August 31, 2006

Truth and Humility, 2-by-4 Version

I have recently tried nicely to make the point that adoptive parents need to put themselves last in the adoption discussion. I have tried calmly to suggest that we need to curb our tongues a bit. I've tried my best to put these thoughts out there without preaching.

But in the past week I’ve read things on blogs and forums that beg a different approach – like maybe a plank to the side of some heads.

First there was the forum thread, specifically set up to discuss heavier issues and clearly named, that crashed and burned when adoptive parents drove it off topic. And another thread that also derailed when an adoptive parent got into a “sticks and stones” kind of debate with an adoptee.

Then, there was a comment on an a-parent blog directed at a first mother that thanked her for not aborting her child, and then stated that women who “give up” their children for adoption aren't mothers.

And finally there were the comments of yet another adoptive parent to a post on a KAD blog that so disrespected the author and all adoptees that it literally stunned me. This one ended with a self-pat on the a-parent’s own back for adopting a child that had been abandoned by her “real” parents to the mercy of strangers.

Enough. Let me repeat the sentiments I shared earlier this week, this time with my 2-by-4 in hand:

  • We adoptive parents are not the stars of this show.
  • We have no right to expect to be understood by first parents or adopted people.
  • We have no right to invalidate or otherwise judge the adoption experiences of adoptees and first parents.
  • We have no right to expect respect from first parents or adopted people beyond that which civil behavior affords everyone.

And let me end with a plea to the a-parents who seem to be fueling this fray: Disrespecting those whose opinions about adoption differ from yours doesn't prove you love your children more, and listening without judgment doesn't mean you love them less.

August 29, 2006

Naksansa 낙산사

There are places that bring us out of ourselves, raise us above our day-to-day lives. Naksansa, the Temple of Compassion, is that place for me.

Naksansa nestles into the side of Naksan Mountain not far from Sokcho, a small city on the east coast of Korea. It was founded in 671 CE by the Buddhist monk Ui-sang Daesa, who upon meditating near the cave in which the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was said to live, was told by the Bodhisattva to build the temple there. Today, Uisangdae Pavilion marks the spot where Uisang once meditated. Sunrise at Uisangdae is said to be one of the most beautiful sights in Korea, and many come there to enjoy it at the new year. They come, too, to honor the goddess of mercy, Gwaneum, who gazes out to sea from the highest point of Naksansa. The towering white stone statue, called Haesugwaneumsang, is the largest in Asia.

With many of its building clinging to the cliffs of the mountain, Naksansa almost floats between earth, sea, and sky. My memories are of an exquisitely beautiful landscape - lush forest, steep cliffs, and crystal blue sea. And they are of a place of opposites. The peaceful atmosphere, created by the beauty of the place and by the the monks who prayerfully walk the temple grounds, is punctuated by patroling armed soldiers, there because of Naksansa’s proximity to the North Korean border and the sea. And because of past fires and its present role in Korea's tourist industry, the new and modern mix with the old - a new teahouse sitting near Uisangdae, the gift kiosk sharing the top of the hill where the Haesugwaneumsang stands.

Sadly, much of Naksansa was again destroyed by fire on April 5, 2005 (coincidentally my children’s birthdays), a fire so intense that it literally melted the temple’s great bell. In my header photo, the building on the left was one that was lost to the fire. But the little chapel on the right miraculously survived. These photos taken by Brian of Gangwon Notes show the same two buildings from another view, before and after the fire.

Now, a year later, Naksansa is rising from the ashes, as it has done before. I know I’ll go back, to see it as it is reborn, to remember it as I saw it in 2001, and to imagine what it was like in earlier centuries.

It is my heaven on earth.

Information about Naksansa can be found on the Buddhapia website.
Gangwon Notes has more photos taken the day after the fire and a year later .
Seoul Hero has some great photos, too, taken a year after the fire.
Joe Seoul Man has some great photos of the rebuilding effort.

August 27, 2006

Going, Gotcha, Gone

This is going to be a hard post. It's one I've been avoiding, but the time has finally come for full disclosure. I post in the full knowledge that both of my readers will probably run away in horror. But the truth must out.

We visited our best friends yesterday. My husband and I first met this couple at National Airport in September 1989 on the day our sons arrived from Korea. Since that day, our friendship has grown, and is now especially poignant, as the wife and mom, my dearest friend, passed away in 2005. Her family is still struggling with her loss, as I and all her friends are.

That first year we spoke on the phone a couple of times, and saw each other at several adoption agency events. As the anniversary of arrival day approached, we made plans to get together at their house.

Now, up to that time I had no name for the day our son arrived. I really had very few opinions about anything related to adoption, given that our pre-adoption preparation focused on types of adoption - domestic, international, open - and things to know about raising adopted children. My contact with families that had adopted from Korea was minimal - neighbors who are now good friends adopted their son a year and half before we adopted ours, and were the only people I had direct contact with on a regular basis. And there was no internet as we know it today - no email, forums, blogs, discussion lists.

Suffice it to say that I knew nothing.

So when we were invited for "Gotcha Day," I thought little about it. Although I can only blame myself for not drawing the connection between "getting a child" and "getting property," I can also say that property was nowhere near my thoughts when "Gotcha Day" entered our family vocabulary - and certainly not my friend's. It was a just a way to name the day our children arrived. And that is what we thought of it for many years, until I began to hear and read just how offensive it is to many first mothers, adopted individuals, and adoptive parents.

Hey, not so fast, you may be saying. It was your responsibility to be prepared, to have read, spoken with others, learned. You can't just walk away from this with a casual "whoops, I didn't know any better." You need to put this right.

Well, I am trying. We no longer call this day "Gotcha Day" - we've settled, more or less, on "Arrival Day" And I'm writing here in the hope that a family on the verge of choosing "Gotcha Day" to mark their child's arrival will choose another name. For yes indeed, if I had it to do over again, we'd have called this day something else from the start.

Which brings me to the point of this sordid story. As an adoptive parent, I can honestly say that I have done the best I can. And sometimes my best has fallen short, no way to get around it. But part of doing my best means continually listening, being sensitive to what the main participants in this experience - the adoptees and first mothers and fathers - are saying. And if they say that "Gotcha Day" has got to go, it's gone.

August 25, 2006

Truth and Humility

The past couple of weeks have been turbulent ones in my adoption world. Many issues, many reactions, lots of pain, anger, and recrimination.

Obviously any discussion of adoption will be emotional. Adoption is an experience that cuts to the core, defining those who live it with its many trademarks – joy, grief, love, anguish, and more, all surfacing in different ways, at different times, and sometimes in contradiction to one another.

All of the discord I have recently seen has all made me wonder if there are any common truths in adoption, truths that hold across every similar experience. I’m not talking about the kinds of things we each hold in our hearts as truths for ourselves, like the love we express for our children or parents lost or known through adoption. Nor am I talking about statistical truths, the numbers of people believing one way or another. What I’m talking about are simple facts, indisputable, black and white. Absolutes.

And the only truths I can find are these:
  • Adoption separates one family
  • Adoption brings one family together
These truths are opposites. With greater or lesser intensity, pain and loss will always weave through the lives of those who have been separated by adoption, and joy and fulfillment through those the lives of those brought together. And they collide in the lives of those who have been adopted.

These truths aren't equal, they aren't two halfs of a whole experience. Everything starts with the losses sustained by that first family. No matter how happy that second family may be, no matter the love they share, it will always trace back to the losses of the first. Understanding that has humbled me.

I'm not talking about a self-deprecating kind of humility, I'm talking about the kind of humility that eliminates the need to justify one experience by invalidating another, or to label those with passionate perspectives as angry, bitter, or emotionally unstable. By humility I simply mean the state of mind that allows us - and by "us" I mean me and my fellow adoptive parents - to listen to, accept, and learn from the experiences of others, without judgment.

I think we could use a lot of this kind of humility at the moment, at least in my adoption world.

August 19, 2006

An Unfortunate Initiative

A letter written from volunteers of a large adoption agency has been sent to a number of adopted Koreans encouraging them to tell their stories to Korean government representatives to voice opposition to efforts to end intercountry adoption from Korea.

Please take a minute and read the letter here or here.

The recipients surely have had varied reactions, which they will voice as they choose. However, I think I can fairly comment on the fact that this letter was sent at all. At a bare minimum, it's an invasion of privacy, one I hope my children never experience. Worse still, it's an example of the expectation that adopted people must feel gratitude and loyalty to adoption agencies for having been adopted. Presuming that this letter was sent with the agency's full knowledge and approval (and I'm frankly hoping it wasn't, although that would open a different can of worms), it's an abuse of power.

There is an implication in the letter that a few "angry adoptees" in Korea are influencing Korea's plans regarding intercountry adoption. This raises the notion that "adoptee happiness" and a desire for an end to intercountry adoption are mutually exclusive, which simply isn't the case. It also ignores the fact that these "angry adoptees" went to Korea, rolled up their sleeves, organized, learned the language, delved into the issues, and developed contacts in the Korean government and media - hard work in my opinion, and something that anyone with a different point of view has always had the option to do.

Adoption from Korea is going to end, sooner or later, smoothly or with difficulty. It will end because Korea is at last taking accountability for the social issues that led to the institutionalization of intercountry adoption in the first place. And it must end on Korea's terms, not ours. Rather than debating the inevitable, maybe now is a good time to start thinking about what it will be like when the last placements have occurred and Korean adoption is spoken of as a thing of the past. Because, of course, it won't be, not as long as mothers in Korea, adoptees, and adoptive parents are still experiencing it.

Don't Miss Claud on The Adoption Show Sun Aug 27

The Adoption Show, Voices Ending the Myth...

August 27, 2006: Adoption Coercion - Post The Baby Scoop Era (BSE)

Guests: Claudia Corrigan Sheeley of Musings of the Lame
Laurie Frisch

To hear the show, click The Adoption Show Listen Now link on the night of the show. Or go to and click "Click Here to Listen" on the navbar.

The Adoption Show is aired every other Sunday night at 8:30 PM EST. Visit the website for the upcoming schedule, copies of past shows, and other information.

August 18, 2006

Just when you think you've seen it all ...

George Allen, Virginia's pathetic ex-Governor, candidate for re-election to the U.S. Senate, (and - this is really frightening - presidential wannabe), said this to S. R. Sidarth, an American of Indian descent, at a political rally in southwest Virginia this week:

"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great, . . . Let's give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Fellow intercountry a-parents, think race is no longer an issue in the U.S.? Think again.

Fellow Virginians, vote George Allen's sorry ass out.

Allen Quip Provokes Outrage, Apology
George Allen's America

Don't Misses 8-18-06

Two don't misses this time:

Activism Page Update

A recent post on a KAD blog describing the challenge of living with leukemia touched me from the point of view of adoptees' loss of their family connections, and reminded me how urgent it is for Asian Americans to consider becoming bone marrow donors. 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.

Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches
Asian American Donor Program
National Marrow Donor Program

Adoptive parents - DO NOT MISS Twice the Rice's post yesterday, As good as the real thing. Every word hits the nail on the mark - especially this: "Why must we pretend that it is as good as the real thing?" Birth is birth. Adoption is adoption. Not the same, not the same parenting challenge. Thank you, Ji-In.

August 14, 2006

Mea Culpa #3

How convenient this numbering system is for someone whose foot is in her mouth so frequently! Time to call on it again.

The comments that were the subject of my post on the collision of joy and grief yesterday bothered me a lot, more than pretty much anything I've read on the web recently. I think the anger, directed at first moms and a-parents who disagreed with the prevailing opinions, was an eye-opener for me. Although I've heard from first moms on their blogs that this kind of hostility is out there, I hadn't really experienced it in the same quantity as I did yesterday.

But in rushing to add my two cents, I did two things that I'm really trying not to do - I fueled the fire, and worse, I spoke for first moms.

I've found tremendous graciousness among the first mothers I've met online. To a woman, they have been willing to put up with my questions and my comments. They have taught me about the experience of adoption as they have lived it, openly sharing their stories, their pain, and their hopes.

And they are perfectly capable for speaking for themselves, as any one of their blogs will tell you (and there are lots of links down my sidebar, so please click and read).

I apologize for rushing in where I didn't need to go. Blogging has been a learning experience for me in and of itself - much too easy to act-then-think with this medium. Hopefully one of these days I'll get it.

August 13, 2006

Ties that Bind and Never Meet

When I read these, from Twice the Rice, I'm reminded that adoption isn't about me, and that the experts - the adoptees and the first parents - are the ones to listen to.

Ties that bind … (excerpt/adaptation of a work-in-progress)

… and ties that never meet (another excerpt/adaptation of a work-in-progress)

A Collision of Joy and Grief

Joy is a GIVEN for adoptive parents - we have the children. Every day I watch my near-adult kids grow, stretch their wings, claim their world. And every day I feel guilt - yes, guilt - for the undeserved joy I am experiencing, the fact that their parents have had none of it, and for what my children have lost. Admitting that my joy has come at this great price doesn't spoil it, though it tempers it with reality. It doesn't change how I love my kids, nor is it something I talk to them about. It's simply something I accept and respect as a part of my adoption experience.

August 11, 2006

The Business of Adoption

We don't like to think of it, but we have to. Adoption is a business, and the ease with which adoption can cross the line from ethical to unethical practices is something everyone should understand.

Ethnically Incorrect Daughter is an artist, also a Vietnamese transracial adoptee who writes on many issues, adoption being one of them. She has just finished a multi-part series entitled The Baby Market, in which she tackles this topic. In the second of the series (links to all are at the bottom of this post), Ethnically Incorrect Daughter says what has been rolling around in my mind for some time: "One of my problems is that adoption seems to center more around supplying children for parents rather than finding parents for the children who need them."

Perhaps it's the attitude that adoption "fixes" so many problems - the unplanned pregnancy, the child's need, the adoptive parents' infertility - that has set us on our current path. Or, perhaps society's efforts to destigmatize adoption have gone overboard. The social institution of adoption is now positioned so positively in the public eye that little, if any, criticism is tolerated.

To be fair, there is good in adoption, especially when it is guided by openness and real concern for children and their families. But just knowing that unethical behavior, even disregard of human rights, exists should be motivation enough for the adoption community to revisit its policies. This isn't pointless criticism, its constructive change.

I like to think of ways we might improve current adoption practices, and what I imagine is dead simple: separate agencies providing pregnancy and early parenting support, adoption placement and post-placement services, and post-adoption and parenting support. Each agency's focus would be on a specific purpose and client population, rather than on "balancing" different demands. And adoption information - ethics, laws, risks, benefits - would be the same across the board.

Undoubtedly simplistic, but I honestly think it's time to get back to basics. Our first concern should be to protect mothers and children from separation and to support them as they start their lives together. When adoption is appropriate, we should ensure it is ethical and legal and that adoptive parents are prepared for adoptive parenthood. And post-adoption support must be there for first parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents when they need it.

Maybe when these are our focus, we'll get away from the supply-and-demand attitudes that drive much of adoption practice today.

Links to the entire baby market series follow. Thank you, Ethnically Incorrect Daughter, for sharing your thoughts on this important issue.

The Baby Market, Part 1
The Baby Market, Part 2
The Baby Market, Part 3
The Baby Market, In Conclusion

August 7, 2006

Adoption Tension

I had a wonderful conversation with my daughter on the long ride home from a recent activity this past weekend. She volunteered to work as a "counselor in training" at a local culture camp, something she has done several times in the past and really enjoys.

We talked about the ways she wanted my husband and I to support her. At one point I asked her if she had adopted friends who had expressed feelings of guilt about wanting to know their first families. She said she'd heard friends say they didn't talk about their first families because they believed it would hurt their adoptive parents.

As we talked further, I asked if she felt this was because their adoptive parents had set that tone, and had made her friends feel they couldn't speak openly. She replied that she didn't think that was the case. It was, she said, something any adoptee might feel.

I've always thought that speaking openly and ensuring that our children knew we wanted them to talk about their families would be enough to prevent the emotional pull that accompanies so many adopted people throughout their lives. That may not be the case, though, because the guilt may be the emotional tension, tug-of-war even, that is part of the experience of being adopted. And it may be something that an adoptive parent can't influence or resolve, simply acknowledge.

As I wonder how I can best support my kids through these feelings, I see no easy answers. But even if I can't resolve or remove what they may feel, I can provide comfort. And I can continue to confirm that our children's first parents are a welcome part of our family dialog, and welcome members of our family. With open communication, hopefully they'll keep talking.

August 6, 2006

The 2996 Tribute to the Victims of September 11

Thanks to Evil Mommy, on whose blog I found this information.

2996 is a project being coordinated by D. C. Roe to honor the 2996 victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. On September 11, 2006, bloggers from around the world will post tributes on their blogs to honor the victims of the attacks.

I'll be honoring Stanley L. Temple, age 77, a resident of New York City, who was killed in the World Trade Center. As I post this, 1388 bloggers have volunteered. Consider writing a tribute - instructions can be found here.

Please spread the word.

8/13/06: Up to 1742 - please continue to spread the word.

August 4, 2006

Don't Misses 8-4-06

It's been hot, so I've been reading slowly. But I've still found some great stuff out there, notably:
Also in Dawn's letter - several adoption reform resources. I've added these to the activism page:
Also, here for your reading pleasure, some of my favorite reads, plus a couple that are due out soon. Enjoy!

August 1, 2006

Rice with Everything

Exchange in the car with the kids one afternoon not long ago:

Son: “What’s for dinner?”
Me: “Meat loaf.”
Son: “What else?”
Me: “I don’t know, what do you want?”
Son: “Rice.”
Me: “Rice with meatloaf?”
Son & daughter: “Mom, we’re Asian! We eat rice with everything!”

There was something in their tone of voice that spoke volumes. And it had nothing to do with side dishes.

With those words I heard my children claim their Korean identities – not easy for two Korean kids with white parents who were virtually ignorant of Korea when they arrived. My husband and I had to learn fast, so we did the only thing we could – we jumped feet first into our children’s culture and community, taking them with us. And somehow (the "how" is another story), with the help of the many friends we’ve made along the way, we’ve managed to get here, to two confident kids who know they are Asian, Korean, Korean American.

This journey has been its own reward. For my husband and me, it has been an enriching, enlightening experience that has taken us out of our world into a culture that we would otherwise never have known. And for our children, it has been a journey to themselves.

Rice with everything is very good indeed.