May 31, 2007

Love Thursday: I love the lake

When life begins to overwhelm me, as it has been doing recently, my thoughts turn to home - home in the sense of where I grew up. For me, that's northeastern Ohio - the Cleveland area, right on Lake Erie, which was my backyard from third grade through high school. I miss being able to walk out my door to the cliff overlooking the lake, wind in my face, to watch the water. I miss the never-ending traffic of ore boats and sailboats. I miss walking on the beach, picking up multi-colored sea glass or flat stones to skip when the lake was flat. I miss hanging out on the beach with my friends in cool weather, warm in sweatshirts and windbreakers. I miss the lake moonscape when it froze from the coastline out in winter. I miss the storms. We just don't get storms like that in Virginia.

Go ahead and make fun of Cleveland. I love it. I love the lake.
They're still home after all these years.

Lake Erie surf

Lots more love here: Love Thursday: Love Is All Around Us and Love Is All Around.

May 22, 2007

I'm still here - just crazy busy

What a week! Unbelievably busy last week at work, followed by a conference that kept me going from Wednesday afternoon through late Saturday evening, followed by a whopping case of strep throat. I'm absolutely exhausted, and behind in EVERYTHING (especially my homework for Susan's writing class). Until I shake this bug and catch up at work, it'll be slow going here.

I've got lots to talk about over the weekend - the conference (which was sponsored by my company's Asian Pacific employee resource group and was terrific - got to hear Yul Kwon of Survivor speak again, and let me tell you he is as sharp and committed to the community as he is good looking); The Boy, who has finally made a decision about college next year; and The Girl, who will be competing in her first post-ACL-repair tournament over Memorial Day. Lots of good stuff - but it'll have to wait until I can focus, because between work and this strep, I roll straight from my PC to bed.

I also have lots of email to catch up on, so if I haven't responded to your messages, I'll be sure to reply over the weekend.

And Susan, I'm so sorry to have yet again fallen behind in class. I'll be working on getting back on track during the week. Gosh, I'm really a bad student!

Off to bed now. Miss you all!

May 13, 2007

For Mothers Everywhere

For all mothers, everywhere,
I send a simple wish that you may

treasure the children you know,

find the children you've lost,

and be mother to them all.

Thinking of you all on Mothers' Day.

May 12, 2007

The Unanswerable Question

The conversation over the past week, particularly surrounding Wednesday's Open Mike, "adoption or orphanage," has been a good one. I hope everyone understands that I didn't ask this question expecting simple answers. By asking it as I did I hoped to encourage dialog across polarized points of view. And selfishly, I also hoped I'd find the words to talk about it, because in fact I've avoided doing so - not because I have no opinion, but because I've not wanted the inevitable fallout.

So, what is my opinion: orphanage or adoption? Well, neither and both.

Neither - by working to stop all of the things that separate families. By devoting resources to stopping hunger, disease, war, abduction, enslavement, and abuse. By reforming adoption's injustices.

Both - when the problems exceed our ability to keep each child with his or her family, always ensuring that each child is loved, nurtured, and respected, and always vigilant for the abuses we know exist in each.

Until each and every child in the world is assured of a safe home with his or her family, until we've solved each and every tragedy and challenge that separates children and their parents, until the world's wealth is evenly distributed and each country has the resources to support and nurture its children - we will need to offer our support in one way or another, at least if we want to retain our humanity. Doing nothing is not an option.

No real answer, I know, but it's the best I can do for this unanswerable question.

May 10, 2007

Guilt Revisited

First, thank you all for the great discussion on yesterday's post. I hope this continues, because it has already moved away from the black and white of the issue into the grays, which is where the work will take place.

On to the point. I need to get something off my chest, and hope you'll indulge me. If you read the comments to the open mike, you'll notice that one hit a nerve for me - a comment suggesting that guilt is a motivator for what I write here. I need to address my feelings about guilt once and for all.

There is no question that I have struggled with feelings of guilt. It troubles me that by adopting, I've participated in a system that is challenged by injustice and lack of ethics. I've written about them here in an effort to understand them. And there are two things about them I need to clarify.

One is selfish. Although I think it's fair to characterize my writing as introspective, maybe even dark, let me make it clear that it's not motivated by guilt. I've felt it, I've expressed it - yes. But it doesn't motivate me here, it's simply a part of my adoption experience.

The other is not. It's directed at anyone who may have come away from reading here thinking that I've shared my feelings of guilt in an effort to dissuade others from adopting. Please, please understand this: Each of us must come to our own decision about adopting. The decisions we make will certainly be influenced by what we learn from others, but must be based first and foremost on our own preparation and research, and our own confidence that ethics and justice have been respected. My feelings are my feelings - no more than that.

What I said in this earlier post explains what I'm trying to say:
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.
I would add this. Over the past year I've spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I would have adopted if I knew then, twenty years ago, what I know now. I asked myself this question way back here and couldn't answer it. Yesterday, a commenter asked it again, and this time I'm answering.

Yes, I would have adopted, and I would still have adopted from Korea. But I would have adopted differently. I would have made the case for openness, rather than accepting what I was told about the need for secrecy. I would have made every effort to connect with my children's families, would have pushed for regular communication beyond the letters and photos we've sent through the years that have remained unanswered. I would have tried hard early on to make reunion a reality.

How, you are asking, can I say this when out of the other side of my mouth I profess my guilt? Because had I not adopted when I did, nothing would have changed for my children. They would simply have come to another family, perhaps one that was less attentive to their right to know who they are, genetically and ethnically, and less willing to connect with their community. Although I'm far from a perfect parent, I can say that I've given my all. And I know it's made a difference to my kids.

Please, you who are considering adoption and struggling with guilt: Solving the societal challenges that push parents to adoption and correcting adoption injustice will take time. While we work toward that goal, children will be separated from their families and adoptions will continue to take place. If you are committed to openness in adoption and to respecting a child's family connections; if you can nurture and support a child's ethnic heritage; if you're willing to fight for adoption reform: guilt shouldn't stand in your way. You are precisely the one who should adopt, until every child in the world is assured of a home with the family to whom they're born.

May 9, 2007

Open Mike: Orphanage or Adoption?

The discussion that's taken place here over the past few days is begging an important question, and I would like to put it up in an Open Mike to encourage discussion about it.

I've been dancing around this issue for a long time; among other reasons, I believe my experience is too narrow to speak with any authority on this, I don't know all the facts, and even if I did, I don't believe one person's opinion can ever tell the whole story.

The time has arrived, though, at which I need to face this question and finally put my thoughts to words. Before I do, I want to talk about it. But I ask it very directly here in the hope that you will share what's in your honest opinions.

As with all Open Mikes, all points of view are welcome, including multiple and anonymous comments, but please be civil.

Which is better: orphanage or adoption?
Why? When? How?

May 8, 2007

Adoption and Poverty

I feel compelled to add this postscript to the discussion of the last few days because I fear there's an impression out there that adoptive parents with voices like mine don't care about the plight of women and children in poverty. Much of what I say here has been written in a comment on another blog, but I think it's worth putting into a post, too.

Lest there be any doubt: I recognize, as I hope anyone reading this does, that there is immense suffering in the world - war, poverty, disease, famine, child trafficking, enslavement, and more. Scan the globe, and the sites of tragedy jump out at you. Darfur. Ethiopia. Guatamala. North Korea. China. And more. The needs in these and other countries are acute and immediate, and institutional solutions planned for the future offer no hope for the people living the horror right now. In the absence of realistic social programs that would allow foreign capital to actually reach women and children in need (as it often didn't in North Korea, and I'm sure doesn't in other countries either), adoption can mean the difference between life and death, future and no future, for a child.

It's the cycle that follows the acute stages of poverty that is my focus, however. And I look to what happened in Korea, my sphere of reference, for example. During and after the Korean war, Korean children suffered the same horrors that befall children in poor countries today. They were orphaned, abandoned, starved, diseased, rejected by Korean society for being bi-racial, separated from families on either side of the 38th parallel, left in the streets, and more. The adoption of Korean children that started with the Holts literally saved thousands in those early days. It was a lifeline.

But now, over 50 years after the fighting, adoption in Korea has become something else - the intersection of the world's demand for adoptable infants and the lack of societal support for unmarried Korean mothers. In these intervening years, adoption has evolved from an act of charity by adoptive parents, to an act of despair by single mothers and families who have found little support from the 12th largest economy in the world (according to World Bank 2005 statistics, which report South's Korea's GDP at $787,624,000,000), and ultimately to simple supply and demand.

It has taken the recent generation of Korean adoptees' return to Korea to gain the attention of the Korean government and to remind them of their responsibility to make it possible for Korean children to stay with their mothers. The Korean government's positive stance on adoption is changing, and along with it, requisite laws, social welfare programs, and even societal opinion. Korea is acknowledging, at last, that as a world economy, it must care for its own, and that sending its children abroad isn't the way to do that.

The need of women and children in poverty in the world today is no different from the need of Korean women and children after the Korean war. But today we can look back at the evolution of Korean adoption to remind ourselves how easy it is for adoption's initial purpose to be lost as countries climb out of poverty. And I believe that our voices have the power to influence the outcome.

May 6, 2007

Stephanie Bennett Update

Thank you Kim for alerting us to this great news!

State cites agency used in adoption: Violations are found during investigation of family's accusations

The article, again by Rick Armon, points out that:
The agency has been cited seven times previously for violations because of
complaints, and its license has been reduced to 'temporary'' twice because of
previous problems, according to state records.

Seven times. Let's hope this agency doesn't have nine lives, and that this investigation puts them out of business.

Keep the posts and good thoughts coming, everyone! Evelyn could be coming home soon!

May 5, 2007

The Perfect Storm

There has clearly been some heated discussion out here recently. Since some of the discussion occurred here, I think it's appropriate for me to share my thoughts. I didn't immediately respond because I wanted to get my arms around what happened. Please understand that I'm making no judgments here, just a few observations, offered gently and respectfully in the hope of providing another point of view.

I visited the blog in question, and have read through the post and the comments. I would like to say that from what I can tell, the blog's author is a woman who is deeply committed to finding solutions to world problems that keep children in poverty, illiteracy, and disease. And I tip my hat to her for that work.

The post that ignited this perfect adoption storm is one that I found difficult to read. It is clear to me that it was written by a mother who adores her children; I completely relate to that. But I'm challenged by it. What I can't tell, however, is if the opinions the words suggest are truly those of the author, or if the choice of words only gives the impression of those opinions. That's something only the author can clarify.

The post seems to suggest that providing a child with material advantages is an acceptable counterbalance to a family's loss of their child and that child's loss of family and homeland. There's s no question that a child brought from poverty to the U.S. will have material and educational opportunities. But the impression I received from the wording made me feel theauthor was saying that to become and American and to have these advantages was more desirable than living with a poor family. The suggestion that material benefit trumps poor family is troubling.

There is danger, too, in equating these advantages with "gifts from birth mothers," for that makes it possible for us to view a woman's relinquishment of her child as heroic act, one to be praised and repeated. Positively institutionalizing relinquishment makes it unnecessary to face the problems that led to it in the first place. It also makes the paradoxical hope that the children would go back to their country and make a difference somewhat ironic.

Speaking of material advantages is a good segue to an issue from the discussion on the forum. One of the comments in that discussion suggested that if an adoptive parent really wanted to help a child, they should send their dollars to that country instead. It's actually a comment I see fairly often, and aggravates me because it makes no sense. It seems to say that that the only people are responsible for helping the world's children are prospective adoptive parents. The obligation to help the world's children falls to ALL of us - and maybe if we all did a better job, adoption would be far less common. In fairness, the author of the blog under discussion appears to be doing a better job than most; the blog touched many initiatives that addressed a wide range of needs.

Last thought: When people with polarized perspectives share the same internet space, we are bound to collide. The subjects we choose and the way we write about them will determine if we spend our internet time communicating with people who think just like us, dialoging with people of many points of view, or going to the mat with others who take exception to our words. If we are honestly seeking dialog, it's up to us to look carefully at what we write and to think ahead to the reactions our words are likely to elicit from others, particularly those who know adoption loss.

May 4, 2007

More thoughts about love

My post yesterday raised the issue of a-parent inability to acknowledge adoption's challenges - loss, pain, grief, shame, etc. What I tried to say in that post is that adoption is an experience that spans a range of emotions, and it is dishonest to ourselves and our children not to face them. There is a prevalent unwillingness among some - many? - adoptive parents to look beyond their joy to the truth of their child's adoption. Yet that truth, painful though it may be, holds the key to their child's ability to feel whole.

I want to make it clear that I'm not advocating for a-parents to paint a picture of doom and gloom for their children. I am saying that we need to let our children understand what they've lost, grieve it, and support them along the way.

If you read yesterday's post, you can also see that I don't approve of mixing adoption and religion. I have a problem with treating adoption as an act of religious charity. Faith-based adoption agencies may indeed do good work, but that work should be based in the law, not a church's desire to win one for the team. This will beg the question of whether it's right for adoptive parents to raise their children in their faith, as opposed to their child's family's faith, if it's known, or the faith prevalent in their child's country. But that question will have to wait, as it's far too big to address here.

So that's my opinion on this. Now, what can I, and others who are on the same wavelength, do about it?

I wish I had an easy answer, but to be honest, I am struggling with this as much as the next person. No silver bullet for this one, but I think there are things we can do to get the message across, even if the recipient appears to reject it.

First and foremost, we need to be prepared to listen. I think there's a tendency for someone who is living adoption to react to issues with emotions - I'm as guilty as the next person of that. I've gone back to forum discussions I've participated in (few and far between though they may be), and have found that in hindsight, I would have said things differently. Perhaps I reacted tangentially and missed an opportunity to deliver a more important message, or responded in a snarky tone, or the like. This has happened in face-to-face discussions, too. I'm therefore trying to listen more to the points of view with which I disagree, because I think in the end I'll be better able to say something that resonates with that audience.

We also need to be sensitive to where others are on their adoption journeys. To be honest, I'm not sure that those in the early years are prepared or able to listen to a message that isn't positive. That's a time during which many adoptive parents are vaidating their families, and anything that diminishes those families may be seen as an attack. In the absence of a wake-up call, I can understand how an a-parent of toddlers or young children wants to block the hard stuff. When that's the case, delivering a shot across the adoption bow isn't going to have the desired effect. A better approach, I think, is to make the effort to engage, to understand, and to offer insights, in small doses, and preferably from our own experience. That seems to resonate better with parents still new to adoption; I know it did with me.

Another really good way to share a perspective we feel supports our point of view it to "pass it on." When I find good blogs and posts, or good articles in magazines and newsletters, I share them. I honestly believe that one of the reasons some adoptive parents are unwilling to see another point of view is because they simply haven't been exposed to it. Their circle of friends may keep them stuck in a mindset where "angry adoptees" and "bitter birthmothers" are dismissed. Seeing articles and essays by first parents and adoptees with a variety of experiences and perspectives can open minds and dispel those myths.

Like I said, no silver bullets. But let's keep this discussion going, because I know I'm not the only one trying to crack this nut. I'll continue to post about this as ideas strike, and hope you all will do the same.

May 3, 2007

Love is

“My child was born from my heart.” “My child is home where he belongs.” “My child was meant to be mine.” “My child is a gift from God.”

You’ve heard phrases like this before, I’m sure. Perhaps you have said them, or say them now. Words of great love – but of denial, and of division, too.

I know how easy it is to ascribe something bigger than life to the fact that my children are with my family now. I’ve felt that kind of emotional, even mystical connection to my children – the sense that their presence in our family was “meant to be.” And yes, I have thanked God that I’ve been privileged to be their mom.

These are my emotions, though, no more than that - certainly not representative of the experiences of those who have lost their children and families through adoption. Admitting that my love is just one aspect of this paradoxical experience doesn’t diminish it in any way – if anything, it strengthens it, as honesty does everything it touches.

I’m finding, though, that there are some adoptive parents, and apparently in greater numbers than I would have thought, who find it impossible to think and talk about adoption except through the prism of emotion and “love.” As Nicole and Joy point out in two recent posts, this creates an impossible situation, for the experience of adoption will always be one of multiple emotions. As Joy says, "Life isn't a binary system." In other words, adoption emotions aren't "either-or."

Why, then, do so many adoptive parents find it impossible to accept the fact that loss and pain are a part of the adoption experience?

There are many explanations. One that tends to get overlooked is that adoptive parent are trained to help our children feel like equal members of our families. We’re taught to look for the similarities, focus on the ways in which we and our children are alike, and to downplay our differences. To make our children feel home where they belong.

Another is fear – fear that society may invalidate our families. The subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle discrimination that adoptive families experience (or perceive they experience) rankles. We fight it where we can, in our laws, in our communities, and one way is to proclaim – loudly and often - that our families were meant to be.

Perhaps it’s because of lingering sorrow that our children weren’t born of our bodies. We can never change that, so what’s the next best thing to do? Downplay the importance of the physical connection, and remind our children over and over that they were born in our heart.

For people of faith, though, there’s a trump card – God. I am a person of faith, but my faith finds it odd that one would proclaim God’s hand in something that benefits me at the expense of another. I would have no faith at all if I believed that God intended for my children’s parents to live in poverty and shame, or for my children to lose their families and homelands. Like all children in the world, mine were meant to be with the families that bore them. Circumstances and human reactions to them have led to a different outcome. It doesn't dimish my love to say this. And I can still admit that they were gifts – but to the world, not to me.

Of all the words I’ve ever read, these are the ones that have helped me understand what an adoptive parent’s love should look like. They come from my faith. And they are wise beyond my comprehension.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love rejoices with the truth. And the truth of adoption is that it is a paradoxical experience, where pain and loss and love and joy intertwine and grow together. To accept this truth is the greatest expression of love an adoptive parent can give to their child.

May 2, 2007

More Thinking Blogger Thanks

Many thanks to Mom2Roo and Coffeegrl for including me in their recent lists of Thinking Bloggers. I appreciate the shoutout, and tip my hat back to you, as you both are extremely thoughtful bloggers, too! Thanks!

I'm diverging from the appropriate response again, which is to pass the award on to five more thinking bloggers. This time I'd like to acknowledge the adoptee bloggers who have made a difference to me. The adoptee blogs I read have helped me understand the pain of loss of identity far better than I ever could have before. For lack of a better way of saying it, they've helped me find my place in the adoption world, which is not at the head of the line. They have shown me the importance of being actively involved in adoption reform as well.

There are so many. Joy, omigosh, Joy. Amy. Nina. Mia. Possum. Theresa. Dan. Rhonda. Ani. Elizabeth. Marley. Wraith. Michelle, who isn't technically a blogger but certainly makes me think.

So many Korean and transnational and transracial adoptees, too, who bring me face to face with the reality of straddling cultures and races. Susan. Jae Ran. Ji-In. Julia. Paula. Lisa Marie. Sume. Heather, who experiences adoption from two perspectives. KT (whose blog is password-protected, but I want to make sure knows that before it was, I read and learned). Mo. Mudeng. Eunmi. Papa2Hapa. Peaceofrice. Gang Shik. Yong San. Jane Jeong Trenka.

There are many more. But today I want to make sure that these bloggers know I read them, I learn from them, and I appreciate their willingness to share their experiences. You make me think. Thank you.