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.


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.



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.




Ethiopian Adoptee Anthology Nearing Deadline

The purpose of the upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring, Far From Home,” is to share the voices of Ethiopian adoptees. It is also in honor of Hana Williams, the young adoptee who died far too soon, voiceless and alone. Finally, the anthology will support our work to create a guesthouse in Addis Ababa for returning adoptees from around the world.

July 15 is our deadline for accepting submissions: please consider writing. Let us know if you’d like to write something, even if you think you can’t make the deadline. Please pass this on to potential writers.

We are thrilled with the submissions so far for the anthology. We have received wonderful essays from France, Holland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the US, and Ethiopia. We are reaching out to famous adoptees whose writing may be included, and we are seeking a solid range of perspectives about Ethiopian adoption.

Writer’s Guidelines:

Here are some possible questions for you to answer. These are ideas, or prompts, to help you get started. Use them if you want. If you want to write about something else, no problem.

What did it mean for you to be an Ethiopian adoptee when you were growing up? How did your family explain things? How did other children respond to your being adopted and Ethiopian?

What does it mean to you to be Ethiopian, and African, as well as a citizen of the country to which you were adopted?

How have you been affected by racism? In your family, school, work?

Have you visited or lived in Ethiopia? What was that like for you?

If you haven’t been back to Ethiopia, would you like to return someday? Why? What would you like to do there? If you don’t want to go back, why not?

What was your image of Ethiopia when you were growing up? Has your view of Ethiopia changed over the years? Why?

Have you searched for your Ethiopian family, or reunited with them? If yes, how has that process been? If not, why not?

What advice would you give to young Ethiopian adoptees, or to adoptive parents?

What have been the easiest and hardest parts of being an Ethiopian adoptee?

If you are a parent, how have you explained being an Ethiopian adoptee to your children?

You are not limited in what you can write about, as long as it is in some way about the connection to Ethiopia from the perspective of an Ethiopian adoptee.

Length: Between one and six double spaced pages, or between 750 and 2500 words. Those are rough estimates. We want to read what you write, so don’t worry too much about the length. We will certainly look at essays that are fewer than 750 words.

Don’t worry about perfect grammar and spelling. This isn’t a test; you’re not going to be graded. We can work with you to polish the writing.

 We want to hear what you have to say.

Please send your submission (and any questions) to      Thanks!

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia



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.


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.




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

Adoption, Art Therapy, and PTSD

There’s a school of thought that adoption is equivalent to violence, that the separation from one’s mother is inherently traumatic, and that the loss of a family (language, culture, history, birthright, traditions) is for some people so severe as to be debilitating.

As an adoptive parent, I find that school of thought to be sobering and daunting. I’d like it to be wrong. Yet I know that, for some adoptees, the impact of their being adopted–even if it’s the “right thing,” even if the adoptive parents are good and loving people–has a challenging, lifelong impact that interferes with their ability to trust others and to build healthy relationships.

Add to the trauma of being adopted any incidents of abuse and/or neglect, either before or after adoption, and you have the potential for a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

We think of that diagnosis perhaps most frequently for soldiers who have witnessed or participated in horrific acts during wartime, and who then seek help after that trauma. But PTSD can appear in other circumstances, including adoption.

The National Institute of Mental Health explains it this way:

“When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

Immanuel Williams was diagnosed with PTSD after being removed from his adoptive home. During the trial of his adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, Immanuel’s therapist testified about Immanuel’s diagnosis and prognosis. I wrote about the therapist’s testimony here.

I doubt that most adoptees struggle with PTSD, but I am certain that some do. In any case, many children, teens, and adults deal with the “fight or flee” response quite often. I’ve read about a “freeze” response as well, that response of an inability to react, of staring, of feeling panic or anxiety. I would not minimize the trauma of adoption. Most adoptees ultimately do just fine, but some have mighty struggles. We do them and their families a disservice to minimize or deny the impact of grief, loss, and trauma.

In addition to understanding attachment and trauma, in addition to working with skilled clinicians in determining a diagnosis, art therapy can often be a significant healing tool, for wounded warriors, for adoptees, for anyone working through a profoundly painful experience.

Here’s a recent New York news story about the successful use of art therapy with soldiers.    There’s a good, brief video about the program. Here’s an example of the art:

From "Art Therapy Helps PTSD Sufferers"

From “Art Therapy Helps PTSD Sufferers”

We tend as a society to discount or minimize the mental suffering that we ourselves or others go through. We also tend to minimize the value of art in healing some of that suffering. I am increasingly convinced that art can do great things in helping create new stories, or in expressing pain in safe ways, and in then leaving the pain behind.

It doesn’t have to with artistic talent. It has to do with letting go, with letting sadness and trauma take a different form, and with easing suffering.

Source: Healing Through Art (Facebook site)

Source: Healing Through Art (Facebook site)

Here are a few related Facebook sites; click on them to see more.

Healing With Art (I got the link to the New York story from this site.)

Art Therapy Without Borders 

Art Therapy

According to the news story about the soldiers: “A permanent display of hand prints and pins will soon be on the wall of the building for all who enter to see and will include the following quote chosen by the soldiers themselves: ‘The healing of your invisible wounds begins here.’ ”

Let me say that again: “The healing of your invisible wounds begins here.”

Mapping Adoption Journeys: The Cartography of Healing


As a writer and artist, I see maps in many ways, as canvases, as metaphors, as information. I love this quote from Peter Turchi’s Maps of The Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer.

“…The earliest maps are thought to have been created to help people find their way and to reduce their fear of the unknown. We want to know the location of what we deem life-sustaining and life-threatening. Now as then, we record great conflicts and meaningful discoveries. We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way. As a result, maps suggest explanations; and while explanations assure us, they also inspire us to ask more questions, consider other possibilities.”

I considered that paragraph through the lens of adoption.

In adoption, we tend to create our own maps, and they often are missing significant signage, exact locations, and detailed directions. Our maps often change a lot over time, from what we thought we knew to be true when the journey began, to what we later see through different eyes, with new information, with deeper understanding. There are all sorts of roadblocks, dead ends, surprises, unexpected twists and turns. Maybe if we don’t have a map, we can create our own.


In addition to Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination, I also highly recommend Jill K. Berry’s book Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed Media MapmakingNeither book is specifically about adoption. I’m drawing (literally and figuratively) from both books in considering ways that adoptees, first mothers, and anyone with “missing pieces” in their family history can draw a new map, whether real or imagined, with the information they have at hand. In so doing, perhaps a new measure of healing can occur.

I think of my daughters, and how they might create a map from the small Ethiopian village where they  spent the first 5 years of life, drawing an arrow then about 200 kms north to Addis for several months, then to Bole airport, to Rome, to New York City, to Washington, DC, to Maryland. Those last 5 locations all were visited in one day.

That map would show an astonishing, life-changing journey. Imagine experiencing it through the eyes of a 6-year-old. Imagine contemplating it through the eyes of a 25-year-old.

I think of adult adoptee friends who traveled to the US from Korea as children, and genuinely have no idea where they were for years of their lives prior to arrival here. The map is blank. But their lives did not start upon arrival in America. Perhaps the creation of a new map could help clarify feelings, could consider possibilities in a healing, calm way.

I think of my friend Angela Tucker born in Tennessee, who then spent about a year with a foster family, and was adopted in northern Washington state. Her map would largely consist of Washington, Bellingham to Seattle, but recently she has revisited Tennessee, no well-marked map in hand, tracking down places and people she once knew, though in a different lifetime. (See the amazing, powerful documentary Closure to learn more about her journey.)

I think of birth mothers who can draw a map of pregnancy and delivery, but then the path goes dark. Their child’s travel continues, but the first mother is no longer part of that journey. Imagine the possibilities of creating a map that the two could share, showing where they’ve been and what they’ve seen in the intervening years.

Take a look at this “Computer Heart Map,” from Personal Geographies:

Computer Map Heart from Personal Geographies, p. 42

Computer Map Heart from Personal Geographies, p. 42

I love the possibilities here: a series of islands, shaped like a heart, with places like “Adolescent Straits,” the “Sea of Forgiveness,” and islands that the artist has named “Dreams,” “Ideas,” “Abandonment,” “Adoption,” and “Learning.”

I’m thinking of all these possibilities in connection with the Association of Personal Historians national conference in November. I’m presenting a workshop titled “Adopted and Estranged Families: Rebuilding a Personal History.” This is the description:

“Many people don’t have the luxury of knowing their family. Those who are separated by adoption or just estranged from their birth family still need to know where they came from and how to embrace their cultural origins. In this workshop, Maureen will discuss methods to find information, help normalize difficult pasts, and celebrate complex histories, even if birth records are not available. You will learn about innovative approaches using mementoes, DNA services, adoption records, new technologies, and more. And you will learn that even if conventional methods and research materials aren’t available, you still can have powerful personal history stories.”

One of the “innovative approaches” I will share include maps, and ways to create and re-imagine them through art, filling in some blanks, or at least re-framing them, with the goal mostly of moving toward healing.

Final thought today: Miles Harvey, author of The Island of Lost Maps, is quoted in Personal Geographies: “Sometimes a map speaks in terms of physical geography, but just as often it muses on the jagged terrain of the heart, the distant vistas of memory…”

Adoption Stories In the Light of Day, Through Art and Hopes for Healing

About a week ago, I was sitting alone in my house on the eve of my birthday. The last few years have been tumultuous, filled with changes and surprises, some unwanted, some wondrous, some confusing. I was in a contemplative mood, wobbling among doubt, enthusiasm, and bursts of inspiration. I came across this, on the artist Flora Bowley‘s website:

Hi everybody. Have you heard about Life Book yet?  It’s a really lovely year-long mixed media online art class put together by Tamara LaPorte.  I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara last year in the UK and she is super fun and dedicated to spreading the joy of creativity far and wide. Life book offers creative insights through video lessons, prompts, images and writing by 22 amazing teachers throughout the year.  What a great way to learn some new approaches and techniques!

I’m very honored to be one of these teachers this year…my first time.  My contribution to the course will be a class inspired by my recent infatuation with using non-traditional “brushes” such as vegetables, flowers, sticks, etc.  I will also be sharing some Bloom True tips and a meditation track.

And, guess what? I’m giving away one free spot for Life Book 2014 right here today!  Simply leave a comment in the comment section about why you would like to participate in this offering and you might just win this awesome year-long creative adventure.


In May 2012, I happened to be in Portland, Oregon, when Powell’s Bookstore (a wonderful place) featured the talented, warm, inspiring Flora Bowley. She paints big, bold, colorful canvases.

Painting by Flora Bowley

Painting by Flora Bowley

Flora had just published her amazing, empowering book Brave Intuitive Painting, and she spoke that night about it at Powell’s. The book has since sold over 20,000 copies..

Flora embraces life with passion, and generously shares her talents, joys, insights, techniques, and sense of wonder. She’s a successful artist: her work is sold in several galleries across the country, and she has licensed merchandise sold around the world. She teaches hugely popular classes on-line, and holds art retreats in Bali, Brooklyn, Ireland, Boston, Mexico, and other exotic places. Jess Greene wrote about Flora in “Artistic Abundance: Flora Bowley” on Huffington Post: “Flora Bowley’s story is a beautiful example of full, unapologetic knowing that life unfolds and abundance follows when you follow your heart.”

One of my great passions is stories. There is no doubt in my mind that, if we truly asked about and listened to each other’s stories, deeply and patiently, we would have a better world.

When I chose the name for my blog–Light of Day Stories–I did so intentionally, with the hope that it would be a place to bring the light of day to adoption, to stories, and to art, through writing, listening, and creating.

When I read last week about Flora and the upcoming Life Book class, it made me think about how adoptive parents sometimes use “Life Books” with their adopted children. I think they were originally designed for foster children, but they’ve expanded well beyond that. They are special compilations of the child’s adoption story: where, with whom, how a child lived before he arrived in the adoptive family. Life books are a version of a “baby book,” meant to provide a sense of identity and of connection with the past. The books can help parents talk with the child about a complicated past, and are a means of acknowledging the child’s life prior to adoption. They can contain photos, letters, mementoes, and more.

Life books are relatively new in the world of adoption. Keep in mind that there was a time (especially in the days of same race, infant adoption) that adoption policy recommended not telling a child he was adopted. For children from abusive or otherwise difficult origins, there was once (not all that long ago) a policy that recommended forgetting the past, not talking about it, not rocking the adoption boat. That recommendation was passed on sometimes to birth/first/original mothers as well.

For some people, that has been a heart-breaking approach. Birth mothers never forgot. Adoptees, whether from US foster care or another country, wanted to know their history, even if it was grim, or difficult to find.

It’s hard telling stories that are complicated. It’s hard telling stories that have lots of missing or inaccurate pieces, which can happen in adoption.

Still, they are important stories to tell.  We need to tell them, and we need to listen to them, because they help us to heal, learn, and grow.

I’ve been working this past year on developing creative, empowering ways for adoption stories to be told. I’ll be presenting a workshop in November at the national conference of the Association of  Personal Historians. My workshop is titled Adopted and Estranged Families: Rebuilding a Personal History.

Here’s the workshop description: “Many people don’t have the luxury of knowing their family. Those who are separated by adoption or just estranged from their birth family still need to know where they came from and how to embrace their cultural origins. In this workshop, Maureen will discuss methods to find information, help normalize difficult pasts, and celebrate complex histories, even if birth records are not available. You will learn about innovative approaches using mementoes, DNA services, adoption records, new technologies, and more. And you will learn that even if conventional methods and research materials aren’t available, you still can have powerful personal history stories.”

Stories matter. Telling stories matters. Listening to stories matters. Flora Bowley describes her art this way: “a celebration of life: chaotic, subtle, beautiful, mystical, and ever-changing.”

Adoption stories can have some of those qualities as well. They can also be powerful, challenging, evocative, and intense: just like art.

That night a week ago, alone in my house, I decided to post a comment on Flora’s site, not thinking I would win the free spot for the year-long mixed media course.

Here’s my comment.


And guess what?


I am so thrilled. I share this with you because I took a chance, a leap of faith, and a deep breath, and I hope you will too when opportunities crop up. I share this with you because this class will allow me to connect with some amazingly talented and generous artists, and I can’t wait to share their insights and ideas in my work with the stories of adoption. Maybe they will be new versions of Life Books in adoption, maybe creative approaches to personal histories, maybe something right now unknown.

The themes of the Life Book 2014 course are self-development and healing: we can use those skills in the adoption community. I am very grateful to Flora for choosing my comment from the hundreds that were submitted. I am in awe of Tamara LaPorte of Willowing Arts for creating this Life Book class, and for partnering with 22 incredible artists who will present mixed media art lessons. Tamara writes that she believes “practising self-care through art and self-enquiry creates happier people, and happier people equals a better world.”

Mixed media: water color, gel transfer on wood. By Maureen McCauley Evans

Mixed media: water color, gel transfer on wood. By Maureen McCauley Evans

So many stories. Lots of hope for healing, out in the light of day.