Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Decision To Search

Dear Readers,

My column is going to focus on the journal entires I have been keeping since deciding to search for and reunite with my Birth Mother in early 2010. My story is remarkable - just like yours is or surely will be.  I have yet to meet an adult adoptee who was victim to the closed adoption records of the 1960’s and 1970’s that can say that the experience of reunion has not changed who they are, how they look at the world, and how they view adoption.  My reunion took a naive young Mom of three (me), who had just adopted a baby girl from Ethiopia primarily because of her own “white picket fence” adoption experience and transformed her into somewhat of an emotional wreck, passionate about opening adoption records and preserving biological families when at all possible.  I look back on the past five years with a mix of horror, happiness, regret, peace, closure, trauma, drama, and humor.  Some days I am so sick and tired of adoption talk, but other days I suck it up and admit that my experience can help others and isn’t that what life is all about?  I will end each of my columns with a “Lesson Learned." I believe every life experience, good or bad, teaches us a lesson, and I want to share the lessons I have learned with you all.

Let me take you back to 2009. These are my personal thoughts prior to telling my husband and parents that I wanted to search for my Biological Mother.


What the hell was I thinking? I thought adopting a child would provide me a kindred sprit - an adoption BFF :)  I would relate to her and she would relate to me because we were adopted. The thing is, I have no clue what it means to be adopted other than it is an adjective I sometimes use to describe myself. Usually I leave it out all together - it always leads to weird questions.

Sadie came home from Africa [Sadie Mitike is my daughter, adopted from Ethiopia in 2008] with pages and pages of personal history, pictures of her birth family, pictures of her country, and details of her Mother’s death three days following her birth. She was held, she was breast-fed and she was lovingly named “Mitike” by her Father which means Reflection of Her .  Her Mother was studying nursing in a town 30 minutes outside her village and her Father is a retired farmer and Physics Teacher, supporting a family of eight on the equivalent of 20 US dollars per month. 

The more I get to know Sadie the more I realize we have nothing in common at all in regards to adoption.  I know nothing about my Birth Mother. All I know is I was born in Columbus, Ohio. My parents were called that a girl was born. They got on a plane and then I was home. I wonder what my story is? Crap! I think it’s time I talk to Mike about hiring an investgator about finding my Birth Mother. How can I relate to Sadie and support her if I don’t face the details of my own adoption? How can I fully support her if I don’t do this? What will my parents say? What will Fran [my mother-in-law] say? I’m gonna puke. This is going to be expensive. Mike will never agree. I bet it’s like $5000. I have to do this for Sadie. 

So this is how it all began. My husband was fully supportive of my choice. I was sick for days before calling my parents about my decision. When I finally made the call, they were both on the line, as they always are, and I remember my Mother saying that she always knew I would search at some point in my life. I found this interesting because she never indicated to me that she felt that way.  We never really talked about my adoption unless it involved my Mother telling me that it must have been a young girl that loved me very much. They told me I had their full support and at that point I began researching Investigators in Ohio.  Fran is my Mother-in-Law whose opinion sometimes matters too much too me. She seemed annoyed, mad and skeptical all at once, which sucked, but I had already opened the can of worms. People were going to have to deal with this on their own. I knew early on this was about me, even though I got myself sick worrying about everyone else.

It’s important to also note, that when I went away to College, I made a conscious choice to never mention my adoption. I learned growing up that I had no clue how to answer adoption related questions. I usually just stood there stunned when questions about my adoption arose. College was the perfect escape to just become a normal biological child.  In fact, many of my best friends had no idea I was adopted until I started posting pics of my Birth Mother on Facebook after our reunion.  I was ashamed of my adoption and I hated that people looked at my family differently. I hated feeling that people thought my parents loved me less because I was adopted. Erasing my adoption from my life equation made me seem more normal and it worked for many years.  The stigmas of adoption had such a negative affect on me emotionally that I was terrified to tell Mike when we were dating that I was adopted. It seems so silly looking back, but it was a real fear of mine and one I know many adoptees can relate to. Sadly, I thought of myself as unlovable.

I look forward to sharing the rest of my story with you and I wonder if many of you can relate to the emotions I felt before telling my husband and parents I wanted to search?  I would love to hear if you ever kept your adoption a secret? 

Lesson Learned: People who love you the most always react better than you give them credit for in your head.  And, if they do react negatively, they usually come around quickly.  Bravery is the first step in stepping out of the shadows and stigmas of adoption. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Living Loud: The Art of the Exposition

My nerves worked overtime at the Living Loud DC event. However, I took comfort in the embrace of my Lost Daughters sisters. My friend, Katherine, was there too, and her support in the hours before the event kept me in good spirits.

While I consider myself an extrovert, I am cautious about sharing my true thoughts until I’m confident that I am in a safe community. This event, while adoptee-focused, was an unknown. We were reading some of our most intimate thoughts … in person.

As the trollers know, it is one thing to write, tweet or blog about personal insecurities online. The worldwide web wall shelters. There’s anonymity and inherent safety.

At the reading, I felt exposed. If you look at the photos of the readers, you may notice that I used the podium. Again, I wanted a barrier, a metaphorical wall.

All my life, I have been the oddity … the freak. My voice, my face, my name draw attention. In art, I find solace. When I exhibit my work, it allows me to speak without being seen. It is my way of being intimate with a group of viewers. All eyes are on the work and not me.

Interestingly, when I show my ceramic adoption series, I expect people to pick them up, run their fingers in the deep ruts of the roots. The familial roots represent my strife and the loss of my history. Each cut in the clay is therapeutic; I long to cut through to the other side.

At Living Loud, I opened by asking the audience to touch and feel my ceramic pieces. I wanted them to understand and feel the pain I felt when I created them. Surprisingly, people did not pick them up.

After all the years of intrusive questions, judgement and ridicule, I finally earned respect. But in this instance, I wanted to share my pain. My ceramics served as a conduit to my innermost thoughts and feelings.

What I have found in the Lost Daughters is a means to speak through my writing and now through my voice. I hope that next time my pieces show up, you, dear reader, will touch them.

The beauty of this event in DC was best said by my dear LD sister, Michelle. She said, “Living Loud showed that we were women with fulfilled lives.” Indeed. We are women with children, women whose lives matter to others, and women who want the world to know that we care for others. We care for the children like ourselves, the families like ours, the mothers and fathers who have lost their children, and those mothers and fathers who understand what it is to love a child of adoption.

Feminist columnist, Rosita is a transracial, Korean-American adoptee. She is married to a Brit who refers to himself as an Anglo-American and is a mother to two multiracial children. Rosita was adopted in 1968 at the age of one through Holt International. Her road has been speckled with Puerto Rican and Appalachian relatives and her multiracial sister, the natural child of her adoptive parents. While quite content with her role as a “Tennerican,” her curiosity has grown recently as her children explore their own ethnic identities. She considers herself a lost daughter, not only because of the loss of her birth family, but also because of the loss of her adopted mother, who died in 2001 as she became a first time mother. Rosita has recently started her search for her natural family. With the help of G.O.A.’L., she visited Korea in August 2014. When she is not supporting her children on their individual paths, Rosita spends her time as an art educator, ceramicist and an art photographer. She also shares her adventures as an adoptee and parent on her blog, mothermade.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Adoption Equals Trauma What Now

If you think of adoption as a trauma, is it possible to heal from it ? Can adoptees ever be content with their lives... I'm not sure, it depends on if the adoptee considers adoption to be a trauma or not , but also how well (culturally) assimmilated that particular person is.

A statement such as that, that adoption creates a lifelong trauma for the adoptee, it's certainly controversial. I realize that, there are not many adoptees who dares to say the same---agrees with me---- believes the same thing. Transracial adoptees more than others, may seem to be expected to be grateful for being saved, and behave in such a matter--- even if we're not grateful at all.

Personally I hate when society tries to make us (adoptees) change our minds... aren't you grateful that you got a better life..., excuse me but better for whom!? Everything in life is relative, but don't you dare compare my loss and separation with my adult life or life after adoption.

I will always morn the loss from adoption, that I didn't get the chance to grow up or know my older sisters. I grief that and think about it everyday, not contiously. My inner child will never be satisfied because the only thing she wants will never happen, never be fulfilled. The wish that I had since I was very young is a simple one, that society tries to diminish and wants me to forget. How can you demand me to ignore my deepest desire to know my birth mum and be completely accepted by her...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Photos from #LivingLoudDC Posted--Check them Out!

Photo courtesy of Kevin Haebeom Vollmers.  Not pictured: Amira, Amanda, Aselefech.

"Don't you dare try to diminish the fullness of my identity:" The Spoken Word Poem that Will Take Your Breath Away

Yesterday, Lost Daughters held our first reading--our first event--ever, Living Loud DC.  We were honored to be joined by local adoptee, artist, and scholar, Amira Rose.  Amira began her spoken word piece by saying, "I wrote this this morning."  We were blown away by her delivery of a powerful poem about imposed happiness, wearing a mask, wounds that bleed, and declaring one's absolute right to be true to their feelings.

"I was born.  Feeling.  But I did not see her.  I did not hear her.  That rhythmic melody that I had danced to for nine months suddenly gone.  Her voice mute.  Her face that I had been so eager to touch far from my tiny reach.  Painful silence cut fast and sharp, wounding me deep beneath the surface of my baby brown skin." --Amira Rose, June 01, 2014

Watch the rest below.

Thank you for Making #LivingLoudDC a Success!

Living Loud DC readers, emcee Kevin Haebeom Vollmers, and Amb. Susan Jacobs.  Photo from Amb. Jacobs @childrensissues.

Last night, a spirited collective of artists gathered together to bring the Living Loud DC event to life.  And bring it to life they did.  Nine incredible authors, 8 from lost daughters, delivered pieces from four different works (some published some never before read/heard) against the backdrop of the gorgeous Busboys and Poets (5th & K location) surrounded by the energizing sounds of Superior Cling, woven and connected by emcee Kevin Haebeom Vollmers, and powerfully introduced by Ambassador Susan Jacobs.  We wanted to take a moment to express our heartfelt thanks to everyone who brought this event together--and to provide links for anyone wanting to learn more about someone or something they saw at Living Loud DC.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Refuted by the Facts: Catholic Claims About Restoring Birth Certificate Access to U.S. Born Domestic Adoptees

It encourages and inspires me a great deal to know that religious institutions such as the Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church USA both support the rights of adult adoptees to access their original, factual birth certificates. In contrast, the Catholic Church seems to support this right for some adoptees, in some states, but not all. Earlier this year, in fact, I sat in a Pennsylvania senate committee hearing room as the Catholic Conference of Pennsylvania and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg testified in opposition of legislation that would restore the access adult adoptee once had to their own, original birth certificates that was retroactively taken away in 1985.

This is a course of action that I find perplexing because the reasons Catholic organizations such as state Catholic Conferences and Catholic Charities branches often give for opposing access legislation are easily proven to be completely unfounded and nothing more than mere conjecture. Let’s take a look at the two most prominent claims made by Catholic organizations opposing access legislation and apply the currently available data.

1. Natural parents were legally promised total anonymity, and have a legally guaranteed right to privacy, from their own children because they relinquished them for adoption.

Catholic organizations in many states oppose restoring equal access to adult adoptees based on the notion that some natural parents might not wish to have contact with their relinquished adult sons or daughters--and that this personal desire is a legal right granted through adoption. Contrary to what many in society have been led to believe, there is not one document involved in any adoption that legally guarantees natural parents total anonymity from their own sons and daughters. In most states, an adoptee’s file and original birth certificate can be opened at a judge’s discretion. As such, it is a legal impossibility that a natural parent could assume total anonymity from the adoptee.

Elizabeth Samuels, a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, conducted research on the issue of birth parent privacy. Her paper titled Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law Reform offers her review of legal surrender documents signed by natural mothers. According to the abstract for the paper, "Finally, the article analyzes the provisions of the surrender documents. The analysis of the provisions definitively supports birth mother advocates’ reports that women were neither offered a choice of nor guaranteed lifelong anonymity."

Additionally, birth certificates are not amended until an adoption is finalized. Children who are in foster care because the parental rights of their parents have been terminated, and who have not been legally adopted, use and have access to their factual birth certificates. If the amending of birth certificates was contingent on the privacy of natural parents, the process of legal fiction would occur upon termination of parental rights. Instead, an adoptee’s birth certificate is only amended upon the finalization of adoption. One can conclude, therefore, that the amending of birth certificates is for the adoptive parents’ benefit and has nothing to do with natural parent privacy.

Based on these facts and Samuels' work, it seems that some Catholic organizations, including the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, are mistaken. No natural parent has a legal guarantee, through adoption, of confidentiality, privacy or anonymity from his or her offspring. As such, claims to the contrary, as often presented by Catholic organizations, are not supported by facts, data or evidence and do not hold up as valid reasons to continue treating adult adoptees as a class of citizen differently than non-adopted adults. Of course, if any Catholic organization would like to share an actual example of a legally binding, adoption-related document specifically stating that the natural parents involved were legally afforded a right to total anonymity and confidentiality from their own offspring, I would be more than happy to revisit my conclusion.

For now, I would encourage Catholic organizations who oppose access legislation to consider that what an adult adoptee may choose to do, or not do, with the information contained on his or her original birth certificate is a personal matter and not one that requires the involvement of state governments or religious organizations. Adult citizens manage their personal engagements with other adults on their own every day. And there are many options available to any adult citizen who does not wish to engage with another adult citizen. As such, when it comes to adult adoptees accessing their own original birth certificates, the personal preferences of some (natural parents who do not desire contact with their sons or daughters) should not be given priority over the legal rights of all adults who were adopted as children.

2. If expectant parents knew that the unborn child they were considering for adoption could access his or her own original birth certificate upon reaching adulthood, more of them would opt for abortions instead.

I have to be totally honest and express that I do not even understand this assumption made by many Catholic organizations. My lack of comprehension is due to the fact that the available compiled data indicates that the exact opposite of this assumption is true.

Let's consider research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in 2008. A study of 38 American women who obtained abortions was conducted in 2004. The women represented a sample from a larger study on the reasons for deciding in favor of abortion. According to a press release on the study issued by the organization, "Without being asked directly, several of the women indicated that adoption is not a realistic option for them. They reported that the thought of one’s child being out in the world without knowing if it was being taken care of or by whom would induce more guilt than having an abortion." Based on this evidence, one can easily determine that the very nature of adoption--which involves no guarantees of knowing that one's child is being cared for properly--is a valid reason for some women to opt for abortion over adoption. Taking this into consideration, it seems to me that restoring the right for adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates would, in fact, provide some assurance to expectant parents and perhaps influence a decision to not abort.

Adult adoptee and Roman Catholic priest the Rev. Thomas Brosnan agrees. During the American Adoption Congress conference in 1996, he offered a compassionate and insightful talk titled Adoption & Faith: Coming of Age Toward a Spirituality of Adoption. During his talk, he stated that "The act of relinquishment is so wrenching an event that young women have told me that they chose to abort their babies rather than relinquish them to adoption. Some of us may judge this to be the height of selfishness, but I wonder if there is not some instinctual response involved in making that drastic decision. No matter what the reasons for relinquishment might be, however, the emotional response to the act of relinquishment is analogous to abortion, an unbloody abortion if you will, but as Dr. John Sonne had pointed out in his workshop yesterday, 'a psychological abortion' nonetheless." In considering Brosnan's words, I find myself even more perplexed by the claim made by some Catholic organizations who feel that if adult adoptees, including the Rev. Brosnan, were to access their own birth certificates, the abortion rate would increase.

It is also important to consider Alaska and Kansas, states that have never sealed the original birth certificates of adoptees. Both states have also been noted as having very low abortion rates according to data compiled by the American Adoption Congress. The same data also revealed that in the states with more recent restored access, abortion rates lowered significantly following the passing of access legislation. As such, data clearly shows that access legislation will not result in a major increase in abortion rates. So I honestly have no idea what sort of rationale some Catholic organizations are using to make this particular claim. I can only conclude that there is some hidden agenda or reason behind these claims and that the organizations hope legislators will simply take the claims at face value and not require any supporting data. I personally feel that our legislators are much more astute than these Catholic organizations suggest and that they are able to discern fact-based evidence from religious-based conjecture.

Again, if any Catholic organization can provide data or evidence supporting the claim that restoring to adult adoptees access to their own birth certificates would result in a major increase in abortion rates, I would be more than happy to revisit my conclusion.

Thoughts for legislators

There are currently many access bills in various states under consideration that are opposed by Catholic organizations using the two claims referenced here as reasons to deny adult adoptees--many of whom were adopted through Catholic adoption agencies--access to their original birth certificates and the right to equal treatment under law. Because of this, I now ask legislators to please consider the substantiated facts and available evidence. Please do not allow yourselves, as elected representatives in state governments, to be influenced by claims with no supporting data that are offered by religious organizations.

We acknowledge and affirm that providing adopted adults access to their original certificate is not only good practice, but also, more importantly, the right and just thing to do.

~ From testimony offered by the Catholic Conference of Ohio on March 13, 2013

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

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