Tuesday, July 30, 2013

With Sad Hearts, the Lost Daughters Welcome Baby Girl Veronica to the Sisterhood

New Roundtable: Will Veronica Become the Next Lost Daughter? 

As Lost Daughters of adoption, we've been following the heart-breaking legal progress of the case(s) to decide who has parental rights over Veronica. We've tried to put aside the emotional triggers that this case is bringing up in our adoptee hearts and have added our voices to the conversation.

Our voice may very well be joined by "Baby" Veronica's ... in about fourteen years, or so.

Here's great resource for those who want to catch-up, thanks to the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

How adoptee rights are related to the Baby Veronica case

Samantha Franklin -- As an reunited OK adoptee and advocate for adoptee rights to their original birth certificates, this case is very close to my heart. I have attended open hearings at our state Capitol during an "Adoption Review Task Force" (on which NO adult adoptees were appointed). Around the table were adoption agency "professionals" who spent the entire time arguing the point that legislators should NOT put a cap on "expenses and fees" charged in adoptions in OK. They were very concerned that potential "birthmothers" would not see OK as "adoption friendly" if lawmakers put more ethical laws in place. It was physically sickening to be at these public hearings and realize the complete truth that adoption agencies are truly businesses that profit from adoption and are concerned about supplying the demand for their consumers who are willing to pay top dollar for a baby. This was a series of meetings over two years, held mainly because of an OK Supreme Court ruling over an adoption attorney who charged thousands of dollars for an adoption which was contested and reviewed. It seemed as if the legislators became weary of the constant discussion from the "professionals" in adoption. Finally, at the last meeting (after two years of sitting and listening, without voices not being heard), did they "address" the issue of adult adoptees obtaining their original birth certificates in adulthood. It was determined, and I quote, by a legislator, after hearing testimony from the same adoption agency "professionals" WHY the law didn't need to be changed, "if it ain't broke, why fix it."

Well, Mr. Legislators, the Baby Veronica case and so many other states passing legislation restoring the identity rights of adoptees only serve to prove that it IS broken, and we need to fix it. We need to remove the money in adoption. "Counseling" provided by adoption agencies is a conflict of interest. Adoptees are not commodities. We are not perpetual children. We deserve human rights.

What can be done to guard paternal rights?

Julie Stromberg -- This case is weighing on my heart as well, Sam. My father and paternal grandparents fought Catholic Charities to stop my adoption. They wanted to raise and keep me. Fathers had no rights at all to raise their own children back in 1971. Apparently, not much has changed since then. This saddens me.

Veronica is not a child in need. She is being raised by the father and family who created her. She should have a right to be raised by her own family. Allowing her adoption to go through will legally erase her origins through the falsifying of her birth certificate. And open adoption agreements are not legally enforceable. So she will not be guaranteed continued contact with her father and paternal family. The Capobiancos will hold all of the legal control over both Veronica and her father should the adoption be finalized.

If this adoption goes through, Veronica will be a Lost Daughter, just like all of us.

Samantha -- Hugs to you Julie, I'm so sorry you were separated from your father and his family. My heart is so heavy over these issues and the fact that "popular" opinion is so swayed towards stranger adoption.

Karen Pickell -- It is physically difficult for me to spend too much time reading all the articles that have been written about the Baby Veronica case, especially the most recent developments which point toward this child unnecessarily being taken away from her own biological family. I am not overstating my reaction; my body literally hurts when I read about this. Why? Because I know firsthand the struggles Veronica will go through having been disconnected from her biological relatives and forced to live with strangers. I know firsthand all the questions she will have about who she is and why she couldn’t have stayed with her own family.

Even worse, I know that one day in the not-too-distant future, she will be able to read and hear and watch all the media coverage about her life, and she will understand very clearly what has happened. Even worse than knowing her mother did not want to keep her, Veronica will know that her own mother basically sold her to strangers. She will know that her own mother preferred that she be torn away from her father to be raised by strangers. Veronica will know that her mother tried to dismantle a law designed to protect Native American children from being stripped of their cultural heritage, that her own mother did not care that Veronica herself is Native American—that her own mother did not think about how striking a blow against the Native American community is the equivalent of striking Veronica.

This case is worse than the ugliest divorce. The Capobiancos should have backed off a long time ago, when it became abundantly clear that Dusten Brown never intended for his daughter to be adopted out to strangers and when it became abundantly clear that he is, in fact, a perfectly fit parent for Veronica, more fit than the Capobiancos will ever be now that they’ve made it obvious that they do not care about the bond between this child and her biological family. At this point, I honestly do not care about the Capobiancos’ emotional distress over this case, nor do I care about the money or time they’ve put into their fight to take this child. And I do hope they read this, because they need to hear how adult adoptees feel about what they are doing. If they do end up raising Veronica, she herself will be an adult adoptee one day, a lost daughter, one of us. Do they think she’ll be grateful that they stole her away from her father? Do they think she’ll thank them for purchasing her from Christy Maldonado? Think again.

Many people are saying that Dusten Brown turned his back on Veronica and then changed his mind. Many versions are circulating of what supposedly took place during Maldonado’s pregnancy and during the first four months of Veronica’s life. I don’t know any of the parties involved. I don’t know exactly how it all went down. What I do know is that Dusten Brown is a father who wants to raise his daughter, and the Capobiancos, along with Christy Maldonado, are trying as hard as they can to keep him from doing so. As an adopted person and on behalf of Veronica, I ask why? Why would anyone work so hard to keep a child from her own father?

Deanna Doss Shrodes -- I am grieved in my spirit about this case. Dusten Brown is a perfectly fit father and WANTS to raise his daughter. Why is this case even being debated? Adoption should take place only when there is absolutely no other option of a child being raised in their original family. And in fact, Veronica's adoption has not even taken place! The child is not even adopted YET, and still, she has (at the present) been placed with the Capobiancos. So, a father comes forward BEFORE an adoption takes place, declaring his intentions to raise his daughter and she is...placed for adoption anyway?

So basically... Veronica will have to deal with a plethora of post-adoption issues that she would not have to deal with, all because the Capobiancos have made an investment?

Their emotional distress or financial investment is of no consequence in comparison to a child who will now have to face identity issues and much more than could have all been avoided had they just done the right thing.'

Lynn Grubb -- My sisters before me have clearly spelled out the issues in this sad case. I fear that this case is setting a legal precedent that fathers (still) have inferior legal rights in this country. This case shows (again) that money is more important than children's rights.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is designed to protect Native American children. I think it is very telling that Christy Maldanado is suing to remove this law. She clearly has no respect for the ICWA, Native Americans and the father of her child. I believe she is on a power trip and has clearly lost sight that her child is drowning while she is grasping the media spotlight.

I believe the legal team behind Maldonado and the Capobiancos intended to bypass the ICWA and Dusten's legal rights and got caught. Dusten represents the inferior way we treat fathers in this country. How many other Veronicas will have to be passed back and forth before the Courts make a clear decision about father's rights? As my husband says, fathers are important only when they open their wallets. And when they do, they get every other weekend visits.

The ICWA should not be abolished and in fact, there should be sanctions and disbarring of attorneys who attempt to get around the laws in the first place.

Julie Stromberg -- I, too, believe that the legal representatives for Maldonado and the Capobiancos attempted to bypass Brown's rights as both a father and Native man. There is such a double standard in this country when it comes to adoption. Society chastises fathers who don't step up to help raise their children--unless the mother wants to place the child for adoption. Then society expects the father to ride off into the sunset. We have reached a point in this country when every sexually active adult male should register with the putative father registries in states that have them and prepare a legal document stating that they intend to raise any child they create--before engaging in sexual activity with any woman.

I am having a really difficult time garnering any sort of sympathy for the Capobiancos at this point. While I understand that yes, Maldonado selected them and took $10k plus medical expenses from them in return for Veronica (society does not view this as buying a child, of course), they were aware of the issues surrounding Brown. And they opted to protect their "investment" instead of considering that rights of both Veronica and her father.

Clearly, they are not fighting to take possession of Veronica because they want to adopt a child in need. Veronica is not in need. So I can only assume that the Capobiancos are desperately clinging to the belief that Veronica somehow "belongs" to them because they paid Maldonado thousands and thousands of dollars for her. To be blunt, it seems to me that they paid their money and they want the merchandise. The fact that Veronica's father is willing, able and fit to raise his own child is of no concern to the Capobiancos.

I recently read a blog post written by an adoptive parent who wondered how the Capobiancos will look Veronica in the eye during the years to come and say "we fought hard to take you from your father, who wanted to keep you."

I am wondering the same thing.

Deanna -- Veronica's case IS part of a much larger problem in society -- the blatant disrespect of fathers and their rights.

From the very beginning, Maldanado decided what would happen with absolutely no regard for Dusten Brown --the father of the child they BOTH created.

Society at large seems to not care about Brown because they thought it was Maldonado who had the right to make the exclusive decisions regarding this child's fate from the very beginning.

People tend to believe in SOME rights for fathers, but definitely not equal ones. If we as a society believed in equal rights for fathers they would be equal from the get-go.

Karen Pickell -- I wholeheartedly agree with you all on the issue of fathers' rights. It takes two to create a child. If I'm not mistaken, every one of us participating in this roundtable is a mother as well as an adoptee. We are all women who know what it means to give birth to a child. However, we also know how important our children's fathers are in their lives, and how much our own biological fathers mean to us. Some of us have taken considerable effort to reunite with our birth fathers. Others of us are still searching, still hoping to resolve that missing connection. Veronica should not have to experience this type of loss in order to satisfy the needs of the Capobiancos.

I know Julie has said this, but I'm going to say it again: Veronica is not a child who needs to be adopted, and adoption should be about a child's needs, not about the needs of adults who want a child.

Deanna -- Karen, you bring up an excellent point. As one who is searching for my biological father, I cannot even fathom finding him and being told that he wanted me and fought to raise me but some strangers who had not even legally adopted me yet, prevented him from doing so. Quite honestly, it would slay me. I hope the Capobiancos aren't just saving for college but for long term therapy.

Julie Stromberg -- Absolutely, Deanna. This whole ordeal is all about what some people want instead of what Veronica needs. The Capobiancos do not need to raise Veronica. And Veronica does not need them to raise her. She is happy and thriving with her own father and within her family of origin. This is exactly what Veronica needs.

My father and paternal grandparents wanted me. They fought to keep and raise me. My adoptive parents, however, didn't know this. They were in no way responsible for me not being raised by my own family. This will not be the case for Veronica. She will know that the people raising her purposely fought to take her away from her father and paternal family. I can only begin to imagine the sense of hurt and betrayal Veronica might feel one day when she is able to fully process what happened to her.

In order for an adoption to occur, something bad must happen first. A child must lose his or her first parents. Adoption or not, Veronica will already have to process the fact that her mother did not want to raise her and the sense of loss that comes with it. As adopted women ourselves, we know how difficult this can be. And if the Capobiancos get their way, Veronica will then have to process the fact that she lost her father because of the people who are feeding her and putting a roof over her head. It disgusts me that these adults are knowingly and willingly fighting to put a child through all of this.

They can't say they didn't know how it might affect Veronica. Right here at Lost Daughters, they have access to several of Veronica's adult counterparts who are expressing exactly what this adoption would put Veronica through. Will they listen? Will they consider what we have to say as adult adopted women? Or will they continue to allow their wanting of Veronica to overshadow the reality of what they are doing?

Deanna -- Love "does not demand it's own way..." I Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)

Love is not possession.

Julie J -- The default setting should ALWAYS be with family. Family should never have to prove they are better than any random stranger. Adoption should never be on the table for any child as long as they have family willing & capable of raising them as this child clearly does. Family members are not interchangeable. There are beneficial, intangible factors of being with your own people that will always outweigh alternatives. That's what's not being acknowledged or respected in this case. I am saddened that laws that were set up to protect children from exactly these types of scenarios were blatantly ignored. The Capobiancos are not her parents. They are nothing more than child consumers, more concerned with themselves than Veronica.

Really listening to us may involve arriving at the conclusions that there are good reasons to prioritize the preservation of families first, and that adoption should be avoided whenever unnecessary. Some adults simply cannot consider that being subjected to an unnecessary adoption and losing one's family, heritage, & identity could have adverse effects on us because they don't see anything undesirable about adoption at all. To listen to our voices on this would mean them having to re-examine their own beliefs and values. Some adults simply cannot go there when it comes to the sacred cow of adoption.

Yes, we may expect Veronica to join our ranks in the future when she finds her own voice on this matter. I wish she didn't have to lose her family again. I wish all the Veronicas could stay with their own families who love them & want them. How many more Veronicas must experience this so that legal & genetic strangers get to experience "parenthood"? We are witnessing an example of pro-adoption over pro-child.

Friday, July 26, 2013

An interview with Rhonda Noonan-Churchill

Adoptee Rhonda Noonan
By Trace A. DeMeyer (contributor to Lost Daughters)

Rhonda, your new memoir The Fifth and Final Name is captivating in so many ways. It reads like a mystery suspense novel and you are a detective. As an adoptee, you show such courage and persistence; your search to find answers and family has taken 28+ years and really still hasn’t ended. What part of your journey has been the most difficult?

RHONDA NOONAN: Without a doubt, the hardest part was looking, running into dead ends, and continuing forward; many times with absolutely no clue what to do next. I commanded myself to think, look at it all again, and think some more. It certainly didn’t help when I was lied to by the “system” and treated as though I was “troubled” because I had the audacity to ask for my own identity!  Praying was involved… and good friends were called upon to cheer me up when times were rough. 

In three decades, are you surprised how many states do not help adoptees by releasing their birth records and original birth certificates?

RHONDA: Because of my work, over the years, as a therapist to many adopted kids, I knew all too well the “rules of engagement” with the record holders. I have never truly been surprised, as adoption has become such an enormous  money-maker and keeping records closed, and secrecy looked at as a matter of “procedure,” if you will -  assists those who would use children for profit.  If you can keep perpetuating lies to the ignorant masses, that birthmothers were promised anonymity, or that open records increase abortion rates, taking babies away from their mothers will continue to line the pockets of adoption agencies and attorneys. My personal experience with adoption was a good one. I was certainly a child in need of a family! Sadly, however, it is often the case that birthmothers and babies would benefit much more from assistance aimed at keeping that child with their mother. In a better world, we will come to understand that.  At the very least, that child’s knowledge of their identity should NEVER be compromised in the process.

Has the genealogy of your birthmother Pat revealed any surprises for you? I was thinking of the one psychic who revealed you may have Native American ancestry.

RHONDA:  Actually, the Native American blood would have to be on the Churchill side, as it is believed that Sir Winston’s grandmother was Iroquois. My birthmother was not Native American.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Round Table: A Successful Adoption?

In today's Round Table we tackle a question that was recently put to some of us on twitter: "How would define a successful adoption?" 

Julie J: Some thoughts on that:
* "Success" should only be defined by the adoptee. It's not for anyone else to determine or speculate on that, not the adoption workers, not the government, not the adoptive parents, the neighbors, or anyone else.
* No lies or secrecy!! All questions always answered honestly and completely.
* No forged documents!
* And as always, my favorite response to what is an adoption success story -- it's the one that never had to happen in the first place.

Oh, and I think it takes the perspective of time to fully evaluate the totality of their experience. More adoptees have a clearer picture of this as adults than they did as children, as it does evolve over time.

This is an evaluation of adoption, not an evaluation of adoptive parents. Many can't separate those ideas, and so they take it personally. You can love your adoptive parents and not love adoption itself.

Karen PickellJulie J., your thoughts are very similar to mine. For me, criteria of a successful adoption include: 1) The child needed a family situation because there were very concrete reasons why her biological family could not raise her. I do not consider the biological parents' ages or economic status as concrete reasons. 2) No secrets or lies by any party. 3) The child's relationship with her biological family is maintained as much as possible. 4) The adoptive parents act as additional family to the child rather than replacement of her biological family. 5) No party is made to feel guilty or ashamed for the honest expression of feelings. 6) The child keeps her original birth certificate; no amended birth certificate is issued.

Michelle: I appreciate what Julie J said here: "...I think it takes the perspective of time to fully evaluate the totality of their experience. More adoptees have a clearer picture of this as adults than they did as children, as it does evolve over time."

I agree completely. So often I see adoption agencies and orphan care organizations exploiting young adoptees by using their comments promote organizations agendas. It infuriates me.

Julie J: If one were to ask prospective adoptive parents or adoptive parents what makes a successful adoption, they might consider in their answer aspects such as how short of a wait they had before the child was placed in their home, how much travel was required of them, total expenses, the age of the child at placement, availability of a child of a particular race, closed versus open, relationships with the child's natural family, whether or not the child adoptee has ever expressed to them any dissatisfaction concerning their adoption, and how the adoptee conforms to their new family and to their personal expectations of how the child should be bonding to them.

Ask a representative from the adoption industry about their successful adoption rates, to them it might look like total numbers of children placed into any home; or high numbers of expectant mothers following through with relinquishing; or low numbers of adoption disruptions, dissolutions; or fewer requests for follow up services from adoptive parents, natural mothers, and adoptees; or income generated for their business.

It almost goes without saying that casual acquaintances or distant relatives are not qualified to speak on behalf of adoptees and their adoption experience.

The adoptee, being the true client of adoption, is the only voice that should be focused on when looking for ways to measure and/or improve adoption. All of the other parties will express distorted views of what adoption success really means.

Julie Stromberg: I am
going to get a bit provocative here. As long as the adoption process involves the falsifying and sealing of birth certificates, it is my feeling that there will never be truly successful adoptions. In order for me to even consider an adoption to be remotely successful, it would have be one that legally respects the adoptee as an individual human being and party to his or her own adoption. As it stands right now, we are forced to legally pretend that we are the biological offspring of our adoptive parents. And we do not even have a legal right to know that we are adopted. There is no indication on our falsified birth certificates that an adoption even took place.

As an adopted person, I would say that both the adoption industry and state government of Connecticut have failed me as my adoption is based on loss and lies. Is my adoption successful? As long as I am forced to live a legal lie, the answer is no. Putting an end to the falsifying and sealing of birth certificates and making sure that adoptees have the basic legal right to know they were adopted would be two smart steps toward making the system more successful.

Julie J: Totally agree w/every word of that, Julie!

Karen Pickell: Amen, Julie.

Amanda: Adoption needs to move forward in acknowledging the need and right of adopted and fostered youth and adults to access as much of their origins as possible. Adoption will always need to evolve and change to meet ethical standards and the needs of families and children. In that context, I think of a successful adoption as being one that provides permanency, nurture, love, and family to a child that needed those things.

Julie Stromberg: I totally agree Amanda. What I struggle with, however, is the fact that society-at-large seems to believe that adoption, as an industry, already does provide those things to adoptees. The actual rights and needs of adopted and fostered youth and adults do not seem to be factored in to the current definition of a successful adoption. Which is why I opt to question if any adoption is successful under the current system.

An adoptee can have the greatest adoptive parents on the planet. And society would take this to mean that the adoption was successful and that would be that. It is entirely possible for an adoptee to 1) have great adoptive parents; 2) a legally-recognized unaltered birth certificate; and 3) the legal right to know he or she was adopted without having to rely solely on the adoptive parents. This would be a much more respectful and successful way of achieving the goal of ensuring that children receive permanency, nurturing and love in a respectful way.

Julie J: Discussing how "successful adoptions" should be defined has me pondering a related question of what is means to "educate others about adoption." We hear and read so much about how educating others is needed. To us adoptees, it's more along the lines of what Amanda, Julie, and Karen are saying. To agencies and to adoptive parents, "educating" means something else, and at times the opposite, of what we mean. (For example -- positive adoption language (PAL) versus honest adoption language (HAL ), or deciding whether more or less adoptions would be ideal, the lists go on and on.) Each side believing others are ignorant and need to be "educated" on adoption. That's why we don't make much progress as a society to solving these problems for children, because different groups define the problems and the "successful" solutions to them differently, according to their own wants/needs.

Von: A successful adoption is one which is ethical, no money changes hands and it is done for a child who cannot be safely raised by his/her biological parents and needs a family. It provides skilled adoptive parenting which takes account of loss, ambiguous loss, grieving, trauma and is built on truth and honesty, giving the adoptee all information about his/her birth, etc.

Deanna Shrodes: I agree with all that has been said here. Adoption only when there is absolutely no option of a child staying with their original family. The option of kinship adoption should be fully explored first before the child can be adopted by others outside the original family. Absolutely no secrets or falsifying of documents. No changing of the Original Birth Certificates. Access to history and maintaining ties to original family as much as possible. Money is not a factor either way (in deciding whether a child should be placed, or for adoptive parents to have to pay). Mandatory counseling for the adoptee (whether adoptive parents think they are adjusted or not). Parents are fully educated prior to adoption about significant loss, grief and trauma. If parents are adopting due to infertility they will have already gone through counseling to resolve their grief before adopting. There is no expectation on the child to provide anything for them. There is an understanding that adoption is about meeting the needs of the child -- period.

Julie Stromberg: Julie J., you bring up such an important point. The definition of "success" in adoption has long been defined by an industry that benefits financially from the current system. To the adoption industry, a successful adoption is one in which the adoptive parents pay the fees and receive a child. Once the deal is done, the industry moves on to the next one with no concern for the parties involved. This is made quite clear by the fact that there is little to no post-adoption support offered.

As adult adoptees who have actually lived adoption all, or most, of our lives, we are in the best position to offer recommendations on how adoption practices could offer more successful results. And yet, society still opts to take the word of an industry that benefits financially from each "successful" placement. It is my hope that by presenting discussions such as this one, we can create an opportunity for society to consider the thoughts of those who actually know what it is like to have been adopted through the current system.

Lynn Grubb: A successful adoption can occur only in a home that values transparency, honesty, healthy boundaries and respect for the adopted child's genealogical history and feelings about birth family. The parents must be mature in the sense that they understand that they are responsible to do whatever they need to do for their child. They are responsible to meet the child's needs, not the other way around. If the child is acting out, get the child help. If you are disappointed the child is not a carbon copy of you, get help for yourself. If the adoptive parents can put themselves in the shoes of the adoptee and be supportive of them in all ways (I love when adoptive parents show up at the Adoptee Rights Demonstration), that is a successful adoption. Supportive can include being open to information, contact and stories about birth family. If you feel threatened by your child's birth family, differences, strengths and/or weaknesses, that is a problem within yourself (not the child) so seek help from a therapist. As a kinship adoptive parent, I still have my work cut out for me; however, having already lived adoption, I can give to my daughter that which was not given to me -- a safe place to express sad feelings about being abandoned by a mother and a father, and a safe place to be ecstatically happy in other moments. I will make mistakes and I will do something different than my own parents: I will actually admit to them and try and do better.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

More Adoptee Poet Discoveries

Photo by carolinesphotos via Flickr
The other day I came across this lovely collection of adoptee poetry via the Harlow's Monkey Facebook page (thank you, JaeRan Kim). It's a small portfolio curated by Jennifer Kwon Dobbs for The Margins, an online magazine of the Asian American Writers' Workshop. Two poems by our friend, Lisa Marie Rollins, are included. The voices here are widely varied, but you're sure to find one that speaks to you. For me, it's Molly Gaudry in "Fruit": ". . . how one bite takes me to that morning thunderstorm a decade ago exactly beneath which I met my biological father . . . ."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

DNA does make a difference

Becoming a parent has been an astounding experience.

It is for anyone.

Becoming a parent as an adoptee who never experienced a biological connection until four years ago--well, it only adds to the astonishment.

I have had to face a very complex and somewhat troubling truth--DNA does make a difference.

This realization has troubled me at times because of the way it naturally causes me to question my relationship with my American (adoptive) parents and family. 

When I say, "question," I do not mean that I question whether my American parents love me or whether they are my parents. They indeed love me and I indeed consider them my parents.

The questions are simply a natural consequence of finally experiencing the power of DNA between not only my Korean parents and myself but also between myself and my child. This experience of the connectedness that my Korean parents and I and my son and I naturally experience due to the DNA that we share has made me all the more aware of the lack of biological connection that I share with my American parents and family.

(Because I know there are many people who would label me as an ungrateful traitor of a daughter for even daring to share these thoughts, I feel the need to state that I am not a traitor or an ungrateful daughter for allowing myself to ponder this.)

Seeing so clearly certain physical and personality traits that I inherited from my Korean parents and that our son has inherited from my husband and me (and hence, from my Korean parents as well) has been so validating and startling. And realizing how these similarities connect me to my Korean parents as well as connect and bond my husband and me with our son and him to us is also astonishing to me. It's beautiful and wonderful but also a bit disconcerting and confusing to me as an adoptee.

As I stated above, it's not that these experiences as a reunited adoptee and as a parent with my child cause me to question the love my American parents have for me, it's that they cause me to question the concept that I've been told for so many years--that DNA doesn't matter.

Furthermore, because of the power of DNA, I cannot help but question the capacity that my American parents and I have to truly relate to and understand one another, simply because we are so starkly different in personality and temperament as a result of, well, having different DNA.

For so long I have often felt frustrated, even despaired at times, that no matter how we seem to try, my American mom and I have the most difficult time relating to and understanding one another. We are opposites in almost every way. We see and interact with the world and people in such different ways. Our interests, our tastes, our views more often diverge than merge. (Conversely, their biological children seem to connect, relate to, and understand my parents so much more easily and seamlessly than do I.)

In large part because of experiencing the biological connection with my Korean parents and my son, I think I'm starting to realize that ultimately the difficulty I experience in connecting with my mom and American family may simply be something we just need to accept. I don't mean this in a fatalistic, hopeless way, but rather in an accepting, freeing way.

We are different people in the most different way possible--we are biological strangers. I do not have my American family's DNA in my blood. I reflect them in no physiological or psychological way, biologically. Our personalities are those of strangers, not of family born to one another.

Please, do not take this in a negative way. I do not mean it in a disparaging way, but rather in an honest way.

For me, being able to contemplate this, acknowledge this lack of biological connection and the very real effect it has on my relationship with my American parents and family is actually freeing. It helps me to stop feeling like it's somehow my fault that I don't relate to or understand my American mom. And it also helps me to cut my mom some slack--it's not her fault either that she doesn't understand me or relate to me very well.

Not that it's anyone's fault when even biological parents and children don't relate to or understand one another--I know that happens all the time and is bound to happen between my children and me (especially once those infamous adolescent and young adult years arrive).

But in my situation, it is clearly the lack of shared DNA that affects the ability my American family and I have to relate and connect. I literally am coming from a different place than are they. The huge differences in personality, interests, and preferences is the result of coming from different gene pools. I am literally from a different people than are they.

Now, obviously, in many ways, we have overcome these differences and remain family. I love them and they love me.

But acknowledging and understanding that DNA does make a difference helps me accept why it has been so challenging over the years to feel understood or accepted for who I am. It's not that they don't necessarily want to understand or accept who I am--maybe they just can't and vice versa.

I'm not trying to sound cynical or fatalistic or hopeless. But rather, trying to come to peace with the fact that the missing link--that we do not share the same DNA--indeed does affect the relationships I have with my American parents and family.

It doesn't have to be a bad thing, though. There is probably some good that can come from ceasing efforts to force a square peg into a round hole.

Rather, I'd say that learning to live with and accept the truth--although just as painful and troubling at times--is more emancipating than trying to maintain a pretense that never really brought peace in the first place.


*This is probably going to be my last post for quite some time being that I have most likely given birth to our new daughter and am in the chaotic midst of learning to adjust to life with a newborn and a toddler. 

But to view other previous posts written by Mila at Lost Daughters, click here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Yet Another Mother

Today a family member is dying. She is lovely, just lovely. She's my birth-mother's husband's mother, so introducing her as my family is challenging (birth-step-gandmother?). Like most of the people who are part of me, part of my extended family, it is the simplicity of just calling her by her name, Annie, that encapsulates who she is to me. It may not explain our relationship to someone on the outside, but there's no doubt in my heart that she's family.

Sometimes reunion feels like a maze when I'm describing my relationships: a straight line, then veer off to the right, then ahead, back, and around. In a lot of ways, the process of reunion was like going through a maze. It was scary and I felt lost when I first set off. The feelings it brought up were dark and disturbing...the Minotaur lurking around every corner. It made me wonder if the challenge of reunion with all the pain, the doubt, the guilt, anger, confusion, was worth it.

Had I not gone through the maze, I would have never met my Annie and my life would have been at such a loss for it. Not only would I have not known my birth families, but I wouldn't have had this other family. That seems unfathomable to me.

While I feel like I have well-worth the paths of my birthmother's family and my adoptive family, I feel like I am just starting to explore the paths of my birth-father's family. Although I met my birth-father many years ago, and I've met some of his family, I feel like I still don't fully understand my connection and I'll need to go deeper into the maze to get there.

Maybe there's no end to the maze. Maybe instead of fighting the Minotaur, we just have to lay down our swords and accept the labyrinth as our home. We are half of one, half of another, unique and frightening to some. We are here to explore the maze, and in the process come to terms with all the parts that make us who we are.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

"Beyond Me," My Birthmother Part 3

By contributor Joy Leiberthal Rho

The next generation

When I was pregnant the first time, I remembered another adoptee remarking “good, this means I can get pregnant too.” It seemed interesting to me that she said this, but after explaining that infertility was the reason her parents adopted her, I can see why this was of concern. While I was not panicked when conceiving was not happening quickly, I was not happy it didn’t happen sooner. I wanted to have a baby, I wanted something genetically connected to me. I didn’t realize that I wanted that until it did not happen right away. I didn’t feel right saying I wanted it for fear that others would judge me, the ungrateful adoptee. I felt like a hypocrite. I work in adoption, was at the time helping others become adoptive parents and still I wanted someone genetically mine? Yes, yes I did.

When my first son was born, every passing milestone, every passing month was haunted by one thought. Would I be able to give him up? How would he handle the transition to a new mother? Would he mourn me? I insisted on nursing him. I needed to do it for myself more than for him. I needed him to need me unequivocally, and only me. But while I was busy wanting him near me, a strange thing happened. He did love me unconditionally, he did need me completely. It took me a long time to assure myself that he was mine, all mine forever. I can say that now without guilt because I don’t have that same earnestness with him or with my second child. I look at it now as a bit foolhearty. I can’t believe I questioned myself. I wonder if other adoptee women feel the same way when their child was born.

As I watched my children bloom the first few years, I found myself at quiet moments thinking about what I might have been like as each year passes by. When my first child was four, the age when I lost my birthmother forever, it was really intreguing. He knew his name, how to spell it. He knew his parents’ names and where he lived. What bothers me though is I know I knew this too, and yet I forgot. My birthmother told me I did. I am so sorry I forgot, it just happened. In a matter of moments, she was eliminated from my memory. I can’t imagine how I would feel now if my son did that too.

My first child has already met my birthmother. His first birthday, Tol, was marked with a trip to Korea to meet her. It was pretty much love at first sight for both of them. My son, who would let no one feed him but his parents ,allowed himself to be fed by her and carried around on her back. She told me time and time again, he looked just like me. That was amazing since everyone said he is an exact replica of his father. She was the only one who could say with true authority that he was mine and I loved that. My birthmother has seen photos of my second son and again confirmed for me in words what I may have looked like as a baby. I never tire of hearing that. He looks just like me.

In thinking about my children and how this whole adoption journey will impact them, I realize that they will know my birthmother their whole life. That’s an odd feeling knowing that I can’t say the same thing. She will always be a presence in their lives while she was not in mine. Strange. She is their wei halmoni (grandma on mother’s side), a real person they have eaten with, spent time with. They talk to her on the phone and look at her picture. She is a real person for them too.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Becoming Patrick: A Memoir by Patrick McMahon

Patrick McMahon and I have a few things in common. We’ve both felt that tug toward a life not being lived, that rumble of discontent for which we struggled to locate a source. We’re both adopted. We both searched for and reunited with our birth families, in the process finding something within ourselves we hadn’t always realized was there.

In Becoming Patrick, McMahon describes the process he went through to first identify and then contact his birth mother. He gives us that scene we all long forthe one in which child and mother reconnect for the first time in umpteen years.

But what I love most about this book is that it doesn’t end there. McMahon goes on to document the entire first year of his reunion in extraordinary detail. He tells us what he was thinking and feeling as he gets to know not only his first mother, but siblings and extended family, and explores the mystery of his first father. He explains how knowing these biological relatives affects his relationships with his adoptive family members.

Perhaps most importantly, McMahon describes how learning about his biological roots leads to his own self-discovery and a boost in his self-confidence, including his transformation from an engineer to an artist and photographer. This is not a road easily traveled. There are numerous stops and starts, even reverses at times, all of which made perfect sense to me as someone who’s been on a similar journey.

I only wish I’d read Becoming Patrick before I met McMahon at the American Adoption Congress conference this past April; I read a few of my poems at the open mic session he led. I wish that I’d attended his Inside Out: Expressive Arts Adoption Healing Seminar during the conference. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll bring the program to Atlanta one day soon. I’m also hoping that McMahon will pen a sequel to Becoming Patrick to fill us in on how his life and identity have been transformed during the twenty years since he first began his quest.