To Adoptive and Prospective Adoptive Parents

by Luanne (adoptive mother and adoptive sister)

After learning how it is in some other families, I feel compelled to mention a subject I hadn’t really thought about in the past: gratitude in adoption.

I find the whole subject kind of flabbergasting. Even as I say that, I’m not holding up my family as a perfect family. We’re far from that. Hahahaha.

But when I was growing up, learning how some adoptive parents view this subject would have blown my mind. And now, having raised two kids who were adopted, it blows my mind. In fact, to use an expression my British friends use, I’m gobsmacked.

As I’ve written in the past, my brother was adopted 50 years ago, so the household I grew up in had its own way of experiencing the adoption issue. My parents were on the vanguard of telling an adoptee–my brother, in this case– from the beginning that he was adopted. There was no secrecy, no trying to “pass him off” as a biological member of the family.

And, like my kids after him, my parents never told my brother he should be grateful that he was adopted.

WHAT??????

Here’s a video that begins to explain:

Some of you are probably applauding the specialist on the video.

If you skipped the video and are just wondering why I think gratitude and adoption don’t mix, let me explain that I think it’s great to teach children to be grateful and to foster gratitude whenever it makes sense.

But what is important to remember is that an adoptee should NEVER (and I mean NEVER EVER EVER) be expected to be grateful for having been adopted. Why should a child be grateful for being ripped out of their birth family, which includes cultural and genetic history, just so you, the adoptive parent, can adopt him and “save” him? And just because you happen to be one of the privileged minority of humans in the world and can give them the sort of life that having more resources can provide?

If the idea of telling an adoptee to be grateful pops up in your head, I am begging you to uproot it! A child should never be expected to be grateful for feelings of abandonment and loss and discontinuity. She ought to feel free to be glad, relieved, and even grateful that you are her adoptive parent and not someone else . . . if that is what she feels inside. She should never be required or demanded to have certain feelings.

If you haven’t yet adopted and don’t understand what I’m talking about, please reconsider the idea of adopting. Honestly, there are enough other challenges in adoptive families and, indeed, all families without causing more dysfunction.

Where I’m “At” Today (and Happy Mother’s Day!!)

Photo by Marisha

by Marisha

I used to think that expectations were poison for the soul.

I used to blame my adoption for a lot of my actions.

I used to prefer to be down about it.

I’ve had a lot of disappointments and never thought I deserved better because of my abandonment issues.

Looking back on those times, I now realize how important it is to have patience.

Patience for myself and patience for understanding.

I’m 25 now–a woman–and everything has started to fall into place because I have allowed myself the time to understand my adoption and use it in a positive way. I know things will never be perfect, but my life is the best gift I could be given.

My mindset has changed and my outlook is now settling under a positive light.

Today I choose happiness . . .

All these downfalls have led me here in this moment: I am proud to be adopted. Proud to be different. And proud to share my stories and insecurities with you all.

Also, Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who gave people like me beautiful lives! My mum is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Who could hate adoption when I have a mother like her?! 🙂 I love you, Mum!

Never Enough Love

My beautiful kids resting at home

My beautiful kids resting at home

by Luanne

When the kids were really young, we used to attend a local group for families brought together by international adoption.  I remember one group potluck, seated at one of those very long banquet tables covered with paper, and hearing, but not really listening to, a guest.

He’d been asked to attend our group because he was a therapist experienced at dealing with kids who were adopted, particularly through international adoptions.  Most of the kids in our group had been adopted from Korea, although there were a few from other countries.  This therapist happened to be Asian.  He sat next to our family and that of a close friend and rather awkwardly tried to start conversation.

We were absorbed in our beautiful children and their immediate needs.

Remember: we were absorbed in their immediate needs

“I want to tell you a story,” he said.  I nodded politely at him, then went back to wiping chins, pulling Marc back into his chair, and so on.

“I want to tell you a story about one of my patients.  She was adopted as a 3-year-old from Korea.  Adopted by an American couple.”  I divided my attention between being respectful to this stranger and watching the kids.

He continued.  “This girl grew up to be a beautiful young woman, but unfortunately, she became extremely promiscuous.”

Why is he telling us this sad story? My family was young and beautiful and perfect.  I really didn’t need to listen, but his expression showed that he felt that he was imparting a great wisdom to us.  Something that had to do with all our children.

As he continued telling his story, he tied the girl’s promiscuity to her lack of self-esteem and her adoption.  When he finished his story, we murmured our thanks and smiled at him.  He picked up his paper plate and fork and moved to the next table.

After all this time I’m grateful to this man for his sad story

My first mistake was thinking that love conquers all.  When my kids were little, we didn’t have the internet.  It wasn’t easy to do any kind of research and when you did it, you had to have an idea of what you were looking for. Research was time-consuming, tedious, and frequently didn’t yield the results that would have been most helpful.

I say this because I admit that I was a typical adoptive parent of the era—somewhat clueless.

My second mistake was not understanding that it wasn’t the behavior that I needed to focus on, but the underlying cause for the girl’s behavior.  That having been adopted is a big deal and the feelings that arise from it can’t be erased away with the felt eraser of love.

All these years out, I wish I had understood what he was getting at and had found a way to do more valuable research earlier on.

While the behavior this therapist’s patient had exhibited wasn’t something that cropped up in our family, I needed to understand more about the emotional issues that adoptees often face.  These include a sense of abandonment and low self-esteem and how they play out, sometimes subtly and sometimes extravagantly, in their lives.

Something to read up on

If you’re an adoptive parent, one subject that I think is valuable to consider early on is that of “love addiction.”  This subject came up the other day in my interview of Elaine Pinkerton, writer of The Goodbye Baby.  Love addiction is actually a very common disorder and certainly not confined to adoptees, but it’s an area for research for adoptive parents.

If your child doesn’t suffer from an attachment disorder, it’s possible that he or she is at or near the other end of the spectrum: craving love and attention and friendships to satisfy that “hole” inside.  Sometimes what can seem to be a positive trait, like popularity or a desire to please, can even be too much of a good thing.   Some people respond by becoming love avoidant, but it’s all part of the same problem.

One book which can get you started in learning about the subject of “love addiction” is Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody.  There are many more out there.  Our adoption agency did give us some great advice at the beginning, all of which I took to heart.   But it seems to me that all adoptive parents can benefit from educating ourselves as much as possible about adoption issues.

The Diary of an Adoptee: Interview of Elaine Pinkerton about “The Goodbye Baby”

by Luanne

I found it difficult to put down Elaine Pinkerton’s published diary The Goodbye Baby once I began reading.  At first, I was caught up in the mind of an adolescent girl who is both intelligent and a little clueless about herself.  Ultimately, I was drawn into the struggles of the woman the girl had become.

The book’s subtitle is A Diary about Adoption, and while only a tiny proportion of the entries actually mention adoption issues, clearly Elaine’s life had been greatly shaped by the events of her adoption which occurred at the age of five.  Eventually, Elaine re-read her diary, and by doing so was able to begin a healing process from the “bruises of adoption.”

Today Elaine is a very self-aware, spiritual, and quite “centered” woman.  Sharing her diaries with the world is a generous and courageous act.  As an adoptive mother, I found them to be eye-opening.

Like any good reading, Elaine’s book left me with a few questions, so I asked the author herself and she was kind enough to respond.

Q:  When you were writing your diary as a teen, did you have any fantasies about the purpose of your diary or what would happen to it?  I noticed that years after you began your diary, you bought yourself a copy of Anne Frank’s diary. After you read it, did you feel it altered your own diary writing in any way?

A:  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that my diaries would be re-visited. They were written just for my own release and comfort, not for posterity. It never occurred to me that anything would happen to the little books in which I faithfully recorded daily thoughts and activities. When I read Anne Frank’s diary, I entered into her world. As I recall, after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I regarded my own diary-writing as a more important activity.

Q:  You call a negative state you have experienced “Edgar.”  Is it depression or is it something else?  If so, how is it different?  If it’s depression, why do you call it by a name and not by the clinical term?

A:  The reason I’ve labeled my depression “Edgar” and not just “depression”…one of my literary heroes and spiritual leaders, the late Hugh Prather, called his own sadness and doubt “Edgar.” In lectures, of which I attended many, Prather would describe waking up each morning and finding that his nemesis, a depression he referred to as “Edgar,” was right there on the pillow, teeth bared and ready to gnaw away at heart and soul. Prather spoke of beating “Edgar” back into his cage and locking him up.

Q:  You seem to have been quite “boy crazy” as a teen.  On March 6, 1962, you recorded that you were dating 16 boys.  Do you feel your adoption played into that in any way?

A:   It was hard, as I reviewed the old diaries, to read about that period of my life. I absolutely cringe at how boy crazy I was. The obsessiveness came from my hunger for love and acceptance. Despite the evidence that my adoptive parents loved me, I felt that I was a disappointment to them. And of course I knew that my birthmother didn’t love me, so I was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I was trying in vain to prove that I was worthy of love. Instead of love, I went for popularity. And it was never enough.

Q:   Later in the book, I was saddened to watch the old Elaine hanging on for Jack and then hanging on for Sam (even when she very articulately conveyed why Sam was bad for her).  I have been studying Pia Mellody’s work on “love addiction” and have become convinced that therapists who work with people who were adopted should have much knowledge about this subject in their “therapy toolboxes.”  I also noticed that you read Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much.  Do you feel that love addiction was a component in your relationships with men and if so, from today’s perspective, how did you break free from its grip?

A:  Women Who Love Too Much:  I felt that book could have been written by me, or even about me. The paradigm in my dating life was that the nice suitors, and there were some, had to be losers. Otherwise, why would they be interested in me? As Groucho Marx commented, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me for a member!” I went for the men who did NOT place me on a pedestal or who ultimately did not treat me at all well.  It was yet another manifestation of adoption-induced low self-esteem. Breaking free from this form of love addiction took years of therapy and a lot of spiritual development. I studied and practiced Buddhism for a period, joined an Episcopalian church and attended faithfully. I prayed to overcome my self-punishing thought patterns. Slowly, imperceptibly, in small increments, I became more mentally healthy.

Q:  Did you revise the diary (other than eliminating passages) or change names?  If so, why?

A:   The diary is not revised other than changing names. I chose passages carefully, taking several years to prune out day entries that shed little light on my adoption perceptions. The everyday material is sometimes shortened (leaving out the entire account of a day) but not rewritten. A few names were changed to protect the privacy of my ex-husband and my children. The “bad boyfriends” (long-term adult relationships) names have been changed. The ex-husband’s and deceased second husband’s names are changed. Names from the distant past, e.g. adolescent friends, were kept the same.

Q:  Was your high school drinking typical of the era?  Was it related to your adoption?

A:  I was not alone in my excessive drinking, as my girlfriends were equally over the top. I was not even the worst. We lived in a university town and UVA was known as a “party college.” The college social life, which we took part in, was definitely an influence. In the style of “Mad Men,” everybody seemed to consume large amounts of liquor. Not my adoptive parents, however. I knew that they did not approve of my drinking and this made me even more convinced that I was a disappointment to them.

Q:  Did it help you (as an adoptee) to have a bio brother growing up with you?  Did it make it more difficult in any way?

A:  My brother was the favorite of our adoptive parents, or so I thought. We were four years apart and I had very little to do with him. If anything, having my bio brother as part of the “new” family made it more difficult.

Q:  I want to know more about the meeting with your birth father. Is there anything else you can add about this experience?

A:  I’ve written about a much-later meeting in my recent blog post “The Dad I Scarcely Knew,” though this was after the reunion described in my book. As far as the trip to California in my diary, I was very conflicted. On the one hand, it was remarkably generous and “progressive” (for the times) of my adoptive parents to authorize such a trip. It was my first time in an airplane, going from Virginia to California. On the other hand, I felt that Giovanni was beneath me socially. From his Navy days, he had a tattoo on his forearm and that seemed like a label for “low class.” Virginia was a very snobbish place, after all. My feeling about “the birthparents” all along had been that they were beneath my adoptive parents economically, culturally and socially. Whether this was conveyed from my adoptive mom and dad or was just something I invented is hard to say. At any rate, I felt awkward and out of place during my entire California visit.

Q:  You mention at one point after meeting with Velma, your birthmother, that you believed that she didn’t approve of you.  I was surprised to hear this because even with your personal problems you sounded like a person a mother would take great pride in. Why did you feel that way?  After I learned that your long view backwards was that Velma suffered from mostly untreated mental illness, I wondered if it was difficult to read her because of her own instability.

A:  Strange as it may sound, my birthmother seemed resentful of my apparent success. The first time she came to my home to visit me, I had just published Santa Fe on Foot. I took her along as I arranged book signings and celebrated the book’s debut. She felt left out and complained that I was “too busy” to meet my half sister. She completely did not understand my joy at the book’s publication, instead feeling that the spotlight should have been on her, not my literary success. I believe that Velma’s instability was indeed the obstacle to my understanding her or her accepting me.

Q:  At the end you mention that you will be meeting your half sister.  Did you meet her?  Have you written about this meeting?  Are you still in contact with her?

A:  Meeting my half sister is still on my “to do” list. I want to make sure that she wants to meet me, as if might be as unsettling as my interactions with Velma. I’m awaiting some kind of sign from her that she would like to meet. Right now there is a lot going on with my own family, and I am focussing on trying to help with some domestic situations. I’ve decided to help bring about a meeting with my half sister if she shows any signs of wanting that.  My half sister said, about our mother, that I “was the lucky one,” as she was sent to a detention home as a teenager. She also told me that Velma tried to give her (my half sister) up for adoption. I gather that she did not have an easy growing up. If and when the time is right, I would be very open to meeting. The situation is still a work-in-progress.

###

Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books.

She is a world traveler, an educator focused on working with young children, a labyrinth facilitator, and also an avid skier, hiker and marathon-runner.  Elaine still resides in Santa Fe with her loving feline companion, Thomas Cromwell, and is already in the works on her next novel.

In her memoir, The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine Pinkerton reveals the bruises of adoption that have impacted her from the tender age of five. It tells the author’s journey as she is coming to grips with her lifelong wounds from her very own adoption. It is an exploration into self-discovery and the attainment of authenticity. The story of The Goodbye Baby is told through essays and diary entries that span over four decades from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Elaine hopes that by sharing her inner-most thoughts with her readers, they will feel informed and inspired – her overriding mission with the book is to serve as a resource for other in the adoption community who are struggling with their own adoption.

To follow Elaine and her work as an author:

Elaine’s Blog: elainepinkerton.wordpress.com

Follow Elaine on Twitter: @TheGoodbyeBaby

Like Elaine’s Fan Page: Elaine Pinkerton at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632

Gifts to the World by Helen Dibb

Helen Dibb

Poet

I’m Helen, age 36, and live in West Yorkshire, England. I have slight cerebral palsy. I’m happily married with three lovely children. My eldest son is waiting for a kidney transplant.

I was adopted as a baby. I have been in contact with my birth father and the family for about six years now and really happy I had the chance to meet them! I have been trying to be in contact with my birth mother.

*

Helen’s poem “Adoption” is a poignant reminder of the emotional terrain of the adoptee’s heart.

Adoption

Adoptee can feel
Depressed, angry, lonely and happy
Overwhelmed by confusion about
People and events in their lives and
The birth parent separation, they are
In search of who they are and
Only wanting to be loved and
Never forgotten by birth parents

Helen wrote this poem for her birth father:

Dear Dad

Adoption separated us

Decided to search for you

Delighted to meet you

Your loving daughter xx

And this one, also:

 For you make me smile

Await your emails is hard as I miss you

The great time I had with you

Having fun and laughter together

Enjoying getting to know you more

Reward is having you in my life xx

Helen with her birth father

Helen with her birth father

The Healing Power of Looking Back

by Elaine Pinkerton

Writing The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption gave me a chance to put my adoption in perspective.

I was five years old when my birthmother had to give me up for adoption, and at the time I did not understand what was happening. In the era following WWII, people didn’t talk about family secrets. I mistakenly assumed that I’d done something wrong for my original mom to have given me up. Even though they were based on illogical thinking, feelings of shame and guilt grew. For years, I nursed anger, resentment and sadness about being adopted.

Elaine’s diaries

Then I decided to read all my old diaries. What I found within them was life-changing. As I read my first-hand accounts of the 1950s through the 1980s, I began to release the old misconceptions. The older Elaine forgave the young girl, the rebellious teenager, the unhappy wife. I saw, in hindsight, that I had done the best I could. I recognized many terrific accomplishments. Acknowledging myself, I became the heroine rather than the victim of my past life.

My adoption was no longer a burden. It had taken me from being an orphan to a secure home environment. Because of wonderful adoptive parents, it was a rescue boat. Since my early situation was never explained, I sometimes fell victim to  depression. Through re-reading my diaries, however, I was finally able to understand and forgive the past. Looking back on all that happened and putting my adoption in perspective was the final, unexpected gift of adoption.

Perhaps my “epiphany” is best explained in an excerpt from the Epilogue of The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption:

If it is possible that one can send a brain to boot camp, then that is just what reading my diaries accomplished. Every loss or failed relationship, or so my diaries revealed, echoed that first loss. The loss of my birthmother was one I knew so well and referred to for so long that it was all too easy to toss every loss, failure, slight, emotional hurt into the comfy basket woven from my original privation. I have retired the basket in favor of a daily labyrinth walk to shake out the negative thoughts. Most days it works.

What were the benefits of my diary-reading marathon?  No less than a remodel! Looking at vicious emotional cycles in my past, I stared them down. I grew in the courage needed to resist the voice that liked to say, “Oh, poor me. My mother left when I was just five.”

Turning off the “Oh, poor me” lament is not always easy. As life’s challenges continue, I know I’ll be tested repeatedly. To be alive, after all, is to face crises. The only people who do not grapple daily with frustration, complications, loss and the occasional disaster reside in the cemetery.

Elaine reading one of her diaries

For years, I’d been reading every book and article I could find about the adopted self, especially adult adoptees. They included Betty Jean Lifton’s novels and dozens of self-help books dealing with adoption and loss issues. Until I read the handwritten chronicles of my own life, however, the other adoption books meant little. After harvesting the diaries, I found those works miraculously lucid. The books hadn’t changed, but I had gotten inside my own skin, my own mind. I had a more truthful picture of who I actually was. The diaries provided data, the books gave me strength, and I came to see that my life was just part of a human river. Along with that realization came gratitude.

To put it another way, I got to know the real me, not some abstract construction based on self-concocted mythology.  The diaries provided missing data. Through weeping, crying, occasionally laughing, often being amazed at my stubborn inability to accept the obvious, I worked through the childhood paradigm. At the same time, I gained a new self-respect. So my original mother couldn’t take care of me and I’d been adopted. It was no worse than early challenges faced by hundreds of others.

Everything, it has been said, that happens to one before age six is cast in bronze and that what follows that is not important. I set about to disprove this. As I read about my life first hand, I learned that my initial beliefs about “not being one of the real children” had burdened me with what I think of as an “overcompensation obsession.” I married twice, carrying mistakes of the first union into the second. I hadn’t been an ideal parent. So?

That was then. This is now. I yearn for courage and wisdom. I have tried, through this book, to gain the strength to develop both. There’s something far less lofty that happened. Harvesting the journals yielded a rich treasure: I’m now more comfortable with my memories. We are old pals now.

Several points are salient: I made many hurtful decisions, but I had my reasons.  Though my choices may not have been very wise, I did my best. I wept for that earlier adopted self and put it to rest.

Best of all, my journey to the past strengthened a strong resolve to spend all remaining years on the planet more positively. After researching my life and studying its structure, I’m better at making decisions that serve me well. This is my intention.

***

Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books. She is a world traveler, educator focused on working with young children, labyrinth facilitator, and athlete-skier, hiker, former marathon runner. In The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine reveals the bruises of adoption that impacted her from the tender age of five. Through excerpts from personal journals she kept for 40 years, we experience her frustrations and successes as she strives to be good enough for her beloved adoptive parents and in all areas of her later life.

Elaine can be “followed” through her blog, Twitter, and Facebook page:

Blog: http://elainepinkerton.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheGoodbyeBaby

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632?ref=hl

Work in Progress . . .

by Marisha

When we started this blog, I mentioned that I was going to be writing about my life here in LA. To be honest, as time went on, I realized that that was a little harder than I thought it was going to be; to write openly about my life might mean publicly exposing people in my immediate life or people who I do not know.

That said, I have thought for the past week about what I would write about, and I finally realized how this city has brought me a lot of tests of strength.  These are tests for  a performer–and especially a performer who is an adoptee.

The business and dream I have chosen to pursue is, to say the least, not the most comforting/stable business. As a performer, you are not just selling a presentation of a certain product. You are selling YOU. Every part of you is under surveillance, whether it’s your looks, the way you speak, even the size of your feet. You are either right for the role or you aren’t. You live in uncertainty about your finances.  Even more importantly, you have to evaluate your personal stability on a daily basis, as well.

This business is based so much on “rejection.”  You sometimes have to hear a hundred “NOs” before one resounding “YES” comes along. I was struggling with that–have been struggling with that pretty much since I started auditioning as a teenager and moved outside the realm of just dance. I used to take it so personally, analyze every moment of the audition and drive myself crazy when I wouldn’t get the call or the gig.

“Was I too big?”

“Did I talk too much?”

“Should I have done the character differently?

“I could have done that scene better.”

And so on.  I know that everyone in this business–they don’t have to be adopted!–has felt this at one time.  To some degree, it’s not only human nature, but it’s the reality of any line of work.

A lot of time I not only felt “rejected,” but I honestly felt “not good enough.” There were so many times that I questioned my strength in this business, but, thankfully, because of this blog, I have figured out why.

One of the biggest things that adoptees face is the feeling of “abandonment.” It took me almost 24 years to fully understand that, and even so, it was thinking more thoroughly about the role of adoption in my life through work on this blog that helped lead me to this new understanding.

I think that this awareness will come at very different stages for other adoptees. I never really put two and two together before. But just like adoption affects your relationships, it can affect your work as well. Especially this work. I have always wanted to be accepted, to be loved and respected for what I do and bring to the table. I can get very sensitive to harsh criticism of my craft not only because it is my passion, but it is my dream.

But there’s a bigger picture, I now realize. Criticism is all in how you perceive it, and quite frankly, EVERYONE is going to have an opinion of you and your work. You have to take it with a grain of salt and try NOT to take it personally. Easier said than done, right? I’m learning that I have not always taken it as that, but in fact, as criticism to me as a human being–that, again, I am not good enough. That I do not have the tools to make someone believe in me and not “abandon” me or my potential.

Photo by Louise Hay

I now see how silly that is. I have become so much better, and have learned to separate my adoption from getting in the way of my dreams and relationships.

This blog post feels like a diary entry for myself.  I am a work in progress and this journey in LA has been anything but easy. I am going to fight for my dream, and I can’t promise I will always be on the up and up emotionally. But I will say that each day gets a little easier, and I am very much “good enough.” Thanks for helping me with that, guys! x

Charmed Life?

by Luanne

One day, when Marisha was a young teen, I overheard a teacher say to her, “You lead a charmed life.”  At the time I felt a little fist pound my stomach, but I wasn’t sure why.  I had to schlep her to an activity and didn’t take the time to really think through the comment. Certainly, compared with so many people in this world, Marisha lived a relatively happy life with plenty of good food, education, doctor appointments, pretty clothes, and opportunities to pursue her goals.

It was only later, when I’d had time to process what she’d said, that I began to belatedly understand why I was upset and where I had gone wrong.

I’ve been a mom like most mothers I know—one who has kept putting one foot in front of the other in order to get done everything on the daily to-do list.  If I stopped or slowed down, we would never get it all accomplished, so I just kept trudging.  Most of the time, I’m pretty mild-mannered.  But mess with my kid, and I turn into Mama Bear.  If you’re a mom, you probably have been a Mama Bear yourself.  If you’re not a mom, you’ve no doubt been embarrassed by a Mama Bear once or twice.

There have been a couple of times where I morphed into that big blustering Mama Bear (think Grizzly) when I felt my kids were treated unfairly in a way that was harmful to their psyches as adoptees.  I expect other adults to act like villagers and look out for children who are adopted.

Some people have been absolutely sensitive and thoughtful.  When I started graduate school in California, Marisha began attending preschool at the campus daycare.  It was her first time in a school setting, but she seemed to be fine when I left her each morning.  What I found out later, was that she cried pitifully without stopping as soon as I left the building.  I was, in effect, her third mother, after her birth mother and foster mother (who took care of her the first 3.5 months of her life), and I was leaving her to go to class.

Her wonderful teacher, Mrs. Abey (Elaine Abeyguneratne), gave her special care, having Marisha sit at her side each morning, creating school as a warm and special place where Marisha could learn to be away from me.  Elaine never told me what went on until much later.  She was afraid that I would drop out of school, and she was looking out for the welfare of an adoptee.

Something happened a few years after that, when Marisha was in first grade, that turned me into a Mama Bear, but it’s only years later that I finally understand what I wish I had realized all along.

Marisha had a new religious school teacher and she bonded with her very quickly and very thoroughly.  Within a couple of months, though, the teacher suddenly decided to leave because she had a disagreement with the director of the school.  I went to her after class and begged her to stay.  I explained to her that leaving so quickly, without warning, was traumatic to an adoptee like Marisha.  She couldn’t be persuaded to stay, but another parent overheard what I said.

This parent exploded, railing at me for using the word “traumatic.”  She said that Marisha didn’t know what trauma was and that I shouldn’t use the word so lightly.  That her stepchildren knew trauma as their mother had died a couple years before from cancer.  She was definitely correct that her stepchildren had undergone a trauma which no child should ever have to go through and which many, unfortunately, do go through.  Losing their mother to illness will have a bearing on the rest of their lives.  My initial feeling was compassion for the children and embarrassment at being taken to task.

But this woman’s manner and assumptions were outrageous.  I told myself I was miffed because she was yelling at me unfairly and I was embarrassed because I didn’t even know she was in the room when I was talking to the teacher.

What I didn’t put together until much later was how absolutely clueless so many people are about adoption.  Until I realized this I just assumed that adults would understand what adoption is and how it might affect adoptees to be adopted.  That, in fact, being adopted means that a person has gone through at least one huge and initial trauma in their lives.  This happens to them long before most people experience their first trauma.

When I look back at the years of raising my children, I do regret making the assumption that the adults in their lives understand that adoption doesn’t just mean that my kids and their parents don’t look alike.  I see now that the understanding many people have of adoption is literally skin deep (or as superficial as different noses and body types).  If only I had figured this out before and tried to educate, instead of assuming.

Adoption is a complex relationship which needs to be understood as such and not filed away as a minor and odd fact about someone, as if it is left-handedness or athletic ability.  To understand that relationship is a responsibility and obligation of society, not just those of us in adoptive families.

 

“Affidavit of Abandonment In Lieu of Birth Certificate”.

It’s not everyday that I read the above title. A few days ago I was cleaning my room and reorganizing my files and I came across a manila mailing envelope that read “Kumar legal documents” in my mother’s handwriting.

“How’d this get into my file?” I thought.

I flipped open the cover flap and pulled out some papers from the adoption agency, which I’d seen before, an old envelope, my social security card application and a few other random papers. I then remembered that a few months earlier my mother’s partner had mentioned that they had found a paper that had the name of my biological parents on it.

I didn’t really believe her, but it sparked my interest and I asked where it was.

Typically they couldn’t find it nor could they remember what they’d done with it. Even though I didn’t really believe the paper existed I felt angry they couldn’t find it. I thought, “how could they lose something that could potentially be so important to me?”

Aggravated, I went upstairs and rummaged, ever so carefully, through all of the adoption related material I knew existed, to no avail. Incredibly frustrated I concluded that it couldn’t exist since I had no memory of it.

Remembering what my mother and her partner had said I looked back at the manila envelope and saw another piece of paper. It was folded and green, like most of the legal documents from the orphanage. I dumped it out onto my desk and unfolded it.

I knew what it was before I even opened it.

Apparently it did exist.

I read the piece of flimsy green paper with blotched black typewritten letters from top to bottom.

“Affidavit of Abandonment In Lieu of Birth Certificate.”

After finishing I found myself returning to two lines from the affidavit that I couldn’t help but re-read over and over.

The first – “a male minor child Kumar now named Kumar Jensen born to Miss Mary, daughter of Mr. Soosai, an unmarried girl was surrendered by her on 02.03.1990.”

A name, at last.

But, wait. Mary?

 

A Stroll Through My Mind

“Affidavit of Abandonment In Lieu of Birth Certificate”.

It’s not everyday that I read the above title. A few days ago I was cleaning my room and reorganizing my files and I came across a manila mailing envelope that read “Kumar legal documents” in my mother’s handwriting.

“How’d this get into my file?” I thought.

I flipped open the cover flap and pulled out some papers from the adoption agency, which I’d seen before, an old envelope, my social security card application and a few other random papers. I then remembered that a few months earlier my mother’s partner had mentioned that they had found a paper that had the name of my biological parents on it.

I didn’t really believe her, but it sparked my interest and I asked where it was.

They couldn’t find it nor could they remember what they’d done with it. Even though I didn’t…

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https://dontwelookalike.com/2012/10/06/1427/

Teen Adoptees are “Somewhere Between”

by Marisha

 

INTRODUCTION TO “SOMEWHERE BETWEEN”

SUMMARY: THE GIRLS’ STORIES

SPECIAL AND DIFFICULT MOMENTS

FILM TRAILER

INTRODUCTION TO “SOMEWHERE BETWEEN”

What an experience I had seeing the award-winning documentary Somewhere Between, about the lives of four American teen adoptees who were born in China!  Although I was adopted as a baby from Korea, nothing I’ve seen or heard about adoption has ever opened me up in such a vulnerable way.  I can’t put myself at a distance and be as objective about the film as I would like; however, this review is my best attempt to do so.

I saw the film, which was directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, at the Nuart Theatre in West LA last week.  It has moved on to San Francisco and will air in theatres across the country.

The dictionary defines the word “adopt” as “taking into one’s family through legal means and raising as one’s own child.” In the wrong mindset, adoption can seem negative, foreign, not appealing. To raise a child not of one’s own blood. To invite a mysterious, difficult journey, that is both emotionally and physically grueling. But for others, adoption is nothing short of beautiful. A palette of amazing unknowns, the trust in destiny that brings a child in need to a family who can provide. Hearts ever loving, ever forgiving, willing to love a child and disregard all other standards of what makes a family. To understand what goes through the minds of (some) adoptees is like a Rubik’s Cube. The answers are hard to find, but it is possible to gain knowledge and solve the puzzle. This film showed just that and more.

I didn’t know what to expect of the film. To be quite honest, I felt it would only scratch the surface of adoption and focus on the glitz and glamour of the emotional roller coasters. Instead, what I found was a very emotional story–and very deep raw discoveries, not only for the girls, but for myself .

The film followed the lives of four girls who were all adopted from different provinces of China. They all shared different stories, different family lives. They had different interests, different religious backgrounds. But they did share one commonality– their adoption.

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SUMMARY: THE GIRLS’ STORIES

Screening Map

In case you live too far from screening cities, these are the stories of the girls.

We first see Fang Lee, a fifteen year old girl with a maturity beyond her years. She lives in Berkeley CA with her sister, who is also adopted, and two very loving parents, Hanni and Alan. Fang was adopted as a toddler  and spoke fluent Chinese by the time she was adopted in 1998. Her parents embraced that skill and kept the Chinese language alive during her childhood.  She speaks both Chinese and English equally, although her father doesn’t speak any Chinese. Fang travels with her family once a year to China, to keep the memory of her birth city alive.

She speaks of her memories of her birth parents. Her birth dad chopped firewood and her birth mother grew vegetables.  They lived in a shack with only one bed. She remembers her birth mother pierced her ears. Then she tells the heartbreaking story of how she was abandoned. Her mother told her she was going to visit her grandparents and that her stepbrother would take care of her until she returned. Her stepbrother took her into the village and brought her to a little stoop. He sat her down and told her he was going to get some stuff and to not move until he came back for her. She watched him walk away–and he never came back.

Fang is asked if she is mad at her birth parents. She strongly responds no because she believes in fate, in destiny. That the decisions of her birth parents only brought her one step closer to the life she was given. And that the decisions of her adopted parents gave her the life she now has. This is how I feel about my own life.

Next we travel to Newport, Massachusetts, and meet Jenna Cook, also fifteen, who was adopted from China in 1992. She has a sister, Sara, also adopted, with their two moms Peggy and Carol. Jenna was the most artistic of the four girls, something I have in common with her.  She has 11 years of figure skating under her belt, as well as two national competitions. She plays guitar and at one point in the film sings the song “Country Roads” acoustically. She is in crew at school at the Phillips Exeter Academy and holds the leadership position of coxswain. Jenna is a leader, pushing the envelope.  She stays enthusiastic and yet calm. Holding that position has taught her strength and power and the importance of unity and teamwork. She talks a lot about being aware that she is living in a white world and refers herself as a “banana,” meaning “white on the inside, yellow on the outside.” I loved this, because I too make that same joke with “Twinkie” haha.

Her boyfriend is from South Korea.  She says something which struck a chord in me about the comfort she has with her boyfriend’s mother. She feels that being around someone with the same “Asian” exterior is a similarity which makes her feel as if she belongs.  It creates a sense of familiarity.

The third girl, Ann Boccuti, fourteen, lives in Pennsylvania and  is a member of color guard and plays the piano. Cathy and Bob are her parents, and she has an older brother who is biologically related to her parents.  Her issues of being adopted have become more apparent as she gets older.  She says that although her hobbies are known as “reject” hobbies, she doesn’t care. Ann was adopted from an orphanage in China and talks about how her adopted parents thought that she was going to be a “special needs” child because she had cross-shaped legs and crossed eyes. But her father had faith and she grew up fine. She expresses disinterest in finding her birth parents, but wants to visit the Chinese orphanage that she was adopted from one day.

Her story intersects with her friend Haley Butler, thirteen, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She was adopted at six months old on February 22, 1995, from China. She has a younger sister who is also adopted and an older sister, Heidi, who is Caucasian and was crowned Miss Tennessee. Haley loves pageants and followed her sister’s footsteps into the pageant world. Religion is a huge part of the Butler family and Haley claims that even if she lived in China, she would find her way to Christianity.

Her mother Jeannie helps kids with the Annabelle’s Wish Orphanage and makes it her goal to help as many orphaned kids as she can. The family has been to China 22 times and has helped over 2000 children. It was quite amazing to watch.

Haley’s story was the most incredible to watch. She had this deep dream to find her birth parents and decided to take action. So she creates a poster with all the information she has on her adoption and birth parents and goes to China to the province she was from, where she posts the poster in the village. Miraculously, a man comes forward claiming to be her birth father and hours later she meets him and two of her three birth siblings. This part of the film was particularly emotional. They proceed to do a DNA test and three months later they discover that he is her birth father. So Haley and her family plan a trip to China to meet her birth mother, her other brother, and to find the answers to what led her to the adoption.

She is really nervous/excited to meet her birth mom because her birth mom chose not to come to the first meeting. This meeting is set up in a hotel room in China with lots of picture books depicting Haley’s American upbringing. The whole family meets and Jane, the translator, helps the two families converse. Haley’s birth mother is emotional and won’t let go of her when she first meets Haley. The family learns that Haley’s birth dad did not want to give Haley up, but her mother could not provide for all four of her children. When he went to work one day, she wrapped Haley in a basket and gave her to a family friend without her birth dad knowing. The parents had thought the family friends were going to raise her, but instead they had taken Haley to an orphanage instead. (The Chinese culture values boys over girls.  The One Child Policy has had a tremendous effect on availability of girls for adoption).

The two families then venture to Haley’s birth hometown, where they have a beautiful traditional Chinese feast. Haley’s family promises to visit every year.

I was mesmerized by this story, especially how she finds her birth parents so quickly in such a big country. It is such an overwhelming situation, and I was so proud of Haley for how she handled it. Maybe it helps that she is still so young. Or maybe she doesn’t understand yet the magnitude of what has occurred?  Her story brought me to tears, because I too hope that when I start searching in Korea, it will come that easily.  However, the odds are against that for most of us international adoptees.  My only reservation about the film is that some teens might watch this movie and get unrealistic expectations about finding their birth parents.

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SOME SPECIAL AND DIFFICULT MOMENTS

These four girls are extraordinary, and their stories plucked a lot of emotional strings in my own life. Three of the girls are now college students and Haley must be close to eighteen.  I wish them all well on this new phase of their lives.

There were many special and some very difficult moments in this film.  The biggest moment was when Jenna goes to Spain to speak at a convention for the parents of adoptees. The word “abandon” is brought up.  They want Jenna to elaborate on her feelings toward the word. She is brought to tears, saying the word is “negative” and that she was placed into a better life because of it.

I really connected with her when she spoke of how adoption has negatively affected her. She speaks of “perfectionist tendencies, fear of failure, and having to compensate for not feeling good enough.” She is happy about her better life, but can’t help those moments and small thoughts of abandonment. It struck me so hard because I, too, have felt all those feelings throughout my life. The “A Word” has always been an emotional one for me, and I am so glad this film touched on it. It is important for people to know.  The discussion of issues in “Somewhere Between” can even help the non-adoptee understand the adoptee in his or her life.

Funny moments throughout the film were the reactions they got from strangers and friends about their adoptions. One of my favorites was when Haley and her little sister and mom were at a salon. A lady next to them said to her sister, “Congratulations on coming to America. Aren’t you so lucky you were able to come here?” My first reaction was wanting to punch the woman, but that of course is the ignorance we have talked about previously on this blog. The girls were asked: “Aren’t you good at math? Do you speak English? Where is your real family?” I thought the girls handled these questions the way I would–with comedy and poise. They understand that they have nothing to apologize for and their maturity and understanding shows by taking these comments with a grain of salt.

Fang inspired me with a story of one trip to a Chinese orphanage where she saw this little girl with cerebral palsy wearing a pink dress. She describes her as ‘looking like a statue but had life in her eyes.” When she returned to the United States, she raised $5000 for her which paid for intensive physical therapy. Fang visited her every year and eventually found her a home with a wonderful family in America who had another adoptee with cerebral palsy. It was an emotional adoption and showed the true beauty of how amazing an adoption is and how incredible Fang is for helping this beautiful little girl in need find a home. She has truly inspired me to want to go back to Korea myself one day and help other children.

The last story I want to share disturbed me so much that it will stay with me forever. Haley travels to Amsterdam, Holland, and meets with an older South Korean adoptee named Hilbrand Westra.  He is one of the people trying to get the rights for adoptees to be able to retrieve their adoption and birth files. Haley asks why this hasn’t been able to happen yet, and he gives a very chilling response. He explains that in Korea, especially, the files for the adoptees were a lot of times falsified, fraudulent, and hidden because a lot of children were not, in fact, orphans. They were children with able families who wrote up fake documents to make agencies believe that they were “orphans.” I can’t tell you how emotional I got in the theatre. I never believed I was an orphan because my paperwork shows that my birth mother was unmarried and unable to raise me, but the idea that the story I have been told may be false, makes me believe that my hopes of finding my birth family is farther and farther from being possible.

All in all, this was an INCREDIBLE movie to see. It really delved into the tough questions and was raw and real. Adoptees share a commonality, a similar journey from a murky past to a different future. We all share self-doubt towards our adoption and the word “abandon” hits an emotional chord for all of us. Adoptees know their stories are unique and that there is no “normal” for them. But most of us  embrace that and understand that adoption has led us to a beautiful life with beautiful families. The film talks about destiny, and that is really what it is. Proof that God did not overlook us, but took the time to give our lives meaning. We feel special, blessed. I think our identities will always be questioned at certain times, and we will feel stuck between the known and the unknown. But through that comes great strength. I leave you with this quote from Fang’s art teacher: “The past reflects from the present, but the present takes us from the past.” Thank you for reading and please see the film if you get the chance! x

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FILM TRAILER

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