May 5, 2015

A plea for adoptee medical history

A lovely young friend of mine – adoptee from Korea, mother, wife, dedicated social worker and friend to many – passed away over the weekend. She was just past 40, far too young to leave this life.

What took her was cancer, as is the case with many, diagnosed too late to give her more than a reprieve from the worst. She fought it like a Trojan and lived every last minute she reclaimed to the very fullest. What an inspiration she was and always will be!

I know the cancer that took my friend. It took my aunt far too young as well. Her children are at risk, too, but knowing my aunt's history has put them under medicine’s watchful eye, which will allow any asymptomatic disease they might experience to be identified and treated early. My friend never had that chance.

Even when the outcome may not be life-threatening, medical history may save an adoptee from long and arduous medical testing of the "shooting in the dark" variety. I watched one of my children go through this, blessedly to a positive outcome, and often wonder if a little medical history might have shortened that experience.

And so I make a plea that has been on my list of “things we could do right now to improve adoption” for a long time: Do everything you can to obtain as much medical history as you can from placing mothers and fathers.

Don’t participate in “drop box” adoptions that enable secrecy. Don’t let notions of “birthmother privacy” stop you. Don’t think, as many do, that medical histories are unimportant, or that knowing one’s medical history is no guarantee of health, or that placing mothers and fathers may not really know their families’ medical histories anyway.

We've let red herrings stand in the way of this simple change in adoption practice for too long, sometimes with devastating consequence. So just get as much information as you can and pass it on to the adoptee and adoptive family. There are no guarantees that medical history will save any of us from anything, but it could be the very clue to a troubling symptom that gets a doctor searching in the right direction and gives an adoptee's health a better chance. Why wouldn't all of us want that?

February 22, 2015


I wrote a post last week following an online debacle not of my making, but which drew me in anyway and pretty much blew up my adoption world. Although I don't shy away from confrontation, the kind of confrontation I like focuses on issues, not personalities and factions, but that approach to trying to extricate myself from this situation didn't serve me well. By the time it had ended, I had lost two acquaintances I don't regret losing and a friend I do. It is, unfortunately, what it is.

Although I got some kind comments immediately after publishing the post, I also got an immediate message from an adoptee I respect tremendously voicing sadness at what I had written, seeing in it a a judgment of adoptees who do choose to live immersed in adoption. That concern deserves my response.

First, to be clear, here's what I didn't say in the post:

  • That adoptees should not build a community for themselves.
  • That adoptees should not work to reform adoption's ills.
What I did say is a little more complex, and I will do my best to clarify.

Adoption can do good, but it can also harm. Adoptees, their mothers and their families have been harmed the most by adoption corruption and injustice. Adopters and adoption facilitators have, by and large, either watched in silence or taken action so slowly that the injustices have continued for far too long.

In my opinion, the ones causing the injustices should be working hard to correct them, and that would be me, not my kids. Adoptees should be allowed to build the identities they choose, without demand that they join the fight, and without denial of their voices as leaders in the community. The choice is theirs.

My post simply expresses my happiness that my kids have chosen to live as they do. It is not a judgment of any adoptee who chooses adoption as their life's focus and work or adoptees as their community.

February 17, 2015

When a door closes

Last week was a rough one on my adoptionland. As I always do when this happens, I stepped back, circled the wagons and spent some time trying to re-center myself by focusing on my family. My kids live far away now, so I caught up with them by phone and text. I also checked their Facebook pages to see what fun they’ve been up to.

Neither are avid Facebookers, but both had a few new photos posted, some theirs and some posted by friends. I was struck, as I’ve been struck before, by the demographics of their friends, the majority of whom are non-adopted Asians of various ethnicities, people they have met at school and at work. They acknowledge that their cultural identity is at least in part white via their adoptive parents, but that hasn’t stopped them from claiming a place among their own.

In spite of how much time I’ve spent in the adoption community, helping my kids get to this place has been the real work of my life. I did the best I could.

Our family didn’t follow the traditional adoption agency “family” path; for a number of reasons we went it alone, so to speak. I learned that we really didn’t need an organization to make the kinds of connections our kids needed to develop strong Asian identities. We just needed to understand the importance of getting outside of our comfort zones to bring our kids to their community. I also learned the importance of living where our kids’ community lives, so their relationships with Asians could develop organically, around the things they love to do. Their country, culture and people became and are a central part of our daily interaction, through friendships, news, art, food and more.

When I look at the pictures my kids share of their day-to-day life, I believe I can say that our approach served them well. No adoptive parent can resolve their children’s losses, but we can do our best to give our kids the tools to resolve them as wish in adulthood. I’m actually very glad that my kids have chosen to live their lives without feeling the need to be immersed in the adoption community. They have friends who are adoptees made as kids and at KAAN Conferences. They understand the issues. They know their adoptee friends have their backs when they need their support and are there for their adoptee friends, too. They also know my husband and I are always there for them, and would go to any length to support them through whatever challenges adoption and life bring them.

In a way, a door closed for me last week. Reflecting on who my kids have become, I'm not really sure I want the proverbial window to open. It's better, I think, for me to follow their lead and just live.

December 17, 2014

Honor adoptees by honoring their privacy

There has been a lot of talk this week in my online circles around a post by a popular adoptive parent blogger about her kids and the holidays - "parenting kids who sabotage big days," as she puts it.

Kids and sabotage are words I really don't like hearing in the same sentence. And although I am sure there are legions of Jen Hatmaker supporters who are ready to carry her banner and dismiss anyone who disagrees, I say that much of the behavior Ms. Hatmaker describes is a result of parental behaviors that focus far more on their own agendas and not early as much as they should on what kids really need at unsettling times of the year.

I choose the word unsettling for a reason. Holidays can be really rough for people. There is first of all the pace: who can keep up with the endless demands to do more, see more, post more, smile more, travel more, cook more - perfectly? And what if the holiday brings back hard memories, not just happy ones? Holidays should not be about schedules and stuff, they should be, as author Terra Trevor so beautifully says, about love.

It's exhausting. We adults get stressed, and our kids see it, feel it and act on it. This, I think, is what is at the root of a lot of the behavior Ms. Hatmaker discusses in her post. Not all, of course, so it is fair for parents to consider what else might be at the root of what they see as behavioral sabotage. We readers, those, shouldn't be privy to it.

Aselefech Negesso, adult adoptee founder of Ethopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, says it up perfectly. Too bad that as of this writing, Ms. Hatmaker has declined to make this important point of view public on her blog.
Perfect timing and really helpful piece but as an adult adoptee, I wish you were more protective of your child's struggles during this time of the year. Publicly exposing her struggles really diminished the strength of your argument.
Back when I started writing, I occasionally posted about my kids. Not personal details, but everyday news. Once or twice I posted a photo. Over time as I reread those posts, I found that even the innocuous ones were inappropriate. The question I started asking myself was "Would I post this about my adult kids?" And the answer is almost always no.

I honor my kids best when I give them their privacy. They can speak for themselves, and don't need any adoptive parent - me included - speaking for them.

December 8, 2014

Status Hearing in the Kim Hyunsu Murder Case

I attended a status hearing that was held today in Montgomery County Circuit Court in the case of Brian Patrick O’Callaghan, the Damascus, MD man charged with the murder of little Kim Hyunsu, whom O’Callaghan and his wife adopted in February of 2014.

The hearing took place in the courtroom of Judge John W. Debelius, III. The defendant, Brian Patrick O’Callaghan, was present, along with his attorneys, Steven J. McCool and Julia M. Fisher of the law firm of Mallon & McCool. Two prosecutors represented the State of Maryland, who from what I was able to hear during the discussion and from the case search record were Donna Fenton and Sherri Koch.

Following some initial discussion about a motion made earlier by the defense, Judge Debelius turned his attention to status. McCool explained that the Medical Examiner’s report, which apparently has been delayed for some time, continues to be delayed. Although the Medical Examiner’s office provided little firm information about the cause of the delay, they have indicated that it has to do with a delay in input from consultants. McCool indicated further that he has gone so far as to work with the Attorney General’s office to resolve the delay, but they themselves have said no more than “when we get it, you’ll get it.”

Prosecutor Koch confirmed that they have received similar information indicating that the delay is due to pending consultant results, including pathological slides, etc.

Judge Debelius observed that the trial’s start date of March 17th could be in jeopardy if the Medical Examiner’s results are not provided soon. He scheduled a show cause hearing for December 22nd and another status hearing for January 16th at 1:30 pm. Earlier in the proceedings, Judge Debelius reverted to another hearing on December 27th, which may now be canceled in light of the new schedule. The case search detail should make that clear soon.

Brian Patrick O’Callaghan appeared in prison clothes, dark green over a long-sleeved white tee shirt. He made no eye contact with anyone in the courtroom save his attorneys. He struck me as reserved, blank even; I suppose in such a situation this is how someone would be expected to behave. He was escorted in, sat and stood when told, and was escorted out.

Unless I didn’t recognize her in the audience, his wife was not there.

As I was putting on my coat and locating my keys in the courtroom lobby, I heard the attorneys for the defense and prosecution both confirm that they had received the same information from the Medical Examiner about the delays in completing their report. I don’t know what the delay signifies, but it’s pretty clear that it’s not a fabrication of any sort.

I also heard McCool tell the prosecutors that O’Callaghan sees his son twice a week. Apart from that comment, no one spoke about Brian Patrick O’Callaghan at all today.

No one spoke about Kim Hyunsu, either. I wondered, as I tried to keep up with legalese in a courtroom with poor acoustics, who will speak for him in this trial, really take his death to heart and fight for justice for him. Perhaps because this was a procedural event, it wasn’t where there would be any discussion of the victim or the evidence. It was brief and pedantic, focused on motions and hearings and upcoming dates.

I therefore left the courtroom ill at ease, mostly because of the news of the delayed Medical Examiner’s report, but also because of the hearing's generally dry tone.

Until the system proves me wrong, though, I will continue to believe that #JusticeforHyunsu will be done.

November 29, 2014

A Flipped Script and a Homecoming #flipthescript

You are not seeing things. I have come back.

I have learned the hard way that moving around in blogland isn't a smart thing to do. I still get more traffic here than at Paradigm Shift, which I find amusing since I haven't posted here in a couple of years. But there you go.

Through the magic of technology I have been able to bring Paradigm Shift's content here. I will leave a few posts there, because I do have a plan for that site, a plan that needs some reform-minded adoptive parents to bring it to fruition. I'd like it to become a place where reform-minded adoptive parents can post and share their writings on adoption reform - think [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum for adoptive parents. If you are an adoptive parent who is passionate about adoption reform and would like to join together with others in this kind of online forums, let me know in a comment and we'll figure out how to get in touch.

To those who ever read at the other blog, thank you. for reading there. And thanks in advance for reading here.

Now, on to more important business.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday evening, I watched all the ‪#‎flipthescript‬ videos at once. ‪There's really only one word to cover my reaction: awestruck. I know each of the interviewees from their work and wasn't the least bit surprised that every single one knocked it out of the park. I was, however, awestruck by the clarity of the overall message. These interviews have the power to transform adoption dialog once and for all. The mike has been well and truly wrestled from the hands of adoptive parents and the adoption industry. If you haven't watched them yet, this will make it easy for you. Start with Rosita Gonzales's post on The Lost Daughters that started the #flipthescript movement and watch the video that promoted it. Then watch the interviews, which took place all over the country.
These interviews are magic. And mark my words, because of these strong, intelligent, informed leaders, things are going to start getting better.

November 3, 2014

Listen to adoption experiences, speak to adoption issues

It’s that time of year again: National Adoption Awareness (or Bewareness, for some) Month. For the next 30 days, we will be bombarded with opinions on adoption even more than we usually are. Some will promote adoption on behalf of orphans around the world, others will decry the evils of corrupt adoption facilitators and laws that deny adoptees their identities. In adoptionland, expecially online adoptionland, this means that there will be lots of debates about the pros and cons of adoption and the rights of those living it to speak their truths.

Often, the debates have less to do with facts about adoption and more about the rights of individual adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents to say what’s on their minds about it. It’s kind of funny, now that my kids are officially adults and out living their lives, how little that debate means to me. We waste so much time supporting or denouncing each other’s opinions! How much we could accomplish if we stopped thought- and tone-policing and put the same amount of time into fixing what’s broken!

Perception is reality, as they say, and I would add that perception is based on experience. When we share the perceptions that come from our experiences, they are real to us, even when they appear bogus or downright stupid to someone else. But listening to another adoption experience without reacting, voicing an opinion, admonishing, lecturing or humiliating, is perhaps the best way to learn what adoption is all about. When we listen for a long time to a wide range of adoption experiences, we are far better able to discern adoption reality, which runs the gamut from the very best to the very worst of what humanity can dish out.

Without the broad view of adoption and child welfare that consider an equally broad range of issues in need of correction, we may miss some that are in fact critical for children. For example, many who are strongly in favor of intercountry adoption speak to the injustice of children without families. I myself have been wary of that notion because I believe it is so misused (think “fabricated orphans”). But when I strip away my personal bias, I find it terribly unjust for an abused, neglected or truly orphaned child to grow up without permanence. I don’t want my personal opinions about the adoption of children whose families could have been preserved to blind me to the needs of children who want and truly need adoptive families.

Unfortunately, listening to a multiplicity of opinions counters to the wild west fun of a rousing adoption debate. I can get very engaged in these myself, but I have to say that when I pull away, I almost always have bad feelings about it, particularly if there has been an ad hominem edge. It doesn’t get the work done, either; that always happens in different, and generally less divisive arenas.
So this #NationalAdoptionAwarenessMonth, I would like to make the case for this to be a month of listening to experiences, lots and lots of adoption experiences, but speaking to the issues. There are many, and they need the attention of everyone in the adoption community if we are to put them right.