Monday, October 26, 2015

#FlipTheScript on National Adoption Month: Prompts for November 2015

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Ready or not, here it comes. This Sunday, November 1, begins National Adoption Month.

National Adoption Month (NAM) was created to encourage adoption of those children in foster care who cannot return to their families of origin. However during this month, adoption agencies also relentlessly promote adoption of newborns as well as intercountry adoptions. Agencies, adoptive parents, and others call on us to celebrate adoption during November.

Rosita Gonzalez initiated the #FlipTheScript hashtag in 2014 as a way for adult adoptees to actively participate in National Adoption Month by offering a perspective from those most affected by adoption—voices that historically have been left out of discussions on adoption.

In preparation for NAM 2015, we have prepared a list of prompts to encourage adult adoptees to once again Flip the Script! We hope these daily topic suggestions will jump start your own ideas. Respond to the prompts directly or abstractly. Use them as written or revise them to better suit you. The point is for adult adoptees to talk about adoption from all our many and varied perspectives. The more diverse the responses, the better!

Use these prompts to inspire blog posts or articles or essays or poems. Record videos or songs if you prefer. Post a Facebook status or a couple of tweets if that's what you have time to do. Join the conversation in any way you can! We're looking forward to seeing what you come up with, and we will be sharing your responses on our social media channels throughout the month.

In order for your responses to be seen by the greatest number of people, we recommend tagging them with the hashtags #FlipTheScript and #NAM2015.

Adding any of the following hashtags will also increase visibility: #adoption, #adoptees, #adopteerights. The longer #NationalAdoptionMonth is also used frequently.

Some refer to November as National Adoption Awareness Month, so the hashtag #NAAM2015 is valid as well, however be aware that it's use is not as prevalent as the other choices listed above.

Prompts to #FlipTheScript on #NAM2015

Nov. 1, Sunday

Talk about what National Adoption Month means to you as an adoptee. What is missing from the traditional narrative promoted during each November? Why is it important that adoptees’ experiences and opinions are heard during NAM? What does it mean to you to Flip The Script on National Adoption Month?

Nov. 2, Monday

Talk about the “adoptee in the room” moment—that moment when you realize you are the only one in a space who can address a particular aspect of adoption experience, when you have to decide whether or not to speak up knowing that what you have to say may be confusing, unsettling, or triggering to others. Perhaps you have found yourself in this position at a work function, at a family gathering, or while with a group of friends. Or, you may have run into this situation in an online forum or on social media. Did you decide to speak or not, and why? If you did speak, what reactions or feedback did you receive?

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Earlier this year I wrote a book, and included part of the story below. However, in fear of full vulnerability I did not tell the whole story. I did not complete the experience of carving my own skin, craving my own blood, digging deep inside myself for emotions I wasn't sure I could feel. I tell the full story here:

   My sister has a double sliding-glass closet door. We spend countless hours hunkered amongst piles of teen pop magazines: Seventeen, Young Miss, Teen, and Sassy. In these pages, I learn how to properly brush my hair, wash my face, apply astringent, select my signature perfume, and dress for a prom that I will never end up going to. What I don’t learn is how to apply eye shadow to my hooded eyelids, or how to make my nigger lips less puffy, or my gook eyes any rounder. No matter how many spiral perms I go for, my hair is always the wrong texture; regardless of how much I tan, my skin is always the wrong shade of brown.

   It seems like all the other girls have had boyfriends since we were sixth graders. The beautiful boys and girls pair off and bop around in their bubbles of coolness, of happiness, decked out in their tight-rolled Guess jeans, plastic Liz Claiborne purses, and Eastland loafers.

   I’m too funny-looking to be considered pretty, and it’s not until freshman year that a boy expresses an interest in me. It’s a confusing situation. I haven’t learned to be discriminating, haven’t needed to tell a boy no, so I don’t know how. I’m flattered by the attention, and sort of embarrassed for feeling flattered. I don’t know how to be cool about it, and because I don’t know how to say no, I don’t. We start dating, which consists mainly of writing silly notes during school and kissing after school. I don’t know how to kiss, am I doing it right? Where is the tongue supposed to go? Is it supposed to be slobbery or dry? Is he doing it right?

   We sneak into the woods behind school as often as we can. We kiss. He wants to do more, but I don’t even know what more is. What leads to what? How do I tell him when to stop, and how do I know when? These are my inadequacies. I’ve never learned to be a woman. It seems that there are powers that the other girls possess, that they all know about, but it’s a club I haven’t been invited to. I’m not a normal woman like they are, and so I don’t believe in my own feminine powers. I don’t know how to control them.

   After we make out, I return home feeling dirty and used. Is this what love feels like? I don’t believe my heart knows how to feel love anymore, for it has completely grown over with callouses from being over-chafed. I think I’ll never be loved, and I think I’ll end up marrying this boy I call boyfriend because he is the only boy who will ever realize I’m alive, who will ever want me.

   I descend the stairs to our basement and search. I’m looking for something to help me know if I am feeling love, if I’m feeling anything at all. I find what I’m looking for, a box cutter, and slip it into my pocket. Back up the stairs. Into my room. Close the door. I slide the blade out of its sheath and press it against the dark skin of my forearm.

   I slide the blade across my flesh, at first drawing only the impression of a line. Then I retrace the line, pressing deeper, tearing at the layers of my young, flawless skin as crimson beads break through the surface. Breaking through another line and then another, rows of cuts, and I am mesmerized at the sight of my own alien blood. What does this blood mean? Whose blood do I carry?

   I realize that this blood is mine alone. I begin and end with myself, for me family is nothing more than a surface experience. The ties that bind me are shallower than those around me, and I fear the breaking of them. Other families are made of blood, but mine is made of legal documents and love that I cannot understand.  Because I have no shared blood, I pull my own out--I want to scar myself, to keep the image of my blood in ever-present sight as a symbol of my singularity.

   Yes, I feel something--not romantic or familial love, but something more primal. I feel isolation that yields determination. I feel a cold loyalty to my own flesh and blood above all. I won't abandon or betray myself. I won't depend on anyone else enough to be vulnerable to abandonment or betrayal. I feel an emotion more sustaining and lonely than love--a dogged self-reliance that needs only survival.

Soojung Jo is the author of Ghost of Sangju, and has contributed to several adoption-related anthologies. She has an American family that raised her and a Korean family that lost and found her. Both families met in 2013. Find her at or on Facebook as Soojung Jo.

Thoughts on re-naming children

By julie j

Had requests to re-post this one publicly.

Adoption does not legally require changing any part of a child's name, nor is it really necessary in order to "protect the child," as some AP's like to justify their actions. It is something almost all adopters choose to do anyway for any combination of these reasons:

1) Just because they can.  (Entitlement).
2) To mark their new territory.  (Possession).
3) To create greater challenges for & greater distances between the child & his/her natural family.  (Interference).
4) To create a greater comfort level for themselves as adoptive parents.  (Selfishness).
5) To more closely imitate the actions of what natural parents do.  (Delusion/more entitlement).
6) It's foreign or hard to pronounce (Not a good excuse.  Try harder to learn it).

It is not necessary for families to all have matching names either. Plenty of children, siblings, & their parents today do not have matching names for one reason or another. When an adoptive family really feels the need to match, would that be important enough for them to consider changing or combining their own given or surnames to match the child's? (Probably not). Then the child should not have to sacrifice any part of their name either.

It's not news anymore that there are no blank slates.  All children, even newborn babies, are already complete, full people before adoption happens to them. Adoption is not re-birth; it is taking over raising someone else's children who are already born & named. Their name is an important part of their original identity. Children are all deserving of love, care, and everything else that all children are worthy of, just by virtue of being human. They should not have to change in any way, in order to have all of their needs met.

Imagine there are 2 equally-qualified prospective adoptive homes for a specific child, except for one important difference. One will agree to honor that child's name, and the other will insist upon taking away that child's name and assigning them a different one. Perhaps the latter is not the best-qualified home for that child (or for any child in need of an alternate home). The child is already perfect exactly as he/she already is. Let us try to remember again, for whom adoption is meant to serve. The child is supposed to be the real beneficiary of the arrangement, not the adopters.

Changing their names sends the message, "You are not good enough for us as you already are. We cannot accept you as you really are. Therefore, we must try to make you into something (or someone) else more pleasing to us first before we will love & care for you." That's conditional love, not unconditional. It also shows that the adopters are in denial about what adoption is. It is not about creating a child for themselves. It is about taking over where the child already is. It is disrespectful to the child to unnecessarily force them to give up the one thing they have left after losing everything & everybody else in their world - their name. I have even heard of adoptive families who have tried to color a child's hair or change them in other ways in attempts to make the child conform more with whom they want them to be, rather than just loving them for who they already are.

It's absurd to even inquire if a child wants their name changed just because they are being adopted or because they may have experienced trauma.  We would never suggest that to any other child as being "necessary in order to move on."  For example, "Broke your leg?  Want to change your name to help you move on?" Or "Your pet died?  Here's a list of names you can choose from to help you move on." Or "Your parents are getting divorced?  Changing your name will help you move on."  You get the idea.  Trauma is part of life.  We all deal with it.  Changing their name adds to their trauma column, while being on the "plus" side for the adopters.  Please, let's start putting the child first, and have the adults navigate around that, rather than expect the child to have to adapt to yet one more thing, and a major one at that.  And let's not disguise it either by saying the child came up with the idea.  Even when a child agrees to do it, think about how much of that may really be influenced by their unspoken fears or desires to fit in or to not be rejected.  Anyone can easily change their own name at age 18 if it's really their own idea.

A suggestion - If having a child named "John" or "Mary" or whatever name they like, is that important to an adoptive family, perhaps they should wait for a child who already has that name who needs a home, and inquire if they are a suitable placement for that child, because children with other names are obviously not a good fit for them, and all children deserve better than having their names stolen from them, particularly without their knowledge or consent.

Bottom line - changing a child's name, any part of it, is an unnecessary form of identity theft.  People who feel entitled to do that are being disrespectful to the child.


julie j is an adult adoptee who was stolen from her family as a young child. She was in American foster care in the early 1960’s and then later illegally adopted. She has happily been in reunion since ’93, thanks to ISRR. She recently acquired her OBC through a court order :)  julie j is a wife, mother, business owner, family preservationist, activist for adoptee rights, child advocate, and adoption search angel. Her other interests include reading, theater, genealogy, music, games, & working out. One of her future goals is to become a CASA volunteer.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Celebrating My Birthday By Embracing the Land of My Birth

October 22, 1988 was the day my twin sister and I came into this world. We are the youngest of seven children in our Ethiopian family, and the only ones placed for adoption.  That fact has seldom bothered me. My rationalization about my placement was my parents had very few choices: during a post-war time of famine and job loss, out of desperation and with hope for a better future, they gave us up for adoption, trusting that it would be the best decision. My memories of my family and life in Ethiopia were something that kept me hopeful when I was a child; I was loved by many (mother, father, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and the entire community). The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” has had a profound impact on how I view what family is.

Arriving in the US at six years old, my sister and I grew up in a Washington, DC, suburb. I returned to Ethiopia in 2011, after 17 years of growing up in the US, and my family and relatives there greeted me in excitement and joy. My life in Ethiopia can’t be measured by monetary values, but by the love of those people in my early life, and with whom I have reconnected.

Today is my 27th birthday. I spent 6 years in Ethiopia, and 21 here in the US. I’d like to acknowledge birthdays are hard for many of us adoptees for various reasons. They are reminders of beginnings that may have been joyful or sad, reminders of childhood journeys that took a serious turn. On this birthday, I would like to recognize and celebrate adoptees like myself who feel a deep connection to Ethiopia, and who strive to make a difference in a country we still consider home.

In the last year, I’ve made some deep and valuable connections through co-founding Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora,which now has hundreds of members from around the world. Several of us—from the US, Canada, Sweden, Holland, and France--are contributing to Lions Roaring, Far From Home, the first Ethiopian adoptee anthology, to be published in 2016, in which we tell our stories in our own voices.

Last weekend I attended my first Ethiopian adoptee-centric meeting. It took place in south Seattle at Kaffa Coffee and Wine Bar, which generously donated their space for adoptees to come together.  The meeting included three adoptees passionately talking about their organizations, goals, dreams, and drive to be a part of the change happening in Ethiopia. Who knew Seattle had such a vibrant Ethiopian adoptee community? Sitting there, among about 20 other adoptees on a rainy night in the Pacific Northwest, I felt a sense of pride and solidarity. I was surrounded by people who look and shared similar experiences to mine, young people who had been born in Ethiopia but were placed for adoption as babies, or as young children or teens. Wow what a powerful space I was in.  Liya Rubio was the first speaker of the night. She eloquently discussed her commitment to children, about doing several fundraisers for organizations in Ethiopia, and wanting to give back to Ethiopia. Her words were inspiring and motivational. 

Next Wondemagegn Breen embraced the room with passion and drive in his voice. He is the founder of Hope in Helping Hands an adoptee-centric organization working to improve the quality of life for children in Ethiopia. Many of us in that room were touched by the power in his voice: “As Ethiopians we are obligated to help our people. We survive together.” What stood out to me was his personal narrative, which pushed him to establish his organization: “You don’t grow out of the pain of losing your mother.” He witnessed his mother die in Ethiopia when he was just five years old. The loss of our mothers is something that sticks with us adoptees forever. We are the street children, we are the orphans, and we know first hand what it feels like to be separated from your family. That pain pushes us to create a safer space for children of Ethiopia. We need to be a part of any conversation about the future of children and orphans.

It was good to hear a male’s perspective on adoption issues; women tend to dominate that discourse. He will travel to Ethiopian in January to volunteer and mentor young children with different organizations; I’m looking forward to hearing about it after his return.

Last but not least Sarah Negash embraced us with her warm and kind heart, which illuminated the room.  She opened the conversation with a quote by David Pratt: “Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names.” They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they are not real until you hold them in your arms, but once you do, everything changes. She was there to talk about an orphanage, Sele Enat, where she spent several happy years and which now is in danger of closing, The 80 children there are at risk. Sara wants other orphans to feel the love by caregivers that she once felt, and also to share the beautiful memories and space with other children.  Keeping the compound open to her means preserving memories, laughter, safety, and friendships. Please consider helping her in her efforts by donating to Mamush. Put “Save the compound” in the donation section to ensure your funds will help the Sele Enat orphanage.

There was something groundbreaking about last weekend’s meeting. It reminded me that many adoptees forever feel obligated to their country of birth, even after spending many years outside of it. Our privilege of growing up in a country, which has given us so much, makes us even more aware of sisters playing in the orphanages and our brothers begging in the streets. Our past is so much of who we are. The people left behind will forever hold a special place in our hearts and because of that we feel a huge obligation to go back and give back, in ways that preserve families and protect children. We are the Lions Roaring Far From Home, loud, proud, and dedicated to strengthening Ethiopia and changing the future of vulnerable children in Ethiopia, the land of our roots and our birth.

Sara Negash, Aselefech Evans, Liya Rubio and Wondemagegn Breen
October 17, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

When Murder and Adoption Meet on #HTGAWM

For those of us involved in the adoption community, we often find ourselves riveted when adoption plots enter the small screen. The second season of Shonda Rhimes’ How to Get Away with Murder (HTGAWM) captured me this fall as it introduced viewers to the case of Caleb Hapstall (Kendrick Sampson) and Catherine Hapstall (Amy Okurda), adopted siblings accused of torturing and murdering their adoptive parents, Grant and Ursula Hapstall. Four episodes into the season, it’s clear that not only will this adoptive family storyline continue to operate as a B-level plot, but viewers also will need to grapple with understandings of race, kinship, and incest. WARNING: Spoilers concerning this particular storyline will appear in this post.

The Hapstall family embodies the 20th century transracial, and perhaps even international, adoptive family. Wealthy parents from Philadelphia’s Main Line, Grant and Ursula Hapstall operated a pharmaceutical company, valued in billions, prior to their deaths. In many ways the Hapstalls represent all adoptive parents – scions of privilege and wealth that rescued their adopted children from lives of poverty – or at least adoptive parents commonly highlighted in the media in the most sensationalized form. Their Black adopted son, Caleb, and Asian adopted daughter, Catherine, should (according to popular understandings of adoption) be grateful for the love and privilege adoption granted them. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) captures this sentiment in Episode 1, “It’s Time to Move On” as she seeks to obtain the Hapstall children as her clients. Keating states: “Rich, spoiled, and ungrateful for the privilege that you were born into…sorry, adopted into… You don’t deserve the money. You’re not their real children, you felt that growing up and it made you resentful, angry. And then, you decided enough. Let’s shoot mommy and daddy in the head.” Keating clearly articulates what the jury’s perception of them will be upon their trial.

As an adoptive parent, Shonda Rhimes is most likely aware of the dichotomy that positions adoptees as either “happy, grateful” or “unhappy, angry” individuals. By invoking these stereotypes in the first moments we meet the adult adoptees, I suggest that she nods to her viewers that this will not be just a simplistic understanding of adoption. This assertion is rooted in Rhimes’ production of Scandal. In Season 4, Episode 14, “The Lawn Chair,” the show deftly explores the unlawful killing of a Black youth and policy brutality and in Season 5, Episode 4, “Dog Whistle Politics” viewers witness the critical examination of why racially coded language is used by the media to describe Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). Rhimes continues to prove that a one-dimensional understanding of race will not be seen on her shows. Remember the complexity of Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

An Adoptee's Fears

I wonder how many prospective adoptive parents still would choose to adopt if they knew the likely implications it may cause the adoptee in the future. As a young adult adoptee in my 20s I have recently begun to fully understand exactly how adoption have shaped me-made me into the person that I am. What fears I still live with unconsiously and daily.

To start with (at least for me) it's the constant fear of rejection as well as the fear of being abandoned and left to fend for myself, with nobody around to offer support. The last aspect would be the belief as well as feeling of never being good enough or worthy enough-good enough for somebody to love or worthy enough to have a nice job and employment.

My brother can't possibly share these feelings or beliefs, but then again he never searched for his birth family nor was he rejected twice like I was. 

The world is not out to punish me or get me back because I was adopted, rejected twice or not good enough. Life's a process and life is in constant change and move forward.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Redefining "Normal" in Haitian Adoptions

What would it look like if adoptive parents embraced their child’s country and culture instead of the other way around?

In international adoptions, it’s normal for adoptees to leave their home country and leave behind any extended family. It’s normal for adoptees to be given a new name, a new language, and a new culture, but is there another way?

Mariah and Josiah in Haiti 
Mariah Wilson, 23, had anything but a normal adoption. Her parents, Don and Liette, realized the importance of immersing themselves in the Haitian culture before adopting and moved to Haiti, living there for three years before adopting Mariah and Josiah, now 20.

Mariah’s entire adoptive family made Haiti part of their lives. When Liette’s mother, Karen, flew down to Haiti to meet her first granddaughter, she fell in love with the country and decided to stay. Karen permanently moved to Haiti, and for the past twenty years she has operated Hands Across the Seas (HATS), a school and orphanage located in Deschapelles, about 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince. 

Mariah and her grandmother, Karen 
Mariah was two when she was adopted, and Josiah came to be with the family when he was only five months old. Mariah’s mother passed away when she was a year old, and Josiah’s mother passed away four days after he was born, leaving both fathers to raise children while also trying to earn a living. 

After adopting Mariah, Don and Liette stayed in Haiti for another two years before relocating back to Canada. During that time, Josiah was able to track down his birth father, and they were able to meet before he passed away when Josiah was eight. As for Mariah, her dad was present to give consent when she was adopted, and he visited her every few months while the family lived in Haiti.

Liette and Mariah 
Don and Mariah 
Don and Liette are fluent in Creole and when Mariah was growing up, both of her parents knew how to braid her hair with beads and extensions.  Mariah attributes her parents’ appreciation of Haitian culture to their own unique backgrounds. Don is a First Nations Canadian from the Heiltsuk tribe, and her mom is from the Yukon, a remote territory in Canada.

Mariah says that growing up in a Native family gave her a special perspective. Her parents taught her about the importance of connecting to the earth and to others, and she saw and participated in the traditions and customs of the First Nations community in Canada. And because Mariah was adopted into a First Nations tribe, she was able to receive funding to pursue her post secondary education.

Josiah, Ariane, Mariah, and Tevan 
Every two years, Mariah returns to Haiti with her parents and her younger siblings Ariane and Tevan. She visits her father and her five half siblings, and she also visits her grandmother and spends time volunteering in the orphanage.

Many Haitian adoptees dream of having a relationship with their families one day, but struggle with the expectation that they should send money to support their families. After a reunion, Haitian families expect help, leaving adoptees in a potentially uncomfortable situation. Unfortunately, the fear of this added responsibility often keeps adoptees from searching and possibly reuniting with their families. 

But there is another option. Mariah’s parents pay for her eight Haitian siblings to attend school, and they have bought land and built a home for her father.  Instead of expecting Mariah to support her Haitian family, her parents have taken that burden off of her shoulders, allowing her to enjoy her relationship with her family without any pressure. The contributions to Mariah’s family will be felt for several generations. Twenty years ago, her father was unable to raise his daughter and support his family, but now he has a home, his children have an education, and the entire family is better because of it.

Mariah with her father and stepmom in Haiti 
Too often adoption is one sided, when an ideal situation is a partnership between families. To prospective adoptive parents, Mariah recommends taking adoptees back to Haiti so they don’t lose their culture and heritage. She says enrolling Haitian children in a French immersion school will help them be able to communicate when they return to Haiti to visit. Mariah also advises adoptive parents to connect with other adoptive families and connect adoptees with black role models. Lastly, she says parents should provide their children with opportunities to openly discuss their adoption experience.

None of this advice is new. But it seems pretty unrealistic for a busy family to completely rearrange their lives after an adoption. Until you realize that one family has managed to make it work. The biggest difference between Mariah and other Haitian adoptees is that Mariah’s parents have worked hard to keep her connected to two families, two countries, two cultures, and two languages. Her parents took the time to invest in her family’s future and to also honor her past, which Mariah thinks is “pretty awesome.”

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, Mariette reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family.
She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she writes essays, short stories, and poems that usually focus on adoption.