Is Randall Pearson A Grateful Adoptee? Is That A Good Thing?

When my kids were little, I used to hear fairly often how saintly and noble and exceptional I was for having adopted. I don’t know if it was because of the choice to adopt, or because the adoptions were transracial, or because my daughters were six years old when they arrived from Ethiopia: clearly, different folks were motivated by different reasons. Their dad and I got comments like “How lucky these children are!” and “I could never do that!” I guess “that” was adopting, or white people adopting black children, or adopting older children—I don’t know. We would accept, demur, and deflect the ostensible compliments.

It took me a while to understand the impact of the remarks about the luck of the kids and the saintliness of us parents. I felt fortunate—I wanted kids, and these four are blessings—don’t most parents feel that way? But in adoption, there’s always an undercurrent of rescue, which is a step away from saving, and from saviorism, a word often preceded by “white.”

The object of a rescue is often understandably grateful. People who are saved from some dire outcome are grateful.

Ergo—adoptees are supposed to be grateful.

And that is a complicated, contentious, disturbing, problematic statement, one which is often discussed in many an adoption circle.

We can all be grateful to our parents, especially if they have been kind and good to us.

But should adoptees be grateful they were adopted? Were they truly saved from a dire outcome?

Do they owe us, their adoptive parents, a special note of gratitude for having “chosen” them, and raised them?

Is adoption a kindness, one that our adopted children should thank us for?

“This Is Us,” a series on NBC, resonates with many in the adoption community, especially transracial adoptees and their adoptive parents. (Spoiler alert) When Randall became the replacement child for the triplet who died, the Pearson family had no idea what awaited any of them. A kind doctor arranged for the white parents to take the abandoned black baby home from the hospital with them in 1980. Now, in 2016, Randall is 36.

The final episode of this season’s “This Is Us,” a show which I have been enamored with, takes place on Christmas Eve. There is a flashback scene where, coincidentally (this is a show that thrives on coincidences), the doctor who delivered Randall’s siblings (and gave Randall to the family) is in the hospital at the same time that Kate (Randall’s sister) is undergoing an appendectomy. The kids are all around 10 years old.

The Pearson parents, Jack and Rebecca, tell the kids that Dr. K was responsible for their family, and now, since Dr. K’s family can’t get to the hospital, “tonight we’re gonna be his” family.

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Randall meanders into the gift shop, and buys a snow globe for Dr. K. In presenting the globe to the doctor, Randall says, “My dad said you’re the reason they adopted me. So thank you.”

I know firsthand there were some adopted adults whose eyebrows went up and hearts sank at that line.

 

Dr. K is kind and complimentary about the snow globe, and about his role in the adoption. “Only thing I did that day was nudge a man in a direction he already wanted to go.”

A sentiment that unwittingly speaks to the lack of agency by the adoptee, omits the role of the mom, and is silent on what direction Randall’s birth parents may have wanted to go in.

Dr. K goes on to say to Randall, “If at some point in your life, you find a way to show somebody else the same kindness that your parents showed you, well, that’s all the present I need.”

Adoption as kindness: there’s a much bigger picture, and I recognize that many folks don’t want to hear it, think I’m being negative, and wish I would lighten up.

I love my children beyond words, and I know that my joy has come at a price, for them and for their first families. They love us, their adoptive parents, deeply. Each has experienced and dealt with loss and trauma differently. Their view of gratitude around adoption is multi-layered, and theirs to express.

I don’t think my children should be grateful to be adopted. Maybe they should be appreciative and thankful for sacrifices their dad and I have made for them, but that’s what parents are supposed to do. We hope they will do their best for their children.

But adoption is based in loss. It’s supposed to take children from a bad situation into a “better” one, and sometimes that happens. Adoption should certainly be an option for abused and neglected children, when parents can’t or won’t take care of their children and keep them safe. Adoption shouldn’t be a permanent solution to a temporary situation, when, with a little help, parents could raise their children. Adoption can be positive and powerful, when done with transparency and integrity.

As an adoptive parent, I am often stunned at how rarely the losses (or existence) of birth parents are mentioned, as well as the grief that adopted children/adults may experience as a result of having been adopted.

To its credit, “This Is Us” has a strong birthfather story line. On his 36th birthday, Randall found his birthfather William, and it turns out that William had desperately wanted to know his son. Rebecca, Randall’s adoptive mother, closed that door for 36 years. (Randall is now in danger of going from a grateful adoptee to another stereotype, an angry adoptee. The writers of “This Is Us” have a lot on their plate.)

I both understand and despise Rebecca’s choice in cutting William off. As a white, middle class, non-drug addicted parent, she held the power. (Indeed, we white, well-educated, non-addicted parents have traditionally held the power in adoption, and have often been considered saviors and rescuers of our children, especially of brown and black children, and of orphans. What a burden that places on our children.) She exercised her power, and it was not a kind decision. I hope the show continues to unpack the nuance and heartache of what seemed “best” to her.

I hope also that those who were a bit teary at that scene of Randall expressing thanks with the snow globe realize that tears fall for many reasons in adoption, and not necessarily for gratitude or kindness.

 

Here are some adoptees’ perspectives on the complexity of gratitude in adoption:

 http://the-toast.net/2015/11/19/adoption-and-toxic-gratitude/

http://www.declassifiedadoptee.com/2013/02/who-is-entitled-to-my-gratitude.html

http://www.thelostdaughters.com/2015/04/dear-adoptive-parents-burden-of-adoptee.html

On the Radio: Adoptees as Immigrants, via “Maeve in America”

Maeve Higgins is an Irish TV star and comedian, currently living in New York City. Among her creative projects is a series of podcasts about “funny, beautiful, and sometimes maddening immigration stories, told by the people who’ve lived them.” I recently had the pleasure of being the “context queen” on the Maeve in America episode, “The Amy Show: Seoul Searching.”

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Amy Mihyang Ginther is the focus of the show. She is a Korean adoptee, brought to the US at 3 months old. She has reunited with her birth family and has lived in Korea; you may remember reading her story in the New York Times: “Why A Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to Korea.” Amy and her mother were featured on the cover photograph.

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Amy is now an assistant professor in the Theater Arts Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. On the Maeve in America show, she shares stories about growing up as a transracial adoptee, returning to Korea, and working with students and others to develop effective voices, in performance and in advocacy.

Maeve invited me to be on the show because of my recent Slate article about Adam Crapser, the Korean adoptee deported from the United States a few weeks ago. We also talked about my being a transracial adoptive parent. Other voices on the show include the comedian (and Korean adoptee) Joel Kim Booster, and Maeve’s Jamaican-born foster-sister Aggie, who talks about her experiences in a loving Irish family, and the realities of hair and makeup as the only person of color.

My thanks to Maeve for including me, and especially for bringing light to the issue of adoptees as immigrants. Please go listen, and enjoy the show!

You can follow Maeve on Twitter: @maeveinamerica.

How My Granddaughter Changed My Perspective on Adoption

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2011 Reunion in Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

I am pleased to have an article on Catapult.co today, titled “A New Light: How My Daughter’s Pregnancy Made Me Rethink Adoption.”

I am the parent through adoption to four amazing, wonderful, beloved children, now all in their late 20’s. When my daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was 6, became pregnant at 17, all our lives were changed. I had worked in adoption professionally for several years. I couldn’t imagine, though, even before she was born, my granddaughter being placed for adoption.

 

 

My article includes the story of my daughter’s re-connection with her Ethiopian mother. My granddaughter is her granddaughter as well, always and in all ways that matter.

I have often spoken out about how first/birth parents deserve far more support and resources than they currently receive, and that their voices are among the most marginalized in adoption. I have also spoken out about the need for greater emphasis on family preservation. There surely is a place for ethical, transparent adoptions, and there surely are children who will benefit. That said, we need to do a better job of supporting those mothers and fathers who want to keep their children, and of providing resources and communication for those who do place their children.

My eyes were opened in many ways because of my daughter’s pregnancy and my granddaughter’s birth. A decade later, and we have all met/reunited with my daughters’ Ethiopian family. I have learned so much, about love, privilege, and family, in ways I never could have predicted.

 

Let’s End the Deportation of International Adoptees

I have an article on Slate today: The Heartbreaking Way the U.S. Has Failed Thousands of Children Adopted From Overseas.

I hope you’ll read the Slate article, and then please urge Congress to pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act, S. 2275 in the Senate, and H.R. 5454 in the House of Representatives. It is long overdue.

Children have been arriving in the US for adoption from other countries since the 1940’s. Many folks–adult adoptees, adoptive parents, officials from the sending countries–are stunned to hear that citizenship has been automatic for adoptees only for the last 15 years, and then only for adoptees under 18 years old.

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Because of a 1996 immigration law, adoptees (and others) without U.S. citizenship are subject to deportation if they commit certain crimes, which can range from selling a small amount of marijuana to check forgery to assault and worse. Adam Crapser, adopted from Korea at 3 years old, has been in the news recently because he was deported to Korea about a week ago, at 41 years of age. There have been many others who have been deported (to Brazil, Germany Mexico, Thailand, Japan, and elsewhere) after having grown up in American families and thinking themselves to be Americans. The majority have not committed any crimes. Some are living in the shadows, fearful of what might happen to them.

That has to stop. They all deserve citizenship as the adopted children of U.S. citizens brought legally and transparently to the United States with the permission and oversight of both the sending country and of the U.S. government.

 

 

 

Adam Crapser Has Been Deported to Korea

Adam Crapser, adopted 37 years ago at three years old from South Korea, was deported back to Korea last night. I confirmed this with the Adoptee Rights Campaign and other sources.

This is a tragedy, and flies in the face of what adoption should be: a safe, loving family for a child who genuinely needs one. For international adoptees, it should mean automatic citizenship for every single child who enters the United States to be the son or daughter of U.S. citizens.

Adam Crapser was dealt a tough hand from the start when he was placed with adoptive parents who abused him unspeakably. He committed crimes, he served his time, and he worked to rebuild his life. Not perfect. But he was brought here as a child, as an immigrant, through legal channels, with the oversight and permission of both the Korean and American governments. His adoptive parents did not get him citizenship. And so, having lived in the U.S. for close to 40 years, he has been deported back to a place where he doesn’t speak the language or know the culture, most likely never to return to the United States, where he has a wife and children.

Adam is not the first international adoptee to be deported, and probably not the last. Join me in advocating for the Adoptee Citizenship Act, and contact your U.S. Senator and Representatives today.

We are not giving up. It’s about family, and rights, and integrity.

 

 

As the Music Slowly Fades

In late September, on my birthday, my father was deemed eligible for hospice. He is in the final stages of dementia. Today, I talked with the hospice nurse and the nurse practitioner about changes to Dad’s meds. I also got a call from a nurse at Putnam Farm, the assisted living facility where Dad has lived the last five years. He had fallen again, the second time in five days. They call me anytime there’s been a fall or other significant event.

The folks at Putnam Farm have gotten to know Dad well over the last five years, and I am glad they knew him when he sang robustly at entertainment, worked on crossword puzzles, and chatted about the photos of his grandchildren and great-granddaughter.

The hospice folks will know him as someone dying from a cruel disease, speaking mostly in word salad, angry and snappish at times, confused and bewildered about how, when, or why to brush his teeth.

My children have known him for about 20+ years, as Pa, their grandfather who wrote poems about them, who sent them a few dollars for good report cards, and who loves them unconditionally.

I have known him for almost 60 years, as my dad, devoted to his family and his faith, working as a purchasing manager for 45 years, playing piano and singing so many songs (“Danny Boy” was always on the top of the list). In his retirement, he was a lay chaplain at a correctional facility for years; they named a volunteer award after him. He was a tireless helper to my mother as she died from cancer, giving her medications, helping her with the oxygen tank, washing her hair, praying with her. He would have loved to have been an English teacher, but was pointed toward a business administration degree.

Hospice people are wonderful. They helped my mother in a compassionate way, relieving her pain, retaining her dignity, right up until she died on Christmas Day, 2003. She and Dad had been married for 50 years.

Dad doesn’t really know the hospice people helping him now. Alzheimer’s makes fear a part of daily life, as the loss of memory can make everyone a stranger. The nurses, social worker, and chaplain work to keep Dad comfortable and pain-free; sometimes he understands that, often he doesn’t, and can get scared or angry. The people caring for him notice when he is calm and alert more than when he is sleepy or in pain: being in pain, or being tired, are his more common states of being these days.

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Music therapy is among hospice’s offerings, and that is a blessing. I know he recently enjoyed hearing the music and singing, and tapping on a small drum, as you can see here. Who knows what memories might have been kindled for him?

 

 

The hospice folks probably can’t picture him surrounded by his friends decades ago as he sat at the piano in our living room, playing “Those Were the Days” and “It’s a Sin to Tell A Lie.” They don’t remember him playing the drums along to his Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz albums.

Here’s another photo taken during that hospice-sponsored music therapy: Dad reaching to comfort the person next to him. That’s who Dad was, and is.

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The Beginning of the End of Global International Adoption?

Is there a perfect storm brewing that signals the end of international adoptions?

What would that mean for children who are genuine orphans, who need safe families, who have medical conditions that are untreatable in their home country?

Some facts/omens/bellwethers:

(1) International adoption has been on the wane for about a decade. Priceonomics published an overview asking “Why Did International Adoption Suddenly End?” It hasn’t ended, but it has definitively declined.

According to the Priceonomics article, he US, Canada, several western European countries, and Australia/New Zealand received some 40,000 children for international adoption each year from 2003 to 2007. In 2012, the global total was under 20,000. The decline has been significant around the world.

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(2) This week, an advisory group for the Dutch government said that “The Netherlands should stop allowing people to adopt children from abroad because it is not in the best interests of the child.” New recommendations state that “the interests of the child should always be paramount and these are better served if the child grows up in their own country with their own culture. Instead, more should be done to help the child’s biological parents ensure continuity of care.” Read the article from Dutch News here.

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The Netherlands adopted about 1200 children annually in the early 2000’s. In 2015, the total was 304, of whom 37 were from the United States, according to the US State Department FY 2015 report, Table 3.

Th Netherlands’ consideration of this approach is a big development, and one that bears monitoring closely.

 

(3) International adult adoptees have gone to court to annul their adoptions. Read more here.

(4) US adoption agencies have had their Hague accreditation status permanently suspended. One US agency has been indicted for fraud and conspiracy by the US Department of Justice; the staff people pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

(5) The US State Department has proposed new rules regarding intercountry adoption. Their summary: “The Department of State (the Department) proposes to amend requirements for accreditation of agencies and approval of persons to provide adoption services in intercountry adoption cases. The proposed rule includes a new subpart establishing parameters for U.S. accrediting entities to authorize adoption service providers who have received accreditation or approval to provide adoption services in countries designated by the Secretary, which will be known as “country-specific authorization” (CSA). Adoption service providers will only be permitted to act as primary providers in a CSA-designated country if they have received CSA for that particular country.

The proposed rule also strengthens certain standards for accreditation and approval, including those related to fees and the use of foreign providers. In addition, the proposed rule enhances standards related to preparation of prospective adoptive parents so that they receive more training related to the most common challenges faced by adoptive families, and are better prepared for the needs of the specific child they are adopting. These proposed changes are intended to align the preparation of prospective adoptive parents with the current demographics of children immigrating to the United States through intercountry adoption. Finally, the proposed rule makes the mechanism to submit complaints about adoption service providers available to complainants even if they have not first addressed their complaint directly with the adoption service provider.”

(6) Adoption agencies are pushing back against the proposed new rules. The National Council For Adoption has information here.

International adoption is an enormous, complicated issue. The convergence of children, money, reproductive rights, bureaucracy, international and state laws, money, race, immigration, economic inequity, health care access, and money is overwhelming. There are folks who see adoption as nothing less than trafficking. There are folks who just want to give a child a home. There are adult adoptees who are increasingly vocal on social media and in books, articles, and podcasts about their realities. We rarely hear from first/birth parents about their perspectives, but when we do, it’s often heartbreaking.

So what to do? Even if international adoption continues to decline, there will be children in need. Adoption may be a solution for some of them, but the costs and the controversies are daunting. I’ve made suggestions here: Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action.

And keep an eye on the brewing storm.

 

 

National Adoption Awareness Month Brings New Adoptee Voices

Increasingly, adult adoptee voices are being included in National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM), and this year is no exception. Today is the first day of NAAM, and two new resources have launched today.

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Reshma McClintock, an adoptee from India as well as a writer, producer, and subject of the documentary Calcutta Is My Mother, is the creator of Dear Adoption, a new site dedicated to “giving voice to those most affected by adoption: adoptees.” It debuted today, and has three compelling stories by adoptees, with the promise of many more to come. The site also has resources for adoptees (books, art, websites, films) and a section for adoptive parents. I hope the site gets lots of traction and attention.

 

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Also debuting today is Black Anthology: Adult Adoptees Claim Their Space. “A diverse exploration of the black adoptee journey,” the book is a collection of 16 essays by both domestic and international adoptees. from the US and other countries. Ruth McCoy, Ph.D, says in her review that the “writers’ visions, perspectives, and personal reflections truly provide excellent insight and awareness to all who have been personally touched by adoption.” I know several of the writers in the anthology, and look forward to reading everyone’s essay.

 

 

 

Korean Adoptee Adam Crapser To Be Deported

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The Adoptee Rights Campaign reported today that 40-year-old Adam Crapser, adopted from Korea when he was three years old, will be deported.

In a nutshell, this is why:

  • When Adam was adopted, the U.S. government did not provide automatic citizenship to internationally adopted children. Adam’s adoptive parents never got him U.S. citizenship.
  •  A federal immigration law requires that anyone who commits a felony and is not a U.S. citizen is subject to deportation–including adoptees. Adam committed felonies. He served his time for them.

None of us condones the commission of crimes, but It’s an outrage that the United States is deporting international adoptees, brought to the U.S. legally as children by U.S. citizens for the purpose of becoming the sons and daughters of American parents. Two governments–in this case, South Korea and the United States–sanctioned all the paperwork.

And now, having lived almost his entire life here, Adam , the father of three children, will be deported.

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Think of any parent you know who has a child who, as an adult, has gotten into trouble with the law. Imagine that the son or daughter served the sentence for the crime, would then be punished further by being sent thousands of miles away, to a place where they don’t know the language, the people, anything.  And they can never return to the United States. Imagine this is your spouse, your brother, your sister, your friend.

Our U.S. Congress thinks it’s fine to deport adoptees, those brought to the U.S. before 2000 as children, whose governments approved their new families, and who needed their adoptive parents to get them citizenship.

Thousands of adoptees are affected by not having citizenship. Voting can be a crime for them. They might not qualify for student loans or other federal programs. Some adoptees don’t know that they are not citizens until something horrible happens,

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The Adoptee Rights Campaign has been among the hardest workers to get Congress to pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act, which would provide citizenship to all international adoptees. They’ve visited Congressional offices, organized a postcard campaign, and used social media (#CitizenshipForAllAdoptees) to advocate.

They’ve gotten endorsements from dozens of adoption and community-related organizations. They are doing this work in a bitterly anti-immigrant environment, one that questions and punishes even legal immigrants to the United States.

It’s too late for Adam, for Joao Herbert, who was killed in Brazil after being deported for a first time marijuana crime, and for others who came to the U.S. to be part of a forever family.

If you are an adopted person, an adoptive parent, a parent, a citizen, an immigrant–if you believe that adoption has meaning–please support the work of the Adoptee Rights Campaign and others. Insist that Congress pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act.

 

 

 

 

 

AdopteesOn Podcasts: Listening, Learning, Healing

Sometimes we have stories in us, and don’t realize how much we need to tell them. Or we have the stories bubbling around, but don’t know who to tell, worrying that we might sound foolish, or ungrateful, or angry. AdopteesOn provides a venue for sharing tough truths, and offering resources for healing.

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Haley Radke, of AdopteesOn.com

Haley Radke is an adoptee, a Canadian, a mom to two little boys, and the host of AdopteesOn podcasts, where adult adoptees tell their stories of search, reunion, and secondary rejections.

Haley is in reunion with her birth/first family, and she blogged about it for a while, then stopped. She looked around for other adoptees’ podcasts, and found few. So, she decided to set up AdopteesOn, and is now finishing up Season One.

“I really don’t have to ask my guests many questions,” she said. “Everyone pours out their heart. For so many, they might not have ever told another person their stories. The stories are valuable in themselves. Hearing someone’s voice telling their stories takes it up another notch.”

Consistent themes are a feeling and fear of rejection, as well as a wish to be perfect. Some talk on the show anonymously, because their adoptive parents don’t know how the adoptee truly feels. “These are often people who haven’t had a voice. At the moment of adoption, the adoptee is usually the only one who didn’t have a voice or a choice in what happened to him or her. I wanted to make a space for people without a platform, to give adoptees the voice they deserve.”

The stories focus on search, on reunion, and on rejection and connections after reunion. Landric, for example, found his birth mother when he was 36, and learned he had  younger siblings. He is coming to terms with the years and family lost to him, having been raised as an only child and now being the big brother of four.

Carrie, on the first show, talked about using postcards to track down her birth mother, who then refused any contact. Carrie was able, years later, to reunite with her birth father. For the first time, she could see family resemblances. Her conversation with Haley has a lot of laughter, though it’s the kind that is on the edge of tears as well.

Carrie was Haley’s first guest, Landric was the tenth. Today (October 21) a new interview will air. The guests so far have been primarily American, same race adoptees; there will likely be more diversity in upcoming shows. The podcasts are available free to a worldwide audience, and new ones are posted every other Friday. Haley always includes a variety of resources, including books and blogs related to the subjects discussed in each podcast.

“The healing aspect is a big focus,” said Haley. “My being an adoptee makes a big difference in connecting with my guests. I sometimes feel so much the same way they do.” At the same time, “it can be very hard to hear the stories; it’s very emotional. My guests may have some hard days after we talk. They are all super brave.” Haley has been contacted by many people, especially those without a blog or a public persona, who had not previously known other adoptees and had never really talked about adoption with anyone else. For them, listening to the AdopteesOn stories has opened new doors to people who “get it,” who understand what means to be an adoptee: what it means to search, to reunite, to be rejected, to connect.

“I’m so honored to share these stories, to be trusted with them,” said Haley. As an adoptive parent, I have greatly enjoyed listening to the 10 podcasts so far. I hope AdopteesOn continues to grow.

 

There is no greater agony than an untold story.                                                                    ~Maya Angelou

And don’t forget to tune in also to Out of the Fog!