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.

Do We Need More White Adoptive Mothers Writing About Their Transracially Adopted Children?

No, we do not. I say that as a white adoptive mother who could share some terrific stories about her transracially adopted children, as kids in school, as teenagers, as young adults. I mean really riveting stories, with drama, heartache, humor, intrigue, and more. Their stories are theirs alone, however—not mine to tell, and certainly not if they are minors. My children are in their 30’s now, and I still would not tell a single story without their permission. And I mostly do not have permission.

I believe this is especially important within adoption, where adoptees had no agency for the decisions made for them, where the heft of economic and other societal powers is held by the adoptive parents, and where the birth family has little if any opportunity to be heard in an equitable way.

A while back, I got an email from a white adoptive mom who is writing a book about her children’s struggles and challenges. She asked to talk, I guess to pick my brain about it. She was surprised that I was not encouraging, that I did not think she should share her children’s stories, whether they had given her permission or not. They are minors, and minor children cannot give genuine, meaningful consent. She got a bit flustered as I expounded on why I thought it was a bad idea. She told me I was being hostile, at one point.

Yes, I suppose I was. Politely hostile, if that’s possible.

I asked if she had spoken to her family’s therapist about the book. Yes, she had, and the therapist thought it was a great idea. Memo to file: This is why we need more adoptee-therapists, and adoption-competent therapists. Here is a terrific list of U.S. therapists who are also adoptees. The list was assembled by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker, a licensed psychologist who is herself an adoptee as well as an adoptive mother.

My hope is, regardless of what therapist one works with, that the therapist would say, “No, do not share your young children’s stories in public at this point, regardless of whether they have ostensibly given their consent, or whether you feel your story will inspire and help others.”

I am not a therapist but I’d also add: “Wait until they are adults, and can ethically decide whether they want their struggles and meltdowns and medications shared forever with strangers on the Internet or in print. This is especially true, white adoptive parent, if your child is transracially adopted. And do not share about their birth parents’ ages, prison time, addictions, other children, or any other information without the explicit permission of the birth parents. When your children are adults, feel free to encourage them to write their own stories, including about your parenting.”

And I’d close my remarks by saying that “There are many, many excellent adoptee-written blogs and adoptee-led podcasts and adoptee-authored books. New ones are burgeoning every day, as more adult adoptees find their voices and the empowerment to use them. Give them the respect they deserve for their lived experiences, and absorb what you can from those with professional expertise. Compensate them fairly for their time and their sharing of their stories and insights. Tell other adoptive parents about them. Listen and learn.”

Newport Beach, OR © Maureen McCauley

Fugglers, Golliwogs, and Ugly Adoption Narratives

Update August 5, 2020: Although this was originally published a year ago, it’s gotten quite a lot of views the past several weeks in the UK. Could someone please tell me where it was posted there? Thanks very much.

Fugglers: The (not) funny, ugly sensation with human-like teeth,

an adoption certificate, and a golliwog. They need to be stopped.

A popular plush toy with human-like teeth, marketed as repulsive, is filling up shelves on Target, Amazon, and many other sites. Here’s why we need to protest, and why the Fuggler company needs to revamp the marketing.

It’s not because of the weird human-like teeth, nor because of its general ugliness, which the company revels in. Creepy but whatever.

It’s not because of oversensitive parents. 

It’s because Fuggler uses an insulting, tired, ages-old marketing trope of adoption to promote these toys. 

“Adopt at Your Own Risk!” 

“Look deep into the vacant eyes of all the Fugglers up for adoption. Narrow it down to the one who repulses you the least. Or the most—we don’t know your life.”

“Take a hot sec to consider why you’re sabotaging your own happiness.”

Yep. That’s actually what they are saying. And in the final step of the Fuggler Adoption Process, “Remove your Fuggler from its box with great caution. Immediately regret your decision.”

Pretty funny, right? No. Not today, in a world where adult adoptees continue to be marginalized and their voices suppressed. Not in a world where actual human adoptees are re-homed liked animals. Not in a world where adoption, which can be full of love and joy, is also full of trauma and grief. Making fun of adoption should never be considered a terrific marketing ploy.

Stop.

To make things worse, there is at least one Fuggler that is a golliwog. Don’t know what that is? It’s a racist caricature, known well in England, with dark skin, big white eyes, big red lips: its roots are in the racism of minstrel shows and the depictions of Little Black Sambo. Did you know that British writer Agatha Christie published Ten Little N****** in 1939, a children’s poem about the deaths of 10 black children, the cover of which showed a golliwog lynched, hanging with blood dripping down? Here’s the cover, which at the time was well-received and accepted:

Here’s the golliwog in Fugglers:

The Fugglers come in many colors. This one should have been discarded, and made in a different color, with different eyes, and without red lips. 

Here’s the golliwog with its adoption certificate:

Please join us in demanding the removal of the racist golliwog toy. End the production of the dark brown Fuggler with white eyes and red lips. There are lots of other colors that can be used. It’s an easy fix.

Remove the outdated, harmful, grotesque adoption language. Surely you can come up with a better marketing approach in 2019

Contact SpinMasters, the Canadian-based branding company for Fuggler, at SpinMaster.com. On Twitter, they are @SpinMaster and @spinmasteruk.

Contact Fugglers at fuggler.com. On Twitter, they are @fugglers and on Insta, they are Fugglers.

International Adoptee Adam Crapser Sues His Adoption Agency for Negligence And Fraud

Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea to the US, had a horrible, abusive childhood that involved two sets of adoptive parents, neither of which ever got him citizenship. He was deported to South Korea after serving time for criminal charges. He is now suing Holt Children’s Services and the government of South Korea for gross negligence, fraudulent paperwork, and failure to adequately screen adoptive parents.

The amount of money Adam is seeking is relatively negligible ($177,000). The case could take years to get through South Korean courts. According to the AP article, Adam “said the amount of money is less important than forcing Holt and the government into a courtroom to face questions of accountability.”

Adam Crapser in Seoul, per AP https://www.apnews.com/12472d8f87944f12ae63f74a2829a410

And that may well be the most pivotal outcome of this suit: adoption agencies looking at their accountability, rather than their good intentions, and hopefully creating a dialogue with adoptees about their practices, services, and outcomes. For far too long, adoptees have been considered solely as children, despite the fact they grow up. For far too long, adoption has been considered with fairy tale wistfulness, romanticized and glossed over, the traditional narrative being win-win-win. Yes, adoption can be positive. Yes, everyone’s experience varies. Still, for far too long, there have been not just whisperings but lawsuits regarding fraud, corruption, and negligence in adoption. We are beginning to see the next wave of adoption awareness, as voiced by adoptees themselves.

I am not aware of adoptees who have sued their adoption agency, though I’ve long thought that the possibility was genuine. A class action suit would not surprise me, Adoptive parents have sued agencies multiple times, often for fraud. There have been cases of adoptees who have annulled their adoptions.

I wrote in Slate about Adam Crapser. I’ve been writing about the need for citizenship for all adoptees for years. The Adoptee Rights Campaign has been actively working on legislation to get citizenship for ALL international adoptees. There will be, once again, legislation introduced in Congress to achieve this: it’s been a struggle.

Of course, the struggle has been extremely difficult for international adoptees deported from the US to their original countries, places where they don’t speak the language, have no family or friends, and are utterly alone. Joao Herbert was killed in Brazil. Philip Clay died by suicide in Korea. Deported adoptees, adopted by American families ostensibly forever, are living in Germany, Guatemala, India, Costa Rica, and elsewhere. They truly deserve better, and it is shameful that the US government has for years allowed adoptees to be deported. These adoptees were brought here with the oversight of the US and the sending government and legally adopted by US citizens.

Adoptive parents, make sure you have all possible citizenship documents for your children, especially if they are minors. Immigration laws are in flux: protect your children fully. Adoptees, make sure your papers are in order.

Melanie Chung Sherman, a therapist and international adoptee, shared this on her Facebook page:

“I strongly encourage international adoptees over the age of 18 years old to obtain your original (not just a copy), file in a safe and secure place, OR (at a minimum) ensure that you know who and how to access the following (each birth country will have different documents that I have not listed):

–US Naturalization/Certificate of Citizenship
–US Passport
–Birth Country Passport (when you immigrated to the U.S. through international adoption)
–US Visa Approval papers
–Alien registration number 
–Adoption Finalization Decree 
–SSN card
–Amended birth certificate 
–Copy of birth certificate given by birth country
–Court papers from birth country
–Social history/referral papers (these will have the name of the agency/caseworkers/representatives in your adoption)

Far too many international adoptees do not know these documents exist. Many have been openly denied access by their adopt parents well into adulthood. Many have learned that their documents were lost, destroyed or incomplete. 

International adoptees will need their documents to prove citizenship as well as the fact that they were adopted and immigrated through international adoption. 

These documents are more than just legal papers, but a connection to their story and sense of self. It is a generational connection should they become parents and grandparents to their history as well. These documents are property of an adoptee’s life.”

My thanks to Melanie, and my best wishes to Adam for an appropriate outcome to the absurdity of his deportation. I think about the many deported adoptees often, and about those who are without citizenship here in the US. I can only imagine the conversations going on in adoption agencies and among adoptive parents.

It is past time to drop the aged adoption narrative. We must listen to adult adoptees.