Friday, March 30, 2012

Five for Friday: Adoptive Parents on Open Adoption

Here are five glimpses into the joys and yes, the significant challenges, of open adoption from the adoptive parent's point of view:

1) Not on the Menu: I love this post, which addresses some of the same issues I was grappling with the other day in The Adoption Illusion. Regardless of how we handle the matter as adoptive parents, the biological family is part of the equation.

2) Open Adoption Roundtable: Ever Wanted to Walk Away? I particularly enjoyed this response to the question, “Has open adoption ever felt like too much?”

3) Totally Unexpected: No, it isn't always easy. Like all relationships, open adoption relationships require maintenance. I appreciate the willingness of these parents to put in work for the sake of their daughter.

4) Extensions: "I know because of the relationship we already have Kylie will know her roots and have lots of time with her birth family but it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out in terms of how we all define the relationship in the long term. This is a part of an open relationship which takes a lot of care. I just hope Kylie grows up knowing just how much we do."

5) Communication and More Communication: Another adoptive mom who puts in the work, with good results: "I love seeing Mara with her brothers and sisters.... While she misses her family every day, at least I know she knows how much she's loved."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Adoption Illusion

There's a fiction, or an illusion, that exists in many adoptive families. Adoptive parents and others look at the social unit that is created by adoption and label it "family." That's not the illusion. I have no problem with this definition of family; in fact, it is a form of family that is near and dear to my heart, both as an adoptee and as an adoptive mom. But we enter the realm of the unreal when we try to pretend that this family is all there is, when we try to cut or ignore the threads that bind the adoptee to another family.

(Copyright 123RF Stock Photos)

Some adoptive parents love the illusion so much that they will do just about anything to preserve it. The entire structure of closed adoption was built on the assumption that if we simply acted as if the adoptive family unit was the only family, ignoring or suppressing anything that didn't fit with that view of things (including the adoptee's natural feelings of curiosity, loss, etc.), we could make it so. Adoptees themselves were co-opted into the creation of the illusion, assigned the role of the good adoptee and given lines to dutifully recite. Community members and creators of media were also co-opted into upholding the illusion. In fact, the idea of the adoptive family as the exclusive or primary family is so widespread these days that adoptees who speak up, expressing our discomfort or our unwillingness to sustain the fiction, often meet with a reception that we perceive as less than welcoming.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Five for Friday: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle That Is Me

I haven't written much about my biological father on this blog. Of all of my parents, biological or adoptive, he is the one who lives closest to me geographically (if I started driving now, I could be on his doorstep in a few hours), but I've never met him or spoken with him. I sent him a letter a few years ago; he didn't respond. At the time, I was a bit ambivalent about whether or not I wanted contact and, as a result, my attempt was half-hearted at best. He likely picked up on my ambivalence. I think I wrote something like "If you would like to contact me here's how," but I didn't say that I would like him to do so. I'm considering making a second attempt; this time with a clearer request for contact and an explanation of the reasons why I would like to hear from him.

In the meantime, here's a twist on my Five for Friday theme: 

Five Things I Know About My Biological Father:

1) He wore a white a jacket and black bowtie to my biological mother's Junior Prom. (The only photo I have ever seen of him was taken at that event.)
2) He is of Swedish and Danish descent.
3) He had a stutter that went away when he sang. (This information is courtesy of my first mother.)
4) In the 2000 presidential campaign, he donated money to the same candidate as I did. (This information is courtesy of Google. Yes, I've Googled him. Wouldn't you?)
5) He owns a sailboat. (Also Google.)

I write all of this with a certain emotional distance that belies a deep well of emotion underneath. Reaching out to my biological father -- really reaching out, in a way that does not cushion myself for rejection by half rejecting him first -- will require vulnerability on my part. (Reaching out to my first mother was easier, though still terrifying, because she had signed up with a reunion registry, thus letting me know that she was open to being found.) Am I ready to take the risk? I'm really not certain, and I may never get to full certainty, but the pull to know that part of myself that I can only discover through knowing him is growing stronger.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Adoptee Rights

I just did two significant things.

The first is that I filled out an application to receive my Original Birth Certificate (OBC). I can do this because I happened to have been born in one of the few states in the U.S. that allow adult adoptees unconditional access to original birth records. Except for the minor inconvenience of having to track down a notary public, which I will do tomorrow, the process is a relatively simple one for me. But I am well aware that my ease is the result of the hard work of others -- the adoptee rights advocates who worked tirelessly in the state of my birth to win this right for me. I thank those men and women.

The second thing I did was make a donation to the Adoptee Rights Coalition … because everybody deserves the right that I am exercising today. Adoptees, in all but those few states, are the only United States citizens denied access to their original birth records. My contribution is a small one, but it is one small step that I can take toward guaranteeing this basic right for all adoptees.

Unadoptable Is Unacceptable: A Dave Thomas Foundation Video

Friday, March 16, 2012

Five for Friday: Adoptee Voices

Adopetees do not speak with one voice, but here are a few that are part of the chorus:

Adult adoptees are a primary source for knowledge about adoption as an institution. Their perceptions are unique, for adult adoptees are actually the only persons who can tell us what it is like to live adoption in a society in which most people are not adopted. -- Child Welfare League of America

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Georgia on My Mind: The Name I Never Had; The Life I Didn't Lead

We all have them: ghost lives. All of us, adopted or not, can look back and see points where our life path split into two branches and one or the other was selected, either by us or by someone else choosing for us. Who does not occasionally look back at those junctures and wonder, what would my life be like if the other route had been chosen?

For adoptees, there is an extra layer to this, for it is not only that our lives would have been different but that we ourselves would have been, in a sense, different people. The first juncture, for many adoptees, occurred at or before birth.

I have had many names throughout my life. In my offline life, most people know me as "Becca." When I was a child, people often called me "Becky," and I was too shy to correct them. I've had a variety of nicknames, but I won't mention those here. One name I have never been called is "Georgia." But that is the name that my birth mother would have written on my birth certificate, in honor of a favorite aunt, if she had been allowed to do so. Instead, she was told to leave that part blank and just sign her name.

So, Georgia never really existed, and yet she is a part of me. She is the shadow self, the me I would have been if by some miracle my first mother could have received the support she wanted in order to parent me. I recently saw an old photo of a significant portion of my biological family -- my mother, my grandmother, my aunt and two uncles, my brother and my cousin. My uncle had identified it as one of the rare photos in which "everyone" was present. Everyone, that is, except for me. The photo was taken a few years before our reunion, so I'm not in it. Except that I am; I was always a ghost child in that family. When I look at the shadowy space between my aunt and one uncle in the photo, I see the spot I might have stood.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Affection and the Adopted Child

Sweet luxury. I am at a friend's house for a mini writing retreat ... just myself and two friends sitting here quietly with our laptops. No kids. No interruptions. I love my children and my husband, but times like this are soooo restorative.

(Photo copyright 123RF Stock Photos)

But even as I'm enjoying this quiet space and time to myself, I'm also thinking about my kids. I'm thinking of my older daughter Mackenzie and some undecided issues connected to where she will attend school next year. I'm also thinking of the science fair project that she and I worked on together yesterday and the lab report still to be written. And I'm thinking of Ashley, my younger daughter, mainly because of a simple incident that occurred this morning.

As I was about to rush out of the house, laptop backpack slung over my shoulder, Ashley called to me. "Mom, wait!" I paused, expecting her to ask me to do something for her before I left. And she did ask me to do something, but it wasn't what I expected. "Give me a hug!" she said. I ran back up the stairs and gave her a warm embrace before heading on my way.

Now that probably seems like a pretty simple exchange between a mother and child, and in many cases it would be. But here's the thing you need to know: for many years, Ashley's hugging mechanism was broken. She simply wasn't a hugger.

She wasn't always that way. She was, according to her biological mother and grandmother, an affectionate and cuddly child. But by the time she got to us, the trauma of her separation from her biological family as well as the negative impact of moving from foster home to foster home and of some incidents that occurred during her time in foster care, including times when she was strapped down and physically restrained, had taken a toll. She was broken.

Look at the picture of my family in the sidebar of this blog; the body language tells a story. Mackenzie is the girl in the purple shirt. Note how her dad's arm is around her and how she is relaxed in his embrace, her own hand on his arm. Now look at my hand on Ashley's shoulder. It is there because the photographer told me to put it there, but I am being careful. I am conscious of her discomfort with physical contact. I am resting it there lightly, hoping that she won't shrug it off.

We've watched Ashley heal in so many ways in her time with us, but physical affection was one area where she still held back. She has sometimes sought out physical contact in tentative ways, such as asking to be carried or initiating play-wrestling or tickling. She loves massage, especially foot massage. And last summer, she began to tolerate hugs from Mackenzie. But until recently, if her dad or I tried to hug her, she would stiffen or even say, "Don't hug me." So we learned to express our love in different ways, and that became our norm. Ashley knew that her position on hugging set her apart in a family in which affection is given freely, but she viewed it simply as a personality trait. "It's fine for you and Daddy and Mackenzie," she said to me once, "but I'm just not the cuddly type."

I understood. To be honest, I'm not naturally a hugger myself though I have become one over time. Also, I've read accounts by other adult adoptees describing their tendency to "stiff arm" hugs in their adoptive families. Before Ashley moved in with us, I imagined that my relationship with her would be a cuddly one, as with Mackenzie, but when I observed Ashley's hesitancy toward affection I recognized a little piece of myself. Perhaps it's just an adoptee thing, I thought.

But recently, we've seen a shift. From what I can tell, there are a few reasons for this, mostly having to do with the openness of our adoption. Perhaps the most significant factor is that Ashley has had the "I'm just not the cuddly type" conversation with her first mom Erica as well, and in doing so has learned that this wasn't always the case. She came home from one visit and said, "My mom said I used to be very cuddly. Did you know that?" I could tell she was mulling it over. What did that mean? She had been so certain of her identity as a non-cuddler/hugger, but now her confidence was shaken. And if she was a hugger before, did that mean she might become one again?

Last weekend, Ashley had an especially meaningful visit with her biological family -- and by family I mean not just her mother and brothers but also her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. She had an opportunity to see some relatives that she hadn't seen since coming into state care as well as meet some new cousins who weren't yet born at that time. When she came home from this visit, she was in a great mood, eager to talk about the visit with her birth family, but also seeking ways to reconnect with us, her adoptive family. At her suggestion, we decided on "family movie night," and as we were standing around in the living room engaging in the long negotiation process of picking the movie (parents, you know what I'm talking about, right?), Ashley walked up to me, snuggled in close, and said "hug me." I gave her a long, snug embrace as my husband and I exchanged meaningful glances over her head. And that wasn't the end of it. When the movie started, she plopped herself down next to my husband and snuggled right up with him. Again, Paul and I communicated joyful surprise to each other with our eyes.

We've had more hugs and cuddly moments since then, including this morning's goodbye hug. I must confess, I'm hesitant. I hardly dare believe it will last. But it's beginning to seem possible that maybe, just maybe, she may turn out to be a hugger after all.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Five for Friday: International Adoption

1) Nurturing Parenting: First and Second Family

I love what this blogger has to say about the importance of emotional openness. I also love the inclusive definition of family: "We now have family in Ethiopia. When our children are asked about brothers and sisters, they tell the number, including our biological children and their biological (half)siblings, without hesitating." 

I also second this: "It is a basic human right of every person to know about the details of his heritage...."

2) The Power of Ghosts 

In a response to the post listed above, Malinda of China Adoption Talk writes the following:
Even in their absence, and in part because of their absence, birth parents are central to our children's lives, to our family's life. Without knowing who they are or ever meeting them, my children long for them, to know who they are, what they look like, how they live (if they are even living), where they live, whether they are safe, why they could not parent them. Even if we never mentioned them, never acknowledged the existence of ghosts, their birth parents would still be present in our lives. There is a power in what's missing.
Beautifully said. And I couldn't agree more.

3) Land of Gazillion Adoptees Interview of Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR)

This interview addresses some uncomfortable issues, including failed adoptions and adoptions that never should have happened because the adoptees were not legal orphans or had family who could care for them. Such matters are part of the complex picture of adoption and can't be ignored. Adoption is flawed strategy for a flawed world, and the folks at PEAR are engaged in important reform work.

I also appreciate the point that just because an adoptee expresses criticism of adoption policies doesn't mean he or she is "angry" and "anti-adoption."

Also: "There’s nothing wrong with adoptees talking about their experiences. In fact, adoptees should be encouraged to share their thoughts, perspectives, experiences, and expertise...." Amen to that!

4) International Adoption and Immigration

This is another post that address some uncomfortable but important issues. I must confess that until relatively recently, it never occurred to me that U.S. adoptees who were born in other nations could be deported to their countries of origin. The very idea of that messes with my mind.

5) Have You Fought to Help Felipe Montes Reunite With His Kids? [Reader Forum]

Continuing with the immigration theme ... in other situations, it's the parents, rather than the children, who are deported. When we think of international adoption, we don't typically think of cases like that of Felipe Montes and his children, but if his children are not returned to him, the end result will be similar: adopted children living in the U.S. with a parent and other relatives living in another country.

I also picked this piece because of nepotism; Channing Kennedy is my brother.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day: Adoption Is a Women's Issue

Today is International Women's Day, a day to strategize ways to make the world a better place for women. (If you tweet, follow @womensday for more info.) I want to comment on this from the point of view of an adoption blogger.

There's a great article at on the top five reasons you should care about International Women's Day. Below, I highlight two of them and discuss the connection to adoption.

(1) Violence Against Women is Rife Worldwide People don't often think of violence against women as an adoption issue, but it is. My own daughter, whom I adopted via the foster care system, originally came into state care as a result of a domestic violence incident in which her mother was the victim. Additionally, her mother's own trauma as a result of abuse and domestic violence was a significant factor in the addiction that prevented her from reunifying with her children. I have also heard of women, in different circumstances, who have made the decision to place a child for adoption because they did not trust that they would be able to keep the child safe from violent family members. Violence is certainly something that can be a contributing factor in the separation of a child from his or her biological mother.

(2) Women Are More Likely to Suffer from Poverty and Lack of Education Lack of monetary resources and education (the later of which can result in greater access to monetary resources) is another significant factor leading to separation of children and biological families by way of adoption. As I said in my last post: "Adoption moves one person (the adoptee) into a situation in which some of his or her basic needs can be better met but does not examine the larger social and political issues at work. It is a tragedy, and a societal failure, when biological parents cannot raise their children because of lack of resources, but the seeming 'fix' of adoption prevents us from seeing it as such."

Adoption creates a family, but it is important to keep in mind that it also tears another family apart. It has serious implications, including trauma experienced by the child and the biological mother. Those of us who believe that in a perfect world adoption would be a rare occurrence must continue to examine all of the various social and political factors that contribute to adoption, many of which are tied to improving the general lot of women worldwide.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Five For Friday: Why the Adoption Establishment Annoys Me

I've had a busy week. Erica and I spoke publicly, to a local group of intensive foster-care providers, and our talk was well received. The furnace in my house decided to have issues, so I've had two visits from a repair person and one visit from the gas company. Science fair is coming up at school and, with some guidance from me, my daughters have formed their hypotheses. I intentionally stepped away from the blog this week because I haven't been managing my offline life as well as I would like lately; I had some paperwork and other stuff to get caught up on and I told myself I wouldn't blog again until I got back on track.

But I can't stay away completely this week because the folks over at Land of Gazillion Adoptees have declared this the unofficial “Why the Adoption Establishment Annoys Me” Blog Week. How can I not participate? So, in the spirit of "Five for Friday," here are links to five "annoyed" posts that particularly resonated with me, followed by five "annoyances" of my own:
(Here's a quote from the fifth post on this list: "A dream of mine is to see in 2012 the launch/beginnings of a national organization that represents a diverse body of adoptees.... There are so many great adoptees, with such wonderful experiences, expertise, and drive… An organization like that would be amazing!" Amazing indeed! Where do I sign up?!)

Five Reasons the Adoption Establishment Annoys Me:

1) Adoption is a solution that does not take into account the full range of needs of the adopted person. Though many needs, both external and emotional, can be met in an adoptive home, the need to know where we come from and the need to see ourselves reflected back by way of genetic mirroring are given short shrift. Too often, biology is not part of the conversation of adoption. Open adoption is a step in the right direction, but we should not assume that the adoption establishment has been "fixed" simply because open adoption exists and works in some families.

2) Adoptions frequently occur as a result of a lack of resources (money, housing, etc.) on the part of the biological parents. Adoption moves one person (the adoptee) into a situation in which some of his or her basic needs can be better met but does not examine the larger social and political issues at work. It is a tragedy, and a societal failure, when biological parents cannot raise their children because of lack of resources, but the seeming "fix" of adoption prevents us from seeing it as such.

3) Coercion of first mothers: I wish I could say this was a thing of the past, but it's not. Too many women dealing with unplanned pregnancies still find themselves pressured, and even manipulated, into relinquishment.

4) Lack of knowledge around adoption issues in the therapy world. Therapists typically receive very little training in adoption-related issues, but that doesn't stop some them from presenting themselves as "experts" in adoption and even disseminating stereotypes and platitudes, effectively becoming mouthpieces for the adoption establishment. Too often adoptees and first parents find themselves the position of seeking help for adoption-related trauma from professionals who just don't get it.

5) The OBC (Original Birth Certificate) issue. Look at the smiling picture of my family in the side
bar. We look pretty happy and normal, right? What the picture doesn't reveal is that of the four of us, only one (my husband) has an official birth certificate that accurately reflects birth circumstances. Even my older daughter's step-parent adoption resulted in a new birth certificate that essentially rewrites history. As Amanda of Declassified Adoptee says in this important post, "We're talking about birth certificates here, not 'I'm the real parent' certificates." Adoptees are the only U.S. citizens denied access to their original birth certificates. That's just not right. 

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