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.

 

 

 

Thinking of Fisseha, Thinking of Ethiopia

Two years ago today, Ethiopian adoptee Fisseha Sol Samuel was found to have died by suicide. I am thinking of him and his family, the US and in Ethiopia today. He was, of course, much more than an “Ethiopian adoptee,” and I don’t mean to limit his impact in and on the world. He was a son, a brother, a soccer player, a friend, a person of warmth, laughter, and energy.

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Fisseha Sol Samuel

I wrote a post about him shortly after he died: Fisseha Sol Samuel: “Irreplaceably Marvelous.” I continue to keep him in my heart, as do many people.

Last year, on the first anniversary of Fisseha’s death, I wrote about October, Traumaversaries, and Hope. I’m not sure just why, and this is totally anecdotal, but October can be especially hard on many folks.

Right now, October seems hard on Ethiopia. After months of unrest, protests, injuries and deaths, Ethiopia is now in a state of emergency. It’s difficult to know what this means for the government, the protestors, the farmers, the students, the businesses, the tourists, the missionaries, the children, the schools, the people in cities and countryside, the people in jail, the journalists and bloggers, the future. It’s heartbreaking. Ethiopia is and will be a side note in the news, not on the radar for a lot of people, especially as our own U.S. politics dominate the headlines and social media.

So today, I reflect on Ethiopia, on those who have left it and those who remain there. I reflect also on the loss of Fisseha. His mother, Melissa Fay Greene, has written beautifully (no surprise, or course) about her beloved son in the two years since his death. Fisseha’s sister, Helen Samuel, has a powerful essay about her brother in our upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring, Far From Home.” Suicide claims so many victims. Here is a link to some Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption.

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© Maureen Evans. Photo taken at Lake Langano, Ethiopia, Summer, 2014.

I am thinking today of both Fisseha and Ethiopia, on the notions of potential and loss, of sudden life-changing decisions, of hope for the future, of our understanding of what can be controlled and what cannot. My mom used to say we should pray for perspective, for a sense of what really matters in hard times, especially given that tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us. That approach, she suggested, would help us hold on to hope or to faith, and move us toward healing. May our memories lead us towards peace.

Birthdays and Adoptees: Finding Power in Both

My sons were adopted as babies; my twin daughters at six years old. When they were little, we had the mad abundance of birthday parties, at the pool, the soccer field, the grandparents’ front yard. The parties were full of presents, friends, family, ice cream, and cake.

Who was missing at these birthday celebrations? The women who gave birth to the children. The people (fathers, siblings, grandparents) who are biologically related to them.

I can’t help but wonder what those birth days were like for those family members.

Birthday parties evolve over time. Some adoptees have a rough time on their birthdays. In our family, we have all grown in our understanding of how a child’s beginnings can affect the child, and how powerful memories can be. We have seen how longing for what is not conscious can be quite deep. We have lived watching the ways that trust can be broken and losses felt, and how hard it is to heal that broken trust. My children’s birthdays are still celebrated, of course: they can count on receiving socks every year. And other stuff too. But they are in their late 20’s now. Still very young, but hardly children–except in the sense that they are always my children.

They are also the children–always–of their first families. Each child has had a different approach to connecting with their family of birth, and those stories are theirs alone to tell.

Today is the 27th birthday of my twin daughters, Adanech and Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia in 1994. Aselefech has been actively involved with the adoptee community. She wrote a wonderful post today at Lost Daughters, a writing collective of women adopted in the US or internationally as children. In it, she celebrates her connections with other Ethiopian adoptees whose hearts are in the country of their birth, their mother land, their home country. These young people, part of the diaspora, are actively working to help their younger selves in Ethiopia: children who witness their mothers die, children who are deeply loved but whose families are horrifically impoverished, children who beg on the streets, children who are unable to walk or to see, children who never go to school.

Happy Birth Day. May all children know safety, love, education, and hope. May these adoptees bring light and healing to each other and to the children. May all the voices be heard.

My daughters, my granddaughter, and me. © Maureen McCauley Evans

Interview With Korean Adoptee Soojung Jo, Author of “Ghost of Sangju”

“When I reunited with my Korean family, and finally learned the whole truth from Omma’s letter, it was like an implosion for me. There wasn’t so much a motivation as a need greater than breathing. It was like bleeding. Writing wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was something I could not stop myself from doing. Finishing wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity.”

Soojung Jo was three years old when she was adopted from Korea by a Kentucky family, and 37 years old when she learned the truth of her history and identity. Along the way she graduated from West Point and served in Korea. She became a mother to four children. And she has now written this powerful, evocative book. “Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation” is important for the adoption community. It’s bigger than that, though, because it’s a fascinating story, with powerful emotions, hard decisions, warmth, confusion, candor, love, discernment, and hope.

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More information is available at Gazillion Strong, including purchase information and Book Club questions. A new review by Mila Konomos at Lost Daughters is available here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Soojung about “Ghost of Sangju,” about writing, and about adoption.

Soojung, what writers inspire you? What books are you reading now? 

I’m borderline obnoxious about my passion for reading! As a writer, I’ve been powerfully influenced by some particular books that I think everyone must read: John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Karl Marlantes’s “Matterhorn,” Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son,” Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible,” and Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Also I love Hemingway’s voice, and I’m a shameless Stephen King junkie!

As for what I’m reading now, I always have a book on Audible, one or two on Kindle, and a hard copy in work. I’m listening to “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (Betty Smith), just finished “Americanah” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and just started “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” (Christopher Scotton).

What was the writing process like for you? What motivated you to write, and to finish, your book?

There was this accumulation of all the experiences and my primal but unexpressed emotional responses to them: being taken from my Korean family and country at age 3, my Kentucky childhood, the West Point experience, returning to Korea in the Army, becoming a mother biologically and then through adoption. When I reunited with my Korean family, and finally learned the whole truth from Omma’s letter, it was like an implosion for me. There wasn’t so much a motivation as a need greater than breathing. It was like bleeding. Writing wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was something I could not stop myself from doing. Finishing wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity.

The writing process was evolutionary. Although I had this story fighting its way out of me, I forced myself to be patient and learn a little about writing a full-length book. I read “Bird By Bird” (Lamott), “On Writing Well” (Zinsser), “On Writing” (King). I read interviews with memoirists I admired: Jeannette Walls, Frank McCourt, Cheryl Strayed. I reflected on what elements made the most powerful memoirs work. All these pointed to the same themes: Write without inhibitions, and then edit ruthlessly. Truth is the goal; nothing less will do. These rules sound basic, but they are far from easy. Do you know how hard it is to make one sentence flow into the next? To remove half the flowery words you’ve crafted into something that felt like a masterpiece but reads like a legal document? Even this interview should probably be edited at least five times just to make it readable.

But the most difficult aspect of good writing is achieving truth. Being honest. Sifting through the difficult layers and offering the ugliest parts of yourself to the story. Everything has already been thought and said in this world, so why should anyone care what I have to say? The answer is this: the truth is always compelling. A true, open story from a real and vulnerable storyteller always resonates.

Absolutely. What’s your next/current writing project?

Actually, I’m not writing at the moment. This book seared its way out of me, and I think I’m recovering a bit from it. I would hope everyone could experience something so consuming yet cathartic in their lives as this book was for me.

I said in my review of your book that I took breaks while reading it, given the poignancy of your search for your Korean family. International adoption is at a volatile, critical juncture right now, in South Korea and around the world. How does “Ghost of Sangju” fit into the complexity?

You are right—international adoption is having a pivotal moment, and this is largely due to the fact that a critical mass of international adoptees have grown up and spoken our truths. We have voices and we won’t be ignored. We are varied, complex, and our experiences and opinions range across a full spectrum. Mine is only one story, but it’s a challenging one that needs to be told because it shatters many traditionally held views. I hope that, without having to over-explain these complexities, readers will experience them as I did through my writing.

If readers come away from this book with an expanded view of what is really happening in international adoption, and an appreciation for the complexity of having lived through international adoption, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

How have your family members reacted to the book, as well as to your search and reunion?

Maureen, I don’t really know. I know what they tell me, but I don’t believe their words really touch on their true reactions. In words, they show support and love. But I’m not the only one in this crazy life going through complex, dissonant emotions about this. I can only imagine how my parents have worried, have regretted, have feared, and have wished that my story had been as straightforward as the agency had promised them almost 40 years ago. I’ve done my best to be sensitive to what they’re going through, but it’s not easy.

No, it’s not. Adoption can be complicated  If you could change policies and practices in international adoption, what would you do?

This is such a difficult question. I have many adoptee friends who are activists, but honestly I am not cut out to talk policies and practices. I know many others who are. I know things need to change, because so many elements of my own story still happen today and that’s unacceptable. I can’t say with authority what should be changed in policy. That’s not what my voice contributes. Instead, my voice speaks of little known truths and buried secrets, and I hope to use this voice to change hearts. Maybe those changed hearts can contribute to changed policies and practices.

I hope that too. What have you learned about yourself, about life, in the process of writing the book? Not so much the factual information as the perspectives, awareness, priorities.

Maureen, I learned so much in writing this book. This was no intellectual exercise! The first few revisions, I stuck to a story that I thought was acceptable. It was a bland, diluted version of my truth and it was terrible. My early pre-readers, my counselors and cheerleaders, asked, “Soojung, this is beautiful, but it isn’t you. Where are YOU in this story?” They asked me this question gently and often enough that I began to wonder myself, where am I in this story? That’s when the real work began, the work of digging into the most real parts of myself, my life, and my emotions. I had to let go of so much fear of showing this awful, beautiful story in all its grittiness. I learned that I, too, am gritty. I’m raw. I have so much strength and weakness and they terrify me, but they are real and therefore they are worthy.

The bland version of my memoir was okay, people liked it well enough, but the real version was amazing and people have responded so deeply to it. Likewise, the bland, pleasing version of myself is okay, but the real version is so much better. Does this mean I’m capable of being this true in real life? No, but at least I know it’s possible. It’s aspirational.

What would you like readers to take away from reading “Ghost of Sangju”?

Although the story is rooted in international adoption, there are universal themes of family, identity, and parenthood that I think all readers can connect to. I want readers to gain an understanding of a life that most probably haven’t lived. I also want readers to appreciate and respect the complexities of being an adoptee, especially international and transracial. I want readers to learn, and to feel less alone.

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Many thanks to Soojung Jo for this conversation. Congratulations on the publication of “Ghost of Sangju.”

Suicide and Adoption: We Need to Stop Whispering

Update: For resources about adoption-related suicide awareness and prevention, here is information.

Just this morning, as I was getting ready to post this, I read on my Facebook feed about a 28-year-old Korean adoptee who died by suicide two days ago. I did not know her. She was the same age as my oldest son, and she had a daughter about the age of my granddaughter. May she rest in peace.

I am holding in my heart a 20-something-year-old adoptee, adopted with a biological sibling into a huge adoptive family (more than 25 kids). He is overwhelmed all the time these days, as a result of things he has done and has had done to him. He wants to go home, though he’s not sure any longer where “home” is. He is in great need of mental health services, and is intently resisting help. He is teetering on the edge of suicide.

Yes, I know most adoptees do well. But this one is struggling, and it appears to be the result of events after he was adopted. His adoptive family has abandoned him.

My two most shared blog posts (shared over 1000 times on Facebook) are “Does ‘Adoption’ Really Equal ‘Trauma’?” and “Fisseha Sol Samuel: Irreplaceably Marvelous.” Both deal with a hard side of life: trauma and suicide. The first post says, yes, adoption is trauma, and there is a spectrum of response to it. The second post was written last October following the suicide of an Ethiopian adoptee who had previously exhibited no symptoms of depression, and whose death was likely (we will never know for sure) the result of a sudden, triggering, traumatizing event in which he was overwhelmed and impulsive. Fisseha’s mother, Melissa Faye Green, has written several powerful posts as she sorts through her son’s death.

Here is an excerpt from my post about Fisseha:

“There is sobering research that says that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. It’s here in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not lightweight stuff, and even more startling in that the mean age of the 1000 participants was about 14. Out of the total group, which included adoptees and biological children, 56 had attempted suicide; 47 of those were adoptees.”

I am holding in my heart a 14-year-old Eastern European adoptee, who is too familiar with drugs and sex, who is loved deeply by her adoptive parents, who is in various therapies, who cuts herself and threatens suicide often. She can be a bubbly, sweet teen, and also a deeply frightened and frightening out-of-control mystery.

Yes, her struggle may not be the result of being adopted, but rather of what happened to her before she was adopted. She is struggling, and those who love her are deeply worried.

No one enjoys thinking of adoption as a trauma. No one likes to talk about suicide. And, I know: most adoptees–most people generally–don’t consider or die by suicide.

That said, let’s start thinking and talking about the link among adoption, trauma, and suicide. Let’s insist that suicide awareness be a part of pre-adoptive parent training classes. Let’s demand that anyone who claims “adoption competency” in their therapeutic practice is extremely knowledgeable about suicide. Let’s actively and shamelessly share resources to prevent suicide. Let’s request workshops like “The Presence of Suicide in Adoption” as a topic at adoption-related conferences. We need to stop whispering about suicide and adoption, and to speak about it with clarity and without fear.

I am holding in my heart a 16-year-old adoptee from India, beloved by her adoptive family, mentored by an adult Indian adoptee, raised in Minnesotan suburbs, who killed herself about a month ago.

Yes, she struggled, and also was offered and received help. She may be at peace now, though all those left behind are filled with sorrow and questions.

These 3 adoptees are among the reasons that we must talk about the role of trauma and suicide in adoption.

A few weeks ago, I was at the national conference of the American Adoption Congress. The main legislative advocacy effort of the AAC has historically been access to original birth certificates, a means of allowing adopted persons to know who they are, a basic human and civil right.

What is the connection between suicide and the AAC’s legislative efforts? Well, there may be a genetic component to the likelihood of suicide. Access to one’s medical and mental health history–too often denied to adopted persons–could be a matter of life and death. Knowing about a history of depression or other mental illnesses in one’s family could mean proactive treatment and interventions. It is yet another reason that closed records are unfair, untenable, and wrong.

Here are links to two medical journal articles:

Genetic and Familial Environmental Effects on Suicide – An Adoption Study of Siblings

Genetics of Suicide: An Overview

Many adoptees are adopted into families where the adoptive parents are well off financially, have attended college, and are in highly regarded professions.The adopted children go to excellent schools and often have wonderful opportunities. Still. Take a look at “Best, Brightest–And Saddest?”, in which Frank Bruni reflects on the “suicide contagion” among teens in Palo Alto and elsewhere who are under pressure to succeed academically in highly competitive situations. The article cites a CDC report that says 17 percent of American high school students considered suicide in 2012. Eight percent said they’d attempted it.

Suicide, of course, feeds on trauma and depression, and does not discriminate based on economics and education. While the “suicide cluster” among high schoolers in “epicenters of overachievement” is discussed in the New York Times’ article above, there has also been a similar tragedy–which has not made national press–among young people in Seattle. Three young men, ages 18, 18, and 20, who were students at the Seattle Interagency Academy (SIA), died by suicide, within a 4 month period in the last year. SIA works with at-risk youth, who have struggling families and who are often homeless or on probation. Listen to an excellent podcast with the SIA principal here.

Coincidentally, there was a string of 7 suicides by adolescents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota around the same time. No one is quite sure why this is happening, though bullying and grim prospects for the future seem to be significant.

I don’t know if any of these young people had spent time in foster care or were adopted. Certainly, though, their life paths echoed those of many young people whose families are struggling mightily, and those struggles are often the reasons that children land in foster care and/or adoption. Racism and micro-aggressions can significantly affect the mental health of transracial adoptees; I wrote about that reality here. Even adoptees placed as infants in same-race families can struggle with loss, grief, identity, and feelings of not belonging. It’s clear that many of these challenges manifest in adolescence.

This is all daunting tough stuff. I am seeking a balance: to acknowledge suicide prevention as a goal about which we can all speak in the adoption community, not over-reacting, being pro-active, and supporting each other. My next post on this subject will give some resources.

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Light Through Trees, Forest near Lake Langano, Ethiopia © Maureen McCauley Evans

So Much More Than Just A Shirt

Recently, a Facebook post about a tee shirt to be used as a fundraiser provoked a batch of comments. The original poster, having up front requested no negative comments, essentially ignored the pushback. Ultimately, she deleted the post entirely.

The tee shirt called into question had a heart drawn on it, the word “Adopt” followed by the name of a country that places children for adoption internationally, and this quote: “Love Makes a Family–Changes A Life.” Seems like a nice quote, doesn’t it? It’s a great example of something that actually has a far greater impact than it might seem at first blush.

One excellent perspective about the shirt is on the blog Ethioamericandaughter. The writer, Aselefech Evans, is my daughter. As an adult Ethiopian adoptee, her insights are valuable.

Several adoptive parents responded to the original tee shirt post on Facebook. They thought the quote was dismissive of first/birth families and their pain. Others thought it reeked of white privilege, of white savior complex.

When is a tee shirt not just a tee shirt? Does it become more than just a shirt when the message is seen by others as an example of white privilege? Or when it’s called hurtful, disrespectful, offensive by some of the person’s peers, in this case adoptive parents?

Are the tee shirt and message okay when it’s a fundraiser for a family who’s adopting, or for good works in an impoverished country? Does the end simply justify the means, and are the critics just being too damn sensitive? The sentiment of one comment was “If you don’t like it, don’t purchase it.”

Is everything justified if the original poster’s adopted children are okay with it? Does it matter if the children are all minors?

There are good reasons why children can’t give informed consent. And do children truly understand the far-reaching implications of the Internet?

So many questions.

There was a similar brouhaha during National Adoption Month over a tee shirt also used as a fundraiser, part of online sales for adopttogether.org. I wrote about it on my blog lightofdaystories.com: ” ‘Crowd Funded’ Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day.”  Many people, including adult adoptees, also wrote about it, and the offending tee shirt disappeared from the sales site, which has, I think, closed down.

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Part of the dilemma about all this is the linkage of the message with the money: the fundraising that is rampant in the world of adoption, the implicit notion that children are paid for, the exorbitant costs involved in international adoption, and the available multi-billion adoption tax credit, which many parents receive after all the fundraising. We are at best naive if we overlook these connections, and at worst complicit in a system that involves enormous amounts of money and an astonishing imbalance: US (and western European, Canadian, and Australian) adoption agencies and adoptive parents with huge economic power over indigent, impoverished countries and first/birth families.

Another reality is the linkage of child adoption with pet adoption. Many people who are deep within the adoption constellation (first/birth parents, adoptive parents, adopted persons) cringe at this, but outside that sphere, it’s a common thought. Some 30 years ago, when we were beginning the adoption process, I was telling an acquaintance about all the options and possibilities. He responded, “Wow, kind of like going to the pound and choosing the puppy that’s right for you.”

Wow. No.

That is, however, not an uncommon view. Take a look at this display of tee shirts for example, that places “Rescue Cats Rule!” next to “Seoul Sister” and “Peace Love Rescue Pet Adoption” next to “Love Knows No Borders–Africa” shirts.

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Am I over-sensitive to my children being compared to pets? No, I am not.

And hey: my adopted children–who are now thoughtful, independent, insightful adults, not cute little kids–aren’t okay with it either.

Words matter. Children matter. Lives matter. If we are ever going to have ethical, transparent adoption policies, we have to pay attention even to the little things. Like tee shirts.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Hana, Hoping (Again) for Justice in Adoption

One year ago today, Larry and Carri Williams were found guilty for the death of their adopted Ethiopian daughter, Hana Alemu, and for assault of their adopted Ethiopian son, Immanuel.

Yesterday, I visited Hana’s grave site in Union Cemetery in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. I knew I was going to write about her today, and though I am not a big fan of graves and cemeteries, I wanted to pay my respects. I left on the grave a tiny token purchased during my recent trip to Ethiopia, and told Hana she was not forgotten.

The Williams’ family did not place a gravestone of any sort on Hana’s burial place until after the trial had concluded, so some 2 years after she had died this marker was installed. It shows Hana’s birth year as 1994, which would make her over 16 at the time of her death, not 13, which was what her age was said to be by the adoption agency and possibly Ethiopian family records. The Williamses were charged with homicide by abuse, which requires children to be younger than 16 and carries a significant punishment. They argued during the trial that Hana was not 13 at the time of her death, but was older. The jury did not believe Hana was older than 16 when she died, and Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse. This grave marker suggests that Hana was 16, not 13, at the time of her death, though the Williamses never legally changed Hana’s age during her life.

Hana's grave at Union Cemetery. Photo taken September 8, 2014.

Hana’s grave at Union Cemetery. Photo taken September 8, 2014.

During the hour or so drive from and back to Seattle, I thought about what Hana and Immanuel might have been thinking as they went from SeaTac Airport to their new family, in August 2008.

The view along the highway would have been so different from what they may have seen in Ethiopia. Instead of RV dealerships and fast food restaurants, in Ethiopia there are children along the roadside herding goats and cows, women washing clothes in muddy rain puddles, and men hauling loads on donkey-driven carts. Instead of towering pines, in Ethiopia Hana would have seen acacia trees. She must have been a bit overwhelmed by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, along with the malls, businesses, and restaurants. This was her new life, with the promise of a family, safety, and love.

The view along I-5, heading north from Seattle.

The view along I-5, heading north from Seattle.

Less than 3 years after her arrival in the US, Hana died from malnutrition and hypothermia on May 12, 2011, at the hands of the adoptive parents who were supposed to love and protect her. Those same parents were also found guilty of assault of Immanuel. On October 29 last year, Larry was sentenced to just over 28 years in jail, and Carri to 36 years. They are currently serving their sentences in Washington state.

You can watch Judge Susan Cook’s sentencing of the Williamses here.

Next week, in Pennsylvania, Judge Jeffrey Manning will be sentencing another pair of adoptive parents of Ethiopian children. Douglas and Kristen Barbour, unlike the Williamses, chose not to have a jury trial and instead pled no contest in June to charges of child abuse and endangerment. Their two adopted children were removed from them by the state as a result of lesions, weight loss, hypothermia, healing fractures, and retinal hemorrhaging.

Are these 2 cases comparable? Both families already had biological children when they adopted 2 Ethiopian children. Both families have a stay-at-home mom and a working- outside-the-home dad. Both practice Christianity. According to a Post-Gazette article, Douglas Barbour wrote about Biblical motivations for adoption. Kristen Barbour wrote openly about her faith on a now defunct blog. In both families, the adopted children had eating and other issues common in older child international adoptions. In both cases, the families did not appear to have sought help, and instead relied on their own methods. In both cases, there were no charges of abuse regarding the bio children, only the adopted children. In both cases, the bio children witnessed their parents’ treatment of their adopted siblings. Both cases have a child’s significant weight loss and hypothermia as factors of abuse.

Both families appeared to have had a perfect storm of unrealistic expectations for children who have experienced trauma, and both appeared to have handled the adopted children with systematically increased punishments that did not achieve the intended results. In both cases, young children were grievously harmed.

I don’t mean to be facetious when I say at least in the Barbours’ case, both children are still alive. I have heard that Immanuel Williams and the Barbour children have all done well in their foster homes.

In the case of the Barbour children and Immanuel, it is safe to say these children have been harmed, abused, and endangered significantly, at the hands of the very people who were supposed to care for and protect them. The children have a long road of recovery ahead of them; they were innocent victims of people who they should have been able to trust. They have physical and emotional injuries that are serious and will affect them for their entire lives, injuries that never should happen to any little child.

Judge Cook, in sentencing Larry and Carri Williams, asked “What does justice require?” She talked about the materials the attorneys had given her about imposition of sentences, and said they had left one important part out. “The sentence needs to reflect society’s response to the conduct that the defendants engaged in.” In this case of the Williamses, she said, the sentence could be seen as an expression of society’s outrage about two children being horribly harmed.

I am hopeful that Judge Manning will also take the seriously the significant harm done to the two Barbour children. It is an outrage that children could be so deeply hurt by adults, and the offenses of abuse and endangerment deserve appropriate punishment–not probation. The children have to live the rest of their lives with the impact of what their adoptive parents did to them. I hope that the judge sees that clearly.

There is still time to send a message about fairness for these young adoptees. I wrote about why this is so important here.

May Hana rest in peace. May all children be safe and loved. May we all speak up for the children.

 

On Gratitude, Rumi, Reflection, and Gold

Now that it’s Saturday morning, I’m reflecting a bit on this past week.

I leave for Ethiopia 2 weeks from today, with my daughter Aselefech and her daughter, to visit Aselefech’s Ethiopian family. This week, Aselefech reached–and exceeded–her fundraising goal for Bring Love In, a nonprofit that creates new families from widows and orphans in Ethiopia. She is running a half marathon on August 17 for the fundraiser, which continues until that date. Aselefech continues to run and train hard. I continue to admire her.

An adoptive mom challenged me about something I mentioned in a post that disappointed and displeased her. She was candid, clear, and gracious in her challenge. It’s no fun disappointing and annoying others, whether it’s reasonable (as this was) or not. I am grateful that she spoke up. We texted back and forth. She started out with, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to help you anymore,” and we ended by her telling me about a new project she’s working on, one that I look forward to supporting fully.

We both talked about how we have been slammed (sometimes pretty viciously) for our views on adoption, our stance on agencies, our past work, and current hopes. What a gift she gave me in telling me her truth, and in listening to mine. There are many reasons to be angry, so when we can meet in honesty, listen genuinely, and then move ahead together on separate paths–well, it’s amazing, and deserves reflection.

Rumi wrote: The wound is the place where the light enters you.

I heard from someone this week whom I love dearly, who has had multiple hard struggles, some of his own creation, some beyond his control. He can go a long time without communicating. The entire message: I miss you. The light that has entered through his wounds has not created healing–not yet. I have to hope that it will.

I Skyped with my 84-year-old Dad, as I do every Friday. The wi-fi connection was terrible. Dad, in middle stages of dementia, handled it pretty well. Each time we reconnected, he was again in the moment. He’s fading these days, though he always asks if any of my kids are getting married soon. (No.) He has a friend, Katherine, in the assisted living facility where he’s lived for 3 years now. She was married for 50 years; her husband passed away recently. My dad and mom had been married for 50 years when mom died in 2003. Mom would have been 84 this July 28. I’m grateful that Katherine and my dad share a history of happy marriage, and that those memories have likely brought them together. She always holds his hand, and reminds him to wear a hat when they go outside. Like Dad, she probably remembers fewer and fewer of life’s details. Like Dad, she remembers the familiarity of love.

I learned this week about kintsugi: the Japanese art of creating a perfectly imperfect piece of beauty: finding beauty in brokenness, and reimagining it, not by pretending the cracks don’t exist, but by reinventing and healing them with gold. It’s focused on ceramics, but I can see a lot of other applications.

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May we know that our wounds can let in light. May our loved ones find peace and healing. May we see beauty, even in brokenness.

 

 

Asian Adoptees: Poetry from Diaspora Dreams

I believe so much in the power of art and in its ability to liberate emotions and create new perspectives.  I’m also interested in the art of adoption, as I define it: the creative work and energy that evolves from adoptees. I wrote about it in Art of Adoption: Playwrights and Poets.

From the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, here is “Tending the Speculative,”  a thoughtful, provocative, evocative group of poems by adult adoptees from Asia (including Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines) who grew up in the United States. They reflect yet another dimension of Diaspora, those individuals united in separation from their roots.

A quote from the introduction:

“…unlike the witness who remembers history or who can turn to birth family or ethnic community to ask, the poet writing from an adopted diasporic condition oftentimes cannot testify to the events that orphaned her or him. These conditions retain an uncanny presence in her/his dream life.”

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Sibling Connections in Adoption

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That’s my 26 year old son Sean with Genet Tsegay, Miss Ethiopia 2012/13, in a photo taken recently in SIlver Spring, Maryland. Sean has found his way into many photos with beautiful women. The icebreaker between these two, though, might have been different from his usual (not that I truly have any idea what “the usual” might be lol). For this meeting, it might have been something like “Hey, my sisters are from Ethiopia,” and maybe a conversation would have started around the not immediately obvious connection between these two young people from very different places.

One of the areas I find most fascinating in adoption is one that needs more research: siblings. I have no siblings. I have four adopted children; my twin daughters are biologically related. Our family has had many conversations along the way about the fact that all the kids are adopted. They’ve wondered what it would be like to be in a blended family, where some children were the biological children of the parents. They could all share their experiences of “He’s not your real brother?” and “She’s your sister?”

My Ethiopian daughters have reconnected with their 5 older Ethiopian siblings. So my daughters have four brothers, but the way they connect is very different at this point. For one thing, they don’t really share a common language with their Ethiopian siblings, and that’s a big deal. My sons have not explored any biological siblings, but sInce they were adopted in the US, we know they share a common language.  How they would differ from their biological siblings (if any) in terms of childhood, economics, education, religion–it’s hard to say right now.

As an African-American young man, Sean has known racism and discrimination–as well as solid community, love from family and friends of different races, and the ability to travel in many cultures, because of his own (adoptive) family. He shares race with his sisters and brother. Believe me, there have been many conversations around skin tones, stereotyping, the travails of being asked “What are you?” especially while growing up, when my children of different shades didn’t fit neatly into a category, particularly when one or both of their white adoptive parents was on the scene. Adoption can be complicated, and transracial adoption adds another layer of complexity.

I’ve known families with bio kids who adopt, and then see how the newly adopted child changes their home life in unimaginable ways, not all positive, and wonder if they did the right thing for their bio child.

I’ve known adoptive families with one adopted child of color, who stands out vividly in family photos. That difference can promote feelings of incredible isolation and difficulties with identity, though I’ve known parents who work to empower children around their uniqueness.

I’ve known adopted children who wonder about their bio siblings, older or younger, who were not adopted, who stayed with the first mother. That has a poignancy all its own.

I’ve known siblings with no biological connection who are deeply connected, the lack of common blood making no difference.

My son Sean would probably have found a way to chat with Mss Ethiopia, but the fact that he has two Ethiopian sisters created an easy connection. Miss Ethiopia is from the Tigray region of Ethiopia,  a college student, studying architecture–in her own way, perhaps also challenging stereotypes. I don’t know how much she and Sean chatted about his sisters–prolly not a whole lot. I love the fact that we can make wonderful connections sometimes, when we don’t expect to.  And I hope that we continue to have conversations about siblings, race, and adoption.