Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's 2013: Men, do you know where your child is?

by Lynn Grubb

You would think in 2013, that father’s rights would have progressed farther than they truly have.   

When it is still possible for a married woman to leave her home state, go to Utah, have a baby and relinquish the child for adoption (with the full support of an adoption agency) without the father knowing, there is something wrong in adoption. 

Fortunately, in the case of Terry Achane, the father was able to get his daughter back (go here for more on Terry Achane) after much litigation with the adoptive parents.  He is surely in the minority.  

How many Terry Achanes are there in this country who were duped out of their child?  

How many men are walking around without even knowing they were fathers?  I’m certain more than any of us would like to admit.

The image of the dead-beat dead is alive in well in the U.S., even though fathers across the country tell stories of how they mourn the loss of children they never knew of until years later. My husband said this morning, that if a father is willing to open his wallet, then and only then is the man considered. 

During the Baby Scoop Era, it was common for mothers to relinquish children they never told the father’s about.  This was accepted as common practice.  But in 2013? 

Many men, when they father a child out of wedlock, soon receive the child support paperwork by certified mail.  But what about the men who never receive any paperwork?  Or phone calls from former girlfriends?  

In my home state of Ohio, as well as in a majority of other states, the burden is on men to know if they fathered a child.  Even if they don’t know.  Even if the mother lied or left the state. 

Terry Achene had an advantage:  he was married to the mother which made him the legal father.  He also hired a lawyer to fight for his rights.   

An unmarried father, has no rights to begin with.  An unmarried father is referred to as "putative," basically meaning unless he does something, he has no rights.  That something is quite burdensome.  

There is an urban legend that all a father has to do to protect his rights is to sign the birth certificate.  When you consider how many incorrect fathers have signed birth certificates, I wouldn’t bet your rights on that.  It’s a good start, but there is more expected.  

First a father must know he has fathered a child, support the mother (and indirectly the child) and then also support the child when born.  This support should be documented (money, food, clothing, visitation, etc.). If a father has not supported the pregnant mother or child, it is considered abandonment.  (This is true in Ohio as well in step-parent adoptions when biological fathers have made no contact with their children for a year.) 

Second, a father must establish paternity in a Court. Just because you believe you are the father does not give you any rights.  You have to put your money where your mouth is by making it legal.

 In Ohio, if you do not want to lose your child to adoption, you must sign the Putative Father Registry within 30 days of the child’s birth. By law, these registries are supposed to be advertised, but I have yet to see an advertisement of the registry.   If a father has not signed up for the Putative Father registry, then he will not receive notice of an adoption of his child ORC 3107.061. (For the best write-up on the PFR, go to Erik Smith’s article, "The Putative Father Registry …. .the what?”).   

Most people have never even heard of this registry where men are expected to register the women's names with whom they have had sex.  It is a legal mechanism to either include or exclude potential fathers in notice of an adoption proceeding. ORC 3107.062  Just because you receive notice, does not mean that you will be able to stop an impending adoption.  (go here for more specifics in the law).

Unmarried fathers have many hurdles to jump if they do not want their child to be adopted.  It is best if you hire a competent attorney who specializes in adoption and/or father’s rights as soon as you are aware that you have fathered a child if you want to protect your rights to your child.  Not knowing is no excuse under the law.

For address information about the Putative Father Registry in your state, go here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Betsie’s Quest: Origins of an Ohio Adoptee Rights Activist

Betsie Norris has been a force behind numerous attempts to revise Ohio's law concerning adoptees' original birth certificates, including current H.B. 61 and S.B. 23, which will be voted on the coming month. Last year, I interviewed Betsie for a biography project in my graduate writing program at Kennesaw State University. The article posted here is an abbreviated version of the profile I wrote for that class. --Karen Pickell

Betsie Norris
Betsie Norris’s parents, Brad and Lois Norris, were given very little information when they adopted their three children. In 1960, when Betsie was adopted, it was common for adoptions to be closed; adoptive parents and birth parents were told nothing about each other. An adopted child was to be raised as if her adoptive family was her only family. Brad and Lois didn’t know how old their children’s birth parents were or why their children were placed for adoption. They were given no physical descriptions of their kids’ first families nor any family medical history. Brad and Lois told Betsie she was conceived in love and that was all that mattered.

Betsie’s adoptive family was like any other family, with their fair share of joy and heartache. Brad was a successful attorney who was never one to shy away from a cause. Throughout his life, he served on the boards of many different local and national organizations, including that of the agency that handled his children’s adoptions, Children’s Services of Cleveland.

The Norris’s marriage was troubled, and when Betsie was nine, they divorced. Adolescence is difficult for most teenagers and it was especially so for Betsie. On top of dealing with her emotions surrounding the divorce, as an adoptee Betsie struggled with the loss of her birth family, though she wasn’t conscious of it at the time. She realized that her body was maturing and wondered how she would end up looking as an adult—how tall she would be, for instance. She told friends she might search for her birth mother one day. She didn’t discuss her thoughts with her parents, or even with the counselor to whom they sent her to help deal with her family’s issues.

Search for Self

During her mid-twenties, after reading the book The Adoption Triangle: The Effect of the Sealed Record on Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents, Betsie decided to search for her birth mother. Through the stories told by other birth mothers in the book, she gained her first real insight into the depth of feeling these women had for their relinquished children. She realized that not only had her birth mother never forgotten her, she likely wanted to know what had happened to the child she had given up.

Betsie knew that in finding the truth, she might have to face facts that would be difficult to deal with. She knew something had to have been wrong for her birth mother to feel it necessary to give up her child. Still, she needed to know the truth of her origins. Equally important to her was finding out her family medical history. Her experience working as a nurse had made her acutely aware of how much she didn’t know. Her mom and dad were both very supportive. Brad told her that if he were adopted, he was sure that he would also want to search. 

Betsie learned from The Adoption Triangle that she could request non-identifying information about her birth parents from her adoption agency. The one-page report said that her birth mother was sixteen when Betsie was born and that both her birth parents had blond hair, though Betsie was skeptical about their hair color since her own was red.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I'm not an adoptee anymore

I'm not an adoptee anymore.

I've decided to just move on in my life. I will not allow it to affect my life any longer. I've been contemplating what so many AP's, fellow adoptees, and others have continued to express to me either on my blog or via email or in person: I just need to focus on the "good" that adoption has done in my life and stop getting "stuck in the negative."

Why didn't I recognize this previously? Duh, right? Why has it taken me so long to come to this realization, right? Just let it all go, put on a smile, and coast through all the syrupy sweetness of life. Forget everything else. The grief, the hardship, the daily reminders of the pain and loss? Yes, just leave it all behind. My Omma, my Appa--their pain, regret and sorrows--just let it wash away. Don't let it trouble me. The complexity of it all? Just simplify. Cut out all the sadness and longing, the division, the tension, the conflict, and hold onto only that which makes me feel good and giddy. Of course, why didn't I think of this before?!

And all of you who have so long wished that I would just snap out of it and stop talking about all the hard stuff and move onto the gooey goodness, so that your adopted children have an ideal adult adoptee role model to admire, well, guess what? I'm your girl! (Posters will soon be available.)

Ok. By now, most of you have picked up on the sarcasm, especially with that last parenthetical statement.

But there's a point to it all. It's not just for joking's sake. And the point is in the opening statement: I'm not an adoptee anymore.

In order to do what I just expressed above, I would have to stop being an adoptee. And of course, that's impossible. You might as well ask me to stop being Korean. I can try--dye my hair blonde, wear blue contact lenses, get plastic surgery on my nose and eyes, get some boob implants, etc., etc. Although after all that, I might not look as Korean, I nonetheless do not cease being Korean--the DNA is still ever present.

Being an adoptee may not be in the DNA, but it might as well be, because the effects of being adopted are just as pervasive and irrevocable.

And honestly, I'm having one of those weeks, the kind that I seem to have every other month or so, when I want to stop being an adoptee. Of course, I can't actually stop being an adoptee. But I often have strong urges to sever myself from the adoption community and go on my merry way.

Obviously, I will always be an adoptee. And my life will always be affected by it.

Sometimes, I do wish I could go incognito. Adoptee Relocation Program, anyone? Oh wait, that's how the whole mess began. And unfortunately, unlike what so many folks seem to want to believe, it can't be undone with teachings on gratitude and love, or by flipping some mental switch.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hey mom, they don't see your little girl, they see an Asian woman...

When I was a little girl, it was obvious that I was adopted, because I was most often seen and understood within the context of my White American family--whether out at a restaurant or in elementary school. People interacted with me with the understanding that I was the White couple's little Asian daughter.

But once I began to get out into the world, further away from the shelter of my White parents and eventually became an adult, there was no longer the context of my White family everywhere I went.
And even now, when seen with my parents or my brothers, as an adult, it is no longer obvious that I am adopted. I am mistaken as a girlfriend or wife when with my brothers or as a daughter-in-law when with my parents--or even completely ignored as unconnected to my parents, seen as a stranger that just happens to be standing unusually close at the checkout line or at the department store.

Where this difference becomes particularly significant is in regards to the way other people view me, and therefore their treatment of me due to the (understandable) assumptions they possess because of my outward appearance, i.e., race.

They see an Asian woman--no longer a cute little Asian girl adopted so kindly and charitably into a White American family--who is not American but rather who must have Asian parents, Asian customs, Asian language, etc.

I am not American. I am a foreigner. I am not one of us. I am one of them. 

The only problem is that I am neither one of them nor one of us. I am both. But because there is no longer the context of my White American family everywhere I go, as there was when I was a little girl, others have no way of knowing or understanding that I am not who or what they assume I am.

So, they treat me according to what they assume from my appearance. I'm not playing the violin here. It is what it is--I have to accept it and deal with it. It's fine. It ain't going away. But my point is that it's part of the daily reality--the daily dissonance--of being a Korean person who was adopted into a White family.

And now that I have been in reunion with my Korean family for 4 years, this identity dissonance has only become more convoluted and confusing to manage at times.

Ultimately, I do feel more American than Korean--most days. If I'm honest with myself (as much as it might make me cringe at times)--my culture is strongly that of White America. Obviously, I am less connected to my "Koreanness" as a result of being raised by White people in a White world. Yet the very fact that the White world views me as Korean forces me to connect with my "Koreanness," and of course, being in reunion with my Korean family also somehow "makes" me more Korean.

But when it comes down to it, I'm American to Koreans, and I'm Korean to Americans. But who can blame them? I mean, honestly, when I see another Korean woman, I don't think to myself, "Hey, there's someone like me!" Rather, I feel a complete disconnect, sometimes even an aversion. And  I experience the same reaction when I encounter White women. I don't feel like either one is "my people."

It all feels so messy.

I don't even know how to put into words most of the time or how to explain it to others.

Ultimately, I experience the racial and ethnic dissonance created by my "adoptedness" every single day of my life. But it's such a silent, isolated struggle, because no one can see my "adoptedness." And there's the added paradox of not really wanting others to know that I am adopted, and yet wanting everyone to know it.

This is just one of the many ways that I am reminded daily of the fact that I am adopted--and of all the loss and division and pain that comes along with being adopted transracially. And now, that I have a son and a little girl due this summer, the pervasive repercussions and dissonance of being adopted only become all the more salient, poignant, undeniable.

When I was a little girl, it was easy to be naive to the way the American world viewed me. It was easy to be oblivious to the loss, the grief, the harsh realities of how being adopted affected my life.

But now that I am an adult, I cannot escape it--not for a moment.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tell Me Who My Father Is

Photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr
I’ve recently had conversations with several adoptee friends whose birth mothers refuse to tell them their fathers’ names. I feel angry when I hear stories like this, because I know how it feels to be in their shoes, not knowing half of their own genetic history. For a while, my birth mother would not tell me who my father was. It took a lot of pleading and pressure on my part to finally convince her to give me his name. Once I knew the whole story, I realized her hesitation was due to several factors.
For one thing, she felt he would deny that he was my father, because that’s what he had done when she was pregnant with me. She also still felt ashamed about becoming pregnant at such a young age. The response she got from her family and from the agency that handled her relinquishment added to her sense of shame. At the time she felt alone and abandoned, which is understandable. I think she feared that telling me about my father would reopen those wounds or that she’d have to communicate with him herself, which she didn’t want to do. I think she didn’t want to relive what she’d gone through while carrying me to term and then subsequently relinquishing me. It was likely one of the worst periods of her entire life. Who could blame her for wanting to leave it in the past?
I picked up on another reason she may have had as well. She seemed to blame my father for what she’d gone through, and she seemed to think him unworthy of being invited into my life. In a way, some of what she expressed reminded me of how one divorced parent sometimes voices negativity to her child about the other parent, when it has more to do with the parents’ relationship with each other than with anything that’s happened between the parent and child.
If there are any birth mothers reading this, what I’m going to say next is for you: It is not okay for you to keep the name of your child’s father from your adult child. You do not have to ever speak to the man yourself, you do not need to have a relationship with him, but your child has a right to know him if she wants to. Your child might tell you these reasons why knowing her father is so important to her:
  • My father is my biological parent, just as much as you are.

  • Not knowing my father means not knowing half of my family medical history and half of my ancestry.

  • Not knowing my father means my children will also be missing part of their family medical history and their ancestry.

  • Even if a relationship with my father is not possible, there may be grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles I could know if you tell me who my father is.

  • Even if you do not have a good relationship with my father, I have a right to have a relationship with him if that is what he and I both want.

  • You do not need to be in contact with my father. You only need to tell me who he is, and I will do the rest.

  • You do not need to protect me from anything negative about my father or about the circumstances of my conception. I am no longer a minor child who needs to be protected. I am an adult, and I am entitled to know the truth about how I came to be and about my father. I need you to let me process the facts about my father and my conception in my own way.

In my own case, my birth mother did eventually tell me who my father is, and I have reunited with him. I know the whole story of my conception, and there was misunderstanding on both sides, much of it, in my opinion, due to the fact that my parents were very young when I was conceived. My birth parents have not communicated with each other in any way, nor do they need to. As an adult, I can have a relationship with each of them independent of their relationship with each other. I know important medical information from my father’s side of my family, and my children can now draw their complete family tree. This is as it should be, and I wish for all of my adoptee friends that they, too, will know their complete history very soon.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"At Home, Abroad"

Race and adoption. That's my beat. But often I think of how conversations of race and adoption intersect and overlap with conversations about transnational adoption and identity. And, even further, how domestic, same-race adoption can evoke similar language of foreignness. In that middle shaded portion of an adoption Venn Diagram, "foreign" is a word we can all share.

Poet Jackie Kay was born in Scotland in 1961 to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father, and adopted by a Scottish couple at birth. In the poem "At Home, Abroad" from her collection Darling, she writes about dreaming of other countries, "places she's never been" which include not only Africa, the site of her paternal roots, but Scotland too, even though she grew up there.

As an adopted person, even the place where you grow up, your home, is a site of imagining, because your biological parents are not there--you must imagine them, draw them on paper to make them real, dream and ask questions that never have easy answers. Your home is not where you were born, not where the mother that bore you resides. So you are "foreign-ed," not so much because you are foreign, but because the space is emptied of a part of you. You might watch the faces around you, search for similarity, hope to find your biological parents one day. You dream of visiting a place where you would be foreign in all the expected ways but yet might feel at home because your roots-connection is there. In language that evokes the curiosity and wonder that begins in childhood, and for many of us continues even as we grow older and wiser on this adoption journey, Jackie Kay's poem explores these themes.

At Home, Abroad

All summer
I dream of
places I've never
where I might
see faces
I've never seen,
like the dark
face of my father in Nigeria
or the pale
face of my
mother in
the Highlands
or the bright
faces of my
cousins at
Land's End.

All summer
I spell the names
of tricky countries
just in case
I get a sudden
invite: Madagascar,
Cameroon. I draw
cartoons of
airports, big and small.
Who will meet me?
Will they
shake hands or
kiss both cheeks?
I draw
with every
country's favourite
sweetie, smiling
a sugary welcome,
and myself,
wondering if I am

Friday, March 1, 2013

North Korean adoptions

babies (Wikimedia Commons) 
Exactly 2 months ago, the US passed a bill that would allowAmerican families a possibility to become parents by giving them the opportunity to adopt a (North) Korean child. Yes, the needs of those children might be very desperate and I am not saying that they are not entitled to receive whatever help they possibly could get. They have a right just like any other child to get a chance to grow up in a nurturing, healthy and loving environment.

But since I am an adult Korean adoptee, (born in South Korea) I am worried and a bit guarded to see exactly how this bill work once it's implemented. For you to understand my reasons for objecting or approving this legislation, I suppose it is vital I explain why I feel like I do.

Officially in my "social study" presented and compiled by the adoption agency, it said that I was an "orphan." "Orphan" means that the child in question is "parent-less," or lacks the financial support from a parents as well as has insufficient care. I grew up knowing of my birth family in Korea, while other adoptees were not aware of anything about their parents, such as if they were married. Mine were married since 17 years prior to my birth, and I was not my parents first child.  I was there youngest at the time of my birth.

Korean adoption begun in the 1950's as a result of War, and Korea began sending orphans overseas to be adopted by American families. Now we enter into 2013, 60 years after the war ending, and Korea still practices adoption.  Although the numbers of international adoptions has decreased with an extended waiting period. This would be more so if South Korean government preferred family preservation or domestic adoption before inter-country adoption.

I decided to initiate a birth family search in my teens.  Through that year long experience, I became friends with other Korean adoptees who were in my situation. From that I learned, many discrepancies came from adoption. Far too many times, I have heard heartening stories of fabricated documents, false information, replaced identified and even switched identified and switched children. These are--or used to be--the practices of South Korean adoption agencies. Will the the world once again become victims of lies because of a need for easier adoption placement?

Forgive me if I am a bit cynical but I think there may be two possible, different approaches by (North) Korea.  Either they will begin to mass-deport thousands upon thousands of small children and orphans in the hopes of getting a piece of the cake.

We send them away now under the pre-understanding that we expect them to support us later.


This bill could be fruitless.  There may be several prospective adoptive parents that technically are approved for adoption. But they might be forced to wait in limbo since the law really isn't doing much. This could be a way for the Kim Jung Un to receive more aid by adopting this seemingly more "open" approach, which also would fit well into his new policy of ending violence with South Korea.