June 25, 2006

Korea Here I Come!

I can't wait. I leave Tuesday morning for a one-week trip to Korea, my fourth visit since 1994, most definitely not my last.

I'm going primarily to attend the KAAN Conference, which is taking place for the first time in Korea. International Korean Adoptee Services (InKAS) is the local coordinator, and with their efforts and those of many organizations in Korea that support Korean mothers, adopted Koreans, and Korean adoptive families (like G.O.A'L, ASK, GAIPS, Aeranwon, and KoRoot, to name just a few), the conference promises to be enlightening.

I'll be participating in a two-part panel discussion between domestic Korean adoptive parents and intercountry Korean adoptive parents. Although the panel was originally planned to be an opportunity for each group to share experiences and insights, there was a recent change in direction. The Korean a-parents are particularly interest in a specific topic: searching for first families. I'm really excited about this, because it seems to bear out what I've been hoping - which is that there is a change in direction regarding openness in Korean adoption. I'm glad that adoptive parents will have an opportunity to add our voices to this dialog. The US panel was asked to share our thoughts in writing so the interpreter could have a chance to prepare for the discussion, so I provided the two-minute versions of my family's experience and message to my children's families.

I'll also be visiting Eastern Social Welfare Society, the Korean agency that coordinated our children's adoptions, and will of course be doing battle with The File Nazis to check our children's files, confirm that the things we've asked to be included over the years are still there (especially the albums the kids made in 2001), to see if perhaps their first families have come to see the files, and to add letters and photos.

Although I only have two days for non-conference activities, I'll be making the most of them. I'm taking a day trip to Icheon, connecting with good friends who will be in Korea leading this year's Korea Homeland Tour, hopefully visiting three other Korean friends. And of course, I'll be eating some awesome Korean food and doing a little shopping. The kids, of course, are sending me with lists.

A little packing, one more day of work, and then I'm off. Every time I go to Korea (this will be my fourth trip), I discover something new, something that adds to my love for this amazing country and its amazing people. I can't wait to find out what it will be this time.

June 21, 2006

They Never Taught This in Adoption Class

But they should have. The depth of pain felt by first parents is part of the adoption experience. As I come to understand this and recognize my role in it, it heightens my awareness of my children's sense of loss, and helps me understand the importance of their relationship with their first families. And that makes me better able to support them.

I never really understood how much adoption would alter the very essence of who I was. It doesn't matter what books you read or who you talk to- there are no words adequate for the inner shift. There is before and after- that is all. Our situation would be considered a model of the best and yet I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. It is that jolting. It is that unimaginable. It is that shattering- and not just shattering in the sense that I am devastated- adoption shatters your beliefs- the very core of who you are- your definition of family- the person you will become. It doesn't just affect the relationships then, it affects them forever-including the ones you don't even realize you're going to have.

Read the entire post here at Not Mother. Thanks, Kim, for posting the link.

June 19, 2006

What's in the Future?

This time of year always makes me nostalgic. When my children end one school year and move up to the next, I become more aware than even at their birthdays how fast they're growing, maturing, inching closer to independent lives. The end of every school year means they're one step nearer to being out in the world on their own, to being adults.

Our son will be a senior next year and then will be off to college, followed two years later by our daughter. I know from my own experiences that college will be a turning point, a time during which our children will turn their focus out toward the world instead of in toward our family.

I wonder what lies ahead, for them and for our family?

The college years can be a time during which a young adult's attitudes toward adoption take shape. Away from the cocoon of home and family, the college years provide an environment in which young people can speak freely about their experiences, perhaps share the feelings of longing for their first families that they felt uncomfortable sharing with their adoptive parents. They will meet others, too, adopted and not adopted, who will add new points of view, some of which may be a rude awakening from the protected world that has been built for them.

The college years will also be a time for them to draw their own conclusions. I would be lying if I said I wasn't afraid that, as our children grow to understand the political ramifications of intercountry adoption, they might pull away, rejecting the notion that white parents and Korean children make an appropriate family. I'd be lying, too, if I said it wouldn't bother me if my husband I became marginalized in our children's adult lives, a source of embarrassment, mockery or shame.

I hope we've helped our children develop a strong sense of who they are, strong enough to withstand the curiosity of others. Should people question the validity of our family, I hope our children find an answer in the love and respect we've had for each other. I hope they'll always be able to say with pride that they are the children of their Korean families, our children, Korean Americans, individuals.

But it still may be that someday our children will separate themselves from us, rejecting us and the dynamics of our family. If this is what awaits us in the future, I pray we find the grace to accept it, as it will break our hearts. But most of all I pray that no matter what conclusions our children reach about adoption and our family, they’ll have the strength and confidence to live loving and satisfied lives. Because at the end of the day, it's never been about us; it's been about them.

June 17, 2006

For the Fathers in My Family

For EM: Dad, it's hard to believe you've been gone nine years. For a long time after you died, the only memories I had of you were from the end, when you were so debilitated by Alzheimer's that we could hardly remember what you were like before it took control of your body and mind. But lately, other memories are surfacing, happier memories from long ago. The one that returns most often is from the lake. I see you from a distance, from back on the skis. You drive the boat, one hand on the wheel, head turned toward me over your shoulder. Your other hand gestures above the noise of the motor, "Faster? Slower? Back to shore?" But I just ride the wake, confident that you're watching, that you're looking out for me.

For RP: We've had a wild and crazy ride, we have. Who in the world could possibly be more different than us? I can't think of anyone either. So tell me how we've survived 37 years together - almost 32 of them married? I think it's a testament to your patience, because I certainly haven't been easy to live with. That patience has always been there for the kids, too. It has been a treasure to have you there for them, every day, all day, from the day they arrived. You are an amazing father and a great dad, you've guided them both toward the best in themselves, you've supported them through trouble and triumph. They love you, and so do I.

For KKY: Do you know you have a child, this child with us? I wish you did, because you'd be amazed. Your child has a mind as sharp as a razor, but under the edge is a deep thinker, an artist, a kind and loyal friend. You would be proud.

For YMM: I pray you rest in peace. I know you suffered terribly before your family lost you to your illness, and they struggle even today. Your child knows you've passed away, and is sad that you never met. But someday, perhaps, your family will be reunited, and through those in Korea, your child will come to know you, too.

June 15, 2006

Ethical Adoption: Forewarned is Forearmed

AfrIndie Mum is an adoptive mother who promotes ethical adoption. I came across a great post, come together, on her blog today. In this post is a list of things to consider when choosing an adoption agency. Read these guidelines carefully, and act accordingly!
  • Choose a large, ethical, non-profit agency that networks for it's programs with other agencies throughout the U.S. If a large, ethical agency works with smaller agencies and insists on them adhering to the same ethical behaviors, these behaviors will become the norm, and change will happen.
  • Make sure these agencies provide separate, third-party counselors to the pregnant women seeking information on adoption.
  • Make sure that these counselors counsel their clients on all of their options, including parenting, adoption and abortion.
  • Make sure that the counselors assist their clients in finding whatever resources necessary to assist them in whatever decision they make.
  • Check that these counselors are available to their clients before, during and after their decisions.
  • Check that these counselors do not receive bonuses depending on the outcome of their client's decision.
  • Make certain that the agency practices and encourages open adoptions.
  • Let for-profit and other unethical adoption agencies know which of their policies would morally prevent me from working with them and why. If they see enough input from clients they could have had, maybe they will change their ways.
  • Make certain that the woman who chooses us has made her decision on her own, free from coercion.
  • If matched pre-birth, ensure that she knows that we support her to make whatever decisions are best for her and her baby. And if that decision is to parent, that we will be there to help her obtain the support she needs to parent. Watch for signs of her changing her mind, and encourage her to explore those signs further.
  • Not pay birthparent expenses. Hello, coercion.
  • Understand what services the placement fees cover and how the agencies came to that level of placement fee.
  • Not work with agencies that charge more money for biracial babies than for African American babies.
  • Not work with an attorney or an adoption facilitator. Not pursue a private adoption.
Never be afraid to ask an agency the hard questions, or to tell them your concerns. When in doubt about an agency's ethics - don't use them, and report their behavior. Not sure how to do that? Ethica, an independent organization working to ensure ethical adoptions, offers suggestions for reporting complaintsabout unethical adoption agencies, along with other good information about promoting ethical adoption, and resources for all members of the adoption plane.

June 12, 2006

The File Nazi: A Cautionary Tale

Ever present in our lives,
the Unpossessable Font of Knowledge,
the Holy Grail of Our Children's Identifying Information,
it is . . . . . . .

THE FILE

It's there, in the Shrine of Ten Thousand Files. Approach with respect - but not too close. For to touch The File you must have the permission of

* The Protector of The Files *
** The Stern and Stalwart Social Worker **
*** The Most Powerful Adoption Professional ***

aka The File Nazi.

(C'mon guys, we can take 'er down! She's only 5 foot 3, and can't weigh more than 110! But wait, she's seen us, run, run for the hills!!)

* * * * * * * * * *

I apologize for the silliness, but when I think of the presence The File has had in our lives, it's just too bizarre. I mean, how many of YOU have a picture in your photo album of your children standing next to a filing cabinet - smiling?

The File has a life of its own. It calls you, it promises new details, names, places, photos. It beckons with the possibility of a letter from a mother or father, sister or brother. Even if you understand why you are prevented from reading it yourself (to protect both your child's privacy and that of his or her mother), you dream about it, your child yearns for it. But it's a siren, calling you to your doom.

For anyone who tries to peek at the paperwork or pilfer a picture will be admonished by The File Nazi. She shows no mercy: "Out with you! Who said you could touch The File?!" (Only she says it in Korean.)

I have complete respect for the information in The File, and for the fact that it belongs to my children and their parents, not me. But what I'm getting a little tired of is the imperious attitude the agency takes toward our efforts to put letters, photos and other small items into The File, so a mother, father, sister, or brother seeking information could find them.

For our family's trip to Korea in 2001, our children made the most amazing scrapbooks to take along with us. It was their lives in photos and notes, from their arrival on to the present - their likes, their dislikes, their friends, their pets, school, family, home, activities, as much as we could pack in. One we kept because they were SO CUTE. One was for our children's foster mothers, Mrs. Cho and Mrs. Kim. And one was for our children's first mothers.

Our visit was wonderful. Mrs. Cho and Mrs. Kim were excited to see the kids after so many years, and to have a chance to talk with them. And they were thrilled with the scrapbooks, really thrilled.

So when I turned to the social worker who was translating for us, imagine my horror when there, right before my eyes, she morphed into The File Nazi.

"These scrapbooks are for our children's mothers. We'd like you to put them into their files, in case their mothers come."

I could tell by the stare, she was transformed. "But they're so thick."

I bit my tongue. No meltdown from me, not in the presence of Mrs. Cho and Mrs. Kim. But hear me, oh reader. I will be in Korea in three weeks. And I will ask for a visitation with The Files. And if those scrapbooks aren't in there, there will be hell to pay. I promise you.

June 11, 2006

Mothers . . . The Myth of "Choice:" Sunday June 11 8:30 PM ET

Thanks to Screams in the Dark for posting this announcement, which I pass on to spread the word.

THE ADOPTION SHOW: Voices Ending the Myth

Hosts Michelle Edmunds & David Bishop

Sunday June 11, 2006 @ 8:30 PM EST (5:30 PST)

Mothers. . . The Myth of "Choice"

Guest speakers:

Karen Wilson Buterbaugh
In 1966, at the age of 17, Karen Wilson Buterbaugh was sent to the Florence Crittenton maternity home in Washington D.C. where her daughter, Michelle Renee, was born on July 22nd. Her daughter was removed from her by social caseworkers ten days later. Karen found her daughter, now named "Maria," thirty years later in November 1996 and made contact with her in January 1997. Karen is founder and President of OriginsUSA and co-founder of Mothers for Open Records Everywhere (MORE); co-author of the book Adoption Healing, For Mothers (2003) and In the Best Interests of Whom? (2005) with Joe Soll; and author of several magazine articles. She has also authored magazine articles "Setting the Record Straight" (2001, Moxie) and "Not By Choice" (2002, Eclectica).

Ann Fessler
Ann Fessler is an adoptee and the author of a new book The Girls Who Went Away, The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Babies for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade. The book is based on Fessler's extensive research and oral history interviews she conducted with over 100 women from around the US who surrendered babies between 1945-1973. Ann is also an installation artist and filmmaker.

June 10, 2006

Third Mom's Activism Page

Because everyone needs to roll up their sleeves, I offer Third Mom's Activism Page. New links will be added from time to time. Links are listed in alphabetical order presuming I can spell. Where I've found sites that aggregate links, I'll post those. If you would like to suggest a link, please email me. If a link looks out of place on this list, please consider that activism can take many forms - like protesting or lobbying for change.

Asian American Bone Marrow Donation

If you are Asian American, please consider taking this important action, which may save a life. If you're not Asian American, you can help, too - anyone can plan and conduct a bone marrow drive in your community or where you work (email me if you're considering this - I've done this in my community, am planning to do it again, and would be happy to offer my insights). See the links below for more information.

Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption

June 9, 2006

The Problem with Morality . . .

. . . is that it can get in the way of doing what's right.

Adoption elicits strong reactions from the general population. When positive, they seem to focus on the adoptive parent and the child. But when negative, you can almost always be sure that the first mother is the target.

Our attitudes toward sexuality in the US are contradictory. Although we pretend to be sexually liberated, you need only look as far as the endless discussion of same sex marriage to see that our libertation goes only so far. We like nothing better than outing someone's sexual impropriety, in spite of the fact that commercials for contraceptives can be found on TV. We just can't keep out of each other's bedrooms.

Adoption law and practice have been infused with this odd sense of morality. First mothers become marked by pregnancy and the decision to relinquish their children, and we use that mark to rationalize the separation. "That's your punishment for your behavior," we say, "you made your choices, now live with them and move on." We punish the children, too, the innocent bystanders, by denying them their very identities. We don't blink an eye as their human and civil rights are taken from them. And the message to mother and child is clear: Shame on you.

In essence, we have made birth a crime, for mother and child alike, punishable by separation and anonymity, shrouded in secrecy and lies.

It's time to stop the punishment, to separate moral judgment from adoption law, to restore the lost civil and human rights. Time to start doing the right thing.

June 6, 2006

Adoptive Parents, Please Read: "The Other Mother"

Think of all the little things that make up your day. Think of the times you smiled at your children, gave them a little hug, shared a laugh with them, admonished, taught. Thousands and thousands of little experiences, together a lifetime. Imagine them gone, lost. Imagine them never lived.

Read The Other Mother, from Kim Kim's Reunion Writings

How much healing would occur if this adoptive mother faced her fear of her daughter's first mother, and opened her heart to the relationship her daughter clearly wants to have. And how liberating for her daughter to no longer have to choose between two people so important to her.

An adoptive relationship is damaged when the adoptee feels forced to choose between parents, or to feel guilty about their desire to know their first family. Yet adoptive parents may be wary of first families' motives, and are certainly concerned about the impact of reunion on their children's emotional well-being. For not every reunion brings joy; recrimination, anger, disrupted lives may be a part of it. So it's understandable that some adoptive parents, with the best interests of their children at heart, believe the right advice is to reject contact and reunion.

I think, though, that there's a better approach: Don't wait for your children to tell you they want to know their first families, acknowledge that it's OK and important for them to be thinking about them. Be honest about your concerns and fears, and share them with your children. Offer your guidance, be there to support. Meet the challenges as they come, that's all we can do with any of life's surprises. And make the leap of faith. For to know the past and the people in it, and to take them into the future - that's something that can heal and comfort us all.

June 4, 2006

From There to Here

Every adopted person or parent of adoption is on a journey of one sort or another. What we have experienced on our journeys colors our thoughts, opinions, and actions regarding adoption. We support, oppose, speak, and shout from the places we've been and the things we've seen and felt.

My experiences have taken me from staunch adoption supporter to adoption questioner. I do not yet totally oppose adoption, because I believe it can be an appropriate response to the need of children in certain circumstances. But this opinion may change, too, as my journey takes me further into the future.

My husband and I came to adoption via infertility. We simply wanted to have a family with children. We had no experience with adoption and knew no adoptive families. Our research (pre-internet, therefore all by phone, mail, and meeting), led us toward intercountry adoption, and ultimately to Korea. We chose an agency with an ethical reputation, a non-profit organization with strong ties to Korea.

We began to learn about Korean adoption: That it began after the Korean War, when Harry and Bertha Holt adopted eight children and triggered a wave of adoptions by American families. The Holts ultimately devoted their lives to Korean children, established a home at Il San and other facilities, spent much of their lives in Korean, and are buried there.

We learned also that the adoptions that continued after the Korean war ended were a result of the patriarchal, Confucian Korean cultural system. Familial relationships were paramount. Korean men often would not take children from their wives' previous marriages into their families, never mind those born out of marriage. Adoption was relatively rare, usually found within families related by blood. Children born out of marriage were registered as "head of household" on their hojeok, the Korean family record needed in many social situations (such as getting a job), and had few chances to move forward in life. (A positive note - the hojuje system will be abolished by 2008; legislation to start the process was passed last year.)

We learned that single parenting was largely unaccepted, and Korean familial and societal pressure on single women to relinquish their children was enormous. There was very little social support for women or families in poverty. And it was made crystal clear to us, through the stories of mothers who committed suicide when found by children they had lost years before, that our children's mothers' privacy was never to be invaded. New lives, once built, could be shattered in an instant by the appearance on the doorstep of a child placed in adoption years ago.

We who considered Korean adoption were told that our children would have two options if they remained in Korea: institutional childhood followed by lives with few opportunities, or adoption, possibly in Korea, but more often abroad. We believed that adoption was the sad but necessary solution to cultural pressures outside of our hands to resolve. We developed enormous respect for our children's mothers, and for their privacy.

Following our homestudy, our agency provided us with information about an infant, a little boy. We accepted immediately, and waited the final months to his arrival. He was escorted to us from Korea, as our agency did not allow adoptive parents to travel to meet their children then.

My first encounter with his Korean mother was at the airport the day he arrived. Holding him, I began to see the arms that had held him first, and ultimately had to let him go. By the simple act of holding my son, his mother became real.

The next few years are a blur: parenting, adopting our daughter in 1991, all the things the first years of a child's life are made of. And, being the parents of Korean children, we did our time as Tourist Parents, learning, absorbing, inhaling our children's culture. We became advocates for our children, educating those we encountered who were ignorant of adoption, correcting the misunderstandings and errors as we understood them then, protecting our child's dignity. We made a conscious decision to share all of our children's information with them, explaining how hard life would have been for their mothers and them had they stayed in Korea, believing we were being as truthful as possible.

And then there was Jeongseon.

Jeongson is where our daughter was born, a little jewel in the Korean mountains. I visited there on my first trip to Korea in 1992, the highlights of which were visits to both of my children's birthplaces. My travel friend and I went there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October, crisp and sunny. What a lovely place it is - a smallish town, ringed by mountains, with a river on the outskirts. We walked through side streets, heard music through windows, a piano being practiced. We bought ice cream and souvenirs. Kids ran through the streets, couples strolled. I searched every face for a sign of my daughter, in vain. But I did find something else - I found the place that could have been her home. And it was very, very good.

This is the point at which I really began to wonder what my children had lost by coming to us. Others were questioning, too, I began to learn, especially adoptees, who were beginning to return to Korea to find their heritage, and to search for and find their parents. I read the story of Wayne Berry, who essentially "outed" his birth family, aghast at first that he had placed his mother at such risk, but then, surprised - they reunited, he met his family, and life went on.

It was becoming evident to me that our children's first families were more open to reunion than we had been told. Some certainly remained silent, making no effort to reunite, and rejecting efforts by their children to do so. But adoptees, and first mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents were searching and finding and reuniting. Katy Robinson's book A Single Square Picture, the story of how she located her first father, opened my eyes further. Deann Borshay Liem's film First Person Plural was a revelation.

Fast forward to 2001 - year of our Korea homeland tour. We and a group of close friends made plans to travel to Korea for three weeks that summer. As part of our preparation for the tour, it was recommended that we do a file check to ensure we had all the information that was there. Shortly after initiating the check, we received a little note in the mail from our adoption agency, two or three brief lines, not on agency letterhead. The agency had more information that had not been made available to us before. Please call.

We realized from this information that our child was here for one reason alone: a family's financial need, for which there had been no support to help them through their rough time. And our child had built an identity on the information we had originally received. That identity now had to be dismantled and rebuilt, at who knows what emotional cost to our child.

That was my turning point. That was when my adoption world changed forever, from less and myth to reality.

From there to here, a journey of experiences. Each one altering my perspective, changing my direction and my family's. Where I go from here is unclear, but I know this: This is no longer a journey for my children, my husband and me alone. Their families in Korea are with us, now in spirit, hopefully one day in person.

June 2, 2006

"Korean Adoptee Returns to Seoul"

Korean Adoptee Returns to Seoul

And much more on Lee Herrick's You Are Here. Really great blog, and a gazillion links on all kinds of Asian American topics.