Nicole Chung’s Memoir “All You Can Ever Know” and the Future of Adoptee-Focused Literature

“All You Can Ever Know,” a beautiful memoir by Nicole Chung, was published October 2 and is already in its fifth printing. The book had been glowingly reviewed all over the map: the New Yorker, Boston GlobeSeattle Times, Buzzfeed, NPR,  and many more, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and from Library Journal.

Nicole is on a book tour that includes chatting with Trevor Noah TONIGHT on The Daily Show. Seriously. I am guessing she is the first transracial adoptee to be on the show.

It’s all off the charts, really. And here’s the thing: it’s well deserved for a book that is nuanced and elegant, telling a story that is woven carefully around family, race, adoption, and the complexities thereof. As the Washington Post noted, “Chung’s search for her biological roots, after being raised in Oregon by white parents who adopted her from Korean parents, has to be one of this year’s finest books, let alone memoirs. Editor in chief of Catapult and former editor of the Toast, Chung has literary chops to spare and they’re on full display in descriptions of her need, pain and bravery.”

There’s not really much I can add to what so many others have already said.

Still, as an adoptive parent (and we ap’s are really good at holding the mic in the adoption community), I will offer this: It’s a beautifully crafted memoir, a carefully balanced story of an adoptee’s efforts to find her way in the world, and especially to find her truth. Nicole’s reflections on her pregnancies, her birth mother, her adoptive mother, her daughters, and her sisters are candid and heartfelt. There are questions and loose ends and tangles and more questions. She’s a Korean adoptee not born in Korea. She loves her white adoptive parents and has struggled with racism and privilege. Perhaps the best part of her search and reunion journey has been the deep bond with the sister she found as an adult.

The memoir reminded me that, as an adoptive parent, as much as we deeply love our children, if we are not adopted ourselves, we cannot fully understand what it means to be adopted. If we are white, we cannot fully understand what it means for our children to be and grow up as people of color. We must acknowledge and not dismiss or minimize those truths. We must listen and learn—and read and talk.

That the book has been wildly successful does not surprise me: Nicole is a highly accomplished writer and editor. (Full disclosure: she was my editor at Catapult for my article “How My Daughter’s Pregnancy Made Me Rethink Adoption.”) The reviews, the tour, and the acclaim are deserved.

Here’s my hope: Nicole’s book (and all the accompanying attention) will open even more doors for adoptees to write and publish their stories, whether they are happy, frightening, shocking, sad, or even mundane. “All You Can Ever Know” will find a solid niche as Asian-American literature as well as adoption literature as well as mother lit and memoir. Some adoptees will embrace Nicole’s story as resonant for them; some will have had a polar opposite experience. We all need to hear the wide and fascinating range of adoptee stories, told not by their adoptive parents, but by the adoptees themselves.

I’d be remiss if I did not say that there will soon be news about the anthology by Ethiopian adoptees from 7 countries,  “Lions Roaring, Far From Home.” I am one of the editors, and while there have been significant, unanticipated delays, we are moving ahead toward publication.

Brava, Nicole! Your book is a gem. I hope you get some rest along the roller coaster of a book tour. I hope John Cho loved the memoir. I hope you continue writing (I know that’s not an issue), and I know that the rest of us will continue enjoying and learning from your stories, your candor, and your generous soul.

With Nicole at her reading at Seattle Public Library, October 4, 2018.

Tell Trevor I said hello.

 

 

 

While “All You Can Ever Know” has received amazing attention and reach, there are many other books written by adoptees as well, and hopefully even more in the future. Be sure to check out AdopteeReading.com for “books written and recommended by adoptees.”

How great if we had a large collection of books by birth mothers and birth fathers as well, from around the world,

When International Adoptees Grow (Way) Up—and Apply For Medicare

For international adoptees now in their 50’s and 60’s, here’s a potentially disastrous concern:

When applying for Medicare, naturalized citizens (such as international adoptees) need to present their naturalization documents and birth certificate to the Social Security Adminstration.

Why could this be a problem? Some international adoptees nearing Medicare age (65) do not have U.S. birth certificates. They may not have needed them as kids the way that schools and sports teams require them today. Their adoptive parents may not have applied for one for them.

And then, of course, there is the much larger issue for international adoptees whose adoptive parents failed to get them U.S. citizenship.They do not qualify under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which provided citizenship only for adoptees 18 and under at the time of enactment. Some international adoptees could have great difficulty getting enrolled in Medicare when they are in their 60’s and older, and in need of prescriptions, surgery, and other medical care. As U.S. citizens, they are entitled to apply for Medicare like everyone else: if they have the right documents.

My experience around immigration-related issues and the Social Security administration is that different federal offices in different states can have different requirements for paperwork. It’s not unusual for one person to need documents in one state that are not requested in another state, or even within the same state. Very frustrating, and not unusual.

Here is advice from licensed Medicare broker, and Korean adoptee, Kara Min Yung, who alerted me to this issue:

“Please start the process at least 3 months prior to the month you will turn 65. Don’t wait, in case you are required to do anything additional. You must start part A. You can also start part B, but there is a premium. You can opt to delay part B until coverage through an employer ends. Then choose either a supplement plan and a drug plan, or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Don’t wait. There are certain late enrollment penalties you will want to avoid.”

Kara recommends that adoptees nearing 65 make sure they have their U.S. birth certificate and their naturalization/citizenship papers. She has helped naturalized citizens who have had problems getting Medicare, whether adoptees or not. You can contact Kara at Kruh@seattleinsgroup.com.

Korean adoptees first began arriving in the U.S. in the 1950’s. Many are in their 50’s and 60’s (or older) now. They and other international adoptees are applying for Medicare benefits now, and some are encountering unanticipated problems. This will only continue as the adoptee population continues to age.

You can check out the Medicare site for further info.

Adoptees and parents of minor adoptees should check with the Social Security Administration to be sure they are listed as U.S. citizens. Our federal government agencies don’t share databases, so even if you have a passport (U.S. State Department) or a Certificate of Citizenship (U.S. Department of Homeland Security), the SSA may not have you listed as a U.S. citizen.

Additional Resources on Citizenship for All Adoptees: Adoptee Rights Campaign

I am calling on the U.S. Congress, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Social Security Administration to perhaps finally understand the need for U.S. citizenship for all international adoptees. Deportation is a risk. Criminal charges for (unknowingly) voting without citizenship is a risk. Being unable to apply for financial aid is a risk. Being unable to access Medicare if you are applying at 65 is a risk. It’s an outrage.

 

Realities and Remembrances Around Suicide and Adoption

My post today is a retrospective and resource guide of sorts. I am linking to my previously published posts about suicide and adoption, among the hardest topics to write about. Still. I want to honor the memory of Fisseha Sol Samuel, who died by suicide four years ago today.

There are other adoptees I’ve written about as well, who died by suicide: Gabe Proctor, Philip Clay, Kaleab Schmidt. In my own circle of deeply loved friends and family, (some adopted, some not), I know people who have had breakdowns, who have been hospitalized, who are on meds, and who have scars both visible and hidden, There are many others whom I have not written about and never will. I hold all of them in my heart. I hope you do too.

And maybe you have your own list of dear friends or family who have considered, attempted, or died by suicide. Maybe suicide is something you have considered yourself. My heart acknowledges and aches for your sorrow.

Please know that there are resources and help available. Please know that things can get better. Please know that there are people who would grieve your leaving the world, even if you don’t know them, or know them now.

Let me clear: Most adoptees don’t attempt or die by suicide. Suicides happen for complicated reasons, and adoption may or may not be a factor. That said, we need to be aware, and to talk about it. Suicide is, regardless of adoption status, a major public health concern.

It’s a cold, rainy day here today, and we are going through complicated, difficult times in the world. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. You’re not alone. There are no magic wands. There is still, though, purpose and the potential for joy. Always. 

Here are a few links to my previous posts. Click on them if you wish. I offer them with the hope they may be useful. May those who have died be at peace. May those of us still here be at peace as well.

Here are some other statistics and resources:

Suicide is a Leading Cause of Death in the United States

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016:
    • Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people.
    • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
    • There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362).

LGBT Youth at Higher Risk For Suicide Attempts  

Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

Tomorrow (October 10) is World Mental Health Day: Here is information about it from the World Health Organization.

 

Awakening from “Woke”

My daughter Aselefech (an Ethiopian adoptee, almost 30 years old, raised by her white dad and me) asked me why I was doing so much race-related reading and writing and attending of events these days. She knows I was raised and educated with a solid social justice lens. I lived 30+ years in a predominantly black county. I am the mother of 4 black now adult children, plus a black-Latinx granddaughter. I am (relatively) woke.

With all that, at 60, I am realizing how much I don’t know, how much I don’t deeply understand about race (maybe intellectually but not in other ways), how much better I need to unpack my backpack of racist thought, and how much more I need to do besides having a “Black Lives Matter” sign on my front lawn.

I’m reading (fiction: The Hate U Give  by Angie Thomas (my granddaughter’s black teacher gave the book to to my granddaughter, who’s going into 6th grade); non-fiction: So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo). I’m attending workshops (A couple weeks ago, Confronting White Womanhood; This week, “Did That Just Happen?! Casual Racism at Work,” and “Breaking Down White Fragility with Robin DiAngelo”). I’m perusing The Root,  Color of ChangeThe African American Literature Book Club, Very Smart Brothas, and more.

And of course, I need to better understand the experiences of Asians, LGBTQI folks, Native  Americans, and other marginalized, oppressed groups. I need to understand intersectionality. And I need to stay focused and not get overwhelmed, thus giving up on any of it. I cannot do it all. That’s okay.

I am talking with friends and family of color, while bearing in mind it’s not their job to educate me.

I am working on understanding clearly what cultural humility, systemic oppression, and allyship are, and being able to express my views with clarity, confidence, and respect.

I am practicing not hopping on too high a horse about how much I am learning—it’s a pony just now. I want to share, I’m enthusiastic, and I recognize I need to step back, whether with white people or people of color.

And of course, I’m doing this while working, writing, doing laundry, gardening, walking the dog, grocery shopping, watching Netflix, and staying on top of my connections with family and friends. I am juggling many items, and dropping no small quantity. I am way behind in many areas. Waaaay behind.

I ask forgiveness of others as well as of myself, and keep moving. Keep reading and discerning. I am recognizing the complications of race, the devastating history of racism, and the entrenched “well-intentioned but with damaging impact” views that I hold. I am beginning to understand the role of anger, the delicate balance of politeness and demand for change, the times when I should offer and not offer to help.

I am doing this for my children, for my grandchild, and for their grandchildren. I am doing this for me. I am doing this because I’m a nice white lady who holds power. I’m doing this because I finally realize I am overdue in doing this. I need to talk the talk, walk the walk, stay in my lane, and extend myself beyond my comfort.

It’s time.

I’ll close with this excerpt from “Do You Think You’re ‘Woke’? It’s Not a Compliment” by John Vercher.

“Woke” is tired.

It’s tired because it’s so very tiring.

Chances are, though, I don’t mean “woke” the way you think I do. It means something far different for people of color than it does for well-meaning white people who use the term to describe themselves.

It means that we can’t afford not to think that this brutal extinguishing of life was racially motivated, at the peril of our lives. We must, quite literally, be awake to the very possibility that it could happen to us at any moment. To be woke is to take the word at its original definition. To enter every situation, no matter how mundane, with eyes wide open.

And to know that that still might not be enough to stay safe.

…Woke isn’t self-celebratory. To see it as such makes it the new “open-minded.” It makes its opposite the default, makes closed-mindedness and racism the norm.

To be truly woke today is, without hyperbole, physically and emotionally exhausting.

Today, when the police are called on black men and women for cookouts in public places, “excessive fouls” during pickup basketball games at the gym and using the wrong coupon at a drug store.

Imagine, just in the space of reading this, what it would be like to second-guess your every action when you leave your home.

To not listen to that new podcast, that audiobook, that new single while riding the bus because having your headphones in might decrease your awareness of your environment.

To keep your driver’s license and registration visible and accessible at all times so that it never appears that you’re reaching for anything.

To wonder if a look towards someone will be interpreted the wrong way. If you should say hello or keep your eyes forward.

To question whether or not you should wait for a train.

It might seem impossible to you. Sometimes it feels like it is.

If you’re someone who considers yourself an ally, if you’ve ever referred to yourself as woke, and while reading this you felt discomfort for even a moment, then use that feeling to redefine the term as it applies to you.

It’s not about the television shows you tell people you watch, the books you tell people you read or the causes you tell people you support.

It’s about what you do when no one is watching. Speaking up when you witness injustice, from racial jokes to verbal attacks to physical intimidation. Be aware of the devastating impact of those acts, both physically and mentally, to marginalized communities so that you can take action without thought or need for gratitude or celebration.

Because you’ll have that gratitude, and you’ll be celebrated by the people to whom it matters most, even if we don’t have the opportunity to tell you directly.

Being woke, being open-minded, isn’t a compliment. It doesn’t make you exceptional. It makes you human.

Reporters: How Not To Write A Story About an International Adoption Tragedy

Today’s example (and it’s an excellent one) is from NBC affiliate WHO-TV in Iowa. Here’s the headline:

Recent Child Abuse and Neglect Allegations Hurting International Adoption

It’s a horrific story about allegations against a couple who a few years ago adopted two children, one 8 and one 9 years old now, from Ghana. Court documents reveal the children were sleeping on plastic mats, using buckets in their rooms as toilets, and were forced to stay in their room otherwise an alarm would sound and they would be punished. Somehow they got out and begged a neighbor for help, and were then removed from the home. There are apparently five biological children as well. neighbors saw the bio kids playing outside, and one neighbor wasn’t even aware that the parents had adopted children from Ghana. The children were homeschooled.

That headline, and the article, focuses not on the abused, endangered, traumatized children, but on the damage the allegations cause to international adoption.

That’s the first way this report went awry: a bizarre, heartlessly skewed headline.

But headlines are written to draw readers in, and this one fits the traditional narrative of leaving out any even vaguely nuanced sense of balance in adoption.

So let’s move on to the article itself. Who is interviewed? Why, an adoptive parent of three children from Ghana. He is a white man who does missionary work in Africa, according to the article. A quick look at Sullivan’s Acts 2 Collective shows he works primarily in Ghana and Chad. Africa is a continent, not a country: why do reporters so often fail to note specific countries?

Is an actual Ghanaian interviewed? No. Is an actual adult adoptee interviewed? No. Is an actual Ghanaian adoptee interviewed? No. Is an actual expert in transracial adoption interviewed? No. This is another significant way the article failed badly.

Jake Sullivan, the missionary parent who is the only person cited in the article, did not have any involvement in the abusive family’s adoption, and his group does not handle adoptions. He is correct in saying the international adoption process is long and complicated.

He goes on to say, and this where your eyebrows and hackles should be raised, that “Kids in Africa have a lot more freedom to move about, then you get into the United States and we have a lot of rules, restrictions. Our parenting style is much different than the African parenting style, so then you get those conflicts because you don’t understand the culture.”

Ah. So, sad as it is, the kids came from Africa, couldn’t adjust to the “parenting styles” here, and wound up being locked in grotesque, inhumane conditions.

This can be boiled down to an example of blaming the victims, a subjective view that should not be in a news article. The impression left with readers is this: The American adoptive parents imposed rules and restrictions on the African kids, and the kids apparently just weren’t able to adjust. Tsk tsk.

NO. Far more likely is that the adoptive parents were not well prepared to parent older children of color from another country. The children had experienced trauma before, during, or after being adopted (perhaps all three): such is the nature of adoption. The adoptive parents had five other children who no doubt took up their time, and the adopted children likely took a lot of time and attention as they adjusted to a startling new life in Iowa.

For a sense of perspective on demographics: Osceola, Iowa, has under 5000 residents, of whom 0.6% are black. So, pretty much no racial mentors or role models for these little kids, though that may well prove to be the least of their worries, given the disgusting and horrifying conditions they lived in with their new “family.”

All that said, the focus in the article is on how these allegations are “hurting international adoption.”

International adoptions have declined significantly, but there are many reasons: reports of abuse anddeaths, fraud, corruption, increased in-country adoptions, changing policies within countries of origin (China’s one child policy, for example), and sending countries’ overall concerns for the fate of their children sent abroad, and more. Do allegations of abuse (and actual convictions thereof) have an impact in sending countries? Sure.

Sullivan “does not condone the allegations against the abusive adoptive family.” He says “it’s something others looking to adopt can learn from.” The focus is, as is all too often the case in articles like this, on adoptive parents—not on the children, the victims.

Those little kids from Ghana have been through a lot: trauma, abuse, neglect. They will now likely be re-adopted by a new family, another huge transition. They will, hopefully, have therapy and other resources available to them for the damage that has been done, and one can hope they are resilient.

I don’t know what adoption agency the family used, what social workers did the home study, or who did follow up for post-adoption services.

It’s long overdue for reporters to look at adoption with more information and perspective. There are plenty of adult adoptees, transracially adopted adults, and adoptee-therapists who can provide insightful, helpful responses to tragedies like this one.

Here’s a better possible headline:

Internationally Adopted Children Hurt By Abuse and Neglect of Adoptive Parents

Then the article would have interviews with experts such as Ghanaian adoptees and adoptee therapists. The adoption agency would be identified.

May these children, and all children, be safe and loved.

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking of Hana Williams, Seven Years After Her Death

Had she not been murdered by her adoptive parents seven year ago today, Hana Williams would now be 20 years old. We will never know what might have been, what kind of light she may have shone in the world. We have not forgotten you, Hana. You are firmly in our hearts.

Hana Alemu (Williams), in Ethiopia

Since the anniversary of her death last year, adoptions have closed in Ethiopia, in no small part because of the reaction there to the abuse and murder of Hana in 2011, as well as the abuse of her adopted brother Immanuel. There have been other reasons given for the ban, among them the failure of adoptive parents to send in post-placement reports, failure of adoptive families to maintain the children’s Ethiopian culture, fraud and corruption, policies to promote in-country adoption, and more. I think, though, we’d be hard pressed to think that Hana’s death was not a major reason.

That she died as a result of her adoptive parents’ treatment is horrifying enough, but when those of us who attended the 8 weeks’ long trial in 2013 heard about the abuse she endured during the three years she lived in America—well, it’s almost unbelievable. Suffice to say she weighed less at the time she died (78 pounds) than she had when she arrived from Ethiopia in 2008.

Her adoptive parents will remain in jail for many more years. I often wonder how the seven Williams’ siblings are doing. The judge, at the sentencing, said it was largely their testimony that convinced the jury of the heinousness of the crimes.The Williams’ siblings witnessed the abuse of Immanuel and Hana, and then Hana’s death from hypothermia in the family’s backyard. I continue to hope they have found healing.

I don’t have any update on Immanuel. He may have been adopted by another family who could provide resources to heal the trauma, who could help him navigate well as a deaf person, and who could deal with his PTSD.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in the United States. Hana died three days after Mother’s Day in 2011. I’ve often wondered what her Ethiopian mother would have thought of this tragedy, and I grieve for all of Hana’s Ethiopian family.

If you are so inclined, do something for the vulnerable children of Ethiopia, or vulnerable children anywhere. May Hana’s memory bring some good to the world. May she rest in peace.

The Heartache of Another Adoptee Suicide: Rest in Peace, Kaleab Schmidt

On April 30, just three days ago, Kaleab Schmidt ended his life. He was 13. He was an Ethiopian adoptee. May he rest in peace and in power. May his family, his adoptive parents and his sisters, also adopted from Ethiopia, find healing and consolation.

Before I go on, I need to say that most adoptees do well. I do not want to pathologize adoptees in any way. I share this news with, I hope, respect for the family, for Kaleab, and for all those who struggle. We have to be able to acknowledge suicide, even as we long to prevent it.

Kaleab lived in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, in the city of Regina. According to his obituary, he loved his family, played lots of sports, was on the honor roll at school, was great with pets. He looks, from his photo, like a beautiful young man who should have had a long and wonderful life.

My understanding from folks who know is that there may have been bullying involved. It was probably bullying based on race.

My heart aches so.

What can we in the adoption community do?

We can contribute to the GoFundMe for the funeral and other expenses.

We can offer prayers for the family, if that’s our faith tradition.

We can learn about suicide prevention; that’s a U.S. based resource. A Canada-based resource for suicide prevention is here. We can learn about suicide and adoption.

We can acknowledge the reality and extent of bullying.

We can learn about and believe the realities of race-based bullying.

We can acknowledge the need for racial mirrors and mentors for adoptees.

We can hold our children close, and try to give them both room to talk as well as tools for dealing with their struggles.

We white adoptive parents can recognize and endorse the importance of race and the reality of systemic racism in our global society. We can support other families and adoptees, offering help and resources.

This is the third time I’ve written about an Ethiopian adoptee who died by suicide. Each was deeply loved by their families. Each left behind parents and siblings and others who had to recover from the loss. I am so terribly sorry for each young person and their families.

Again, I acknowledge that there are thousands of adoptees who do not die by suicide. There may well be some additional risk for adoptees nonetheless, and we would be naïve not to consider that. More research is needed.

I’m so damn sad.

May Kaleab be remembered for his life. May his family, in Ethiopia and Canada, find peace.

The Problem of Post-Placement Reports and Ethiopian Adoptions

The Ethiopian Parliament ended international adoptions in January. However, according to a Facebook posting by an adoptive family, some adoptive parents and Ethiopian officials apparently want to “prove to Ethiopia’s parliament that adoptive families in the US are a great resource for the orphan crisis in Ethiopia.”

(Spoiler alert: This perspective completely excludes the experiences of adult adoptees and of Ethiopian birth parents. Without their voices, this whole undertaking will fail.)

A recent meeting took place in Washington, DC, at the Ethiopian Embassy, with four adoptive families, an official from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, and embassy officials. The main takeaway of the meeting: to create a flood of post-placement reports from adoptive families, because, they said, Ethiopian “adoptions are closed because families vow in court to do post-adoption follow-up reports on the health and well-being of the children before getting custody, but the majority don’t turn in reports. So the measure of adoption success is not measurable.” To prove that adoptions are successful, “they need a flood of post-adoption reports from families!”

The failure of families to submit post-placement reports was perhaps one reason for Ethiopia to end adoptions, but it’s hardly the only one. Other reasons include the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams and attendant outcry, the failure of adoptive families to preserve and honor their child’s Ethiopian heritage, the ongoing concern about fraud and corruption, various reports about Ethiopian adoptees being “re-homed,” and, one would hope, a sincere desire to strengthen the child welfare system in Ethiopia to protect the rights and meet the needs of vulnerable children.

So what’s the deal with post-placement reports? Why don’t families send them in?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Many American adoptive families have no confidence that the reports are read, filed, and stored safely in Ethiopia.
  • Some adoption agencies told adoptive and birth families that the Ethiopian birth families would be able to access the reports to know how their children are doing. That simply hasn’t happened.
  • Some families have learned that the story they were told about why their child needed to be adopted was not true. The children aren’t orphans. There was coercion and fraud. The Ethiopian family thought the children were going to the US for education and would return to their Ethiopian family. Given the lies, families stopped sending reports.
  • Adoption agencies closed or were shut down, and left no information about how to follow-up with the reports.
  • Some families just got busy. Since there is no enforcement mechanism, there’s no way to mandate the reports.
  • Increasing numbers of families are in contact with their children’s Ethiopian family, and therefore feel no need to send the reports to the government.

In any case, there’s now a campaign of sorts to get adoptive families to flood the government with post-placement reports. The reports, according to an adoptive family who attend the Embassy meeting, “should include 6-8 photos and a summary of the child’s well-being—physical health, emotional health, education/activities, relationships within family, family summary (jobs, church, people, etc.) and any incorporation of Ethiopian heritage (this goes a LONG way!)”

(Spoiler alert: Way too many US families don’t live anywhere near Ethiopian people, or black people, or other-than-white-people. Incorporation of Ethiopian heritage should be a core value for adoptive parents, one that means more than art on the walls and a summer heritage camp once in a while.)

I understand the value of the post-placement reports: to reassure a sending country that their children are alive and well. I doubt that the reports will make any inroads to the Parliament officials who banned adoptions in Ethiopia, and they won’t do much to help current vulnerable children.

What, besides post-placement reports, can begin to heal the damage done by fraud, corruption, bribery, and trauma to children through the adoption process? How can the good outcomes be noted and discussed? What can possibly be done to effectively help vulnerable children in Ethiopia, now that adoptions are ended?

I suggest that adoptive parents sending in a post-placement report include the following  points along with their photos and updates:

  • We would like to have clarification about the reports we send: Are they translated into Amharic? Are they stored and filed safely? If my child’s Ethiopian birth family wants to see the reports, how does that work?
  • We would like to know what services and resources are offered to Ethiopian mothers and fathers after they have placed a child for adoption. We have many resources for adoptive parents and families here in the US. What is available for birth families in Ethiopia?
  • We would like to understand why adult adoptees are not actively invited to participate in these meetings and forums on Ethiopian adoption. Are we wrong that the outreach seems to be almost exclusively directed to adoptive parents with young children?
  • How can we adoptive parents better promote family preservation and in-country adoption in Ethiopia? Here’s what we are doing about that now: (Families can then describe how they are promoting both preservation and in-country adoption.)
  • We heartily endorse and encourage adoptive families and all interested parties to support the work of Beteseb Felega / Ethiopian Adoption Connection. They are doing work that is vital to the Ethiopian adoption community.

Whether you send a post-placement report or not, you can still send these talking points to the contact person: mulugeta@ethiopianembassy.org.

Bottom line: More post-placement reports from adoptive parents of young children are not the solution. Critical engagement and involvement of adoptees and birth families are long overdue. I do not understand why their inclusion has been such an afterthought and oversight.

There are concrete steps:

  • The Ethiopian government can confer with organizations such as Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Many Ethiopian adoptees around the globe are already actively helping vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, whether their own families or via nonprofits or businesses, and many more would welcome the opportunity to do so.
  • The government can invite adult adoptees to return to Ethiopia and help them with getting to know their country of origin.
  • The government and adoption agencies can provide follow-up services for Ethiopian mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings who have been impacted by adoption.
  • The government and adoption agencies can insist on post-placement reports from Ethiopian birth families. I’d like to hear from agencies about why this isn’t done currently, in terms of best practice for all those affected by international adoption.

These steps could help achieve several important goals: to increase family preservation, to promote in-country adoption, and to bring light and transparency to Ethiopian adoption history. Until we stop excluding adult Ethiopian adoptees and Ethiopian birth parents, there will be no substantive change.

Why Are Adult Adoptees So Often Afterthoughts In Adoption?

It’s a pattern of sorts. An issue arises around adoption, domestic or international. Adoptive parents, most often white and well-off, are featured prominently, if not exclusively, in media. Most have very young children. No one apparently thinks that maybe adult adoptees should be included in the conversation.

A recent Twitter dustup reflected this reality. Elizabeth Archer, a British mother of two young children (one by birth and one by adoption), tweeted that she was putting together a series of books, called Attitudes to Adoption, for prospective adopters.  She asked for contributions from grandparents, mothers, fathers, birth families, professionals, and foster parents. “All have an adoption story to tell,” she wrote.

Except, apparently, adoptees.

When Archer was called out for the exclusion of adoptees, she tweeted, “At present I don’t feel I have the resources to do a book about adoptees but if you know of enough people who are willing to contribute then I will take this back to my publisher!” Here’s the problem: she’s not a grandparent, a birth parent (who placed a child for adoption), or a professional either, but she had the resources for those categories.

She got pushback from several adoptees, and I (an adoptive parent) chimed in as well. Archer responded to the comments, saying “I’m just an ordinary mum trying to write some books. I’m raising my own little adoptee so I would never be against sharing their views.”

Adoptees tweeted to her. @housewifeabroad wrote, “To write books about adoption with no input from adoptees will set these further families up to be blindsided by feelings and behaviors which are completely predictable.”

@SheWolfofEng wrote, “Isn’t the most important voice in adoption the voice of the adoptee?”

@neithskye wrote, “This wasn’t an ‘oversight’ at all. This was deliberate silencing. They might not like what we have to say. *How* do you discuss adoption and ‘forget’ about adoptees?”

@SunnyJWriter wrote, “It might be best if you considered the voices of #adoptees. For many years, we’ve been overshadowed by perspectives such as the one you’ve shared. You have an opportunity to help an enormously misunderstood and marginalized population, instead of ones already covered.”

Several adoptees were reported and blocked on Twitter by Archer and others.

After the Twitter pushback, Archer posted on her Facebook page, “I never realized until now what cyberbullying could feel like,” with a sad face emoji. “Guess I underestimated the hate that is out there aimed at adopters from adult adoptees. Feeling a bit vulnerable.”

She was consoled by many, who offered big hugs and condolences. “It’s so easy for cowards to sit at a keyboard and spout utter rubbish to make themselves feel better. Rise above it…you have a life & clearly they don’t.” Archer notes that she “blocked and reported the most venomous ones.” Another supporter wrote, “They’re from a different generation—much has changed since then, not least of all the type of children needing families.” Archer wrote, “I really do feel for the adoptees. Their adoption journey must have been one of great sadness & heartache to live them feeling so full of hate.”

As it turn out, Archer now has an “Adoptees” book in the mix of the “Attitudes to Adoption” series. The missing resources she had tweeted about earlier in the day were found.

Yesterday on her Facebook page, Archer wrote that she is “currently taking a break from Twitter after being targeted by a group of (mainly American) Adoptee Activists.”

I am not sure why citizenship mattered, but there we are.

Archer earlier deleted several comments by adoptees on her Facebook page, though to her credit, she left a post by Holly Lysne, an adoptee who is also an adoptive and biological mother, directing Archer to the podcast Adoptees On, which is a wonderful (based in Canada) resource for adoptees to share their experiences, and for adoptive parents to listen and learn. I recommended Dear Adoption, which is also a tremendous resource. Catherine Johnston, an adoptee and adoptive parent, recommended The Lost Daughters, also a brilliant resource, but Catherine’s comment was deleted from Archer’s page.

Other vibrant adoptee-centric sites would be The Declassified Adoptee, The Adopted Life, I am AdoptedI Am Adoptee, Adoptee Restoration, The Rambler Adoptee Podcasts, Adoptees Connect, and Adoptee Reading. These are U.S.-based, I realize, but, Internet. Out of the Fog is based in Canada.  Intercountry Adoptee Voices is based in Australia, and includes a long list of global adoptee led groups, including in the UK. The writings and talks by Lemn Sissay come to mind, of course, for a British adoptee.

My list is by no means exhaustive. Please feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. I am not trying to omit anyone—just want to get this post out there.

So here’s the point. There is no shortage of information, perspectives, insights, and resources by adult adoptees, but all too often, adoptive parents and media ignore them, or don’t know about them (!), when discussing adoption. That has to stop.

A few final thoughts:

How is it that adoptive mothers of young children are considered experts on adoption? Nope, sorry. You need to have a couple of decades of parenting under your belt to truly understand what it means to be an adoptive parent.

We adoptive parents must stop clutching our pearls when we hear about negative, difficult perspectives on adoption as spoken by adoptees. Dismissing them as cowards or venomous doesn’t make their experiences any less valid; it slams the doors on some really important conversations.

Many adoptees had great childhoods, deeply love their adoptive parents, their parents love them, and still the adoptees struggle with the losses in adoption, which can manifest in many ways over a lifetime. Other adoptees had horrific experiences. All these voices have been marginalized for much too long around the globe.

Thick skin is needed for anyone speaking out or writing in Adoption Land. If Ms. Archer felt she was a victim of cyber bullying and needed to block adoptees (plus get consolation and hugs), she ain’t seen nothing yet.

Adoption and raising adopted children takes a commitment to deep listening and learning,  especially to those who have been adopted.

 

(Need more examples? You can find my posts about the exclusion of adoptees by NPR here and here. My post about a White House international adoption petition that had little inclusion of adult adoptees is here.)

Think Twice Before Signing That Petition About International Adoptions

Why wouldn’t everyone sign a petition to increase international adoptions? Don’t we all want orphans to have families?

Well, there are many reasons not to sign.

One is because many of the children in orphanages (and placed for adoption) are not in fact orphans at all.

Another is that there are multiple ways besides international adoption to help vulnerable children, many of which are far more cost efficient and could help many more children.

Another reason is that essentially emotional petitions like this ignore the horrific treatment of too many first parents, who were often misled about the realities of having all rights severed, and in any case receive no post-adoption counseling or resources whatsoever from the adoption agencies who support the petition.

I’m going to argue, though, that the main reason not sign this petition is this.

You shouldn’t sign the petition because of who is behind it: adoption agencies and adoption lawyers. I am not attacking them. It is, after all, in their interest to increase international adoptions, and some indeed have a genuine desire to help children.

My focus is on the fact that there are virtually no international adoptee groups who support this petition. There are no international birth parents.

That’s right: No adult adoptee groups have endorsed the petition, with the exception of a small, inactive group that is affiliated with the adoption agency previously headed by the main person behind the petition.

I understand the obvious difficulties in logistics of having birth/first parents participate. It’s not impossible, though. As it is, international birth parents are not even mentioned in this ostensible effort to promote international adoptions. That is very telling, and may be the biggest reason not to sign the petition.

Until there is vocal, vibrant support from international adult adoptees and from birth parents, why should any of us support a petition to increase international adoptions? This petition is merely the product of adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys, and that is not acceptable.

If you need additional reasons not to sign, here are a few more.

The petition fails to even mention one of the most burning issues in international adoption today: the need for retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. Imagine if all these website owners, adoption agencies, and adoptive parents put their money, time, and energy into demanding that all international adoptees be granted citizenship. Imagine.

The petition fails to mention another burning issue in the adoption community: the re-homing of internationally adopted children, whether done illicitly, or through Second Chance adoptions, or via the US foster care system. How can adoption agencies and adoption attorneys call for more adoptions when there are children whose adoptions are being dissolved and who are being re-traumatized by losing another family?

The petition also fails to mention the ongoing incidents of fraud and corruption in international adoption. Agencies have been investigated, indicted, shut down. Adoptees have found that they were not orphans, contrary to what the adoption agencies told the adoptive parents. How has the industry addressed these realities, even as they are calling for more adoptions?

The petition itself was created by Nathan Gwilliam, the founder and CEO of adoption.com, and Board member of the National Council For Adoption. You’ll see the initials “N.G.” on the petition site. Though not personally connected to adoption, he has used his site to heavily promote the petition, as well as appearing on conservative venues such as the Lars Larson show. Gwilliam also appeared recently on the Glenn Beck show with Ron Stoddart, who is touting the petition heavily on the site Save Adoptions.

The petition is the result of the simmering disputes between the State Department and international adoption agencies. The simplified bottom line is this: The State Department wanted more rigorous standards for adoption service providers. The erstwhile accrediting entity, the Council on Accreditation (COA), felt that the standards were too burdensome/unnecessary, and announced it was withdrawing from accrediting under the Hague Convention. The State Department designated a new entity, IAMME, which will charge more and have 20 paid staff (COA had 4 staff people, and used volunteers from adoption agencies to facilitate the accreditation of other agencies). Adoption agencies and State have been at loggerheads for months over the standards and the fees. Agencies argue that State is trying to end international adoptions, and State argues that more stringent standards are necessary and that the fees will not be as burdensome as the agencies suggest.

Here’s the petition’s mission statement:

We the People, recognizing a child’s right to a family when one is not available in his/her birth country and the loving character of American families, ask President Trump to investigate the causes of the 80% decline in intercountry adoptions since 2004 and to solve the U.S. international adoption crisis. The leadership of the Office of Children’s Issues (at the US Department of State) has been unresponsive to collaborating with the adoption community to solve problems and continues to reinterpret regulations in ways unintended by Congress in the Hague Intercountry Adoption Act. We need pro-adoption leadership who will increase the number of ethical adoptions. The adoption community stands ready to work with the Administration to implement various achievable solutions to help orphans find loving, permanent families.

Ron Stoddart is listed on Save Adoptions as the Contact for the petition. Stoddart is an adoptive parent, is an attorney, and was the executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, an adoption agency licensed in several states. The agency is Hague-accredited, and offers domestic adoption services as well as international adoption programs in 18 countries. They also offer Snowflakes, their frozen embryo adoption/donation service. Stoddart is currently on Nightlight’s Board of Directors.

Ron Stoddart of Save Adoptions

Among the Partners listed on Save Adoptions web page are some 80 adoption agencies and attorneys. The lone adoptee group is Adopted For Good—The Coalition of Adoptees. It is clearly closely affiliated with Stoddart’s agency, Nightlight Adoptions. Stoddart is on the group’s Board of Directors, along with the VP of Operations for Nightlight. The group itself appears inactive. The last post on its Forum was in 2015. That’s it for international adoptees as “Partners.” I found no indication that there are any international birth parents as partners for Save Adoption.

Also, at least three adoption agencies listed as Partners are no longer accredited for international adoption: Amazing Grace Adoptions, Faith International, and Adoption S.T.A.R. The State Department announcements on these and four other agencies whose accreditation has expired is available here and here.

International adoptions have declined, not just in the U.S. but around the globe, for many reasons. Several sending countries (for example, Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia) have closed or cut back on the number of children sent abroad for adoption. Fraud and corruption have grabbed headlines. Sending countries have expressed grave concern that the U.S. does not grant citizenship automatically to all international adoptees, and indeed has deported some. Some countries are working to promote in-country adoption. Evangelical Christians who once heavily promoted adoption are now revamping their approach toward orphan prevention. The abuse and deaths of internationally adopted children have made sending countries deeply troubled about the well-being of their children. The failure of adoptive parents to send in post-placement reports has caused sending countries to slow or end adoptions.

None of that is mentioned in the rationale for the petition.

Instead, the petition declares that the cause is the Office of Children’s Issues, a narrow focus indeed. This fight between State and adoption agencies may not be settled for a long time. IAMME needs time to do its accreditation work, even as more adoption agencies seem to be opting out of accreditation and adoption every week. The State Department is throwing down more gauntlets around adoption practices such as soft referrals, and agencies are pushing back. State, IAMME, and adoption agencies are scrapping over the new fees that IAMME is implementing. Regulations for monitoring and oversight are especially contentious, which is no surprise, given the vagaries and history of intercountry adoptions. One of the hardest and most important responsibilities of adoption agencies is ensuring that they are closely monitoring their staff on the ground in the countries from which they are placing children.

To wrap up: (1) We all want to help vulnerable children, and we all agree that children deserve safe, loving families. Adoption is not the right solution for all children by any means. The far greater emphasis should be on family preservation, sponsorship programs, literacy, clean water, electricity, job training, medications, and all the other benefits of life in the countries to which children are adopted because they and their families don’t have those benefits in their home countries.

(2) This current debate has the echoes of CHIFF, 2015 legislation ostensibly designed to streamline the adoption process. The CHIFF proponents are almost all the same folks now clamoring for this petition. CHIFF failed miserably for many reasons:  Adoptees and birth parents were not included in policy discussions or as supporters. CHIFF proponents hammered away at the State Department through personal and emotional attacks, ultimately alienating many people who could have been partners. Apparently, the petition folks did not draw any lessons from the CHIFF debacle.

(3) Don’t sign the petition. Until the adoption community genuinely places adoptees and first/birth parents on the same plane as adoptive parents in terms of resources, respect, and visibility, and until the adoption industry addresses issues such as citizenship, re-homing, fraud, and corruption, we cannot move ahead to meaningful policy in international adoption.

The petition, by the way, is aiming for 100,000 signatures; they have about 30,000 now, with one more week to get the remaining 70,000.

 

Post script: For more information about the current tensions between the Department of State and adoption agencies, please take a look at adoptionintegrity.com for several detailed explanations about these and other issues. They have several solid analyses about accrediting entities and an informative, balanced video about the tensions.