October 30, 2006

Lost

Although I haven’t posted in awhile, I’ve been writing – not creatively, which is where my attention is going to be turning over the next few months (more about that later), but in a strange email correspondence that I think is important to share with everyone. It’s a situation that anyone who blogs or writes or maintains some kind of individual or organizational internet presence might encounter.

And now that it’s over, I can tell you it was a little scary, and incredibly sad. But I can't imagine what it was like for the person who lived these experiences, and who will go on living them long after this becomes a distant memory for me. I share it so everyone can see how high the stakes are when adoption is handled carelessly.

A couple of months ago I received an email from the mailbox for a discussion group I moderate. It was from a Korean adoptee in the UK, a young man who had joined the list not realizing it wasn’t for adoptees only. He requested to be removed, I complied, and sent him a short note in response.

He wrote back, apparently wanting dialog, and told me a little about himself. I again responded cordially, and this appeared to be enough in his book to make us friends. Very soon, I began to receive long messages describing what was a horrible childhood – he had been adopted in the 70s; there are very few adoptees in the UK so he had had little contact with other KADs throughout his life; his parents were abusive, knew nothing about raising an adopted Korean child and didn’t try to learn; he had a number of medical issues that made his current life challenging; he worked, but wasn’t happy in his job.

But after the pleasantries ran out, the emails began to include hate-filled diatribes – against his first parents (with his mother especially singled out), his adoptive parents, the British, the Koreans, the KAD community, but most of all, against anyone white.

I explained over and over to this young man that I myself was white, that I was an adoptive parent, that I was much older than he, thinking this would stop the communication. But it didn’t. A pattern began to emerge – emails during his daytime would be long and filled with descriptions of his city, his job, and the racism he encountered every day; emails late in his night would be shorter, describing the violent acts he hoped to one day inflict on his first family and on all white people; these would be followed by apologies that explained his words away with alcohol.

I also noticed that if I didn’t reply to his messages within a day, I’d receive several emails angrily denouncing my false “friendship,” and saying that I, like every other person in his life, was abandoning him. I’m not sure why I didn’t just let the communication stop at this point, but there was something so desperate in this young man’s messages that I felt the need to reassure him that my lack of response was only because of my inability to keep up with email, and not because of him.

And then I received an email stating tersely that his adoptive mother had died. His adoptive father had already passed away, so this was the last connection to his adoptive family, save a tenuous relationship with his aunt. He wrote about his discussions with the attorneys handling her estate, explaining that she left nothing but debt. It was clear he was going into a tailspin.

Some time after that, he sent an email indicating that he’d been found overdosed on the stairs of his apartment building. He had spent several nights in the hospital, but under the UK’s national health plan wouldn’t be able to get into therapy for several weeks. He swore the overdose was accidental. The hospital released him without additional support.

From this point forward his messages became more erratic, more desperate, more frustrated. He needed professional help, not an email correspondence with a middle-aged a-mom on the other side of the Atlantic. I continually urged him to seek a physician’s care, and he continually told me that he couldn’t get an appointment for weeks. I told him over and over that I had serious fears that anything I wrote to him might do him more harm than good.

This continued for a week or so until one Friday or Saturday night around 11 PM, as I sat writing at my PC, I saw an email from him pop into my mailbox. Subject: Bye-bye. Ok, I thought, he’s finally recognized that we need to terminate the communication. But that’s not what he meant at all – the email was a suicide note, an incredibly sad, desperate message indicating that he had had enough, and he was going to finally kill himself.

For the next several hours I pleaded with him to call a suicide hotline, I searched in vain for one online, he emailed, I emailed, until at last he agreed to go to bed and see a physician the next day. And on the next day he emailed again, saying he would indeed seek a physician on Monday, but of course on Monday the news came that he couldn’t get an appointment for weeks.

Now I was truly afraid – afraid for him, afraid for what my communication might do to him, and frankly afraid of him. I began to back off a bit, writing less and less about anything except the need for him to seek help. He fell back into the old patterns, the daytime epistles, the nighttime rants, the apologies.

Finally, about a week ago, one of his late night diatribes included some of the most violent, most brutal, most hate-filled imagery he had written. It was graphically sexual and reveled in the torture he imagined he would inflict on those he hated. I decided I had had enough, and wrote him a message saying that he had gone over the top, and that the language and images he used were simply unacceptable to me. Of course, what followed were a string of accusatory emails making it clear that no one told him what to say, and telling me that I, like everyone else in his life, had failed him.

And with that, this correspondence is at last over. It’s clear he will not be writing again, as he typically wrote every day, and it’s been almost a week since the last messages. In honesty, I must say I’m relieved that I no longer have to face the images he’s presented to me for the past months. But I’m incredibly sad for him as well.

Pushing 40, he is clearly someone who has never in his life – not one single time – felt at ease in his own skin. The rejection he feels from his first parents and the country of his birth is gut-wrenching. His frustration with his adoptive parents, who were so bumbling that they considered bringing him a few Chinese baubles sufficient support for his heritage, and his hatred of all white people, fueled by the constant presence of racism, consume him and literally make it impossible for him to live with any sense of joy or satisfaction.

I hope he finds help and is able to come to terms with what can only be described as a life of unimaginable pain. But even as I write this, I know it’s not likely to happen. I fear that this is one life that adoption has claimed entirely.

October 20, 2006

Open Mike: Guardianship or Adoption?

Since I'll be gone for the next few days, it's a great time for another Open Mike.

This time I would really like to explore how you all feel about a topic that I frequently see referenced, but seldom discussed. That's not to say that people aren't discussing it, only that I haven't yet found where those discussions are taking place. The result is that I know very little about how guardianship might work as an alternative to or replacement of adoption.

I'd like to know more. So I hope you'll comment (anonymously if that's more comfortable for you) and share your thoughts. Please let everyone know how you're connected to adoption: first parent, adoptee, adoptive parent, ???

So here's the question - I'm looking forward to your thoughts!

Which do you believe is preferable: guardianship or adoption? Why?

October 19, 2006

National Infant Adoption Reform Act

It's my opinion that change in adoption needs to happen not only on a grassroots level, but also in the media and in the legislature. Today I found a group that's working on all three, a grassroots initiative by a group of people working in an MSN group to draft the National Infant Adoption Reform Act.

I found this group just today, and was excited to see a draft of legislation to reform adoption practice. I haven't yet read the entire draft, and therefore can't say if I agree or disagree with everything in it. But I'm sending out the link so those of you who haven't heard of this yet will know that this effort is underway, and that the group is open to all to join.

If you, like I, believe that change in adoption is necessary, make your voice heard. Add your thoughts to the discussion of NIARA.

I've added NIARA to the Activism Page, which is updated periodically with links to organizations and individuals working on adoption reform. Please take a look, and if you know of a group that I haven't included, please let me know.

October 13, 2006

Race and Humility

In my intercountry adoption experience, the discussion of race and racism is often lost to the belief that a color-blind society is possible. Looking back on my early adoptive parenting years, I can honestly say that the subject of race was rarely broached, and if so, only superficially. You'll have to figure it out, we were told. Love will conquer all.

But race and racism are something that white transracial adoptive parents need to look squarely in the eye. And on this topic, our opinions mean nothing, our idealism is meaningless. Away from the coccoons of our families, our children will face a world that we have never experienced and never will.

I think the very first thing an adoptive family like mine needs to do is acknowledge reality: Two white people can't give their non-white children the experience they'll need to navigate our race-conscious and often overtly racist society. And since no one in my family is culturally Korean American, reaching out to the Korean American community has been the only way to bring our children into contact with those who can teach them. This has meant creating as many opportunities as possible for our kids to develop meaningful relationships with other Korean Americans, through the schools they attend and through their and our family's activities.

But there's a rub. For some, transracial adoption amounts to no more than white ownership of people of color, ill-guided altruism, white privilege at its worst. Adoptive parent attempts to join the race dialog may be rebuffed. And our efforts to embrace our children's ethnic heritage may be seen as cultural appropriation - deserving of criticism rather than affirmation; laughable, artificial, lame.

When this happens, it should also be no surprise that some white a-parents throw in the towel. After all, if every effort you make to support your child's heritage is criticized for one reason or another, why even try? But how sad for the children, who then grow to adulthood unaware of what they may face as adults in our color-conscious society, and locked into false identities that fail to acknowledge who they are.

It takes humility for white parents to recognize and accept the challenges of raising children of another race and culture. Humility to accept that racism exists; to recognize the inherent privilege we enjoy as white people; to get out of our comfort zones and into our children's communities; to defer to people of color on the line between embracing and appropriating our children's culture; and to recognize that no matter how hard we try, on one level or another we'll experience failure.

But if we can find this humility, our children will gain immeasurably. They'll gain knowledge of the culture and community they lost when they were adopted, and the confidence to claim these as their own - things that all the love in the world, including ours, can't give them.

October 11, 2006

New Blog: Anti-Racist Parent

Attention transracial and intercountry adoptive parents!!

Anti-Racist Parent, brought to us by the same team that brought us Racialicious, Jen Chau and Carmen Van Kerckhove.

From the blog's welcome post:
Thank you for visiting us here at Anti-Racist Parent! This is a blog for parents who are committed to raising children with an anti-racist outlook. If you’re a parent who is tired of having your child learn about race and identity through the mixing of neapolitan ice cream :) , playing dress-up with national costumes, and absorbing the same handful of sanitized historical facts every single Black/Latino/Native American/Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, this blog is for you.
This is going to be a great resource, I can tell.

October 8, 2006

Resilience: A Voice for Korean Mothers

Resilience is a one-hour documentary directed and co-produced by Tammy Chu, and produced by KoRoot. The film critically examines the issue of South Korea's international adoption system through the perspective of birth mothers, who share their stories in their own voices, shedding much-needed light and understanding on their experiences.

The making of Resilience is sponsored by Women Make Movies, a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. Please support the making of Resilience - every donation will help complete this important project. Visit the Women Make Movies sponsored projects page and scroll down to the entry for Resilience to make a donation.

Tammy Chu and her twin sister were adopted in the United States when they were eight. Her first film, Searching for Go-Hyang, is a 32-minute documentary depicting the sisters' reunion with their birth families in 1998. It has been screened internationally at film festivals, museums, and conferences, and has been broadcast on public television (PBS) in the US. Searching for Go-Hyang is also available from Women Make Movies.

1/24/07: Resilience has a new website - please visit!!

October 6, 2006

Don't Misses 10-6-06

This has been a week of some really frightening reading, as well as some incredibly good stuff. No, I will not pass on the things that have me cringing. But I will pass on what I've particularly enjoyed.

Top of the list, a really great post by Third Culture Kids, Born That Way, a post on being a multi-racial and multi-ethnic family. Don't miss this one!

A Wrung Sponge is the blog I visit when I want peace. This is a blog that will feed your mind and your soul, and its author Cloudscome is starting a wonderful project to help young mothers. Cloudscome also has a great three part series on primal wound, very interesting. In addition, you'll find links to some terrific blogs by writers and poets, great photography, and haiku.

Joy is Such a Joy, I love her. Just when she has me laughing out loud, she lands a sucker punch and brings me to tears. If you are trying to understand how hard it is to be adoptee, read Joy. She's great. Plus, she looks just like Nietzsche.

And how the heck did I miss this? Harlow's Monkey Adoption Gazette, news and articles about adoption from a variety of sources. Absolutely loaded with good stuff.

October 3, 2006

Read 'em and weep

First - thank you all for your comments and emails following my last post. You all are some great people, and I appreciate your understanding of why that post was hard for me to think about and to write. What helped most was hearing that you are feeling the same feelings, from all different sides of adoption. It really helped.

Many of you suggested a rest from the hard topics - wise advice, but advice only an adoptive parent can take. First parents and adoptees don't get a rest, and so I don't feel I can really back away. I may need to focus on different issues for awhile, but it's all still there. We're all in this together.

And never so obvious as in the following, both of which I heard this week. Perhaps a good rant will still my soul a bit, it always seems to have that effect. You're just not going to believe these.

First - a fellow Korean adoptive parent went to register her daughter in one of the largest high schools in suburban DC. She and her daughter went to the school together, to complete the registration and to have a chance to look around. Upon being seated in the counselor's office, the counselor turned to my friend (making eye contact with her and not her daughter) and said, "Does she speak English?" My friend was dumbfounded, and stumbled through a response that attempted to bring her daughter into the dialog, indicating that she did, that she was born in Korea, arrived in the US as an infant. To which the counselor replied, "Is she fluent?"

Now think about this in light of the second, a comment to a post on a blog I've read from time to time. The post in question was, among other things, a rant about white adoptive parents who apologize to KADs for having adopted. The post was pretty demeaning to KADs in particular, also to a-parents who might agree with their perspective or be trying to. Unpleasant, although not unexpected; it's been heard before. But one comment was. It stated that the commenter was fine with the fact that his or her daughter (on the way, not arrived yet) would be a Twinkie, was fine that some people wouldn't be OK with that, and couldn't understand why this was bad when it was OK for Asian Americans to be fully americanized.

Someone pinch me, this has to be a nightmare.

October 2, 2006

Conflicting Realities

My thoughts have continued to turn on Robin Westbrook's response to the comments I made to one of her posts awhile ago. I have to be completely honest and say that I have really struggled with these. Even now, as I send this post out there, I don't think I've even begun to scratch the surface of these complicated issues. I certainy haven't been able to verbalize the turmoil that remains in my brain after making this attempt. It hurts, I hurt. Yet I know that what I'm feeling pales in comparison to the way a first mother must hurt every day not knowing where her child is.

As I thought out loud here, I tried to avoid the fine legalities that tangle up much adoption discussion, and to focus on the intent of the challenge. Please remember: I speak for myself only. In no way should my thoughts be construed to represent adoptive parents generally.

And so, my thoughts in response to Robin's belief that there is no room for dialog between first parents and adoptive parents, and that adoptive parents can't be considered enlightened until ...

adopters realize the difference between a want and a need, an attachment and a true bond

I agree that a want and a need are two different things. I know and admit freely that I didn't NEED to have a child, I WANTED one, desperately. Entitlement, yes I acknowledge that.

The bond between a mother and the child to whom she gives birth is unique in all the world, it's something that I will never share with my children. I don't want or need to displace it; instead, we've made a different kind of connection, based on time spent and lives lived together.

we get to the point where there are adopters and foster care providers who can say that the first and most important priority is to unite the original family

Keeping families together should be our first priority, always. And it's clear that adoption as it's practiced in the US today doesn't focus on family preservation, it focuses on building an adoptive family. As long as adoptive parents are available, I believe adoption will remain the path of least resistance, and family preservation will lag behind.

If I had really understood this dynamic, would I have adopted anyway?

I honestly don't know. I trust myself enough to say I would not have knowingly agreed to an adoption I knew was illegal or unethical. But I don't know if recognizing my role in the supply chain of adoption would have convinced me it was unethical to proceed.

people don't jump in to tell me how different THEIR case and how that makes adoption so "right" for them

The adoptions of my children, like every adoption, have at their core mothers who live their lives without their children. They live with the pain of that loss, of not knowing where there children are. That pain, that loss, are universal.

adopters, who know that the awakened mother, who surrenders while affected by her seeming "crisis" and the rampant hormones of pregnancy, wants to reclaim her child, freely return that child to the mother with no media hoopla or court battles

I can only say that I hope I would have had the strength to return my child to his or her mother - because I recognize that this is exactly what I expected my children's mothers to do when they relinquished. Yes, I hope I could have done the right thing.

those who have adopted release their "parental" claims on the children they have taken "as their own"

Could I negate our adoption, and return our children to their first families for no other reason than to redress adoption inequities? No. When I adopted, I committed in good faith to my children and their first families to be their parent forever. That's a commitment I will never break, unless at the request of my children. And even then, although I would step aside, nothing about my love for them, my commitment to be there for them no matter what, would change.

adopters realize and ADMIT that they did something wrong by seeking that adoption and doing all in their power to restore the original family

I admit that I participated in a process that was inherently flawed. I admit that I didn't look beyond the positive perceptions of adoption, that I accepted what I was told and believed that by adopting I was doing something good for a child and mother in a desperate situation. But I will not admit that I acted maliciously, or that I intended to hurt a mother or steal a child, for that simply isn't so.

Trying to come to grips with my feelings on these issues has been incredibly difficult. It's almost as if these challenges have opened a different dimension to adoption, a reality in complete conflict with mine. I can't reconcile the life my family has lived with this other adoption reality.

I've been wondering lately if there's really a point to continuing to write, and at the moment I'm not sure. For when you write you need conviction, and where is mine? Lost in doubt, hypocrisy, and the fear that if I continue, it might invalidate my right to love my children. That's something I'm not willing to risk.

Yet what of their mothers? Adoption expects first mothers to say good-bye, to push thoughts of their children out of their minds, to live their lives as if those children were never born to them. And that's ridiculous, how could anyone believe that to be true? How did I?

Facing Robin's terms, her stark truth, may be the point beyond which I can't go. Without being able to articulate my thoughts on this, I'm not sure there's anything left for me to say.