AdopteesOn Podcasts: Listening, Learning, Healing

Sometimes we have stories in us, and don’t realize how much we need to tell them. Or we have the stories bubbling around, but don’t know who to tell, worrying that we might sound foolish, or ungrateful, or angry. AdopteesOn provides a venue for sharing tough truths, and offering resources for healing.

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Haley Radke, of AdopteesOn.com

Haley Radke is an adoptee, a Canadian, a mom to two little boys, and the host of AdopteesOn podcasts, where adult adoptees tell their stories of search, reunion, and secondary rejections.

Haley is in reunion with her birth/first family, and she blogged about it for a while, then stopped. She looked around for other adoptees’ podcasts, and found few. So, she decided to set up AdopteesOn, and is now finishing up Season One.

“I really don’t have to ask my guests many questions,” she said. “Everyone pours out their heart. For so many, they might not have ever told another person their stories. The stories are valuable in themselves. Hearing someone’s voice telling their stories takes it up another notch.”

Consistent themes are a feeling and fear of rejection, as well as a wish to be perfect. Some talk on the show anonymously, because their adoptive parents don’t know how the adoptee truly feels. “These are often people who haven’t had a voice. At the moment of adoption, the adoptee is usually the only one who didn’t have a voice or a choice in what happened to him or her. I wanted to make a space for people without a platform, to give adoptees the voice they deserve.”

The stories focus on search, on reunion, and on rejection and connections after reunion. Landric, for example, found his birth mother when he was 36, and learned he had  younger siblings. He is coming to terms with the years and family lost to him, having been raised as an only child and now being the big brother of four.

Carrie, on the first show, talked about using postcards to track down her birth mother, who then refused any contact. Carrie was able, years later, to reunite with her birth father. For the first time, she could see family resemblances. Her conversation with Haley has a lot of laughter, though it’s the kind that is on the edge of tears as well.

Carrie was Haley’s first guest, Landric was the tenth. Today (October 21) a new interview will air. The guests so far have been primarily American, same race adoptees; there will likely be more diversity in upcoming shows. The podcasts are available free to a worldwide audience, and new ones are posted every other Friday. Haley always includes a variety of resources, including books and blogs related to the subjects discussed in each podcast.

“The healing aspect is a big focus,” said Haley. “My being an adoptee makes a big difference in connecting with my guests. I sometimes feel so much the same way they do.” At the same time, “it can be very hard to hear the stories; it’s very emotional. My guests may have some hard days after we talk. They are all super brave.” Haley has been contacted by many people, especially those without a blog or a public persona, who had not previously known other adoptees and had never really talked about adoption with anyone else. For them, listening to the AdopteesOn stories has opened new doors to people who “get it,” who understand what means to be an adoptee: what it means to search, to reunite, to be rejected, to connect.

“I’m so honored to share these stories, to be trusted with them,” said Haley. As an adoptive parent, I have greatly enjoyed listening to the 10 podcasts so far. I hope AdopteesOn continues to grow.

 

There is no greater agony than an untold story.                                                                    ~Maya Angelou

And don’t forget to tune in also to Out of the Fog!

 

 

Adult Adoptees Speaking “Out of the Fog”

 

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I believe a lot of our lives are spent asleep, and what I’ve been trying to do is hold on to those moments when a little spark cuts through the fog and nudges you. ~Rufus Wainwright (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

How familiar are you with being in the fog or out of the fog, in terms of understanding adoption?

“Out of the Fog” is a new Canadian radio magazine where critical, thoughtful, lived perspectives on adoption are brought to the forefront. It is co-hosted by Kassaye MacDonald, co-founder of  Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and filmmaker Pascal Huỳnh. The first episode aired this past Friday. It featured Shaaren Pine, whose Washington Post article “Please Don’t Tell Me I’m Lucky to Be Adopted” last year generated a lot of conversation.

I hope “Out of the Fog” also generates a lot of listeners, conversation, and the occasional controversy. Last Friday’s show was a great debut, as the speakers talked about the complexity of growing up as the only adoptee/only person of color, about adoption prevention versus family preservation, about struggles with depression and suicide, about reproductive rights versus reproductive justice. Big important topics. The show airs every first Friday of the month on CKUT 90.3FM at 8:30am EST.

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Friday Harbor, WA (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

“Out of the Fog” is part of an evolving, important perspective on adoption. Betty Jean Lifton, writing in “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience,” might have been the first to voice the “great sleep” of adoption. In the years since Lifton’s book was published in 1979, the idea of the great sleep has evolved into a fog: the sense that some folks connected with adoption are in a fog, not wanting or able to see the clear, full reality of adoption. Like Lifton, Deanna Doss Shrodes and Laura Dennis are adoptees. In Adoptee Restoration’s blog post “Shaking the Adoption Fog Out of Adoptees,” Laura defines the fog as “that hazy perception that everything about adoption is simple, straight-forward, beautiful, and most importantly, not to be questioned.” First/birth mother Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy provides another thoughtful perspective in “The Birthmother Shift–12 Years in an Adoption Fog.

“Out of the Fog’s next episode will be on November 4, 2016. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I’m looking forward to that show. Well done.

Be sure to like and follow Out of the Fog on Facebook.

 

What Does Alzheimer’s Have to Do With Adoption?

Sometimes I wonder if knowing my medical history is a blessing or a curse.

Watching my dad go through Alzheimer’s disease has made me wonder if I will go that path as well. A new report in Annals of Neurology links Alzheimer’s with rosacea, a skin condition which I’ve had for several years. I’m at the point where I understand that this Onion article about trying to hide normal memory issues (so my kids won’t put me in a home) is both really funny and poignantly close to the bone.

I have many things for which to be grateful: preventive health care, good medical insurance, loving family and friends. I can’t Iive my life in fear. I am seizing the day (the moment!) with intention and joy, as much as possible. “After the ecstasy, the laundry,” says Buddhist writer Jack Kornfield. There’s plenty of mundane to go around in the midst of enlightenment.

About that enlightenment: I have some sense for my genetic possibilities. It gives me options to prepare, to inform my doctor, and to make decisions as best I can.

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That reality gives me a tremendous advantage over way too many adopted people, who are denied their own medical histories.

Though I never knew her, I enjoyed the writing of Susan Perry (a mom of two and grandmother of six, a retired teacher in New Jersey) who wrote a thoughtful blog called Family Ties. She was adopted as a baby. She died just over two years ago from melanoma, less than a year after connecting with her biological sisters and finally learning about her own genetic history. It was too late for her to engage in preventive care. While it’s wretched consolation, her daughters and her grandchildren now have more medical knowledge about their own histories as well. Susan was a strong advocate for adoptee rights, and her daughter continues to post on her blog, providing valuable insights.

As Von of the highly regarded blog The Life of Von rightly pointed out to me, adoptees don’t “deserve” to have access to their medical histories, for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. It is their right. It just seems so obvious, but we still–in 2016–limit the access of human beings to their own information. It’s an astonishing failure of civil rights.

There was never any legislated guarantee of privacy given to birth parents who placed their children for adoption. Today, some 20 U.S. states allow some form of access by adoptees to their own birth certificates. Several state laws have restrictions, including veto power by birth parents.

The saliva sample tube for DNA 23andme.com testing

Many adoptees use Internet search services and other means to find their information. Some use DNA testing which can help locate cousins, siblings, and sometimes parents. It is possible to get medical/genetic history from DNA tests, but it is far better (and a basic human right) to be provided with the correct information about one’s actual history.

Of course, it’s not just knowledge about physical health that is vital, but mental health as well. Knowing the history of depression (or schizophrenia, anxiety, alcoholism, addictions) in one’s family, for example, can be life-saving.

Being adopted should not mean being denied access to life-saving information. Yes, I find it sobering to know my medical history sometimes. I don’t take it lightly, nor for granted, especially knowing that thousands and thousands of people don’t have the option to know, to take proactive steps to care for themselves, and to pass the information on to their healthcare providers and their family.

 

Further information:

(Birth Mother) First Mother Forum

Adoption and Birth Mothers: Adoptee Rights

Bastard Nation: Adoptee Rights

The Declassified Adoptee

American Adoption Congress

 

Flipping the Script: Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption

What would you predict about the future of international adoption? Who will be part of creating that future?

I have an article in the November issue of Adoption Today called “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.” That was the title of a panel I participated on at the Families First Conference last June. The conference was co-sponsored by the now defunct Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption.

Adoption Today asked if I would write an article on the same subject for them, and so I did, covering many of the points I offered at the Families First conference. Here is a brief summary of my predictions from a June blog post:

  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless adult adoptees and first families are included in conferences and policy discussions in advocacy groups, Congress, the Hague, and around the world.
  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless fraud and corruption are overtly acknowledged, not just discussed among agency workers.
  • Openness will be the norm in international adoption, and needs to be promoted by agencies as a positive development. That said, openness is complicated.
  • DNA technologies and social media will expand connections between adoptees and their birth/first families.
  • Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.

I hope you will take a look at my article and the others in Adoption Today.

Tomorrow, National Adoption Awareness Month (November) begins. While the commentary has historically been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the voices of adoptees and first/birth parents are increasingly being heard. The social media movement #FlipTheScript by adoptees was powerful last November in opening eyes and in questioning long-held narratives that included only adoptive parents and adoption agencies.

I’ve no doubts that this November will see an even greater expansion of #FlipTheScript. That’s another hope-filled prediction, and I am looking forward to reading and learning. We need all the voices, and we need to understand that adoption casts a wide net. Engaging and listening are the only ways to create a better future.

May this November truly bring about an increased awareness of the genuine needs of children (who grow up!), and a deeper understanding of the far-ranging realities of adoption.

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Forest, trees: a manipulated, colorful view of reality. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Birthdays and Adoptees: Finding Power in Both

My sons were adopted as babies; my twin daughters at six years old. When they were little, we had the mad abundance of birthday parties, at the pool, the soccer field, the grandparents’ front yard. The parties were full of presents, friends, family, ice cream, and cake.

Who was missing at these birthday celebrations? The women who gave birth to the children. The people (fathers, siblings, grandparents) who are biologically related to them.

I can’t help but wonder what those birth days were like for those family members.

Birthday parties evolve over time. Some adoptees have a rough time on their birthdays. In our family, we have all grown in our understanding of how a child’s beginnings can affect the child, and how powerful memories can be. We have seen how longing for what is not conscious can be quite deep. We have lived watching the ways that trust can be broken and losses felt, and how hard it is to heal that broken trust. My children’s birthdays are still celebrated, of course: they can count on receiving socks every year. And other stuff too. But they are in their late 20’s now. Still very young, but hardly children–except in the sense that they are always my children.

They are also the children–always–of their first families. Each child has had a different approach to connecting with their family of birth, and those stories are theirs alone to tell.

Today is the 27th birthday of my twin daughters, Adanech and Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia in 1994. Aselefech has been actively involved with the adoptee community. She wrote a wonderful post today at Lost Daughters, a writing collective of women adopted in the US or internationally as children. In it, she celebrates her connections with other Ethiopian adoptees whose hearts are in the country of their birth, their mother land, their home country. These young people, part of the diaspora, are actively working to help their younger selves in Ethiopia: children who witness their mothers die, children who are deeply loved but whose families are horrifically impoverished, children who beg on the streets, children who are unable to walk or to see, children who never go to school.

Happy Birth Day. May all children know safety, love, education, and hope. May these adoptees bring light and healing to each other and to the children. May all the voices be heard.

My daughters, my granddaughter, and me. © Maureen McCauley Evans

The Questions and Losses When an Adoption Agency Closes

An Open Letter to Adoption Service Providers, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the National Council For Adoption, and the Council on Accreditation

Adoption is so much more than placement. The ethical responsibility of providers and practitioners stretches out for decades. 

Increasing numbers of adoption agencies are closing these days, especially those working in international adoption. Many of these agencies were paid and certified members of  JCICS, NCFA, and COA. Many international agencies have moved from country to country over the years, opening and closing programs (Romania, Guatemala, Uganda, Honduras, Ethiopia, etc.) While there are many reasons for the moves and closures, the only consequence most people think of is that fewer children will find families. That is  significant, but there are several other huge concerns.

I am writing today to ASP’s, JCICS, NCFA, and COA to better understand.

How are adult adoptees and first/birth families notified that an agency is closing or is gone? Adoptive families are notified via emails from the agency, or through Facebook groups, or through clicking on a web site and finding it….gone. How are the birth/first families, especially in other countries, notified? What happens when people search for information a year or a decade after an agency has closed?

What happens to the records? How does an adoptee track down his or her agency records when the agency (Christian World Adoption, Adoption Advocates International (WA), Adoption Ark, International Adoption Guides, etc., etc.) shuts its doors? Agency closures represent thousands of adoptions. How would a non-English-speaking birth/first parent with limited Internet access get any records about the placement?

When adoption agencies close their doors, or close a country program, what ethical responsibilities does the agency have to the birth/first families? Adoptive families and adoptees can find (admittedly often limited) post-adoption resources even after an agency closes: therapists, online information, magazines, other adoption agencies, conferences, parent groups, adoptee groups, Facebook groups. US first/birth parents have increasingly strong voices and roles in adoption policy, though they deserve much more recognition. What are the policies on post-adoption services for international first/birth parents?

Sometimes adoption agencies serve as liaisons between adoptive parents and birth parents. Letters and photos might be exchanged via the agency, for example. A birth mother might call the adoption agency on her child’s birthday, to see if there is an update. What happens to these liaison services when the agency closes?

I know of a birth mom in Washington state for whom Adoption Advocates International  was the liaison between her and the adoptive family. They do not know each other’s names. The agency had been forwarding photo updates twice a year from the adoptive parents to the birth mom. The child is about 10. In March 2014, AAI closed. The birth mom got no notice that AAI was closing. She doesn’t know how or whether she will ever hear about her daughter again. If anyone can help with this, please contact me: Maureen@LightOfDayStories.com.

An adoption agency that is closing often hands over active or pending cases to another adoption agency. Does that second agency also handle cases such as liaison work? What are the ethical and legal responsibilities of the second agency to the families of the first agency, especially over time?

Adoption agencies, JCICS, NCFA, and COA:  In the spirit of transparency and integrity, what happens not just legally, but ethically, after an agency closes? What are the thoughtful, enforceable, pragmatic policies to help adoptees and birth/first families?

If such policies do not currently exist, what are the strategies in place to create them? Who is at the table to create these policies: adoption agency staff, adoptive parents, adopted adults, and first/birth parents?

Some of you may wonder why I’ve included the Joint Council on International Children’s Services in this open letter. Didn’t they close back in June? Wasn’t that announced at the NCFA-JCICS conference? Why is there no mention on their website of closing, no announcement, no public disclosure at all? They still accept donations. They still accept donations. Are they still offering services? Thus, I decided to include them, and look forward to the response.

 

Joint Council on International Children’s Services is Closing

Today at the “Putting Family First” conference of the National Council for Adoption and  the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, it was announced that Joint Council will close. There will be no merger with NCFA. JCICS agencies will be eligible for a membership with NCFA.

Some people will be rejoicing at this news. Others will be sad that the organization is closing.

Certainly there were some clues about this. The decline in international adoptions has meant a decline in business and revenues for adoption agencies. Many have closed. I’d argue that assisted reproductive technologies and surrogacies have meant that people who otherwise would adopt internationally are no longer doing so. The indictments, lawsuits, and bad press about agencies have not helped. JCICS did not undertake a search for a new executive director after Tom DiFilipo was fired. The JCICS Board of Directors had dwindled to 5 people.

We all wonder what this means for the future of international adoption. Children still need families, and adoptions need to be done with integrity and transparency. I’ve long said we are in a perfect storm of adoption policy and practice. There could be some significant opportunities for genuine change. Here’s hoping the voices of adult adoptees and of international first parents are at the forefront.

Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption at the JCICS-NCFA 2015 Conference

Yesterday I attended the “Putting Families First” conference held by the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and the National Council For Adoption (NCFA). My workshop proposal for the conference, “Finding Common Ground in Policies and Practice, which included three adult adoptee panelists, had been rejected, but I was invited to participate on a panel titled “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.”

The audience was standing room only. I’d guess about 100 people attended.

Adoption professionals cite the Hague Convention, the Council on Accreditation, and the Department of State as reasons for the decline in the number of international adoptions. I argued that adoptions have declined because of the following:

  • Fraud and corruption.
  • Reports of maltreatment and abuse of international adoptees.
  • The role of money in adoption: high costs to adopt; the economic imbalance between adoptive parents and first families; the adoption tax credit; online fundraisers for adoption; adoptive parents’ financial contributions to first families after adoption; and more.
  • Religion: complications and misunderstandings of Christianity, Biblical interpretations, “savior complexes,” and more.
  • Social media: bloggers and twitter campaigns, especially by adult adoptees.
  • Increasing awareness of the need for family preservation: the economics suggest far more children could be helped that way (and kept out of orphanages) than through intercountry adoption.

I argued that if you are responsible for policies that involve children of color and immigrants, you must welcome, instigate, and engage in the complicated conversations around race, racism, systemic oppression, and white privilege.

All of these issues should be the subject by themselves of future conferences and workshops by JCICS and NCFA.

I asked these questions:

Given that there are hundreds of thousands of adult international adoptees, why are so few adoptees involved in adoption advocacy?

Please pause over that question.

Why do adoption conferences and policy meetings have almost exclusively western white people, many of whom are adoptive parents?

I believe that historic marginalization of adult adoptees is the reason. I’d argue that it’s because their voices and experiences have been marginalized in the past. From my speech: “The traditional narrative has been gratitude and integration. The adoption community, dominated by adoptive parents, has not always wanted to hear the struggles and the grief of many adoptees and first families.

Many adult adoptees do not want to express any unhappiness for fear of hurting their adoptive parents, or of being dismissed as ungrateful. That said, many adult adoptees are speaking out publicly now, creating new organizations, criticizing agencies, using social media, and publishing books. It makes no sense to ignore them. If international adoption is going to continue, adoptees—the activists, the academics, the writers, the therapists, the bloggers, the researchers, the playwrights, the poets, the artists–need to be robustly invited into development of policies and practices. They are not going away. Until they have a place at the table, international adoption will continue to decline.”

Adoptions will also decline unless the voices and experiences of international first families are documented, preserved, and shared in a meaningful way, anytime that there are policy or practice discussions. Their absence at those discussions speaks volumes about whose perspective is most valued in international adoption.

Would we be okay with a conference on Christianity that had only a few Christians attending? A conference on social work that had no social workers? Why are we okay with adoption conferences and policy meetings that are missing significant segments of the adoption community?

In terms of predictions, here are my thoughts:

  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless adult adoptees and first families are included in conferences and policy discussions in advocacy groups, Congress, the Hague, and around the world.
  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless fraud and corruption are overtly acknowledged, not just discussed among agency workers.
  • Openness will be the norm in international adoption, and needs to be promoted by agencies as a positive development. That said, openness is complicated.
  • DNA technologies and social media will expand connections between adoptees and their birth families.
  • Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.

While the conference goes on for three more days, I attended only yesterday. In a follow-up post, I will write about the topics explicitly missing from the conference workshops (i.e., assisted reproductive technologies, “re-homing”), and about an exchange regarding  adoption activists ( a term which apparently functions as a code word for “angry adoptees”) in Korea.

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New England winter. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview With Korean Adoptee Soojung Jo, Author of “Ghost of Sangju”

“When I reunited with my Korean family, and finally learned the whole truth from Omma’s letter, it was like an implosion for me. There wasn’t so much a motivation as a need greater than breathing. It was like bleeding. Writing wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was something I could not stop myself from doing. Finishing wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity.”

Soojung Jo was three years old when she was adopted from Korea by a Kentucky family, and 37 years old when she learned the truth of her history and identity. Along the way she graduated from West Point and served in Korea. She became a mother to four children. And she has now written this powerful, evocative book. “Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation” is important for the adoption community. It’s bigger than that, though, because it’s a fascinating story, with powerful emotions, hard decisions, warmth, confusion, candor, love, discernment, and hope.

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More information is available at Gazillion Strong, including purchase information and Book Club questions. A new review by Mila Konomos at Lost Daughters is available here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Soojung about “Ghost of Sangju,” about writing, and about adoption.

Soojung, what writers inspire you? What books are you reading now? 

I’m borderline obnoxious about my passion for reading! As a writer, I’ve been powerfully influenced by some particular books that I think everyone must read: John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Karl Marlantes’s “Matterhorn,” Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son,” Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible,” and Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Also I love Hemingway’s voice, and I’m a shameless Stephen King junkie!

As for what I’m reading now, I always have a book on Audible, one or two on Kindle, and a hard copy in work. I’m listening to “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (Betty Smith), just finished “Americanah” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and just started “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” (Christopher Scotton).

What was the writing process like for you? What motivated you to write, and to finish, your book?

There was this accumulation of all the experiences and my primal but unexpressed emotional responses to them: being taken from my Korean family and country at age 3, my Kentucky childhood, the West Point experience, returning to Korea in the Army, becoming a mother biologically and then through adoption. When I reunited with my Korean family, and finally learned the whole truth from Omma’s letter, it was like an implosion for me. There wasn’t so much a motivation as a need greater than breathing. It was like bleeding. Writing wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was something I could not stop myself from doing. Finishing wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity.

The writing process was evolutionary. Although I had this story fighting its way out of me, I forced myself to be patient and learn a little about writing a full-length book. I read “Bird By Bird” (Lamott), “On Writing Well” (Zinsser), “On Writing” (King). I read interviews with memoirists I admired: Jeannette Walls, Frank McCourt, Cheryl Strayed. I reflected on what elements made the most powerful memoirs work. All these pointed to the same themes: Write without inhibitions, and then edit ruthlessly. Truth is the goal; nothing less will do. These rules sound basic, but they are far from easy. Do you know how hard it is to make one sentence flow into the next? To remove half the flowery words you’ve crafted into something that felt like a masterpiece but reads like a legal document? Even this interview should probably be edited at least five times just to make it readable.

But the most difficult aspect of good writing is achieving truth. Being honest. Sifting through the difficult layers and offering the ugliest parts of yourself to the story. Everything has already been thought and said in this world, so why should anyone care what I have to say? The answer is this: the truth is always compelling. A true, open story from a real and vulnerable storyteller always resonates.

Absolutely. What’s your next/current writing project?

Actually, I’m not writing at the moment. This book seared its way out of me, and I think I’m recovering a bit from it. I would hope everyone could experience something so consuming yet cathartic in their lives as this book was for me.

I said in my review of your book that I took breaks while reading it, given the poignancy of your search for your Korean family. International adoption is at a volatile, critical juncture right now, in South Korea and around the world. How does “Ghost of Sangju” fit into the complexity?

You are right—international adoption is having a pivotal moment, and this is largely due to the fact that a critical mass of international adoptees have grown up and spoken our truths. We have voices and we won’t be ignored. We are varied, complex, and our experiences and opinions range across a full spectrum. Mine is only one story, but it’s a challenging one that needs to be told because it shatters many traditionally held views. I hope that, without having to over-explain these complexities, readers will experience them as I did through my writing.

If readers come away from this book with an expanded view of what is really happening in international adoption, and an appreciation for the complexity of having lived through international adoption, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

How have your family members reacted to the book, as well as to your search and reunion?

Maureen, I don’t really know. I know what they tell me, but I don’t believe their words really touch on their true reactions. In words, they show support and love. But I’m not the only one in this crazy life going through complex, dissonant emotions about this. I can only imagine how my parents have worried, have regretted, have feared, and have wished that my story had been as straightforward as the agency had promised them almost 40 years ago. I’ve done my best to be sensitive to what they’re going through, but it’s not easy.

No, it’s not. Adoption can be complicated  If you could change policies and practices in international adoption, what would you do?

This is such a difficult question. I have many adoptee friends who are activists, but honestly I am not cut out to talk policies and practices. I know many others who are. I know things need to change, because so many elements of my own story still happen today and that’s unacceptable. I can’t say with authority what should be changed in policy. That’s not what my voice contributes. Instead, my voice speaks of little known truths and buried secrets, and I hope to use this voice to change hearts. Maybe those changed hearts can contribute to changed policies and practices.

I hope that too. What have you learned about yourself, about life, in the process of writing the book? Not so much the factual information as the perspectives, awareness, priorities.

Maureen, I learned so much in writing this book. This was no intellectual exercise! The first few revisions, I stuck to a story that I thought was acceptable. It was a bland, diluted version of my truth and it was terrible. My early pre-readers, my counselors and cheerleaders, asked, “Soojung, this is beautiful, but it isn’t you. Where are YOU in this story?” They asked me this question gently and often enough that I began to wonder myself, where am I in this story? That’s when the real work began, the work of digging into the most real parts of myself, my life, and my emotions. I had to let go of so much fear of showing this awful, beautiful story in all its grittiness. I learned that I, too, am gritty. I’m raw. I have so much strength and weakness and they terrify me, but they are real and therefore they are worthy.

The bland version of my memoir was okay, people liked it well enough, but the real version was amazing and people have responded so deeply to it. Likewise, the bland, pleasing version of myself is okay, but the real version is so much better. Does this mean I’m capable of being this true in real life? No, but at least I know it’s possible. It’s aspirational.

What would you like readers to take away from reading “Ghost of Sangju”?

Although the story is rooted in international adoption, there are universal themes of family, identity, and parenthood that I think all readers can connect to. I want readers to gain an understanding of a life that most probably haven’t lived. I also want readers to appreciate and respect the complexities of being an adoptee, especially international and transracial. I want readers to learn, and to feel less alone.

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Many thanks to Soojung Jo for this conversation. Congratulations on the publication of “Ghost of Sangju.”

Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption

It’s a balancing act to discuss adoption as trauma. The idea of adoption as trauma is relatively new, and I understand that it’s disconcerting for many people. Separation from one’s mother as baby or child is traumatizing; we are hardwired to connect with our mothers. Adoptees often undergo additional separation from caregivers in a foster home or orphanage. Those losses can be traumatic as well, and the trauma can manifest over time or later in life. Depression is also disconcerting, to the 19 million Americans who struggle with it and to those who love the people who are struggling. Many adoptees struggle as children, as teens, and as adults with anxiety and depression. Talking about these medical conditions can be hard. Still, as anyone involved in adoption or in life knows, not talking about difficult, uncomfortable things rarely ends well.

It’s also a balancing act to encourage discussion about suicide without encouraging suicide. Same with remembering those who have died by suicide without inadvertently glamorizing suicide. High schools, for example, face this dilemma when a student has died by suicide, not wanting to trigger any sort of imitation, or “suicide cluster.”

Suicide is the third top cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds, and the second top cause among 15 to 24 year olds.

My post Suicide and Adoption: We Need to Stop Whispering has been shared on Facebook about 800 times since I published it last Monday. There have been several thousand views and visitors, and I have heard personally from many people. Clearly, it struck a chord, and we need to keep this conversation going, even if it is complicated and difficult to balance.

For anyone in crisis, call this number: 1-800-273-8255. You can call the number if you are considering suicide or if someone you know is. Available anytime, day or night. 24/7/365.

Two significant resources are the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Both have huge amounts of information, research, and more. I’ve reached out to both organizations above, asking if they would consider providing adoptee-specific information on their websites.  I’ve offered to draft material and network with them about this, and I hope I hear back soon. Please reach out to them as well.

Here are suggestions for talking with someone who may be suicidal. I share this because there are many resources available for this tough stuff.

Most suicide attempts are rooted in some sort of trauma and/or depression. Many people who have considered or died by suicide have also been diagnosed with depression and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. President Obama in February signed a suicide prevention law to make it easier for U.S. military veterans to access mental health resources. The law also provides funding to recruit and retain professionals to help veterans struggling with PTSD and other challenges.

Here’s an eye-opener: Former foster care children are almost twice as likely as US war veterans to suffer from PTSD. You can read more in this Casey Foundation report.

I’ve cited, several times, the American Academy of Pediatric’s report that adoptees are 4 times as likely to attempt suicide as non-adopted people but it bears sharing again. Read the report here.

We can recognize that trauma is a part of adoption, without claiming that all adopted people are affected the same way. Many do just fine, handling challenges with resilience and strength. Many struggle, and those are the ones I want to recognize, acknowledge, and assist, if possible.

Here are some strategies and resources:

  • Learn about trauma in adoption. “Assume that all children who have been adopted or fostered have experienced trauma.” That is a central quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics guide for pediatricians, “Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope With Trauma.” Share this resource with your pediatrician.
  • Make suicide awareness a component of pre-adoptive parent training classes. Suicide awareness should be part of information provided to prospective parents about trauma, depression, and anxiety disorders, and their frequent appearance in adoptees.
  • Insist on speakers in pre- and post-adoption workshops who have struggled with depression and trauma. Agencies: Improve networking with adult adoptees and adoptees who are therapists, so that adoption agencies have several speakers to provide for families.
  • Understand why access to medical histories for adoptees is essential. Denial of that information (which could be lifesaving), in regard to mental illness and other medical conditions, is unconscionable. The American Adoption Congress has focused its legislative advocacy efforts on opening access to original birth certificates. Information is available here.
  • Advocate for adoption competency among therapists. Suggest that families also look for therapists trained in childhood trauma, as well as in adoption-related issues.
  • Advocate for strong post-adoption mental health services for everyone: the adoptee, the adoptive parents, and the first/birth parents.
  • Suggest, promote, and provide workshops with titles like “Depression Among Teenage Adoptees: What It Looks Like, What Can Help,” or “The Presence of Suicide in Adoption,” or “PTSD and Adoptees: The Realities and the Treatments,” and “Adult Adoptees Speak Out About Depression, Anxiety, and Suicide Prevention.”
  • Learn about the impact of bullying and cyberbullying on children and teens. According to the site stopbullying.gov, “Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.”
  • Adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations: Provide current, substantial lists of resources to families about therapists, therapies, articles, podcasts, videos, and more related to adoption, depression, and suicide prevention.
  • Learn about psychotherapies that can benefit people struggling with depression and trauma. The National Institute of Mental Health has clear information: Psychotherapies. One therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is for chronically suicidal people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and is also used for substance dependence, PTSD, and depression.
  • Learn about the role of addiction in adoption, and how addiction and substance abuse intersect with trauma and depression. One resource is a YouTube video by Paul Sunderland, titled Adoption and Addiction.

Fill yourself and your loved ones with accurate information, with hope, and with attention to deep listening. Let go of shame and fear about mental illness, and encourage others to do so as well. All of us in the adoption community can work together in a powerful way to increase awareness of suicide, and to promote suicide prevention.