking, I kept it separated for a long time...most of my life.

As some of you regular LD readers already know, I have served as a pastor for 25 years, alongside my husband who is also a pastor.  I learned before I ever began serving in vocational ministry that I had to be careful about who I opened up to about adoption. Often I would find that I hurt more after expressing myself than before, due to people's lack of understanding things from the adoptee perspective. Their responses are often both uneducated and cruel.  So I was quiet, unless I connected with an adoptee who understood, carefully testing the waters first before sharing my heart.

I finally came to the point of realizing, maybe God was calling me to do something about people's lack of compassion. Instead of moping about the fact that that they don't understand, maybe He wants me to help them understand. Recently I blogged about my journey of coming to this realization, here and here.

I have periodically shared stories in my sermons about my life growing up, or about my adoption/reunion. But I have never dared to share about things like the Baby Scoop Era (and what an atrocity it was for girls/women), or the shift that must take place in the  church where our first question when someone is unexpectedly pregnant becomes, "how can I help you?" rather than, "have you considered adoption?" I've never ventured to boldly say those things before. I've always wanted to stay employed.  I wanted people to like me. I also didn't want adoptive parents whether in the church or at events where I speak to give me any bull and have to resist the temptation to jerk them up by their uneducated bootstraps.

But it's time now. My big-girl panties are on.

This month our church hosted a city-wide Christmas tea for girls and women. Tickets were sold out two weeks in advance! I brought a message that included illustrations about the BSE, my adoption, reunion, post-adoption issues and more. My husband heard so much about it, he said, "you need to repeat that message for all of our church people, both women AND men, to hear." So, I did, this past Sunday.

Amanda suggested we make the podcast available on Lost Daughters for readers  to hear, if they are interested. I'm honored by her suggestion, and offer a copy of the church podcast  for you to check out, if you'd like to listen, here.

I am not exaggerating one bit when I tell you that the response to the two messages was overwhelming. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to share that what God accomplished in hearts and lives was amazing. At the tea, girls and women came forward for prayer, many of them weeping as they brought secrets and hurts to leave there and begin a journey of emotional healing.  Women and girls are still sharing with me about how this night has impacted them.

Then on Sunday the altars were once again filled at the close of the service, with people seeking emotional healing. One young lady was so overwhelmed by the pain she was feeling, she fell to the floor crying, as people surrounded her, and prayed for her. Her teenage brother and her sister's boyfriend, both of whom are ultra "cool as a cucumber teenagers" who don't normally show much emotion were both teary eyed when realizing the burden their sister had been carrying, and seeing the healing process begin in her life. All this to say, the progress that began to take place in people's lives was amazing. But first, the subject had to be broached.

I decided to keep the conversation going Monday night when I traveled to preach in Bradenton, Florida for a women's Christmas event at another church. I felt directed to bring a different sermon, however I included all of the same illustrations I did on Sunday, plus I encouraged the women about reaching out to girls/women who are pregnant and what our response should be vs. what it has been, far too often. As I spoke, a group of elderly women on the back row (who all lived through the BSE) wept. I noticed this age group in all three events/services to be particularly sensitive to the message.

Another lady on the front row buried her face in a ball of tissues and kept it there most of the message, alternately blowing her nose and getting another wad of fresh tissues as needed. During the prayer time at the end, I walked up and wrapped my arms around her and said, "how can I help you?" Through choking sobs she said, "my daughter is pregnant..." and poured out her heart. I was able to comfort her. Previous to Monday night she felt like a failure and planned to resign from the ministries she leads in the church. She and her teenage daughter are also fighting a lot, and the boyfriend won't speak to her.  I was able to share that never was there a greater time that her daughter needs her support. I also advised her that it is not necessary to step down from her ministries, nor is she a failure. I reminded her about the decisions God's first two kids (Adam & Eve) made, and He hasn't stepped down from His position. :)   And finally, I encouraged her that all babies should be celebrated. She left the event with a renewed determination to reach out in love to her daughter and her boyfriend, to hold her head up high and continue in the ministry that God has called her to.

What's the point of today's post, beyond sharing this message with you, if you have interest?

Lack of Awareness Is Astounding!

I've spoken to three audiences in the past two weeks, and mentioned the Baby Scoop Era. At the tea, I asked the people present, "who knows what the Baby Scoop Era is?" Only one person raised their hand. At the Monday night event, no one did. They were all shocked, blown away, and moved to tears once I informed them.

Those Who Are Aware Must Open the Conversation

We're aware! It's incumbent upon us to do something. People are hurting and they need healing. We must start the conversation. It's been my experience the past two weeks that most people don't know, and they are really curious once the conversation starts.

The SWSWSWSW Principle 

This is actually a popular sales principle, but it applies to other things. It stands for “Some will. Some won’t. So what? Someone’s waiting!” It means that some people are going to love what you do/say, and some won't. Some will downright be opposed. But so what!! Someone else is waiting to hear it and will respond. In my experiences of the past two weeks, they may even burst into tears or fall on the floor.  

Is there enough awareness yet? Hardly.

We must open the conversation, keep it going, and let the chips fall where they may. Some will literally fall into our arms sobbing. It's a good idea to be prepared with plenty of tissues and a willing heart to help them walk through their journey of healing.

For anyone who questions whether post-adoption issues are real, or believes it's all teddy bears and rainbows, all I can say to that is, if it were, people wouldn't be sobbing as a message is preached or fall over in tears at the altar. How much more proof do people need that those who have experienced adoption, whether adoptee or birth parent, have been traumatized?

God can and will heal hearts that are hurting (and sometimes it takes a lot of time) but how can people, adoptees or otherwise,  heal if we don't start talking about what's hurting?

Authenticity is the first step to healing.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Adoptee Ink

By Jaesun

What do you think about tattooes and tattooed people ?
Do you have your own tattooes ?

What you see belov are pictures of my tattooes , and those deserves their very own entry and I thought now would be a suitable time to tell you the story of how they came to be...

The first picture is a picture of the Chinese sign for love with the adoption symbol belov it, it does look uncannilly like the Star of David but instead of a triangle it's a heartshape. It represents the bond between the adoptive mum and the adoptee. I got both of those tattooes to honor my mum and dad.

The other tattoo that you see is the large back tatto that would be the most recent tattoo that I have. That one I did prior to my first reunion trip to my birth country; each flower represents one of the children in my birth family, the two brances represents my birth parents and the heart at the bottom represents the family love.

The last tattoo is still my favorite tattoo so far, even though it's lost much of it's initial meaning. But I don't regret having had it done if nothing else it still represents my first family because ties like that cannot be undone. I've been thinking for a while that I might like to get yet another tattoo to signify the new direction my life has taken. But I'm not sure of what I'd like maybe something that stands for rebirth, strength and new beginnings ...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ethics in Multicultural Counseling

I am a Latina person who was raised in suburban Philadelphia. There were very few Latino or Hispanics, as this group was called at that time, in my community and school. I learned by the second grade that it was easiest to pretend I was Italian than risk social isolation and teasing if I disclosed my original home country. This dodging and weaving of my true identity made adolescence that much more complicated. I think about this a lot as the holidays approach and I make my way home to be with family. The surrounding area of my growing up town has changed demographically. Mexican and Central American taquerias and mercados replaced most of the former Italian owned stores and eateries. Every time I make the drive back home I wonder if and how my identity integration would have been accelerated or not if I grew up with this community in such close proximity.

So I was particularly saddened when I saw yet another unpleasant story out of Penn State last week. To be sure this story is not of the same tragic magnitude as the disgraceful news of last year, but rather another glimpse into racism and long held stereotypes. A sorority posted a photo of their Mexican themed party. Most wore sombreros and serapes. They held signs that said “Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it”. I thought about the large percentage of my graduating class that went to Penn State. I did not even visit knowing that my goal was to get out of the state as soon as possible. And I thought about how things seem possibly worse than they were 20 plus years ago. The sorority apologized for upholding “untrue stereotypes”. But the truth is that many janitorial staff, grounds crews, and child care workers remain largely populated by Latinos. There are many reasons for this and I will not go into them here but all the reasons remind me that we still need to be especially mindful and sensitive to providing culturally sensitive and quality services to immigrant and minority populations.

By choice I live in an ethnically and racially diverse area of northern Virginia. The local Family and Child Services department utilizes independent therapists to work with Spanish speaking immigrant first families seeking reunification with their children. I applied to be one of the therapists and am finding that I exceedingly enjoy this aspect of working with this population. It combines all the things I am most passionate about: parent and child relationships, trauma and its impact on families, the Spanish language, and cultural awareness. I am often horribly outraged when I learn about the injustices many clients have endured during their time in this country and this includes extremely poor mental health service delivery. I am fully aware of the privilege I have experienced and continue to maintain, as a documented citizen with a professional position and economic means, when I work with these families. The Penn State episode reminds me that we still need to be hyper-vigilant towards ensuring social justice, multicultural and racial sensitivity issues are taught thoughtfully and passionately in higher education counseling, social work, psychology, and marriage and family therapy programs. We have a lot of work to do.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fear of Not Being Alone

I recently decided that I was going to be more open with my adoptive family about my reunion.  I didn't initially tell my extended adoptive family about my reunion.  I had my reasons, but a lot of those reasons aren't valid anymore.  I'm trying to build meaningful relationships with my natural sisters at this point.  I've been in a secret relationship for nearly three years now with my natural parents.  I'm a firm believer that secret relationships are toxic and that they aren't good for anyone.  So I'm not willing to have secret relationships anymore.  I'm breaking my silence with my extended adoptive family.  It's terrifying.

My family is great.  I don't want to imply that they aren't.  However, there is a lot of them.  And they are very protective of me and my adoptive parents.  It's a daunting task.  I'm working on that fear and working on telling people one by one, in situations I can control.  I'm about half way through my list right now.  And I'm working towards telling even more.  I'm getting there.  It's going to take me awhile but I'm OK with that.

In the spirit of this new openness, I stopped by my aunt and uncle's house to have a chat with them a few months ago.  I wanted them to know what was going on in my life and worked up enough courage to stop by on my way home from work.  The conversation was one of the best conversations I've ever had about adoption.  For the first time, nobody asked me how my adoptive parents were doing with my reunion.  They asked how I was doing.  They told me they were sorry.  I was so confused about what they were apologizing for until I let them continue.  They were sorry that I went through the early stages of reunion alone.  They knew there wouldn't have been much they could have done, but they could have been a sympathetic ear and they could have provided encouragement and love.  I was pretty blown away at just how strongly they wanted to be there for me.  I forget sometimes that others care about me enough to put their own crap aside for me.

Since then, I've gotten many text messages from members of that specific family letting me know how happy they are for me and that they are there for me.  I got a particularly touching text from my uncle about how proud of me he was.  He figured it must have taken a lot for me to go through everything and that he was proud of how I handled myself and how I'm handling things now.  He took the time to type everything out on an ancient cell phone (you know, the kind where you have to hit 2 three times for a "c") because it was so important to him that I know how proud he was of me.  I still have the text message saved and read it when I have a bad day or feel under-appreciated in life.

I'm learning that I need to give the people I love a chance to support and love me back.  I have to give them the chance to be proud of me.  And that because they love me and I love them, there's a really good chance they are going to be supportive. They care about me, and I have to let them.  I have a hard time accepting love sometimes.  It's hard for me to be the one in a relationship that needs support.  I have a hard time realizing that sometimes I need to depend on others.  I'm the strong and independent one in my family.  I'm dependable.  I'm the one who helps everyone else.  That's a huge part of my identity and I've worked hard to remain that person over the years.  It's a part of who I am, but part of it is a mechanism to protect myself.  I've been let down before and I'm always scared of it happening again.  To put it simply, I have a huge fear of not being alone.  However, I also have learned that my fear of being let down is holding me back.  I think about how things might have been sometimes.  I'm not one to dwell, but I am one to learn from my mistakes.  This is one of those times.

I did have some support, don't get me wrong.  A select group of friends were there for me and they really helped see my through it.  My boyfriend (now fiance) was there for me and I love him so much for it.  However, I had this huge support network that could have been there for me too and I didn't take advantage of that because I was afraid to let them in.  My relationships with them were altered by this huge secret and I didn't have the courage to be open with them about what I was going through because of fear.  And I'm realizing now that maybe I didn't have so much to be scared about.  

For me, it was my family.  Not everyone has that kind of relationship with their family.  For others, it might be another group of people.  But I think about how much of my life I struggled through missing that love and support because I was afraid of those relationships.  I'm working on getting over that fear.  I don't expect it to go away overnight, but it's something that I'm willing and able to work on.

I'll be sharing my journey as well as blogging about various relationship issues in this column.  Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Website to Watch: Watch Adoptee Films

Kevin Ost-Vollmers, founder of Land of Gazillion Adoptees, along with fellow adoptee and musician, Jared Rehberg, have created a new website to share adoptee-centric films. Watch Adoptee Films currently features five titles that can be viewed via computer for $4.99 or less.

The site also includes an online store with links to movies, music, and books for purchase.

According to the site's About page, Ost-Vollmers and Rehberg hope to "create a resource for: interested individuals wanting to stream adoptee-centric films; veteran adoptee filmmakers to show off their talents to a wide audience; and new adoptee filmmakers to introduce their work."

I love the concept of this new project and look forward to seeing expanded offerings in the future!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Round Table: Holiday Season Adoption Triggers, Part 2

On Wednesday's Round Table, we were talking about childhood memories and birth stories. Today, we have a touching memory from Amanda, and reflections on figuring out how we fit-in with our adoptive family.

Wanting to be "part of the group"

Amanda Woolston - I went to a private school and several of my classmates, to my standards, were very wealthy. There were fads that my adoptive family could never afford to participate in. To be cool, you had to wear Adidas gym pants on dress-down days. Hush Puppy shoes, and you HAD to have a Starter jacket with a football team on it. Uniforms did nothing to level the playing field, so to speak. This is because the uniform came in two versions, the regular version and the cheap version. If you couldn't afford the regular uniform, you could buy a cheap knock-off with a poorly copied version of the real uniform's plaid. Even the material was different.

If you didn't wear just the right things, you were uncool, your parents were poor, and you were mercilessly teased. My father's business did not take off until I was much older. I could not "afford" to fit in and be accepted by my peers until I was in junior high.

I remember one Christmas where I had requested a Starter brand jacket with the Cowboys on it. I didn't even like the Cowboys or football, but this seemed to be the most popular team for kids to be wearing. My dad told me he thought he could get me one and I was so excited. I could make it until Christmas being uncool and then everything would change. I would have the same jacket the other kids had and then I would fit in. I opened that box on Christmas morning and pulled out a beautiful jacket. But it was black....not the Cowboy colors. It wasn't even a football team, it was the Orlando Magic.

I stared at this jacket in horror., no, no, no, I thought in my head. Wrong jacket. This is the wrong jacket. This is not the one I am supposed to wear.

What my dad did was take my jacket request and translate it into something that fit me. I did not like football but I loved basketball. I did not watch or cheer for the Cowboys, but I did watch and cheer for the Orlando Magic. I even had their posters on my walls. The jacket wasn't Starter brand, simply because Starter did not make basketball jackets with Orlando Magic on them.

But I did not want a jacket in order to be myself. I wanted a jacket to be like everyone else.

I had no other coats or jackets that fit me, so I wore this one every day to school. My peers made fun of me for not having parents who knew how to buy me the right clothes. I was called dumb for not knowing what jacket I was supposed to get. I was the only one who had a basketball jacket.

I felt terrible. It was entirely traumatizing to me that this beautiful gift from my father, that he worked long hours to afford, that was in essence me in every way, was no acceptable. Furthermore, it was cause for people to hurl hatred at me. Who I am was not good enough. It was more important to just fit in. I felt selfish and materialistic for my reaction to this jacket. But this wasn't about vanity, this was about survival. It was about being able to go school every day and not be exposed to verbal violence day in and day out.

Some Christmases, when I open my presents, I re-live the experience of opening that box and seeing my interests reflected in the perfect jacket for me....and hating it....because being me would not rescue me from the torment of my peers for being different.

Creating Traditions

Dorothy Sands - One of my best friends bought me a red t-shirt from Wal-Mart a few years ago with the Grinch’s mug on it.

The most difficult part for me, in the beginning of reunion, was trying to find a place to fit everyone into my psyche, and the holidays and others just magnified the problem. Honestly, I continue to struggle. Now, I have siblings and I tried last year to send off all these gifts, but I think I overdid it. This year, I want to settle in with just my family (husband, children) and close the doors. I can't find a happy, in between and peaceful place. It's a constant irritating feeling. Basically, I stay anxious throughout these times. But, making my own traditions with my husband and children has eased a great deal of these feelings. Making ginger-people has been one of these traditions, and I am so in the moment with my sons, that the other 'issues' kinda take a back burner.

The Adoptee Paradox: Fitting in, and at the same time, not fitting in

Rebecca Hawkes - I don't remember struggling around holidays as a child, but I am struggling with them a bit as an adult. I have been in reunion with my mother for 17 years, but we have never spent a major holiday together. This Thanksgiving she shared a beautiful but heartbreaking poem with me about the "ghost child" who is with her on holidays. I have plans to see my biological father a few days before Christmas, and we have a Christmas-themed activity planned. This is the first Christmas we've been in contact with each other, so it's especially exciting to have a holiday activity planned, but there's that old adoptee guilt rising up. Because of this activity, I will be arriving at my adoptive parents' house one day later than I would have otherwise. Should I have to feel guilty about that? Maybe not, but I do.

Karen Pickell - Amanda’s response reminded me of what my childhood Christmases felt like. We usually spent Christmas afternoon at my cousins’ house. My mom’s extended family would have dinner together, and one year in particular I remember listening to them all having a conversation about which of my cousins looked the most like my grandmother. I was probably nine or ten at the time. I didn’t say a word because, of course, I looked nothing like grandma. I remember feeling like I didn’t belong in my family, like I was outside of them, although they didn’t intend to make me feel that way. They were having a perfectly normal family conversation; it was just one I couldn’t take part in. These days I live three states away from my relatives, so various neighbors will at times invite my family to join them for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Unless the invitation comes from someone I feel very close to, I always decline. I just recently realized that the reason I decline is that I don’t want to feel again like I don’t belong to a family group. I would rather spend the holidays with only the other three people in my immediate family than with a house full of strangers. The thought of it brings up a deep feeling of loneliness for me—not something I can easily explain to an acquaintance.

Rebecca, I don't know if you want to go there, but I'm curious about why you and your mother have never spent a holiday together.

Rebecca - Oh, Karen, you just reminded me of something I wrote on my blog once: "I remember one particular Thanksgiving. My first husband and I had recently separated, and I had been single-parenting a toddler. No one expected me to do much that year, which was a good thing. I had been putting a lot of energy into holding myself together, but once surrounded by the safety of family I melted into a puddle. I spent most of the day napping on the couch while others looked after Mackenzie and prepared the meal. My cousin C had recently gained some weight and her body shape matched that of my mother, as did her hair color and length and her energetic movements. From my haze on the couch in the open kitchen / living room layout, I was occasionally conscious of one or the other of them moving past me as they bustled about preparing the meal, but I couldn't tell who was who. It was one of those adoptee paradox moments. I was conscious of both belonging and not belonging, of being held by the family but not completely of the family."

A big part of it is distance. My b-mom and I have always been separated by geography. We do a once a year visit of a week or more, but it doesn't tend to overlap with holidays. Another is that holiday traditions tend to be big in my a-family. Christmas especially is a huge holiday. I associate the holidays with them and have never really wanted to make the break from that. It's difficult to explain, but Christmas is a holiday that happens for me in my a-parents’ house. If I'm not there, it isn't really Christmas.

Karen - Ah, that all makes sense.

Dorothy - For me, I keep hoping for a moment of peace. Although in reunion with both n-parents for quite some time, I feel anxious. The key for me has been creating my traditions with my current family. My husband and sons do certain things that make my season happy. If I had to rely on a-parents and n-parents and all the integration the turmoil of pleasing and not hurting others or myself, well, I doubt I could ever enjoy a holiday.

Jenn - This is the first Christmas that I'm in reunion with my natural sisters. It's going to be different and we're going to have to find a way to make our own holiday traditions. Because we all have established family traditions, and I'm still a secret to my extended natural family, we're not going to see each other for the day.

So instead, I have to find a way to share some of the holiday in a different way with them. For a holiday that's always been about family to me, it's going to be an interesting challenge. So while it's about distance, like Rebecca described (and it feels like Christmas with my adoptive family too), it's also a bit more tainted with secrets.

Hopefully that won't be an issue for many more holidays.

*  *  *  *  *

Roundtable compiled by Laura Dennis, images from freedigital

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why Wish Away the Love?

My supervisor and I arrived at a speaking engagement a few days ago.  We walked into the auditorium filled with chairs, we coveted the donuts that were arranged on a long table, and then we took our seats at the front of the room.  I watched my supervisor be fitted for her microphone when she pointed to me and said, "Amanda gets one too."  After she was done giving her presentation she hoped that I would have something to add.  The topic? Grief and loss at the holidays.  *Gulp.*  I brainstormed, fast, about what I was going to say.

Fortunately, it ended up being a small and intimate gathering that was more a discussion than a presentation.  I did not end up presenting.  I don't mind public speaking; however, in this instance I was happy to be the one to do the listening.  My supervisor said some really profound things about grief and loss during the holidays that I thought I would share.

She said that when a loss occurs, we have pain because we have love.

"You gave love and you received love and now that person is gone.  No one likes to feel pain, but it is not something that we can just wish away.  If we wished away the pain, we would wish away the love that we have.  We should never want to wish away the love.  The best thing we can do is to accept the place grief now has in our lives and work through it."

My supervisor and I talked about it in the car on the way back to the office.  I asked her for her permission to share these words with you here today.  

In hospice, the role of "disenfranchised grief" in someone's life is something we are very familiar with.  A person's disenfranchised, or invalidated/unrecognized, grief can play a role in their grieving process when they're losing a loved one to a terminal diagnosis.  It is something we try to be very aware of and sensitive to.  I talked with her about disenfranchised grief in adoption.  She was very open and receptive to hearing about how her words could be universalized to other grief situations, like adoption.

Her words gave meaning to my experience at the hospital when my first son was born.  It was giving birth and holding him in that hospital bed that suddenly brought about my sense of urgency to search.  In my search, I was advocating for me, I was advocating for him, and I was advocating for my first mother's right to have closure by knowing I was OK, if that's what she wanted.  But what was that emotion at the time?  I have always ever described it at the time as, "I am a mother, and now I know."  I knew that mother-child bond, and I could imagine the bond she may have had with me.  I could feel the pain of what it must be like not to have your child.  Even a baby that you had only known and held for a few minutes or a few hours.  It was overwhelming.  It was terrifying.  It was heartbreaking.

What I felt was her love and my love for her.

I loved my baby the moment that I set eyes on him.  I thought maybe she loved me, maybe she didn't.  Maybe she did at first and doesn't anymore.  But if she ever did, what grief that must have been to lose something she loved.  And I felt grief in that moment because I realized there, laying there cuddling my little boy, that I loved her too.

In adoption, we are penalized for admitting grief or even ambivalence.  We lose our credibility when sharing our perceptions and experiences often times because our grief is disenfranchised.  People don't understand it so therefore, it must not actually exist.  This point of view saddens me.  Not because I need anyone elses' validation but because it lacks the recognition of the love.  If you cannot recognize my grief for my mother, then can you also not recognize my love for her?  What a sad thing to never be able to see the love behind adoptee grief.

Something my supervisor also said is that apathy is not a resolution of grief.  It is just another emotion that goes with grief.  There are some losses that you just don't get over.  Grief is something that we carry inside of us.  She likened grief to an ocean.  There are times when the tides of grief are further away.  There are times when the tides come up closer to us.  In closing she said something I think every person should hear:  "if your grief ever stays too close for too long, please ask for help."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Round Table: Holiday Season Adoption Triggers, Part 1

Happy December, welcome to the Round Table!

"Holiday season adoption triggers" ... those wholly illogical, emotional, out-of-the-blue reactions we adoptees (may or may not) have to events that others might consider perfectly normal.

Here at Lost Daughters, our personal experiences with search and reunion vary, we come from different geographic areas, and work in an assortment professions. In sharing our varied stories, we reaffirm that we are not alone. Drawing connections to others’ experiences, we can understand our own, let go, and perhaps find peace. Here's the prompt:

Did you have any growing up? Do you have new issues as an adult, handling extended (reunited) family members? What about triggers related to your children? How do you deal? Feel free to mention coping mechanisms, too ...

The only problem is, once the Sisters get rolling on a topic, we always have a lot to say! For the sake of “easy digestion,” I’ve divided Adoption Triggers into two parts:
  1. Childhood memories & birth stories, and
  2. The Adoptee Paradox: Fitting in, and at the same time, not fitting in
We may not have the same triggers, but the feelings and the psychological effects are eerily similar. Without further ado, here’s Part 1:

Childhood Memories & Birth Stories

LauraDuring Christmas season growing up, my adoptive parents always made a big deal with a huge tree, tons of decorations, ornaments, the works. We did Church Bazaars, we did the live nativity and pageant, we crafted, we baked, we wrapped presents, we caroled. You name it, we did it.

Christmas night, I was inevitably devastated. Christmas was OVER. Even though Mom never took down the tree until Valentine's Day or so, I would cry inconsolably at the foot of the tree. This depression began around age 10.
Come to find out as an adult, holidays are often hard on adoptees. Adopted children think about family celebrations, the unknown, their natural families; but they can't put the grief into words. This sense of loss makes complete sense to me. I always wondered about my birth mom, and that unidentified grief stuck with me, only to be exacerbated during holidays.
Fast forward to adulthood, and here's how I deal: I stretch out Christmas for several days: Christian Christmas Eve and Day, Serbian Orthodox Christmas. (I married a non-religious Serbian man, and I live in Belgrade.) Also, Serbs celebrate the New Year with gifts. Then you have the Orthodox calendar's New Year’s Eve ten days later.

All of this celebrating helps me keep the "let-down sadness" in check. Added bonus: the gifts get spread out, so my little kids can actually enjoy them.

What are your thoughts, experiences, and traditions?
Jenn - The hardest adoption trigger this time of year is the fact that I didn't come home with my adoptive parents until January. My first Christmas was spent in a foster home. My "first Christmas" holiday ornaments on our Christmas tree are from the wrong year. We don't have any pictures of me as a newborn with Christmas decorations. Thanksgiving is hard like that too.

Now that I know my natural family, I spend more time thinking about them during the holidays. This year will be the first year I know my sisters. I already have their gifts and we're trying to find a time to get together, but we'll have to come up with new traditions for the three of us. It's a challenge, but I keep reminding myself that we are figuring it out as we go along and nothing needs to be set in stone.
We have time now to make the holidays what we want them to be.
Jaesun - For me it's birthdays, knowing your exact birth date and time of birth is something I realize I will never know. Most people just take this for granted, but for me, now knowing the circumstances of my birth means I'll never get to know that. I have an estimated birth, meaning my official birthday could be one day later or one day earlier.
And my parents made a big deal out of birthdays, Christmas, and even Easter while I was a child. Easter and Christmas is not as difficult as the birthday, but yeah, Christmas is kind of hard as well. Because I know my parents made the decision to separate me from my family. That kind of hurts, and I'm always reminded of it. But I know why they did it
Amanda Woolston - When we talk about childhood issues in adoption, we run the risk of being written off as, "Oh, you had a bad experience, that's why you think and feel the way that you do." It's easy to see someone's negative experiences, especially when they're specifically pulling those negatives out of the overall context of their childhood to talk about them, as how their entire childhood was. The fact of the matter is, I had a typical childhood with typical holiday issues with the very a-typical variable of being adopted thrown in.

In other words, I experienced what I think many kids do--not feeling understood, needing to self-discover, and not feeling like I quite fit in. My foundation in this world, my home and adoptive family, was a loving and positive environment. But at family gatherings, I was the only one who was not biologically related. And they all looked so much alike. I carried the paradox "I can adapt and fit in anywhere" and "I actually fit in nowhere" everywhere with me.

What I am approaching in what I am saying here is that what I struggled with most during the holidays is not fundamentally that I am adopted. My worst holiday memory is from when I was bullied. But it comes back to the theme of just not fitting in. Ever. And adoption was a part of that.

Laura - Amanda, you raise a really good point. Even though I was the one who suggested this, I acknowledge that it's a fraught topic. I, too, had a lovely middle class upbringing. I wasn't abused, I didn't lack for food or shelter.
Adoptive parents, adoptees who don't feel the need to search, or non-adoptees reading my "complaints" might say, "Well what should have your mom done when she saw you crying by the tree? Maybe it really was that you're sensitive, and a prima donna, maybe it's not that you were crying because you were adopted. What should they have done, not celebrated at all?"
I mean, I get it. But simply understanding the various possible reactions and issues related to being adopted would have helped. I did the: I'll be perfect so I won't be given away. My (adopted) brother did the, I'll rebel and reject you first, but he now has a great relationship with our mom. He has no need to search, according to him.
Adoptee experiences do run the gamut, but if I'd been told, for example, this sadness you feel is normal, why don't we think about something fun that we'll do on the 26th, or ... I know you get sad, but I saved one more present for you and your brother so you have something to open tomorrow. I think it would have gone a long way to helping me learn how to process, how to deal with my sadness. And it's true; it may be entirely unrelated to my adoption. My depression/bipolar may be biological; in which case perhaps having known this was part of my medical history could have helped while my parents were trying to raise me.
Amanda - Oh, Laura, I didn't mean for my response to come off as a critique of your prompt. Just that it's part of my overall response to your prompt.
Laura - Amanda, no worries, I realized your intentions as I read your response. I think your point is good, and it helps to dispel misunderstandings. One more thing to add: My first mom and I reunited in person, and spent a week together. At the end of the “vacation,” we were both on the verge of tears thinking about separating again. She said, “Laura, let’s make a plan for when we’ll get together next. That way, we don’t have to be sad.” Made a world of difference.
Perhaps this is what biology can do?

“Adoptee Scrooge”

Julie - This time of year has always been difficult for me as an adoptee. Even more so since reuniting with my natural parents and learning more about my narrative. My birthday is in January. My natural mother spent the Christmas before I was born in the Catholic maternity home. I'm assuming that members of our family did not visit her. My heart aches thinking about the two of us in that maternity home at Christmas. She must have felt so alone and scared.
The weeks between Christmas and my birthday are sad ones for me when I think about what she and I went through. I now cope with it by acknowledging that is okay to have these feelings of sadness. It is okay to feel an ache in my heart for all that my mother, father and I lost and went through during this time of year. My husband is amazing in that he understands that I need to express these feelings in order to focus on the present moment and also enjoy the holidays with our children. I'm not a total Adoptee Scrooge. I just have my moments.
Thanks, everyone!  

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Check back on Friday, December 7 for Part 2 of Holiday Season Adoption Triggers, in which we'll talk about fitting in with our adoptive family, and yet knowing that we don't quite fit in.
Round table compiled by Laura Dennis, image from freedigital