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. 

 

An Adoptee’s Reflection on Trauma, Love, and Adoption

Every Thanksgiving, one of the most wonderful and emotional traditions in my family is to light a candle for the people who aren’t there: for those who have died, who are alive but far away, who aren’t with us for whatever reasons. Sometimes the person lighting the candle says the names out loud of the people he is thinking about and missing. Sometimes the person just lights the candle, then smiles, or tears up. We leave the candles on through the meal.

Adoption, for all its joy, happens only through loss. Children have lost or lose their first family in order to be adopted. That can be necessary, if the child was in danger or had been abused or neglected to the point of needing a new family. But it’s still loss: loss of what could have been, or should have been, or would have been if only…

Adoptive parents, you can love your child deeply. Your child can love you deeply as well, and also feel grief and trauma that are real. It’s okay. It may manifest in different ways over time, in angry words or silent tears. There may be what seem puzzling outbursts at certain times of year—traumaversaries are real too. Join your child on the journey: encourage conversation, honor their grief, know that every child is different, love them, be silent with them, respect their realities at 3 or at 30.

I am a mother because of adoption. I love my children more than I can possibly put into words. Each of my children has been affected, in different ways, by the fact of being adopted. I am a firm believer that the stories (events, memories, traumas, happiness) they have lived through are theirs alone to tell.

My daughter Aselefech Evans has chosen to tell her truth today, to share her lived experience. This is a beautiful, poignant, and powerful essay. Please read, reflect, share.

The Unwanted Arrival of Trauma in Adoption

 

And maybe light a candle to keep warm the realities of those who are both present and absent in our lives.

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.

In Newport, Thinking of the Hart Family

National Adoption Awareness Month, 2018

The horrific story of the Hart family plunging off a cliff last March made headlines around the world, perhaps most searingly in the adoption community.

Adoptive parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart drove their 6 children down the west coast, from Washington state through Oregon on to California. Their journey began on March 23, 2018, and ended in death three days later.

Based on cell phone pings, the family was in Newport, Oregon, on March 24. I’m in Newport now, at a conference/retreat totally unrelated to adoption or the Harts.

That said, as I was driving here, I had the family on my mind. In part, that’s because November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I had all 6 adopted children—Davonte, Hannah, Markis, Jeremiah, Abigail, and Sierra–in my heart and on my mind.

Newport was one of the last places where the Hart family was known to be. Did they stop to look at the stunning ocean here at Nye Beach? Did they get coffee at the Human Bean or the Starbucks drive-through? Did the kids stretch their legs and poke around the Bayfront?

Where’d they sleep? Did they sleep?

They were all dead two days after they were here in the town where I am now.

The bodies of Devonte and Hannah Hart have still not been found.

May they all rest in peace.

Nye Beach, Newport, OR Photo by Maureen McCauley. November 2018

Further Reading:

JaeRan Kim, Ph.D., an adopted person, wrote on her blog, Harlow’s Monkey: Thoughts About the Hart Family.

Stacey Patton, PH.D., an adopted person, wrote this for Dame magazine: “Why Jennifer and Sarah Hart Killed Their Adopted Children”

Michele Sharpe, an adopted person, wrote about the family here: “The Hart Children: Curse of the Adoptee.”

On the Eve of National Adoption Month

Did you know that National Adoption Month (NAM) ( originally National Adoption Week; now also known as National Adoption Awareness Month NAAM) was established in 1976? More importantly, its original purpose was to create awareness of the needs of children in foster care, and to get those who were eligible into permanent, safe families. That is still an extremely important purpose, one that deserves promotion and understanding.

NAM has morphed quite a bit since the late 70’s, as has adoption practice and the onslaught of the Internet. For many years of NAM’s existence, adoptive parents were the main people talking about their minor children, often sharing the children’s stories, and generally showing the traditional adoption narrative: win-win for everyone, Hallmark moments, little recognition of the complexity of adoption, loss, and trauma. Yes, adoption can be life-saving for some children, and a positive experience overall. We can acknowledge that without dismissing the complexity, the problems, and the struggles that may also occur.

Recently, the volume of adoptive parents during National Adoption Month has been decreased. As an adoptive parent of 4 now-adults, I applaud that decrease. The #flipthescript hashtag and movement started a few years ago has successfully moved the voices of adoptees to the front, to shine a much needed spotlight on the real-life experiences and honest truths of adopted people, the ones who are the true experts in adoption.

My intent during National Adoption Month 2018 is mostly to read and learn from the adoptees’ experiences. I hope that the voices and stories of birth parents, in the U.S. and around the globe, are thoughtfully heard as well.

Also for National Adoption Month, I am going to post on my blog about the MANY adult adoptee blogs, podcasts, and books that are currently available. Some I’ve cited several times over the years; some will be brand new. I am also going to post some interviews I’ve had with adult adoptees, and share their stories, personalities, and books. I will also be posting about birth parents’ blogs and books. There may be a few surprises along the way.

Please join me on this journey!

Inverted image of spider web. © Maureen McCauley

 

Adoptive Parents: How Can You Best Participate in National Adoption Awareness Month?

By insisting on letting the voices of adoptees and of first/birth parents be heard.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, an event which, like adoption itself, is far more complex that it may seem on the surface.

The word “awareness” is pivotal. Originally, the month was intended to bring focus to the need for adoptions from foster care. That focus, like the original intent of the adoption tax credit, has grown much larger, blurrier, and even controversial. What could be controversial about adoption, you ask? Children in families, feel good narratives, tear-jerker holiday specials, cute videos, win-win. Here’s the thing: there are valid elements in all that. There are also harsher realities that are often excluded in the understanding of the adoption mainstream, and we all have to be willing to look at and acknowledge them, perhaps especially this month.

Photo © Maureen McCauley

So, as an adoptive parent myself, I urge adoptive parents to look for and listen especially to the voices of adult adoptees and of first/birth parents this month.

Here are a few sites, in random order. There are many more. I’ll be posting more though the month, as well as interviews with adult adoptees and with first/birth mothers.

Dear Adoption (Essays by adoptees)

Lost Daughters generally, and about #flipthescript specifically (A collective of women writers who were adopted or fostered)

AdopteesOn (Podcasts of interviews with adopted adults)

The Adopted Life (Blog and more by a U.S. transracial adoptee; subject of Closure documentary)

I Am Adoptee (Resource group created by adoptees for adoptees)

Musings of the Lame (Blog by a U.S. birthmother)

Saving Our Sisters (Family preservation site working with women considering placing their children for adoption)

Anti-Adoption (Facebook group focused on publicly exposing the problems in adoption)

Only Black Girl (Blog of U.S. transracial adoptee)

Adoptee Rights Campaign (Advocating for U.S. citizenship for all international adoptees adopted to the U.S.)

First Mother Forum (Where first/birth/real/natural mothers can talk and vent)

There are many more. I urge adoptive parents to use this month to learn, to feel uncomfortable and challenged, and to seek ways to educate themselves and others about the full breadth of adoption.

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.

Sentencing Date (Finally) Set For International Adoption Guides’ Ethiopian Adoption Fraud Case

 

Update: The hearings have been delayed yet again until August 17.

 

At long last, the sentencing hearing will be held on July 13, 2017, for the three International Adoption Guides’ defendants, all of whom pled guilty August 29, 2016, to fraud and corruption in their Ethiopian adoption program.

 

The sentencing hearing for IAG executive director Mary Moore Mooney is scheduled for 1:30pm in Courtroom  2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, South Carolina, before Judge David Norton.

 

The sentencing hearing for James Harding and Alisa Bivens is scheduled for 2:00pm, same place, same judge, as for Harding and Bivens.

 

I’ve written about the case multiple times since the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the three defendants as well as an Ethiopian IAG employee (who apparently remains in Ethiopia) in February 2014. The Justice Department had investigated the cases for years before the indictment, and the actual incidents of unconscionable fraud, bribery, and corruption had occurred years before that.

 

Child in Ethiopia, 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

The victims of these crimes–children and families in the U.S. and in Ethiopia–have been immeasurably harmed by the actions of the IAG staff. Whether the conviction and sentencing will have any impact on adoption agencies, on adoption policies, or on the fate of future adoptions from Ethiopia remains to be seen. It’s been such a long road for the families and children. It is possible that the sentencing date could change, given the nature of the American justice system. I am hopeful, nonetheless, that the sentencing will bring some small measure of peace for the families.

 

The Case Number is 2012R01249, and the Docket Number is 14-CR-00054.

 

 

 

Update on Ethiopian Adoption Suspension: All Cases Will Be Denied

The Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) will resume processing of adoption cases, but will issue only denials, no matter where the adoptive parents are from or where they stage in the process.

That information was part of a U.S. State Department update today regarding the suspension of Ethiopian adoptions. State will continue to urge the Ethiopian government to allow processing of cases in the pipeline prior to the April 21 suspension. However, Ethiopian ministries are having meetings throughout May and have been unresponsive to requests to meet with State.

The full State Department update from today is available here.

I posted information about the April suspension here: Ethiopia Suspends Adoptions.

 

Remembering Hana Alemu Today, and Reflecting on the Murders and Suicides of Adoptees

Six years ago today, on May 12, 2011, 13-year-old Ethiopian adoptee Hanna Williams, born Hana Alemu, died from hypothermia and malnutrition in the backyard of her adoptive home. In September of 2013, her adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, were convicted of her murder, and will be in prison for decades to come.

While many of us adoptive parents of Ethiopian children have mourned her death, I don’t think we can underestimate the impact Hana’s death has had in Ethiopia. The news of her death made headlines there, and the subsequent trial and sentencing of her adoptive parents reverberated in many corners and conversations in Ethiopia. The circumstances that led to Hana’s death–the isolation of eating outside from the rest of the family and not being allowed to participate in Christmas or birthdays, the punishments of water on sandwiches and frozen vegetables for dinner, having her head shaved for cutting the grass too short, having food withheld as punishment, being forced to shower outside, being hit for failing to stand the right way, and being locked in a small, dark closet for hours at a time–are harrowing at best. The jury at the parents’ trial agreed that the treatment met the standard of torture, and that is not an easy legal standard to reach.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

For Ethiopians in government and in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, for the average Ethiopian aware that thousands of Ethiopian children were sent each year to other countries for adoption, and for the Ethiopian parents who have placed children for adoption, the news of Hana’s life and death after only three years in America was heartbreaking and infuriating. My sense is that her death has been an undercurrent in considerations of policy changes regarding international adoption from Ethiopia.

We can say it was a rare case, and that’s true. It does not give solace. There may be some resolution in knowing that Larry and Carri Williams will be in jail for over 20 more years. That knowledge though is tempered by the fact that Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child they adopted and abused, will probably be haunted for the rest of his life by the trauma of his time with them. Their 7 biological children, who witnessed the abuse and testified about it at their parents’ trial, have also been badly damaged by the abuse and the death–which several of them witnessed–of Hana.

None of us can know what went on in Hana’s mind and heart as she endured the cruelty of the people who were supposed to love her and keep her safe. Three-year-old Hyunsu O’Callaghan, adopted from Korea, was killed by his adoptive father about four months  after he arrived in the United States. Hana and Hyunsu’s fates crush the popular narrative of adoption: the orphan in search of a family, the parents who take her in, the happy life then lived by everyone.

Another crushing blow to the fairy tale narrative is the reality and tragedy of suicide in the adoption community. Again, yes, it is rare, for which we are all grateful. Still, when we hear about the death by suicide of adopted persons, especially for example the suicide of a 14-year-old Korean adoptee just 11 days ago, all of us in adoption need to look at ourselves and what we are doing to educate and help.

I don’t know if there is a unique poignancy to the deaths of adoptees, but it feels that way. Adoption is supposed to mean a better life, right? That can be true (depending how you define “better”), but another larger and vital truth is that adoption follows loss. Loss can also be trauma. Adoption can be full of love and equally full of deep sorrow and grief. Many people struggle with depression and anxiety, and as a society, we are still reluctant to recognize those struggles as real. As an adoptive parent, I have known many adoptees, both young children and adults, who wrestle with depression that may well be rooted in having been adopted. That’s true for people growing up in deeply loving families who provide all available resources for mental health challenges, as well as for those whose adoptive parents are abusive. For those who get help, the struggle can still be difficult. For those who don’t, it can be excruciating. Add in the complexity of growing up as a person of color in our racist society (much of which does not/will not believe we live in a racist society), the bullying which has aways existed but is exacerbated by social media, the lack of racial mentors/mirrors/role models for adoptees, and a history of neglect and abuse prior to adoption, and it’s easy to see how a delicate balance can be tipped into despair and worse.

Please let me offer some takeaways from these haunting deaths:

Adoption is rooted in loss, in the cases of infants placed at birth with adoptive parents, in the cases of children removed from abusive or neglectful situations, and in the cases of adopted children who grow up with loving families. It doesn’t mean therefore all adoptees are doomed to despair and ruin. It does mean that as adoptive parents, we must be aware of the role that trauma and loss can play as our kids grow up, and even well into adulthood.

The screening process for prospective adoptive parents must include serious discussions about possible struggles with depression and anxiety for adoptees. Parents need to hear directly from adopted persons about their struggles. Anyone involved with preparation for prospective adoptive parents and with counseling of parents and adoptees must step up their services prior to adoptive placements to encourage families, after placement, to reach out for help and not live in isolation, as the Williams’ family essentially did. There is no shame in asking for help in difficult circumstances, whether children or parents are struggling.

Everyone, with or without a connection to adoption, should file away the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. If the Def Jam artist Logic can release a song about it, the rest of us can surely keep the phone number, share it when needed, and learn about suicide prevention. There are many resources available to anyone considering suicide and to anyone who fears that someone may attempt suicide.

And please do not think I am ignoring the needs of first/birth parents, and the loss and trauma that they experience. While my focus here is on Hana and other adoptees after an adoptive placement, I recognize that first/birth parents also need support and resources for depression or other challenges post-placement.

I keep Hana in my heart. What happened to her should never have happened to any child. The notion of children dying by suicide is wrenching as well. I know many adult adoptees are especially grieving the loss of their young counterparts, and looking for more ways to help. We need to keep conversations open, especially around adoption, depression, and loss. We need to acknowledge the pain and complexity, to speak up for vulnerable children, and to offer help to struggling families.