Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's All About Politics

By Jaesun
Adoption is not easy, not only is it emotional, emotionally draining and time consuming. No, it is also governed by laws since I am a Korean adoptee born and adopted during the peak period of the Korean adoption I know a thing or too about it. But I am far from an expert.

scale of law (Wikimedia)

Korea opted for intercountry adoption placement as a result of the Korean War, which happened in the 1950s and today 60 years later still is widely practised. Although it made some failed attempts to stop sending children overseas for adoption. The latest attempt took place only a few years ago when the Korean government announced it no longer needed aid from foreign countries to care for their young ones. Since being critized it has made it more diificult for foreigners to adopt Korean orphans. Its new policy is to try to
reunite the parents with their child or to have it adopted domestically.

China no longer allows single parents to adopt and it has also implemented stricter criterias that prospective adoption parents have to fulfill.

Many of you should be familiar with the Finnish War children who got sent to Sweden during the WW2, when it was time for those foster children to return back to Finland many decided to remain in Sweden.

Now the latest country to implement adoption adjustment laws is the Russian government. Unlike all the other countries already mentioned it is not doing so because of consideration and care of their children. Ever heard of the Magnitsky Act ? It is a political move intend for the US and also a response to the same restrictions and bans that are mentioned in the Mignitsky Act.

The thing is that their political response act is not affecting more than 46 hopeful prospective adoptive families. That would not be a number equal to what the US did to Russia, but it seems it might have been their only way to show an official objection so to say. For all those 46 families the new adoption ban act means that its likely that their adoption process never will be finalized.

What is the Magnitsky Act then ?
The Magnitsky Act is supposed to be a law only concerning Russian govermental workers and official workers that have been found guilty of Human Right's violations which supposedly should be linked to a foreign trade agreement with Russia. As a result it has become more difficult for Russians to optain a Visa and  Americans are banned from adopting children from Russia.

Monday, January 28, 2013

You are Adopted--Funny Joke or Hurtful Insult?

The latest from the Lost Daughter's Round Table:
Do you find this punch line offensive? “Well, you must be adopted.” What’s been your experience with this “joke”?

Responding to Insensitivity

Laura Dennis -- Honestly, it was only recently that I realized this was offensive. I’d heard it before, said to other people--Oh, well you’re bad at math unlike the rest of the family, You must be adopted. Funny, I never thought it applied to me; clearly the adoption kool aid was in full effect.
I'm more sensitive to it now. However, I have a tendency to say things in a snarky tone. I can’t simply respond, “Well, there are some people who are actually adopted, including me,” without it coming out very sarcastically. Maybe that would be a good thing.

Deanna Doss Shrodes -- Usually my first thought when people say that is, "You are so clueless I'm not even going to dignify that with a response."

Jenn -- I'm not a fan of it. I don't walk around saying things like "You must be [insert slur here] to think that." I just feel like sometimes people don't get that it's my life. I hate the joke meme's that float around Facebook because I've heard too many stories of adoptees finding out they were adopted later in life. It's too real and people treat that awful feeling as a joke.


Offhand comments can cut deeply

Rebecca Hawkes -- One thing I've noticed about myself is that I often have a certain "numbness buffer" that goes up when I encounter things that are blatantly adoption-related. For example, I can watch an entire movie about adoption and not connect it to my own situation or have any emotional response to it. Only later will I think "Hmm, that was about adoption. I wonder why I didn't notice that." On the other hand, a movie that isn't about adoption directly but has a related theme, such as loss of a parent or disconnection from family, will have me balling my eyes out.

So what I'm getting at (in my long, rambling way) is that for much of my life I heard such jokes and didn't connect them to myself, as strange as that may seem. Now I'm more aware, but I still tend to react with my head more than my emotions. But just because I'm not having a strong emotional response doesn't mean it doesn't affect me. Sometimes the effect of such things is more subtle and insidious.


Is it okay to joke about being adopted ... with other adoptees?

Amanda Woolston -- Rebecca, I've experienced that too. Being adopted has always been an element of my identity that I've tried to keep separate from the rest of myself. I questioned how something so unknown could relate to the rest of my experience in life. This worked for me until my first son was born and I couldn't separate adoption out any longer. Anything that reminded me of the loss of a mother of her infant or an infant of its mother sent tears rolling down my cheeks.

I think adoption jokes are funny when the right people make them. When I hang out with my adoptee friends, I can't tell you the number of themes that enter into everyday conversation anyone would have that could also ironically double as adoption colloquialisms. For instance, I couldn't afford to travel to the last Adoptee Rights Demonstration by myself. I asked Julie if I could room with her and said something like, "I don't want to put you in the position of telling me no..." Her response? Something along the lines of:

"Amanda, stop being so adopted. Of course you can room with me."

I burst out laughing at my computer screen.

Being adopted is something Julie and I both share in common. The common adoptee struggle of fearing rejection is something we've both had to overcome.

I don't like the irreverent type of joking where you use the diversity of being adopted to infer something negative about someone else. Adoptee jokes are used to signify anything from being mentally ill, disturbed, not really related to their bio or adoptive family, not belonging, or being a "bad seed." I doubt anyone who uses adoption as a joke in this way is working actively to correct the adoption policy problems that make these stereotypes possible. If many of our families weren't unknown to us and if adoption law didn't enforce secrecy, even of us from our own genetic roots, the stereotypes of our unknown, mysterious, evil, misunderstood biological roots wouldn't be so effective as jokes.

The difference between my joke with Julie and someone else using adoption as a joke is the message that gets sent. Two adoptees joking within the community are using joking as a tool of empowerment. We're both reflecting on the challenge we faced and are able to find humor in what we've overcome. The latter type of joking is only effective so far as it is understood that being an adoptee is a negative thing, and therefore, can be used as an insult. That's just not OK.

(Insensitive) adoption themes are inescapable!

Lynn Grubb -- I must be a total cry baby . ... All adoption themes make me cry . . . all non-adoption things make me cry . . . Commercials make me cry! I'm glad you mentioned fear of rejection. I find that affects me in a big way.

Deanna Doss Shrodes -- I have found myself trying to stay away from adoption related themes in media the past year. I find that usually the way things are portrayed is not in keeping with my experience as an adoptee and it angers me to see it. Therefore, it's not an enjoyable experience for me.

Lynn Grubb -- I feel the same way whenever I see a movie (Lifetime like) that shows social workers removing children out of homes . . . They always add unneeded drama and skip over the legal steps that would normally happen. . . .  So everyone who watches the movie thinks people can just show up and take kids without any warning. It really irritates me.

Deanna Doss Shrodes -- My husband took me to a movie for a date night, back in 2011. He thought it was going to be this amazing night, and only had good intentions. As soon as the movie theme unfolded, I immediately tensed up and started crying, quietly. He could tell I was not having a good time. I didn't want to talk about it afterwards, because I knew I couldn't stay composed, AT ALL. I just didn't have the emotional wherewithal to control it. This was all before I experienced a lot of healing through connecting with other adoptees.
He wanted to go for ice cream after the movie which we did. I told him I didn't want to talk about it. But he was so puzzled by what I was so traumatized by he said, "Can we please talk about it?" Bad move. At the ice cream place the more we talked the louder my voice got. It was like a dam started bursting. I was crying, just getting louder and finally he said, "You're right we shouldn't have went there with this in a public place..." Then I cried all the way home. Just quietly in the car. Since then I've avoided TV shows or movies with any adoption theme. I think it's been a good move especially while I've been focusing on healing a lot from unresolved issues the past year and three months after finding you guys.

Lynn Grubb -- You held all that in for so long, Deanna. It's like a dam has let loose!

Laura Dennis -- I just saw a photo from a party in my Facebook feed. Some girls were celebrating (honoring?) their coach at the end of their season, and  they decided to make him wear a large paper dunce cap with a variety of super-fun insults “lovingly” scrawled in thick black marker.
Guess which “joke” was apparent even in the small thumbnail? You got it:

*  *  *  *  *
Thanks to Amanda for the topic idea. Image from freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, January 25, 2013

Father finally receives justice after illegal adoption

He has also finally been awarded custody of his own daughter.

Army soldier Terry Achane was married to his daughter's mother. While she was pregnant, he was reassigned by the military to another state. He followed orders and relocated under the assumption that his wife and child would eventually join him. This is not what happened. Instead, his wife traveled to Utah and arranged to place their child for adoption. The adoption agency involved and the couple who took the child knew that the infant girl's father was married to the mother and had not consented. And they proceeded on anyway to the point that couple who took the child (I will not say adopted because she has never been legally available for adoption) has been fighting Achane in court. It has taken close to two years but Achane was finally reunited with his daughter on January 24, 2013.

Of course, this sort of complete disregard for fathers' rights is nothing new in the good ol' state of Utah. We've heard this story many times before. What makes this one stand out, however, is that the natural mother, the adoption agency, the couple who took the child and the state of Utah managed to completely disregard the rights of a father who was married to the mother of his child. Terry Achane was and is both the biological and legal father of his daughter. And yet, the couple who took her from him was allowed to drag out their illegal adoption for close to two years.

Apparently, no man is safe from Utah's legal system when it comes to his right to parent his own child. Not even men who are married to their child's mother. It is certainly my hope that this case might just be the thing to shake the tree of legal inequity enough in Utah that changes are finally made.

For more information:

Father reunited with daughter who was adopted at birth by Utah couple

Support Terry Achane

Thanks to the couple who took his child, Achane has incurred a large sum in legal bills. These bills will continue to pile up if the couple continues the appeal process. Donations of financial assistance are being accepted through the law firm representing him:

The Law Office of Wiser & Wiser

Terry Achane and his daughter Taleah
Photo courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune

Julie Stromberg
When the time came to think about college, I decided that my career path would encompass either child psychology or journalism. Fortunately for all the young people out there, I opted for journalism and earned a bachelor's degree in communications. Since that time, I have worked as a newspaper and magazine staff writer, public relations associate, and marketing copywriter. My professional creative efforts have been acknowledged with several industry awards.

I am also pleased to be involved in several writing and advocacy projects outside of the office. As an adoptee, my advocacy work is focused on changing the common, societal discourse on adoption practices and encouraging reform that would place the emotional needs and legal rights of the children involved first. www.juliegmstromberg.com

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lost Connections - Adoptee in Limbo

Lost Connections

Beneath the placid surface lies the unquenchable thirst for answers arise.
Lines of truth in vain I trace to fill the void and empty space.
They thought the quest to find would die, that determination could not survive.
For connections severed and erased to a life uprooted and displaced.
My desperate soul in sorrow cries as I give the puzzle one more try.
Collecting fragments left in place.
Searching for pieces of my face.

My poetry is an attempt to express the inner turmoil and angst I have about being adopted and left in the dark about it.  Add to that not only not having a reunion of any sort but instead after decades of searching, with the best searchers help and guidance, not being able to obtain names, photos, or family background either I live feeling like half a person.  It is a life attempting to navigate in a land of fantasy and make believe, and one where you vacillate between life long dreams realized and the nightmare that is rejection.

It's obvious from the information and stories I have gathered from the adoption courts a good deal of secrecy, lies, manipulation, and probably money have covered up the trails back to my biological family.  I do not have many tangibles or facts but I was lucky enough, if you want to call it that sometimes I do some days I don't, to receive a non-identifying letter via the courts from my biological mother explaining some of the circumstances regarding my adoption situation, family history, but not too much because sshhhhhh I am still a huge secret 53 years later. I have her words on paper giving me her physical traits, hobbies, and personality that I inherited and the fact I have two younger siblings out there somewhere who don't know I exist.  It's just enough information to leave you wanting more, SO much more.  My biological father wants nothing to do with any of it and washed his hands of the situation before I was born and denies the adoption court any and all information.  I am not asking for relationships at this point, am I asking for the truths about my life, my DNA, and where I came from.

I also remain in that small percentile of adoptees I know and work with in adoption reform and activism who have never found, or are even being searched for.  I have watched, and been extremely happy and excited for all other adoptees who have received answers to their questions and resolution to their searches, but always hoping it would be me at some point too.  But, when you never obtain that as an adoptee it can only lead to further feeling the outsider.  I am out of the loop in reunion conversation making me feel even more deeply, the loss I have sustained.  And the one question that always looming close, how can I ever feel whole if I always feel “lost”.

My biological parents and the adoption courts hold my truths in their hands and unfairly deny my court petitions. I remain blind to my family history, as do my siblings, along with extended family members who are being cheated out of the right to know who I am.  These secrets and lies surrounding my adoption trump my right to the truth!  And at age 53 I still feel reduced to an unworthy child when it comes to knowledge about my adoption.  It is not near my birthday, or Mother's Day, or any Holiday, there is no reason I feel like this other than it just "is".  It is an invisible cross that I carry each and every day that never gets lighter, like an albatross perpetually hanging around my neck.

This Is Not About #Adoption: A Tumblr Book-in-Process By Matthew Salesses

The other day I noticed a couple of tweets from author Matthew Salesses that intrigued me:

The link in the first tweet led me to this announcement on Matthew’s Tumblr:

"This is what I will be doing while my wife and baby are gone for 3 months. Follow along? Help me out? Send me info/stories/etc? I will need help. I will need ears and eyes and mouths. Please join me.

*I will be drafting this as I go and this represents a very first, rough, draft of a nonfiction manuscript tentatively titled, THIS IS NOT ABOUT #ADOPTION. I will be tweeting, too, perhaps, at @salesses."

Matthew was adopted from Korea when he was two years old and raised by a white family in Connecticut. On a trip to Korea in 2005, he met the woman who would become his wife. Together they have a daughter. Now, his wife and baby girl are headed back to Korea for a three-month visit while Matthew remains in the U.S.

While they’re gone, Matthew intends to write a book online, in real time. You can follow along on the Tumblr This Is Not About #Adoption. There are many things I love about this project, but before I get to my reaction, here’s Matthew’s explanation of what he’s doing:

“I started writing about adoption indirectly about a year ago now, in an article about Jeremy Lin and the different racism that Asian Americans face. I couldn't write about racism without writing about my own experiences. And that essay opened the door to many other essays in which I talked somewhat about adoption, and then a few essays that dealt with adoption directly, or as directly as I could manage. One of the things that comes up for me time and again is to wonder which parts of me, which fears and desires and characteristics, are about adoption. That's what I'm playing with in the title here, that I'm not sure what's ‘about adoption’ or not. The book is obviously about adoption, but it's about adoption in that it is me trying to figure out what about me is really about adoption. I have learned a lot in the past year, and I have so much left to learn. This project was begun with the intention of really jumpstarting that learning and sharing it.”

If you’re not familiar with Matthew Salesses’ work, he’s published two chapbooks and one full-length book of fiction and has another book, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, due out in February. He’s also the fiction editor and a columnist at The Good Men Project.

The fact that Matthew has had a fair amount of publishing success, yet is writing a book on the fly, online, is one of the things I love about This Is Not About #Adoption. Another aspect that interests me about the project is that he’s not at all sure yet how the book will turn out. The act of writing it is a process of self-discovery for him—a process that many other adoptees are also going through or have gone through themselves. Despite the fact that I’m a domestically-adopted white woman, I can’t help but identify with the questions Matthew ponders in his Tumblr entries.

I was curious about why he chose to write a book via blog posts, and what feedback he hopes to receive from readers:

“The format came about after a conversation with another adoptee writer, in which I talked about my desire to write a book ‘about’ adoption and how I couldn't find a way in. I mentioned that I didn't know anything about adoption, but that I usually wrote like that, just trying to figure things out—that figuring things out was often my narrative arc. Later, I thought: why not write the book that same way? Why not learn as I go and write about that learning? And I thought: how do I learn? How have I learned so far? Mostly through a community of which you are a part. I wanted to incorporate all of that as I wrote, and a Tumblr and communication/sharing through the internet seemed the natural way to do so. I know I need help on this, so I would love any comments from readers, personal stories, sources of information, etc. I am open to being taken in completely new directions. I want that to be a part of what I am doing. I want many ways into the narrative, into adoption. I want this community to be a part of finding out where to look.”

Matthew intends to post to This Is Not About #Adoption every day that he can while his family is in Korea. I’ll be following along, and I hope you will, too.

Many thanks to Matthew Salesses for answering my impromptu questions on behalf of Lost Daughters.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Affected by Adoption ~ Body, Soul & Spirit

Coffee Shop With Friend, 2011

Photo Credit: Sheilasan, Flickr

Friend: Deanna, why don't you blog about adoption?

Me: I don't want to go there.

Friend: Why not? I think it will help you process things, just for yourself. And besides, you write about everything else. Why not this?

Me: It hurts. It hurts too bad. I just don't need to put myself out there. I'm not ready for that.

Friend: Okay, it's been 46 years. How much more time do you need?

Me: I dunno. Maybe another ten or twenty years.

Friend [sigh] I think you ought to pray about it.

Me: I'd rather just talk to you about it.  Going public scares me.

Friend: Why?

Me:  Adoption goes to the core of my very being.

Friend: Hmmmmmm....the core of your very being? Explain...

Photo Credit: nogreasyhippies, Flickr

What Is The Core of My Being?

I've thrown the phrase around to my husband and a few close friends for years, but hadn't really examined it until recently. I avoided an adoption autopsy. Who wants an emotionally bloody mess?

I procrastinated until 2012, because it would be a dissection while my body, soul and spirit were still very much alive. Thankfully my Lost Daughters sisters provided me with therapeutic anesthesia, easing my pain through the journey of going public this past year.

 Body-Soul-Spirit & Adoption

I am more than a physical body.
I am more than just a "gift" of a human body to be purchased for the price of a really nice car.
I am more than the fulfillment of someone's dream.
I am more than flesh and bone.
I am body, soul and spirit.

Photo Credit: Ritigon, Flickr

 The Body  

All of my parts both inside and out, this is what my body's about. Sorry, the spirit of Dr. Suess came on me for a second.

My body includes my distinctive nose and feet. I never saw a relative who looked anything like me until I laid eyes on my newborn son in 1989.  Dustin was the first. I never realized how many ways his birth would affect me. I had always longed to connect with my b-family but his birth accelerated the desire, sending me on an emotional free fall that lasted until the day I knocked on my b-mom's door.  

My body was different from everyone in the family that raised me. As a kid we would occasionally go to baseball games in Baltimore City (it was Memorial stadium back then). While everyone around me watched the game, I would gaze into the sea of faces that surrounded me. When someone passed by who possessed certain physical traits, I would wonder if they were among my first family. 

It was illogical that my b-family would be there. They didn't live nearby.
But you wonder about a lot illogical things when you are adopted. 
Because you just don't know.
And when you don't know, your mind wanders, grasping for anything to hold onto.
Whether in my hometown or vacationing far away, I studied faces a lot.  
Always wondering if they might happen to be there. 

Of course I never approached anyone, although sometimes I wanted to. 
I stayed quiet about this. Always quiet. 

Photo Credit: nerissa's ring, Flickr

As an adoptee you learn to smile and nod when clueless ladies just trying to make conversation come up and oooohh and ahhhhh saying, "she looks just like you!" to your a-mother or a-sister who look absolutely nothing like you. Your a-mom's face lights up because there's nothing in the world she's ever wanted to hear more. 

Meanwhile you are thinking, "it's not true...it's really not true. They are just being nice..." but you don't say that. 

Because it would kill your a-mom emotionally and that is the biggest no-no of all as an adoptee.

To say, "I want to see a face that looks like mine," is viewed as a betrayal of sorts.  Adoptees don't get a memo or anything about it, we just know it's an unwritten rule.  
Throughout my life I often felt the physical disconnection.  

I am fascinated by this quote from the book Without a Map, written by Meredith Hall:   

 "Women carry fetal cells from all the babies they have carried. Crossing the defensive boundaries of our immune system and mixing with our own cells, the fetal cells circulate in the mother's bloodstream for decades after each birth. The body does not tolerate foreign cells, which trigger illness and rejection. But a mother's body incorporates into her own the cells of her children as if they recognize each other. This fantastic melding of two selves, mother and child is called microchimerism....the mother's cells are also carried in the child. During gestation, maternal cells slip through the barriers of defense and join her child's cells as they pulse through his veins...of course the implications are stunning. Mother and child do not fully separate at birth. We do not lose each other at that moment of severance."
We did not lose each other. 
Even though my OBC was sealed. 
Even though my a-parents moved us 147 miles away from the city where they adopted me. 
Even though we didn't know each other's new names. (She married and changed hers. My a-parents changed mine.) 

We were still connected.
No wonder I felt disconnected. 

I'm not sure there's any more challenging place to be than connected and disconnected at the same time.  

Photo Credit: Bill_Owen, Flickr

The Soul

People often use the word soul as a religious term. Seeing the confusion on people's faces at times when the difference between soul and spirit is discussed, I believe it is sometimes helpful to tell people to think of the soul as their mind.

My soul is the most complicated part of me. It encompasses my mind, will, emotions, conscience and imagination.

My soul is the way I express myself.
My soul is the essence of my personality.
My soul is what makes me unmistakably me.

Expressions of the soul uniquely manifested themselves from the very beginning, mainly through my art in it's various forms. Singing, playing the piano, writing my thoughts -- these were all talents that came bursting forth, announcing themselves before I even had any formal training.

My a-parents had records they would play on the stereo -- 33's of southern gospel greats such as the Happy Goodmans. They would play those records and my hands would go up and down the piano, finding their way to exactly where they needed to be, to the delight of those those watching and listening.

Shaking their heads in amazement people would ask: "How do you find those beautiful chords? Where did you learn to play those runs up and down the piano?"  

"I don't know," I would respond. "And I can't really explain it. I just know where to go. For some reason, my hands just find their way and I don't even have to think about it."

I would take voice and piano lessons. My talent would quickly be recognized as I was elected president of my high school choir when I was only a freshman. I would go on to play and sing professionally, and direct choirs in the years to come.

But the expression of all of these talents began almost after I first began to talk.

The convenient answer everyone around me gave was, "talent comes from God."
I believe all of us are gifted by God. Whether adopted or not that is so.
I also believe nature and nurture play a part.

In reunion the pieces of the puzzle were filled in. I discovered that my b-aunt played the piano just as I did from a tender young age. She played by ear with no training and quite proficiently. My b-mother directed the children's choir in her church for years.  My brother is a gifted guitarist. My b-sis is talented vocally. (Once reunited, she and I sang a duet in 1997 at our mother's wedding. There is nothing quite like the way siblings harmonize even if they did not grow up together.)

My a-parents played a part in recognizing the gift within me, nurturing it by providing music lessons and placing me in programs at school and church where my gifts could flourish.

Nature, nurture and the gift of God all play a part in the expressions that come from the soul.

Photo Credit: J. Michael Tracy, Flickr

The Spirit

My spirit is the immaterial part of me, yet it is the most important part. It is not accessed by my five senses and will live forever.  It is just as real as the body and soul. Not that the other two should be minimized or neglected, but the spirit lives forever. My spirit is what connects with God.

There are times my spirit knows something although I haven't realized it yet by seeing it with my eyes, or hearing it with my ears, touching it, tasting it or smelling it.

This is not a rarity, not something that is unique to me.
Everyone has a spirit.
And you know things in your spirit.

Through our spirit we know things we never imagine or conjure up. In due time, something reveals itself that our spirit knew before the rest of us did.

I know I am beginning to sound more like the Long Island Medium from TLC than a pastor...

Hang on with me here. This is nothing spooky. 
The point is, we are more than a physical shell.
Our soul and spirit are aware even if the rest of us is not.

Many of my adoptee friends who discovered their adoptions later in life said that they just knew although no one ever told them they were adopted. Their spirit knew before their body or soul became aware.

My spirit has cried out to God throughout the years, and I have leaned on Him every step of the way through my journey as an adoptee. 

Some adoptees blame God for their relinquishment and their adoption. I understand why God seems a logical target. My heart goes out to all adoptees and I don't judge. At the same time, I am compelled to share why I chose differently.

Adoption does go to the core of my being.
It affects me ~ body, soul and spirit.

Since adoption touches everything and the spirit lives forever, this could have been the eternal post. But I'm choosing to close it here.

Thanks for joining me on this body-soul-spirit autopsy. I've learned it's not as bad when you have a sisterhood around to help with the clean up.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in my DNA By Richard Hill (a book review and interview)

by Lynn Grubb

I first heard of Richard Hill when I stumbled upon him being interviewed by Donna Montalbano on her adoption-related radio program. listen here  As I listened to Richard speak, I became more and more fascinated with his adoption search journey and his groundbreaking use of DNA to find his family.

I read the book over the Christmas holiday and could not put it down. It reads like a mystery novel; however, knowing it is true makes it so much more fascinating. The first sentence of the book speaks a truth most adoptees know all too well:
"All families have secrets, some bigger than others . . . .”

Richard’s story begins in the state of Michigan when one day he was getting ready to leave for college, the adoption bomb was dropped into his life. Looking forward to his future, Richard didn’t spend much time examining the fallout. In time, though, Richard softens to the idea of finding answers as to why he was adopted, with a little push from some females in his life. Later, his adoptive father provides a few pieces to the mystery and urges him to find his family.

The bulk of his search takes place before the internet and all its valuable resources. I was just amazed at Richard’s ability to piece his story together from basically nothing but rumors. Interviewing family members of the deceased and even requesting their DNA was extremely brave of Richard but it paid off for him. 

At the close of his journey, Richard states:
“The experts talk about nature versus nurture, both are critically important in determining who we are. The inherent truth for adoptees, however, is that these two factors come from four different people. And many of us will never know peace, until we know all the pieces.”

Simply put, I loved this book. I felt myself identifying with Richard at every turn of his journey, as my own conception is as much of a mystery to me as Richard’s was to him. What sets Richard apart from most, is his ability to take action even in the face of common practical adoptee barriers: secrets that have died with deceased family members, fear, stories and mythologies, sealed records, and lack of time outside of family and career. It's no wonder that many could not muster the strength to accomplish what Richard was able to.

Richard does a wonderful job of describing the process of DNA in laymen’s terms. After reading this book, I feel more comfortable sending my DNA for analysis and some hope in finding answers one day. You can order a copy of Richard's book and get specific advice regarding DNA testing here.


Richard, thank you for being willing to help our readers understand DNA better in their own searches. I see that you have dedicated your entire website, DNA Testing Advisor, to this very thing.

I noticed that you were meticulous in taking notes during every interview and documenting every scrap of information you found. What other techniques did you use when beginning your search that tipped the odds in your favor?


I did many things: asking family and friends what they knew, requesting non-identifying information, finding adoption search groups and attending their meetings. And, yes, taking meticulous notes and saving every document, photo, or scrap of paper related to my search. You never know what might become critical in a later stage.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cherokee Girl Returned to her Father Might be Taken Back

Last December, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the return of a 27-month-old girl who was in the process of being adopted to her biological father, Dusten Brown, who is American Indian. Now, a year later, at the request of the adoptive parents, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

After Brown and the birth mother split, she asked in a text message if he would rather pay child support or surrender his parental rights. Though Brown responded via text that he would relinquish rights, he testified that he believed he was relinquishing his rights to the mother in hopes they would resume their relationship, and if he’d known she was placing the baby for adoption he would not have consented. He discovered that his daughter had been put up for adoption four months after birth (though legally he should have been notified within 30 days), when he was presented with a consent form outside a shopping mall. He signed it, admitted he didn’t understand what he was signing, and immediately petitioned for custody.

Here’s a kicker: the ethnic identity of the father appears to have been suppressed during the adoption process. The birth mother, who is not Indian, did not wish to identify the father’s Cherokee background, wanting “to keep things low-key as possible”. She did, however, end up reporting the child’s Indian heritage on the adoption agency forms and claimed she told the adoptive parents about it. After the birth, she signed forms consenting to the adoption and allowing the adopting parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, to take the baby girl across state lines from Oklahoma to South Carolina. The latter form listed the baby’s ethnicity as “Hispanic” instead of “Native American.”

But, had the Cherokee Nation known about it, the Capobiancos would not have been able to remove the baby from Oklahoma due to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which protects Indian families from being separated. Had the father known about the adoption, he would not have allowed it.

The court ruled “with a heavy heart,” in favor of Brown, who returned to Oklahoma with his daughter. 

The Capobiancos were understandably upset with the sudden loss of the girl they’d raised and nurtured for 27 months. Mr. Capobianco reportedly cut the umbilical cord when the baby was born. No doubt they are wonderful parents and they love the girl. I feel for them—what grief and loss they must live through.

But the case is not as simple as the media and general populace like to think.

In most reports, the adoptive parents are described as well educated, successful, loving, “deserving” parents, who were wronged by the system.

They created a Web site called saveveronica.org, implying that “saving Veronica” means to remove her from the home she’s been living in and return her to them. They say the child’s removal and separation from them was not in the best interest of the child because of the familial bonding that took place for two years, yet they request another removal of the child from the family she has likely bonded with for more than a year since.

A petition on Change.org in reaction to the case calls for lawmakers to amend the Indian Child Welfare Act to “ensure tribal rights aren't placed before a child's rights.” Clearly the child’s “rights” must be synonymous with the adoptive parents’ “rights.”

And here’s where we always step into murky waters: when we start talking about children and families in terms of “rights”. Who has a “right” to another person? Does the child have a right to grow up surrounded by the Cherokee culture she was born into?

As a biracial child raised in a White home in an all-White community, I missed out on the experience of growing up with people of color who could help me cope with racial epithets and develop a healthy identity as a mixed girl in opposition to messages I was getting through media and other means. My adoptive parents did not know that my birth father was Black, as that information had been suppressed. My birth father, similar to Mr. Brown, was not made fully aware of my adoption. When I found him in 2009, his family—a large Black family that raises children together, like a tribe—was shocked I’d been given away. My father was, in a sense, stripped of his “right” to parent. I was, in a sense, stripped of my “right” to be nurtured in an environment that was not hostile to my ethnic heritage.

When we talk about “rights”, we can argue that everyone involved has rights—the biological mother, the biological father, the adoptive mother, the adoptive father, the child, even a community—and when those rights are in opposition, it becomes a question of whose rights supersede others’. Historically, the winner is usually the most privileged party in terms of economic wealth, social status, race, etc. (Hence the need for minority child welfare laws such as the ICWA and the 1972 report by the National Association of Black Social Workers, which decried the alarming number of Black children being taken from their families and placed into white homes that they found inadequate for the development of healthy Black identity.)

This little girl has a right to a safe, loving home—that’s a statement I won’t argue. But who’s to say that the birth father’s home isn’t safe or loving? During the court proceedings a Child Welfare Specialist with the Cherokee Nation said, “this child will thrive [with Brown], I don't have any doubt. […] She'll know who she is and where she came from. She'll be very loved.”

She'll know who she is and where she came from.

Couldn’t we say that’s her right too?

Most adoptees and people of color would agree.

Unsurprisingly, general reaction to the case sympathizes with the adoptive parents and yet expresses outrage toward the birth father.

“Dusten Brown is a scum bag,” writes one reader on Nativestrength.com. That one is quite genial in comparison to scads of hateful criticisms.

There’s little information out there about how the child has fared living with her father the past year, so we cannot judge how well he parents or whether he’s a “scum bag.” If this were really about the child and how she’s doing, wouldn’t we hear more about that?

I tire of the vitriolic comments (from people who are not adopted, might I add) that shame and judge birth parents and simplify adoption by feeding stereotypes that privilege adoptive families’ desires.

I’m not saying that the adoptive family is in the wrong for wanting to parent a child they believed they had full custodial responsibility of and had fallen in love with. Nor do I think Mr. Brown is in the wrong for wanting to parent his biological child. I do not agree with several commenters’ view that “race and ethnicity have no place” in deciding family matters.

We must always remain humble and refrain from quick judgments and easy conclusions, especially concerning delicate, complex matters of family and identity.

I do not envy the US Supreme Court; no matter the outcome of the case, there will be pain, for someone. That is the nature of adoption, a transaction that begins with loss.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Want to tell you a Story of What I Overcame

I took a deep breath.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  I exhaled.

I am not going to cry.  

I am not going to cry.

I looked around the classroom.  No one seemed to notice me.  After another deep breath, I exhaled again.  The release of breath from my body sent the first few welled up tears rolling over my cheeks and onto my notebook.

Stop crying.

The professor had just asked to do an impromptu presentation on an assignment where we had critically evaluated the values of the family that raised us.  I had interviewed my adoptive parents and grandmother and completed the written assignment.  I never anticipated I would have to share about my family, especially in critique, in front of the class.

What seemed like a tough but reasonable task for other students sent a rush of emotions to my chest and tears burning at my eyes.  Every time I attempted to layout in my mind exactly what I was going to say, the tears threatened again.  Saying simple phrases like "my mom" and "my family taught me" to even introduce the topics in my presentation felt like a climb up a steep mountain.


Because my mom is badly hurt by me right now.

Because my family taught me things while my other invisible family, who is also hurting right now, never had the chance to teach me anything.

You need to understand what being publicly critical of my adoptive family represented to me in that moment.

I did not want to admit that my parents are not perfect when I had already been so busy trying to prove to the world that they are perfect.  Reunion, and everything that comes with it, was my choice and not a response to what some people might assume to be parenting failures.

The student next to me was preparing to stand up at the front of the class.  It would be my turn soon.

I decided that I could not give the impromptu presentation without bawling in front of my peers.  I considered telling them why sharing about my family at that time was hard.  I considered attempting to do the presentation through the tears, after explaining why I was crying.  I had already explained so much about why I wanted to reunite to those in my personal life.  I did not want to have to keep explaining my thoughts and my heart to people, over and over again.

I excused myself, gathered my books, quietly closed the door behind me, and walked slowly down the hallway.  The tears readily flowed now.  Huge, wet drops rolled down my cheeks, finding landing places on strands of my hair and the school logo printed on my sweatshirt.  I was frustrated at myself for not being able to figure it out how to stop crying.  I was angry for not being able to figure out how to make being adopted not be hard.

--I had newly become aware of the pain and loss of an entire family that resulted from losing me as a family member when I was surrendered to adoption.

--I was navigating reunion with both my maternal and paternal family members within the context of extremely sensitive conception circumstances.

--I had finally learned my family medical history.  At the urging of my paternal aunt, I had some skin biopsies done due to the significant presence of cancers in my ancestral line, and was awaiting the results.  This was my third cancer scare in only 25 years of life.

--I carried immense guilt for causing my parents to feel a wide range of positive  negative, and painful emotions when I announced that I was searching for my original family.

All of these emotions were intensified by hormones.  I was pregnant at the time and didn't know it.  Because of my infertility issues, all three of my pregnancies were a complete surprise.  I miscarried a few weeks later.

These were tough things in my life that adoption intersected through like a cannonball,  striking me right in my gut, leaving me feeling winded and sometimes defeated.  I would not get around these things.  I could not pretend like they did not exist.

I was acutely aware that there are people in the world, including fellow adoptees, who have greater challenges than I do.  But this fact did not keep the tears from falling.  It is not that those who are not adopted do not have problems in life.  Adoptees, like everyone else, experience tough life and family challenges.  However, adoption can make these life challenges more intense and more complex, often times within an overwhelming context of loss.

I left the class and emailed an apology to the teacher.  I was determined to overcome these challenges.  There were times when I thought being adopted was easy and I didn't have to think about it.  I wanted to find that person and hand them these tough experiences to fix.  I did not have the answers anymore.

This is only part one of the story.  I mentioned in the intro to this post that this was a story where I worked through tough issues when being adopted was hard and came to self-affirming conclusions.  And I did, though it took time.  Part two won't be posted today.  In hindsight, it is easy to want to immediately conclude with what I learned and how I've empowered myself.  Struggles are uncomfortable and we're quick to move past them.  I need to give honor to the struggle I had and give it a moment to stand and be reflected upon on its own.

Photo credit: criminalatt

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Open Adoption...Ultimate Reunion?

Many of the posts on Lost Daughters focus on the pain, loss and heartbreak that come up for the adoptee. They have been amazing posts, and they've informed me of how closed-off I still am to many of my own feelings about my adoption. So, when I was paired up with a birth mother for an interview, I thought it would make an interesting addition to Lost Daughters for my Reunion Spot column. While I don't normally post something onto Lost Daughter's that I've covered in my personal blog, I thought this one was worth telling twice.

Unplanned pregnancies happen, adoption exists, and somehow everyone involved has to make sense of it. That's not to say we can't make changes or evolve what exists now, but we can't change the past. So my posts have typically been focused on the adoptee's convergence of identity that happens through reunion. When I was pulling together Rachel's interview, it hit me - open adoptions are like having a reunion from day-one. No secrets, no lies, just the truth, no matter how painful.

I am eager to watch open adoptions like Rachel's evolve over time. They will help us ferret out what the issues are that appear because of the closed system vs. what issues still exist regardless. I am so thankful to have people like Rachel out there writing the story while they're living it. Amazing.

Read Rachel's interview with Cathy here.               

What would it be like to experience, and share, your reunion from the very first day the baby was born? That's how I think of open adoption: the experience of reunion, with all the emotions, struggles and joy, but on a day to day basis.

You would be in reunion from day one.

I was paired up with Rachel for the 2012 Adoption Bloggers' Interview Project. Rachel is a birth mother who is blogging from the perspective of the "birth mother or father who is in the thick of it...documenting their thoughts, feelings, fears, anxieties, etc. from the beginning" in her blog The Great Wide Open.

When I started reading her blog, I was instantly hooked...what would it be like to be in reunion from the very first day? How would the experience of open adoption be vs. closed adoption...would there be the same issues, doubts, questions? 

Luckily, I had the chance to ask.

QUESTION (Cathy to Rachel):
Growing up in a closed adoption, I didn't know why my (birth) mother chose not to raise me. I know now, and can understand why she made the choices she did. But, the little kid inside of me is still stung that she would choose any life, no matter how wonderful, over the one of being my mother. In open adoption the child knows it all up front. Seeing the pictures of your travels and your life on your own, I wonder how it will be for Reed to know, and to see, the life that you chose. 
What kind of relationship do you see having with Reed throughout your life? How would it be if it could be your ideal? When he is a grown-up, what would you like your relationship to look like?
ANSWER (Rachel):
When I try to look into a crystal ball and see Reed’s and my future relationship, it’s fun for me to think of what it might be, and it’s something Doug, Maura and I have talked a lot about. (We’ve also talked about how my relationship will grow with Julian, Reed’s younger brother, which we all feel is important to establish as well.) If you want some kind of label to relate it to, I suppose my relationship to him might be something like an aunt, but hopefully a special aunt. I see us being friends, I want to be someone he feels he can count on for emotional support and encouragement. I hope he’ll see me as his cheerleader, as a number one fan, maybe even as a confidant.
But in all reality, I can try as I might and put in all the effort that I can, but I can’t predict or control how he responds or feels towards me. As he grows older and has his own issues he’ll need to deal with, there is no crystal ball to know how he’ll think or feel towards me, and no magic formula to make him reciprocate all the love I have for him. I guess no parent can control that, but with an adoptive situation it seems different, like there are many more variables. I know good and well that there may be a time when he needs space from me, when he doesn’t want to see me. Who can tell? All I can do is love him. 
But back to your question, my hope is that we will develop a strong, deep and meaningful relationship. By the time he is an adult, with my continuous presence in his life, I hope we will have established a solid bond between us with regular conversations, visits and continuing to be a part of his family. 
QUESTION (Cathy to Rachel):
Here's a question I am always fascinated with - what does he call you? What do you want him to call you?
ANSWER (Rachel):
He just calls me Rachel, and that’s what I like for him to call me. A side note that I can’t help but put in- I recently heard from Doug that while Maura was visiting a friend, they were Skyping with her and after they were through Reed said, “I want to Skype with Rachel!” They tried to call but I was unavailable, but hearing that has put a smile on my face for days! 
QUESTION (Cathy to Rachel):
In my personal experience with my birthmom, she has a lot of regrets. In the end, she wishes she chose differently and found a way to keep me. While I'm not sure I truly believe that, it's something she is clear about now. You seem clear in your blog that you don't doubt your choice. Do you ever have doubts? Do you ever worry that you'll have doubts or regrets later in life?
ANSWER (Rachel):
Ah, doubts and regret. What a subject- a subject I’ve grappled with a lot. As you’ve read in my blog, I have said I don’t doubt my choice. And I still don’t. There have been times in my life that I have made decisions not based on what I truly thought or believed was right to do, and those times have certainly led to regrets. I’m not a person who doesn’t believe in regret. I can learn from my mistakes and much good can- and has- come from them, but they are still regrets. At whatever time, I may not have known how to handle those situations without the knowledge I gained subsequently from them, but nevertheless, I still wish I had handled them differently and they are still regrets. I can’t get around that, but I’m ok with it because I have learned immense  life changing lessons from them, so I’m thankful and blessed. 
Reed, however, is not a regret. My decision to place him for adoption is not a regret either. There are times in everyone’s life when you just know, from the deepest essence of your soul and who you are, what the right thing to do is. And it doesn't just seem right, it is divine. That’s how I felt when I decided on an open adoption. I didn't know anything about adoption or open adoption, but when I thought about him having the home he needs, with the people who had been preparing for him long before I ever knew about him, and with me still in his life, I felt that divine peace and a “YES! THIS IS THE PATH TO TAKE!” from my internal compass.
So what do I believe about regret? I believe that if you honestly, truly and purely followed your heart, then even if later on down the line everything falls apart, it shouldn't be a regret. Perhaps later in my life I’ll be sitting alone in a rocking chair with no children or grandchildren and no husband, and I may feel lonely as hell thinking about all the shoulda-woulda-couldas. But I still don’t think I’ll be able to regret my decision to place Reed for adoption, because at that time, if I had made any other decision, I would have been bowing to social and societal pressure instead of being true to myself. Is that a way to raise a son?  
Now comes the tricky part; how do I explain all of this to Reed? How do I look him in the eye and tell him, “I didn't want to raise you and I’m glad I gave you up”? OK  so I can’t imagine those exact words would come out of my lips, but you get the point. I don’t expect him to understand everything, not for many years anyway. But if there’s one thing I hope he learns from his relationship with me, it is to follow your heart. I hope that he’ll never doubt my love for him, and I aim to give him as many reasons as I can not to doubt that, every chance I can. 
QUESTION (Cathy to Rachel):
Why did you choose to blog about your experience? What do you hope others will get out of your blog?
ANSWER (Rachel):
I chose to blog because I've always been a writer at heart, and I can process things so much better when I write them out. Writing is often much easier than speaking for me. When I was pregnant, I wanted desperately to read someone else’s point of view, but I didn't know where to look and I didn't find much. So, I decided to put it out there myself. Mine is such a different experience from what most people normally think about when they conjure up an image of adoption, and I like that.
I hope my blog will give encouragement and wisdom to someone who may have an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy. I think that the shame and stigma of an unwed pregnant woman should be abolished, and that she should be able to make a decision knowing all of the options available to her. Every person and situation is different, and any number of choices may be better for another woman/couple than what was right for Bill (Reed’s birth father) and me, but I feel an urge to be a voice for a positive, open adoption experience. I believe that open adoption can be not only a viable, healthy choice for everyone involved, but also a truly joyful, fulfilling and positive experience.
QUESTION (Cathy to Rachel):
So, in reading through your blog the adoptee in me sees your wonderful travels and your exciting life, and the little kid adoptee in me gets a pit in my stomach. For me, it's like seeing the great life my mom chose to have without me - which, of course, it is, and which of course makes sense, and it's something I wrestle with. It's not like I think I would be better off with Kate, my birth mom - her life as a musician was ungrounded and my adoptive parents gave me a solid, happy life that I honestly love. But, I still can't help feeling like, "this is what you chose instead of me, why not have continued your life but...with me?" Because I look at your pictures and I think, "Augh, I want to go! I want to see that stuff! I want to have that! 
But that is what makes me wonder if maybe open adoption is the solution - your Reed gets a grounded, stable home AND the adventure from you. But, the one thing I really want for him...you HAVE to take him on trips with you, you just have to. Not all the time, specific ones that fit into his school schedule and his life and his interests - but he needs to get to experience that with you while he's growing up. I don't know if it's possible or what the arrangement is, but, to me, that's the ideal combination. 
Getting the stability and groundedness from the kind of life that is truly wholesome and wonderful for children, while getting to inject the adventure and excitement and the things that you have in common all throughout your life together. It may be inevitable that he feels some rejection, that's the nature of things, but if he has you as part of his life, throughout his life, maybe he really can get the best of both worlds, and see it that way as he goes...
ANSWER (Rachel):
I can totally relate to what you’re saying. I mean, not as an adoptee, but I have wondered many times if Reed would look at my life and think that I gave him up so I could have all of these fun adventures, that I chose this exciting life over him. It may be inevitable that he think that at some point, quite honestly, no matter what my relationship is with him, I don’t see how he couldn't. I’m pretty sure I would if I were in his shoes. 
When I chose adoption, it’s not exactly that I chose this adventurous life over him. At the time when I was thinking about all of these things and making decisions, I was working in seasonal positions, living in employee housing, holding temporary jobs, and going a few months out of the year with no income at all. Yes I was surviving quite happily on my own, but it would have been impossible to continue that kind of life as a single mom. I can’t work 60 hours a week in the middle of Alaska, living in employee housing in a single room with a baby to take care of. Not only is it just not allowed, but it would have been an impossible life style. That’s how all of my jobs were, and that’s what I had loved so much about the previous 5 years of my life. If I had kept Reed and decided to be a single mom, which I didn't want to be, I would have had to stop that lifestyle altogether, which I didn't want to do. I would have probably had to move back to Texas (which I didn't want to do) so I could take advantage of my large family for financial, emotional, and babysitting help so that I could find a full-time job, probably starting off waiting tables at a chain restaurant (which I didn't want to do). When I thought of raising Reed, everything in my life seemed to come to a stand-still. 
But what was more on my mind through this thought process, was Reed’s life. What could I have given him? My time? Probably not so much, because I would have been working to support the both of us, and since my experience was almost all in the restaurant business, that would have meant long nights and weekends. Now, I know that there are plenty of single mothers and fathers who make this work, and they wouldn't change it for the world. I think that if I had kept Reed, and that was the decision I felt was truly right, then I would have loved my life with him and would have happily made any kind of sacrifice needed. But not only did I not want that life for me, I didn't want that life for him. I always thought that if I were a parent I would want to be a stay at home mom. I’m not a fan of long hours in daycare, I like the idea of homeschooling, of really investing lots of time into a child’s life. Those are just my own personal values and that’s how I would want to raise a family if I did. How could I do that by myself, without a partner? 
So yeah, it’s not just that I chose this life over a life with him, it’s that I chose his life over a life with me. And that’s what felt right to me, that’s when I had peace. And that’s why I’m still happy with my decision to this day, because Doug and Maura are providing things for him that would have been impossible for me. He’s gardening, collecting eggs from the neighborhood chicken coup, taking walks in the woods, learning how to make pottery, painting, cooking, and has two doting parents that can teach him these kinds of life lessons instead of being sent to a daycare. 
BUT…. I do want to share my life with him. Doug, Maura and I will have to evaluate and see how all of our relationships evolve, but I dream of a day when I can take Reed on an adventure of our own, when he can get a taste of my life. One of the best things that could happen to me is if Doug and Maura decided they wanted to take their family to come visit me in Singapore or wherever else I happened to be. His parents will always be the main contributors in his life, but I want to have my own unique contributions, too. I guess my main hope is that he’ll be inspired by the best of both worlds. 
And, to wrap it up, here's something from her post that I have to say goes for me too... 

For me, it has been invaluable to be able to correspond with someone who (is) in (an open adoption)...especially someone so open and honest.


You can read Rachel's interview with me here in her blog, The Great Wide Open.

Fair warning! In Rachel's interview with me I discuss abortion as well as adoption, so if that makes you uncomfortable, you may not want to go there.