Friday, February 21, 2014

The Search To Find Oneself: Review of Searching for the Castle by Barbara Leigh Ohrstrom

"Your wound is also a shining, multifaceted gem."

Barbara Leigh Ohrstrom begins her memoir, Searching for the Castle: Backtrail of an Adoption, by warning readers that this is a story without a happy ending. And in the sense of Disney/Hollywood they-all-lived-happily-ever-after endings, this is certainly true. Yet, for me this is a story of triumph, an adopted woman’s journey to unlock her past in order to step into her future.

At the heart of the story is Ohrstrom’s search for her birth parents during the years before the Internet, when searching meant mailing letters and waiting weeks for a response or driving hundreds of miles to visit agencies and hospitals in person.

The mystery of why Ohrstrom was adopted is complicated by her discovery that the foster family with whom she lived for roughly three years might have been the perfect solution for her needs, if only they had been permitted to continue raising her and her two siblings. This is the first book I have read which details the perspective of an adopted person who spent considerable time in foster care prior to her adoption, and Ohrstrom does a good job of describing her impressions as a very young child of what was happening to her. As the book continues, the reader’s understanding of the situation expands in parallel to Ohrstrom’s own understanding as she matures into a teenager and then into an adult.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Adoption — A Convenient Excuse and A Contradiction

Three. A golden age, when toddlers talk and question. They also test … parents, friends, themselves. When my boy was three, he had a fear of the tub. Oh, the fit he would pitch when taken into the bathroom for that cleaning ritual! But look, could this little one really pitch such a fit?

My boy at Hyun-su’s age.

I was frustrated and pregnant at the time. Sometimes, I felt the need to put myself in a timeout and reflect on the joy of the boy. I took long, deep breaths and escaped to the deck to scream at the top of my lungs.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Dreams Sweet Dreams

I hear the calling
Much more often now,
It's almost impossible
 To sleep these days.
 I can no longer
Ignore the silent urge.
My soul is restless
 It prevents me
From slowing down -
Catching a breath.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Adoptive Parents With Disabilities

Conversations on adopting often center on certain questions such as, who is qualified to adopt? What types of children are available to adopt? How long will it take? etc. Oftentimes the conversations end up in the ballpark of able-bodied, financially sound couples hoping to adopt an unborn child, a child in an orphanage overseas, an older child in foster care. Lately I've been interested in the not so frequently discussed side of the adoption coin. Anyone who knows me likely isn't surprised, as my brain is a constant jumbled mess of thoughts and ideas of which adoption is usually a theme. 

I recently posed the question about why we see so few parents of color adopting trans-racially and a semi-fruitful discussion ensued within the adoption community. However folks' inability to choose intellectual courage and to hear out differing thoughts seemed to get in the way of meaningful and forward moving conversations. My initial question still remains - why don't black people formally adopt waiting children of color at the same rate as Caucasian's? In a similar respect to how adoptive parents of color are underrepresented, I've found that adoptive parents with disabilities are also underrepresented both in terms of adopting, and being able to speak out about their experiences.

The few stories I've heard to this end show that these parents are able to successfully adopt and parent children with their own physical, mental or cognitive limitations holding them back only to the degree they allow. In the same way adoptive parents should have guidance through the homestudy process in learning their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of mental stamina, community resources, or subconscious bias or prejudices, these particular families come in to adoption aware of their limitations related to their disabilities. Bob Vogel is a paraplegic who adopted through foster care. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein have taken to the TV to showcase their parenting choices and Jamie Berke, an adoptive parent who is deaf, has established a listing of deaf children awaiting adoption at the Deaf Adoption News Service. I'd like to hear more stories like this!

Parenting does not come with a handbook. We all have different skills and abilities that would make us good (or not so good) parents of an child, whether via adoption or not. We adoptees often carry unique joys and difficulties, likely have some trauma history, oftentimes feel a sense of not belonging, or attempting to be chameleon in a world obsessed with putting people in boxes. Adoptive parenting also comes with its own unique needs - handling ignorant comments in a stern and respectful manner, fighting (or embracing) the need to seemingly always educate others about private familial matters, learning what areas are safe and accessible for certain behaviors, I could go on and on. Wouldn't it then make sense that perhaps caring adults with physical disabilities may be an especially great population to care for children in transition or needing to be adopted?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Two More Books Featuring Lost Daughters Contributors

The Lost Daughters sisters have been busy! In addition to our anthology, Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace, I'd like to share two other recently published books featuring many of our contributors.

Perpetual Child: Dismantling the Stereotype, an adult adoptee anthology, was co-edited by our founder, Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, and author Diane Rene Christian. The book deals with the stigma many adoptees face of being forever treated as children, despite their ages or accomplishments.

Included in Perpetual Child are essays and stories by our own Laura Dennis, Lynn Grubb, Karen Pickell, Julie Stromberg, Angela Tucker, and Amanda. Poems and essays from many other talented authors--including male and transracial adoptees--round out the collection.

Diane and scholar Mei-Mei Akwai Ellerman have founded The An-Ya Project, named after Diane's novel An-Ya and Her Diary. The project encompasses the An-Ya novel, a reader and parent guide to the novel, Perpetual Child, and a forthcoming book, Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted and Foster Youth Around the World. Submissions for the new collection will be accepted through April 1.

Also released this month is Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, edited by Laura Dennis. The anthology includes adoptee, adoptive parent, and first/birth parent authors, as well as input from mental health professionals, all weighing in on their experiences with adoption reunion. 

The book features essays by Lost Daughters Trace DeMeyer, Samantha Franklin, Lynn Grubb, Rebecca Hawkes, Mila Konomos, and Deanna Shrodes, along with several pieces written by Laura herself and an Afterword by Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston. The contributors to Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age are in the midst of a blog tour in which authors are paired to interview each other on their respective blogs. Links to all of the interviews can be found here on Laura's blog.

Congratulations to Amanda, Diane, Laura, and all the contributors to these fantastic new collections featuring adult adoptees sharing their perspectives on adoption!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Guest Post: Meet Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen Sheen

Editor's note: Lucy will share her story in a multi-part series over the next few weeks on Lost Daughters. 

I was adopted in 1962 by a white English family. I am also one of the 106 Hong-Kong adoptees that formed the first ever group or organized transracial adoptions to take place in the UK.

Growing Up
The family that adopted me was not extraordinary in anyway save for the fact that they decided to adopt transracially twice. I grew up in a time in Britain where cultural sensitivity and diversity had not yet reached the place in society that it now holds. Being a non-white child raised in a white community with a very conservative outlook was--as I am sure you can imagine--challenging to say the least.

My adoptive parents, for reasons known only to themselves, never sat me down and told me that I had been adopted. I can laugh at this now with comments like, for how long did they think they could keep the fact that I was Chinese and they were Caucasian a secret? My adoptive parents did not help me in anyway to understand my own story. In fact I would say that they were frightened of having to do this. There was no help or training then on how to raise a child from a different culture. Also attitudes were very different then with regard to transracial adoption. In spite of my adoptive parents' inability to validate my childhood experiences of difference, I do have one prized memento. I still have my baby Chinese Happy Coat that I wore when I was flown over to the UK for the first time to be picked up by the parents from the London Airport (now known as Heathrow).

Most of my early childhood memories are of rejection, misunderstanding, of being misunderstood and mostly being the odd one out. The “other” the foreigner. The child that no one wanted to sit next to. The child that no one wanted to play with. The child that got laughed at, poked at, spat at, who passed other children and adults as they shouted insults.

The relationship that I had with my siblings was complicated. My sister was also a transracially adopted child. She came from the same orphanage as me, but quite some years before I did. My sister was a very different person than me, of course. But because we looked the same it was always assumed that we were blood sisters. Her personality was very different from mine. She was neither as argumentative or as inquisitive as I. The more I was told nothing, the more I wanted to know. My sister was academically bright, I was non academic, musical and creative. I was scatological my sister was methodical, neat and clean. I was messy, dyslexic (which I didn’t know at the time) and intuitive. As we grew up even though we shared ethnicity and physiognomy, the similarities ended there. I was not satisfied or content to be silent. Or to have a “white” identity superimposed upon me. My sister it seemed was quite happy to assume a white persona. This ultimately drew a wedge between us which became wider and wider as I entered my teens.

At school I survived the bullying by being sporty. I could run for longer, jump higher and play badminton better than most pupils. This at least gained me some protection from the D-stream bullies.

As a teenager the silence and inability of my adoptive parents to talk to me about my identity, my culture and where I had come from and why was the primary cause for my eventual estrangement from the family.

But, on a positive note, as a teenager, as is normal, I began to discover more about how and what I was, where I came from. I also discovered my artistic talents, my musicality, my ability to paint, to write and to act. Had I not been adopted, I doubt very much whether I would have had the opportunities to realize these talents or to pursue them if they were recognised.

I have sadly experienced first hand discrimination, prejudice and racism both as a child, teenager and adult. I suppose the most serious of example and expression of such feeling was when I was but sixteen. I was set upon by a group of skinheads in broad daylight  on a busy high street. I was battered and bruised with three cracked ribs, a fracture cheek, black eyes and a bloody lip. The only reason that I was set  upon was the fact that I was not Caucasian. The National Front at the time was in the ascendancy especially in the area in which I grew up.

Going "Home" to Hong Kong
Kong was something that I aspired to but also rejected because it rejected me. I wanted to go back “home” but feared what would happen if I did. 

I first went back to Hong Kong in the late 70s. It was a bitter sweet experience. I found myself almost incapable of disembarking from the plane. For the first time I found myself in the physical and racial majority. It was the first time for sixteen years that I had been able  walk down a street with my head held up gazing into the eyes of strangers who looked exactly like me.

I was going to go back to the orphanage that I had come from but at the last minute pulled out. I was petrified of what I might find, what I might be told. So I turned tail. Since the late 70s I have been back to Hong Kong about half a dozen times. The last time was with my daughter and husband. We specifically wanted to take her to Hong Kong so that she could just see a part of where she is “spiritually” from for want of a better term.

The dominant thoughts about my birth family are I wonder where they are if indeed they are still living which I think is highly unlikely. Followed by fantasy scenarios that play in my head if I were ever to be reunited with my family. I often think that I would prove to be a disappointment to them as I am culturally as Chinese as a pot noodle. I don’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin so I could not even communicate with my parents. And then I think that perhaps I would be equally as disappointed as my birth parents as they were of me. I know of course that is pure projection and a fantasy projection at that. But I can’t help feeling sad, fantasy or no. I am who and what I am and in no small part due to the genes that I inherited from my birth parents.

Now: Relationships and Acting as a profession
The relationship that I have with my adoptive parents  -  well I no longer have a relationship with my adoptive parents it has gotten to the stage that I have even been threatened with legal action designed I assume to silence and or intimidate me, to dissuade me from talking openly about my personal recollections of being a transracial adoptee and my memories of my childhood. Now I readily acknowledge that these are my personal views and my memories of what happened. These memories may not be shared by other members of the family that adopted me. They may consider my recollections to be false. But I have always openly stated that these are my personal recollections and I neither seek to impose or to force others of the adoptive family to accept or indeed acknowledge my views. I think that the attitude of the adoptive family high lights imho a not  uncommon occurrence within the adoption framework and family. That the adopted parents unwittingly make the child’s search for truth, or roots all about themselves and take offense or are hurt that their adopted child is looking for something making the search all about themselves and how they are feeling betrayed and hurt. This is not about the adopted parents, it should never be about the adopted parents--it should be about the child. My relationship with my adoptive parents has followed a consistent pattern. One of silence and secrecy on my adoptive parent’s part. Fear probably due to lack of knowledge. Embarrassment at not knowing how to deal with situations and feelings that were alien to them. Whether my adoptive parents wish to believe that I regret that we no longer have a relationship, is entirely up to them. I cannot force them to enter into a relationship. Any more they can force me to change who and what I am.

The greatest challenge for me being a transracial adoptee is the loss of my birthright and this would have occurred irrespective of whether my adopted parents were supportive or not of my racial background.

When you are transracially adopted, you lose everything. Your language, your culture, your roots, all the things that make you unique but at the same time the same as your parents and siblings. I was brought up in a world that wanted me to be White, I appreciate and understand western culture, values, history and being. I am essentially a Westerner. But I can not reap any of the benefits of being raised in a western household as I am not and never will be Caucasian no matter how much as I child I wanted to be “white “ or indeed no matter how hard my adoptive parents ignored the fact. I will always be Chinese.

I suppose this cultural schizophrenia runs through the core of all my creativity. It underpins my writing and filmmaking. It has made me the actress that I am. I deal with things that are not quite as they seem –after all actin is the ultimate in that. You spend your life speaking other people’s words, feeling other people’s emotions, making the audience think that you are something that you are not really. So what I do is I take my personal discomfort or should I say the discomfort that many in the wider society feel about me, because I look different and use it to my advantage. To play a character to subvert or be the opposite of what they expect. One of my favourite American actors, John Lithgow, had this to say about acting: "The most exciting acting tends to happen in roles you never thought you could play."

Perhaps because I was denied the chance to play the natural role I was originally cast in, a Hong Kong Cantonese-speaking child, I subconsciously entered the world of entertainment where I could become the person that I can otherwise, in some sense, never hope to be.