Saturday, May 20, 2017

Motherhood Unchartered Waters

It's taken me this long to come to terms with that much of what I believed to be true probably is not in terms of my adoption. Especially this statement about my reason for relinquishment.
The child was given up for adoption because birthparents already had several daughters to raise. Birthparents were struggling to make ends met and decided it was better to relinquish her while they still would be able to raise a son. 
The truth is that my gender would not have influenced or changed the fact that I was relinquished. Due to the extreme circumstances related to my birth the fate of a son would not have ended any differently. I used to be jelous on my younger brother for in a way-taking the place that rightfully was mine. I can no longer feel those feelings any longer but I will always suffer from the trauma of adoption separation and the loss of my sisters and a childhood raised with several siblings.

What difference would another mouth to feed have mattered if a family already had exceded the accepted number of children ? None and everything. Truth is that if that statement had been true its likely that my birth parents would have relinquished more than just one child and it probably would not have been the youngest at time-and they would definetely mot have chosen to add another baby if the simple reason was for econmic reasons. Why would my birth father have been able to visit the adoption agency to try to take me back-only to discover I legally no longer was theirs? Would he have used his connections to try to find out where I was sent and more importantly how was he able to find out what country I was sent to ? Would a parent have behaved like that if they only saw children as an economic burden as well as a necessity ? I truely believe my birthfather acted out of love just as I believe my birth mother was prepared to have a large family. I still hold my maternal grandmother responsible for my adoption, there has to be an extremely good reason why my birthparents decided to disown my mother's side of the family. What those reasons are I will most likely never know-perhaps her crime was that she decided I was to relinquished for adoption but there probably was more than that perhaps it's reasons that are connected to my birth and my adoption.

Hilarie Burton aka Peyton Sawyer, in One Tree Hill 14th episode season six "A Hand To Take Hold of The Scen"
Yet I still fear pregnancy or more importantly childbirth, especially since my birthmother was on the brink of death as she gave birth to me. Then again I am not my birth mother, its no longer the 80s and I probably will not give birth to as many children as she have.

Empress Ki

So far I have only experienced one side of loss from adoption trauma which means I'm very reluctant to raise a child all by myself without another parent. It's not nothing wrong with that, but I have my reasons for not wanting my child to experience the loss of their mother or to be born in posthumous birth and especially not a maternal death. I don't mean to say that mothers are more important than a father they both are equally as important. No matter if a child is forced to grove up with a single parent the loss of that missing parent might impact their life and shape their person and their future. I think I finally am ready to consider parenting and motherhood, given that I met the right person. Although there never are any agrantuees in life I feel like I am as comfortable in my own skin as I ever could be.

I have also been afraid of what legacy I will inprint on my child... daughters learn from their mothers... I've seen my mother as an overachiever and perfectionist for much of my life. That was how my mother was raised by her grandmother. I hope I don't walk down the same road or that my children don't mimic me as they grow up... That's the social heritage while I confess I'm also worried about my biological heritage what diseases could lay hidden in my genes... Unlike most adult adoptees I got a small part of my birth parents medical history. It involves two types of cancer, heart disease and fertility issues.

Yes motherhood, may or may not be a source of fear and worry. But I don't think it's right to say to someone that they doubt your ability to be a suitable parent for an hypothetical child. I think all birth mothers should be offered enough support and resources to enable them to raise their children. Don't threaten a young woman that she may end getting her suitability to care for a future child leading to possible loss of costudy.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why I stopped using the term "birth mother"

Photo taken at Museum Sisters of Mercy, Montreal 

Last fall, I was approached by CKUT McGill Campus and Community Radio about starting an adoptee-centric radio magazine, after they had heard an interview I had done with my friend Stefan on his radio show Free City Radio. I was unsure about accepting the offer, yet I also felt that I couldn’t turn down such an amazing opportunity. After thinking about it for a week, I invited my friend, filmmaker and adoption prevention activist Pascal Huynh to collaborate with me on what would soon become, Out of the Fog Radio

For us, Out of the Fog is not only about bringing greater understanding about adoption issues and family separation to people outside of the adoption community-- it’s also about empathy and vulnerability in storytelling. In our past episodes, we have covered topics such as adoptee gratefulness and reproductive justice, the 60s scoop and Indigenous child removal, mothers of adoption loss, infertility and creativity and the importance of relationships in social services

While Out of the Fog started as a platform to creatively disseminate important information about issues that are close to us and our communities, I quickly found myself being challenged personally by some of the content of our episodes, particularly the episode on mothers. As a politically-aware adoptee and feminist, it hadn’t dawned on me that I knew very little about the plight of mothers, until I did more research and interviewed guests for the episode. But even after the episode came out, I was repudiated a number of times by mothers on Facebook groups about using commonly-used terms and expressions like “birth mother” and “surrendering children to adoption”. I was alarmed and very embarrassed because I was trying to be “in solidarity” with them, yet here I was deeply offending them by using words that obscured their experiences as mothers having been forced to give up their children for adoption.

Up until that point, I was ignorant about the origins of these terms and how triggering it could be for mothers to be referred to as “birth mother” or “biological mother”. Yet, it is true that these terms are highly reductive because they focus only on their biological function, and by doing so, do not take into account how their experiences were shaped by gender, class and race. Moreover, “birth mother” is a very static term that insinuates a mother's parental role stops at birth, whereas she still may play an active role in her children or adult children’s lives. 

I understand the desire to distinguish between one’s family and one’s adoptive family, but there is an indelible power in language that should not be ignored. Whether you acknowledge it or not, your choice of words holds power and it affects people's interpretation and understanding of the issue. These terms are problematic because they do not convey what actually happened and what is still happening today: mothers and fathers are forced to give up their children, usually because they are young and unwed (which still happens in some countries) or because they lack the financial, psycho-social support or tools to raise their children.

I’m truly happy that I got called out on my use of “birth mother” because it forced me to look at how mothers of adoption loss do not get the recognition as mothers that they deserve. Since then, I no longer use these terms out of respect for both mothers and fathers. If I need to assign titles or make distinctions, I use "mother" or "Ethiopian mother" and "adoptive mother". In doing so, I'm stating the truth in a way that is recognizing Ethiopian mothers motherhood, even if they rarely have the power to an play active role in their adopted Western children or adult children’s lives. Still, their loss and grief is not widely acknowledged. I think partly because there is a pervasive idea that it is a “good thing” for children to be placed; that the mother made the “right choice” and that her children are better off. In fact, it’s almost seen as a heroic and selfless act that is done out of love. People tend to either commend or shame mothers for giving up their children (especially because we are extremely quick to judge women for being bad or unfit mothers), but one of the misconceptions is that children are given up out of love when it's really desperation and survival. Kat, a self-identified birth mother and PhD student, who appeared on our episode on mothers, describes how mothers are told to forget about their children or that they will forget, but that it’s a myth. The loss and grief that mothers experience is long-term, possibly lifelong and because of this, they tend to have higher risks of suicide, mental illness, higher instances of secondary infertility and to make matters worse, it’s difficult to find adequate counselling services. 

Hearing Kat's story and others similar to hers made me realize that my adoptee advocacy was lacking; how can I talk about reproductive rights and family preservation without learning from and partnering with those who are directly affected? It also made me reflect on the importance of creating more spaces for open discussion with mothers and fathers of adoption loss, because the more adoptees’ create alliances with mothers and fathers; the less shame, guilt and secrecy will exist. Similarly, the more we understand each other's struggles, the more empathy we create and hopefully, the more we can heal. 

Kassaye co-hosts Out of the Fog, a podcast and radio show on CKUT 90.3 FM. She is also co-editing Lions Roaring Far Home, an anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, which is set to come out towards the end of 2017. Besides writing and radio production, she mentors youth living in group homes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Rooted to Resiliency: Panel Discussion in Covent Garden, London

The Library, Covent Garden, London 30 March 2017

Dear Sisters of the Heart,

Last month I had the privilege of hearing these stories of fellow writers, and even though they are not directly adoption-related (except for my presentation), I hope that they might inspire you, too, as they are all stories about resiliency.

You've been in my thoughts a lot these past months, and I hope to share more thoughts on resiliency this summer! Meanwhile, this story of fellow panelist TOM KEARNEY is amazing! I can't believe that he survived this coma, and lived to tell the tale. 

Part 1 of 3: TfL Bus Crash Survivor and #LondonBusWatch founder, TOM KEARNEY, discusses his forthcoming book "Death, Life and The East German Ladies' Swimming Team" about being hit by a London bus on Oxford street and recovering from a near-death coma to take on the Mayor of London and learning how to swim outdoors all year-round. 

JENNIFER JUE-STEUCK discusses her forthcoming INSPIRATION ICE CREAM: A MERMOIR, a book inspired by her (adoptive) mother's battle with ovarian cancer.

MARTI LEIMBACH is the author of many books, including DYING YOUNG, THE MAN FROM SAIGON and  DANIEL ISN'T TALKING. She talks about her experiences raising a child with autism.

Native Province: Taipei and Jiangsu (mainland China) Hometown: Laguna Beach (OC), California Arrived in the USA: Dec 1979 / Jan 1980 Education: NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts & Harvard Generation: G2, “A Global Generation” Proud Big Sister of: Chris (from Seoul, South Korea) Why This Blog: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller