November 25, 2006

Open Mike: Should TRAs be only children?

We haven't had an open mike for awhile, and since holiday busy-ness is keeping me from writing, I thought it would be a good time to hear for YOU!

This question is one I've heard many times, not just in the blogs, but also from friends who have grappled with the same issue.

Because my husband and I had reached our decision on this early on, I never really considered the repercussions of having decided differently. I'd like to hear what you have to say on this subject, and I'm sure there are many other prospective adoptive parents who would also like to hear everyone's opinions.

Special call to transracial adoptees - please add your thoughts. Comment anonymously if you're uncomfortable posting on an a-parent blog, but I hope you'll share your feelings and experiences.

So here's the question:

Is it appropriate for transracial adoptees to be only children or the only child in the family with their ethnicity?

November 24, 2006

Thinking Out Loud on ARP

I'm very excited to have been asked to contribute to Anti-Racist Parent. My first post and introduction is here.

Anti-Racist Parent is a site everyone should be reading, but will, of course, be of special interest to transracial adoptive parents. If you haven't found it yet, check it out. And check out Carmen Van Kerckhove's and Jen Chau's other race-related websites, Racialious and Race Changers. Great discussion to be found on all three!

November 20, 2006

Back to Basics

The recent announcement of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute study on first parent rights has triggered a considerable amount of debate on this issue around the internet. I say debate deliberately – much of it has been angry, attacking, and frankly disturbing.

The negative reactions to the study's recommendations that I've read, and they far outweigh the positive, suggest, among other things, that closed adoption is best for children, and that adoptive parents have a financial stake in the outcome of open adoption. What I found particularly dangerous about the opinions voiced is that they were based in individual personal experiences. Drawing on experiences with failed reunions and challenging open adoption situations, adoptive parents and adoptees offered their pronouncements on appropriate adoption policy. And they were decidedly unwelcoming toward first mothers.

We're all products of our personal experiences. Every one of us interested in the future of adoption practice in this country and around the world comes to the dialog with a particular point of view. That point of view is shaded by our personality, our political and religious and social views, our preferences, and our experiences with adoption.

If we're sharing our opinions in an open forum, this is as it should be. But adoption law and policy shouldn't be based on the opinions of individuals – it should be based in justice and a desire to protect human rights. Instead, it seems to be a jumble of archaic and judgmental policies veneered as social service, designed "in the best interests of the child" to "let the mother get on with her life."

Imagine this, if you will. A woman, mother to an infant child. You know nothing about her – her age, financial situation, marital status, nothing. All you know is that she's struggling. You worry about her, you want to help. If you do, it's likely you offer financial assistance of some kind, perhaps hands-on support, or food.

Now add a piece of information to the picture: the woman is under 20. Now you may question why she has a child and is in such dire straights at such a young age, but you see how clearly she loves her little one, so you extend your hand. You offer help.

One more detail: the woman is also unmarried. Does your offer of assistance still stand? Or does your mind wander to adoption – she's so young and has no husband. Her baby would be better off with a couple, a stable family with great financial possibilities. She has her whole life ahead of her.

We need to remember: a woman's whole life may already be in her arms when she gives birth.

Yes, I'm looking at this simplistically. But we need to bring the discussion of adoption policy back to the most basic level – back to a discussion of a woman's human rights. Too many of our adoption laws are based in archaic perceptions of a woman's fitness to mother. They single out the unmarried mother as one to be judged, justifying the removal of her rights and rationalizing the lies that may be told to her by those who want her child. And unless her behavior is deemed perfect in the eyes of those who adopt her child, she can be cut out of the adoption relationship with little if any recourse.

In spite of the ugly opinions I've seen the past couple of days, I believe that change is possible. I hope the Donaldson study encourages positive discussion, discussion that leads to action, action that leads to change.

November 19, 2006

Evan B. Donaldson Report on First Parent Rights

Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process

Kudos to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and to author Susan Smith, for undertaking this important study. The importance of its release during National Adoption Awareness Month should not be missed - with Adam Pertman's media contacts and understanding of the politics of adoption, I believe this report will reach those who need to see it most - the legislators. And when they do, they will see this:

According to this report, parents who choose adoption for their infants do not have their rights and needs sufficiently addressed in U.S. law and practice - largely because of basic misconceptions about who these women and men are - and they invariably fare better when they have ongoing information about and/or contact with the children they place into new families.
The report, which can be downloaded here, makes seven recommendations that should be met to safeguard the rights of first parents:

  • Establish legally enforceable post-adoption contact agreements in all states and permit adults who were adopted to regain access to their own records.

    • Require all adoption practitioners to provide a document of birthparents' rights and responsibilities, which should be signed by the clients and the professionals near the beginning of their work together.

    • Require at least two counseling sessions with a qualified professional for all women who are placing children for adoption, during which they are fully informed about their options, including parenting and various types of adoption, as well as about the resources available to them.

    • Modify state laws on the timing of relinquishment and revocation so that parents have several weeks after childbirth before an adoption decision becomes irrevocable. Ideally, this would include a minimum of one week after birth before a relinquishment can be signed and then a substantial revocation period.

    • Require more aggressive protection of birthfathers' rights by mandating their identification by birthmothers whenever possible, and by personally notifying all possible fathers of adoption proceedings. In states where putative father registries exist, they should be widely advertised, and a failure to register should not be used as an automatic reason for not notifying or involving men. A national registry would help to alleviate some of this system's inherent problems.

    • Address the critical gap in knowledge about birthparents' needs and preferences through research on questions including:

      What are the characteristics of women (and men when they are involved) who choose adoption for their children today and what are their perspectives in relation to the choices they make - i.e., abortion, parenting or adoption?

      How do they decide on a specific type of adoption, if that is the road they choose, and what laws, practices and policies can best meet their needs and desires?

      What is the emotional and psychological impact of adoption loss for birthparents, and what practices facilitate grief resolution and healthy long-term adjustment for them?

      What practices are needed to support all of a child's parents in working out their relationships after placement, including open adoption arrangements?

  • Develop a broader array of post-adoption services to serve birthparents, including counseling or mediation services to facilitate open-adoption arrangements.
  • I sincerely hope this report signals a new attitude toward first parent rights in adoption practice and in the law. Thank you, Evan B. Donaldson, for your work on behalf of first parents and your commitment to ethical adoption.

    Editing to add links to the story

    I've found the AP story by David Cray here:
    Washington Post
    New York Times
    Boston Globe
    Yahoo! News

    There's also a story on MSNBC featuring Jenna of The Chronicles of Munchkinland:

    November 18, 2006

    Don't Misses 11-18-06

    Good stuff out there!!

    Must-reads for adoptive parents

    Joy's post on allowing adoptee grief - it is heart-wrenching, but also a wake-up call that the most important thing we adoptive parents can do to support our children is to acknowledge their experience, which includes the grief that any human being would feel at the loss of a parent.

    Mia's incredibly wise post Childhood - a beautifully articulate essay encouraging adoptive parents to embrace without fear the truth of their children's realities. Many words of wisdom here, please read it.

    From Peace of Rice, Fallen children of Korea, a moving letter to Korea questioning why so many of its children have been sent away and lamenting one whose pain pushed her to suicide.

    Good resources

    Ji-In of Twice the Rice has a great review of Asian magazines and journals. If you've been yearning for some new reading material, there are lots of suggestions here.

    The New York State Citizens' Coalition for Children has some great articles about transracial adoption and other resources. I have used a number of their articles during presentations, but had sort of forgotten they were out there. I stumbled across one of the articles last week, which reminded me what a good source of information this website it - and so I'm passing it on to you.

    November 13, 2006

    Concrete Help for Single Mothers

    Thank you, Suz, for posting this - this is an example of exactly the kind of help that women need in a variety of situations that would otherwise leave them alone and without support.

    What terrific idea - here's hoping it takes root and grows! Please help by spreading the word!

    CoAbode: Single Mothers House Sharing

    November 9, 2006

    Race, Culture and Adoption

    I sat at the PC for ages yesterday considering how to respond to a challenge on RaceChangers. Go over there, read the paper by Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, and then read the comments.

    Several of the commenters asked why many adoptive parents choose to adopt from Asia, and conversely why they don’t choose to adopt a white child of child of color from the US.

    I’m not kidding when I say I sat for a full hour, probably more, with my fingers on the keyboard, unable to write a single word that didn’t bear out the fact that my subconscious attitudes toward race had influenced my decision to adopt from Korea far more than I would have ever thought. Although I’ve always been honest about the fact that altruism wasn't a motivation, I'd never faced the questions posted on RaceChangers.

    Before I go on - please understand that I'm looking at myself here. My feelings shouldn't be ascribed to any other adoptive parents - this post is personal, not a generalization. It also doesn't address my responsibility as an a-parent to support my children's heritage - I've written about that in the similarly-named Race, Culture and Adoptive Families and other posts as well. I hope, though, that this post encourages others to look at the issue of race from a new point of view.

    On the surface, it seems pretty simple. What initially drew us to Korea were two things: the fact that, nearing 40, we would be able to adopt an infant; and the fact that as we imagined our life with our children, we were able to visualize being a family with Asian children.

    Have you heard the phrase “the other white meat?” Read Julia’s post On Asian Adoption if you haven’t. Julia makes the point that because race in the US is viewed primarily in terms of black and white, white adoptive parents tend to believe that Asian children will meld more easily into a white family, and that by adopting Asian kids, white a-parents can avoid the issue of race altogether.

    *light bulb goes on*

    When my husband and I adopted, we thought in terms of raising a children from another culture. I don't think at the time we adopted that we fully understood that we would be raising a child from another race. We felt we could accept the challenge of nurturing our children's cultural identities, but didn't understand the ramifications to our children's racial identities of being raised in a white home.

    My adoption choices were largely conditioned by my position of entitlement, conferred upon me by virtue of my race and claimed in my life experiences. I shudder to think that this makes me a racist, but on some level, one I can't control, I very well may be, or at least may be considered one by people of color.

    I haven't even begun to address the second question, which is why we didn't choose to adopt a white child or child of color from the US. It's clear, though, that ingrained subconscious attitudes about race played a much greater role in that decision than my professed racial enlightenment. And undoubtedly, similar attitudes about class, plus our misguided understanding of domestic adoption at that time, contributed to our decisions not to adopt from the US.

    I do want to say one thing, though, that is getting lost in this self-examination, and that is that my choice of Korean adoption doesn't mean that I felt unable to love children of other races and ethnicities. That's simply not the case. What is the case is that the decision to adopt came with many related questions about our ability to raise children from different backgrounds, our environment's ability to welcome us, the support available to us in our area, our family's acceptance of our family, and so on. Although we could always answer yes to the question of our ability to love a child of any race or background, we couldn't always answer yes to the others.

    All of this is a mighty ugly self-revelation. It's hard to admit that my decision was not-so-subtly influenced by attitudes toward race that I outwardly abhor. Yet for that very reason, it's even more important for me to do so. And even more important to listen to my children and all people of color, to make every effort to understand the many ways my insensitivity or ignorance of their experience contributes to the racial divide in this country.

    RaceChangers challenged its readers to think about intercountry adoption to “begin to see that international adoption is an extremely complex issue that poses many quandaries having to do with race, culture, language, class, power, privilege, economics, politics and the law.”

    It certainly challenged me.

    November 5, 2006

    Adoption and Faith

    Dawn offered an interesting post today about her views on the intersection of religion and adoption intersect, and then followed it with the questions: How did your understanding of God impact your feelings around adoption? How did your feelings around adoption impact your understanding of God?

    Faith plays an important role in my life, but it's one of those things that I don't post about because it's so intensely personal. I'm also not at all comfortable with the combination of religion and adoption, which leaves little opportunity to post about it here. In my opinion, when these two mix, the focus tends to shift from the needs of the pregnant woman and the child to the experience of the adoptive parents. And it concerns me that faith-based agencies can require prospective adoptive parents to share their religion, a completely unveiled means of bringing the child into whatever fold the agency represents. I've always been uncomfortable with using religion as a reason to adopt - to fulfill a charitable obligation, for example, or to do God's work.

    This is not to say that agencies with religious affiliations are inherently unethical. But it is to say that there is a logical tendency for an agency with a religious affiliation to structure its policies according to its religious tenets. And those may support outdated moral attitudes toward first parents and adoptees, and may also favor adoptive parents.

    I'm Catholic. This may make some readers shrink back a little, because the image of the Catholic Church is anything but sterling these days. But my Catholicism was molded not in a pious home (ours was more practical than pious) nor in our parish, but rather in the social activism of Georgetown University in the late 60s and early 70s. Richard McSorley, the Berrigan brothers, and Robert Drinan were my religious role models, and their work for social justice and peace have inextricably linked faith and social justice in my mind.

    My children are an incredible blessing to my husband and me, but I don't believe their presence in our family was predestined by God. They are with us because we were waiting at the same time a woman in Korea was letting go. And had we picked up the phone a few weeks earlier or later to launch the process, it's very possible that different children would have been placed with us. So when I think of adoption in terms of my faith, I don't think about fate or about the hand of God guiding my children to me. I candidly don't think about God in those terms at all. I think instead about the injustices that led to my children's placements, and my obligation to do something about them.

    This has, of course, influenced the way I've spoken to my children about their adoptions. We've talked about the fact that their parents' situations were the result of inequities in the Korean social support system, and that these are the result of man's failures, not God's punishment for anything their parents or other first parents might have done. Moral judgment isn't a part of how I live my faith, and therefore isn't a part of our discussions about adoption.

    The words I've actually used have depended on my children's ages. When they were younger, we said simply that at the time they were born their parents were unable to care for a child, and that the country they lived in didn't offer them the help they needed. One of our children has been satisfied with this level of information his entire life, and hasn't asked for more. But the one whose family is intact has wanted to know more about how a country could have abandoned that family so easily, and how it is possible that a family could send one child away when the others remained behind.

    This question has been more difficult to address, because it gets beyond Korean attitudes toward single mothers and children born outside of marriage, or the lack of social support. OK, my child says, I understand my family was poor and had to make this decision. But why don't they want to see me? How a family could pick a child to send away and then simply refuse contact is something my child and I both are struggling with. My faith offers no answers to this question. We just continue to hope that we're able to meet one day.

    This discussion segues into a post I'm working on about a recent lesson in my daughter's health class lessons - abstinence. She came home with an assignment that had the class build a matrix of positive and negative outcomes of becoming sexually active at a young age. Some of my daughter's responses were quite judgmental - this really surprised me, since we have been so careful to avoid moralizations. I'm struggling a bit with how to approach my daughter about this, because I don't want to put her on the spot about her feelings, but definitely want to know where they're coming from. More on this soon.

    November 4, 2006

    Hearing My Own Voice

    I have come full circle.

    When I started this blog, I embarked on an introspective journey into adoption. I knew when I began writing that there was much in adoption to question, much that needed reform. But I didn't expect to find the level of pain and sorrow and anger that I discovered almost immediately. It took me by surprise, and it was stunning.

    It was important to me to try to understand the depth of that pain, and doing that brought me into contact with adoptees and first mothers whose experiences had taken them through loss and pain and sorrow that, contrary to conventional wisdom, doesn't end when a child is placed in an adoptive family. It goes on, forever, sometimes debilitating, sometimes numbing, but always present.

    I found so many things that caused me to question adoption as I understood it until then. Policies and agencies and even my own motives for adopting began to tarnish as I looked at them through the eyes of the mothers and fathers and children who lost one another when adoption entered their lives. I came to realize that by adopting the children I cherish, I wasn't really making it possible for a woman to forget the past and move on with her life, I was just resolving an immediate need that was then replaced with never-ending grief.

    And for several months now, I've been quite simply unable to find adoption terra firma. These past few months, thinking about adoption has been like standing on sand, always shifting, throwing me off balance.

    This weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time with a number of adopted friends who were in Washington for the first International Adoptee Congress. The IAC is a new organization founded and directed by internationally adopted persons who have come together to empower and give voice to their community.

    I had a lovely dinner on Thursday evening with a dear friend who was in town to attend the Congress. Over barbecue at Red Hot and Blue, we talked and talked and talked - about my kids, his daughter, about our mutual friends, about adoption, about politics, about race, about everything. And then we attended the Congress kickoff event, a presentation of adoptee art held at George Washington University. What an amazing opportunity! We saw film works by Jennifer Arndt-Johns (Crossing Chasms), kate hers (missing), and Maria Quiroga (Las Hijas); we heard Jared Rehberg of In Third Space sing two of his songs; and we met and spoke with the artists.

    On Friday evening I met a lovely young Korean adoptee from Minnesota whom I had met on a Korean adoption forum on which she had experienced no small amount of disrespect from adoptive parents. When she realized I lived in DC, she asked if I could meet with her at some point during the Congress; we made plans to meet between the last Congress session on Friday and the group's dinner in downtown DC.

    But stopping by the hotel gave me more than an opportunity to meet this lovely young woman. As the group began to congregate in the lobby, I saw others I knew or had met at other conferences in the past, some I hadn't seen in years. I was warmly welcomed into their conversations, and when everyone had finally assembled and I began my good-byes to head home, I was invited to join the group, which included spouses and partners and friends of the attendees.

    Even more friends, including my Korean lesson pal, were at the restaurant. The group was animated and warm. I had a lovely meal, and even lovelier conversation, all of it focusing on the same thing: that the time was right for intercountry adoptees to take ownership of this experience from the parents and professionals who have spoken for them for so long, and that this group of adopted people was committed to making it happen.

    When the evening was over, I metroed back to the hotel with a young woman from California attending UC Berkeley. She was from Taiwan, her adoptive mother had been Chinese, but sadly had passed away from cancer a few years ago. Her father, who was white, didn't seem to understand her need to connect with other Asians, and so she had embarked on her own journey, one that has brought her as a volunteer to Europe to work with Chinese adoptees in Spain and Ireland, and which also brought her to Washington for the Congress.

    I heard such enthusiasm in this young woman's voice, and saw such feelings of confidence that the adoptees coming together with the IAC could make a real difference in the lives of others. She literally glowed with the possibilities, and I have no doubt that she and the others will make them happen.

    As I drove home I began to hear another voice, too - my own. I realize now that I will always live with the sadness that the adoptions of my children have caused pain to my children's families and to them, too, and with the sobering acknowledgment that I honestly once believed a mother could forget her child and move on with her life.

    But on Friday, I was reminded that I although I must accept the reality of adoption, of my adoptions, and of the pain and sorrow and loss, I can still speak to reform and openness, still reach out to mothers of loss and to adoptees in pain, still alert the world to the injustices and unethical behavior. And I can share my story.

    That's my voice. It's good to hear it again.

    November 1, 2006

    You're Invited to a Baby Shower!

    Hats off and deep bows to Kim and Susie, who have begun something really wonderful.

    Generous Kim began by reaching out to Alley, a mother in Kansas who is expecting her third child, by offering her help and encouraging others to join the "big sib club." And creative Susie expanded on Kim's wonderful idea by organizing an on-line shower, complete with gift ideas and registies.

    You ladies rock!

    If you've ever wondered what you can to do support the preservation of a family, here's your opportunity. Join in! Visit AfrindieMum for suggestions and ideas on what to do. (And don't be intimidated by all the talented knitters and quilters - even the creatively-challenged like me can help. We can SHOP, woo hoo!)

    This online shower complements beautifully the idea for a mother's supply closet that Cloudscome posted awhile ago. Her idea is for everyone to reach out to agencies in their area to find out the kinds of services they provide to pregnant women, to help create supply closets for mothers at the agencies, and the to grow the closets online.

    I'm guessing that everyone that reads this has ideas, too, or skills, or resources, or advice. If you blog, post about it! If you don't, add your thoughts in comments! Who knows where all of these ideas might go?

    I think they could go very far indeed.