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.

“Is Pro-Life Evangelicalism Killing Adoptees?”

I have known and admired Sara Easterly for quite a while. She is a warm, smart, generous person. During National Adoption Awareness Month, I posted about her adoptee-centric writing groups, Adoptee Voices.

Sara’s essay “Is Pro-Life Evangelicalism Killing Adoptees?” was recently published in Red Letter Christians. The essay captures both the vulnerability and power of her writing, as a Christian, as an adoptee, as a daughter, and as a mother. I am sure the essay will be controversial in some circles, and welcomed in others. She speaks her truth with love, and that is hard to do.

Here are two excerpts:

There is little room for us in Evangelical spaces. At church, we’re often pimped as poster children for “the beautiful story of adoption.” In the Supreme Court, we’re often used as pro-life pawns for overturning abortion policy. Within earshot or to our faces, many of us are constantly hearing our adoptive parents gush about how adoption is “God’s will.” We’re frequently expected to be grateful for being saved. This is a reality though adoption has been riddled with corruption and coercion for over a century and many of us were not exactly saved, but rather, moved as objects into families of privilege—my own adoption an example of such.

“Because adoption is so widespread in the Church, nearly every Christian working within a Christian institution has a friend, sister, brother, aunt, or other close connection who is an adoptive parent. They’d rather remain gatekeepers from the truth than hurt their loved ones or upset advertisers. 

It’s been a sacrifice play, where the loudest, most privileged voices win. But if it’s killing adoptees in the process—whether spiritually or literally in suicide rates—is anyone really winning in the end? Where is the pro-life perspective on that?

Sara is a U.S., same race adoptee, placed with her adoptive family as an infant. She is, per her website, “an award-winning author of books and essays. Her memoir, Searching for Mom, won a Gold Medal in the Illumination Book Awards, was named a winner in the National Indie Excellence Awards, garnered a Silver Medal in the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, and received an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, among other honors.

Sara’s essays and articles have been published by Dear AdoptionFeminine CollectiveHer View From HomeGodspace, Neufeld Institute, Psychology TodayRed Letter ChristiansSeverance Magazine, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), to name a few.”

Here is the whole essay. Thank you for your voice, Sara.

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.

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.

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

 

 

 

2019 Stats on Intercountry Adoptions: Declines and Omissions

The U.S. State Department has released the 2019 international adoption statistics. There were a total of 2971 children adopted to the U.S. last year. There were 4059 in 2018; numbers have been dropping for years. Of that 2019 total, about half came from 4 countries: China, Colombia, India and Ukraine combined. From the U.S., 56 children were placed for international adoption in Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, and elsewhere. In 2018, there were 81 U.S. children placed for adoption overseas, according to the State Department.

Please read through the report and look at the numbers. Here are some phrases you won’t find:


• “citizenship problems and deportations of adult adoptees,”
• “post-adoption services offered to birth parents,”
• “the tremendous need for better training for prospective parents in regard to racial identity and racism in the U.S.,”
• and “we are deeply involved with other nations to improve efforts for adoptee search/reunion and family preservation.”

You will absolutely see phrases like this:


“…to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


“…the ultimate aim of preserving and enhancing the viability of intercountry adoption in the United States.”


I have so much to say, and hope to provide a more detailed post later. In the meantime, here are some pull quotes from the report, followed by my brief comments in italics.


“In September 2019, we hosted an Adoption Symposium, “Strengthening Practice for the Future of Intercountry Adoption,” which convened more than 120 interested stakeholders, including representatives from adoption service providers (ASPs), advocacy organizations, U.S. government agencies, and the U.S. accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME), as well as adoptive parents, birth parents, adult adoptees, and Congressional staffers.”


My understanding is that adoptees were few in number, and there was one birth mother, who was born and raised in the U.S., and placed a child here in the U.S. I’d guess that the ASP reps included many adoptive parents in their numbers. I do give credit for State reaching out for one of the first time to include adoptees and birth parents at the table, and I understand they did a great job, but there is still a very long way to go.

“While the overall number of intercountry adoptions to the United States declined from the previous year, 75% of that decline can be attributed to the decrease of intercountry adoption from two countries, China (a decrease of 656) and Ethiopia (a decrease of 166). In both cases, the reductions result from continued social, economic, or legal changes the Department previously observed and reported in those countries.”

In 2018, the Ethiopian Parliament officially ended international adoptions not, as is demurely phrased here, due to “continued social, economic, or legal changes,” so much as deep worry about the status of their children such as Hana Williams, who was murdered by her adoptive parents. The Ethiopian government also expressed concerns about the racism that permeates America, and stressed the need for in-country adoptions.


Additionally, there have been significant cases of fraud, corruption, and bribery in international adoption via U.S. agencies and/or their partner staff overseas. U.S. adoption agency staff have been indicted and convicted, and more than a few agencies have closed suddenly due to bankruptcy.


In any case, reports about the decline in the number of international adoptions should always include the perspectives of adult adoptees and of first/birth parents. When they are included in significant, meaningful numbers in these policy conversations, then perhaps genuine progress can be made in attributing reasons for the decline.


“The Department also hosted events overseas with members of the adoption community to discuss key issues in the adoption process. For example, U.S. Embassy Bogota hosted an Adoption Open House with more than 40 participants representing 15 U.S.-accredited ASPs, the Colombian Authorized Adoption Institutions, the Colombian Central Adoption authority, and the Office of Children’s Issues.”


Please note who is not listed as participating in the Open House: adult adoptees and first/birth parents. The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá missed a big opportunity there not to have the perspective of the thousands of Colombian adoptees and birth parents to discuss key issues in the adoption process.

“The Department’s new Senior Advisor for Children’s Issues, Michelle Bernier-Toth, appointed in December 2019, shares the commitment expressed at the Symposium and is actively engaging foreign government officials to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


There are elements of hope in this statement about advocacy for the protection, welfare, and the best interests of children, though there is tremendous disagreement in the adoption community as to what that should look like. What’s glaringly missing here is a strong, ethical call for family preservation, for orphan prevention, and for significant improvement in medical and mental health care for vulnerable women and children in particular. Arguably, I realize, that’s part of the mission of other U.S. government offices as well. Nonetheless, how great it would be to see it voiced in a report like this.


State’s ongoing focus on adoptive parents (mostly white, well educated, politically connected, and relatively well-off enough to both raise the $40,000-$50,000 to adopt and then get the adoption tax credit for it) and relative silence on, say, the post-adoption needs of international birth parents, or the citizenship status of adult adoptees, truly needs to change.(Citizenship is handled primarily through the Department of Homeland Security. State issues passports, a vital form of proof of U.S. citizenship.) Commenting this way about the help given to “adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families” continues the traditional and outdated Hallmark adoption narrative. I know: many adoptees do great, but many suffer abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, and a disconnection with their culture and racial group. Imagine if we were routinely transparent and accurate about that. Imagine if our U.S. State Department worked with other countries to research status and improve outcomes of first/birth parents around the globe, after they placed their children for adoption. It is so easy to keep forgetting about that most vulnerable group. But: many international adoptees have found that they were never orphans, that their mothers thought about them every day, and that some of them were trafficked. The truth is coming out more every day.


Imagine if the State Department, working with other international governments, assisted international adoptees in realizing their dreams of searching for and reuniting with their families.


“Lastly, in FY 2019 families outside of the United States adopted 56 children from the United States to seven countries: Canada (24), the Netherlands (17), Mexico (6), Ireland (5), Belgium (1), Switzerland (1), and the United Kingdom (2).”


Most of the American children appear to have been placed from agencies in Florida and New Jersey. It’s often a shock to Americans to find out that the United States is also a sending country for the purpose of international adoption. I have heard, only anecdotally, that some black birth mothers decide to place their children overseas to escape the racism so prevalent here, and that some birth mothers wanted to place with gay couples and were prevented from doing so in the States. The U.S. didn’t used to keep any statistics about how many U.S. born children were adopted oversea. When the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption came into effect in the U.S. in 2008, we like every other sending country had to keep statistics on the numbers of outgoing cases. I do not believe statistics are kept on the race nor the outcomes of these placements. In any case, we do place our American children for adoption overseas.


Let me place the necessary “not all” disclaimers. Not all adoption agencies have corrupt, selfish, uncaring staff. Not all adoptees are unhappy. Not all birth parents suffer. There are efforts being made to help in terms of family preservation and orphan prevention. There need to be more of those efforts. So many more children could be helped.


Here’s the thing, though, about international adoption in 2020. There are hundreds if not thousands of international adult adoptees who are writing and speaking out about their experiences. We need to listen to them. The U.S. government has yet to agree that all international adoptees should be granted U.S. citizenship. That must change. Adoptees are still being left out of adoption policy-making. The post-adoption fate of first/birth mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, and other family members is rarely even considered, never mind studied or documented. The radical inequity of post-adoption services provided to international birth families compared to American adoptive families is astonishing, and we need to do a far better job here.


The statistics next year will be even lower, due to COVID-19, due to bans on air travel and closed visa offices. All around the world, nonprofits, governments, and businesses stopped. Adoptions have too, for the most part, during the pandemic.


So. Read the report. Listen to adoptees. Help empower women, educate girls, and support medical and mental health aid around the globe. Help preserve vulnerable families.

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.

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.