Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Adoptee Names (or) Things are Never Simple in Adoption--Part 2

Julie S. -- I currently go by my adoptive first name and married surname. Legally, however, my name includes my natural paternal surname. My original surname serves as a personal connection to my ancestry and heritage, which is different from that of my adoptive family. On my children's birth certificates, my maiden name is listed with both my original surname and adoptive surname. This way, my children will also have a legal connection to their maternal ancestry and heritage.

As with many topics in adoption, names seems to touch on many emotions. It is my feeling that all involved in adoption would benefit from supporting whatever it is that adult adoptees determine that they need to feel whole and secure in their identities. My ancestry and heritage did not change after I was adopted. I have very much needed to know this part of my identity and to connect with it. Legally reclaiming my original surname has made me feel more complete and connected to my place in the world. I existed before adoption. That's the truth. My truth.

Names can empower, or disenfranchise

C. Swett* -- The impetus for changing my name was wanting my children to be able to do genealogy. The cultural traditions, religion, and morals I know, and could teach my children, are what I've learned in life much of it from my extended adopted family. I wanted the next generation to be able to look back, and have more than a story that fit on the back of an index card: Mother: from Australia Father: unknown.

Changing my name was a way to build a bridge for those yet to be born. The records were and remain sealed - there is only my say so - after my death?

I now have the two first names given to me, and my genetic parents surnames.

I have done Grandparent adoptions as an attorney. The cases were presented to me as a way to keep at risk kids out of foster care. After the papers are filed a hearing is required, and generally everyone waits in the hallway. I'm not sure why everyone can't sit in on these hearings, its pretty transparent what is going on in the hallway. Everyone waits to hear court staff call their name and shares stories about other children they've fostered and did not or could not adopt, or the how far they traveled and how much they spent in pursuit of their own child.

One couple was told by court staff they were about to be brought in, and they shouted for "Joseph" repeatedly. When none of the kids playing at the far end of the hall ran towards or, or even stirred, the man called "Jamal" and one child's head whipped around. "We've been calling you" the man shouted. Jamal ran towards us, and was embraced by the woman "We've talked about this," she said and then put her hands on his shoulders so she could look into his eyes, "From now on you are Joseph, you are our son."

Naming oneself and taking back the control

Jaesun -- As for me I did start to contemplate doing a legal name change in my teens, back then I considered changing my surname. Only problem was that I didn't know what to change it to... I forgot about those thoughts for some time and after my first reunion with my Korean birth family the idea of a name change came back to me. I felt complete, like I belonged to something so I considered changing my given name.

I wanted to take control over something in my life that was just mine (in this case that would be my original birth name) I told my siblings about my idea and I was a bit surprised when they instead of supporting me tried to make me change my name... I thought they would be proud but it seems to have been the other way around. They used to be extremely proud that they had two siblings living in Europe by changing my name back I'm not sure how they felt maybe they were threatened thought I wanted to become one of them.
Naturally my adoptive family's reaction was similar I still remember grandma with tears in her eyes telling me "but you're Swedish why would you like to change your name"... my mum and dad had supported my name change when it had been just about replacing my Swedish name with a more international French version of the name but when I decided to take back my original birth name they said I would have to pay for it myself. They stubbornly decided not to use my new name and still use the name they gave me which means I have a pre-name-change life and everyone who used to know me before my name change calls me the same as my parents.
Then there's my post-name-change life were people can't spell it or pronounce it correctly, they are also not sure where I come from or if I'm an immigrant. To this day I know my mum and dad still hope that I one day will realize my huge mistake and undo my name change but so far I haven’t. My new name is a name I like and it's more than just a name to me it also represents my identity struggle I have a Korean given name hyphened with an international name one name my mum and dad gave me and a Swedish name I choose myself my surname isn't changed it's still the same.
I considered myself to be a citizen of the world and not necessarily a Swedish or Korean and since I've had thoughts of moving to Korea someday it also seemed reasonable to change my name into something less Western.

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*Guest contributor: C. Swett is a proud bastard, raised in the Bronx, relinquished at birth and adopted during the closed era through a Foundling Hospital. Placement was after some time in foster care for evaluation. Ms. Sweet is an attorney who practices in New York and New Jersey; interested in adoptee rights and stranger-assisted reproductive technology issues.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Adoptee Names (or) Things are Never Simple in Adoption--Part 1

New Round Table: Do you go by your adoptive name? Married name? Have you ever considered changing your name? Why or why not? What significance, if any, does the name you use carry for you?

Jenn -- I currently go by my adoptive name, because it's all that I "legally" have. Once I get married, I'm taking my fiancé’s last name. For me it was a no-brainer. I don't feel connected to my current last name. It's Irish, and I don't have one drop of Irish blood. More often than not, people look at me and ask me where my last name comes from because they can't figure it out. So I'll be taking my fiancé’s very ethnic last name so that when people ask, now I'll be able to say that it's through marriage. And I don't think people are going to ask as much. His last name looks like it fits more.

In terms of changing my name, I've thought about it but probably wouldn't do it. My natural father's last name isn't a family name (it's a long story and not mine to tell). Taking his name would be like taking any random person's name. If anything I've thought of taking my natural mother's last name (which was mine for all of six months) but seeing as I'm not included in that family, I think I'd feel funny about it.

I'm good with my fiancé’s last name. At least our kids will have an "authentic" last name!

Von Coates -- I've had 5 last names. Long story. I use my real name in Adoptionland where it's real.

Legal Name Changes

Amanda Woolston -- I am in the process of legally changing my name. I will be adding my biological paternal and maternal surnames to my middle name and adding my adoptive maiden name to my married surname as a hyphen.

By the time I was one year old, I had three different first and last name combinations; you can count a 4th when I was married and took yet another surname.

Changing my name will be to express how I identify. And it will be a name that I choose.

Laura Dennis -- That’s very cool, Amanda. Before Lost Daughters, I’d never considered changing my name legally. I’m not sure my first-maternal grandmother would be too thrilled with me “joining the clan” publicly.

So, I approach the “name issue” from a different angle. Ten years ago when I was still "emerging from the fog," the subject of my name was very important to me, unnaturally so ... or so I thought at the time. In 2001, I was planning on getting married at age 23 (just after reuniting and to a different man than I'm married to today). The fact that I refused to change my last name was a big sticking point for my then-fiancé. But, I refused to let it go.

I felt that although the name given to me by my first mother was kind of a place holder name, "Dennis" was the only connection I had to my adoptive mom and adoptive brother. This connection became especially important as my adoptive parents pursued a divorce. Perhaps it had more to do with so-called feminism--i.e. not adhering to the patriarchal tradition of giving up one's name. However, it seemed that I’d lost my name once; I'm not giving up this one.

Also, subconsciously, I believe I understood how arbitrary adoption is. My adoptive family was like Real World, "Four strangers are picked to live in a house" ... that was my house. And, I wanted to keep that connection to them. Funnily enough, this act, for once, wasn't about avoiding disappointing my (adoptive) mother. Personally, I think she should have switched back to her maiden name, but I think she keeps Dennis for some of the reasons I do.

Rebecca Hawkes -- Ah, names! I have always used my adoptive family's last name legally. I happen to like it; I'm attached to it because I formed my identity with it growing up. Publicly, in my local community and on Facebook, etc., I use a hyphenated name that combines my legal name and that of my husband. It's the legal last name of both of my children -- I use it because it connects us as a family. "Hawkes" is my pen name. I use it for my blog and for participation in the online adoption community. I chose it because it happens to appear in both my adoptive and biological maternal lines. As such, it connects those two parts of myself.


Maiden (adoptive) names vs. Married Names

Karen Pickell -- After I reunited with my birth family, I felt conflicted about which name(s) to use. I finally came to the conclusion that my married name is the one that feels most like me--I wrote about how I made my decision back in September, The Perfect Name

Deanna Doss Shrodes -- When I got married, I dropped my middle name and used my maiden surname as my middle name and my married surname as my last name. It's that way on all most all my legal documents now including driver’s license, passport, etc. I did that for several reasons, none of which had to do with adoption.

Since coming totally out of the fog and being public with it, I definitely would consider a name change and have even discussed it with my husband. I would do as several adoptee friends have done and my name would be: Deanna-maternal surname - paternal surname - Doss Shrodes. There is only one issue with this - I do not know my paternal surname. I also like my previous first name which is Melanie but I don't know where it would fit in the mix.

The significance for me would be taking back what was taken.

Nikki -- Like Deanna, when I got married, I dropped my middle name and used my maiden surname as my middle name, and my husband's surname as my last name. That was almost twenty years ago. A little over three years ago, I found my original family; and about sixteen months ago, I legally changed my middle name to a hyphenated combination of my mother's original last name and father's last name.
I made the decision to change my name because I wanted my name to FULLY reflect who I am.
My first name is the name given to by my adoptive parents, and connects me to the family in which I grew up. My last name connects me to my husband, his family, and the family we have formed together. And NOW my middle name connects me to both sides of my original family -- a family to whom I've grown close and feel very much a part of. For me, including their name, MY name, was a meaningful and symbolic way to regain a piece of what I lost as an infant. It was a choice made by ME! And like Julie said, it was incredibly empowering. I love my new name, because it best represents who I really am.

The day after my name change was finalized in court, I received a package in the mail from my mother. It was a very cool messenger bag with my new initials monogrammed across the front. She was just about as excited as I was that part of her name was finally also part of mine. Only took about forty years.

Liberty -- I thought about this a lot when I was engaged. I kept all of my names--first, middle, and last (adoptive), as well as adding my husband's name. I felt that adding his name did not disempower me, but rather empowered me by choice.

I added it because I could.

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Check out Lost Daughters tomorrow, for more perspectives on adoptees and their names.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When an adoptee teenager-as-newborn photo shoot goes viral

Whose job is it to  post photos of an adoptee teenager, posing as an infant, on Facebook? What happens when this teenager starts getting bullied? The teen says he wanted the photos to be posted, but he's only 13. Did the mom make the right decision? Were these photos a great way of highlighting the older-children foster care need in the United States?

When the newborn photos of a 13-year old teenage when viral last week, The Lost Daughters bloggers had a lot to say.

Is dealing publically with post adoption issues--while still a minor--a good idea?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Connectedness of Motherhood

Are you a mother? If so, how does being a "mother" differentiate from being a "daughter"? Have you explained to your children about your adoption? Explain. If you are not a mother, do you want to be one someday? Does your answer have anything to do with your adoption?

Having my own biological children has given me a whole new perspective on being adopted. Going through the process of being pregnant and giving birth conjured for me questions about how my own birth mother felt while she was carrying me. Surely, she felt me moving inside her. Did she rub her belly the way I rubbed mine, thinking my unborn children would feel the pressure of my hand and know that I loved them? Did she talk or sing to me?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Welcome to Parenting Issues--Article 1: The Beginning

“Parenting Issues” begin with pregnancy, heck, before pregnancy, when one thinks about getting pregnant (or forgets to plan for its possibility). Hence,  I will start at the very the beginning; it’s a very good place to start.

The Lost Daughters blog was “retooled” recently with all these cool new columns (see the columns at right). I signed up for writing about motherhood as an adoptee, which became “Parenting Issues.” Yippee! I can do it! I’m a mom, I’m an adoptee! Oh, the blog posts I’ll write, oh the places I’ll go!
Yeah, um, not so much.
That darn contributor picture just stared back at me every time I hopped onto Lost Daughters to read a new and insightful post from one of my LD sisters. And I got nothing. Nada. What was I thinking, anyway? My kids are so little; I’ve been a mom for just five years, who am I to give advice?

Insult to injury: I didn’t seem to be doing a very good job at parenting at that particular moment.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Round Table: Emerging from the Fog

Today's Round Table discussion begins with a quote from one of the Lost Daughter sisters, Julie J:
I think the adoptees who say they have no pain or loss from adoption are simply not in touch with it, or not ready to deal with it yet. We hear so much about the "fog." Basically, that's what it is. Some use it as a coping mechanism. Some honestly have no clue adoption issues will catch up with them someday. Then one day it does hit them hard. We see those adoptees over on our support forum frequently. They usually start off with some version of "I never thought adoption was an issue for me until..." It may be after the birth of their own children, or it may be after the death of one of their adoptive parents, or it may be some other event that brings adoption issues back to the forefront of their consciousness.
Discussion prompt: Did you have one of those moments when adoption issues snuck up on you and "hit you hard"? What can you tell us about that moment and how it changed you?

Rebecca Hawkes: I thought I had absolutely NO issues with adoption until the day when it suddenly became very clear that I did. I was alone in my apartment -- mid-20s -- and had a total mental collapse ... puddle of tears on the floor, repeating the phrase "she doesn't even know who I am" over and over again. I didn't take immediate action in terms of searching for my biological family or dealing with the underlying issues of loss, but my long, gradual process of awakening began on that day.

Michelle: Similar situation for me. I was sitting at my kitchen table, alone in the house, and started sobbing over it. In my head I was saying "I want my mom." The sounds coming out of my mouth were nothing I had ever heard coming from myself before. They were sounds of pure agony. I was shocked.

Rebecca Hawkes: Yes, exactly, it was a grief like no other!

Julie Stromberg: Glad I wasn't the only one. When I finally decided to search at age 27, it was inspired by the fact that hubby and I were ready to start our own family. I went to the library and picked up Birthright by Jean Strauss and read it one sitting. A few days later, my husband came home to find sitting on the floor in the corner of our bedroom crying and crying and crying. This wave of "Who the hell am I?!? I have no freaking idea where I came from!!!! Why did they not want me?!?!?" hit me like a ton of bricks. It is so overwhelming and raw. The fog lifted and has never come back. After that moment, there was no way that I was not going to search.

Rebecca Hawkes: There was a book involved in my "moment," too. I was reading the novel Marya: A Life by Joyce Carol Oates. It doesn’t deal with a formal adoption, but the main character’s father is dead and her mother has abandoned her. The ending of the book snuck past my defenses and touched on an adoptee nerve. Suddenly I had thrown the book across the room and was on the floor in tears.

Deanna Shrodes: I struggled inside through the years growing up but didn't feel a comfort level to express it. As far as the element of surprise and things hitting me hard, pregnancy for the first time was huge. Birth was another huge awakening. With each birth, it got stronger. (I was pregnant four times -- one miscarriage, 3 births.) Going through the process of having my children was absolutely overwhelming concerning adoption and with my second son's pregnancy and birth, I was in search and reunion which intensified things.

During that time although I had two babies, I struggled with workaholism and perfectionism. I worked insane hours to not only numb the pain, but to try to avoid quiet time where I had to face issues. I wanted to be exhausted and drop into bed, with little time to think. Many times it still wouldn't work and thoughts would come and I would cry myself to sleep. I remember one day I was doing the dishes. I was standing at the sink and a thought about my relinquishment/rejection came into my mind. I collapsed at the sink, just sobbing. I fell to the floor and all I could do was wail in prayer, just begging God to help me. I was grateful my husband was on an errand and the kids were napping. I tried so hard all my life to hold it together, for everyone else.

Susan Perry: Adoption issues came to the forefront for me when my first daughter was born, and then later, when I suffered a serious medical crisis. For years, I behaved as if adoption were no issue at all for me -- I think as a young person I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that adoption had had no effect on me whatsoever. When my daughter Kate was born, I thought very consciously to myself: Wow! How could my original mother have ever forgotten about this? And where is she now? I didn't act on those feelings at that time, because I wasn't strong enough to counteract all of the societal constraints that discouraged searching. For me, the medical crisis was the last straw. I wasn't accepted for a trial study because I had no access to family health history and decided at that moment that I would no longer put up with such discriminatory treatment. Because I was uneducated about search issues, I made the mistake of going to my adoption agency first. There, I encountered more blatant discrimination, and that experience launched me right into the adoption reform movement.

Rebecca Hawkes: This is shaping up to be a very illuminating and important post. I think I understand why some adoptees are reluctant to "go there," because, seriously, once it hits you, it really rocks your world. I think there's also a lot of relief when it happens though, because we were expending so much energy holding it all together and convincing ourselves we were fine, even if we didn't realize we were doing so.

Michelle: Oh gosh, yes Rebecca. That is the truth. I told my adoptive mom not long ago that I think part of the reason many adoptees don't search is they are doing their best to do what was expected of them -- to be who they were told to be through the legalities of adoption -- and that's all they have the mental and emotional strength and energy to do. It takes a lot of work to keep that up and to keep the feelings at bay. Whew! I resisted everything that threatened to bring them to the surface, even really, really recently. It's work to hold yourself together like that, but it's freedom when you don't have to anymore.

Even after my mini-breakdown, it still took me many years to de-fog. I think I'm still processing. I started talking about adoption when we were in the adoption process ourselves. I went to an online forum daily -- beginning over 10 years ago. As I talked about adoption, more feelings came up, but it took a lot of time. For many of those years, I thought I was just benignly talking about adoption. Heck, I thought I was truly educating people on what a great option it was. I had no idea that I was drawn to that forum daily because I actually had a lot of my own stuff to work through.

I look back at the things I used to write, and they are nearly a complete turn around from what I say today. I've said before that the grief of first mothers is what finally undid me. The thought that my own mother might actually be SAD instead of simply "going on with her life" cut me to the quick. Had I not had the opportunity for authentic interaction with those moms, I really don't know where I'd be today in terms of understanding my own loss and emotions. Even after printing out the forms to apply for my identifying information (which I ended up being denied initially), they sat on my desk for seven years before I finally sent them in. Sending for my information required not only courage, but also meant that I had to be willing to let go of my "fantasy mother," which was incredibly difficult since it was all I had of her.

I'm still drawn to talk about adoption daily. I'm still working through my own stuff. Sometimes I just can't believe this is actually my life -- that my mother was hidden away in a maternity home and I was separated from her and from my father at birth. That they've missed me and thought about me all these years, and now were together again. I mean, really?? It's hard to take it all in.

Susan Perry: I'm a little different from some here in that I don't have an ongoing reunion. My original mother did not want continuing contact, so our interaction consisted of a letter exchange and a phone call. Even so, for me, knowing the truth is so much more empowering than knowing nothing. I am 62 now, so obviously, my original mother relinquished in a different era, when openness was not encouraged at all. I really bear no ill will toward any one party in my adoption -- but I bear a lot of ill will toward my adoption agency, which continues to facilitate closed adoptions even today, and which will not advocate for the rights of adopted adults. Adopted people are not commodities to be traded. Why is this concept so difficult for some people to understand?

Karen Pickell I was always very aware, even as a child, of being adopted, but even so I learned to be the pleaser and to hide my true feelings about many things. Life seemed to be going along pretty well until my late twenties, when I became so sick I had to take a leave of absence from my job. I was diagnosed with a chronic disease that is aggravated by stress—basically, my body broke down trying to maintain a career I hated while dealing with unhealthy romantic relationships. Everything in my life was wrong. In taking stock of the path I was on, I realized that underneath these surface causes was the deeper issue of not knowing who I really was or who I wanted to be, and that my feeling of not having an identity went back to not knowing where I came from because of being adopted.

Even once I recognized this about myself, I still couldn’t talk about it with anyone, not even with the psychologist I was seeing at the time to help me deal with all the stress. I did begin to make changes to better reflect the life I wanted to live, but my real breakthrough came after my first child was born. Suddenly, it became imperative for me to be open and honest about being an adopted person, to be able to tell my son about myself. It became urgent for me to find my birth mother—something that had been on my mind since I was fourteen. Now I know both of my birth parents, most of my ancestry, and a good amount of family medical history. I just could not allow my children to grow up having the same black hole about where their family came from that I did. I did not want them to have to write N/A on medical history questionnaires the way I did.

Reconnecting with my birth family has not instantly made me a whole person, with all questions answered and a fully-formed identity intact. In fact, it has created new questions for me, but with each answer I discover another facet of myself that had been buried under all my efforts to fit in where I didn't belong. The writing that I’m doing here at Lost Daughters as well as in my graduate program is another stage of my journey, as is my new outspokenness about adoptee rights. I’m still uncovering all of my pieces.

Nikki: For me, it wasn't one particular moment when the grief hit me like a ton of bricks, but rather a whole series of moments over the past 3 years since finding my original family. I always thought I was "fine" and relatively unaffected by being adopted; which truly astonishes me now that I am able to see myself through a much clearer lens. When I was 25 and pregnant with my first child, I happened to be in the town in which my adoption took place. I can remember driving by the agency, and wondering what would happen if I went inside. Would they give me information? What kind of information? Would it be okay for me to do that? NO! I couldn't. So I put it out of my mind. It wasn't until 14 years later that I worked up the courage to apply for my original birth certificate, and then contact my mother. That's when the grief and realization of all that was lost began to sink in. That's when my fog began to lift and tears began to flow. Three years of emotional ups and downs that I wouldn't trade for anything, because knowing is so much better than not knowing.

Lynn Grubb: The biggest moment for me was when our daughter came home from the hospital and I watched her first mother walk away from her and never come back. It finally sunk in for me, "that happened to me!' I grieved for quite some time at the age of 39.

Laura Dennis: I've had ah-ha moments throughout my life, in which I could see through the adoption fog; which was actually air -- I didn’t know it was possible to breathe anything else.

As others have said, we're never not adopted, and it's definitely an ongoing process for me to disentangle what’s a post-adoption-issue, what’s a formerly-repressed-Catholic-girl-issue, what's a "Laura’s basically a perfectionist by nature"-issue. (The "issue" list goes on.)

I can look back and realize that while my adoptive parents taught me to think for myself, they simply didn't know that adoption has a downside for a child (actually, it has many downsides, but I digress).
Here's an example of seeing through the fog ... At age 10, I accused my parents of buying me, like a slave. I was pretty adamant. They didn't really have an answer, except that they paid for my medical expenses. Society didn't -- and still doesn't -- have an answer for that. (I believe my 10-year-old self will end up on the side of history and recognize that it's wrong to pay for a child.)

Even so, my parents never criticized me for coming to the conclusions that I did. What I'm trying to say is that I saw through the adoption fog, but as a child was at a loss to do much about it.

Today, I'm still trying to get the adoption fog to disperse fully, but it's an ongoing, sometimes difficult process.

Deanna Shrodes: Looking back, I don't have regret about not expressing my struggles as a child, as strange as that may sound. With the hindsight that comes as an adult, I realize my expressing it might have made it worse. It is doubtful that my parents would have ever taken me to a psychologist specializing in adoption issues. I believe they would have tried to help. I don't believe they would have done nothing, however I do think their solution would have been to take me to meet with our pastor. This would have been the worst thing ever, as none of the pastors I had growing up were professionals with expertise in post-adoption issues and would have undoubtedly given me the "adoption kool-aid." I made the mistake myself as an adult of going to counselors who didn't understand post-adoption issues and gave me the kool-aid which only made things worse, for years. I lived with my post-adoption issues repressed for a very long time, (most of my life) just dealing with them inside my own head, in my own world, trying to make sense of it.

For more of Deanna's thoughts on this topic, please read her post today at Adoptee Restoration:
"I'm An Adoptee And I Don't Have Issues!" A Closer Look...

Monday, February 11, 2013

To Mother or Not?

Are you a mother?  If so, how does being a "mother" differentiate from being a "daughter"?  Have you explained to your children about your adoption?  Explain.  If you are not a mother, do you want to be one someday?  Does your answer have anything to do with your adoption?
As of right now, I am not a mother.  I am planning a wedding and my fiance and I have discussed children, but we are just at that stage right now.  Both of us want children someday and hopefully it will happen for us.  If it does not, we are planning on being the really fun aunt and uncle.  And we will probably have lots of pets.

For me, adoption has very much played into my choices surrounding any future motherhood, or the decision not to be a mother if things do not work out naturally.  I grew up with an amazing mom.  Really, my mom was amazing.  Watch a movie with a near perfect mother and that was mine.  She was destined to be a mom that is how good she was.  Seriously.  I am very glad that she was able to be a mother.  That is one of the reasons I have a hard time saying that adoption is always a bad thing.  I do believe that some people are meant to be parents, and I am so glad that my mother was able to even though she suffered from infertility.  In my mind, I am able to rationalize that my adoptive parents had NOTHING to do with my relinquishment.  My natural parents walked away from me before my adoptive parents came into the picture.  They did not wish to parent.  I would have been adopted no matter what.  Coercion was not an issue in my adoption and I know this from my natural parents, who have been clear that they did not wish to parent.

That being said, being adopted was not easy for me.  It was something that has lead to lifelong issues.  I will always have to work through things.  I will always wish that I had not been adopted.  That is not to say I do not want to be with my adoptive parents.  I just wish I had been born to them.

I have a major fear of infertility because of my adoption.  I grew up hearing stories about how my adoptive parents tried for ten years to have a child.  They never put that on me, but I have seen firsthand that sometimes it just does not work out for people.  My mother is one of eight siblings.  She is the only one who did not biologically reproduce.  I have lots of examples of how things do work out.  However, my adoptive parents are my strongest example.  I do not think it won't happen to me because I have seen it happen to the person who made a fantastic mother.  I have seen how the universe worked for her and it makes me nervous for myself.  I do not think that most twenty-five-year-old women think this way, but I do because of the examples I have in my life.  If not for my adoptive mother's infertility, I would not have been adopted.  I have seen the far reaching and major effects.  Thanks adoption!

With everything that I have been through, I cannot in good conscience adopt.  When I was younger I always assumed I would adopt someday.  I understand why adoptees do it.  I just know that after reunion and seeing honestly and truly what I missed growing up in a house where I am not biologically related to anyone, that being raised by biological parents is the first choice and should always be the first choice.  Some people do not want to parent or do not have the ability to do so.  And I get that.  But all efforts should be made to try to keep families intact and adoption should be the last resort.

My adoptive mother gave me a great example of motherhood.  Because of her, I want to be a mother someday and I really hope it happens for us.  My fiance would make a wonderful father (though he would have to learn to change a diaper).  I am very lucky that when I approached him a few months ago with my concerns about being parents someday, he agreed with me one hundred percent.  He has been traveling this road of reunion with me from the start and he has seen what I have gone through.  He agreed that he probably could not be the type of parent that I needed through this whole process.  So together we agreed that if we cannot parent our own biological children, we will figure out another path in life.  It could be fun!  We will just have to wait and see!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Reminders of Loss

Hooded sorrow (Wikimedia Commons)
By Jaesun

What can be more definite than the actual death of someone...

Once that happens no matter how old or for what reason, you will always start to feel greif.  Perhaps not as long every time but still, you will grieve or experience some kind of loss.

If you were to ask me I would say that there are different kinds of losses that produce different kinds of grief.  Such as death, adoption separation, and the end of a friendship or relationship. Now that 2013 has begun, I have experienced each of those three different losses. Death I have encountered more than once having a maternal family of many aunts, none of whom still are alive today.

Adoption separation, yes I have experienced this.  In my opinion, adoption separation (not loss from or by adoption) can be equally painful as death. The separation caused by adoption can mean that the adoptee will gain a totally different life when legally separated from their biological roots. That kind of forced separation may also, generally speaking, (although there are exceptions) mean that they may grieve or encounter reminders of opportunities with their birth family that will be almost impossible to regain.

Trust me, I have tried that and that process was anything but pretty.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Reunion and Open Adoption...Part 2

Imagine if you were able to know your birthparents while you were growing up. Along-side, but not part of your family. Visiting, writing, sharing time together. So many of us seek reunion with our birthparents when we're adults. What if we were able to know our birthparents our whole lives? Would that be better? Worse? Given the choice, would we choose that, or would we just rather not know? 

Coming from a closed-adoption experience, I am fascinated by open-adoption. While it feels like it is intended as a step towards making the adoption experience better - after all, it takes away the secrecy and shame - I wonder if it is better, or if it's just the same issues just packaged in a new way? And have we opened up a whole new set of issues that we didn't have in the closed adoption system?

Friday, February 8, 2013

How to Write to Your Legislator about Adoptee Rights

by Lynn Grubb

With the new bill for Ohio projected to come out this week, I wanted to do a post on effective communication with your legislature. The summary below was taken from

Writing Effective Letters to Your Legislators:

In the age of the Internet, e-mail and faxes, some have deemed the impact of letters obsolete. However, government representatives are growing increasingly responsive and reliant on feedback and suggestions from their constituents. The most direct way of impacting a legislator is through a letter writing campaign. The more letters a legislator receives, the more important the issue becomes.

Even with noncontroversial issues, it is important to write letters because if there is no evident public consensus, they are likely to rely on the letters they did receive as the consensus. Letters also visually show who and how many people the legislation will effect. However, a poorly written and presented letter will make little, if any, impact at all.

It is important to identify yourself as a member or an officer of your association so the legislator identifies your association as a player in this issue. Another category some writers may fit into is that of a small business person. Research the legislator's background to find out their stance on small businesses and associations. The research can determine the best way to approach the legislator that would have the best impact.

However, writing multiple letters as one person with various titles is not a good idea. The office tabulates the letters by name, not title, so your letters would simply show up as multiple letters from the same person. (Federal legislators biographies and addresses can be obtained on the World Wide Web at or depending on their position.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

ORFAN--Interview with Author Corie Skolnick

Yesterday, at Lost Daughters, I shared my review of Corie Skolnick's novel, ORFAN. The existential fable is at turns moving, depressing, and uplifting. And, of course I had a ton of questions for her!

Healing and Hope for Adoptees ... is it possible? 

Laura Dennis -- When you introduced your book to The Lost Daughters, you spoke a bit about full circles, especially when it came to readers who were deeply affected by ORFAN.

I’m thinking about long-standing hurts that--somehow, some way--through the kindness of strangers, a small act of forgiveness, or a twist of fate ... can be rectified. This may be especially true in the case of adoption reunions. In writing ORFAN, how did you balance the need to show that some grief still exists, while there can be healing and hope?

Writer Corie Skolnick
Corie Skolnick -- This is a great question. I don’t know if it’s a legitimate goal of fiction to provide a literary roadmap for the resolution of “long standing hurts”, but if it is, I would love to report that I consciously aspired to that in ORFAN.

I do know as a therapist I was always impressed by the claim made in therapy by many adoptees seeking treatment that the extreme grief about the loss of their origins snuck up on them. They often said that they experienced blissful, perfect childhoods in their adopted families and they were utterly shocked when delayed “issues” surrounding adoption started to surface, often in adolescence and sometimes in young adulthood. Many were appalled at the depth of anger and grief they sometimes uncovered about their relinquishment. Many felt extremely guilty about it. So, I did, very consciously, try to create a character in Jimmy Deane who was indisputably entitled to his “enduring grief.” I may have actually overwritten that part more than just a bit, but bear in mind that I wrote ORFAN as a fable. And, I wanted to legitimize the adoptee’s feelings about their own experience by creating empathy for the character.  

And, the book is an existential fable, so Jimmy’s quest for healing and hope are a natural part of the story. His crisis when faced with unendurable loss is meant to be instructive. That part is definitely overwritten. Melodramatic even. So much so that an agent I approached wrote to tell me that she had not encountered a book “so overwritten” since she turned down Forrest Gump. I took that as a compliment. The balance comes at the very end of Jimmy’s quest. If ORFAN is an allegory then the lesson is in that balance. No life is without loss and grief. Your existential duty requires that you seek healing and persist in hope.

Empathy for our first mothers

Laura -- The opening scene -- of birth, fear, love, loss and adoption -- was for me particularly hard to read. As adoptees, many of us feel deep empathy and sorrow for our first mothers, imaging how it would have been to give us away. What types of reactions have those in the adoption constellation had?

Corie -- Not to be surprised, birth mothers have the strongest reaction to the prologue. More than a few have told me that the fiction I conjured is very close to their lived experience. I had some help (a lot) with that chapter from several women I know well who surrendered children under very similar circumstances in the late sixties. I owe a huge debt to them for any resemblance to accuracy.

In terms of a specific response to that scene, I am actually a little bit surprised that I haven’t heard much empathy from adoptees for their birth mothers. I had hopes for that to happen. But, your own response is probably the only one from an adoptee that I would call truly empathic.

Now that you’re asking, I do not recall a single response from an adoptive parent that specifically demonstrated empathy for either the relinquishing mother or the relinquished child. I don’t really want to speculate about that here except to say that I guess that kind of relative silence reflects the general conversation about this issue, doesn’t it?

Adoptee Resilience and Creativity

Laura -- For me, ORFAN is about the characters’ lives coming full circle. The coincidences and missed opportunities, if you will, serve a larger purpose. We just don’t know what’s around the bend, but through the main character, Jimmy Deane, we are able to see that resilience and openness in even measures allow him to appreciate the good when it does come along.

Can you talk a little bit more about your views on adoptee resilience, or other traits you see in adoptees?

Corie -- I have a profound admiration for “resilient” adoptees. To survive and thrive (and so many do) when burdened by mysterious and unfathomable feelings of loss and alienation and disorientation! Wow! Just wow! I don’t think it’s an overstatement to call that kind of survival miraculous. This is why Jimmy Deane is such a magical character. A lot of the psychological qualities exhibited by adoptees are noted as negative or dysfunctional. I think it’s much better to note anything problematic as “strategic.”

Like your own flight into non-reality [as told in your memoir, Adopted Reality]. Was that craziness? Psychosis? Or, was it a very creative response to overwhelming emotional, physical and even spiritual overload?

Adoptees in my experience are the ultimate adapters. And, I don’t know if I would say universally, but definitely, I would say that in numbers that are statistically notable, adoptees are gifted and artistic and intelligent. I’m still waiting to meet an adoptee that has not excelled in some art form. This is why I made Jimmy Deane a musical prodigy and such a creative survivor, in every sense. He’s the quintessential resilient adoptee.

ORFAN ... Orphan ... Not all adoptees are without parents

Laura -- The title of the book, ORFAN, works on many levels. It’s the misspelling of a young boy who is told he’s without a family. He’s only five, but he’s taught himself how to read, and he therefore sounds out the word, “orphan,” a term he’s heard repeatedly applied to himself. But it’s also a misnomer -- as is true for so many adoptees. We’re not orphans; we’re just relinquished from our original families. Without giving the ending away, can you share your thoughts on this?

Corie -- Oh, I’m so glad you “got” that! It’s just shocking to me how many people don’t. I admit that the title is provocative, and I guess it isn’t all that much fun to be provoked, but, come on, people! Put your smart hats on, please! Obviously you understood that the lesson in the title is, at least on its face, about the destructive power of words and how damaging a pejorative attribution is to a child’s developing identity. The title is meant to make the reader uncomfortable with the very word that – you’re right – erroneously describes a child and makes her culpable for what has been done to her, not at all who she IS.
*  *  *  *  *

It’s been so great getting to know Corie. I highly recommend her book, ORFAN, which is available on Amazon in paperbook and ebook.

About Corie Skolnick -- Born in Oak Park, Illinois, and raised on Chicago’s south side, Corie Skolnick has lived her entire adult life in Southern California. She is a California licensed marriage and family therapist and a “sometimes” psychology instructor at California State University, Northridge and Moorpark College. Among the many courses she has taught at both colleges, her very favorite is The Psychological Aspects of Parenthood. She has two grown children, both of them in the arts, and she is married to the social psychologist, Paul Skolnick. ORFAN is her first novel. (Look for AMERICA’S MOST ELIGIBLE to be published by Mannequin Vanity Publishing next year!)

Monday, February 4, 2013

ORFAN -- Book Review: Reflections on Adoption

Corie Skolnick’s sweet, sorrowful coming-of-age story of Jimmy Deane (JD for short), a mixed ethnicity infant adoptee born in Illinois the late 1960s, wove its way into my heart, then it left a lasting, hopeful impression. Knowing that Ms. Skolnick is not an adoptee herself, rather a psychologist trained in all aspects of the adoption triad; I read the first chapter with trepidation.

 You see, ORFAN opens with an OB nurse’s view of a young unwed mother giving birth to the main character, JD. The so-called “birth story” for adoptees, in which relinquishment comes a short time later ... was one of the most traumatic events of our lives. Of course we don’t remember it, but this pre-verbal memory is imprinted upon our psyches in ways we don’t always understand.

I’m in reunion; I know my birth-and-relinquishment story. I know my first mother loved me. And still, as I read the novel-slash-fable, my heart pulled for this tiny baby being taken away from the only person he knows, wants and needs. I nearly stopped reading. Skolnick’s small details -- such as how the labor nurses “forgot” to put socks on the young mother’s ice-cold, blue feet before setting the laboring woman up in stirrups -- was truly upsetting, considering the context. Then, add to it how much pain I know this woman is going to feel after she relinquishes her baby.

Trouble Ahead for an Adoptee

ORFAN is an incredible, layered work of fiction that shows how adoption and reunion can bring out both the best and the worst in people. And, it does get worse for JD before it gets better. However, each foreshadowing “coincidental” element (or fateful, depending upon one’s perspective) of the story shines light on the small kindnesses of strangers that help make life’s troubles a little more bearable.
Take a key chapter written from the perspective of JD’s South Florida kindergarten teacher. In her own way, Mrs. Weis tries to help JD fit in, but she can easily see the long, hard road ahead for a bright child, whose skin color is not white. Through the teacher’s eyes, we can see the changing attitudes of race relations in the United States, individual-by-individual. Mrs. Weis admits that while at teacher’s college up north she had friends of many ethnicities, and even marched for civil rights. However, if she is honest with herself, the thing she notices about a person first is his skin color.

Shifting ably through different points-of-view, including the first person and third-person omniscient, we see that while his Southern white adoptive parents have every intention of giving him unconditional love for the rest of JD’s life; well of course that’s not the way it turns out. But JD is gifted; crazy-smart, an all-around unique individual. People seem to be drawn to him, so he’s able to survive in spite of the racism, abuse and general meanness around him.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mothering While Adopted

Maybe the title should be 'Smothering While Adopted'. When I asked my teenage daughter what it's like having an adoptee as a mother, she heartily snorted. As she started laughing, she said, “I know nothing else.”

Like a lot of adoptees, my first born was also the first blood kin I ever laid eyes on. The intensity of being in the presence of someone connected to you on a cellular level was searing. The one thing I knew for sure was that I would not let her slip away - like everyone else had.

Giving birth gave me an overwhelming sensation of finally having someone similar to me. It was intense and over-the-top. Then the in-laws showed up at the hospital. They did what every non-adopted person seems to do when there's a new baby in the family – immediately start identifying characteristics that belong to the family. They had no idea what their comments like 'She has long fingers like my side of the family' or 'those eyes are mine' did to me. My husband's family are all blood related. They all have similarities. I finally had ONE person who was blood to me -- ONE – that's it. And it felt like my in-laws came in to claim her. It wasn't done on purpose. It was quite 'normal', but normal isn't something an adoptee is familiar with.

Finally when everyone was done oooo'ing and aaahhh'ing and had left my hospital room, a darkness fell over me. I was swirling into overwhelming grief when a wonderful nurse stopped in. She said to me, “Smile.” I was emotionally drained and gave her a weak smile. She then said, “Now I see where your baby gets her dimple from.” My heart seemed to suspend its beating. I was momentarily breathless. She got something from me. For the first time in my life, someone looked at another human being and commented that she looked like ME! Amazing! All those years of step-siblings joking that I was hatched from an egg pod that came down from another planet – which I think I almost believed at some points. All the disconnection all my life and finally, finally, finally, I was connected to another human being. Almost 17 years later, and that one sentence from that one wonderful nurse brings tears to my eyes instantly.

Two years after my oldest daughter's birth, I had my second daughter. While I was totally astounded again, I think I was too exhausted from having a toddler to revel in the gloriousness of a connection as much. This time I didn't feel the panic that she'd slip away from me and leave me.

Mothering was a foreign concept to me. First, I lost my biological mother through adoption. Then, I lost my adoptive mother when I was four through death. I lost my first stepmother through divorce. Thankfully my second stepmother stuck around, but I was already 17 by the time she entered my life. My second stepmother told me many times that I was a 'natural' at being a mother. She told me that my babies responded to me and she could see how much I adored them. What I never told her was that for the most part, I had sheer panic on the inside.

My kids became involved with adoptee rights because I was involved and they went where I went. People made exceptions for them in archive rooms, research areas, cemeteries – wherever my searching took me. I can't count the number of people who said, 'We usually don't allow children in here.' and I would reassure them with, 'They're my assistants.' I had one archivist say that my kids handled the microfiche reels better than most adults. They knew what I needed and could go to the wall of cabinets with films in it and be able to get exactly what I needed. One time, an archivist (who had gotten accustomed to me and my assistants) brought out the original paperwork I was looking for. It was not on a microfiche, but the original book. It was so brittle that we had to wear gloves to even be near it.
They were involved with every phase of trying to pass a law in NJ for adoptee rights. They read and re-read my writings. They marched in adoptee rights rallies. They missed school to watch me testify at a hearing. They missed school to watch legislation being voted on. They met a NJ Governor and acting-Governor. They have been to so many adoptee rights things that people were commenting how big they were getting and asking them how they're doing in school this year.

Both of my kids have done oral reports to their classes about going to the legislature. They would bring in their badges (yes, security let them keep them to show off at school). They would bring in pictures and get in front of the class and teach the class about how a bill becomes (or doesn't become) a law and all the steps that need to be taken. They've been to so many government functions that they're being recognized. They even sat through five hours of dry testimony just so that they were there for when I testified.

They saw and felt the emotional toll searching for my birth family and being involved in adoptee rights has taken on me. They were there and are still there on the front lines with me.

They have made posters, made videos and been in a documentary about adoptee rights struggles. They have seen first-hand how a mother's rejection can slice to an adoptee's core. They have known that I was a secret and had to sneak around to meet my grandmother. They know that lies have been said about me and they aren't able to defend me. They know and have seen the truth and they have seen how the truth gets distorted through media.

They have seen me panic and not be able to let go of them. They are letting me know that it's okay to ease up and loosen my grip. They are showing me that I don't have to hold on bear-hug tight all the time. They are teaching me how to be a mother to them. After 17 years, I still don't know how to mother, how to let go, how to give them enough space to be who they want to be. Why? Because they are the only blood I've ever had.

-- Elaine Penn

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Foster Focus: Monthy Mashup

In this Foster Focus column I am simply highlighting a few things that have caught my attention this past month:

Sen. John Kerry's bill to inform foster children of college aid:
S. 3665 would require the Department of Education to notify foster youth of all federal funds available to support their pursuit of higher education — such as Education and Training Vouchers and the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program — and include information specifically for foster youth on its website.
Read more:

A foster child's choice -- to NOT to be adopted:

In her report, the psychologist wrote: S.D. "maintains an internalized idealized connection to her mother, and cannot give voice to profound feelings of abandonment and loss." Forcing S.D. to accept adoption—with all the real and symbolic loss and divided loyalty that could entail—might make it harder for her to resolve the difference between her idealized fantasy of her mother and the reality of her. The psychologist concluded that because S.D. did not embrace adoption, to push it on her might "cause even further upheaval in the formation of her identity."
Read more:

Efforts to reunite foster children with family members in Mexico:

Find Families In Mexico (FFIM) believes all U.S. foster children deserve to live happy, healthy lives in a permanent home. When relatives live outside the U.S., we believe in challenging the family-finding status quo. By identifying and locating their family members in Mexico, we become the catalyst to move children out of foster care.
Read more:

Advocacy for pregnant and parenting teens in foster care:

Unfortunately, the fact that a young person is in foster care means they are often subject to increased scrutiny and many more rules than other young parents. Advocates for young parents in foster care must ensure that they are not held to a higher standard than other young parents not living in foster care.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Motherhood and Daughterhood

Welcome to our first "Perspectives" month!  We announced last month that we're starting a new project to showcase the different perspectives and ideas of our writers.

This months prompt is about Motherhood and "Daughterhood".  While we are all daughters, some of our writers here are also mothers in different capacities.  This month we will be taking a look into what this means to us as individuals and as adoptees.  We would also like to open the floor to guest writers.  Do you feel you have a unique perspective to share?  We will be accepting submissions until February 19th (email editor [at] thelostdaughters [dot] com).

Our prompt for the month:
Are you a mother?  If so, how does being a "mother" differentiate from being a "daughter"?  Have you explained to your children about your adoption?  Explain.  If you are not a mother, do you want to be one someday?  Does your answer have anything to do with your adoption?
Check back on Sundays this month to see what our contributors have to say about the subject!

Week 1: Mothering While Adopted
Week 2: To Mother or Not