Is Randall Pearson A Grateful Adoptee? Is That A Good Thing?

When my kids were little, I used to hear fairly often how saintly and noble and exceptional I was for having adopted. I don’t know if it was because of the choice to adopt, or because the adoptions were transracial, or because my daughters were six years old when they arrived from Ethiopia: clearly, different folks were motivated by different reasons. Their dad and I got comments like “How lucky these children are!” and “I could never do that!” I guess “that” was adopting, or white people adopting black children, or adopting older children—I don’t know. We would accept, demur, and deflect the ostensible compliments.

It took me a while to understand the impact of the remarks about the luck of the kids and the saintliness of us parents. I felt fortunate—I wanted kids, and these four are blessings—don’t most parents feel that way? But in adoption, there’s always an undercurrent of rescue, which is a step away from saving, and from saviorism, a word often preceded by “white.”

The object of a rescue is often understandably grateful. People who are saved from some dire outcome are grateful.

Ergo—adoptees are supposed to be grateful.

And that is a complicated, contentious, disturbing, problematic statement, one which is often discussed in many an adoption circle.

We can all be grateful to our parents, especially if they have been kind and good to us.

But should adoptees be grateful they were adopted? Were they truly saved from a dire outcome?

Do they owe us, their adoptive parents, a special note of gratitude for having “chosen” them, and raised them?

Is adoption a kindness, one that our adopted children should thank us for?

“This Is Us,” a series on NBC, resonates with many in the adoption community, especially transracial adoptees and their adoptive parents. (Spoiler alert) When Randall became the replacement child for the triplet who died, the Pearson family had no idea what awaited any of them. A kind doctor arranged for the white parents to take the abandoned black baby home from the hospital with them in 1980. Now, in 2016, Randall is 36.

The final episode of this season’s “This Is Us,” a show which I have been enamored with, takes place on Christmas Eve. There is a flashback scene where, coincidentally (this is a show that thrives on coincidences), the doctor who delivered Randall’s siblings (and gave Randall to the family) is in the hospital at the same time that Kate (Randall’s sister) is undergoing an appendectomy. The kids are all around 10 years old.

The Pearson parents, Jack and Rebecca, tell the kids that Dr. K was responsible for their family, and now, since Dr. K’s family can’t get to the hospital, “tonight we’re gonna be his” family.

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Randall meanders into the gift shop, and buys a snow globe for Dr. K. In presenting the globe to the doctor, Randall says, “My dad said you’re the reason they adopted me. So thank you.”

I know firsthand there were some adopted adults whose eyebrows went up and hearts sank at that line.

 

Dr. K is kind and complimentary about the snow globe, and about his role in the adoption. “Only thing I did that day was nudge a man in a direction he already wanted to go.”

A sentiment that unwittingly speaks to the lack of agency by the adoptee, omits the role of the mom, and is silent on what direction Randall’s birth parents may have wanted to go in.

Dr. K goes on to say to Randall, “If at some point in your life, you find a way to show somebody else the same kindness that your parents showed you, well, that’s all the present I need.”

Adoption as kindness: there’s a much bigger picture, and I recognize that many folks don’t want to hear it, think I’m being negative, and wish I would lighten up.

I love my children beyond words, and I know that my joy has come at a price, for them and for their first families. They love us, their adoptive parents, deeply. Each has experienced and dealt with loss and trauma differently. Their view of gratitude around adoption is multi-layered, and theirs to express.

I don’t think my children should be grateful to be adopted. Maybe they should be appreciative and thankful for sacrifices their dad and I have made for them, but that’s what parents are supposed to do. We hope they will do their best for their children.

But adoption is based in loss. It’s supposed to take children from a bad situation into a “better” one, and sometimes that happens. Adoption should certainly be an option for abused and neglected children, when parents can’t or won’t take care of their children and keep them safe. Adoption shouldn’t be a permanent solution to a temporary situation, when, with a little help, parents could raise their children. Adoption can be positive and powerful, when done with transparency and integrity.

As an adoptive parent, I am often stunned at how rarely the losses (or existence) of birth parents are mentioned, as well as the grief that adopted children/adults may experience as a result of having been adopted.

To its credit, “This Is Us” has a strong birthfather story line. On his 36th birthday, Randall found his birthfather William, and it turns out that William had desperately wanted to know his son. Rebecca, Randall’s adoptive mother, closed that door for 36 years. (Randall is now in danger of going from a grateful adoptee to another stereotype, an angry adoptee. The writers of “This Is Us” have a lot on their plate.)

I both understand and despise Rebecca’s choice in cutting William off. As a white, middle class, non-drug addicted parent, she held the power. (Indeed, we white, well-educated, non-addicted parents have traditionally held the power in adoption, and have often been considered saviors and rescuers of our children, especially of brown and black children, and of orphans. What a burden that places on our children.) She exercised her power, and it was not a kind decision. I hope the show continues to unpack the nuance and heartache of what seemed “best” to her.

I hope also that those who were a bit teary at that scene of Randall expressing thanks with the snow globe realize that tears fall for many reasons in adoption, and not necessarily for gratitude or kindness.

 

Here are some adoptees’ perspectives on the complexity of gratitude in adoption:

 http://the-toast.net/2015/11/19/adoption-and-toxic-gratitude/

http://www.declassifiedadoptee.com/2013/02/who-is-entitled-to-my-gratitude.html

http://www.thelostdaughters.com/2015/04/dear-adoptive-parents-burden-of-adoptee.html

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!

 

 

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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Research on Ethiopian Birth Families: A Must-Read

As an adoptive parent, I feel very strongly that the voices of birth parents need to be heard and listened to, in our own families as well as in adoption legislation and policy.

A few salient quotes from an academic research report, Birth Families and Intercountry Adoption in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

“70% of adopted children have a surviving birth parent in Ethiopia, making it painstakingly clear that most of these parents are not offered other types of assistance…

The conceptualization behind intercountry adoption obscures focus on the most inexpensive and highest quality option–enabling a child to remain with his/her living birthparent and assisting that birthparent to make a local plan for after his/her death…

Some of the most impoverished communities in Africa have proven capable of caring for orphans and vulnerable children, even in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when nurtured by programs that identify and seek to repair the holes in the safety net…”

These excerpts are from a 2010 thesis written by (US citizen) Sarah Brittingham for her M.A. in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

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Despite their obvious and vulnerable role in international adoption, birth/original/first parents have received too little attention in terms of academic work, and certainly in terms of post-placement services. This thesis sheds additional light, along with the MSW work of  Kalkidan Alelign. You can read Ms. Alelign’s important thesis in my post, Ethiopian Birth Mothers After Relinquishment: MSW Research from Addis Ababa University.

Sarah Brittingham’s research has an extensive amount of references, including research on Marshall Islands’ adoptions that is remarkably relevant to Ethiopia: “If I Give You My Child, Aren’t We Family? A Study of Birth Mothers Participating in Marshall Islands–US Adoptions.” Brittingham’s research echoes that of the Marshall Islands, in that “Few (Ethiopian) participants showed an understanding of intercountry adoption as complete severance of ties with their children. Instead, adoption seems to represent ‘a link between two families creating a relation of kinship for support and expanded rights.'”

That notion of “a link between two families” is challenging to define, as it is a form of open international adoption. I believe that will be the model for the future of inter country adoption, a model that relinquishes fear and falsehoods. If adoptions are to continue, they must be ethical, transparent, and fair.

Here is a quote from an Ethiopian birth mother, comparing her experience to that of a close friend’s:

We both gave our children through the same agency, but I don’t hear about my children. When I went to the agency to demand information, they told me contact is based on the adoptive parents’ willingness and personality. Some want a picture, calls, etc., and some don’t, and they can’t do anything about it. It is up to the adoptive parents. But I think that if it is the same agency and the same law, it should apply to all parents…

I would love to hear the insights of adoption agencies on this, on what the agreements or inferences were and are regarding post-placement contact. My sense, based on anecdotes, is that increasing numbers of adoptive parents are reaching out and contacting Ethiopian birth families on their own, but I have no hard research on that.

I do feel certain that enormous confusion exists over what information the birth families were promised, following the placement of their children. There is great hope, even expectation, among many Ethiopian birth families that their children will go back to Ethiopia, and contribute to the country, and perhaps to the birth family as well.

One participant in the Brittingham thesis says “I wish for God to give me a long life so that I will be able to see (my children).” An adoptee “believed that intercountry adoption was the best way to help her mother, stating, ‘it’s better we go outside, and when we have something of our own, we will help you.’ ”

We–adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption policymakers–need to hear these voices of Ethiopian original parents and of adopted persons.

We need to insist on additional research on intercountry adoption outcomes, especially as related to birth families.

We need to insist on improved, equitable services for all involved.

Many thanks to those who are researching these issues.

May those who are proposing new laws, policies, and funding genuinely hear the voices and the needs of marginalized first families.

 

 

 

 

Searching in Adoption: Where to Begin?

Adoption happens because a child’s first family is unable to care safely or appropriately for him or her. That first family is always present nonetheless, whether in genetics, hair texture, race, physical memory, or a silent occasional moment of wondering on birthdays.

Some adoptees grieve the loss of their first families deeply, and search meticulously and intensely. Some suppress their curiosity, in deference to adoptive parents, or to fear of what they might learn. Some accept the information they have and don’t spend much time or energy on it. Some mourn in silence, feeling guilty and confused. Some do an idle search on Facebook and happily find siblings in a single click of the laptop. Some are contacted by their original parents, or by the child they placed, out of the blue.

Birth/first parents often share many of these emotions: grief, fear, curiosity, guilt, confusion, contentment, happiness, and more.

The adoptees and first parents in these scenarios could be about any age, and anywhere in the world.

The decision to search can be gradual or sudden, well-planned or haphazard. The results can be all over the map, just like the emotions that prompted the search. Having someone along for support can be critical: a (nonjudgmental, compassionate) friend, spouse, partner, sibling, therapist, mentor.

Where to begin a search? Here is an offering:

Basic Adoption Search Resources

It’s a document I created containing both US and international search resources. It’s not all-inclusive, definitive, or guaranteed. I’ve had many people ask me privately about search resources, and so put this list together.  If it is useful to you, wonderful.

As I say at the end of the document:

May you find what you are looking for, and may it bring you peace.

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A Conversation Between Jenni Fang Lee and Aselefech Evans

Update: Here’s the YouTube link for the conversation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDC3NlSI60I&feature=share

Save the Date–December 9, 9pm edt

Google+ Hangout

An Adoptee Conversation

Join Cindy Rasicot, MFT,  of the wonderful blog Talking Heart to Heart, and me on Monday, December 9, at 9pm eastern (6pm pacific) for a conversation between Jenni Fang Lee and Aselefech Evans.

Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee

Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee

Jenni Fang Lee was adopted from China when she was 5 years old, and raised in Berkeley, California. She is one of the young women featured in the acclaimed documentary Somewhere Between, and is now studying sociology and economics at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She returns to China each summer to volunteer at an orphanage, and has created a start-up designed to teach Mandarin and Chinese culture to Chinese adoptees and their families. According to her blog fangtopia.wordpress.com, Jenni’s passions lie in both entrepreneurship and non-profit work, specifically directed towards women and children.

Aselefech Evans was adopted from Ethiopia, along with her twin sister Adanech, when she was 6 years old. Like Jenni, she is a columnist for Gazillion Voices. Aselefech has presented numerous workshops and webinars about transracial adoption, racial identity,  hair care for adopted African-American children, her search for and reunion with her Ethiopian family, and more. She is a candidate for a BSW at Bowie State University in Maryland, and plans to go on for her master’s in social work, potentially working in post-adoption services.

Aselefech and Jenni met recently in person at the adoptee-led, adoptee-centric conference “Reframing the Adoption Discourse” held in Minnesota. Both young women share much in common, and also have had distinct differences growing up as transracial adoptees in the US. This will be a fascinating discussion.

Cindy and I are looking forward very much to hosting this conversation. Please plan to join us.

I’ll be posting more details soon as to how to join the Hangout. In the meantime, please save the date.

We will be recording the conversation and posting it on YouTube as well!

Search, Siblings, and Closure

When adoptees search, it’s often for their birth mother first, and then for siblings, known and unknown. A reality of adoption is that siblings are often separated, sometimes on purpose, sometimes just as luck of the draw, sometimes inadvertently. Sometimes siblings are born before or after an adopted child is placed for adoption. Sometimes those children are placed or not for adoption.

I have no siblings, but I have 4 children connected through adoption (two are bio siblings). Maybe that’s the reason I have long been intrigued about sibling relationships in adoption. There is so much research that remains to be done on this topic.

In the brilliant and wonderful documentary Closure, Angela Tucker shares her journey to find her birth family. Born in Tennessee, raised in Washington state, she had few documents and details, but was able to connect with her original family. You can read about the documentary on my blog post here. You can learn more about the film on the Closure Facebook page and the Closure website. The DVD (and you definitely should get this) is available at screenings, and will be available for sale through the website December 1.

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Angela has found many members of her birth family: mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandmother, nieces, nephews. They continue to get to know each other, catch up on the 20+ years spent apart, and figure out just who they are to each other and with each other. I’m pretty sure that Angela, like many adoptees who have searched for their original families, would say that she has not reached full closure. The families are still finding their ways. New questions arise, new doors open, some doors close.

She has not yet been able to locate a sister born 20 months before her, and who was also placed for adoption.

In her blog post today, Angela writes about the as-yet unsuccessful search:

“…(Y)ears of searching, writing unanswered letters, sending photos to somewhere, probably landing in someone’s file cabinet collecting dust, has led me nowhere. I’ve gained no ground, and know the same two facts that I’ve known all along – she was adopted to a family in Pennsylvania, and is about 20 months older than me.”

“…While I’m seemingly stuck not gaining any ground in my search for her, I think I’ll give her a name. I’ll call her Maya – in honor of Maya Angelou: someone whom I hold in high esteem but will likely never meet.”

As an adoptive parent, I am hopeful that Angela will find her sister, and that her sister wants to be found. It’s tough and complicated. Read Angela’s thoughtful post today about this sibling journey on her blog, The Adopted Life.

Like Angela, I’m also a fan of Maya Angelou. This is one of my favorite quotes of hers: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.”

May all stories that need to be told in adoption find voice. May the stories be carefully listened to, and may we all grow stronger.

I wrote about siblings in my post Sibling Connections in Adoption. I’ve written about search issues several times, such as Adoptive Parents: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where Your Kids Are…Searching?”

Australian Adoptee Finds Way Back to India Via Google Earth

Oh my. I wrote recently about the power of maps, and how they can help adoptees and others fill in missing pieces of their pasts. (See Mapping Adoption Journeys: The Cartography of Healing.) Now here is an adoptee’s journey, via Google Earth. This story could resonate especially with anyone adopted at an older age, including those who might have been abandoned or even trafficked, from places around the globe. Astonishing potential here to find one’s way home, however one defines that.

A little boy in 1986 fell asleep on a train in Berhanpur, India, woke up 1500 kilometers away in Calcutta, and ended up being adopted to Australia. His adoptive mom always kept a map of India on his wall while he was growing up.

Now a 32-year-old adult, Saroo Munshi Khan (adopted name Brierley) used his memories as a 5-year-old plus Google Earth imagery–and found his way back to his hometown of Khandwa, India. It took hours and hours of staring at the computer screen, going through the “photographs” stored in his brain, seeing if any clicked with what appeared on Google Earth.

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In 2012, he traveled back to India, and rather quickly reunited with his mother and siblings.

I have chills. It’s an astonishing connection of a child’s memories, technology, and hope.

Here is Saroo’s story, which includes a great video of Saroo explaining his journey: A long way home with help from Google Earth. 

Saroo has also written a book, A Long Way Home. You can connect with him here on Facebook.

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The world of adoption is changing in revolutionary ways. Adoptees and their first families  can reconnect by unexpected methods. The poet/songwriter/singer Kate Wolf wrote that “sometimes the strongest love hangs by such a slender thread.” Yet, look at how tenacious that slender thread can be.

Stories from a Declassified Adoptee: Get Ready

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston is a dynamo: mom of two cute little boys, graduate student in social work, brown belt in karate, and award-winning blogger. She is the founder of Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights, the Vice President and Director of Outreach of The Adoptee Rights Coalition, and a founding board member of the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative.  Amanda is a contributor at Adoption Voices Magazine, and is also the founder of The Lost Daughters, a collaborative writing project featuring the voices of over 30 adopted women from all walks of life.

She cross-trains in kickboxing and three different martial arts, enjoys photography, and lives with her husband of six years and their two children in their home in Pennsylvania.

She’s amazing. She’s in her 20’s. I deeply admire not only her energy, but also her ability to speak clearly and forcefully, with grace and compassion, about what being adopted really means. Her blog The Declassified Adoptee is full of thoughtful, powerful essays. Fellow adoptee DMC (DarrylDMCMcDaniels, @TheKingDMC) follows Amanda on Twitter. (You can also follow her: @AmandaTDA.)

And her new book will be out in September!

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I had the honor of being an early reviewer of this wonderful collection of essays, and here is my review:

“An unknowable number of stories exist in the world of adoption: compelling, inspiring, heartbreaking, provocative, introspective, poignant, and powerful. These words also describe Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston’s new book, The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of An Adoption Activist. Amanda is a calm, clear, thoughtful, lyrical storyteller. Like the best storytellers, she writes from her heart, leaving the reader with much to reflect on, much to mull over, much to savor and learn.

Amanda writes evocatively about her experiences as an adoptee, born in 1985, placed in foster care at 3 days old, officially adopted at 8 months old.  Hers was a same race, closed adoption—though her first mother had been told it would be open. Amanda, after a lot of time and expense, has reunited with her first mother and several members of her original family. She remains closely connected with her adoptive family as well.

As the former executive director of 2 adoption agencies and an international adoption nonprofit organization, I believe that The Declassified Adoptee should be required reading for all prospective adoptive parents, for all adoptive parents, and for social workers and other professionals who work in any way with adoption. It should be required reading for all adoption agency executive directors, for those who sit on the board of directors for adoption agencies, and for those who provide any and all post-adoption services.

As an adoptive parent, I believe that The Declassified Adoptee would have provided me with both insights and icebreakers when talking about adoption with my children when they were growing up. I plan to share the book with each of my now-young adult children. Though the details of their experiences may vary, I have no doubts Amanda’s story will resonate with them.

Like Amanda and most other adoptees (whether from the US or internationally adopted, whether adopted as infants or older children, whether adopted through private or public agencies), each of my children has dealt with the complex realities in adoption that Amanda writes about: trust, bullying, identity, truth, fantasy, secrecy, loss, grief, confusion, laws, lies, and love.

Her brief, insightful essays reflect the challenges that adoptees face: not knowing when to ask what questions, being startled and angered (and occasionally amused) by society’s views of adoption, and dealing with the truths of their stories. Those truths can be painful. One of the best gifts for first parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees from reading Amanda’s book may be her reflections on dealing with the painful circumstances that bring children to be adopted. Amanda writes candidly, gracefully, and hopefully about facing difficult truths in adoption, accepting them while not letting them overpower or define, and moving ahead with strength and resilience. The Declassified Adoptee deserves a wide audience in the adoption community, among adoptees, first parents, adoptive parents, social workers, adoption researchers, and anyone interested in better understanding what it means to be family.”

The book will be available in September, from CQT Publishing and Land of Gazillion Adoptees (the folks who published Parenting As Adoptees). Congratulations, Amanda!

Adoptive Parents: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where Your Kids Are…Searching?

Long ago, the biggest issue facing many adoptive parents was how to tell their children they are adopted, and to help them process and understand that.That’s certainly still important. Parents have to be aware of developmental stages, of children’s questions and silences, and of how to share information appropriately.

The Very Big And Common Questions are these: Why was I adopted? Where is my birth mother now? Do I have brothers or sisters?

When sharing information with their children, adoptive parents, of children from the US or from anywhere in the world, can no longer rely solely on what was given to them by the adoption agency at the time of placement. That information may or may not be accurate, may or may not have been translated accurately, may or may not be complete, may or may not be outdated quickly.

It all becomes startlingly irrelevant in the face of the Internet: the gaping maw; the dark labyrinth; the source of information, rumors, unchecked lies. And perhaps your children’s main activity.

While lawmakers across this country continue to deny adopted adults their basic civil/human rights–access to their own birth certificates–plenty of people are searching and reuniting with their first families.

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Adoptive parents should be with their children on the journey to search for first family. In the case of international adoptees, traveling to the country of origin is hardly the only way to learn one’s story. Parents should be offering to assist, letting their child guide them, but being responsible, aware parents. This is most important during pre-teens and teenage years, when kids are knowledgeable about Internet use, wondering about their past, and struggling to figure out their identity. Some kids won’t want to search; some won’t be ready.  And some will be searching on their own.

A few realities:

*  As an adoptive parent, you have some control over what your child does on the Internet. Short of denying access at all, you will likely not have complete control. And if you deny access at home, your clever child can easily access the Internet in the library or at a friend’s house or on a friend’s phone. So learn and monitor and talk about it.  A lot.

*  Your child could easily be contacted by members of his or her birth family. This is an increasingly common occurrence.  Your child may well have Internet-agile siblings in other parts of the country or world.

*  Secrecy in adoption has never really helped anyone.  We don’t need a new spin on this of adopted children (teenagers, young adults) secretly searching and lying about it. We need parents who partner with and support their children on this complex journey.

*  Surprises are also not usually a goal in an adoptive search, though they are often an element. They make reunions even more complicated. The decision to search should be done thoughtfully, transparently, and patiently–and with loved ones helping out.

*  Once people find each other, which can happen quickly, that’s nowhere near an end.  It’s an enormous, complicated beginning. No one should be alone for that either, especially a young person.

There are approximately a zillion resources available for searching. Facebook, Google, and Tumblr are the most obvious, and probably the most common. Here are some other sites.

An excellent starting point is PACT: An Adoption Alliance. Here is their terrific list of resources for search and reunion.

An overview of search and reunion issues is on adoption.com.

International Soundex Reunion Registry This is a mutual consent registry–both parties have to register for a connection to be made. If the birth parent has registered here, it’s possible to make a quick connection.

Another source is the American Adoption Congress. They have extensive information about adoption reform, including facilitating reunification with birth family. AAC has state reps who can help navigate the state laws that control access to birth records (the laws vary for every state).

There’s a group called Adoptees in Search that’s based in Colorado; much of the info is about Colorado, but their site has additional information.

This site G’s Adoption Registry has information about “Search Angels,” folks who volunteer their time and skills to assist people searching for birth relatives. They usually work for free. Some are astonishingly knowledgeable and helpful; it can be a mixed bag.

Parents can and should look into some of the DNA services. If you or your child take a basic DNA test, the data can be included in a huge database, and it is possible to connect with (previously unknown) relatives. Of course, there are a lot of considerations in doing this. I wrote this blog post recently that gives further information and resources.

And if you think the power of Facebook in America is a big deal, have you looked at social media around the globe? Heard of VK? According to Wikipedia:

VK (Originally VKontakte, Russian: ВКонтакте, literally “in contact”) is the biggest social network service in Europe, it is available in several languages but popular particularly among Russian-speaking users around the world, especially in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus, and Israel. Like other social networks, VK allows users to message contacts publicly or privately, create groups, public pages and events, share and tag images, audio and video, and play browser-based games.

As of December 2012, VK has at least 195 million accounts. VK is…the second most visited website in Russia. In December 2012 VK had an average of 43 million daily users.

I know of adoptive parents of Russian-born children who have searched and located birth family members via VK. I know of adoptees who have been contacted by siblings, some known about previously, some not. Translation services abound on the Internet, so it’s possible to easily send messages even without knowing another language.

I’d guess that the VK model will become more prevalent in other hemispheres as well.

It’s a small world. Live in it with eyes wide open. Be with your children on their journey.