My View of Adoption has Changed with Time

by Maria Fredriksson adoptee and artist from South Korea to Sweden.

I will never know exactly how, when or even if I was found. My artwork on this page shows how I decided to create my own scene and I mixed the little East Asian girl with typical Nordic scenery.

This year I will turn fifty. During seven years and four months of those fifty years, I have looked at adoption from another perspective than I did during my first forty-two years and here is something that I have spent the first hours of 2022 thinking.

When criticizing adoption, you often get to hear people contradicting you referring to other adoptees who do not share your critical view. “I have a friend who is adopted and she is just perfectly happy and thankful”. Well, so?

Another thing that often strikes me is that when it comes to adoption, being older and more experienced does not render you more respect. I don’t know how many times I have seen adult adoptees being pushed back by adoptive parents claiming that their ten-year-old adopted child has never experienced racism or felt rootless, etc..

For years, I was pro-adoption and I even participated in an adoption agency’s information (propaganda) meetings for prospective adoptive parents and social workers. I was never ever questioned and never asked to show statistics of other scientific sources to back up my claims. I was adopted then and I am just as adopted now. However, my words then were never subject for doubt whereas what I say today is always subject of scrutiny and quite often dismissed as sentimental BS. As opposed to what was truly sentimental BS…

Back then, I had not read any reports or seen any documentaries about adoption. I had hardly talked to other adoptees other than my sibling and the other adoptees on the panels at the adoption agency’s meetings. Sure, today one could accuse me for being a bit categorical, but why wasn’t I accused of that previously? And why are the words from my soon to be fifty-year-old self less trustworthy than those from my thirty-year-old self, or my fifteen-year-old self for that matter…

This is not only about trauma. For me, it is about political/ideological statements, it is about insights about privilege and colonial/patriarchal structures, of which I know far more today than I did ten years ago, let alone as a child.

I think it has to do with the way adoption is framed and cast. We, the adoptees are eternally children and as such equals to each other but not equals with adoptive parents, not even when you are decades older than the adoptive parent you are debating. Therefore, in the context of the adoption debate, I hate being labelled “adoptive child” and I don’t like having to refer to people who adopt as adoptive parents. In this context, I would prefer it if we were adoptees and adopters, but since I know what battles to pick, I do respect group rules in adoption forums. However, I do believe that language matters. Words paint pictures and these pictures affect the way a conversation is held.

The Pope Shaming People into Adopting Children

by Cameron Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, therapist and founder of Therapy Redeemed.

Are we shaming one another into adopting children? Let’s consider the impact of that kind of messaging.

First, please visit @patrickintheworld for an organized dialogue on humanity – and how Francis’ words fall short in recognizing our intrinsic experience of it. You don’t need to adopt a child to fulfill your humanity. And not everyone who adopts a child is selfless.

Second, can you imagine adopting a child because you felt guilty or selfish for not adopting one? Please see my previous Office Hour With Your Therapist episode, “Is Your Marriage Ready for Adoption?”

Third, a pet is very different than a child. I’d strongly caution comparing them as if they can be switched out like car parts. Explore the hashtag #notathing and examine the fruits of such a commodifying narrative. Adoptees, from infancy to any age, need a kind of thoughtful and informed care that exists beyond the way we describe cats and dogs.

Fourth, as this messaging comes from a spiritual authority who struggles to meaningfully address the importance of post-adoption services, I urge us to continue supporting families in the church who have already adopted.

Despite differences in worldview, adoptees (and their families) need to know they’re not alone and they need help in navigating all the complexities that come with relinquishment, transfer(s) of custody, and beyond.

I’m in no way saying we should discount families outside of the church. But I worry there are adopters in spiritual communities who’ve entered this journey because of mis-informed motives (no judgment from me, I know you don’t need more of that!), and have found themselves in desperate need of resources and hope.

Lastly, it should go without saying, let’s continue to interrogate the conditions that minimize or tokenize efforts toward family preservation. I’d love to see more Christ-fueled initiatives to keep children with their parent(s) and kin.

Yes, the conversation flows beyond the scope of this single post. Please feel free to browse my account for more faith-related thoughts on #adoption – as well as the myriad of #adoptee voices on and off social media who have been speaking on these issues of reform and restoration.

25 Years in the Netherlands

by Jowan Kooijman, adopted from South Korea to the Netherlands. Jowan’s website provides other poems and writings about being adopted.

Jowan

A day with double feelings of loss and loneliness

25 years in the Netherlands

Korea vs Netherlands
Twenty-five years ago I came into this world nine weeks early.
I have take a long time to grow up.
I had to survive, so I could live and breathe.
It was the cocoon that was nice, but it was broken early.
It’s my base that was disturbed early on and what couldn’t be.
Twenty-five years ago I got a new home, but there I never felt at home.
It was my identity that I no longer knew.
Suddenly I was a Dutchman and my name was no longer Joon-Hwan, but Jowan.
It was nurture that replaced nature and everything I didn’t know, I had to learn.

The Change (Adjusting)
The relocation that happened in the past has systematically changed a lot.
Even now, years later, that is still tangible but especially visible.
It’s my younger me who struggled to assimilate because I had to leave my place early and struggle to take my place.
Because if you adjust, you lose things.
Losing something says something about distance and adaptation, that it isn’t always safe. Loss is about letting go of what you love and who you love.

Twenty-five
Twenty-five years ago just before Christmas, I came to the Netherlands.
Embraced with love and received as a valuable gift.
Now twenty-five years later I can grant myself life because I also know the other side and it hasn’t always been easy.
Hard work and discipline were the fundamental principles of moving forward.
I’ve also learned to value the little things, because the little things can make a big difference.

Pain of Loss and the Joy at Seeing her Reunified with her Family

by Jessica Davis, American adoptive mother of Ugandan daughter, successfully returned to her Ugandan family; co-founder of Kugatta which brings families together who are impacted by Ugandan intercountry adoption.

Namata with her siblings

Every year I think I will not cry and it will not hurt as deeply as it once did. But each time I see all that was almost permanently taken from Namata, the pain returns just as deep (if not deeper) than the first time when I realized what I had participated in — and what needed to be done. I still have extended family members who refuse to admit that reuniting her with her Ugandan family was the RIGHT and JUST thing to do.

There are many people that believe it is okay to take children from LOVING families if these families are poor, living in the “wrong” country, practicing the “wrong” religion, or for a number of other irrational reasons. It is incredible how much money, time and resources contributes to the separation of families who should never be separated in the first place.

I will never stop speaking out against the wrongs being perpetuated within the intercountry adoption system. I won’t stop fighting for those that have been exploited by this system and I will certainly never forget the amazing little girl that came into my life and taught me to do better. As much as I miss her, my heartache pales in comparison to the joy I feel seeing her home with her family and thriving.

We did everything “right”. We used a highly rated adoption agency, followed all of the proper protocols and procedures and reported everything that was wrong as we discovered it. In fact, even though it has been proven our adoption agency was corrupt, Namata’s paperwork was fabricated, the Ugandan judge was bribed, the embassy interview showed Namata’s mother did not understand what adoption was and we were not told this at the time, our adoption of Namata from Uganda was and still is considered LEGAL. What does this tell you about intercountry adoption?

Namata didn’t get to go home because it was the right and just thing to do. Serena’s rights being violated and Namata’s best interests ignored were irrelevant by those that should have cared. The reason Namata got to go home and be reunited with her family was because Adam and I refused to accept that this was all okay or “for the better”.

Countless families have been needlessly ripped apart via intercountry adoption just like Namata’s.

Rarely do I hear anyone express concern for these injustices or what has been lost, rather people use good intentions gone awry to ignore these realities and press on as if nothing wrong has occurred. If people won’t listen or can’t understand the problem at hand, maybe they will SEE it when they look at this family and realize all that was almost lost and there was literally NO reason for it at all.

Namata and her family

Read Jessica’s last post: Does Justice or Accountability Happen in Illicit Adoptions?

What I Lost When I Was Adopted

I look around me today and I have no family in sight. I was torn at the roots when I was born in the Philippines in destitute poverty in 1985, orphaned at birth and adopted in 1987.

Dually, my intercountry adoption process had systematically erased my entire heritage and knowledge of my ancestors. While also permanently bonding me to people that had no interest in preserving or keeping in tact my birth nationality and culture.

I don’t know why that had to happen in the adoption process.

Why the past needed to be so efficiently erased as if it never existed.

Why did any of this have to be erased?

The narratives of my grandparents, the narratives of my great grandparents, the voices of all the flesh and blood and bones that made my DNA today.

Why did their stories have to leave me?

Was it because I was brown?

Was it because I was born from the Philippines, which in history has always been a developing, marginalized country with a colonized past?

Was it because I was a vulnerable child who didn’t have a say or rights to my own life at that time? Was it because my memories and my identity didn’t matter?

Did I have to be separated from my own birth country and my own birth country’s mother tongue to be saved by a more privileged family?    

And why was the remaining biographical information so unbelievably useless and irrelevant? And why did I have to wait until I was 18 to receive even that information, which parts of it, I later found out from a reunion with my birth mother—was not even true.

Am I complaining because I was orphaned?

Or am I complaining because there were parts of this adoption process that was systemically inhuman including adopting me to a Midwestern Caucasian couple that had shown no interest in preserving my cultural heritage or keeping myself connected to my own birth country’s language. As it shows, even in that adoption documentation, they had no interest in my heritage.

Little did I know—that if I had kept this connection when I was a vulnerable brown child and basically purchased by a privileged white family, I would have been able to return to the Philippines in my adulthood, my birth country, and I would have been able to speak fluently, which would have given me a much easier pathway in reclaiming my citizenship.

Even my birth name, why did my adoptive parents who never met me, suddenly have the right to change my birth name when they adopted/purchased me?

Why kind of rights had been given to them?

What rights were taken away from me in this dual process?

Where did my citizenship in my birth country go when I was adopted?

Why did any of this have to leave me—when I was adopted?

You can read Stephanie’s article: On the Road to Recovery, follow her at Weebly or Instagram @starwoodletters.

A Vigil for Christian Hall, 1 Year On

On 30 December 2021, 7-9pm CST we gathered in social media application, Clubhouse to participate in an online vigil, created and led by Vietnamese adoptee Adam Chau. The event was organised in conjunction with Christian Hall’s family who created the physical in-person vigils at various cities around the USA. The purpose of the vigils was to honour Christian’s life, raise awareness about and bring the impacted communities together in solidarity to seek Justice for Christian Hall. You can read their latest articles here and here.

A number of adoptee guests were invited to share our thoughts for the online vigil: Kev Minh Allen (Vietnamese American adoptee), Lynelle Long (Vietnamese Australian adoptee), Kayla Zheng (Chinese American adoptee), Lee Herrick (Korean American adoptee).

I share with you what I spoke about in honour of Christian Hall.

My name is Lynelle Long, I’m the founder of Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). I’d like to thank you Adam Chau for organising this online event today in honour of Christian. Thankyou Nicole, Christian’s cousin who is on our call, for allowing us to join in with this vigil. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss! It’s a privilege to be able to speak. I am a person with lived experience of intercountry adoption and like Christian Hall, I am of Chinese descent … except I was born in Vietnam and adopted to Australia, whereas he was born in China and adopted to the USA.

The common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced abandonment as an infant. No matter what age we are, for an adoptee, loss of our first family as abandonment/relinquishment is a raw and painfully traumatic experience. It stays with us throughout life in the form of bodily sensations and gets easily triggered. When this happens, these sensations flood our body as fear, panic, anxiety.

Worse still is that when our abandonment occurs as an infant, we have not developed a language as a way to understand our experience. We are simply left with pre-verbal feelings (bodily sensations). It took me over 20 years until I read the first book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier which changed my life in terms of coming to understand how abandonment and adoption had impacted me. That book was the first to help give words to the experience I felt up until then, as an entirely somatic experience, as uncomfortable sensations in my body, that I hadn’t understood, which I’d spent my life running away from every time they re-emerged.

The other common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced suicidal ideation and attempts. For him, it tragically meant the end of his life by police officers who did not understand his traumas. For me, after numerous failed attempts and ending up in ER, it meant a long process of awakening to the trauma I had lived. 20+ years later, I have spent most of this time helping to awaken our society to what adoption is really about for us, the adopted person.

Being adopted never leaves us. We might try to escape and pretend that it has no impact but deep down to our core, our abandonment wires almost every aspect of our being – most importantly, how we connect or not to others around us and to ourselves. At its core, intercountry adoptees experience loss of identity, race and culture. Unless we have supports around us that understand and help us to overcome the trauma of abandonment early on, we stumble in the dark, completely unaware of how our abandonment impacts us. Many adoptees call it “being in the fog” until we become awakened. Today, decades after Nancy Verrier first wrote her amazing book, we now have many, many books written by adoptees who are THE experts of our own lived experience. These books are a written testament to the complexities we live through adoption and how this impact us.

In the past 2 months, I have worked with others to speak out about the impacts of abandonment and adoption trauma and the direct connection to risk of suicide. I acknowledge that Christian’s family do not relate his tragic death to suicide, but I suspect his feelings of abandonment were triggered as key events led to him being on the bridge that day. I hope that more adoptive families will educate themselves about the complexities we live as people who get disconnected from our origins via intercountry adoption. There are almost 2 million of us worldwide and we are speaking out en-masse to help the world understand it is not a rainbows and unicorns experience. We require lifelong supports from professionals who are trauma and adoption trained. In America alone, there are hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees – America remains the biggest receiving country in the world. Too many are struggling emotionally every day, yet in the USA, there is still no free national counselling service for intercountry adoptees and their families. There is also NO national post adoption support centre in the USA funded to help intercountry adoptees grow into adulthood and beyond. Isn’t it a huge shortcoming that the largest importer of children in the world has no lifelong supports fully funded, equitable, freely accessible – how can America expect positive outcomes for children who are amongst the most vulnerable if we don’t fund what we know they need?

I never knew Christian personally. I only discovered him through his death. I wish I had known him. From the many intercountry adoptees I connect to, I know we gain so much emotionally from being connected to others just like us. Being connected to our peers helps reduce those feelings of isolation, helps us understand we aren’t the only ones to experience life this way, helps connect us to sources of support and validation that we know has worked. I wish Christian had met our community. I’ll never know if it would have made the difference so that he wasn’t there that day on that bridge. As an adoptee, I suspect Christian most likely wanted help that day, help to ease his hurting soul, not death. 

Also, let’s take a moment to remember his biological family in China. Whether they ever truly had a choice in his relinquishment, we’ll probably never know but from my knowledge in this field, it’s most likely not. Christian’s adoption was likely the result of the 1-Child Policy era in China where thousands of families were forced to relinquish their children, many of them ending up intercountry adopted like Christian. Please take a moment to consider that through adoption, his biological family don’t even have the right to know that he has passed away. 

The travesty in adoption is that trauma is experienced by all in the triad (the adoptee, the adoptive family, the biological family) yet the traumas continue to go largely unrecognised and unsupported in both our adoptive and birth countries. We must do better to prevent the unnecessary separation of families, and where adoption is needed, ensure that families undertake adoption education, learning about its complexities in full and having free equitable access for life to the professional supports needed.

My huge thanks to his extended and immediate family for being brave and opening themselves up thru all this trauma and allow these vigils where his life and death can be honoured for the greater good. I honour the pain and loss they’ve lived and thank them immensely for allowing our intercountry adoptee community to join in with them in support.

Thank you.

If you would like to support Christian’s family and their push for justice, please sign the petition here.

If you would like to better understand the complexities involved in intercountry adoption as experienced by adoptees, our Video Resource is a great place to start. Wouldn’t it be amazing to create a resource like this to help educate first responders to better understand the mental health crises that adoptees experience.

Adoptees and Suicide at Xmas and New Year

Christmas and New Year is a time when we usually get together as families, celebrating and reconnecting. For some adoptees, this is a particularly tough time of the year because not all of us are closely connected with our families (birth or adoptive). Often it is this time of year that can be the hardest for it brings up painful feelings of not being closely connected .. to anyone. It can remind of us how we don’t “fit in”, how we are forever in-between spaces, or of how little we are understood by the very people who raise or birthed us.

Grieving the Child of the Past by Dan R Moen (Filipino adoptee)

Adoption is based heavily on loss – loss of our origins, loss in knowing who we came from and why, loss of our culture and traditions we are born to, loss of our extended families. And adoption does not always replace everything we’ve lost. Adoption is also heavily based in trauma – it is the trauma our generations went through that often result in us being relinquished for whatever reason. Or it can be the trauma our country went through, a result of war, famine, natural disasters, etc. We adoptees carry these losses and traumas within us, often we are unaware we carry it, until we do some deep diving into our origins and reconnect to some of our most primal feelings of abandonment and grief.

This Christmas and New Year period, I hope that we can be mindful of our fellow adoptees for whom this can be an especially triggering time of year. Last year in Europe the team of adoptees who are therapists at AFC knew at least 6 adoptees from their immediate circles who suicided between Christmas and New Year. This year, globally who knows what our numbers will be – for we’ve also lived through another tough year with COVID-19 and that has further heightened the sense of isolation for many, adopted or not.

I’ve just finished participating in two major events this year to raise awareness of the connection between between being adopted and experiencing suicidal feelings or actions. The first was a webinar with lived experience where we shared openly. You can view it here:

The second, which followed on from our first, was a Twitter event in which more of us shared our lived experience and thoughts which you can read here as a summary wakelet.

Huge thanks to the sponsoring organisation United Survivors and intercountry adoptive mother Maureen McCauley at Light of Day Stories, who organised these 2 incredibly powerful and much needed events.

I wanted to share my answers for Question 4 which asked us, for fellow adoptees who are struggling, what would I say? My response is:

You are not alone! Many of us have been in that space, I know how tough it is to find a way through, but it is possible. Please reach out to your peer support spaces – there are so many of them. If you need help finding them, ICAV has a list of intercountry adoptee led orgs around the world.

Please also don’t be afraid to try and find a mental health professional. It can make a world of difference to be supported by someone trained to understand our lived experience. If you need help finding them, ICAV has a global list of post adoption supports as a great starting place.

Adoption begins with traumas and most of our life, we spend unpacking that and making sense of our life, who we are, how we came to be here. But once we surround ourselves with support and commit ourselves to working through those painful parts, our life can change and we CAN find healing and connection.

It begins with ourselves, finding connection back to ourselves – who we were born to be, not necessarily who we are adopted to be.

Our life as an adoptee does not have to be controlled forever by our beginnings but it is so important to not deny and ignore the pain, but to offer your inner hurt child a space where her pain can be heard, and where healing can begin.

My message for adoptive families and professionals who struggle to understand how/why adoptees can feel suicidal, I highly recommend you watch our video series which covers the universal themes I’ve observed, reflected through the stories many adoptee have shared with me over the past 20+ years. It is SO important adoptees feel heard, validated, and given the space to share from our hearts, without judgement or expectation.

Part of the vision I created and still hold for ICAV remains very true at this time of year:

A world where existing intercountry adoptees are not isolated or ignored, but supported by community, government, organisations and family throughout their entire adoption journey.

Adoption: Not a Default Setting

by Mary Cardaras, adopted from Greece to the USA.

The legal right to an abortion in the United States tilts once again precariously on the precipice toward the great dark abyss. And once again, because these debates intersect and often are paired, adoption is back to the point of a rolling boil in social media circles, in newspapers and on television. This is because U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, mother of seven, two of whom are adopted from Haiti, sashayed her way into the question of adoption while hearing a case from Mississippi about abortion. She asked whether “adoption rather than abortion would ‘relieve the burden of parenting.’” In this question she seems to have fully revealed her hand. She has also managed to stir great passions among the adoptee community, far and wide, about adoption itself and our regard for it.

Abortion is a legal option for women and should remain so. But adoption is not a default setting to abortion. Neither should it be regarded as an automatic, fail-safe, fix-all alternative to any question about how to assume responsibility for a child. We need to permanently adjust what ails the practice and narrative of adoption, which happens to be a lot.

The reality is adoption has actually harmed millions of children over decades because children have been treated as commodities and experiments. We infantilized birth parents. We’ve villainized them in some cases. And we’ve decided that the white establishment, who work in and manage the lives of children in organizations and institutional settings all over the world, affecting numerous ethnic, racial and indigenous communities, know better. They don’t.

We know; we, the great, vast diaspora of adoptees, me included, know that the lives of children and their futures are still being compromised and mishandled without a thought for both the child and the birth mother. The mother is often rendered “incapable.” The children lack agency. And as for those who believe that adoption is always a selfless gesture, a love-induced solution to a problem, they have no clear understanding about the repercussions and consequences of the decision to give up a baby. Thank you to writer Gabrielle Glaser and her groundbreaking book, American Baby, for bringing the nefarious side of adoption, through one gut wrenching story, from the darkness and shame, to the light of day. That book and that author have changed the conversation and we need to keep talking. 

“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.” This iconic quote by Ernest Hemingway from For Whom the Bell Tolls cuts me to the quick as I consider my own teenage birth mother at the very moment, at that very second when she made the decision that would forever alter her young life and mine. With hand to pen and paper, she signed me away, whether by encouragement or force or emotional surrender and sheer exhaustion, she never was given the chance nor any honest and open conversation about her choice and what the unintended consequences of her decision might be.

Adoptees have, over and over, heard both the “you had a good life” argument and the cheery “you were so lucky” rote sentiment. Both of these may be true for many of us, but they have nothing, whatsoever, to do with a mother who makes the profound and painful decision to hand over her flesh and blood to strangers. And they have nothing to do with an adopted child who grows to be an adopted adult and feels in varying degrees, for different reasons, and at different times, severed from their past, however brief it may have been, and about which they deserve to know fully. Who we come from and why is vitally important and necessary for our growth, development, and psychological well-being in the long term.

I was one of 4,000 Greek-born adoptees who were exported from our country of origin between 1948 and 1970. Some of us were politically-motivated adoptions. Some were legal adoptions. Many were done by proxy. Some of us were stolen babies. Some of us were sold and commodified by doctors and lawyers and priests who acted as intermediaries. Some were separated from siblings. Some of us were ripped from twins and identical twins. All of us were taken from our mothers. Some of us were taken from both parents.

No one ever thought about us, until now; about what happened to us, why it happened to us, and what we feel and think about it. Thank you to Gonda Van Steen and her book Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece: Kid pro Quo? for bringing us out of the shadows. This book is creating ripples that will turn into waves for change in Greece and maybe for all international adoptions. 

Compared to adoptee communities from China, South Korea, Viet Nam, Guatemala, and other countries around the world, we were among the first (likely even the very first) and oldest ethnic communities that provided children, en masse, to childless couples; to Jews after the war, who could not find Jewish children after the Holocaust, to Greeks who wanted Greek babies and to non-Greeks, who knew that there was a glut of children in Greece, after two wars, for the taking.

We are a small group, but now a mighty group that is aging and becoming more vocal and mobilized about what happened to us. In most of our cases, our adoptive parents have died. And now time is running out for us; for reunions, to meet birth parents and family who remembered us, who loved us, who missed us, who remembered what happened, and can recount our stories. We seek restorative justice in all matters of identity, which means easy and open access to our birth certificates, all our records, our personal histories, and we want our citizenship, in our case, to Greece, restored because it was stripped from us.

We were stripped, too, from our mothers, from their embrace after emerging from the very well of their beings, underneath their hearts, completely dependent on them for life itself. And in an act of cruelty, we were quite literally stripped from their breasts, often immediately after birth, which were filled with the warm, sweet milk that was individually meant and created for each of us. We were weaned too soon. Should we have been weaned at all? And if so, how so?

After weeks of speaking publicly about adoption, and on television and in print interviews, writing about it, too, in Greece, I got to thinking about CJ, my beautiful, loving, and troubled golden retriever. I “get” her. I understand her to my core. She is one of my best friends and a constant companion. She was and is emotional, she was difficult to understand, and it was a struggle to raise up my puppy into the calmer and more peaceful adult dog she is today.

I chose her from a litter of nine. When I met her, she was tiny, adorable, and pudgy, the way golden babies tend to be. A ball of fur, just weeks old, she tumbled around on stubby, tiny legs, fighting like her brothers and sisters to get to Mama’s nipples. They needed their mother. They needed her for sustenance. They needed her to teach them right from wrong as she carried them around by the scruff of the neck, a low-pitched rumbling growl when they got out of line, a snap at them to pipe down when there was too much whining and yelping and crying. She was there for them until she wasn’t anymore, taken from her pups after just five weeks.

CJ was weaned too soon and it took months to get her right. She was incorrigible. Difficult. Obstinate. Ask anyone who tried to work with her. When was this puppy weaned, one of the best trainers in northern California asked me? At five weeks, I answered. Way, way too soon he said, shaking his head. It was no wonder she struggled. Our previous golden, Sedona, was weaned after three months. What a difference in disposition and confidence!

Further, it occurs to me how we treat puppies. For those who adopt purebred dogs, we get their papers. We know who their mother and father are. We know their dispositions and whether they were “champions.” We know the kennel they came from and the condition of the kennel. We know the breeder. In fact, there is a long interview and discussion with them. They interview you about the home and then there’s a questionnaire about whether you will be suitable. For a dog. The same is true for those animals that come from shelters. There is a lengthy process and sometimes the dog comes to “test” the home and other animals they may be cohabitating with. If it doesn’t work, there is no placement. The point is there is an awful lot of consideration for the animal.

Don’t you see that we handle the separation of animals from their mothers better than we do with human babies and their human mothers?  Infants tend to be immediately ferreted off from the person who created them, from the person who carried them, nourished them before they even laid eyes on them, held them? How cruel it is to take a tiny human being from the mother who could feed and tenderly cuddle their offspring until and unless there is an informed uncoerced solution, that comes from the mother herself, who may realize she has to do something else. And then to prepare for it, to prepare the baby for it and to counsel that child as it grows about where they came from, how they came to be, and why they were placed with new parents. And wouldn’t it be great if birth parents were fully involved in that process in order to give the child the best chance at life and at growing to understand why their life was altered? This needn’t be confusing and we must take more time than we do to solve the problem, stigma, and often heartbreak caused by adoption.

I have explained, over and over again, that my adoptive family (which was wonderful by the way) and my birth family are not mutually exclusive. They are separate, but the continuum of one to another has comprised my identity, which is still not fully formed, and I am in my 60’s. Will I ever know? Further, I just learned that my birth mother died last year after I searched for her my whole life, wanting a reunion of some kind, mostly just to talk, to get answers, to see for the first time who I came from, and to finally know someone who looks like me. My sadness about that is real and cannot be overstated.

She, my birth mother deserves my attention and care, even though she can’t see me or hear me. Never will. Why? Because in her name I have to advocate for those other mothers who will come after her. Abortion couldn’t have been an option for her. Adoption was her only alternative and since it was, she needed care. She needed love. She needed support and a place for she and her baby to figure it out. In the end, she may have made the same decision, but her decision could have involved the strangers her baby was going to. She did not deserve to be shooed away from her offspring at a critical time when her offspring needed her most and in every way.

In the case of my mother, she was shamed to the point of changing her name and her identity. And when I was born, no one could stomach dealing with a teenage mother and her child who was “exogamo,” born outside of marriage. She wouldn’t be able to handle it, they told her, and so the state would, except that it didn’t.

The answer for so many adoptions, like mine, was to marginalize the birth mother for life, and to ship the children off; stripped of their culture, their language, their religion, their identities, and in thousands of cases, their race. This happened to millions of us. And birth mothers and their children, are not necessarily better off for it.

When it comes to adoption, social workers and lawyers and doctors and those who run agencies that care for mothers and children need to take direction from those who have lived the experience and have managed the consequences. It is not fair that pronouncements about adoption come from on high and down to us, the great unwashed. We’ve had enough of those “well meaning” people who want to make decisions for us because it makes them feel better about “solving a problem,” which they know absolutely nothing about. Adoption still carries a stigma. We need to both adjust the narrative around adoption and speak about the people who are, differently.  

Why?

Because that day will be just one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come depends on what we do on that one day. The lives of so many mothers and their children deserve the wisdom of that sentiment and the respect of a fighting chance to make decisions that do no harm.

Mary Cardaras is a documentary film producer, a writer and an Associate Professor in Communication at California State University, East Bay. She is a proud Greek, an adoptee and adoptee advocate fighting for universal restorative identity justice for all adoptees around the world and for those children born through anonymous sperm donation. She is the author of Ripped at the Root. Her forthcoming book, Voices of the Lost Children of Greece: Oral Histories of International Adoption, 1948-1964 will be published by Anthem Press in 2022.   

Toxicity and Grief

by Dan R Moen, adopted from the Philippines to the USA.

Part three of this series focuses on toxicity and its impact with grief. The black vine-like shapes represent toxicity and how it manifests itself within and around all of us. It’s depicted as an uncontrollable beast and has completely engulfed an individual. It grows and flourishes when grief isn’t addressed, resources for healing aren’t in place or utilised, and when one feels like giving up. The vine-like creature wraps itself around the other gentleman and is trying to pull him down along with the other person. He is desperately trying to grab the hanging fruit, representing hope. Loosely inspired by the mythology of Tantalus, he is just out of reach of the fruit, but the toxicity is pulling him away. Intertwined in the vines is various stressors that give the vine-like creature it’s power. Phrases like Covid-19, Trump, gun violence, Biden, divorce, and other phrases fuel this creature – and when not dealt with, allows for it to become stronger.

In the left, the arm is representing suicide; depicting how all these stressors can manifest itself into the toxicity of the vine-like creature and how it now has grown barbs. Wrapping itself around the arm of the gentleman, it cuts deep and creates unearthly pain. The blood drips and fuels the stressors on the ground, once again igniting the cycle and power of the vine-like creature.

Check out Dan’s other two paintings within this series Grieving the Child of the Past and Does My Perspective Matter?

To find out more about Dan and and his work, check out his website.

Does My Perspective Matter?

by Dan R Moen, adopted from the Philippines to the USA. This is the 2nd of a 3 part artwork piece by Dan that explores being adopted.

Does My Perspective Matter?

One of the key things that has been an eye-opener for me is understanding what’s appropriate to say to somebody who’s grieving or going through pain.

We have failed to understand each other and to utilize tools to cultivate real empathy — not sympathy. Unfortunately, because of this, difficult conversations can cause alienating, victimizing, or gaslighting the individual. We oftentimes want to give advice or external perspectives, but oftentimes it’s unwarranted when the person is going through pain in the moment. This is in large part because we have been taught that giving advice equates to helping. Humans have a natural instinct to want to fix; the idea that anything that doesn’t fit the standard needs to be repaired and repaired quickly.

All it does is alienate the person and make them question if they have a right to feel human emotions. Without consciously doing it, this can easily come off as egotistical and one can project their own ways of dealing with life expecting the person grieving to meet that same standard — even with the best intentions at heart.

The key to really helping somebody going through grieving or troubles is to really listen and validate, validate, validate. This being said, that does not necessarily mean agreeing with the person, but it is humanizing the person and allowing them to have a place to cry, feel, and go through the emotions necessary for growth.

Be mindful of what you say to individuals when they look overwhelmed, dealing with anxiety, or going through a loss. I must remind myself this all the time. I slip up too. What you say to them can deeply impact them either positively, or unfortunately, negatively. Do not make it about yourself, and above all else…. DON’T tell them how to feel. Sometimes, remaining silent, but being an active listener, helps the other person tremendously, and phrases such as “thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help” will help them and give them a sense that they can go to you for support.

These are reasons why we as adoptees have, on a much larger scale, so many mental health problems going on that unfortunately get undiagnosed, untreated, and invalidated. When we see crimes happening there is something more deeper going on that we don’t see. Crimes in society from stealing to murder, are symptoms of deeper and more complex needs by humanity.

Keep in mind more scars are invisible than they are visible, this means you do not know what the person is going through. There could be much more from their history and lived experience that you may never experience. What we are witnessing when someone is grieving may be rooted in something much deeper and more historical in their own lived experience. So why would we compare our lives to each other? Life is not a race to the bottom, nor a race to the top. We must be able to be like glassware. Wine glasses hold what they can hold, shot glasses hold what they can hold, and punch bowls can hold what they can hold. One cannot pour the same amount of liquid from a punch bowl in to a shot glass; it will overflow. However, people are not static, they can handle the amount of stress that a shot glass can hold, and slowly move up to a punchbowl, and then back down again.

I recently had a conversation with a wonderful friend of mine who is Indigenous, about the Native American community and how they view about giving advice:

Elders do not give advice or perspective in every situation they get an opportunity. Instead, they understand that a young person will have a different lived experience than an elder and in order to get advice, one must give each other bundles of tobacco. Tobacco is sacred in many Native Americans traditions and cultures as it is a medicine used for prayers, communication, and messages to the Spirit World. Elders will give tobacco bundles to the youth if they need advice and young people will give tobacco to elders if they need advice. This is seen as an offering gift. I absolutely admire that, and I wish people would practice this concept way more: even in therapy there are codes of conduct about giving unwarranted advice. When the phrase, “What do you think? What would you do? Do you have advice?” Is uttered, that’s the invitation. If you ask, “May I offer perspective, advice?” and they don’t want it. Don’t give it. Let the grieving person BE HUMAN.

For Dan’s 1st artwork in this series, see Grieving for the Child of the Past.
For more on Dan visit his website.

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