What We Remember After Someone Dies: Thinking of My Dad

My dad died one month ago today, December 24, 2016, at 87 years old. The one month is arbitrary but it’s what we humans do: use a calendar to note important dates, to measure them in some way. Grief, of course, cannot be measured. I am one of those grievers who does well in the short-term, keeping busy, then lets the grief sidle in, companionably at times. and like an air-sucking punch at others.

At my last visit with Dad, we held hands. He was transitioning, as the hospice folks say, moving from life to death in measurable ways: opening and closing his eyes, murmuring and gesturing to things the rest of us couldn’t see, able to swallow until he couldn’t, sleeping yet not sleeping. Seeking eternal rest, perhaps.

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I wasn’t with him when he died. I wasn’t with my mom when she died, 13 years before, on December 25, 2003. I don’t think either one would have known if I was there or not, since both were taking palliative meds that alleviated pain and consciousness. I’ve read things about how folks found it a blessing to be with loved ones when they died. I don’t know.

Before Alzheimer’s had firmly entrapped his brain, Dad used to say that he hoped he’d die in his sleep: just go to sleep one night, and not wake up in the morning. And that seems to be what happened. After we buried Dad, I later learned we had coincidentally buried Mom and Dad on the same date, December 29, 13 years apart.

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At the funeral at St. Mary’s Church in Danvers, Massachusetts, I said this about my dad:

A good and faithful servant has returned home.

My dad was a good man. You may know him from Peabody, where he grew up on Swampscott Ave, and was a proud graduate of the Peabody High Class of 1946.

He went on to Boston College, studying business administration with the Jesuits, commuting every day, working various jobs. He deeply valued his Catholic education and his Catholic faith.

His adult life included serving in the United States National Guard, Yankee Division, working at GE in Lynn, and spending time with family and friends. He and my mom loved their neighbors on Evans and Lenox Road in Peabody, and had a lot of parties and get togethers. Some of you will remember my dad playing the piano, playing the drums. And singing: Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Vaya Con Dios, It’s a Sin To Tell A Lie.

We moved to Danvers when I was in first grade, and the tradition of great neighbors and parties and bridge games continued. Dad worked hard, and was a wonderful provider for his family. He and Mom were active here in St, Mary’s parish, in the Mr. and Mrs. Club among other volunteer activities.

In fact, Dad was a volunteer throughout his life, with the Big Brother organization, and with the Boy Scouts. When he retired at 65 years old, he became a lay chaplain at the Essex County Correctional Facility. He used to say that some folks wondered why he would help out there, with people who had committed crimes and were to be punished. For Dad, though, this was just part of his life of service to others. He believed in redemption, and in the potential of everyone to do good in this world. He helped with the Mass there, and ran popular parenting classes. He knew that many, when they were released, would be back in the facility, but remained faithful and hopeful for them. The jail named a Volunteer Award after Dad, among his proudest honors.

And at home, he and mom played cribbage every night for years. He had a Manhattan every night. Dad enjoyed that Manhattan, and often won the cribbage games with Mom. When they switched to Chinese checkers, though, Mom would often be the winner.

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When Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, never having smoked in her life, Dad was her devoted caregiver, right to the end. She suffered quite a bit as a result of the disease, and Dad helped with her medications, her oxygen tank, and praying with her. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August of 2003, and Mom died on Christmas Day that year.

People used to say to Dad how sad it was that Mom died on Christmas Day. He used to say Well, that meant that he was never alone on the day she died, that he was always with family and friends.

And now Dad passed away on Christmas Eve. He missed Mom terribly, and now they are together again. And I won’t be alone on the days they died, but will also be surrounded by family and friends. What a gift.

Dad was a humble man, a person who always stepped up to help, whether it was his high school reunion committee, whether it was taking his beloved brother to meetings, or answering the phone in St. Mary’s rectory, or sending a carefully chosen card with a warm note for his grandchildren on their birthdays or for school accomplishments. He loved us all so much—my mom, his four grandchildren, his great-granddaughter, all of his family. He loved us all unconditionally. He lived his faith humbly and vibrantly.img_8910 img_1023 img_6839

 

How do we best commemorate, honor, mourn, and remember? I have no wise words, except maybe this: never miss a chance to tell others you love them. I am leaning on my loved ones for consolation and understanding. I am moving back to the projects and tasks I’d left undone and need to do. I am remembering many happy, wonderful moments, and am practicing being focused in the present. I take deep breaths. I remember and smile through tears.

We are all in this life together, even when we are apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On My Dad’s Impending Passing

After my Skype call yesterday with my dad, the head of the dementia unit called me and gently, compassionately, guided me to the reality that Dad may soon enter hospice care.

In the midst of a swirl of emotions, I am grateful that, long ago, he prepared, pragmatically and characteristically, the paperwork to help us meet his wishes for his care. And it’s reminding me of how all of us can, should, and need to do the same

Dad s a young man in New York (I think), with his Boston College ring on this right hand and his beloved camera in his left.

Dad as a young man in New York (I think), with his Boston College ring on his right hand, and his camera in his left.

We can’t predict when hospice will be needed, of course, and we hope it doesn’t happen for a long time. Dad has lived in Harbor Care, the memory care unit of Putnam Farm, for almost five years. Alzheimer’s is nothing but a gradual, predictable descent. Those of us who love people who have dementia must “join them on the journey,” as the saying goes: agreeing with comments that make no sense, trying to answer questions that have no verb and no context, listening to and watching our loved one struggle for words, for balance, for meaning.

My dad is 86, in vigorous physical health. He has most of his hair, and much of it is not grey. If you saw him, you wouldn’t think he was ill.

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If you talked with Dad for only a few minutes, you’d know right away. “Word salad” is what you’d hear, with (maybe) intermittent engagement about music, or sports, or his faith. Yesterday, during our Skype call, he showed me the photo I had sent him of me with my granddaughter (his great-granddaughter). In the 20-minute conversation, he showed the photo to me six or seven times. He loves us very much, and that was one way, his way now, of showing that.

When Beth, the director of Putnam Farm’s memory impairment unit, called me later in the day, she asked how Dad had seemed to me. “Fine,” I said. “The usual. A little tired.”

These conversations are treasured, but they are a big effort for Dad, who does his best to cover up the vagaries of memory loss.

I told her, “I’m not sure if he really knew me today.”

He asked me if I had finished the reports on time for the aeronautics department. Forty years ago, he worked for General Electric, as a purchasing manager for airplane parts. I told him yes, they were in on time, and he seemed happy to hear that.

Beth listened thoughtfully to what I said and didn’t say. She’s one of those people with a gift for deep listening, which is perhaps why she’s so effective with and dedicated to Alzheimer’s patients.

“This afternoon, your dad had trouble walking after he went to entertainment. He couldn’t move his left leg.”

I mulled that a bit. Maybe Dad had a small stroke? One of the puzzles of dementia is the inability to neatly categorize the types. Dad may have vascular dementia, and may have experienced lots of small strokes. Maybe one yesterday, after the entertainment.

Beth said Dad has really slowed down, slept a lot, and is having increased difficulty transitioning out of his room. He wants to stay in his room as much as possible. He’s needed an aide to help with showers and grooming for a while. Dementia can mean not knowing what steps are in what order to taking a shower or getting dressed.

“So, in the next few months, we may want to move him into hospice care.”

I have nothing but admiration for and gratitude to hospice workers who,13 years ago, helped my mom on her way to dying from lung cancer (despite never having smoked). Hearing Beth’s words opened the fragile scar that is the memory of Mom’s vibrant life and painful, cruel illness. Hospice helped immeasurably, with medications and kindness. My dad was Mom’s attentive, organized caregiver, keeping lists of the dosages as he had kept detailed records of heating oil deliveries, his Bradford Plate collection, and the slides from their trip to Europe in 1964. He conferred with the hospice nurses. He helped Mom wash her hair, use the oxygen tanks, and say the words of prayers together when she had little breath but much belief. They had been married 50 years in 2003 when Mom died at home, Dad by her side, on Christmas Day.

From the day Dad moved into Putnam Farm in 2011, the care he’s received has been exemplary. I exhaled with great relief when Beth said the hospice care would happen there too, where Dad has grown familiar and content, where he knows his room and bed and window out to the big maple tree.

All good, all good: the music therapy, the massage therapy, the aides and helpers that can come with hospice care. I nodded and felt good about the high level of care, while I wept stiffly and awkwardly. I’ve been grieving the slow loss of my dad for many years. Sometimes the grief jumps right to the surface.

I thanked Beth for talking with me. Really, what a blessing—to have someone genuinely willing and able to guide me on this new unavoidable path, giving me accurate, helpful information, concerned for Dad and for me. It could not have been an easy phone call for her to make, and I am so grateful.

I am also grateful that my organized, pragmatic dad gave me power of attorney in 2007. He updated his will, his health care directives, and his wishes for his funeral service. I am his health care proxy, and I know exactly what mattered to Dad when he was cogent and healthy. What a gift.

What a sad, sobering, useful, blessed, unwanted, valuable, vital gift.

Dad has shared so much with me: his love of Ireland, his love of words and literature, his deep appreciation of Hershey’s chocolates. He has given nothing but love to me, to his four grandchildren, and to his great-granddaughter. He will have a rich legacy, in terms of his dedication to his family, his church, and his community.

Dad and Z in 2013--I so love these 2 amazing people.

Dad and Z in 2013. I so love these two amazing people.

One aspect of that legacy that I want to pass on now, while Dad is alive, is to urge you to do the hard work of preparing your own paperwork. Talk with your spouse/partner/parents about health care directives, health care proxies, wills, and powers of attorney. Get the documents put together and hope you won’t have to use them for a long time. You probably won’t.

I’ve been fortunate to have my dad with me for so long, and I hope he is with us for a long time to come. I have peace knowing that, when the time comes, I know his wishes. I know where the documents are. I will not be floundering around trying to find stuff and wishing that I knew what he wanted so that I could honor him and his wishes.

My dad would be pleased that I am making these suggestions, drawing on his example. As he said when he encouraged me to make the honor roll, or learn a new skill, or raise my kids: “It may be hard, Maureen, but it’s worth it.” Another way of looking at it is through the lens of Dad’s faith: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Go talk with those you love and those who love you, pull the paperwork together, put it in a safe place, and be at peace with that. Every day is a gift.

Info on Alzheimer’s: Great, short video explaining how Alzheimer’s progresses in the brain. Loads of info at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Info on health care directives/living wills from The Mayo Clinic.

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

October, Traumaversaries, and Hope

T.S. Eliot may have called April the “cruelest month,” but I am thinking October–6 months after April–gives that notion a run for its money. October holds Halloween, and the Day of the Dead. It’s when school kids (right up to college) often move out of the honeymoon start of school, and problems start surfacing. Trees in many parts of the world change their colors, and leaves drop off. Harvest season has ended, fields lie fallow, days get darker.

An Ethiopian adoptee, the British poet Lemn Sissay, wrote this on his Facebook page a year ago today, October 9: “When October arrives, part of me leaves. I want what leaves to come back.”

A year ago today, Fisseha Sol Samuel died by suicide at 20 years of age, near the soccer fields of his college campus. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family, left behind, grieving mightily, healing slowly.

In The Wasteland, Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire…”

Memory and desire. Loss and love. The powerful combination that can firmly glue and sometimes rip apart a family, a child, a beloved soul.

We celebrate or observe anniversaries of important events. Sometimes, less official but quite real, we experience traumaversaries:  a feeling of sadness, anxiety, and/or grief around the anniversary of a trauma (experiencing a deeply disturbing frightening event). I hear this term “traumaversary” fairly often in the adoption community. Adoptive parents note that their children fall apart (crying, overreacting, withdrawing) at a particular point of year because the children had experienced a traumatic event during that time, a year before, 10 years before. Often the body remembers, even as the mind seeks to forget, and an edginess or anxious vigilance can manifest on the anniversary. I know of a young adoptee who had a psychotic episode in October many years ago; every October the fear that it will happen again, the unsettling knowledge that it happened at all, permeates the month.

It’s hard stuff. And it is real. I offer these thoughts to assure people they are not alone in and on their traumaversaries, whether in October or any cruel month. There are resources, and there is hope. Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness, said Desmond Tutu. Sometimes we need to be the light for others; sometimes we ourselves need to look for it. The astronomer Pamela L.Gay, writing about Childhood’s Shadows, notes that “you can only be there for someone when they let you be there. You can only listen to someone who is willing to speak. You can not force yourself into any other person’s life no matter how much you may want to be there for them.

So I watch, and I wait for the moment when my extended hand will be taken. When you are ready for help, understand that I will still be here.

And on this October night, on traumaversaries, and in this cruel, crazy, beautiful world, may we watch, and listen, and extend our hands.

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Flower in Ethiopia, 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

A tip of the hat to Dr. Jason Evan Mihalko, who today tweeted the link to the “Childhood’s Shadows” post.

“Understanding Why Adoptees Are At Higher Risk For Suicide”

Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption–which often has much joy but is more complex than people realize–is challenging. And we need to talk, and keep sharing information and resources.

I am pleased to share with you my article “Understanding Why Adoptees Are At Higher Risk For Suicide,” published today by Forefront, a University of Washington collaboration of the UW School of Social Work, UW Communication, UW School of Nursing, and UW College of Education.

My three main points in the article are these:

Adoption is a trauma.

Adoptees often don’t know their medical histories, which may include depression and other illnesses.

Adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or what could be seen as ingratitude.

I know people I love more than words can say who have considered. and attempted, suicide. I do not presume to speak specifically for them in my writing, because their stories are theirs to tell–or not.  Because of my experiences, and because of hearing about the suicides (or attempts) of adoptees, I have felt compelled to speak out. I hope other voices, especially those of adoptees themselves, will come forward as well and be welcomed, even as we struggle together.

This is a clarion call to adoption agencies and organizations to make suicide awareness and prevention–especially as it relates to adoptees–a fundamental part of their training and adoption-related services. I mean no disrespect to birth/first mothers, fathers, and family members, as they also have genuine struggles. My focus here, however, was on adoptees.  I have heard just this week about 2 12-year-olds, boys, Ethiopian adoptees, in different states, who committed suicide in August. I heard recently from an adoptee of the Baby Scoop Era, now in her 50’s, who has struggled with suicidal thoughts for decades.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Please read, learn, share, and speak out.

My thanks to Forefront for publishing my article.

May we all find healing and hope, and reasons to live.

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Another Adoptee Suicide: Unspeakable Pain

This week I heard about the death by suicide of a young Ethiopian adoptee, reported by his US family to be about 12 years old, living in America since 2013.

My heart aches for everyone–for the boy, for his family in Ethiopia and here in the US, for all of us.

Adoption can be full of great joy, many gains, and lots of love. It can also have deep layers of grief, loss, and trauma. I do not know the circumstances of this most recent death. I do know that adoptees attempt suicide at higher rates than non-adoptees, and do so at alarmingly young ages. One source of information is Pediatrics: “Risks of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Non-Adopted Offspring.”

My post “Suicide and Adoption: We Need To Stop Whispering” has had thousands of views in the last few days. Please take a look also at my post “Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption.” There is lots of information there about suicide prevention, depression and PTSD resources, strategies to talk about suicide awareness, and more.

Save this number somewhere: 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7, 365 days a year. Their website is here: Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

I am saddened by how many people I know in the adoption community who have considered suicide and who have attempted it. Almost everyone in the adoption community knows personally of adoptees who have died by suicide.

Let’s keep talking about the realities of depression and trauma, and encouraging others to talk about their loss and fears, especially around adoption, without judgement or dismissal. It’s tough stuff. We have to do it.

There is a GoFundMe account for the family of the young man who died by suicide. Since I’ve been asked about it several times, here is the link.

May everyone find compassion and healing.

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Candles at a Vancouver BC Church. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being “Home,” Being Adopted, Being Lemn Sissay

In the journey to and from home, there are many intersections, places where 2 or more roads meet. When you are expecting a delivery to your home, what do they ask you?

“What’s the nearest intersection?”

The synonyms for intersection are circle, cloverleaf, crossing, crosswalk, interchange, junction, stop.

Let’s make that a poem:

Intersection

Circle, cloverleaf, crossing, crosswalk.

Interchange, junction.

Stop.

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©: Maureen McCauley Evans

Consider the intersections of the poet/writer/broadcaster/foster care alum/Ethiopian adoptee/British citizen/MBE Lemn Sissay. “His head is in London where he’s based, his heart is in Manchester where he is not, his soul is in Addis and his vibe is in New York where his mother lives,” according to his website.

Lemn Sissay has a new BBC radio broadcast, taped at the Ghion Hotel in Addis, called “Homecoming.” He speaks about the various crossings of his life, and brings in several people who have traveled on some of the same roads as he has. He interviews two Ethiopian adoptees, raised in Holland and now living in Ethiopia, (An intersection: my daughter and I met also with those two lovely people in Addis last August.) He talks about Prince Alemayehu, about whom I’ve written several times. Lemn cooks with his Ethiopian sister. He recites poems to his audience at the Ghion. You can hear the cloverleaf of language in the broadcast, where Amharic is spoken, though not by Lemn, who speaks English, though he is Ethiopian.

He shares this poem:

…When I found out I am Ethiopian, I come home, and I am asked how Ethiopian I am.

At the end of the day, you are home where you are accepted. No?

You make home where you are accepted, and, in making that home, you accept it.

Home is not one place.

“Home” can be complicated, whether we are connected to adoption or not. I’d argue that the roads to adoption and from adoption are especially complicated. Lemn writes that “home” is not one place. It’s certainly not just a house or hut or hospital room, because those can and do disappear, either physically or in our memories. Perhaps adoptees start in one place, and often travel through many places which others may call “home” but they don’t feel fully safe, fully comfortable, fully right–until they do, until they can claim it themselves, in a way that no one else can. Perhaps in a way that no one but an adopted person can understand fully.

The radio show is called by the BBC a “Comedy of the Week,” in (I suppose) the English major sense of “comedy:” not everyone dies, the situation of the protagonist goes from bad to good, there is a happy ending. (Is that how adoption goes? Sometimes. Not always.) You might not laugh out loud while you listen, though you’ll likely smile. You may sigh as well, thinking about the losses alluded to, the roads not travelled, the differences made by wrong turns, missed exits, sketchy directions.

Lemn Sissay writes that, at the end of the day, you are home where you are accepted. Another innovative thinker wrote that, “We are all just walking each other home.”

May we be kind to each other on our journeys, and may we stop to understand those whose lives intersect with ours along the way.

Part 1 of Lemn Sissay’s Homecoming broadcast is available here. Part 2 will be available May 12.

Mothers of Loss: Noting the Privilege of Grief and Support

The adoptive mother of an adoptee killed in a car accident has written several powerful, sorrowful posts on Facebook. She has received the support of dozens, in some cases hundreds, of people, and has shared the funeral service, photos, anecdotes, and memories. She has been supported in her grief by her family, her friends, her church, and  her community, both local and online.

How do people recover from the death of a child? Slowly, painstakingly, and maybe never.

How do mothers recover from the more ambiguous loss of a child through adoption? One day the child is here. The next day the child is gone, alive but perhaps never to be seen again.

When someone loses a child to death, we rally. We prepare meals, we pray, we attend services, we send cards, we read Facebook posts, and we type comments of gratitude and support. The parents often receive counseling, medications, and group therapies.

What do we do for the mothers who lose their children to adoption, even when the decision is one of transparency and integrity? How do we as a community support them, through rituals and time? How do we acknowledge their loss?

What about when the loss is one of coercion, or fraud, or shame? Do we show compassion, or do we push their grief and loss out of our minds?

Surely it is yet another manifestation of our privilege that adoptive parents, as citizens in a wealthy society, that grief is shared. In the event of the death of a child, the parents can mourn and share and grieve in both private and public. They can get–as is right–heartfelt support from family, friends, and strangers. People inquire how they are doing, and pray for them, and embrace them in a time of deep, unfathomable loss.

I have never experienced the loss of a child. When my beloved granddaughter turned 6, I couldn’t help thinking that was the age at which her mother had been placed for adoption with our family. I was stopped in my tracks at the idea of losing this child forever, at 6 years old, never knowing where in the world she was. The grief would be overwhelming. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of the loss.

Surely it is yet another manifestation of the inequity in adoption that a first/birth mother placing her children forever does not get the resources and platform of an adoptive mother who loses her child to death. Don’t both experience what we acknowledge is an enormous loss–a child gone forever?

How many first mothers, after placement, never learn if their children are dead or alive?

To lose a child is to lose a part of one’s heart and soul. We in the adoption community must acknowledge the grief and loss of the mothers whose children are placed for adoption, because they have lost a child. To the impoverished Ethiopian and other international mothers walking back to their villages alone and never hearing again about their beloved children–mothers who experience depression, scorn, loneliness, and worse–we must offer recognition and compassion, and provide ongoing services to them. To the mothers who were coerced as teens into relinquishing their children, we must partner with them in their grief, not shame or dismiss them, suggesting they “Get over it. It was a long time ago.” To any mother who has lost a child, we must reach out, acknowledge the loss, and help with the healing. All mothers deserve this. All of them.

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“Crowd Funded” Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day

Hollywood pastor Hank Frontener and others designated yesterday as “World Adoption Day.” Frontener, according to the World Adoption Day website, is the force behind AdoptTogether.org, the first crowdfunding site for adoption costs. It all sounds good, right? Look closer.

Crowdfunding is the practice of raising money by asking for contributions from lots of people–friends, family, strangers–over the Internet.

Private US infant adoptions (through an agency or attorney) and international adoptions can easily cost $35,000 or more. US foster care adoptions cost very little, so the AdoptTogether crowdfunding has nothing to do with those children.

Why is crowdfunding for adoption controversial?

For one reason, crowdfunding for adoption has the feel of raising money for charity. Adoption should not be seen as an act of charity, or of rescue, or of saving. That approach objectifies the adoptee as a “charity case,” as someone who should be grateful and pitied. That’s not a healthy way to build a family, and it’s an unfair burden for the adopted child (who grows up).

A related reason can be the association of payment for a child–not for the expenses involved in processing an adoption, but for the child. I’m sure I’m not the only adoptive parent who’s been asked “How much did they cost?” It’s demeaning and crass, and smiling while saying it doesn’t make it less repugnant. It’s particularly wrong in reference to an African or African-American child.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding is an astonishing reminder of the economic imbalance between those who are adopting, and those whose children are being adopted. The families featured on the AdoptTogether page are looking to raise between $20,000 and $60,000. The children are from Africa (three from Uganda, one from an unnamed African country), from China, and from the US (an African-American girl).

People who adopt generally have a lot more money than the people who are placing their children. It’s safe to say that the US families adopting have much more cash flow than the Ugandan families, for example. The inequity is enormous. Poverty should not be a reason for a mother of father to lose their child forever, yet it happens again and again.

Imagine, for example, what $60,000 could mean to Simon, the Ugandan father of the twins featured on the AdoptTogether page, and written about in the adoptive mother’s blog (September 27 post, “the grand finale”). The twins also have older siblings in Uganda with whom they will not grow up.

The fact that I know that the name and have seen the photo of the Ugandan twins’ father is another example of why crowdfunding for adoption is so controversial: it often involves an unfettered sharing of extremely personal information. You and I now know more about these little children than they do at this point, and it’s all on the Internet forever, without their permission.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding allows parents to pay for their adoptions completely, and then to receive the adoption tax credit.  In an article written by the CEO of the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services, Pastor Hank Frontener explained why he established AdoptTogether: “…many adoptions are out-of-this-world expensive – $35,000 on average for an international adoption. But…if we could crowdfund, and give people a way to be a part of an adoption financially and have a tax benefit to boot, we’d have something special.”

Indeed. The generous adoption tax credit allow families to recoup their adoption-related expenses for item such as travel, hotels, lawyers’ fees, and so on. The US government has given out $7 billion (yes, billion) in tax credits (not deductions), primarily for private and international adoptions, to adoptive parents. Read more here.

Pastor Frontener and others promoting yesterday’s first World Adoption Day invited “everyone worldwide to post a photo of themselves, their family and their friends with the hands up smiley face with the hashtag #WorldAdoptionDay.” Many did so. Others posted that hashtag along with #flipthescript, a successful, important effort led by the Lost Daughters to have the voices of adoptees included in the long-standing chorus of adoptive parents during November’s National Adoption Month. Learn more about #flipthescript here, and take a look at an excellent video about why it matters.

I tweeted yesterday about #WorldAdoptionDay along with #flipthescript. One of my tweets included a photo from the World Adoption Day store: their “Crowdfunded” tee-shirt.

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That photo, that “Crowdfunded” slogan on an ostensibly adopted child, generated quite a response, mostly of anger and frustration, and the tweets flew quickly.

Today, if you go to the World Adoption Day store and look for that shirt, you will get this:

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I don’t know if it was removed because of pressure placed on the World Adoption Day site, or if all the shirts were sold out. I appreciate the fact that the item is gone, in any case. It’s an example of commodifying a child, suggesting that there’s something cute about soliciting money from strangers to provide a child with a family.

Unfortunately, the World Adoption Day folks also thought it was cute to sell tee shirts that say “Love Child.” Sigh. Yes, maybe on some odd scale it’s less offensive than saying a child is crowdfunded. Still. “Love Child” has a different connotation than “Beloved Child,” for example, which is not one of the World Adoption Day tee shirts. Clearly “Love Child” as a product on the World Adoption Day site was considered a clever reference to the euphemism for an illegitimate child or bastard. But why should an adopted child bear the burden of reframing the definition of love child?

World Adoption Day’s main focus was to have people post photos with smiley faces on their hands, and to publicize a crowdfunding platform. Its focus was not to promote awareness of the commingling of love and grief in adoption, or to promote family preservation, or to insist that the voices of adult adoptees and first/birth parents be heard. It did not question the high costs charged by adoption agencies, nor promote the need for adoption from US foster care, for which adoption expenses generally do not need to be crowdfunded.

Let’s not crowdfund children either.

 

 

 

 

 

National Adoption Month and Awareness: Flip the Script

National Adoption Month begins today, an idea that seems straightforward until you start talking with people about it. Whose stories are heard this month? Whose interests are represented? It’s time to #FliptheScript, and hand over the microphone to new voices.

The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) says that, in 1990, they began raising awareness of what had been Adoption Week (the week of Thanksgiving) and   started promoting November as National Adoption Awareness Month. The original purpose was to increase awareness about the need for adoptive families for children in US foster care.

National Adoption Awareness Month in the past has been touted almost exclusively by public and private adoption agencies and adoptive parents. Like the adoption tax credit, the original focus on children in US foster care has expanded to promote adoption of children around the globe.

If we are going to do adoption right, we have to take a hard look at it. We need to listen carefully to those who have a wide range of experiences as a result of adoption: the wonderful, the good, the difficult, the traumatic. Adoption is not a Hallmark greeting card or sweet interracial family photo. It’s time to flip that script. The stories and pictures are complex, and that’s okay.

Awareness is key. We need to move toward increased awareness of adoption and of family preservation/reunification. Those are big, complicated, potentially rewarding undertakings. Let’s look beyond cute pictures and platitudes.

Let’s listen to the voices that we can truly learn from: adopted adults. Let’s move the microphone, held in the past and present by adoption agencies and adoptive parents, and hand it to them.

Take a look today on Twitter for #FliptheScript. Listen to the voices of adoptees who love their adoptive families deeply, and who have struggled nonetheless. Listen to those who had horrible, fraudulent experiences, and who have survived.

Listen to those who have been denied the most basic human right–to know who they are–because they are denied the right to access their own original birth certificates.

Look at who is talking about National Adoption Awareness Month. Sure, listen to the agencies and parents. Then give deeply to listening to those who have truly lived what it means to be adopted.

Inverted image of spider web photo, taken by Maureen McCauley Evans

Inverted image of spider web photo, taken by Maureen McCauley Evans