October 28, 2010

Slowing the downhill roll of adoption misconceptions

Among the things that make me particularly angry is the disconnect between the message some adoption agencies deliver to prospective adoptive parents and reality. Even when APs come to adoption with open eyes and minds, they can be sent down a bunny trail if inclusive, truthful, up-to-date, culturally-accurate information is withheld.

To name just a few contributing factors:
  • Adoptive-parent-centric agency information and attitudes
  • Intentional and unintentional “sugarcoating” of adoption loss and grief
  • Failure to define the context of a particular adoption: in other words, applying misleading and untruthful generalizations and stereotypes to first parents, adopted people, adoptive parents and the adoption experience
  • Acceptance of societal stigma as justification for adoption

I’m pretty sure that everyone interested in improving adoption practices will agree that there’s a better chance of influencing new adoptive parents if they can be reached at the beginning of the process. Adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents invited and willing to speak with waiting and new adoptive parents therefore have a golden opportunity to open some eyes. I have offered my thoughts elsewhere from time to time, and it seems that those who seek change or an end to adoption aren’t necessarily comfortable speaking in settings that promote adoption. An adoptive parent preparation course does that de facto, creating a bit of a dilemma.

 
I think it's pretty straightforward: if you feel your integrity will be compromised by speaking at an organization that exists for the purpose of adoption, don’t go. Unfortunately, no matter hard I look for other ways to reach the population in need, I always come back to the agency as the most important place to start.

What to do?

I can only share my approach. I have done some speaking to new and waiting APs at agencies in our area, and I have found that I can deliver the message I want to deliver if I respect the context of the presentation. I speak only on topics I select, and bring the handouts to make sure the families get them. I take care to include information that adoptees and first parents want adoptive parents to receive. I include references to writings by adoptees, first parents, and respectful adoptive parents, as well as links to organizations that support adoptees and first parents.

 
Recently I've decided that I don't want to speak anymore on my own. My daughter and I have done some programs together over the past couple of years, and the authenticity of the session has increased exponentially. Duh, right?

Is this a perfect approach? No. But it starts the ball rolling, and gives prospective adopters another view of the experience on which they are about to embark. I believe the old that saying says it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. None of us can fix it all, but if we are willing to influence what we can, the status quo can change.

October 17, 2010

Adoption ethics through many lenses at the St. John's Conference

I can't believe I waffled about going to the St. John's Adoption Ethics Conference Open Arms, Open Minds: The Ethics of Adoption in the 21st Century.  It was, in a word, inspiring.

I went with the conscious attitude that this would be my last adoption conference (apart from KAAN, which is as much a visit to extended family as it is an adoption conference - probably even more for me, given how long I've been going and how many friends I've made there), another step in the pulling away from adoption issues and handing the reins to my kids.

I returned inspired to do more.  I have no idea what that might be or how that might happen. I just know that once in the battle, there is no retiring.  Slowing down maybe, as we all slow down with age, but no pulling away.

I mean, how do you pull away when you watch people like Pam Hasegawa, who has given countless years of her life to the cause of an adopted person's right to have their original birth certificate, and shows no sign of stopping?  You don't.  You can't.  Even if all you can do is add your voice, you do it.

Here's what inspired me:

The conference started with Dr. John Raible, whose work needs no explanation.  If you're the parent of a transnationally or transracially adopted person and don't know him, please read this post immediately, and make sure you take the course.  I keep my report card right here.

The films - every one amazing.  Wo Ai Ni, Mommy, In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, Off and Running, Outside Looking In: Transracial Adoption in America, and For the Life of Me.

The keynote panel with Ruth McRoy, Joe Kroll and Beth Hall.  It kicked Friday off with a kick in the pants to everyone who thinks color-blind parenting is a good way to raise a transracially-adopted child.  I really, really like Ruth McRoy.

Suz and Claudia's session Relinquishment Hindsight: What We Wish the Professionals Had Told Us.  It was incredibly heartening to see social workers attend in good numbers, and ask questions that showed they were really listening.  Suz and I roomed together at the hotel, and when Claude arrived on Thursday, she joined us before we all walked down to St. John's.  I loved every moment of it, because I love these ladies!!

Susan Soon-Keum Cox's presentation on the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  There was so good discussion going on that room, from different points of view.  This conference encouraged that.

Trevor Jordan's presentation Expanding the Circle: Ethics for Everyone in Adoption. About time I heard from an actual ethicist, and Dr. Jordan was a good one to begin with.  He is a late-discovery adopted person from Australia, president of Jigsaw Queensland, and a former senior lecturer on ethics.  Dr. Jordan's presentation demonstrated how simple the ethics of open records really is.  Unfortunately, the battle has gone down the path of convoluted and even unrelated arguments.  We have to bring it back on track to the simple truth that everyone has a right to know what's in Chapter 1 of their life.

Subini Annamma's presentation Unraveling Messages: The Adoptive Family's Impact on the Racial Identity Development of Transnational and Transracial Adoptees.  I want to send a copy of this presentation to every a-parent I've heard say "I'm going to let my child come to her identity on her own."

The Friday afternoon keynote panel with Susan Cox, Susan Branco Alvarado, Amy Fjellman and Amber Stime: adoption agency representatives and a private therapist discussing openly the challenges they face in today's transnational adoption environment.  They spoke to challenges to the ethical challenges they face in providing adoption and post-adoption services, many of which are created by demanding prospective adopters who are interested only in receiving a child, and not in their responsibilities to go through that process ethically, or with their responsibilities to that child after he or she has joined their family.

Susan Ito's performance of The Ice Cream Gene, the story of her first meeting with her first mother.  Susan is a friend, which made watching this beautiful, humorous and heartrending performance all the more touching.

David Smolin's Saturday morning keynote speech Ethical Challenges or Ethically Challenged? Intercountry Adoption in the 21st Century.  I had met Dr. Smolin before, but had never heard him speak, and I'm telling you, he brings you out of your seat with his intelligence, logic and passion.  I have notes from his presentation and will try to write them up later, but for now I'll just say that if you have not read his work, do.  I was doubly lucky to have been able to spend time with Dr. Smolin, Suz and Claudia at dinner on Friday night, too.  We were walking back from the conference to the hotel and found an incredible Indian restaurant, where we pigged out on delicious food, good wine and remarkable conversation.

The keynote panel on Ethical Issues Surrounding Adoption in the Media, with Sandra Patton-Imani, David Crary, Nate Bae Kupel, Adam Pertman and moderated by Kate Snow.  We all know the media mangles adoption pretty much every time they have the chance.  This panel discussed how this happens, and what we can do to stop it.  It was pretty clear after the discussion that doing nothing isn't an option; vigilance and protest are absolutely necessary.  I was excited to meet Nate, whose blog I love, and who has kept the Korean adoption community aware of what's in the news in our world for a long time.

Jungyun Gill's presentations of her papers Where Do Our Children Fit In? White Mothering of Asian Children and the Construction of Racial and Ethnic Identities and Mapping Motherhoods in International Adoption: Birth Mothers, Foster Mothers and Adoptive Mothers.  The second paper in particular interested me.  It documented the results of a study that looked at the ways in which Korean adoption agencies documented relinquishment, and how that documentation favored adoptive parents at the expense of the first and foster mothers.

Darryl "DMC" McDaniels' Adoption Purpose and Destiny.  I had seen this presentation at the AAC Conference in Cleveland year before last, and it brought everyone to their feet.  Same here - I love this man!! And I love the way he tells his story! 

Susan Ito, Mark Diebel and Beth Hall's panel discussion of Real Life Ethics: Learning from Triad Relationships.  There were adopted people, adoptive parents and social workers in the room, and perhaps first parents too, and the issues they brought to the panel for discussion were the real thing.  And they talked about issues that everyone could relate to, from the challenge of helping a surrendering mother understand the importance of ongoing contact (for her and for her child) to helping young adoptees through the challenges of search with and without reunion to the broader issue of the adoptee's right to access to their OBC.

In addition to really good sessions (and a lot of them - this was one session-rich conference), it was wonderful to catch up with friends I haven't seen in a long time.  My mind was pretty much mush on the train ride home, and still is today.  There was just so much to absorb, and given the amount of adoption activity that's been going on in my life recently, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and experience.

But most of all I'm overwhelmed by the amount of work that remains to be done.  I hope every person that may read this post will get out there and do what you can for the cause.

October 1, 2010

Nothing is truly mine except my name

Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours;
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.

From Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz.

Interesting that a poem that has nothing to do with adoption can zero in so well on something so intrinsic to the experience.  Interesting that it is written from the point of view of someone who also lost his birth records, in this case to a fire.  Although the papers are gone, he knows that the name they documented is important, that it's the one thing that's truly his.

It's no different for my kids, or for any adopted person.  What, for the love of God, is so hard to understand about that?