International Women’s Day and Economic Equity in Adoption

Today, International Women’s Day, is meant to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in global economies. I struggle to honor that notion when I consider the astonishing imbalance of power in adoption, especially in terms of domestic infant adoption in the US and of international adoption.

I recently was a small part of a Twitter conversation with a new Florida law firm focused on adoption that posed this question on behalf of expectant mothers: “Can I get paid for placing my baby up for adoption?” That was the first tweet the new firm posted on February 9, so we have a good idea of their priorities and marketing strategy.

 

This law firm will indeed help with financial assistance for expectant mothers who agree to place their babies for adoption. This is legal, with variations among states. The assistance can include rent, food, cell phone, medical expenses, and “possibly more.” Depending on the contract signed between the mother and the prospective adoptive parents, assistance can continue for four to six weeks after the birth. If the mother changes her mind, she may be liable for reimbursement of expenses. There is, of course, no financial assistance from the law firm to keep the child.

The law firm I tweeted to never responded to my tweets, and has since blocked me. No surprise, no big deal. The reality is there are plenty of other law firms and agencies advertising the same way.

The Twitter exchange reminded me of the tremendous economic imbalance between adoptive mothers and expectant/birth mothers, a disparity that is too rarely discussed and has significant implications for the way adoptive parents talk about adoption and birth parents with their children.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I am struck, not for the first time, by what the disparity in economic power and leverage between adoptive mothers and expectant/birth mothers signifies for motherhood. I am well aware of that disparity, as an adoptive mother through US and international adoption. We pay significant amounts of money; they place their child with us. It is relative wealth that makes us mothers, and scarcity of funds that makes them mothers who may never see their children again. We have the legal means to ensure that outcome, as well as the wherewithal to establish geographical and emotional distance.

I recognize that women have a right to place their children for adoption, and would argue that it must be done in a non-coercive way that creates a level playing field for everyone, not just the women (and men) with money: Not when a few weeks of financial help means a lifetime of sadness. Not when adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary situation. Not when adoption agencies close and are no longer intermediaries between birth families and adoptive families, and leave no ways for the birth family or the adopted person to get information. Not when international mothers are told that their babies will come back some day and help them, and they don’t understand (or aren’t told) that legal adoption in the US means total severance of parental rights.

We adoptive mothers, on this International Women’s Day, can do much to forge equity with expectant mothers and with those mothers who have placed their children for adoption.

  • We can keep up our agreements in open adoptions. Obviously, safety is always a factor. Still, we may be able, even in difficult cases, to share information through an agency,  mediator, liaison, or family member. That would be so much better than slamming doors, because circumstances can change, children grow up, and information can change lives.
  • We can support our children’s journey to search and reunite, without fear. That might mean welcoming their mothers into our lives, or hearing about their visits, or something else. We can be with them if there are dead ends or secondary rejection. We can learn why it may matter to some adoptees to search, and why birth parents may be waiting to know if their baby is alive and well. We can support open records, and access to original birth certificates. As adoptive mothers, our voices are especially compelling to legislators. Use your power.
  • We can support family preservation efforts, here in the US and around the world. When we hear that international adoptions may be ending, for example, we can look at ways to continue to help children.
  • We can reject placement of babies with adoptive parents in delivery rooms, when women are physically and emotionally exhausted. We can be at peace with the mother having time to decide, after birth, if adoption is the right choice for them. We adoptive mothers can testify for more time for revocation of consent, for better enforcement of open adoptions, and for thoughtfully allocated assistance to first/birth families.
  • We can acknowledge that some first/birth mothers will experience a lifetime of grief. If we adoptive parents cannot bear the thought of our beloved child dying, can we understand what placing a child for adoption might mean to some first/birth mothers? Can we bring her into our lives somehow, certainly through empathy if not through actual connections?

Mother and child at Nye Beach, OR Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

I am a mother through adoption, and I love my children more than I can say. I recognize that they had mothers before me, and that all of them (my children and their first mothers) have had complex, sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, events as a result of (or in spite of) adoption. I recognize that adoption can absolutely be the best decision for parents and children, and a lifesaving action for children as well. I know it can be also be a divisive, cruel, and unethical transaction.

On International Women’s Day, may we commit to working together as women and mothers in the adoption community.

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

 

That Viral Adoptive Parent Video: Who’s Laughing Loudest?

A video went viral recently. You know, the one by an adoptive dad about asking intrusive questions to adoptive parents about adoption, or more specifically about their adopted children. “If you wouldn’t ask it about a boob job, don’t ask it about adoption.” Hilarious and helpful, right? Jesse Butterworth, a Christian pastor, created it with his wife, and included their 2-year-old Ethiopian daughter in it.

Alongside the Internet tidal wave of laughter and elbow-poking (adoptive parents nudging each other: So true! Incredibly funny! Can’t wait to share!), there is a small, quiet, reflective pool of thought that says, “Um no, not really all that funny.”

One reflection was a roundtable discussion by several adopted adults who participate on the thoughtful, powerful Lost Daughters site. Please take a look at their insights here.

The almost visceral response to any criticism of the video: “Lighten up!” “Where’s your sense of humor?” “It’s a great way to get a point across, with laughter.”  “Jeez. Why are you so negative?”

Oh those negative adoptees.

The video was posted on dozens (probably hundreds) of adoptive parent blogs and Facebook sites. The roundtable discussion was on far fewer.

Here’s an exchange that reflects typical responses to the video and the Lost Daughters’ response, from an adoptive parent Facebook group:

(Parent 1): My three adopted daughters watched the video and they all thought it was hilarious!!!!

(Parent 2): Thanks for sharing that. I think sometimes the outspokenly negative adult adoptees can sometimes steal the spotlight from other, more reasonable adoptees.

I don’t think we have to avoid saying/writing anything that could possibly offend any adoptee, birth mom, etc, because that would be pretty much impossible, IMO. Adoptive parents do have a right to be heard as well.

(Parent 3): I laughed at the video and though it was made with the best of intentions, but I am glad someone posted the link to this (Lost Daughters) article. It is a perspective I had not thought about.

In re Parent 1: I don’t know how old her daughters are. Maybe they are all adults. And I know there are adopted adults who also found the video funny.

In re Parent 2: Gak. The outspokenly negative adoptees stealing the spotlight. Kind of like the negative thinkers/speakers in many a civil rights/human rights movement stealing the spotlight from those who weren’t speaking out.

Adoptive parents, in my humble opinion as an adoptive parent, do not struggle with being heard. Look at any adoption agency: their staff, their clients, their policies. Look at the huge Christian evangelical orphan movement: adoptive parents. Look at legislators in adoption policy on a local, state, and federal level: if not adoptive parents themselves, they are heavily influenced and lobbied by adoptive parents. We adoptive parents may have a few problems, but being heard isn’t one of them.

In re Parent 3: There is a hard, real truth: an adoptive parent acknowledging that the perspective of adult adoptees–that the video could be seen as marginalizing or thoughtless–had never occurred to her. I give her credit for saying that. I believe she is not alone in that perspective.

There’s a sea change going on in adoption right now. Adult adoptees are finally being heard. More US adoptees are gaining access to their original birth certificates, a basic civil right denied to no other group except adopted people. Adopted adults are asking for a place at the table of policy and progress: not an unreasonable request.

At the same time, as in any other social change, adopted adults are not always welcomed, especially when they are critical of adoption policies. Lighten up, they are told. Sure, remember how we used to laugh about “women drivers”? Stop being so negative. Sure, remember the word “uppity”? Let’s all just take a deep breath and relax. Let’s be “reasonable.”

No. Let’s not.

I remember being asked all those questions in the video about my own transracial adoptive family, especially when the kids were little. It’s not news. And having a sense of humor is absolutely important in dealing with hard subjects. It’s all that gets us through the day sometimes.

But that said, let’s not lose a tremendously important reality and perspective here. It gets hard to keep smiling through tears sometimes.

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Susan Perry, RIP: How Lucky We Were to Have You

I never met her in person, but I consider Susan Perry a friend, and I mourn her death today. Like me, she was a mom, a grandmother, a teacher, a writer. Unlike me (an adoptive parent), she was an adopted person, denied her original birth certificate and her medical history. Had she had access to her medical history, perhaps we would not be grieving today. That, to me, is a sobering reality.

She wrote a wonderful blog, Nanadays.blogpost,com. She wrote about her beloved family, two children and 6 grandchildren. She wrote about finding her two sisters just last September. She wrote about the basic human right all people should have to their own birth certificates. She testified about the adoptee birthright bill in New Jersey, writing about it in her blog: “Every adopted child is worthy of truth and respect, and, as an adult, should certainly be entitled to equal treatment under the law.” She was a vital voice with Lost Daughters, who called her “our friend, our colleague, and, most importantly of all, our sister.” She was involved with the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE), and with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. So many people will miss her.

In recent weeks, Susan’s daughter wrote on her blog, expressing eloquently the vibrancy and depth with which her mother lived her life. I wrote about Susan last October, in my post Information and Access: An American Civil Right Denied. I send my condolences to Susan’s family. She will be missed, and many of us will carry on her legacy to provide basic civil rights to adopted people.

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Martin Luther King and Transracial Adoption

Were it not for Martin Luther King, perhaps I would never be the parent of my 4 beloved children.

Dr. King died in 1968. He transformed the way we see people and race, he changed deeply entrenched racist laws, and he did so in a volatile time with dignity, peace, integrity, and astonishing strength.

I can’t say that these other events directly correlate to Dr. King’s work, but I think there is a context for them. Some 10 years before his death, international, transracial adoption began from Korea. About a year before he died, in 1967, the Loving v. Virginia decision by the Supreme Court struck down laws forbidding interracial marriage. Four years after his death, the National Association of Black Social Workers called transracial adoption of black children by white parents “cultural genocide,” expressing concern that some 50,000 black children had been adopted into white families between 1968 and 1972, with inadequate awareness of the realities of racism, identity, and discrimination. Before 1978, 10 years after Dr. King died, “it is estimated that in some (US) states, between 25 and 35% of Native American children were taken from their families, and 90% were placed in white homes. (Read more about the last 2 points here, from PBS information related to the documentary “First Person Plural.”)

Here we are almost 5 decades since Dr. King died, and still so much work remains to be done.

In just this last week, transracial adoption has burned up the Internet, via the MSNBC Melissa Harris-Perry segment on Mitt Romney’s transracially adopted grandchild, via the NPR Sunday Morning Edition show that chose a white adoptive parent over a transracial adoptee, and via a “48 Hours” show on international adoption (the focus was adoption trafficking; children from the Congo and Guatemala being adopted by white parents were featured.)

My children–two US-born sons with one black and one white original parent (though not biological brothers), and twin daughters born to Ethiopian parents–were all born in the late 1980’s, about 20 years after Dr. King was killed. In the early years of raising them, as a white adoptive parent, I thought a great deal about transracial adoption issues, about racism, about identity.

Since then, I have learned so much about how little I knew then, and how much I need to keep learning.

Through raising them, through listening to their stories and experiences, through my heart aching over ugly racist episodes directed against them, through taking a hair braiding class at a community college, through laughing over what “we” or “they” do, through loving my children with all my heart and knowing that my raising them has both diminished and enriched their understanding of identity and culture: all this is part and parcel of the legacy of Dr. King.

I know there are lots of people who are weary of hearing the experience of transracial adoption through the voice of the adoptive parents. Point extremely well taken. At the same time, it’s my white privilege, now, in 2014, 46 years after Dr. King’s death, that allows my voice to be heard in some quarters where another voice would be (and is) discounted, even as we share the same message.  It’s the tender balance of getting the microphone so I can hand it to others: to transracial adoptees.

Angela Tucker writes beautifully about it: “This discussion is about how the mainstream media chooses to portray transracial adoption. This discussion is about adult adoptees. Please stop speaking for us and assuming that your speculations are our realities. This discussion is about coming to terms with the fact that adoption ethics, practice and policies will not change until the public is willing to hear out more than just the adoptive parents’ perspective or their hopes and biased desires for our lives.” Read her whole, powerful post here.

Here is another adoptee voice of insight, wrapped up in a tweet:

Nicole Callahan 수정 ‏January 12, 2014
Always handing the microphone to adoptive parents means that those most privileged in adoption direct the narrative.

Follow Nicole on Twitter by clicking here.

One more excellent example, by Matthew Salesses: “The adoptee voice matters because the adoptee says so.” Read his entire, wise essay here.

A fellow adoptive parent also wrote brilliantly: “Oh, media and adoptive parents, will we ever get adoption reporting right?” Read Margie Perscheid’s post here.

My final point today moves from race to civil rights (it’s all intertwined, I realize). Dr. King changed our lives, our planet, by speaking out for civil rights for all people. How is that we in the United States continue to deny adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates? There is no other group denied access to this basic, human right: knowing who we are. It is shameful, and an outrage.

You can read more about OBC legislation from American Adoption Congress, from the Adoptee Rights Coalition, and from my posts, including this one.

In gratitude for the life, voice, and courage of Martin Luther King.

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You, 23andme: An Update

On December 6, 2013, 23andMe posted a notice saying they are suspending health-related genetic tests to comply with the FDA’s regulatory review. People who bought the tests before November 22, 2013, will still have access to their results. 23andMe hopes to offer health-related results in the future. The ancestry-related genetic tests and raw genetic data will still be available now. Click here for the complete notice.

On one level, the many genetic testing and ancestry services that currently exist are amazing and are opening incredible doors. For a good overview of Genomic Testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here.

On another level, the first solution should be access to original birth certificates (OBCs) that would allow adopted people the basic civil right to know their own histories. (I’ve written about the need for OBC access here.)

Until our legislators come to their senses and allow adoptees this basic human right, genetic technology at least sheds some light on otherwise dark corners.

I’ve written several times about DNA testing and its value to adoptees, first/birth parents, and others who have gaps in their histories. You can read  “DNA, Pandora’s Box, and Answers?”, “DNA Testing, Adoption, and Outrage,” and DNA Testing and Adoption: Filling In Many Missing Pieces.”

One of the most popular services, 23andme, provides a range of services related to genetics. As the website says, you can discover your ancestral origins and trace your lineage and find out what percentage of your DNA comes from populations around the world (East Asian, sub-Saharan African, British Isles, etc.). There is a family tree tool that allows connection with genetically-related relatives, and some astonishing connections among first/birth families have been made that way.

23andMe also allows you to find out inherited traits (such as lactose intolerance and male pattern baldness), carrier status of certain diseases (for example, cancer), health risks, and drug responses. It doesn’t include all diseases or all health risks, but it does provide some substantial information.

As a result of the genetic health testing service, 23andMe recently received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration.

You can see the complete letter here.

Here is an excerpt:

“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is sending you this letter because you are marketing the 23andMe Saliva Collection Kit and Personal Genome Service (PGS) without marketing clearance or approval in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act)…

(Y)our company’s website at http://www.23andMe.com/health (most recently viewed on November 6, 2013) markets the Personal Genome Service for providing ‘health reports on 254 diseases and conditions,’ including categories such as “carrier status,” “health risks,” and “drug response,” and specifically as a “first step in prevention” that enables users to “take steps toward mitigating serious diseases” such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer. Most of the intended uses for PGS listed on your website, a list that has grown over time, are medical device uses under section 201(h) of the FD&C Act. Most of these uses have not been classified and thus require premarket approval or de novo classification, as FDA has explained to you on numerous occasions.
Some of the uses for which PGS is intended are particularly concerning, such as assessments for BRCA-related genetic risk and drug responses (e.g., warfarin sensitivity, clopidogrel response, and 5-fluorouracil toxicity) because of the potential health consequences that could result from false positive or false negative assessments for high-risk indications such as these. For instance, if the BRCA-related risk assessment for breast or ovarian cancer reports a false positive, it could lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions, while a false negative could result in a failure to recognize an actual risk that may exist.

…The risk of serious injury or death is known to be high when patients are either non-compliant or not properly dosed; combined with the risk that a direct-to-consumer test result may be used by a patient to self-manage, serious concerns are raised if test results are not adequately understood by patients or if incorrect test results are reported.”

Health literacy is an issue in America, where people fail to follow instructions, misunderstand dosage, or get confused about a diagnosis. I’m sure there is some validity to the FDA’s position, though I also believe that most people who would use 23andMe would also consult with a doctor, who would then order additional tests.

Many 23andMe lawyers have no doubt been working hard in response to the letter. The information on the web page currently is vague:

23andMe

press release

23andMe Statement Regarding FDA Warning Letter

“We have received the warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration. We recognize that we have not met the FDA’s expectations regarding timeline and communication regarding our submission. Our relationship with the FDA is extremely important to us and we are committed to fully engaging with them to address their concerns.”

New Yorker article this week notes that “many doctors who want medically relevant genetic information about a patient get that information by asking her to sign up with 23andMe. Meanwhile, this company’s cheap, widespread testing, which has gathered genetic, ancestry, and health data from nearly five hundred thousand people, has created a rich medical source of risk information.”

It’s been a huge source of information for adopted adults and for first/birth families in terms of creating connections, as well as allowing them to fill in previously missing information on medical forms. “Unknown” is no fun to post on a medical history.

At this point, 23andMe is still taking orders for its kits, still posting numerous disclaimers  about test results, and still urging consumers to see their doctors. Lawyers are looking into their response to the FDA. A change.org petition has been started. A petition to the White House is up and running. 23andMe has 15 working days from November 22 to respond to the FDA letter.

In addition to 23andMe, here are some other sites to explore and consider:

www.FamilyTreeDNA.com

www.mixedrootsfoundation.org/global-adoptee-genealogy-project

https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AdoptionDNA

Let’s hope that 23andMe will be allowed to continue safely providing this revolutionary, life-changing service, to those who have few other options of accessing medical information. Let’s hope that other accurate, cost-effective services become available as well.

And let’s continue to work toward  adoptees having access to both their original birth certificates and their own medical history.

DNA Test kits from 23andme.com

DNA Test kits from 23andme.com

Rebuilding Personal Histories: The Art of the Journey

Personal histories are hugely popular. To quote from the Association of Personal Historians: “It could be a memoir, a family biography, an oral history, a legacy letter, or another tribute – and it could take the form of a printed work, a video, an audio recording, or other formats. Whatever form of remembrance you choose, a personal history can have a profound impact on your life and the lives of your loved ones.”

It’s all about telling your stories, weaving together your memories. It’s booming with the baby boomers.

And stories are really important, whether or not we are baby boomers. The stories need to be known, shared, and preserved. Stories matter.

As Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Unless, perhaps, it’s not ever having the opportunity, the choice, or the right to know, and then tell, your own story.

Some 5 million Americans are adopted. So that means there are about 10 million birth/first parents out there as well, plus grandparents, siblings who weren’t placed for adoption, and so on. They may not have the basic ingredients for a personal history that the rest of us take for granted. Some of this involves genealogy, as well as genetic genealogy. There are lots of possibilities to locate information, to preserve histories, and to share stories.

I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop at the annual conference of the Association of Personal Historians. (It was a great conference, and an incredibly nice group of people, by the way.) I’ve interspersed a few of my slides here to give a flavor of the workshop.

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Adoption and estrangement are not the same thing, of course, but there is overlap: separation from family, disruption of the original family, a disconnect, a loss. This is true for adoptees and for first/birth parents, mothers of loss, siblings who weren’t adopted, and anyone else whose family connections were severed, for whatever combination of reasons.

There is a spectrum of responses to these separations and disconnections. Some people are idly curious about the missing parts of their pasts. Some are consumed to the core. Some had very happy childhoods, Some were severely traumatized. For those seeking to learn and tell their stories, that spectrum can affect the way they approach their search for information and the way they process it.

In my workshop, I talked about a variety of ways that information can be found these days, even with the absurd restrictions on access to original birth certificates. I talked about the Internet, of course, and the remarkable story of Saroo Brierley and his journey from India to Australia and back, via Google Earth. Saroo’s story is not typical, but it does give hope. There are many ways to gather information, and many ways to tell our stories.

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I shared information about DNA testing, how that’s enriching our understanding of (and access to) all sorts of information: medical conditions, race/ethnicity, and connections to cousins, maybe even closer relatives. I mentioned search angels, sibling registries, online adoptee/first parent groups, vk.com (the Eastern European Facebook), and more.

We talked in my workshop about ways to normalize the past, to deal with complicated realities, and celebrate complex histories.

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As an artist, I also mentioned some less traditional ways of telling one’s stories: through SoulCollage, through The Sketchbook Project, through the book Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking, and other means of re-creating one’s past and re-mapping one’s journeys.

Adopted persons and birth/first parents should be able to know their own histories and tell their own stories, without shame, fear, or agitation. The stories can be very complicated. Some are sad and painful. They are our stories nonetheless, and it is possible to acknowledge their pain and not be drowned by it. We can learn from them, and share that wisdom with others. We should absolutely tell the happy, funny, and joyful stories as well, and share them with our loved ones.

Among the participants in my workshop were two US adoptees (one a genome expert), an adoptive mother of a girl from China, and a woman whose 80-year-old mother was adopted and wanted to get information about her origins before she died. Each of these folks had a different perspective on the search and the stories, the pressure of time, the ways to share and tell information. Each has possibilities.

Starting in January, I will take a year-long, online, mixed media course called Life Book 2014. I can’t wait: the focus of the course will be self-development and healing, and each month a new artist will share techniques and ideas. I wrote about it in this post: Adoption Stories in the Light of Day, Through Art and Hopes of Healing. I’m hoping to build on my work with personal histories and with art, to bring more stories into the light of day, where they deserve to be.

I plan to do an online presentation of my workshop, “Adopted and Estranged Families: Rebuilding A Personal History.” I am in the process of developing resources around personal histories for adoptees and first/birth parents. I’ll post details soon on my Upcoming and Ongoing page.

A Basic Civil Right, Still Denied

It’s been a big week for Supreme Court judgements. We are reminded of old ones, and celebrating new ones: black people and women can vote. Asian people can marry white people, or Asian or black or whatever combo. Gay people can marry other gay people.

Those are significant civil rights victories.

How long will it take until another basic civl right is allowed? The United States continues to acquiesce to an enormous violation of civil rights: denying access to thousands of adopted adults, by refusing them full access to their own birth certificate.

No other group of citizens is denied such a basic right. As of today, only 7 states allow adopted adults to know who they are, and only 3 states allow unrestricted access.

It is way past time to allow adopted adults the right to their birth certificates.

Parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, friends, spouses, everyone: If you’ve been pleased with any of these landmark civil rights decisions, join us in insisting that adopted adults have the right to something the rest of us take for granted: our birth certificates.

Get more information here: Adoptee Rights Coalition

Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents: It’s Time (Part One)

On May 21, I presented my workshop titled “Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents: Ethics, Economics, and Responsibilities” at the annual conference of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services in New York City.

(A few disclaimers and a bit of context: I was the first executive director of JCICS, from 1994 to 2000.  I have no connection with them anymore, except insofar as some of the folks from those days are good people and remain good friends.  JCICS has changed a lot since I was there, from an umbrella group of international adoption agencies to a more broadly-focused nonprofit for global child welfare issues. I am guessing most of the conference attendees were adoption agency-affiliated, mostly administrative and executive staff. My workshop was a PowerPoint presentation; if anyone wants the slides, I can share them. My plan here in my blog is to share the main points, providing narrative similar to what I provided at the conference.)

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There is a perfect storm in adoption right now:

* The number of children being internationally adopted has dropped dramatically, but the number of children needing families remains high.

* Adoption agencies are closing, including those certified by the Council on Accreditation.

* There is an increased volume of adult adoptee voices being heard,  and their experiences and insights are becoming better known and respected.

* There is an explosion of Internet postings about fraud in international adoptions.

* There is some assent within the Christian evangelical community–recent big players in the international adoption arena–regarding fraud.

* Increasing numbers of adoptive parents are searching for their internationally adopted children’s first/birth families privately, after adoption, without agency assistance or knowledge, and while their children are little.

* Awareness and connections with birth/first families are increasing.

Given all this, given this perfect storm, where do we begin?

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These are, to me, the minimal Standards:

1. CitizenshipAll adoptive parents–whether they adopted in 1956 or in June 2013–must ensure that their internationally adopted children are citizens of the United States. It is an ethical outrage that this is even necessary to discuss (again and again, still). Read here for more information.

2. Access to Original Birth Certificate. All adoptive parents should make every effort for their children to have access to their original birth certificate. Whether a child is adopted within the US or internationally, they should have access to their original birth certificates. I realize that this is difficult (if not impossible) for genuinely abandoned children. Some children don’t arrive in the US with birth certificates because their birth was not recorded in any official way. Many children however do have birth certificates.  Still. All of them deserve access to this basic, too-often-taken-for-granted legal information: the birth certificate that non-adopted people have, that provides them with basic, vital information about who they are.  It’s a human right.

3. DNA Testing.  All adoptive parents should be aware of options regarding DNA testing, and offer these options to their children. DNA testing is relatively cheap these days, and provides an astonishing amount of information. Most non-adopted people have a decent medical history, a good sense for what runs in the family. Adoptees often do not. DNA testing would fill in some of those missing blanks at the doctor’s office. DNA testing can also connect adopted people to their birth family, or to more distant relatives.  DNA testing also can let people know if they are Sudanese, Irish, German, Colombian, or a combination thereof.

4. Role Models/Mentors.  All adoptive parents should make every effort for their adopted children to have role models around them who look like them, as well as mentors and friends who are adoptees. Real people, real friends, folks who are over to the house for coffee, parties, barbecues. Ideally, these people are in the adoptive parents’ lives and community prior to adoption. Access to role models and to adoptees as mentors can be especially important when kids become teenagers; it’d be great to have them while they’re still in elementary school.

The last two items from my PowerPoint slide above, Guidelines for Connections with First Families and Consideration of New Paradigms in International Adoption, will be the subject of an upcoming post. I will also add additional Standards of Practice.

Hangouts, Insights, and Possibilities

Many thanks to the insightful, thoughtful Angela Tucker and Aselefech Evans for their time and conversation at last night’s Google + Hangout.

What we talked about: growing up in diverse/non-diverse places as transracial adoptees; thinking about first families; deciding when/how/why to search; how searching affects parents, siblings, others; how we fit in (or don’t) with the culture to which we were born.

Wonderful discussion of the weight and power of the words “mom” and “birth mom” and “first mom.”

Affirmation of the incredible value of conversations among adopted adults and adoptive parents. We need to keep doing this. Birth parents/first parents were there with us in words/mind/heart/spirit. They have a place at the table, no doubt–just need to keep working on getting them there.

Great stuff.

What needs work: My use and understanding of the Hangout process. We were not able to record this, and had some glitches in the live streaming. I spent a few hours last night after the Hangout reviewing what went well and how next time is going to be a seamless web of audio and video heaven.

Next steps: More Hangouts.  While it will never be possible to schedule them at a globally mutually convenient time, the next ones will be live-streamed and recorded.

Topics: So many possibilities, and I welcome more. Whose search is it anyway? Can international adoptees really reclaim their culture? What is “fair” in adoption? What does it mean to be comfortable in one’s skin? Is fraud really new in adoption, or are we just more aware of it now–and how do we reduce/eliminate it? How to deal with differing perspectives on search in the same family, or differing amounts of available information about birth families. What issues arise for adoptees working at adoption agencies? How can we work together to ensure that all adoptees have their original birth certificates?

So let’s keep talking.