All Together Now

by Robin L. Flanigan

Robin is an award-winning freelance journalist. You can find her at her blog, The Kinetic Pen. Her story, which looks at adoption, infertility, and some inherent complexities, was anthologized in 2007.

Annalie is sitting across from me, dipping her fingers in yogurt and stacking sliced grapes on top of her grilled cheese sandwich. It’s Mother’s Day. My second one. Done with my meal, I pick up the newspaper and start scanning.

“Adoption.”

I drop the paper.

“What did you say, honey?”

She repeated herself. It sounded the same.

“Did you say adoption?”

She nods.

“Where did you hear that word?”

“The treeses.”

So the trees told her. The trees tell her a lot of things.

I ask her what the trees said.

“Annalie is adopted.”

“Oh,” I say. I nod slowly. “Do you know what that means?”

She stares at me.

“What’s adoption?”

“Um…”

That’s all I can get out. My eyes start to tear up. I don’t want her to notice. Standing up, I tell her I’m going to get her daddy.

“He would love to be here for his, okay? I’ll be right back.”

I turn the corner and blink hard, soaking my cheeks.

Almost two years ago, a friend from college sent me a plastic bottle of holy water from Lourdes for good luck. She’d picked it up from a pilgrimage there, when she traveled with dozens of fiercely Catholic relatives on behalf of her uncle, who was battling lung cancer. After praying for him she prayed for herself, that the Lord would see fit to bless her with twins. She gave birth to two girls nine months later.

My friend told me to bless myself with the water and soon I would be a mother. The bottle, half the size of my palm, looked like a tourist shop trinket. The word “Lourdes” was printed in fancy type above the head of a woman praying to a supersized Virgin Mary. The woman wore a long robe; a cross dangled from a chain encircling her wrist. Short lines representing bursts of light surrounded the Virgin, her hands also folded in prayer.

I spread a towel on the floor and lay down, the square tiles hard against my spine. Feet flat, knees propped together, I twisted off the bottle’s blue cap, hiked up my shirt and watched the cold water drip onto my skin, just below the navel.

Catching my breath, I made a sign of the cross out of the quivering pools on my belly. I’m not Catholic, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

I drag myself down the hallway and find my husband in our bedroom, folding laundry.

“I really need your help with a conversation downstairs.”

Patrick puts his hand on my arm and laughs as he heads for the door. I tell him to wait, that I need to fill him in first.

I’m not finished when he walks out and heads for the bookshelf in Annalie’s room.

“That’s perfect,” I say, realizing what he’s after. “It’s over here.”

I reach inside her crib and grab one of her favorite books, A Blessing from Above, an adoption tale about a kangaroo with an empty pouch.

Back in the dining room, Patrick tousles Annalie’s hair.

“I hear you have a question,” he says.

I join them at the table after turning the volume all the way down on a Leonard Cohen song. Annalie’s not saying anything. It’s really quiet.

“Maybe we’re making too big a deal out of this,” Patrick whispers in my direction.

A few more seconds pass and he gets right to the point.

“So you want to know about adoption?”

There it is. Right there on the table.

He opens the book and flips through the pages showing Mama Roo leaning up against a tree to rest; the baby bluebird falling down, down, down out of its crowded nest and into Mama Roo’s pouch; the two of them hugging and happy.

I say it’s like the story of the day she was born. How she was with Jessica and Peter in the hospital and then came home to live with us.

Annalie taps her palm with her fingers and rubs circles on her cheeks.

“I’m putting on makeup,” she announces.

“Do you understand what adoption is?” I ask.

She scowls and sticks out her hand, as if telling me to halt. She pumps her hand back and forth. I tell her to stop, that it’s a rude gesture.

“I’m pushing you away,” she says. Then, “Why did you adopt me?”

Three pregnancies in one year, all through in vitro fertilization. The first was ectopic, ending when my right fallopian tube burst late one afternoon while I was watching TV. My husband didn’t answer his phone at work so I crawled to the middle of the driveway and waited. Patrick spent that entire night, before the morning’s surgery, trying to sleep in a plastic chair at the foot of my bed.

Doctors knew fairly early on that the second one wasn’t viable either. With an ultrasound showing the possibility that the embryo was stuck in my left fallopian tube this time, they advised being injected with a cancer drug to abort the pregnancy. I returned to the clinic, pulled down my underwear and leaned over an exam table for the shot. Except that it didn’t work. I went back for another round the next week.

The third loss was a blessing. It was over fast.

Soon after the last one I got a call while on vacation from my friend Janet, who had just found out she was pregnant. We’d gone through the same five years of infertility treatments together. That night I had a dream I was at a party. I had finally adopted a little girl. She measured a couple of inches and fit nicely in my hand. At one point in the evening I realized I’d forgotten to change her diaper, which made me feel like an unfit mother. Then a woman appeared and asked if she could hold my daughter. I watched as she took my little one into her hands and promptly dropped her. Suddenly transported outdoors, I searched frantically for my baby among the rocks and weeds. The woman laughed, said she had dropped her own children like that. I wanted to ask everyone at the party to stop their conversations, to help me look. But I kept quiet. My baby was gone and I knew it.

I let her father talk first.

“Jessica knew that we would love you,” he says. “When you were in Jessica’s belly, she searched the whole country for a mommy and daddy who would love you very much. And she chose us.”

“And we waited for you for so long,” I chime in. “We wanted you so much.”

“Why mommy and daddy have no babies?”

Two-year-olds are supposed to ask about the sky and bugs and whether they can jump on the bed just this once.

Images of basal thermometers and needles and pregnancy tests flash through my mind. I have no idea what to say. That miracle cures didn’t work? That medical science couldn’t deliver?

Patrick looks just as stunned. He can’t take his eyes off her.

“That’s deep,” he starts. “Well, there are many answers to that question, and you’ll find new answers every year. But one of them, one that I like, is that sometimes mommies can’t take care of their babies, so somebody else takes care of them. God makes it that way.”

The audience tearfully listened to the photographer explain his images of one dead or dying newborn after another, slowly appearing and fading away in a tangle of breathing tubes and unanswered prayers. In one photograph, a woman cradled her underdeveloped baby in crossed palms. In another, a 10-year-old boy, standing next to his mother, had dumped his head in her lap after being convinced that six hours without a heartbeat is too long to bring back to life the brother he had been holding moments before.

This was bereavement photography. Pictures that document the short time parents have with their doomed children. I was there to watch the pain, to measure it against my own and be reassured that I had not gone through the worst. Not by a long shot. That system of measurement had become an obsession, starting two months earlier when I rented a documentary about a single woman who adopted 13 children with severe disabilities. Weeks later I was at the theater for a double feature: the first film followed a blind Israeli lawn bowler on her trip to the Para-Olympics; the second was about a dwarf, the sole survivor of a family experimented on during the Holocaust by Mengele himself.

At the theater again for this lecture, sniffling with strangers, I tried to persuade myself to be thankful my husband and I lost our babies before they beared any resemblance to the smallest child up on that screen. But our own grainy photographs from the hospital flashed through my mind, images of the embryos before they were implanted, proof that I was a mother three times over if only for a couple of weeks.

I kept expecting all of this other suffering, all of this greater suffering, to ease my own. To make my struggle less valid. I had a good life.

But I needed more than one tissue when the photographs stopped shuffling, when the screen was blank and the theater was black and the audience was given a minute to recover in silence.

I’d thought starting the adoption process meant the healing had officially begun, but no crust was forming on my wounds. Some women, even those who had happily adopted, said that the sense of loss never goes away. Decades later it can smack you upside the head when you least expect it. Like when a baby shower invitation comes in the mail or you hear a co-worker gush over the birth of his first grandchild.

Decades.

The dull lights overhead had begun to flicker and I couldn’t even deal with that.

Annalie points to a vase of flowers on a Mexican cabinet behind me.

“Are those good flowers or bad flowers?”

I look at the bouquet. We tell her they’re good.

Next, she points to the Christmas cactus in the middle of the table and says she wants to bring it over to the good flowers.

Patrick unbuckles her booster seat. She hops to the floor, rounds the table and asks me to get up so she can use my chair to get the plant. I rise and she kneels on the seat cushion to reach the cactus.

She extends her arms toward me.

“Can you hold this while I get down?”

I set the plant on the cabinet.

“Is this how you want it?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Annalie looks at the tall crystal vase and the short terra-cotta pot beside it.

Then, with authority, she makes her pronouncement.

“Adopted.”

I look at my husband, mouth agape, and silently give thanks that our daughter is making sense of her world.

She feels safe and protected and loved.

She belongs.

And so do we.

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption..

by Marisha

Tara Bradford has initiated an exciting new series on her blog. As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, she has a wealth of experience from both perspectives which can inspire and enrich the rest of us. Follow the link below to read her description.

Thank you, Tara!

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption...

Tara Bradford

Tara Bradford

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.

You Can’t Always Trust a Kid’s Reaction

by Luanne

The other day I had a discussion with a few people on our Facebook page about an article in Adoption Voices Magazine that guest blogger Lisa posted.

But this blog post isn’t about that article—it’s about where my mind ended up.

As the conversation went on, the mention of race in adoption came up, and as my mind usually works, I was soon off on my own mental tangent.

I remembered a story our case worker had shared with us during our first home study. She was very good about bringing up issues, such as race and forming a transracial (called interracial in those days) family. The story went that a Korean boy was adopted by a white couple in the Midwest. They raised him in an area which happened to have very few Asians—so few, in fact, that the boy grew to be seven or eight and he had never seen another Asian. One day he watched a television show about the Japanese, and he laughed and made a derogatory comment about their looks. That’s when his parents understood that he didn’t realize he was Asian.

Her story made an impression on me and on my husband, and we knew that our children needed to be helped to understand and develop their own identities.

However, when our son Marc was in 4th grade, my analysis of the case worker’s story added a new layer of complexity.

I believe that it’s possible that the child did know at some level what he looked like and that he was “different” from those around him.

Here’s what happened. One night Marc was reading his homework on the floor of the family room and started laughing. I asked him what was so funny.

He kept laughing and pointed to a passage in the book. I read it and . . . you know that expression, my blood ran cold? It did.

Marc was reading an assigned book, The Story of Doctor Doolittle. Have you read this book? If you’re white, have you read an original version in recent years, with an enlightened view of race, or as a kid “back in the day”? If you’re not white, what did you think or feel when you read it?

There is a character in the book called Bumpo, the African prince. The way he is portrayed—both in text and illustration is clearly racist. In fact, Bumpo wishes to be white so he can marry Sleeping Beauty.

Marc’s school, the best private school in our town, was literature-based and founded on principles developed by Mae Carden in the thirties. The school hadn’t veered much from the decades-old curriculum and this book was on that curriculum.

I was more upset upon discovering what Marc was reading than anything that had happened up to that point about my kids. I felt betrayed by the school. When Marc started at the school there weren’t many minorities there, although each year more and more attended and by the time he was in the middle school grades, there were many Asian and Latino and some African-American children at the school.

I felt sad that Marc had to read something so racist, provided to him by adults he trusted.

I felt angry at the school.

I felt confused that, although Marc had been raised to respect people of all races and he knew he himself was of a minority race (in his community), he was laughing.

Although I’m dead set against book censorship, there is a big difference between banning books from libraries and choosing the best possible selections for curriculum.

So I called the school, of course, to complain. I met with immediate resistance and deflection. They had me speak to the teacher who assured me that Marc had not had a problem with it at all when they read it in class.  It was a humorous passage, the class had found it funny, and they had all laughed. I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

Think about that a minute. OK, think about it after you get around that pissed off feeling you’re experiencing right now.  He had already read that passage in school. So why was he reading it at home and laughing at it?

When I asked him why he was laughing and expressed my dismay at the overt racism, he gave me the “it’s no big deal” reaction and indicated I was over-reacting.

I concluded that he wanted to draw my attention to the passage to help him sort out his own feelings, but he was unable to be direct about it because he himself was confused and disturbed deep inside.

Later, I further concluded that as one of the only minority kids in his class at that time, he was embarrassed and wanted to show the other kids that he wasn’t different from them. That he wasn’t, in fact, the African prince.  That he didn’t have to wish he was white to marry Sleeping Beauty because he was already white, just like them.

That’s why I think that the story about the Korean boy responding negatively upon seeing his first Asians is more complex than on first thought.  On one level, the boy identified so strongly with his Caucasian family and community that he didn’t understand what he was seeing. But on some other level, he did know he was different and that being different was a very uncomfortable place for him to be.  A way to get around thinking of himself as different was to make other non-Caucasians the “Other.” (If you wonder why somebody could have knowledge and not have knowledge at the same time, you haven’t met anybody in denial ;)!)

What happened with the school and the book?  Because the school was sensitive to attempts at book banning, they made me fight them on the issue. But a compromise was effected when I presented them with a fully researched alternative list of books which had some of the same positive characteristics as the book in question and none of the racism.

One last thing. I want to make clear that even as this incident was happening, the school had already begun to change in positive ways as the administration and some teachers were replaced and the demographics of the city changed.  Although it had always been the best choice for my kids in our town, it became a much stronger and more inclusive school than it had been originally. I don’t want you to think I’m writing this to bash the school that caused my children much happiness.

Reunion Between Birthmother and Child She Couldn’t Keep: A Review

by Luanne

Cover of "Reunion: A Year in Letters Betw...

Cover via Amazon

On the advice of Carrie Mulligan @CCMFeltHats, I read Reunion: A Year in Letters Between a Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn’t Keep. I’m so glad she mentioned it because I hadn’t heard about the book before. What an experience!

In 1996, Katie Hern, a 27-year-old woman who had been adopted domestically, located her birth mother, Ellen Carlson, and initiated contact. They began their reunion through a series of letters and then emails and eventually met in person.

Because both Katie and Ellen are excellent writers, they allow readers into their lives, their personalities, and their emotions in ways that left me feeling as if I knew them both personally and had been witness to their reunion.

Although I prefer Jaye Roth’s image of a Rubik’s cube as a metaphor for adoption, this book discusses the adoption triad or triangle because of how Katie negotiates her new relationship with Ellen, while handling her position in the family she grew up with. Since I am an adoptive mom, I am the 3rd point of the triangle, and so it was really refreshing for me to read a book by the other two “points.”

Ellen is an educated woman who is thrilled to be in touch with the baby, now an adult, she gave up for adoption over a quarter of a century before. Even so, she makes missteps as she has to learn how to understand Katie’s perspective. She’s a willing student.

Katie, who has been the family peacemaker, learns how to teach Ellen to understand where Katie is “coming from.” Katie has a lot of feelings to deal with—feelings she didn’t expect to have.

As they learn how to relate to each other, they learn more and more about each other. They identify similarities and differences.

Katie admits near the beginning that a lot of literature by adoptees “pisses” her off. She doesn’t want to self-identify as a “mythic hero” or “survivor,” as Betty Jean Lifton would have her do. She thinks that the term “adoptee” sounds “like something you need a prosthesis for.”  Above all, she doesn’t want anybody to tell her how she should feel or think about being adopted.

But as the reunion goes on, Katie becomes introspective, learning more about herself, her feelings about having been adopted, and how adoption might have helped shape her personality and outlook on life. She comes to believe that she has a “fluid” identity because she was adopted.  This means that there is a lot of “shifting” involved.

As things go on there are changes, where the relationship between Katie and Ellen deepens.  Rifts occur. I’m not going to ruin the ending by telling you how the book ends regarding their relationship.

The only other thing I’ll mention is that I’m really glad they decided to put Katie’s brother Matt in their letters. I think his story, albeit through Kate’s eyes, is a good addition to the book.

I can’t wait to hear what y’all think about the book!

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

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.

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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Why I Forgive

by Juliet Meiying Ercolano

[Juliet is our first guest blogger.  She was born in The People’s Republic of China and joined her “forever family” in the United States when she was six months old.   A rising senior at Baltimore School for the Arts, Juliet is a dance major.]

When I was only one month old, I lost my first family. I lived for five months in an orphanage in China sharing a crib with two other babies. Because of the shortage of food, the nannies or ayis (pronounced “eye–ease”) thickened our bottles with ground rice to keep our stomachs full. (I was so small when my family adopted me that I only weighed 11 pounds at six months old.)  I am told that we were kept tightly swaddled in blankets to keep us warm and to take the place of someone holding us because the orphanage, or “social welfare homes” as they are called in China, were understaffed.  We babies obviously spent many hours trying to entertain and soothe ourselves, because when I was adopted I had a bald spot in the back of my head from rubbing back and forth against the mattress from trying to comfort myself. My parents told me I cried the first time I saw a rattle shaken in front of my face because we did not have toys in the orphanage and seeing and hearing it scared me.

Orphanage babies in China

Babies waiting for adoption at an orphanage in China

Juliet and aunties

Orphanage “aunties” holding Juliet before she goes home with her new mom

Of course, I don’t remember any of this myself because I was so young when it happened, but I’ve heard these stories so many times and each time, they have left me feeling angry and confused. To make me feel better, my parents often reassured me that my birth mother must have loved me very much, indeed, because the orphanage told us that I was left at a crowded train station. This showed that my birth mother wanted me to be found and wanted me to have a better life, they said.

It makes me feel sad that I don’t know anything about my birth mother. I don’t even know the simplest facts that most children (even other adopted children) know, such as my mother’s name or age, or what her favorite food is, or if  I resemble her in any way. I don’t know if anyone really understands how much I wish I knew those things that most children take for granted. For years, thinking about my birth mother caused me a lot of inner turmoil, and I blamed myself a lot of the time for my birth mother abandoning me. Maybe I did something wrong that caused her not to want me, but I will never really know.

Baby Juliet

Baby Juliet

I know that if I ever had a baby, I wouldn’t separate from her for any reason at all. I would make it work, somehow and some way, no matter what. I’d  remind my precious baby girl each day how much I love her and how important she is to me and how I’d never let her out of my sight. The feeling of not being good enough still haunts me to this day. If I am not “perfect,” I fear that people will walk right out of my life. That anxiety – of being left – is something I’m still working hard to overcome. It was particularly bad when I was in kindergarten. From the time one of my parents dropped my off at the classroom to the end of the day at pick up time, I would worry: What if they don’t come back? I remember crying every single school day, terrified  that my mom or dad would forget to pick me up and would end up leaving me and never coming back to get me, the way my birth mother left me that day in the train station.  The other children in my class didn’t understand and couldn’t reassure me. I felt different from the rest of them and thought something must be wrong with me. I made myself feel sick every morning, just anticipating the end of the day. I was taken to a child therapist for awhile, but it did not help much. I was too shy to talk and all I can remember during those sessions was she made me draw and play a bunch of games.  Luckily, a year later, my older sister joined my school and I felt a sudden sense of security knowing she was in the same building I was in and I no longer cried at school. My attachment issues with my parents got better year after year and I no longer was afraid to go to school.

Juliet standing at the wall

18-year-old Juliet today

The good news is that now that I am older, I don’t think about my adoption as an upsetting thing at all. Of course, at times I wish I had more information about what led to my being adopted and about my birth family, but mostly I don’t think about it. I don’t feel any different from a girl living with the parents who gave birth to her. My adopted parents are my parents, not my “adopted” parents.  I have two mothers—one who gave me life and the other who let me live it. My family is the one in America. I no longer associate feeling anger with my birth mother.  I find myself feeling more grateful and happy (that I ended up in a family with parents who really wanted me and could take care of me) than upset.

Though I have struggled with my adoption at times, especially as a young kid, I now honor my birth mother’s choice. If she hadn’t decided to give me up, everything as I know now would be altered dramatically including all the people in contact with me. I would be living a completely different lifestyle. I thank my birth mother as often as I think of her for giving me a loving family and safe place to live.

In short, I have forgiven my birth mother for the hard thing she did.  It was hard for me,  of course, but I am now mature enough to realize that it must have been very difficult for her, too. I realized at some point that I was embracing my negative feelings as a way of staying attached to my birth mother, who I never really knew and whose circumstances I could never really understand.  I recognized that it would be foolish not to let go of those bad feelings, which were hurting me and making it harder for me to appreciate and enjoy the life I had now. Forgiveness was a letting go of the bad and a letting in of the good.  And that is why I forgive.

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