On Grief and the Gut

In the adoption community, I’ve heard often about stomach and gut challenges related to adoption. Many adoptees deal with food hoarding, or with sensory issues around texture, or with eating disorders. Always consult a doctor or other medical professional, of course—I am neither of those.

I have though written about the gut-brain connection, and its possible link to relinquishment and adoption: The Link Among the Brain, the Gut, Adoption, and Trauma. Research increasingly shows a connection among what we have experienced, how we feel, and how we eat. Sometimes the feelings are subconscious, sometimes they are rooted in trauma, and sometimes they rise to the surface, whether on traumaverseries or seemingly without a rationale.

Here’s a good article from Time about grief and the gut: “How Grief Upsets Your Gut Health.” While the article focuses around a person whose mother died, there is a resonance with adoption, where children “lose” their mothers, sometimes by death though more often by poverty, social stigma, addiction, illness, colonialism, economic inequities, patriarchy, or other reason. In any case, it is a substantial loss. It is grief. It is real, even in the cases where children are adopted at birth. From the Time article: “It’s challenging to solely examine bereavement, because grief includes other emotions such as anger, sadness, and denial. When these feelings linger, they can contribute to mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. These conditions’ ebbs and flows have been linked to the bacteria residing in the gut.”

Disturbed gut microbiomes (the community of bacteria/microorganisms living in our gut) can result in feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness, as well as an overall loss of well-being. The article mentions dietary changes, probiotics, de-stressing, and breathing techniques as a few strategies to improve the “gut-brain axis.”

Food for thought.

Facebook Page of Our “Lions Roaring” Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees

I am happy to invite you to “Like” and follow the new Facebook page for our soon-to-be published anthology, “Lions Roaring Far From Home.” The link is here. Thank you!

The anthology, the first of its kind, has essays and poems from 32 Ethiopian adoptees who are of different ages and who were raised in different countries. The cover art (shared below; reveal here) is by Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie.

On the Facebook page, we will provide info about pre-order and publication as soon as it is available. We will also be posting excerpts from the book, pre-publication reviews by some amazing folks, and info about upcoming “Meet the Writers” Zooms and other events.

Thanks so much for visiting and Liking the Facebook page! Please share with others. We really appreciate the support.

An Ethiopian Adoptee Death: Heartache

Because his adoptive parents spoke publicly about his death, I am sharing the news of the March 6 passing of Mekbul Timmer, an Ethiopian adoptee. I cannot imagine the heartbreak the family is enduring, and I send the deepest of condolences.

He was adopted by Jeff and Mattie Timmer of Michigan. Jeff Timmer is a political and media consultant who works with the Lincoln Project; both Jeff and Mattie have a substantial social media presence. Jeff posted on his Twitter feed various photos and information about Mekbul, including this obituary.

The family makes no mention of suicide as a cause of death—but neither do they give any other cause. Mekbul was 18 years old, adopted from Ethiopia (per the obituary posted by Jeff Timmer) when he was 11, as best I can tell from the obituary.

Mekbul Timmer

Because the family has been so public, we will include Mekbul Timmer’s name in the Dedication of our upcoming anthology of essays by Ethiopian adoptees, “Lions Roaring Far From Home.” We are dedicating the book to all Ethiopian adoptees who have died too soon, whether by suicide or other causes. We grieve as a community.

We know also how painful and searing a death by suicide of a young person can be not only to immediate family, but also to friends. Yes, the death is painful for those left behind at any age, but teens and young adults can often struggle a great deal with confusion, grief, and even suicidal ideation themselves.

I’ve written several times about adoption and suicide. I know it is a difficult topic at best. As a society, we are not good at talking about it. The popular narrative of adoption does not allow much room for adoptees who love their adoptive families and still struggle with depression or trauma. It doesn’t allow much room for adoptees who were failed or abused by their adoptive families either, and who deal with suicidal ideation.

Last October, I facilitated a webinar via United Suicide Survivors International called “Adoption and Suicide Prevention: Adult Adoptees Speak Out.” The powerful speakers were Jessenia Parmer, Amanda Transue-Woolston, Kevin Barhydt, and Lynelle Long. You can find the video of the webinar here.

United Suicide Survivors International has many excellent webinars and resources. Another resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255, available 24/7. The K-12 School Suicide Prevention info from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention may be useful also. Check out “How to Talk About Suicide” from Indian Health Services, There are “Resources for Youth and Suicide Prevention” on the page as well.

Jeff Timmer posted a thank you to the thousands of people across social media who expressed condolences. He included, “Please just love your kids and those close to you.” Absolutely.

I will add this, and I know it’s painful to even think about: Please learn and talk about suicide prevention with those you love.

May Mekbul rest in power and in peace. May his memory be a blessing.

I Am Adoptee: NAAM

This is day 16 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

“A community built around mental health and wellness, by adoptees, for adoptees”: that is the focus of the nonprofit IAMAdoptee. Co-founder Joy Lieberthal Rho, LCSW, was adopted from South Korea when she almost six years old. She has worked in adoption for many years, including in private practice with intercountry adoptees and their families. That work was the basis for founding IAMAdoptee, which curates a wealth of mental health resources, directed primarily to internationally adopted people.

The wellness resources include suggestions for how to deal with Covid-19 isolation, lists of adoptee-led groups around the world, and articles and blog posts about a range of adoptee-related subjects. There is a checklist and overview for adoptees considering searching for birth family, with information about South Korea, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, and Paraguay. In “Community,” you can find information about culture camps and related organizations, about citizenship, about adoptee podcasts, and about adoptee-focused conferences.

Currently, IAMAdoptee is partnering with SideXSide, “a large scale documentary and oral history project, telling the story of 65+ years of inter-country adoption out of South Korea and 100 individuals, born in Korea, 1944–1995.” (I wrote about SideXSide here.) IAMAdoptee is hosting a series of Reflections on the Adoptee Journey, about the topics in SideXSide’s videos, such as Memory, Birth Family Reunion, and Searching for Answers. Each topic features a video from the SideXSide project, and then a reflection/conversation with an “esteemed lineup of intercountry adoptee clinical therapists,” facilitated by Joy Lieberthal Rho.

IAMAdoptee is actively adding mental health and wellness resources to their site. The Facebook page has additional information and resources. One recent post, for example, was about adult adoptees from Greece seeking to reinstate their citizenship.

The vision of IAMAdoptee is “an act of service to the adoptee community, a place for an intercountry adopted person to connect with others.” An excellent way to honor adoptees during National Adoption Awareness Month (November) is to follow their Facebook pages and websites, and to donate to ensure they can keep their good work going.

Adapted Podcast: NAAM

This is day 8 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Adoptions from the Republic of Korea to the U.S. began in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, before, during, and after the Korean War. Korean babies and children (like almost all international adoptees) were also sent to other countries, mostly in western Europe. They are the oldest and largest group of international adoptees. The State Department says that some 200,000 Korean children were adopted by U.S. citizens between 1999 and 2020. Tobias Hubinette, a scholar and Korean adoptee raised in Sweden, reports that some 95,000 Korean children were adopted to the U.S. between 1946-1999. Thus approximately 300,000 Korean adoptees have grown up in the U.S., and some thousands have grown up in other countries, outside of the land of their birth.

Because of that long history and volume, Korean adoptees are often looked to for their experiences, perspectives, and programs. The podcast Adapted is an adoptee-led, adoptee-centric space for Korean adoptees to share their stories. Many have returned to Korea. A few have been deported back there. Many have searched for their birth family; some have found them. In these well-done and insightful interviews, they speak about racism, identity, trauma, and belonging.

As you can see from the photo, Adapted is now in its 5th season, no easy accomplishment for a podcast. Kaomi Goetz, a television and radio journalist, started the podcast five years ago when she was a Fulbright scholar. She is also a Korean adoptee, and she was in Korea on a journalism grant. The podcast is now funded via Patreon. I have mentioned in previous posts the value of following and donating to adoptee-centric, adoptee led spaces. Supporting adoptee-led programs via Patreon is also an excellent opportunity to amplify and elevate adoptee voices.

I have the honor of knowing a few of the people who have been interviewed for the podcast. Listening to their stories helped me learn more about them. I “know of” a number of others who have been featured. The power of story cannot be overestimated, and stories help create community, among other assets. Listen to Adapted, and see what happens.

National Adoption Awareness Month: Elevate Adoptee Voices And Adoptee Reading

This is the first day of National Adoption Awareness Month, aka National Adoption Month. For years, information and comments came mainly from adoptive parents (and mostly white women). In recent years, adult adoptees have increasingly spoken out, and have been heard and listened to; many are Brown or Black (BIPOC). We are also hearing more from birth/first parents. We need to hear lots more from both adoptees and birth/first parents if we are going to bring about much-needed change in adoption policy. On another, equally important level, we need to hear the stories and wisdom from both as well.

During National Adoption Awareness Month, I am going to post an adoptee-related resource every day: an adoptee-led orgainzation, an adoptee-focused blog, an adoptee author, and so on. I will also include resources from first/birth parents. The primary focus, though, will be adoptees, the experts in adoption.To start, take a look at this wonderful site, AdopteeReading, all about books by adoptees or recommended by adoptees. Also, follow them on Facebook here.

A great start to the month.

http://adopteereading.com

http://adopteereading.com

Adult Adoptees Speak Out on Suicide Prevention

On October 26, 5pm pdt US/8pm est US, United Suicide Survivors International will host a free webinar “Adoption and Suicide Prevention: Adult Adoptees Speak Out.” The panelists are amazing: Jessenia Arias, Kevin Barhydt, Lynelle Long, and Amanda Transue-Woolston. I have the honor of facilitating this conversation.

These four panelists have a wide range of experience and wisdom. Each has deep skills, whether as an author, a therapist, an online advocate for adoptees, a same race adoptee, a transracial adoptee, an international adoptee. All have the lived expertise of having been adopted.

And each one has agreed to share their stories and insights related to suicide and suicidal ideation. This is a very tough topic to speak and to hear about. I am deeply grateful that they will share their hard-earned wisdom, because the rest of us are needing and ready to learn.

Please join us for this important webinar, and please feel free to share the USSI registration link.

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__JIIYzloQ2G-FaGb4uf4oQ

An Adult Adoptee Writes About The “Fragile Scaffold of Self:” How She Found Her Way Out of Darkness

In my recent post about an upcoming webinar about adoption and suicide, I said that I would welcome any thoughts from adoptees on the subject. Among the responses I have received is this one. The writer and I are close in age: so often the adoption community wants to think of adoptees as only babies or young children. The impact of adoption goes on far longer.

The writer’s experience as an adoptee is very different from mine as an adoptive parent. I have learned so much from adoptees, and am grateful whenever they are willing to speak out.

The writer gave me permission to post her essay, and asked to remain anonymous. Thanks so much for writing this:

I am a 63-year-old adoptee who is a product of the Baby Scoop Era. I have always known that I was adopted. I began to actively explore my own feelings about adoption when I was in my mid-50’s. I had repressed my feelings for so long because I had no recourse. My adoption records were sealed, and the truth of my heritage would not be revealed to me in this life, or so I believed. There was no support for adoptees, and no alternate narrative to the happily-ever-after tropes created by the adoption agencies and adoptive parents. As a dutiful adoptee, it was my job to parrot that narrative. It was my job to accept the sense of self that had been created for me by others.

As a result, my deepest feelings of loss, grief, and rootlessness were not acknowledged by society and could not be publicly acknowledged by me. Can you imagine what it is like to not be connected to your very self? To have to deny its existence? To have your deepest feelings of longing for your original mother and knowledge of who you are and where you come from negated, belittled and subsequently stuffed away? Of course it is easy for adoptees to consider self-harm: our genuine selves have been denied from the beginning. Do you see it?

If you have been raised by your biological family, can you remember a time when your physical, behavioral, and mental attributes were mapped to others within your family? You are a writer like your father, you have perfect vision like your mom, etc. Your grandparents were pioneers, and you have a pioneering spirit too! Is there anyone besides an adoptee who isn’t molded by the facts of heritage, the facts that non-adopted people don’t need to even think about?  

Adoptees have to create themselves from scratch. We get no help. And when we finally create a fragile scaffold of self, we are highly protective of it. Any criticism can feel like a death blow – and create opportunities for self-harm. Harm to self is the first lesson we learned as abandoned newborns when cut off from the life force of our mother. Do you see it?

Maureen, I am so glad that you are taking up this topic. You and those you are working with are courageous. Adoptees who are willing to do the hard work of pushing back at the social and legal barriers that deny us our origins are courageous too. So are the therapists who help adoptees come out of the fog and take the healing journey toward selfhood. 

I am only able to articulate my experience because I sought and received excellent help from excellent therapists and fellow adoptees who helped me find my words. From the outside I appeared capable and competent. On the inside, I was scared shitless most of the time. Thankfully I have come through it with the love of my spouse and children, and I am a better partner and parent for it. It was not easy to puncture the fragile self that society and I had dictated for me. I hired a lawyer, I went to court, and got my records unsealed. My parents were dead, but I found siblings and many other relatives. I built out my family tree on Ancestry. I know where I come from and I no longer consider self-harm, even though that dark place is one that I know well. 

Do you see how someone confined to the darkness of secrecy and shame can come to feel safe in those dark places?

man standing on tree branch during sunset
Photo by Lukas Rodriguez on Pexels.com

Thank you again for writing.

If anyone else would like to write something, please do! You can reach me via “Contact.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Baby Scoop Era, here are a few books worth looking into: “American Baby: A Mother, A Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption,” by Gabrielle Glasser, “The Girls Who Went Away:The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children For Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade,” by Ann Fessler, and “The Baby Scoop Era: Unwed Mothers, Infant Adoption, and Forced Surrender,” by Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh. Between the end of World War II (1945) and the early 1970’s, more than a million women in the U.S. were separated from their babies in the name of adoption. Those babies are now somewhere between 50 and 80 years old.

Adoption and Suicide Prevention: An Upcoming Webinar

I am helping put together a webinar with a suicide prevention organization about the intersection of suicide and adoption. The focus will be on adoptees; they will be the main and most valuable speakers. There are two goals we are focusing on now: bringing greater awareness about suicide (grief, trauma, loss) in the adoption community, and providing resources and strategies for talking about and preventing suicide.

What would you like to have in a webinar like this? What questions might you pose, might you like to see answered/discussed?

You are welcome to respond here, or to contact me at Maureen at LightofDayStories dot comI am reaching out to various experts, and am energized by doing so. I recognize the complexity of this subject and discussion. We can do a lot to create a climate that provides help, intervention, and support. I hope to hear from you.

Adoptee Remembrance Day: Today

The last couple years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of adult adoptees writing blogs, speaking at conferences, posting on Facebook and Instagram, creating groups, and otherwise sharing the truths of their lived experiences and professional qualifications. There have, of course, been adult adoptees vibrantly active in adoption for decades: their voices, however, were often drowned out by the dominant force of adoptive parents. That is changing, and that is wonderful.

Today is Adoptee Remembrance Day, an event created by Adoptees Connect. I applaud Pamela Karanova for her incredible hard work, including the way she has partnered with many other amazing adoptees and adoptee-led organizations.

Adoptee Remembrance Day is a day to reflect on loss in adoption. The traditional narrative is the warm, fuzzy version of orphans finding loving, forever homes: end of story. The reality is far more complex. Many adoptees were not orphans at all. Some ended up in brutal, abusive homes. Many struggle with grief, trauma, and depression, including those with loving adoptive families. There can be a lot of love in adoption: there can be a lot of sorrow as well, and we must acknowledge that.

So today, on Adoptee Remembrance Day, we have an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of adoption from the perspective of the experts: adult adoptees.

We can remember adoptees who have died by suicide, a painful reality. We can remember and honor adoptees who have died at the hands of their adoptive parents. (I’ve written often about Hana Williams, the Ethiopian adoptee whose adoptive parents we’re convicted for her murder.) We can act to help provide citizenship for all international adoptees, and to end the deportation of adoptees. We can listen to adoptees, and rise their voices.

I invite my fellow adoptive parents, and everyone in and out of the adoption community, to join me in spending time today listening and learning about Adoptee Remembrance Day.

Here is the link to the Adoptee Remembrance Day site.You will find loads of information, an incredible agenda, podcasts, music, and more. I am deeply grateful to everyone who is speaking out on this important day. These adult adoptees are sharing their genuine and profound truths. May this be another big step toward creating adoption policies that are fair, transparent, and focused on adoptees.