Human Rights in Adoption: Blog Action Day 2013

                                      Courtesy of: http://www.blogactionday.org

As part of a global community connection, Blog Action Day (today, October 16) means that over 2000 bloggers from 126 countries are posting today about Human Rights. I am participating for the first time, and I encourage you to look at the Blog Action Day website and the Blog Action Day Facebook page: lots of fascinating, provocative, important posts.

Human rights–an enormous topic–resonates with me in terms of adoption for these reasons:

(1) Adoptees have the right to know who they are. Talk about a basic human right. All adoptees deserve access to their original birth certificates. Yet many, here in the United States, are denied that right. I’ve written about OBCs here, and I will continue to speak out about it.

(2) International adoptees brought to the United States for purposes of adoption should automatically be granted US citizenship. It is beyond shameful that this is not an automatic process, that our US government is still dithering over it, and that international adoptees have been deported. See my posts “Citizenship Isn’t Automatic for Internationally Adopted Children to the US?” and “All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees.”

(3) The United States should ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to UNICEF, “The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too.”

Disappointingly, while the United States helped draft the Convention and signed it in 1995, we have not ratified it. The other countries which have also not ratified are Somalia and South Sudan.

I call for the US to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

(4) All children have the right to be raised in a safe, loving family, preferably the one they were born into. Adoption is an option for children, and must always be done in a transparent, ethical way, with integrity and compassion. The voices of first parents must be heard, along with those of adopted persons: it is a human right that they should no longer be marginalized or victimized in the adoption process.

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.

Hmm.

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.

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And guess what?

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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.

What CHIFF Lacks and Why It Must Be Abandoned

I wrote a couple of days ago about the Children in Families First (CHIFF) Act, recently introduced in the US Senate as S.1530: Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail.

My main arguments were (1)  the legislation fails to include the voices of adult adoptees and of first/original international parents, and (2) the main supporters are adoption agencies, who have a significant economic stake in international adoption. Those 2 reasons are significant enough to suggest the bill is poorly grounded and inadequate (while being very expensive), and should be abandoned.

If that though isn’t enough, this post discusses additional reasons that CHIFF should be discarded.

It’s not because international adoption policy does not need to be reformed (it does), nor because children around the globe don’t deserve safe, loving families (they do), nor because family preservation should not be an essential priority (it should).

CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to include the perspectives of vital stakeholders (adoptees and international first parents) directly impacted by and knowledgeable about international adoption, though with nothing to gain financially from it, unlike adoption agencies, the bill’s current main supporters. Further, CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to acknowledge the astonishing problems facing us here in the US, while explicitly using substantial USAID and other taxpayer funds “to jumpstart implementation of a National Action Plan in 6 countries over 5 years.”

CHIFF In a Nutshell

Here’s a brief summary, drawn from their website, of the goals of CHIFF:

CHIFF “calls for programs funded with US tax dollars to focus on reducing the number of children living without families and increasing the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children.”

Specifically, CHIFF establishes a new bureau in the State Department (transforming and enlarging the current Office of Children’s Issues, apparently), as a “foreign policy and diplomatic hub on child welfare.” The new bureau will still be the Hague Convention’s Central Authority “for diplomatic purposes,” but “operational responsibilities will be under US Citizenship and Immigrations Services,” (US CIS) which is under the US Homeland Security Administration.

It “streamlines, simplifies, and consolidates responsibility for intercountry adoption cases under US CIS,” thus under the Department of Homeland Security, except for final immigrant visa processing, which remains with State. Adoption service provider accreditation will now be under Homeland Security too, not the State Department.

The new bureau is tasked with “building international capacity to implement effective child welfare systems, with particular focus on family preservation and reunification, and kinship domestic, and intercountry adoption.”

The CHIFF infographic cites adoption in 2 of the 3 potential intended results of the bill, with the third being a realignment “of foreign aid with American values.”

Here are additional reasons that CHIFF will and should fail:

CHIFF does not meaningfully address current needs here in the United States regarding international adoption policy, yet it would use USAID and other taxpayer money to increase international adoptions, to create new bureaucracy here, and to establish new programs around the globe, instilling American values.

It turns out we have plenty of work that needs to be done here at home.

  • CHIFF does not address the huge, gaping need for genuine, rigorous pre-adoption preparation nor for substantive, effective, accessible post-adoption counseling and resources here in the United States. We can craft adoption policy far better, in terms of preparation and counseling of birth/first parents and of adoptive parents prior to adoption, and in terms of post-adoption resources and services for everyone. I’d like to see some degree of equity in counseling and services (before and after placement) for international birth parents as compared to US adoptive parents. I’ve recommended re-vamping the US adoption tax credit as one means of doing this and wrote about it here.  No new money–just an equitable, sane distribution of revenue (billions of dollars) that the US federal government is already providing to adoptive parents.
  • CHIFF does not address the great, grim cloud of corruption and fraud in international adoption. Many US families have brought children to the US only to find out the children have families who wanted to keep them, but were trafficked or otherwise brought to the US in unethical circumstances. Adult adoptees have traveled back to their home countries and learned very different stories from what the agencies told their adoptive parents. One of the reasons for the slowdown in international adoptions is that adoption agencies and governments are now doing investigations about the truths of children being placed for adoption. It’s an effort by the agencies, arguably late in the game, and it’s costly and time-consuming, though perhaps will ensure more ethical adoptions. In any case, CHIFF minimally acknowledges the corruption that exists in international adoption. The fraud and corruption should be acknowledged, researched thoroughly, and (ideally) eliminated as a first priority.
  • CHIFF does not address the tragic and disturbing practice of “re-homing” here in the US, recently cited in the powerful Reuters series which looked at re-homing practices over 5 years. There are numerous reasons that re-homing has occurred, and perhaps some have been valid. But better preparation and better post-adopt services (including respite, training, access to therapists who understand adoption, trauma, and related issues) surely would have prevented some of these tragic cases.
  • The impact of the re-homing news has begun to create a global backlash. China is outraged. This article “China adoption agency furious over ‘child exchange’ report” quotes the China Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption as saying, “As to the report that refers to American families who are using the Internet to relocate children they have adopted and are not willing to keep raising, we are very shocked and furious.”
  • Further evidence of the global rippling effect: The Democratic Republic of Congo has just announced a 12 month suspension of adoptions, and specifically cited the re-homing of children as one significant reason. Here is a quote from the US State Department notice about the DRC’s decision: “This suspension is due to concerns over reports that children adopted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be either abused by adoptive families or adopted by a second set of parents once in their receiving countries.” Other countries likely have deep concerns about US adoption practices, and I would guess we will hear more in the near future.
  • CHIFF does not address the concerns of many in the adoption global community about what the Congo suspension alludes to: children being abused or killed by their adoptive parents. I have written dozens of posts about the recent Washington State trial and conviction of the adoptive parents for the murder of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee. The parents were convicted as well of first degree assault of Immanuel, also an Ethiopian adoptee. These tragic cases are not common, not representative of the vast majority of adoption, and not acceptable on any level. Note above that CHIFF specifically calls for “programs funded with US tax dollars to…increase the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children.”  Hindsight may suggest that the deaths and abuses here were preventable, but we need to be more proactive than ever in demanding rigorous scrutiny of prospective adoptive parents and in providing oversight and assistance to families in trouble. I wrote here about how the adoption community failed Hana. I also found the CHIFF FAQ answer cold and dismissive about these tragedies. I can only imagine what the perspective is of the families and governments of origin regarding these children.
  • CHIFF does not address the plight of international adoptees who are now in the US foster care system. Those numbers are difficult to know for sure, but there is clear evidence and research that many international adopted children end up in US foster care. They, like US-born foster care children, often age out and face difficult next steps. Nor does CHIFF address the international adoptees who are now legal adults and legal US citizens and who have been who have been discarded by their adoptive families, and are now struggling in “underground” communities. Many did not meet the families’ expectations (and again, this would seem to me to indicate poor preparation, or inappropriate placements, or inadequate post-adoption resources). I wrote about some of these concerns in my Case Study: Part 2, regarding the role of agencies.

There are other concerns, and I’ve no doubt other people will be writing about them. I would argue that, before we work toward increasing the numbers of internationally adopted children, and before we venture into other countries to tell them how to protect their children, we address the needs of current adoptees and their families here in the US.

Before anything like CHIFF goes forward, before we use additional funds and resources to increase the numbers of internationally adopted children, we need, at a minimum, the following:

  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about current realities in the US international adoption community.
  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about fraud and corruption in international adoption practices.
  • Inclusion and buy-in from adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely from adoption agencies and adoption attorneys.
  • Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible.
  • Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

CHIFF excludes vital stakeholders, is expensive, and ignores genuine needs in the US and international adoption community. It should not move forward. Surely we can do far better than this.

Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail

CHIFF is new US legislation related to international adoption. Its full name is Children in Families First. You can read about it on their website.

The ostensible goal is something most humans can agree on: children should grow up in loving, safe families.

CHIFF, however, would like to change “US policies and investments” to do this. That’s where things begin to fall apart.

Why will and should CHIFF fail?

Because it is essentially the product of a union between the US Congress and adoption agencies, with some adoptive parents mixed in as well.

Look at the list of CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee:

The CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee

American Academy of Adoption Attorneys
Both Ends Burning
Center for Adoption Policy
Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School
Christian Alliance for Orphans
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute
EACH
Joint Council on International Children’s Services
Kidsave
National Council For Adoption
Saddleback Church

Look at the list of CHIFF’s Supporting Organizations:

Buckner International
Dillon International
Futuro de los Ninos
International Child Advocacy Network
Gladney Center for Adoption
University of Minnesota, International Adoption Clinic
Golden Cradle Adoption
Children’s Home Society and Lutherans Social Service of Minnesota
All God’s Children International Children’s Hope
MLJ Adoptions
Adoptions of Indiana
Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc
Michael S. Goldstein, Esq., LCSW
WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents
Children’s House International
Miriam’s Promise
European Adoption Consultants
Rainbow Kids

Who’s not on either of these lists?

Advocates who give voice to International Adoptees and First Parents. Here’s a sampling.

Click on any of these links for further information about the organizations:

Land of Gazillion Adoptees/Gazillion Voices

Pound Pup Legacy

Lost Daughters

Lost Sarees

Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora

Adoption Reform and Policy Collaborative

GOA’L–Global Overseas Adoptees Link

Reunite Uganda

ALARM–Advocating Legislation for the Adoption Reform Movement

ACT–Against Child Trafficking

Whether any of these groups (and many others like them) were consulted in the formulation of CHIFF, I do not know. I doubt it, since none is listed as a supporter. The above list runs something of a gamut in terms of advocacy and attitudes towards adoption.  I acknowledge that an extraordinarily talented facilitator would be needed to guide a discussion among them and the supporters of CHIFF.

Here’s the point: CHIFF is lauded by the US House and Senate sponsors, along with some big names in adoption agency work, as an important, significant piece of adoption reform legislation. There may be some good policy ideas in it. But adoption agencies (and adoption attorneys) have a substantial economic stake in this, though some may also have a moral and ethical stake.

The fact that there was no consultation nor buy-in from significant international adoptee or first parent groups, and that there is no public support from these groups, is revealing.

It’s also outrageous.

And that is why this legislation should fail.

Until our US government takes seriously the range of views of international adult adoptees and until it engages those adoptees and international first families in a transparent and public way, there can be no genuinely meaningful international adoption policy.

Interpreting the Language of Adoption

I graduated from the School of Languages and Linguistics at Georgetown University. I love words, their meanings, their mysteries, their possibilities.

In the world of adoption, words are loaded. One must choose one’s words carefully, because one is pretty much guaranteed to offend someone, no matter what one says. Some words are offensive at first glance; some at second or third glance. Some are not offensive at all. Like beauty, offensiveness is in the eye, ear, and experience of the beholder.

This volatility is but one reason adoption reform is so complex: finding a common language is not easy. As my awareness of adoption language has evolved, so has my understanding of the complexity of adoption itself.

I was recently asked to write about the “evolution” of my views about adoption, from the time I worked with adoption agencies until now. I’ve picked up that gauntlet. Over the course of a few posts, I’ll work my way through my evolutionary process.

I’ll start with some basic words and phrases.

Adoptive parents: Depending on point of view of the speaker or writer, this term can also be APs, apars, infertiles, adopters, adoptoraptors, saints, entitleds, parents, kidnappers, traffickers, baby buyers, inspirations, rescuers, saviors, or selfish morons.

Birth Mother: Other variations include original mother, real mother, mother of loss, breeder, incubator, first mother, bio or biological mother, mother, natural mother, BM.

Adoptee: For some, this is too close to Amputee, and so Adoptee should not be used. Other possibilities: orphan (half, double, single: there are many definitions, from Charles Dickens to the US State Department), bastard, adopted person, adopted adult, son, daughter.

Adoption: Trafficking. Win-win situation. Blessing. Curse. Forever. Travesty. Lifetime loss. Legal arrangement. For always. Permanent. An option. A family affair. Full of miracles.

Angry + Adoptee: A volatile combination of words. Use carefully.

Adoption fog: A phrase used to describe adopted persons who say they have no problems with adoption or with being adopted. Sometimes also used for those who have no interest in searching for their original/first/bio/birth family.

Adoption triad or triangle: This is a now rather archaic term that once referred to the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the adoptee. Today, adoption circle or adoption constellation is often used.

Put up for adoption: No. Placed for adoption, surrendered for adoption, made an adoption plan, separated by adoption: Maybe.

The list above is just the tip of this particular berg.

There’s also the perspective of Positive Adoption Language, Honest Adoption Language, and Inclusive Adoption Language. All have their merits and value. My experience has taught me that what one person defines as positive, honest, and /or inclusive depends very much on where the person is situated in the adoption triangle/circle/constellation.

Imagine what happens when we discuss “adoption” in other languages and in other cultures and countries. Some languages have no translation of (distinction for) “birth mother,” for example.

If there is going to be progress in making adoption more ethical and more transparent, we have to acknowledge, without fear or defensiveness, the realities of each others’ (good and bad) adoption experiences. Those realities are often reflected in word choice. One part of my adoption evolution has been awareness of the power of words. I’ve worked hard at listening to how people define themselves and how they define others. It’s work in progress.

Stories from a Declassified Adoptee: Get Ready

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston is a dynamo: mom of two cute little boys, graduate student in social work, brown belt in karate, and award-winning blogger. She is the founder of Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights, the Vice President and Director of Outreach of The Adoptee Rights Coalition, and a founding board member of the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative.  Amanda is a contributor at Adoption Voices Magazine, and is also the founder of The Lost Daughters, a collaborative writing project featuring the voices of over 30 adopted women from all walks of life.

She cross-trains in kickboxing and three different martial arts, enjoys photography, and lives with her husband of six years and their two children in their home in Pennsylvania.

She’s amazing. She’s in her 20’s. I deeply admire not only her energy, but also her ability to speak clearly and forcefully, with grace and compassion, about what being adopted really means. Her blog The Declassified Adoptee is full of thoughtful, powerful essays. Fellow adoptee DMC (DarrylDMCMcDaniels, @TheKingDMC) follows Amanda on Twitter. (You can also follow her: @AmandaTDA.)

And her new book will be out in September!

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I had the honor of being an early reviewer of this wonderful collection of essays, and here is my review:

“An unknowable number of stories exist in the world of adoption: compelling, inspiring, heartbreaking, provocative, introspective, poignant, and powerful. These words also describe Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston’s new book, The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of An Adoption Activist. Amanda is a calm, clear, thoughtful, lyrical storyteller. Like the best storytellers, she writes from her heart, leaving the reader with much to reflect on, much to mull over, much to savor and learn.

Amanda writes evocatively about her experiences as an adoptee, born in 1985, placed in foster care at 3 days old, officially adopted at 8 months old.  Hers was a same race, closed adoption—though her first mother had been told it would be open. Amanda, after a lot of time and expense, has reunited with her first mother and several members of her original family. She remains closely connected with her adoptive family as well.

As the former executive director of 2 adoption agencies and an international adoption nonprofit organization, I believe that The Declassified Adoptee should be required reading for all prospective adoptive parents, for all adoptive parents, and for social workers and other professionals who work in any way with adoption. It should be required reading for all adoption agency executive directors, for those who sit on the board of directors for adoption agencies, and for those who provide any and all post-adoption services.

As an adoptive parent, I believe that The Declassified Adoptee would have provided me with both insights and icebreakers when talking about adoption with my children when they were growing up. I plan to share the book with each of my now-young adult children. Though the details of their experiences may vary, I have no doubts Amanda’s story will resonate with them.

Like Amanda and most other adoptees (whether from the US or internationally adopted, whether adopted as infants or older children, whether adopted through private or public agencies), each of my children has dealt with the complex realities in adoption that Amanda writes about: trust, bullying, identity, truth, fantasy, secrecy, loss, grief, confusion, laws, lies, and love.

Her brief, insightful essays reflect the challenges that adoptees face: not knowing when to ask what questions, being startled and angered (and occasionally amused) by society’s views of adoption, and dealing with the truths of their stories. Those truths can be painful. One of the best gifts for first parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees from reading Amanda’s book may be her reflections on dealing with the painful circumstances that bring children to be adopted. Amanda writes candidly, gracefully, and hopefully about facing difficult truths in adoption, accepting them while not letting them overpower or define, and moving ahead with strength and resilience. The Declassified Adoptee deserves a wide audience in the adoption community, among adoptees, first parents, adoptive parents, social workers, adoption researchers, and anyone interested in better understanding what it means to be family.”

The book will be available in September, from CQT Publishing and Land of Gazillion Adoptees (the folks who published Parenting As Adoptees). Congratulations, Amanda!

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.

Adoptive Moms Speaking Out: The Perfect Storm, The Paradigm Shift

There is great change occurring in the world of adoption and adoption policy. I mentioned some of them in my perfect storm discussion about Standards of Parents for Adoptive Parents. Margie Perscheid, my friend and also a wonderful person and talented writer, has a blog called Paradigm Shift, and has written an important post called Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way.

Like me, Margie is an adoptive parent; her children are from Korea. Like my children (who are from the US and Ethiopia), hers are now young adults.  (Also, Margie and I both graduated from Georgetown University. Hoya Saxa.)

We both believe in adoption, and we are both troubled about adoption policy today. We both have seen a lot of changes and perhaps a bit of light over the years (decades) in which we raised our children. We are nice white ladies (I’m a grandma!) with really strong feelings about transparency and integrity in adoption practice, about race, about rights, about diversity, about marginalization, and about the rights of first parents. There are more of us than you might think lol. Revolutionaries with great manicures.

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Here are some other adoptive moms writing for and about change in adoption. I can’t vouch for their manicures, but I can tell you they are insightful, discerning advocates for effective, respectful, transparent adoption practices.

Karen Benally’s site: Stories of Transnational Adoptees and Their American Parents. The site’s goal: promoting and facilitating dialogue between adoptees and their parents. Karen and her (adult Korean adopted) daughter, Lisa Charlie de Morais Teixeira, “are collecting survey data from a large sample and combining it with oral histories gathered from both adoptive parents and adult adoptees so that we can hear, compare, and combine those varying perspectives. Our goal is to open up a meaningful dialogue among and between adoptees and their adoptive parents on issues related to transnational adoption.”

Note: Along with many other adoptive parent-adult international adoptee pairs, my daughter Aselefech and I participated in this study. Karen interviewed me; Lisa interviewed Aselefech. The interviews took place separately. The questions covered race, identity, parenting, school, home and community life, and of course adoption. I don’t know how our answers will compare, but I feel certain that this study (to be published in a book) will be groundbreaking and hugely valuable.

Terra Trevor is mixed blood Western Band Cherokee, Delaware and Seneca, and is a contributing author of 10 Books. Her memoir, Pushing up the Sky, is widely anthologized with an excerpt included in Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and Education. She explores themes of motherhood, race, culture, community, transracial adoption, raising a child with a life threatening illness, and the process of healing from the death of a child. She writes “from the perspective of a woman who has experienced a complicated motherhood, and straddles a complex ethnic and racial heritage.”

Cindy Rasicot’s site: Talking Heart to Heart. Cindy has a young adult son adopted from Paraguay. Her site is an online community that supports adoptive parents and adopted teens and young adults, particularly those involved with international adoption. It is intended to be a safe, grounded place for questions, listening, thoughtful discussions.

Adoptive parents hold most of the power in the adoption community. We can and should use that power in a new way today, to speak not *for* adoptees, but *along with* adoptees, and along with first parents, on issues like original birth certificates, access to medical histories, citizenship, the marginalization of birth/first parents, the realities of race, the need for improved post-adoption services for everyone, and more.

Burning and Building Bridges: A Korean Adoptee Returns to Korea

A powerful story from the New York Times about a writer, activist, adoptee: read it here.

South Korea is widely regarded as the country that began international adoptions, in the late 1950’s. There are now hundreds of thousands of adult Korean adoptees, all around the globe.  The voices, writing, and activism of Korean adult adoptees are particularly significant, given their numbers and ages, and are the face of the future for other countries involved in international adoption. 

Jane Jeong Trenka a adopted from South Korea as a baby in 1972, and raised in Minnesota. She struggled with racism growing up, as well as a hefty amount of mis-information about the realities of her origins and reasons for adoption. In the mid-90’s, she traveled to Korea, reunited with her birth mother, and learned many truths. Over the next several years, she wrote two memoirs, connected with other Korean adoptees, and moved permanently to Korea.

Jane Jeong Trenka http://www.minnpost.com/sites/default/files/asset/9/92c7ij/92c7ij.jpg

She is widely credited with being a pivotal force behind recent legislation to reduce the number of adoptions from Korea by providing increased protections for single mothers to keep and raise their children, and by promoting more adoptions within Korea. Jane is currently the president of TRACK, Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea. Here’s a part of TRACK’s Mission Statement:

TRACK is an organization advocating full knowledge of past and present Korean adoption practices to protect the human rights of adult adoptees, children, and families. We belief that birth families and adoptees need rights, recognition, and reconciliation with society in order to fully contribute to a strong Korean society.

Now 41, Jane has learned to speak Korean. Her birth mother passed away in 2000. The New York Times article quotes her as saying South Korea is her “unrequited love,” and Jane is living out that complexity now in her country of origin, speaking out, insisting on transparency and accountability. She’s controversial, insightful, effective. And along with other adoptees, she’s making huge changes, not just in South Korea, but in the world of adoption.

DNA Testing, Adoption, and Outrage

Imagine a room with a bunch of nice, older ladies. They are mostly smiling.  A few are cranky. I’m in there too, along with other grandmas. (It still shocks me I’m a grandmother, but Zariyah will be 7 in October, and I’ve come to terms with it.  Best thing ever.)

Imagine that some of these nice, older ladies are fundamentally denied two basic civil rights: access to their own original birth certificates, and knowledge of their medical histories. Imagine that your mother or grandmother has no idea what contraindications exist for medications. Imagine your grandma’s painful medical condition that could have been easily prevented with proactive treatment.

I tend these days to first think of adoptees as being not children, but young people, because of my own young adult children. I need to be more inclusive in my thinking and acknowledge more fully the adoptees in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond. That’s especially relevant around medical histories.

I posted yesterday about DNA testing and its value to adoptees. I received an absolutely on-point comment from TAO, a blog which you should follow. Now.

Here’s a quote from her comment:

“I am glad there is genetic testing available for many of the same reasons you note and while I don’t disagree with the statement “Finding out about potential future medical conditions could be frightening.” yet, I can’t begin to tell you how frightening actually living through a medical emergency without FHH is, and that reality plays out for adoptees more often than people want to believe.”

Family Health History, or First Family Health History, should be a given. TAO (The Adopted Ones, from the Baby Scoop era) is so right, and has put my delicate statement “Finding out about potential future medical conditions could be frightening” into the light of day where I now say:

Denial of medical histories is an outrage. Knowledge of one’s medical realities is so taken for granted by those of us who don’t have to think twice about it.

Knowledge of one’s medical history can be a matter of life and death. Certainly that knowledge can hugely impact the quality of one’s life.

And yet there are hundreds of thousands who ARE NOT ALLOWED to have this information.

Yesterday I was polite, and provided DNA testing information as if I were giving out lovely little flowers to brighten your day.  I have no doubts that DNA testing is valuable, and provides great information.

But today, I am angry. US and international adoptees, whether they were adopted today or 75 years ago, should have access to their original birth certificates: there remains no doubt in my mind about that. They should also have as full, accurate family health history as possible. It’s an outrage that they don’t, and that they have to struggle to get it.

I would love to see more adoptive parents, grandmothers, grandfathers, adoption attorneys, adoption agency workers, and medical professionals joining in outrage.

TAO noted also in her comment to me that “not all genes have been found for common diseases let alone the estimated 7,000 rare diseases that affect 1 in 12 Americans…genetic tests are a poor substitute for a good FFH.”

Excellent point. Genetic tests are helpful on some level, no doubt. But genetic tests, as they exist now, are no substitute for a thorough, accurate first family health history.

From TAO’s “About” page:

“As you will notice as you read our posts both of us were impacted in different ways by the lack of current updated family health history because of being adopted.  While having the family health history may not have changed the course of our diseases – the knowledge in my case may have prevented two life threatening events, and for shadowadoptee the knowledge that she would go blind sure would have been nice to know…”