Sunday, January 25, 2015

Adoption and Identity in the Age of Aquarius

On a recent day as I was driving from Point A to Point B, the song “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” boomed through the car’s speakers thanks to my iPod’s shuffle function. This particular version was the medley of two songs from the musical “Hair” that was released as a single by the 5th Dimension back in 1969. After I snickered a bit thinking about the scene in the film “The-40-Year-Old Virgin” featuring the song, I found myself remembering some aspects of the my childhood–ones that had to do with the song and being adopted.

I was born on January 25, 1971. My astrological sign was Aquarius. And the Age of Aquarius was still going strong. During my very young childhood years, my adoptive mother played the 5th Dimension record album featuring “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” quite a bit on our ginormous, piece-of-statement-furniture, console-style hi-fi system. I remember sitting on the floor in front of the huge speaker panels taking in the tunes. My adoptive mother was also into astrology at the time, as where many. Charting astrological signs was quite popular in the 1970s. There was a framed needlepoint on the wall of my room that my mother had made. It had big bubble letters that read “Aquarius” and featured the mustard yellow, burnt orange and russet brown tones that were considered de rigueur at the time.

Remembering these Aquarius-themed elements of the my childhood sparked an adoption-related realization. As I grew older and gained a greater understanding of exactly how much of my inherent identity and sense-of-self were unknown, I filled the gap with astrology. I read everything I could on how your astrological sign dictated your personality. I would proudly proclaim myself to be “such an Aquarius” when it came to my inherent personality traits and interests. While in college, a friend had a book titled “Sun Signs” that had a chapter for each astrological sign. During my college years, a time when many young adults were finding and identifying themselves, I once again deemed myself “a total Aquarius” and quoted the book. After all, I was (and still am) very idealistic, a conceptual thinker, a communicator and a dreamer. On the flip side, I was (and still am) extremely stubborn, sarcastic and rebellious–a total Aquarius.

As I listened to the 5th Dimension sing about the the Age of Aquarius in the car that day and thought about the fervor with which I consumed information about my astrological sign, it occurred to me that I was once so desperate for a whole sense of self. In the years before reuniting with my natural families and learning more about my inherent characteristics, I turned to astrology in an attempt to figure myself out and to give my existence meaning. My astrological sign connected me to my birth and emergence into the world. My astrological sign could give me the information about my inherent self that my adoptive family simply could not provide. My astrological sign could fill in the cavernous identity gaps that existed for me.

Of course, all the astrological research in the sun, moon and stars could not have given me what I truly needed. The missing pieces of my identity and inherent self existed only in the unknown set of circumstances that occurred before my adoption–and with the people who created me. Knowing my personal history would help me understand myself and how I existed in the world. I needed to let the sunshine in. So I did.

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age
Of a Aquarius, the age of Aquarius
Aquarius, Aquarius

Galt MacDermot, James Rado, Germone Ragni

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.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Response to Shaaren Pine's Washington Post Article from an Adoptee Five Years in Reunion

To the Adoptive Parents who responded with disrespect and judgment to Shaaren Pine’s Washington Post Article last week, I dedicate my 5-year Adoption Reunion Anniversary post to you. I also created a quote that I pray you read over and over again as you parent your adopted children.

“Just as parents have a heart for each of their children, an adopted child has a heart for each of their families.” – Lynn Steinberg, Contributor at Lost Daughters.

I was the happy kid (I still am, by the way). I was grateful to be adopted. I NEVER asked about finding my Birth Mother. My parents were my best friends (they still are, by the way). It didn’t matter where I came from. I was born in my Mom’s heart. It was God’s plan to protect me from a "woman who could not care for me", and place me in the open arms of my capable parents. A life without knowing my roots WOULD be a full life. I was German like my adoptive Father. I was Czechoslovakian like my adoptive Mother. Who my Birth family was and why they placed me up for adoption did NOT matter. I had a family now that wanted me and that is ALL that mattered.

For 35 years, I molded myself into the adoptee that adoptive parents, neighbors, friends, and American culture were comfortable with. It was never about me. It was about people like YOU who left those REALLY self-serving and mean messages to Shaaren Pine. Just to clarify, I am not angry at all that I was adopted. However, I am very angry about your comments. It is your comments that keep so many adoptees from speaking their truths. It is your comments that keep many of us from going to our parents when we need help. It is your comments that turn so many adoptees to drugs, alcohol and suicide. 

My main job at the Lost Daughters is to share my deeply personal journal entries with you leading up and during my adoption reunion. I thought that this entry dated 12/15/09 was appropriate as today is my 5-year Adoption Reunion Anniversary. I was 35 years old at the time. You will notice that my journal entry does not match the adoptee image I had been portraying my entire life. 

Dear Temmy,

I wrote you last week explaining to you who I was. It seemed perfect at the time. Well written, poised, mature, diplomatic – all the things I pride myself on being. It felt so right. I sent it off to the investigator confident in what I wrote and assured that your reaction would be positive. I said what I was supposed to say. 

Some time has passed and emotions are creeping up. I can’t sleep. I am having vivid and disturbing dreams about our reunion. I had two panic attacks last week. One of them sent me to the emergency room.  I cannot believe I am at this point in life – I NEVER thought I would look for you. I guess I wished you had looked for me. Do you know how hard it is for an adoptee to actually say they want to search? We don’t exactly get support. It would have been nice for you to do that. Although, I don’t know what I would have done if you searched for me. I probably would not have the support I have now. Who knows?

I am not prepared for the emotions I am experiencing. They are boiling inside of me – they are uncontrollable. I feel like an entire part of my heart and soul is remembering you, but you will probably reject me. Chances are you WILL reject me. You already did no matter how you spin it.  I thought I could handle that, but guess what? I can’t handle it. I could externally. I am an expert at that as an adopted child, but internally I would start to die. I would have to relive the last 35 years without you all over again. But this time it would be deep and palpable pain, instead of a slow bleed over many years. 

I have tried to make a joke out of you. I admit to marginalizing you in my mind. You must be a very poor IHOP waitress with a scratchy voice – too many years of chain smoking and hard financial times have taken their toll. Since you couldn’t take care of me, you must live in a trailer park with a few chickens and a beat up car that you can’t even afford to drive. The truth is, these things only make me love you more. These things only make my heart ache for the life you may have lived if you had support after my adoption. I doubt you did. When I was born there was little support for Birthmothers. Maybe you are rich. Maybe you are selfish. Either way, I want to know you.

I have to admit that I would like to meet you and have the perfect bond. The natural attachment I feel with my oldest daughter. Like we breathe the same air and think the same thoughts. If we connect like this will the effort be less? Will the pain be less? 

How am I going to admit that I have two Moms? I have a Mother. I don’t need you. That is what I have said my entire life and people like to hear that answer. My Mother has been so supportive of me trying to find you. It is very unfair. In my mind, you were the ONLY reason I could not fully connect to her like I have connected to my daughters. She does not know that.  I wonder if she feels the same way? Did she sense my loss? She and I ARE best friends, but knowing you would have made us closer. I know it. If only we could have talked about you. Maybe our relationship would be perfect. Maybe I would not have to do this now – alone. 

My Mother is my best friend in the world, not a day goes by where we don’t talk.  Why do I even need you? The truth is I do need you. We both need you. My adoption is about the three of us. This can only work if we are all happy and we all know each other and love one another. How will I even achieve this? I know my Mom can love you, but can you truly love us? I really hope so Temmy. I really want you to love us. I really hope that you have always loved me. Could you love her? Will you resent her? Will you be jealous of her? What if she is jealous of you? Will she like you? I cannot worry about that – but I am. That is also not fair. 

My heart could break this week. A really, really BIG broken heart. Not getting dumped, not losing a friend, but losing a Mother – again. I could learn that you never really wanted me. Maybe you were promiscuous. Maybe you got pregnant and tossed me aside. Maybe I am not the only child who you placed for adoption? Maybe your parents talked you into this. Maybe they were ashamed of you for getting pregnant.  Maybe they forced this on you. If this is the case, I need to know. I still need to know even if I meant nothing to you. I need to know whatever the case may be. 

How will I get through this? I am lucky to be able to afford the right books, the right therapist, and to have a supportive husband. I’d imagine most adoptees don’t have what I have. Most people don’t have what I have - that is for sure. What if these panic attacks continue? I wonder if you get panic attacks. They are AWFUL. I am simply dying inside and I don’t anticipate this getting any easier. 

So, for now it is day by day for me. I am trying to stay busy and trying not to dwell on the future or how you will handle receiving my letter. But, it is consuming me and I am fully aware that the part of me that was cut off from you 35 years ago is growing back. I am 100% in love with the one detail I have about you – your name. Your name is the only thing I know about you and it took 35 years to get it. What a shame that is for both of us. What if you don’t love hearing my name? How do you ever get over the loss of your own Mother? I am not sure you ever do.



Adoptees can be HAPPY and still acknowledge that adoption is a lifelong trauma. Adoptees CAN love their adoptive parents inside and out, fully and wholly, but still want to know their roots, even if those roots cause us further pain. We have been through something that most people have not. We were unwillingly taken from our Mother’s arms for various reasons at various ages. We are stronger than you can ever imagine and we can handle anything if given support from the moment we enter your homes. Don't wait for us to tell you we need help. Most of us won't do that. 

Me and My Mothers in 2009. A day I never dreamed could happen, but it did.

Lynn Steinberg is an adult adoptee from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Lynn was adopted in Ohio in 1975 and raised by her parents on Long Island, New York along with her older brother who was also adopted. Her adoption was closed and Lynn’s adoptive parents knew nothing about her Birth Family or story leading up to her relinquishment. At the age of 35, after having two biological children, Lynn and her husband Michael adopted a baby girl from Ethiopia. It was the adoption of her daughter that ignited an innate interest in searching for her Birth Mother. In 2009, Lynn found her Birth Mother and half-siblings with the help of a Private Investigator. Upon reunion, she discovered that her existence had been kept a secret from her siblings by her Birth Mother for 35 years. With that said, Lynn was joyously accepted by her Birth Mother and siblings, but continually struggles with her identity and comfort level within her Birth Family. She feels there is a lack of support and resources for adult adoptees once the initial reunion is complete and hopes to act as a source of support what she calls, “The Reunion after the Reunion.”

Monday, January 12, 2015

Putting Haitian Families First

At the age of three, I was adopted from Haiti, and I grew up knowing very little about my family and the details surrounding my adoption. I had always been told that my adoption was out of necessity- my parents had been too poor to care for me and my younger siblings, so we were put in an orphanage. I was told they wanted to place me for adoption. Last year I went on a search for my birth family in Haiti, and through the help of several strangers, I was able to find them. But I also found the details surrounding my adoption were very different from what I had been told. My parents did not want to relinquish me for adoption, and for over 30 years, they did not know where I was. Unfortunately, many Haitian adoptees have stories just like mine. Struck by how unbelievable my adoption story was, I started doing some research on adoptions in Haiti.

I found that in Haiti, children are often separated from their families and placed in orphanages in exchange for medical treatment or food. Once children are in the orphanage, adoption is unfairly used as a bargaining tool, and mothers are promised that their child will have a better life or may even come back to support them one day. Children may also be placed for adoption without their family’s knowledge or consent, and once they leave the country, they are often lost to their families forever. Separated by geography and language, an adoptee may never find their way back to their family.

I wondered how I could I make sure another mother would not lose their child to a system that is so quick to offer a permanent solution to a temporary problem. My research led me to Haitian Families First, an organization that focuses on family preservation. According to their website, the organization “runs programs that provide medical, nutritional and educational support to help Haitian families remain together and create a self-sufficient future.” I recently I had the opportunity to interview Ali McMurtrie, one of the founders. Ali shed some light on what makes HFF different from other non-profit organizations in Haiti and how she and her sister are working hard to put families first.

Birthdays by guest author Molly Schulte

I write this, not to look for pity, but to speak some of my truths, especially in the light of Robin Williams’ death. Depression does come in all forms and from many sources; chemical, biological, life experience. We all have varied life stories to share. Sometimes I feel I share too much but in some instances not enough because it feels so vulnerable, still so raw. This is my birthday story, written on the day.

Memories shape us for good and bad. As a kid in the 70’s, I was the odd kid in the neighborhood that everyone made fun of. I had been in foster care, until I was adopted at the age of 10. I came to the Slagoski’s when I was 4. I did not know if I was coming or going or where I fit in. I was extremely overweight and not at all like the delicate flower that I wanted to be. My foster parents were much older than other parents in the neighborhood, so people would think and mention to me that they must be my grandparents. My mom made all my clothes-in the age of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. (I am thankful now.) I could go on. The point being, I was fodder for kids in my group to torment me, and they did. Sometimes they would run by my house yelling out things at me as I sat on the porch. Now there were times that they were friendly, but it was off and on, mostly off.

Birthdays were the hardest because it was a celebration of birth, and I was still trying to figure out where I came from and why I did not fit in. Most of the time I felt like I dropped in from another planet. I had a foster sister that would tell me that we got phone calls from a lady who said she was going to come and get me. They were rich and had a merry-go-round in their backyard. I was at once intrigued and nauseous with fright thinking I would be taken away again. I wanted to wash birthdays away.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

SELMA; A Movie Review With Implications From A Transracial Adoptee

The film Selma stars David Oyelowo (center) as Martin Luther King, Jr., and focuses on several unsung activists during the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery. 
Selma, a cinematic masterpiece directed by Ava Duvernay, bravely and intelligently focuses on the racial unrest surrounding the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. The film was brilliant and I hope she'll be the first African-American female Director to win Best Picture at the Oscars. The music was poignant, and the acting was strong, the imagery was shocking in it's simple power and artistry.  The film contained the to-be-expected blockbuster moments; Martin Luther King's rallying speeches, the police brutality, the racial and political tensions, Bloody Sunday etc. There are also the critics, of course, who have focused their frustrations on the portrayal of Lynden B Johnson, and his role in the timing of when to pursue legislation around Black voting rights. In listening and reading through some of the critiques I can't help but notice the sense of white privilege and fear about the seeming void of any white savior narrative within the movement. I am choosing to focus this article on a quieter moment that had a strong impact on me specifically as it relates to being a transracial adoptee.
****Warning to those who have not yet seen SELMA: I will quote a specific part in the movie below.*****

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Gospel According to Gretchen

My natural father and I found each other through International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR) in 1998. During the first year of our reunion, I was inspired to write the following satire which chronicles our experience with Catholic Charities of Fairfield County in Connecticut.

Mary and Joseph weren’t married. Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ natural father. So you have to wonder—what would happen if God the Supreme Ruler of the Universe (and natural father) went to Catholic Charities requesting information on his son.

The year is 1999. The place is Catholic Charities of Greater Bethlehem.

Hi, my name is God the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. About 2000 years ago, I fathered a son. I believe he was born sometime in December. I would like to find out what happened to him and make myself available should he have any questions.

Catholic Charities:
How much money do you have on you God? Because for a mere $1 million “donation” to Catholic Charities, you can sign a useless piece of paper with all of your information on it that we have no intention of giving to your son should he contact us.

Well, that sounds like a good deal. Let me get out my checkbook. Can you tell me anything about my son?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The real reality of what is real in adoption….or not

Beneath the placid surface lies the unquenchable quest for answers arise.
Lines of truth in vain I trace to fill the void and empty space.
They thought the quest to find would die that determination could not survive.
For connections severed and erased to a life uprooted and displaced.
My desperate soul in sorrow cried as I give the puzzle one more try.
Collecting fragments left in place.
Searching for pieces of my face.

The title was intended to repeat the term real since it's so elusive to me in my life adopted that I felt the need to emphasize it.  Being adopted the term “real” is one adoptees can struggle with constantly.  Being adopted brings with it a questioning of the “reality” we are supposed to conform too when we are taken from one family and placed into another.  Being adopted leaves adoptees with multitudes of questions about what is “real” in their lives and what is not.  I wrote this blog in haste and it may not be my best but I believe the ideas, emotions, and struggles of adoptees will come through hopefully.  It seemed important enough to keep me up until 2:00 a.m. ideas and sentences pinging around in my brain that I felt the need to get it out. 

I will also state that this blog post is my reality about adoption and my experience with it firsthand while being involved in adoption education and activism over the years.  It might not be every adoptee’s real take on the reality of adoption in their life, I wouldn’t expect it to be.  I do believe it is a real struggle defining reality for adoptees that we spend a great amount of energy navigating differing stories and juggling of truths, half truth, and lies.  The mysteries that surround where I came from seem steeped in more controversy than the existence of UFOs and I’m fairly certain there have been more sightings of Big Foot than of my original birth certificate.

Monday, January 5, 2015

One adoptee's thoughts on the whole birthday thing

My husband has the best birth story ever. He is the youngest of six and his five older siblings were all in elementary school when he was born. Literally. They were all in class at their elementary school on the day he was born. I never get tired of hearing about how my father-in-law showed up at school to tell them that they had a new brother. I also never get tired of my one sister-in-law saying that she first understood what love was on the day her baby brother was born. What wonderful things to hear and know about the moment you emerged into the world.

Alas, my birthday is coming up in a few weeks. And as an adoptee who was adopted through domestic infant adoption in the United States, my birth story is quite different from my husband's. I am one of the fortunate ones who actually knows the key details about my birth--enough to consider the more difficult truths of my narrative with what I feel to be realistic expectations and emotions under the circumstances. To put it bluntly, it wasn't all wonderful.

My birth was not celebrated. There were no flowers. There were no balloons. There were no family members present waiting with excitement and anticipation for my arrival. After fighting unsuccessfully with Catholic Charities of Fairfield County in Connecticut to stop the adoption from happening, my father and paternal grandparents did not know where my mother was at the time of my birth. My mother was allowed to hold me twice after giving birth. Twice. She named me Gretchen. Then I was taken from her arms and placed in care for several weeks before getting a new identity, a permanently altered birth certificate, and a different set of parents.  I've asked Catholic Charities to tell me where I was for those first few weeks of my life. I was told that "we had so many people caring for infants then, we couldn't possibly know who took care of you." My natural parents were forced to go on with their lives not knowing if I was alive, well, and safe.

Everything had fallen apart by the day I was born--for my high school sweetheart, college student parents who had wanted to get married and for me. Because of these facts, my birthday will always involve some sadness and grief as I'm sure it does for my parents. My birthday will always be the anniversary of a colossal, traumatic, and life-defining loss for all of us. Even now, almost 44 years later, I still feel as though I lost everything--my parents, my family, my ancestry, my identity--on the day I was born. A lot happened to me before I was placed with my adoptive family. And there is nothing that anyone can do about that. It is what it is. My birthday will never be an entirely happy occasion for me. After all, it is the one day out of 365 that I can't really avoid the emotional complexity and trauma of my adoption experience.

Does this mean that I am a miserable, angry, and bitter human being? Of course not. I have an amazing life. I love and cherish the people in it who love and cherish the fact that I am on the planet. I know where I came from. I know who I am. I know my truth and I am willing to accept it for what it is. I am grounded. I am connected.

As such, I will stand strong while honoring and acknowledging the mix of emotions I'll experience this month as my birthday approaches, just as I do every year. Today, I might feel a bit sad that, while found now, my parents and I lost each other so many years ago. Tomorrow, I might feel the rush of being a survivor of challenging beginnings. The next day, I might beam with happiness when my husband tells me he's glad I exist. And on my birthday, I will embrace good wishes from friends and family while feeling present in the wonderful moment that is right now. All of these feelings are completely valid given my particular narrative as an adoptee.

I would encourage those who have adoptees in their lives to consider turning a compassionate heart toward those adoptees on milestone-type occasions such as birthdays. Adoption is simply not a one-and-done sort of life experience. It ebbs and flows with us throughout our lives. Acknowledging the complex emotions we feel about our adoption experiences is healthy and positive. All we need is the space and support to do so.

And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days

~ Dylan Thomas

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.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Adopted and Living Beyond Self

 “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”
~Francis of Assisi 
Photo Credit:

Becoming convinced that a closed adoption is a conspiracy designed to harm the adopted would not be a difficult conclusion to come to. After years of searching and asking for information and being denied by family members, agencies and institutions, it's not a stretch to view the players of closed adoption as those who are looking for any way they can to make the adoptee's life difficult. Just the issue of still trying to get your Original Birth Certificate at 48 years old lends itself to the train of thought that some people are out to get you. 

I believe with some, it's more of a case of apathy than attack. Nevertheless, apathy can leave a terrible ache. Millions of people are apathetic about why adoptees need their OBC's because among other reasons,  they don't see what the big deal is. This is the case with most anything that doesn't apply to oneself. When only thinking of yourself, you generally fail to see why things are important to others.

Contemplating this for thousands of hours regarding closed adoption, I have come to the conclusion that it's not a conspiracy or attack, but simply a case of people thinking about themselves.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Korea, Korea, Korea This Is It.

There are about 200,000 Korean adoptees spread all over the world among these very few adoptees manages to find their birth families to begin with. Interestingly records says that are about 500 KADs that reside permanently in Korea and about 2000 visits annually.

It was only last year that the Korean government finally signed the International Hague convention. Korean adoptions begun as a relief effort to help Korean children orphaned from the war to find new parents and homes. The new adminstration says that they agree and promise to support adult adoptees searching for their birth parents but also protect the rights of the adoptive families and birth parents. Except for the 80s most Korean adoptees was born from single mothers and today it remains the biggest reason why Korea still continues to send their young ones overseas...

As a female adult Korean adoptee, I confess that I have a special place that I escape too - and because I'm an inter country adoptee it means my mind hides overseas - from time to time. I have begun to second guess myself a lot lately.

I will let you all in on a little secret of mine, I still dream of living and working in Korea. Sounds pretty crazy, right? Why would I like to give up a future in a safe and secure country who haven't been to war for 200 years in exchange for a future in one of Asia's fastest growing economies.