Art from Adoption

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m taking great care in reading Perpetual Child: Dismantling the Stereotype (Adult Adoptee Anthology). Last time I talked about Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston’s essay, “Discovering My Imposed Age & the Effects of the Institutionalization of Perpetual Childhood.” The second piece in the book is a lyric poem. As a poet, it thrilled me to find such excellent poetry collected alongside essays.

The poem is “Everyone Loves An Orphan,” and it was written by Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut, a Korean adoptee. According to her website, her bio (there is also one in the back of the book) looks like this:

I am a poet, scholar and teacher who teaches creative writing and college composition in Los Angeles. As a Korean-American adoptee, my creative and scholarly work reflect an ongoing interest to explore the emotional and historical aspects of the Korean diaspora as well as transnational adoption.  Previously, I collaborated on avante-garde music and art projects with composers and visual artists. I have advanced degrees in poetry, (M.F.A. degree in poetry, 2002 and M.A. in Literature, 2010) and a Ph.D. degree in Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Southern California (2012).  My first book of poetry, Magnetic Refrain, was published in February 2013 by Kaya Press. I am currently completing a second book, lyrical and narrative poems Until Qualified For Pearl and a non-fiction critical book about adoption narratives in literature and film.

The premise, if you will, of “Everyone Loves An Orphan” is the story is of an orphaned child “born from a field of weeds / they later called lilies.” She learns to fantasize a story about her origins. Questions–such as was her mother the mistress of a married man, did her mother work in a garment factory, and so on–came to her, but eventually she discovers that  a deception surrounds her very origins–that she wasn’t an orphan at all.

The child was adopted by a family in a strange land.

. . . you’ll learn

another language. In your sleep,

you’re already talking

to yourself, filling in

the rest of the story.

Once upon a time,

there lived a family . . .

Notice that the poem is written in 2nd person (you, rather than I or she). I believe this creates a distance that almost frames the story, thus drawing focus. It creates the illusion of objectivity, but increases the poignancy.

This poem isn’t a simple display of emotion, but a complex and beautifully written exploration that forces the reader to think and feel more deeply about what it means for a child to grow up with lies and secrets.

Do You Have Hidden Bias about Adoption?

I’ve been reading Perpetual Child: Dismantling the Stereotype (Adult Adoptee Anthology) very slowly. It’s hard to read it and not feel as if slammed in the stomach by the reality that our culture and, yes, people see adult adoptees as children. I also feel the need to spend time processing what each page has to tell me, an adoptive parent, so I am resisting my usual speed reading.

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, in her essay “Discovering My Imposed Age & the Effects of the Institutionalization of Perpetual Childhood,” describes her doctor saying, “‘I do physicals on prospective adoptive parents all the time when they adopt children. I guess I never imagined those children all grown-up.'”

This statement reflects the way we approach children, in general–that they are kids. What if we, instead, saw them as adults-in-the-making? If more child abusers saw them as the latter, they might think first before abusing someone who will grow up and look back at them with an adult mind. Even regular decent parents might put a little more thought into each interaction if they truly saw their children as adults-in-the making.

So why do adult adoptees get seen as kids and not adults-who-were-once-children?

According to Transue-Woolston, our laws surrounding adoption have institutionalized perpetual childhood. By not giving adult adoptees the choice to find their own original identities, the government is forcing them to live as forever children–people not qualified to know what the rest of humanity takes for granted about themselves.

She asks us to examine our subconscious biases.

So let me ask you a question. Most state governments “think” that the privacy of birth or original mothers is more important than that adult adoptees learn the truth of their origins. Do you agree with the government? And if you do, what is your hidden bias that makes you automatically assume that mindset is correct?

Adoption: Teary-Eyed Blessing or Horrific Abuse Factory

by Marisha and Luanne

You know those happy adoption stories that the media loves to feature? Adopted woman meets birth father just before he dies and all is well. Yay! Five siblings have been in foster care for three years with no hope of reunification. They are adopted by a middle-aged librarian and all is well. Yay!

The media loves those stories and so, too, do we. By “we” I mean our culture. We eat up this stuff. It makes us feel as if all is well with the world.

We don’t look behind the stories to see that this woman had to wait until she was 55 to meet half her DNA.  She lived through being a baby, a child, a teen, a young woman, a pilot, a mother, and now a first-time grandmother without this knowledge. Without knowing how he felt about her or if he even knew about her.  Without ever meeting him.  We don’t like to think about what those kids have gone through in order to have this happy “ending” (which it is not–an ending or unendingly happy either) with the librarian. Or what baggage they all (librarian included) bring to the table.

On the other hand, the media loves horrible stories about adoption. The child who is locked in a cupboard, fed only scraps, and eventually discovered weighing thirty pounds at age eleven. The child of a celebrity who either dies of a drug overdose or accuses her adoptive parent of abuse who is always identified as “adopted son” or “adopted daughter” by the press, as if that is a title or name.

By the way, all of our examples except the celebrity ones are made up, but representative of what we’ve read.

Why does the media do this? Apparently it is what we demand. We want these superficial and dangerous images of adoption. We want to tear up with joy and we want to fill with outrage.

What we don’t seem to want to do is think rationally and with common sense about adoption.

What would happen if we did? What would change about how our culture sees adoption? And how we treat adoptee rights and issues?

What do you think?

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