“Adoptees, Mental Health, and Suicide Awareness”

The role of suicide and mental health in adoption are topics most people don’t want to hear about. As an adoptive parent, I’ve been writing and speaking out about it for years, and I know how painful and difficult it can be. That said, we need to talk and learn, and work toward suicide prevention and better mental health.

This Saturday September 12, Adoption Mosaic will host a panel called “Adoptees, Mental Health, and Suicide Awareness: Breaking the Silence, Breaking the Stigma, as part of their “We The Experts” series. The experts are adoptees, who share their lived experiences, as well as professional expertise. If as an adoptive parent you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall for discussions like this one, here’s your chance to listen to and learn from adoptees. I want to give credit and respect to the adoptees who will participate: they will be helping so many others with their courage and experience.

The focus on the “We the Experts” events is adoptees. Please share this event (and others in the We The Expert series) with adopted adults and others who may be interested. Non-adopted folx are welcome to attend: as listeners, as learners, as supporters of adoptees. Not as experts, not as authorities, not as dominating voices.

As an adoptive parent, I learned a lot about adoption as my kids were growing up. My sons were babies from the US when they were adopted; my twin daughters were 6 years old when they arrived from Ethiopia. All my children identify as Black; their adoptive dad and I are White. My children are all now adults in their 30’s. 

Over the years, we have had a lot of conversations about adoption. My four children’s perspectives on adoption vary greatly, around wanting or needing to search for birth family, around how they react to friends asking about their birth parents or why they were adopted, around trust, grief, Mother’s Day, and fairness. As children, they participated in adoptee camps and workshops, more or less willingly depending on age and mood. They dealt with memories or the lack of them, with baby photos or lack of them, with family tree assignments (never lacked them). As adults, they have settled into their identities, on their own terms, subject to change.

Questions and issues around adoption don’t end magically when adoptees turn 18. Children grow up. They seek out partners and relationships, and adoption can influence both. They have children themselves, who are not adopted and whose parents were. Those biological connections are powerful. As a mom, a grandmother, and the parent of adoptees, I continue to see the impact of adoption, and to learn.

One of the best ways I’ve been learning recently is through Adoption Mosaic’s “We the Experts” series. Depending on the topic, we get to listen to adopted adults talk about their experiences as parents, and how being adopted has affected their relationships with their children. We can learn why or why they chose to search for their birth family, how they have retained or rejected the religion they grew up in, what their relationships with their fathers have been like, and most recently, how they view DNA testing. In August, there was a great conversation about LGBTQ+ folx and adoption. The panelists talked about coming out to adoptive families, sexual orientation and how it can affect reunion, how dating and adoption can intersect (among other intersectionalities), and more. There was so much to say they held another session the following Saturday, and I have no doubts many conversations are still going on.

The panelists are consistently amazing and insightful. The adoptees attending the events ask great questions and share thoughtful comments. Astrid Castro, a Colombian transracial adoptee and thought leader in adoption, is the founder of Adoption Mosaic, and she facilitates the discussions. I especially urge adoptive parents, whatever age your adopted child is, to take advantage of the opportunity that is Adoption Mosaic’s We The Experts series. 

Adoption Mosaic has several resources about adoption and suicide posted on their facebook page as resources for the September 12 panel.

I want to also note a few other resources, by and for adoptees. One is Stop Adoptee Suicide, an Facebook page that provides resources. Another is this post from Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV), “Dealing With Adoptee Suicide.”

Another important event will be Adoptee Remembrance Day, October 30, 2020. “Adoptee Remembrance Day is a day to recognize all of our brothers & sisters who are adopted, that didn’t survive adoption. It’s also a day that signifies an acknowledgement of loss for adoptees because before we’re ever adopted we experience the biggest loss of our lives that’s continuously ignored by our world today. Over the years, the adoptee community has had multiple conversations on creating a day set aside for adoptees, but we’re ready to bring this to life as a way to raise awareness and honor those adoptees who are no longer with us. It’s important that we don’t forget them and after all we’ve lost, adoptees deserve a day just for them.” – Pamela Karanova. Pamela is the force behind Adoptees Connect, whose goal is to “focus on putting adoptee voices first by creating a safe and valuable adoptee-centric space, created by and for adoptees, where their voices can meet and be heard.”

In recent years, the number of adopted adults who are speaking out about adoption has increased greatly. Each one has an important perspective to share, and I am glad to see their wisdom being acknowledged. Discussions around mental health and suicide remain challenging, in and outside of adoption, and each of us feels a terrible sorrow at the news of an adoptee dying by suicide. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Let’s keep learning, together.

A crisis text line is available 24/7. That link will take you to text lines in other countries as well. In the US, you can talk to a counselor right away by texting HOME to 741741. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, in the US call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 (or your country’s emergency number) immediately.

Adoptees and Suicide: Resources and Thoughts for Adoptive Parents (And Others)

As the White adoptive parent of 4 Black children (two born in the U.S., two born in Ethiopia; now adults in their 30’s), I have learned a great deal about both the joys and sorrows of adoption. One of the sorrows is that some adoptees struggle mightily with depression and trauma, no matter how deeply they are loved. This can become especially pronounced in adolescence. For those adoptees who are placed in abusive adoptive families, I can only imagine how horrific, lonely, and devastating their struggle must be.

Many adoptees do just fine. I don’t want to pathologize adoption or adoptees. That said, I urge all of us adoptive parents in particular to get a deeper understanding of suicide prevention, and to know that there are signs, treatments, and actions we can take.

I know of at least four Ethiopian adoptees who died by suicide. A (not adopted) Ethiopian 7th grader died by suicide a few years ago here in Washington; his parents are immigrants. They, their family, and their community have been devastated by the loss, as is, I am sure, any parent whose child has died by suicide. The parents and other family members need support and hope, which can come in many forms, as they try to recover and heal.

In my writing on adoption, I always try to promote the voices of adult adoptees, their lived experiences, their stories, and their professional expertise. 

Here are some examples of the voices we should be aware of and learn from, even as we are talking about the wrenching subject of suicide. There is a Facebook page Stop Adoptee Suicide set up by and for adoptees; there are some great resources listed on the page. There will be an Adoptee Remembrance Day October 30 organized by the adoptee leadership of Adoptees Connect. The page Intercountry Adoptee Memorials was created by Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) to honor those who adoptees who died by suicide or at the hands of their adoptive family.

Besides a willingness to read, and to make efforts to help families recover and heal, what can we do? 

Know that talking about suicide will not make someone suicidal. In fact, it can reduce the risk. Learn more here. That’s the site of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Consider consulting with therapists who are adoptees. Here is a list, created by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker, of U.S. based adoptee-therapists. Dr. Wirta-Leiker is herself an adoptee and is also an adoptive parent.

Listen to adoptee-led discussions.

* One great podcast is Canada-based AdopteesOn; the Healing Series on suicide is thoughtful and powerful.

* Another excellent resource is AdoptedFeels, an Australia-based podcast hosted by two international adoptees, which had a 3-part series on adoption and suicide. Look here for the episodes.

 * Adapted podcasts (for Korean adoptees living in Korea and elsewhere) has had at least two episodes related to suicide.

* In September, Adoption Mosaic will hold a “We the Experts” program on suicide and adoption. The experts are adoptees. Non-adoptees (adoptive parents, partners, friends, support folx of adoptees) are invited to attend as well, and agree to be silent: to intentionally listen and learn. Stay tuned for more information soon.

 When looking for resources for your child, look for adoption-competent therapists. Ask what their training is in adoption and trauma. The Center for Adoption Support and Education has trained more than 1800 therapists in 18 states via a curriculum called Training for Adoption Competency. 

Keep these resources handy:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255 (Note: in 2022, there will be a 3 digit number for folx to call, but that is not in service yet. Keep using the number provided above until then.)

The Lifeline page has a link for resources for youth who might be struggling.

The Crisis Text Line can be reached  by texting HOME 741741 in the U.S. and Canada. You can text 85258 in the UK, and 50808 in Ireland. It is available 24/7.

Here’s an article I wrote on Adoptees and Suicide Risk, for a publication of Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the role that racism and bullying (including cyberbullying) can play in the lives and deaths of adoptees.

The parents of Kaleab Schmidt, an Ethiopian adoptee who died by suicide in 2018, are working hard to get their school system to face the racism and racial bullying that their son endured at school. Kaleab had many struggles: abuse in Ethiopia, the loss of both Ethiopian parents, deep trauma endured there as a little child. If you believe that adoption itself is a trauma (the separation from one’s mother, the deep grief of losing one’s only known family, and in the case of international adoption, losing one’s country, language, history, and heritage), then you understand that Kaleab experienced many traumas. Add to that the blatant racism and bullying he received as the only Black student at his school, and the fact that (from the reports) no genuine effort appears to have been made by the school to address the bullying or the racism, and your heart continues to break.  

Racial mirrors matter. Surround adoptees with people who look like them. Racial isolation is painful. 

  • The Adopted Life blog of Black transracial adoptee Angela Tucker has several posts, videos, and interviews about the impact of racism on adoptees.

“The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee by Susan Harris O’Connor, a Black transracial adoptee; “In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption” by Ronda M. Roorda, a Black transracial adoptee, and “Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption,” edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean transracial adoptee, are just a few examples of books written by (as Adoption Mosaic says) the experts in adoption: adoptees.

For more general information: Here’s a British site about Racism and Racist Bullying. Here’s information from the U.S. National Education Association on How to respond to incidents of racism, bullying, and hate in schools. There is a link in the article to some additional resources. I realize most school are doing remote learning, but the information is still relevant. Given that many kids are home and spending lots more time on social media, online bullying exists as a real and ugly possibility. Here’s one resource about cyberbullying directed toward teens. Here’s another more general one for children and teens: Cyberbullying.

Kaleab Schmidt, who died at 13 years old, was a victim of cyberbullying, among other racist incidents, according to an inquest requested by his parents. “School officials testified there was allegedly a Snapchat group called ‘I Hate Kaleab Schmidt’ created by students at Greenall High School.”

Imagine if that were your child.

We all need to work harder at protecting children from racism and other forms of abuse.

If your White adoption social worker did not prepare you well for transracial adoption (and I feel safe in saying that was the case for many adoptive parents), there are plenty of adoptees who can provide incredible information and insights. Listen to them. If your adopted child is a victim of bullying in school or on the web, especially of adoption- or race-related bullying, advocate fiercely for them. I realize some bullying can be inevitable, but racial-based bullying can be horrifyingly intense for a transracially adopted child whose white parents haven’t experienced racism. When the children grow up and go out into the world, the racism can be gutting.

This has to stop. Hard work and hard conversations must happen. May Kaleab and all those who died too soon rest in peace and in power.

San Juan Islands, 2016 &Copy; Maureen McCauley

 

 

 

Suicide, Adoptees, The Military

Is there any correlation or intersection among adoption, military service, and suicide? I don’t know. Here’s some sad news: 25 year old XinHua Mesenburg, adopted from China when he was 8 years old and a Senior Airman in the US Air Force, died by suicide on January 5.

XinHua’s adoptive father posted about his son’s death on his Facebook page. The family is, of course, devastated.

https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2019/01/07/father-posts-heartbreaking-note-after-andrews-airmans-apparent-suicide/

Did you know that 20 military veterans/active service members die by suicide every day? An incredibly tragic statistic. More information is available here.

I’ve written a lot about adoptee suicide, and about resources. Hard as it is, we need to keep listening, learning, and speaking out about suicide prevention.

May XinHua’s family find peace and healing.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

CrisisText Line: Text to 741741

The Delicate Dance of Writing About Suicide (And Adoption)

Writing about suicide is thorny. There’s the possibility of raising awareness, providing resources, sharing strategies for prevention, and helping others.

There’s also the possibility of instigating copycat suicides, of overstepping boundaries of privacy, and of sensationalizing a tragedy.

It is a delicate dance. I’ve written many times about adoptee suicides, and I have never done so lightly. If I have to write about it again, here are my thoughts.

Suicide is probably one of the most difficult topics for humans to talk about and think about.

Historically, there has been shame associated with suicide. It has been considered a crime. Some religious beliefs say that those who die by suicide will not get into heaven, and that causes an additional layer of heartbreak for survivors.

“Removing the shame surrounding suicide can and does offer healing. Whoever suffers, whether victim or survivor, needs to know they’re not alone. Others have been lost, too, and they can show us a way out of hell and back to life.” Read more here, about “Suicide and Shame.”

We need to talk about suicide prevention, and about suicide, trauma, and adoption. We need to talk about the fact that adoptees, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, are four times more likely to attempt (not commit) suicide. We must be aware of that, and also balance it by not viewing all adoptees as fragile or broken. Balance and discernment are important.

That said, I’m not sure I can understate the role of bullying in child/teen suicides. Cyberbullying and bullycide are terms we all need to be familiar with. Share this information with friends, teachers, pastors, therapists, school principals, guidance counselors, the PTA-PTO, and anyone else. Have it on your radar. Don’t let others dismiss the impact that bullying can have on children and teens. Don’t dismiss it yourself.

 

This is a painful, important article: “Child Suicide Is Plaguing the Black Community At an Alarming Rate.” If we add the complexity of being adopted, of being transracially adopted, of being internationally adopted, and of being adopted at an older age, we can see an intersection that deserves care. Add on issues around sexuality, gender, and violence, and it’s even more complex.

According to the CDC, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages10 to 24, and LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. In a national survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt in their lifetime and 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

Teen Vogue published “How To Talk To Your Friends About Suicide.” An excerpt: “…having open and responsible conversations about suicide can actually help prevent it. ‘For every one person that dies by suicide here in the United States, there are about 278 other people that think seriously about suicide but don’t kill themselves,’ John Draper, PhD, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, tells Teen Vogue. ‘What that tells us is…the overwhelming majority of suicides are prevented; and they’re prevented because people talk with each other and talk with others in ways that get help. And if we are more supportive with each other or find ways to help people through a crisis, or find ways to help ourselves through a crisis…we can get to the other side of it.’ ”

Another article that may be of interest is this one, also from Teen Vogue: “How To Talk About Suicide” “When the media or popular YouTubers share painful imagery but don’t offer support or information for what to do when you’re in crisis, it can leave vulnerable individuals feeling hopeless and alone.”

Point taken, and it’s an important one. I’ve posted often about suicides, and also about resources.

When I write about suicide, I will always provide support and information. Here are some important new ones.

Share this one with therapists and others:  “The Best Way to Save People From Suicide”

Dr. Ursula Whiteside is among those cited in the article. Based in Seattle, she is an expert in DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I have known many folks, especially pre-teens and adolescents, who have benefited from DBT. Dr. Whiteside and the author of the article above, Jason Cherkis, held a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session recently to discuss the article and suicide prevention. I asked Dr. Whiteside for suggestions specifically for adoptive parents who worry about their kids, and this was her reply:

“If you could teach parents and kids basic things about the function of emotions (communicate to self and others, motivate behavior) and reinforcement and validation principles, that would be huge. Check out DBT in Schools for ideas. Also “Don’t Shoot the Dog” for reinforcement principals.”

I know how scary the subject of suicide is, how frightening it is for parents, for anyone. I am convinced we can do a better job in supporting each other by talking about suicide and especially about suicide prevention. We are seeing a statistical rise in suicides and suicide attempts, especially among children. Let’s create an informed community. Let’s keep learning, and talking.

Someone is available 24/7 to talk: Call 1-800-273-8255. This is the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

You can also text 741741, and someone will respond—usually within 13 seconds. Counselors will listen, and can provide resources for you. You don’t have to be suicidal to text—they will talk with you if you need someone to listen, if you have a friend who is talking about suicide, or if you are feeling suicidal. Here’s great info about using this text resource: The Five Biggest Myths About Crisis Text Line of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Here’s a list of international suicide hotlines.

Here is a page with international suicide hotlines as well as other resources.

There is help and support. You are not alone. 

 

Another Adoptee Suicide: So Much Heartache

Suicide is the second leading cause of death (after accidental injuries) for people between 10 and 34 years old. It is the fourth leading cause of death for people between 35 and 54 years old. And the numbers have been on the rise in the last decade.

When an adoptee dies by suicide, there is a special poignancy and pain in the adoption community. We all have our own reasons for our reactions. As an adoptive parent, I cannot imagine the pain my children would have endured to die by suicide; nor can I imagine the pain of survivors.

Here’s the bigger lens on that poignancy and pain: The traditional and widely accepted adoption narrative is that adoption means a better life than a child would otherwise have had. That’s certainly the intent. “Better” is a relative term: better because of economics, education, safety, or what? That can be a contentious bit of defining.

When an adoptee dies by suicide, especially at a very young age, there is an extra layer of wondering. Adoption is supposed to mean a better, happier life: why would an adoptee kill himself? Adoptive parents are supposed to be the better option: what happened? (And of course, sometimes there was nothing that any parent or anyone else could have done to prevent the death.) How does an adoptee’s death by suicide affect the birth parents, who (we hope) placed their child legally and transparently, in the hope that the child would be better off?

Such sorrow. A loss like no other. No easy answers.

I recently heard about the death by suicide of a young Ethiopian adoptee. Upon reflection, I have edited this post to delete personal information. If I caused more pain, I deeply apologize.

I am hopeful that the rest of us will continue to learn about suicide, even as it is so deeply difficult to think about. Talk about it, especially if you have pre-teens or teens. Please learn, and help your family learn, about suicide prevention. About trauma. About depression. About how all that can sometimes play out in adoption.

Please learn also about the role of race in adoption, about how important it can be for adoptees to have racial mirrors, mentors, and role models. I get a lot of pushback about this, but I am convinced that adoptees raised in racial isolation—without others who look like them—suffer in terms of identity and otherwise, no matter how deeply loved they are by their adoptive family. I do not understand families who bring children from around the world and raise them in racial isolation. If the child had to move, maybe the family has to move too.

Learn from adult adoptees. Read the essays of Dear Adoption. Look through books written by and recommended by adoptees at AdopteeReading. Here’s a list of Best Adoptee Blogs. That’s just one list, and there are many other wonderful adoptee blogs. Twitter can connect you with an abundance of adoptee bloggers and writers. Read Karen Pickell’s Adoptee Lexicon, for one example, about the words we use during National Adoption Month (November, every year).

Most adoptees are resilient. The vast majority do not attempt or die by suicide. I do not want to pathologize adoptees or adoption. Nor do I want to minimize the very real and painful struggles some adoptees go through.

I’ll close this post with an article by a resilient adoptee who offers many valuable insights: “I’m Adopted, But I Won’t Be Celebrating National Adoption Month.” Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your story so openly and powerfully.

May all those who leave this world by suicide rest in peace and in power. May their families find healing. May we all do better in this world.

Some Additional Resources:

One important takeaway: it is a myth that talking about suicide will plant the idea, or cause someone to attempt it. Take a look at It’s Time to Talk About it: A Family Guide For Youth Suicide Prevention. A quote: “Talking about suicide does not cause suicide. In fact, by asking questions, you may prevent suicide by showing the  youth that you care and are there to help.”

Talking to kids about suicide is hard. Here’s a good resource about doing that, as well as about warning signs, about helping a child after a friend has died by suicide, about cyberbullying, and more: Talking To Your Kid About Suicide

Risk of Suicide in Adopted and Nonadopted Siblings  This is the often-cited study by the American Academy of Pediatrics which showed that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide (not die by suicide) than non-adoptees.

The Mental Health of U.S. Adolescents Adopted in Infancy  

Healing Series: Suicide A podcast by the stellar AdopteesOn. The presenter is Melissa K. Nicholson.

Realities and Remembrances Around Suicide and Adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some other statistics and resources:

Suicide is a Leading Cause of Death in the United States

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

LGBT Youth at Higher Risk For Suicide Attempts  

Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

My heart aches so.

What can we in the adoption community do?

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

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

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

We can acknowledge the reality and extent of bullying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m so damn sad.

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

Runner’s World on Gabe Proctor: Ethiopian Adoptee, Championship Runner, Suicide

Gabe Proctor with his siblings Joanna and Samuel, in 2000 and in 2013

 

Gabe Proctor lived a short, loving, and complex life. Adopted from Ethiopia around age 10 after his mother died, he grew up in Vermont, went to college in Kansas and Colorado, became a championship runner, worked hard to support his family in Ethiopia, and died by suicide at this past May at age 27.

Sarah Lorge Butler has written a thoughtful profile of Gabe in Runner’s World: After Runner’s Suicide, Anguish and A Search for Answers. She spoke extensively with Gabe’s family, as well as his coaches and running partners. The sorrow and loss are palpable, as are the questions that can never be answered.

I am among those quoted in the article, and I have written many times about suicide and adoption. There are simply no clearcut answers. According to the Runner’s World article,  ” ‘In understanding mental health and adoption, researchers now think about a combination of risk factors,’ said Maria Kroupina, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Adoption itself is one risk factor. Others include prenatal stress to the child’s mother. Genetics, or family history of mental illness. Stress in early childhood, from scarcity of resources or abuse or neglect. The loss of a parent.

It’s a process for adopted children and the adults in their lives to navigate these issues from the past. ‘Children and young adults need ongoing help,’ she said. “No health care providers would put a child with asthma or a heart condition in a family and say, ‘Please figure it out.'”

Gabe’s family remembers him as a talented, thoughtful, loving son and brother. His coaches remember him as incredibly hard-working and determined to push himself to achieve his best.

From the article: “During his best year in 2014, he had the fifth-fastest half marathon time in the U.S., but his heart is what people remember. Proctor especially looked out for those who had trouble fitting in or seemed burdened in other ways.”

Like many adoptees, especially those adopted at older ages and with siblings, Gabe never forgot his Ethiopian connections. “Gabe made four trips to Ethiopia over the years, and as his running career progressed, he realized his talent could help his relatives in Ethiopia. As a professional, his singular goal was to use his running to support his family. Gabe had a shoe deal from Asics, and he lived simply, never owning a car, for example. Samuel says before Gabe’s death, his brother had built houses that his Ethiopian family could use for rental income.”

Gabe Proctor in Ethiopia, July 2006

I give credit to his adoptive parents, Caryl and Jim Proctor, for sharing their son’s story. They and others who loved Gabe urge “family and friends of people who are struggling with depression to confront it head on.” Jim Proctor “implores parents to pay attention: ‘Accept that the warning signs are warning signs,’ he said…’Don’t ignore it.'”

There are many resources available to help with suicide prevention; I have listed many of them in this post: Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption. Whether or not adoption is involved, we should all be aware of resources for depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Yes, these are tough topics. And they need to see the light of day, because that’s the only way we can help each other.

‘Gabe was adamant about this,’ his younger brother, Samuel, said. ‘Always treat people the absolute best you can, because you don’t know what they’re dealing with.’

 

 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7, is 800-273-8255. You can also text 741741, the crisis text line available 24/7, and text with a trained crisis counselor.

Korean Adoptees, Scholars, Activists Call For End to International Adoption

A large and impressive group of scholars, activists, adopted persons, and adoption practitioners has sent a Declaration Calling For An Immediate End to the Industrial International Adoption System from South Korea. (My thanks to @Koreanadoptee76 for the link; see swedishkoreanadopteesnetwork.wordpress.com.) Directed to the government of South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, the declaration calls on the government  to do the following:

  • Terminate international adoptions from South Korea
  • Improve support for unwed mothers and for their children
  • Implement comprehensive post-adoption services
  • Audit adoption agencies
  • Address citizenship failures
  • Provide adequate services to deported adoptees

The signatories are many. This is an impressive, important document, not just in terms of South Korea, but for international adoption globally.

Korean adoptees are the largest and oldest group of international adoptees. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and range in age into their 60’s. Their decades of experiences provide solid information about the impact of adoption: some good, some bad, all over the spectrum. Many in the adoption community look to them as historians of an important past and as bellwethers of the future of adoption.

Having this group of academics, activists, adult adoptees, and many adoptee organizations call for an end to international adoption from Korea is extraordinarily significant. The call, which I’d argue has been simmering a long time, is partly in response to the tragedy of Korean adoptee Phillip Clay’s deportation and suicide, partly to the deportation of other adoptees from the U.S., partly to the need for better post-adoption services, and partly to demands that more resources be provided to single mothers in Korea, an economically vibrant country.

Another significant point is that these adult adoptees are also calling for better preservation and management of adoptees’ records. So many adoptees have returned to Korea (and other countries) to search for their adoption records, hoping to find their birth families, only to be told the records do not exist or were destroyed in a flood or a fire. Others have found their records only after multiple requests and incredible perseverance, often at high emotional and financial cost.

The maintenance of records by orphanages, adoption agencies, and countries of origins is vital. The records allow adopted persons to know their truths, to know their identities, to know who they are–all basic human rights. This is not a matter of paperwork–for some, it is restoration, salvation, freedom.

The deportation of international adoptees from the United States is one of the most shameful practices of our country. I can only imagine how the sending countries (Korea, Brazil, India, Germany, Mexico, and many more) feel about the fact they sent their children here and we in the United States did not grant them automatic citizenship until 2000, and still have not made citizenship retroactive for those whose parents failed to naturalize them. Talk about broken trust.

Adoptees are not the only ones publicly calling for an end to international adoption. Take a look at this powerful post by the adoptive mom of two now young adults from Korea: Off the Fence, at Third Mom blog.

I am still on the fence. Adoption can change the lives for the better for children, not just in terms of economics. I believe it should be an option. That said, I deeply respect the views and the writers of this Declaration. The traditional narrative of rescue and saviorism must end, along with the fraud and corruption–and it may not be possible to ever end fraud and corruption. Orphan prevention and family preservation have to be paramount. We adoptive parents should be speaking out strongly for both of these, as well as for citizenship for all international adoptees and for post-adoption services for adoptees and for first/birth families.

Please share the Declaration.

 

A Brief Explanation of Why International Adoptees Get Deported

Yesterday the New York Times published an article that is getting a lot of attention: “Deportation a ‘Death Sentence’ to Adoptees After a Lifetime in the U.S.” 

I made the mistake of reading the comments on the tweet of the article, and wanted to clarify a few questions that repeatedly came up.

Why weren’t they citizens? Why did Obama deport them? Why did Trump deport them?

Until 2001, internationally adopted children were not automatically citizens. It was up to their adoptive parents to naturalize them.

Some parents got their children naturalized; some didn’t. Why not? They didn’t know. Their adoption agencies didn’t tell them. They forgot. They lost track of time. They didn’t want to. They found out late and tried to but the government agencies fouled up with paperwork.

Some adoptees assumed they were citizens automatically by being adopted to the U.S., and then found out as adults that they were not. It is, as I understand it, possible but extremely difficult to get citizenship as adoptees after age 18.

As a result of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), anyone who is not a U.S. citizen and is convicted of a felony (the definition of felony can vary widely among states) is subject to deportation.

That 1996 law included by default international adoptees, who arrived here in the US legally, as immigrants, as the children of U.S. citizens, whose parents failed to make them U.S. citizens.

Neither President Trump nor President Obama are responsible for the deportation of international adoptees. The 1996 law was signed by President Clinton (who also signed the Child Citizenship Act), and was the product of a GOP Congress.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted citizenship automatically to children under 18, though the process depends on the visa with which the child traveled. Years in the making, the CCA had a hard time getting approval in what was then an anti-crime, anti-immigrant climate (see the 1996 law). Making the legislation retroactive was a goal, but was a deal breaker for many in the Republican Congress. As someone who was among the many people advocating for the legislation, I remember trying to get the CCA through was not at all easy.

Even in 2000, as today, many legislators did not see adopted children as real family members. Many saw them as immigrants and nothing more. That mindset continues in the current Congress, and across America.

There have been adoptees deported since the 1996 IIRIRA, to Korea, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Japan, El Salvador, India, Thailand, Philippines, Argentina, Guatemala, and Russia. There well may be more that haven’t received press attention. There are probably some adopted adults who thought they were citizens, committed a felony of some sort (could be bad check writing to murder), who served time, and who are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now. There are probably thousands of internationally adopted adults who don’t know they are not citizens. Some might get in trouble with the law, get convicted, serve their time, and get deported.

Sending countries, including South Korea which has the highest numbers, are concerned (and rightly so) about the U.S. citizenship status of the children they have sent for adoption.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress for years to provide citizenship retroactively to the legally adopted children of U.S. citizens who were over 18 when the Child Citizenship Act was signed. It has not yet been introduced in the current 115th Congress. My sense is that there has been resistance in Congress because these adoptees have committed crimes (some of which are minor or are first offenses), and because the Members of Congress do not see international adoptees as genuine family members.

I am not aware of any other country which adopts children internationally and then allows them to be deported.

Adoptive parents need to make sure their children, whatever age, are official U.S. citizens, and have not only their passport (via the U.S. State Department) but also (via the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) their Certificate of Citizenship. Since government agencies use different databases and do not necessarily talk to each other, parents also need to check specifically with the Social Security Administration to make sure their child is listed as a citizen there too.

By the way, the cost of a Certificate of Citizenship is currently $1,369.00. That’s the fee charged by our government to get permanent proof of citizenship. Waiting times are several months to over a year.

There is now an office committed to reporting crimes by “undocumented immigrants.” Adult adoptees, brought to the U.S. legally with the permission of the U.S. government by U.S. citizens who failed to get them citizenship for whatever reasons, could be included there. Those cute little kids grow up. Some commit crimes, which nobody sanctions, and which happens in families all the time. They serve their sentences. They are then deported from the land that welcomed them to democracy, safety, and a better life. Some, like Phillip Clay, are deported and commit suicide, Some, like Joao Herbert, grow up in Ohio, sell a small amount of marijuana, are deported as a result of that first offense, and are killed.

A ‘death sentence’ is not too strong a phrase for the reality that the American government refuses to confer citizenship on people (children. orphans) who were brought legally to the U.S. by U.S. citizens to be adopted, who had no control over getting naturalized except through their parents, and are now subject to deportation. Yes, they committed crimes, some incredibly minor, and served their time as a result, like U.S. citizens do all the time.

It is shameful that the American government did not provide American citizenship automatically to orphans (according to U.S. law) who were brought to America, grew up in America with an American family, lost their original language, family, culture, and heritage, and whose parents (intentionally or inadvertently) failed to get them citizenship.

Welcome to the United States, little children.