March 30, 2007

Taking Washington

There has been a lot of discussion recently about adoption change - ah, it does my heart good to hear everyone share their ideas for fixing what's broke about adoption. And there is so, so much to fix.

I'm often surprised, though, that I seldom - practically never, really - see mention of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption as a vehicle for re-educating our legislators. CCA is a group of U.S. Senators and Representatives who support the CCA mission and the activities of its non-profit arm, the CCAI (Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute):
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption (CCA) was created in 1985 as a bicameral, bipartisan caucus of members of Congress dedicated to improving adoption policy and practice, and to focusing public attention on the advantages of adoption. In 2001, the CCA’s active co-chairs created the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) to more effectively raise Congressional and public awareness about the issue of adoption. Senator Larry Craig, Senator Mary Landrieu, Congressmen Jim Oberstar, and Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite currently serve as both the co-chairs of the CCA and the Congressional directors of CCAI.

To that end, CCAI serves as an informational and educational resource to policymakers as they seek to draft positive adoption, foster care and other adoption-related legislation and to meet their constituents' needs. By organizing congressional briefings, leadership training programs and educational trips, CCAI educates members of Congress and their staff about current domestic and international adoption-related matters.

CCA sponsors and supports adoption-related legislation, both good and bad. Take a look at the CCAI's education page - do you see anything that focuses on the kind of change that reform-minded adoption bloggers talk about every day? With the adoption tax credit at the top of the page, I don't. I think this group of legislators is primed and ready to be given a dose of adoption reality. Why, they're a virtual club of adoption-focused Federal legislators "dedicated to improving adoption policy and practice, and to focusing public attention on the advantages of adoption." Despite the paradoxical mission, they're almost too good to be true. Why, then, aren't we descending on them like a flock of vultures?

I've mentioned the CCA as a logical target for adoption reform efforts, oh, about a gazillion times whenever an opportunity has arisen. The response has been underwhelming. Why, I don't know, because with some organization and effort, the CCA could very well be the catalyst for change on a scope we can hardly imagine. I also don't think it would be beyond the ability of the average reform-minded individual (read "people like me") to get the ball rolling. You'd need:

  • A leader: An organization or individual willing to commit to the long haul
  • A message: What change is needed?
  • A plan: How will we achieve it?
  • Volunteers: People willing to work
  • Supporters: People who publicly support the cause

Some Hill staffers to grease the skids and a few super-dedicated volunteers willing to work the CCA system and to lobby wouldn't hurt, either.

Clearly, this kind of long-term reform initiative is no slam-dunk. Any effort to remove our country's adoption blinders is going to take time and money and willingness to roll up our sleeves. It will take getting the issue onto the radar screen and convincing the mainstream and legislators that serious injustices exist. It will take patience while the inevitable investigations take place, and the tenacity to stay with the issue when interest in it wanes. And it will also take endless behind-the-scenes planning and coalition-building to keep the adoption reform front united, for it most definitely isn't now. At best, it's a collection of people and organizations who know something's wrong, but who don't necessarily agree on the way to fix it.

But if the work is done, don't doubt for a minute that it couldn't get results. Skeptical? Check out how the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.

I believe there's a groundswell of opinion forming that, once organized, can make adoption reform a reality. A lot of what's needed to jump-start the effort already exists - individuals, established organizations, loosely-organized groups, and online forums are already thinking and talking and planning. The spark that's missing is the leader, the voice or organization behind which we all can rally, one that's able to unify the diversity of perspectives that contribute to adoption reform, and willing to become a recognizable and respected presence in the adoption reform community. That kind of leader CAN engage the CCA, CAN educate its members, and CAN enlighten them to the need for reform.

In my opinion, the best way to find that leader is to listen to the people. So speak out, share your thoughts. Finding that leader is the first step toward making adoption reform a reality. And if we can find him or her or it, will you contribute by committing your time, rolling up your sleeves and opening up your wallet?

Because that's what it will take. And I'm so in.

March 27, 2007

Uneasy Logic

Thank you all for sharing your points of view on the last Open Mike. When I put that post up, I struggled with how to pose the question, and the comments confirm the complexity of the issue. They also point to the fact that what may look like a reasonable question in adoption circles may look quite different to those considering it from different perspectives.

One of the comments literally slapped me in the face: How could we even be discussing adoption in the context of early teen pregnancy without question why and how a young girl could be pregnant in the first place? Yes, this is an adoption blog and I framed the question in the context of adoption, specifically first mothers' rights. But the fact is that everything in life is connected, and for me to take this issue out of the larger context presents a danger, because it sidesteps the main concern - the fact that girls as young as eleven or twelve or thirteen do become pregnant. It's my responsibility as a citizen, never mind a mother or adoptive mother, to know a whole lot more about the facts of this situation and to take action. That includes talking more about it.

The issue of racial attitudes toward adoption was raised by several commenters, and is one that I believe deserves continued dialog, too. For me, it seems to turn on white attitudes toward social stigma - what feeds them, what drives them, and why they have attained such a hold on behavior. One commenter pointed out that the history of oppression experienced by people of color might factor into why adoption is considered less frequently in those populations. It makes sense to me that a history of loss could bring a deeper respect for new lives, perhaps because they represent self-preservation, perhaps because less material wealth brings human and spiritual wealth into greater focus. Much to consider here.

As to the original question - is a woman ever too young to parent? Your opinions covered many aspects of the issue, and in my opinion were all parts of a broader answer:
  • Pre-teens and teens are children, and common sense tells us that children should not be parents. Preventing pregnancy in teen and pre-teens must be the focus of this issue.
  • However, when a young girl does become pregnant, we need to look carefully at the circumstances to ensure we are doing all we can to prevent them in the future.
  • We also need to accept that once a girl has experienced pregnancy, hiding her in secrecy and covering her in shame won't bring her childhood back.
  • We must therefore preserve her relationship with her child, rather than destroy it in an effort to pretend the pregnancy never happened.

Logical, yes, but it still leaves me uneasy. For how could any approach that leaves in its wake one child forced into adulthood and another separated from its mother do otherwise?

March 25, 2007

Open Mike: Is a woman ever too young to parent?

I mentioned in the post I put up after I returned from Key West that my friend (also an adoptive mother) and I had a good discussion about adoption. It's a three-hour-plus drive, so we had a long time to talk about a lot of thing in more depth that is usually possible.

One of these has been turning in my mind ever since: If there's an age at which parenting simply isn't a viable option for a young mother.

Had you asked me this question twenty years ago, my answer would have spoken of the need for adults to do the parenting, and for children to be children. Adoption, aside, I think most everyone would agree that it simply makes sense for people to wait until adulthood before taking on the challenge of raising a child. But I would like to better understand if a mother's youth is or isn't a good reason to consider adoption before parenting.

I have to say that I'm not sure if this is the right question to be asking. Maybe the right one is simply how we best preserve relationships between mothers and children, regardless of their ages - that would force us to look at all possible situations, including teen mothers. But that strays from the question that's been turning in my mind, so let me ask it this way, in three parts:

Is there an age at which a woman is too young to parent?
Is adoption more appropriate when a single mother
is still a child herself?
Are there alternatives to adoption that are particularly
appropriate for single teen mothers?

I'm particularly interested in what first moms have to say, but would like to hear from anyone with an opinion. Please comment or post - and remember, anonymous comments are welcome.

March 23, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

Thinking Blogger AwardsSusan at ReadingWritingLiving has generously - and for no deserved reason, I might add - given me a Thinking Blogger Award. Thank you, Susan!

And now I get to pass on the award to five more blogs. ReadingWritingLiving is absolutely on this list, but I must follow the rules and shout out five different blogs. You know the length of my blogroll, which makes this quite a challenge. But I'm rising to it - here goes!

Writing My Wrongs Suz has taken the experience of losing a child to adoption in directions I would never have even considered before I met her through her blog. The combination of brutal honesty and deep compassion has forever changed the way I think about adoption.

Harlow's Monkey Not only is this one of the most thought-provoking blogs you'll ever find, but Jae-Ran's research and writing are impeccable. It is a must-read, pure and simple.

A Wrung Sponge Thank you, Cloudscome, for creating this amazing internet haven! Excellent book reviews, poetry, photography, and posts about her parenting experience make this blog one of my favorites.

Peter's Cross Station Shannon is clearly one smart person, and this blog will take you in unexpected directions. Shannon doesn't just write about adoption, and I often find when I stop by that she's written about something completely unrelated to adoption that keeps me thinking all day.

Anti-Racist Parent I know this one will be duplicated many times, and I'm glad to add to that. So many outstanding points of view on anti-racism, so many comment dialogs! Good stuff!

The great thing about blogging is that if I were to repeat this exercise in a month or six months or a year, I know there would be brand-new blogs to add to the list. My hat's off to everyone who's out here thinking and writing!

March 20, 2007

Kudos where they're due

In response to my Key West photos, Kim asked if I was able to spend the entire weekend without thinking about adoption. Well, no. The friend with whom I traveled is an adoptive mom, and we had a really long talk about adoption on the way back from Key West to Miami. She's a terrific woman, someone who has given a tremendous amount of herself to the adoption community by leading a homeland tour to Korea for over ten years.

What struck me most about the conversation was that I could no longer discuss adoption objectively or impassively. During just this one year that I've been blogging, I've met so many people who have lost so much to adoption, and who are fighting incredibly hard to change society's outdated and erroneous views of it. I found myself answering on your behalf - and it was never so clear to me what an insult to human rights adoption secrecy and lies are.

Our conversation focused a lot on when a woman was too young to raise a child. My friend and I could have driven all the way to New York without finding a really satisfactory solution to this, but one thing struck me about my responses: I focused on ways to preserve the relationship between a young woman and her child, rather than accepting their separation as a necessary evil. I can see that when I talk about adoption now, it's a very different kind of adoption from the closed, secretive one that many of us know from experience. (I'm going to put up an Open Mike about the age issue, because I really want to hear your views on it.)

Although I've written a lot about my point of view here, and feel comfortable, empowered even, to speak my mind in writing, I found it harder to express myself verbally. I could feel the anger rise when I disagreed with something, and I sometimes was at a loss for the right words. I wonder if others experience the same thing. Is it fear of negative reaction? Uncertainty about the facts? Or simple lack of practice? In my case I think it's because I don't yet feel I have the empirical evidence under my belt to back up what I know in my gut to be true and right. So documenting the facts is something I'm going to be working on. Feel free to help me!

As my friend and I discussed and sometimes debated our different points of view (for this is a friend I can disagree with for the sake of real dialog), I found my mind wandering back here, to all of you who have been willing to educate me, to help me understand the loss of adoption that I can never experience. My conversation on the Florida Keys causeway showed me just how much you have influenced me. I want you to know that, and to thank you.

March 8, 2007

Trying to remember

I've noticed that there are a lot of stories up now about new families coming together. They've all brought me back to my children's arrivals - they seem so long ago now. And compared to the incredible travel stories I'm reading, our arrivals seem so mundane - both took place in the old round Northwest terminal at DC's National Airport. Our agency didn't allow us to travel to Korea to meet our children then, and so they were escorted by GIs returning to the States after tours in Korea.

Yet these experiences, odd as they may be, record when we and our children became family. They're an incredibly important page in our children's history, one that is really more about their loss than our new connection. For a long, long time, they were etched in my mind as if they were chiseled in stone. But time erodes both stone and memories, and it makes me sad to know that they're fading . . .

September 20, 1989

I remember driving to the airport in rush hour traffic, which was so backed up when we got there that we were afraid we wouldn't make it in time. The parking lots were all full, and we were just at the point of parking illegal in the congressional lot when we came to one of the smaller lots that appeared to have a couple of spaces. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near the terminal, and so we parked and sprinted in the hot late summer afternoon, dodging cars and slow-moving pedestrians.

In those pre-9/11 days you didn't need a ticket to get to the gates, and when we arrived we found we didn't need to have run. The flight was delayed, was still circling the airport. So we had time to see who else was sharing this momentous experience. We met a couple from West Virginia, never learned their names. And another local couple and their daughter, very nice people. And a couple that became our dearest friends. We all chatted nervously, nothing else to do but wait.

At last the plane was on the tarmac. I remember taking a picture and thinking "this is the first picture I've taken of our son." The intensity of the moment became overwhelming, and from that point on my memories are very sketchy. I remember the plane finally pulling up to the gate. People began to disembark, and a few stayed at the gate to see the babies and families meet. When it was clear that the passengers had all come off the plane, the agency staff went on board to meet the escorts and bring the babies to their new families.

Now, shortly before The Boy arrived, on two separate occasions, I had dreamt that Third Dad and I were at the airport for his arrival. In the dream, when The Boy was brought to us I turned to Third Dad and said, "You must hold him first." And so I told Third Dad that when The Boy was brought to us at the airport that day that he should hold him first.

At last, down at the end of the gangway, there they were. The agency staff, the escorts, and the babies. My eyes blurred. They came closer and closer. And as they approached, I all but knocked Third Dad over to hold The Boy first. I still feel badly about that, but honestly I couldn't help it. There really was a point at which I no longer felt I was controlling my own motions. It all just happened. And The Boy was in my arms.

I remember The Boy in a little blue knit suit, long knit pants, a long-sleeved top, socks. Lots of layers underneath, too, he must have been sweltering. He was smiling and babbling, looking at us very directly. So much noise, people departing and arriving, people laughing and talking, agency people handing us bags and papers and giving us directions to do this and that - stand here for a photo! don't lose this bag! be sure to read this report! So much noise! And so I just walked away with The Boy, found myself a little nook and sat down.

And there, in the airport, amid the noise and chaos, I met The Boy - and his mother, who was with him so strongly, in his eyes, his hands, the shape of his face, his very presence. The noise died away, and the only people in the airport were the three of us. Of all the moments of that evening, this one is frozen in time. It will be with me forever. But it was just a moment - suddenly Third Dad was there, asking me to come back and talk to everyone, to take more photos, to celebrate. And so I did.

Slowly, the families began to say their good-byes and to drift away to start their lives together. And we did, too.

July 31, 1991

"She's arriving WHEN??? Wednesday?? But she wasn't supposed to arrive until September!!! Omigosh, we don't even have her room ready! But who cares? She's arriving in two days!!!"

Shock and excitement, those are my first memories of The Girl's arrival. Speedy arrivals were rare, so this lucky turn of events was quite unexpected. Looking back, I'm pretty sure I know what happened. I had paid a visit to INS several months earlier to correct an error I had found on our I-600 - I think I left out some information. I took a day's leave to get things straightened out. After several hours, I was finally able to see the INS officer - an incredibly nice woman who later helped coordinate both of our children's naturalization ceremonies. After I explained the problem, she turned to a huge stack of files on a chair next to her desk, looked through them, and found ours in the middle. We located the missing information, I supplied it, and she replaced the file - but this time on the top of the file. I'm pretty sure we jumped the queue, which brought The Girl to us a good month earlier than expected.

Shock, excitement, and anything but peaceful. The Boy was almost two and a half then, a rambunctious handful. With two days' notice and an unfinished room, we had a lot of work to do to get ready, so I remember putting lots of IKEA furniture together. I remember, too, that Third Dad was a little sad, because The Boy would no longer be the only child. I remember that Third Dad took him to the park all morning of the day The Girl arrived, to have some solid one-on-one daddy-son time.

There had apparently been some confusion about what flight The Girl was arriving on, too, because I remember being called and told to get to the airport fast, followed by another call saying "never mind." We finally left for the airport mid-afternoon. No rush hour this time, no trouble parking. A dear friend was there to take photos and videotape the event. There was only one other family, who were there with their little girl, who was about The Boy's age.

The Boy was full of mischief that day, running all over the place. At one point he apparently snuck behind a ticket counter and tried to turn on the printer. The ticket agent was not amused, and The Boy was banished from the ticket counter area.

I remember no delays with The Girl's flight. And because it was mid-afternoon, the flight wasn't as full as the rush hour flights, so suddenly she was there, in my arms - sound asleep. We simply all gathered around and oohed and aahed, laughed and talked. The Girl woke up, and began to take in her surroundings.

We had a long conversation with her escort, who was a female GI returning from Korea. She lost no time in explaining that The Girl had thrown up on her before they were even over Tokyo, so she smelled like baby puke the entire trip. We laughed until I heard Third Dad saying loudly, "Would someone bring me a kleenex or something quick!!" The Girl had goobed him good - and my friend caught it on video. The Girl thinks it's a hoot, and we love to countdown to it every time we watch.

And then we headed home. I remember a feeling of deep contentment, a sense that our family was now complete.

Where my memories of The Boy's arrival are almost like about-of-body experience, my memories of The Girl's feel deep and calm. The first emotions we felt toward them were so different, too. Where meeting The Boy was like being punched in the gut, The Girl kind of snuck up on us. But I treasure all the memories and hope I can keep them alive forever, just like the love.

March 4, 2007

Knowing My Limits

There has been continued discussion about the issues I pondered in my post Unranked a couple of days ago. Would adoption exist in a perfect world? If it must exist, is one type of adoption better than another for a child? And what does that mean for the adoptive family? Sster, Abebech, Dawn and Shannon all have more to say, each with a different spin on this complicated and important topic.

But Paula's post The Runner-up is Always Hardest on Herself took all the discussion and turned it on its head. Please read it. It is very important to hear and understand what she says. It adds a critical dynamic to this discussion - one that was essentially absent from all the previous posts, mine included. It adds the voice of the adoptee.

What Paula says is that the feeling of being "second best" may be something no adoptive parent can relieve. The thought that my children could be feeling this way is heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. But I recognize that it may simply come with their adoption territory, and is something I won't be able to "fix."

This won't stop me from advocating for my family - my children need that validation. But I'll be more sensitive to the signs that might be telling me that they themselves are feeling something different. And although I have no silver bullet to take those feelings away, I'll be there to let them know I love and support them.

March 2, 2007

Suz on the Adoption Show

Suz is going to be on The Adoption Show this weekend!

The Adoption Show
Sunday, March 4, 2007 8:30 PM (EST)
TROLLING FOR eBABIES

Guests:

SUZ BEDNARZ

Suz Bednarz is the proud mother of three beautiful children. Her first born child, a daughter, was lost to adoption in 1986 and found in 2005. Suz was coerced and intimidated into surrendering her daughter. One of the many intimidating tactics used on Suz was a promissory note and the threat of a lawsuit. When she informed the agency she would like to keep her child, she was told that she and her parents would be sued. She is the owner of ehbabes.com. The site and its associated yahoogroup provides search, support and reunion assistance for those separated by adoption via Kurtz agencies. These agencies include Easter House, Birth Hope, American Friends of Children, Friends of Children, Casa Del Sur among others. Suz developed her site to increase the chances of finding her daughter. Since finding her daughter, Suz has facilitated more than twenty successful reunions for others. Suz blogs her adoption experience at Writing My Wrongs and can be reached via email at suz@ehbabes.com.

KRISTEN PETELA
Shortly after finding letters from my natural mother and my natural grandmother in the summer of 2004, I began searching. The Easter House Agency provides no post-adoption services for adoptees or natural parents who want to reunite, so I was left to my own devices for my search and for support during my search. I discovered ehbabes.com, and with their help and support, I was reunited with my natural family in April of 2005. The philosopher Cicero once said "to remain ignorant of one's past is to remain forever a child." Adoptees and their natural families are forced into ignorance of their shared past by adoption agencies that either withhold information or provide false information. With the ehbabes.com search and support network we have gained a voice and worked together for changes where the adoption system has tried to force us to remain children.