Are Adoptees Selfish For Wanting To Search?

Keep Calm

One of my birth sisters was placed for adoption just one year before I was born – I am hoping that someday I’ll get to meet her. Is my desire to find her being fueled by an attitude of entitlement? Since I was able to find all of my other birth relatives does that somehow mean that I should be able to find her too? When does it end? When should I draw the line? I have seven siblings in my immediate [adoptive] family, many nieces and nephews, parents, aunts, uncles and have had host of foster siblings over the years, yet I want more. I want so badly to meet my birth sister. Is this desire selfish?

This question has been posed to me many times over the past year during the Q&A’s after Closure screenings. Folks have asked this question in a myriad of ways:

Your adoptive family is so great! Why would you need anyone else?

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What if you find out something that you wish you hadn’t known?

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What if your birth sister doesn’t want to know you? Doesn’t she have rights, too?

Debate.org posed the question “Should adopted children be allowed to seek their biological parents without their consent?” Aside from feeling slighted by being continually referred to as an adopted child, I find this question irksome as it inherently suggests that an adoptee learning of their roots and kin is somehow not our right. 19% answered “No,” one comment read:

The adopted child should get down on his knees and THANK GOD who intervened on the child’s behalf and provided warm, stable, loving parents, and I for one (who is an adopted parent, a REAL parent, btw) would be insulted if my kid told me he wanted to seek his bio parent.

I’d like to suggest that the person who left this comment view Lisa Marie Rollin’s one woman stand up show entitled Ungrateful Daughter. Lisa, an adult adoptee turns the “Why can’t you just be grateful?” question in to a comedic fare.

Perhaps adoptees are labeled chameleons since we have difficulty understanding when we are allowed to have a say and make a choice. Our birthparents decided to create us, and then somewhere along the line someone (the State, birthparents, foster parents etc.) decided that we should live somewhere else. So, we adjusted and acclimated to new smells, new rules, new schools, new bedrooms, a safer/different environment etc. How are we expected to grow into competent, strong adults if decisions are continually made without our consent? How will we learn to navigate which decisions are ours to make and which aren’t?

I’m grateful that my [adoptive] parents raised me to pursue my curiosities, to strive towards satisfying my incessant existential questions, and to simply try things – even though I may fail. I’m thankful that both my birth family and my adoptive family support me in this endeavor as unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all adoptees. I’m glad that my family understands that my desire to search and learn more about my roots does not simultaneously cease my desire to be a part of my [adoptive] family. Finding my birth family has never been an attempt to replace anyone else, but simply an effort to find myself. Selfish? Maybe…although I’d wager to guess that I’m not alone in my human desire to know how and why I’m alive, or, more simply, to be able to see a physical reflection of myself in someone else. I’m thankful that the great majority of people are able to access this information with relative ease. What makes me (and other adoptees) jealous is that those who question our motives to search are often the same people who brazenly take for granted getting to know foundational knowledge about their life. Adoptees are keenly aware of this injustice and in the absence of this vital and axiological information we search, and search and search (and sometimes we have to defend ourselves while we’re at it).

Is Adopting From Third World Countries Necessary?

A mom who gave birth to surprise twins! A not so unusual happening without the aid of ultrasounds.
A mom who gave birth to surprise twins! A not so unusual happening without the aid of ultrasounds.

Is Haiti’s instability as a nation and chronic poverty a justifiable reason for adoption to a developed nation? Surely parenting looks different for those living in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but does this automatically necessitate women making adoption plans?

Children’s Home and Adoption Program (Now called Heartline Ministries) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti used to be filled with children and the adoptions were frequent. The homes emptied of children after the 2010 Haitian earthquake as children left in droves thanks to the humanitarian parole which allowed the adoptions already in process to be expedited. This natural disaster lent way towards the perfect excuse for Tara Livesay (a mid-wife) and her staff to stop taking in orphans and to instead turn their focus solely to prenatal care and prevention work. Heartline turned catastrophe into opportunity. They reorganized their mission and began teaching about family planning and birth control – offering free Depo Provera as well as monitor women in labor, facilitate the delivery, postpartum needs and infant developmental care. The moms stop by the homes every week throughout their pregnancy and then weekly until babies are six months old. Out of approximately 350 births at Heartline only one woman placed her baby for adoption since 2009 (that child now lives with a wonderful family in Vermont and his birth mom still stops by to get photos of him on occasion)! From Tara’s experience, orphanages tend to ascribe to the belief that if women are poor they cannot parent and then proceed to help find a “better” place for the child via adoption. Tara’s co-workers demonstrate through speech and attitude they absolutely can parent their children. In Tara’s words “They can bond, they can breastfeed and they can raise the precious child because they have what they need.”

A new momma outside her home.
A radiant new momma with the skills to care for her baby pictured outside of her home.

Food and money are oftentimes tight, lack of support is commonplace and resources are not plentiful. All of these factors certainly aid in making parenting hard, but these women do not lack joy or moxie! And thanks to Heartline, they don’t lack parenting skills either. International adoption is a beautiful second choice solution to meet an unfortunate yet very necessary need. I have many international adoptee friends and others who are in the painstaking process of becoming adoptive parents to beautiful children, but are awaiting the countries process, ensuring that all ethical aspects of the relinquishment of the child are met before their children can fly out of their home country to be with them here in the U.S. I certainly am not anti-international adoption as there are many true orphans needing homes all around the world. I was, however surprised to learn of Heartline’s statistics which clearly show that moms are able to parent their children when given the tools and support. What if we worked towards establishing more services like Heartline instead of more adoption agencies in these areas? Would this take the novelty and romance out of our feel good tendency towards a rags-to-riches view of American adoptions from third world countries? What do you think?

***Photo credit: http://www.livesayhaiti.com****

“I Think My Birthmom Is Just Like You”

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Meet Valeria – a transracial adoptee.

This darling 8th grader from Southern California will surely be rocking this world with her wisdom and beautiful mind in the coming years.  After viewing Closure with her mother at the Refresh Conference, Valeria bravely came right up to me and told me that she imagines that her birth mother is just like me. I asked her why she thought this and we proceeded to have a conversation that was uniquely adult, yet sweetly innocent.  I loved her continuing spew of questions and couldn’t help but to see my younger self in her words as I listened to every single word she said.

“Do you think I’ll ever find my birth mom?” “How can I find her?” “I know that my birth mom gave me to a friend, then my foster parents picked me up from a prison. That’s all I know. With this information, how do I find her?”

Valeria and I discussed searching, and some routes towards locating her birth mother, including someday taking a trip to her birth place – Columbia. While I signed a DVD for Valeria, she asked, “Do you think my birth mom has allergies?” I was formulating my answer but Valeria’s brain got there before mine, she continued “I don’t think she does – I was stung by a bee three times in fifth grade, and it didn’t even hurt or get swollen. I’m pretty sure that my birth mom wouldn’t be affected by a bee sting either.” Her curiosity about her self, deep longing for truth and middle school youth was palpable. I could feel her words hanging in the air. I felt so honored that Valeria felt able to trust me with these questions as she sought to integrate these multiple aspects of her own identity.

I’d fashion that Valeria’s resounding beauty comes from the combination of a wisdom one can only gain from allowing strangers to adopt and parent you at an older age, combined with the safety and structure of having a home and a family. I do believe that many adoptees have this same mesmerizing spark that Valeria has, but that this sparkle can be dulled by many things – including well meaning adoptive parents not allowing these curiosities and questions to come forth, unsure if their child can handle it.  It seems obvious to me that Valeria’s future is bright, as historically some of our world’s greatest leaders are people who know how and with whom to ask the tough questions.

I am often asked to weigh in on the “correct age” to introduce conversations about their child’s birth mother, or when/if to encourage their child to begin searching for their birth parents…Let’s take a cue from Valeria (and her mother, who lovingly stood by allowing Valeria to direct where she wanted the conversation to go). What’s the harm in her curiosity? Perhaps there are unforeseen beauties within a child’s questioning. Even though our conversation centered around her story, she may never truly know how deeply impactful this conversation was for me. The ripple effects of allowing an adoptee to feel free enough to ask questions could be endless (likely both in some difficult and positive ways).

In the grand scheme of things I know that my conversation with Valeria is just beginning. Thankfully we were able to get in a final hug, but not before she asked me “Do you ever feel mad at your birth mom?”

***   This post was written with the permission of Valeria’s mother, who lovingly stated “it was as if you were the only two people in the room. It was beautiful; I saw a spark in her eyes.”  ***

Do Trans-racial Adoptees Know Anything About Trans-racial Adoption?

NPR contacted me and asked me to be a part of the Sunday Conversation that aired yesterday morning. I spoke in depth about my story, my upbringing, the challenges and joys of my experience being raised by White parents, only to receive an email the next day stating that they had chosen to go another route. I responded kindly by stating “I sure hope you’ve chosen to include an adoptees perspective for your segment.” I awoke to hear the one-sided, tired, age old perspective that we’ve heard so many times before. A loving, White adoptive parent of three African American children was the only voice to hear. While her voice is valid and valuable, it should not have been the only voice featured on this segment.  NPR’s tagline for this show is, “Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.”  When the Senior Editor of the show contacted me, she stated that in light of the recent comments about Romney’s grandchild they wanted to expand on the topic of transracial adoption. I was glad for this opportunity; hopeful that NPR would do it justice by interviewing not just adoptive parents, but adoptees themselves, and birthparents as well. I was disappointed upon learning of the parent-centric and staid approach they took.

I wonder why NPR didn’t want to air my story? What were they trying to shield their listeners from hearing? Are the powers that be afraid that the adoptee voice will disrupt the current narrative of trans-racial adoption?  Is it safe to assume that NPR doesn’t feel the listeners can understand that I, a transracial adoptee, had both a wonderful upbringing and some exposure to African-American heritage while living in a predominately white city, yet also had a need to find my roots and search for my birth parents? Perhaps it is a bit difficult to understand that an adoptee can be both glad for life opportunities afforded only through adoption, yet also wonder about what their plight would’ve been had an adoption not gone through. This is our reality! While transracial adoption is a necessary solution at this juncture in time, it’s also a solution that comes with a lot of complexity, and may not be easily “fixed” by hiring a black mentor or teaching your child about Rosa Parks.

Had my voice been aired on the show, viewers would’ve heard me speak my truth about how I felt when being discriminated against in the town I grew up in. What we heard about discrimination in the NPR piece instead was “…it made my husband and I very uncomfortable, but our kids didn’t notice. They were just coloring and being children…” The adoptive mother was asked by NPR host if she fears the stereotypes her black son may face as he grows. Why not simply ask a trans-racially adopted man how discrimination has affected his upbringing and adulthood?

BREAKING NEWS: We no longer need to speculate about the challenges trans-racially adopted children may face as they grow. The first hand answers for these important questions can be answered by qualified, educated, articulate adult adoptees (or birthparents) found by doing a quick Google search.

I have allowed my story to be shared in a documentary which is told not just in my voice, but also features the perspectives of my adoptive parents, birth parents, siblings who were adopted, birth siblings who weren’t adopted, my parents’ biological daughter and my husband and others – all of these voices have a place in the discussion. Closure is a valuable resource, not because my story is the best out of all adoption stories, not because I am an expert on other transracial adoptions – that, I am not. It is a valuable story because there is a shortage of resources where the adoptee’s voice and experience is included.

I know many White adoptive parents who are raising their children of color wonderfully. Comments about this conversation should not lean towards questioning an adoptive parents’ love for their child, or capability of raising their child of color.  There are plenty of adoptive parents who are doing a great job seeking out appropriate resources and asking tough questions about trans-racial parenting both publicly and privately. This discussion is about how the mainstream media chooses to portray transracial adoption. This discussion is about adult adoptees. Please stop speaking for us and assuming that your speculations are our realities. This discussion is about coming to terms with the fact that adoption ethics, practice and policies will not change until the public is willing to hear out more than just the adoptive parents’ perspective or their hopes and biased desires for our lives.

Trans-racial adoptees have a unique bond.  This is the reason why adult adoptees were so outspoken about the Baby Veronica case, and why we are speaking out now.  We adult adoptees acknowledge our different paths and childhoods, and understand that no two adoption experiences are exactly alike or give any one adoptee more credibility than another. We understand the struggles inherent within being adopted in a unique way that nobody else can understand – not even our own well intentioned, loving, adoptive parents.  However, those of us who were trans-racially adopted no longer need our parents to speak for us. We are grown up now. We can do it.

She’s One in a Million

Through years of relentless searching, monies paid to attorneys, Search Angels, The State of Pennsylvania, prayers, tears and a debate in my head about whether I should march in to the adoption agency and grab the social workers file that has my birth sisters name in it or not…I’m resorting to pleading. I plead and beg of you to share this post in an effort to allow my birth sister to come to the Pennsylvania screening on January 26th.

There are only 12 million people for me to weed through in the state of Pennsylvania. I think it’s safe to assume that my birth sister is African-American, so that whittles it down some. 11% of Pennsylvania’s population is of African-American, which translates to roughly a million people (1,416,752 to be exact). Whether one million African-American people show up to the screening, or 5 people show up, know that I will be scanning the crowd looking for my birth sister in each of those faces. What will I be looking for exactly? I don’t really know. An almost 30 year old woman with my same bright skin tone (DOB; January 19, 1984 – happy bday birth sis!)? A tall gal with an afro and an athletic build? A girl with a weave in a wheelchair or hearing aids like me? Maybe we look nothing alike. Maybe our eyes will lock instantly and we both will just know? My nervous energy mounts with every passing day as I begin to imagine that moment when we both feel an instant connection, both of us instinctively knowing each other and connecting on a level that only two birth-sisters, both adopted, can understand. This feeble hope of a sense of belonging is clearly a pipe dream. My imaginative description of how my birth sister and I meet is highly unlikely, but at this juncture – I don’t have much else to cling to with regards to this faceless, nameless woman with whom I share so much. What’s so wrong with dreaming?

Perhaps you can help spread the word about the screening in the hopes that it reaches her?! I’ll be at Swarthmore College on January 27th. Come one, come one million, either way, my curiosity will be strong, and my heart open and ready.
Playing detective is kinda fun – – until I realize how many years of my life have been devoted to this unpaid, emotionally exhausting game. This ‘game’ I’m playing is similar to the never-ending card game, War. One minute I have a full stack of cards, the next minute I’m down to one card, and back and forth it goes. I’m prepared for my hopes to be dashed as she will likely not be at the showing, however I continue to dream.  I’ve worked myself up into a frenzy before, years of sleuthing and only a sliver of a chance of success – and through toil and tribulation, succeeded! Why not try again? After all, it’s only my emotions that are being hung up in the balance – oh, and the rest of my adoptive family and my (and her) birth family who are curious about her, too.

Birth-Sis, if you’re reading this – know that my sole motivation is to meet you and say ‘hi.’ I come with my arms wide open, and my heart and mind able to comprehend pain and loss. I’ve successfully tiptoed my way around this delicate exchange before – I have experience in the potential awkwardness of this moment. I promise to respect your wishes and will allow you to dictate the speed and pacing of our relationship. If you’re reading this, know that I have cared about you since I first learned about you.

Aren’t We All Special?

Can we collectively agree that none of us are any more special than anyone else? Can we agree that we all have very real needs that deserve to be addressed in varying ways? Rather than evoking pity, and feeling sorry for the few, I think it is time that we realize just what makes us uniquely human. Humans are continually trying to navigate this complicated world in different ways utilizing their specialties, and specific needs. Some have navigated the world via their wheelchair in the White House (F.D.R was paralyzed from the waist down) while trying to lead American during the Great Depression, some are using their athletic abilities in professional soccer (David Beckham has OCD), some are enjoying their time on earth as an actress even without the ability to hear (Marlee Martlin), and of course there is Helen Keller who published 12 books for our continuing education and entertainment. Some of us (i.e. myself), though given the special needs label and after having been adopted through foster care, are working to erase the labels and de-stigmatize areas that are divisive by blogging. As a lover of words – both reading, written, spoken and signed, I truly believe in the power of words. Words reinforce perceptions, and shape our world. I’m working to reinforce the positive perception of those with different abilities. In this sense, I’m representing all of us.

My full article regarding the term special needs within the realm of adoption can be found at Lost Daughters. 

Why don’t more black people adopt transracially?

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Why don’t more black people adopt children of other races? Is the answer the antithesis of how some Caucasians adopt black children/teens out of a deep rooted sense of white guilt? I really hope not. This is not the answer I’m hearing as I’ve gotten to know families who have either adopted, or are in the process of adopting children of another ethnicity. What I see and hear from the vast majority of these folks, is a genuine interest in their child’s native country, or a true attempt at understanding that child’s original culture, and a desire to understand how their child’s ethnicity will interact with the current racial climate in the United States. This is all good and well, so why are we not seeing the same rate of transracial adoption of black adoptive parents? I, for instance, have a great desire to learn about why Caucasian’s feel that they are the status-quo, I have an interest in the psychology behind the society’s perception of straight hair being a glamorized feature, and I have a genuine interest in learning more about the European colonization of America. Why then would it be taboo, unnatural and out of place for someone like myself, an African-American woman, to adopt a red headed, fair skinned girl from Montana, or a blonde haired, green eyed boy from Lithuania? What is holding us African-American folk’s back? An African-American father who has a Caucasian daughter said “I’ve never felt more self-consciously black than while holding our little white girl’s hand in public.” I find this comment to be quite sad and unfortunate, and likely a good indicator of a possible deterrent. I hope that in many of the ways that Caucasian adoptive parents have found each other, and banded together to support one another, I hope that a community of people with similar familial make-up as the gentleman I quoted will band together.  I hope that the word “transracial adoption” can expand to include black adoptive parents with children of other races too.

While working as an adoption professional, I explored this question with my colleagues and clients, and I do hope to delve into it more deeply at some point. I know that the African community does quite a bit of informal adoption – holding strong to the belief that a child should stay within their family at all costs, whether that means grandparents, godparents, cousins, aunts or uncles are raising the child. I certainly understand this and feel that any child (regardless of race) should remain in or close to their natural family, if possible. Of course finances are always a part of the equation as well when it comes to raising a child (and adopting a child). The disparity in income between the races continues to grow wider (especially post-recession), so I could understand how the international adoptions or domestic infant adoption’s may not be plausible (this is a topic for another day), however there is still the option of adopting through the state which does not cost. So my question remains; why don’t black people adopt transracially at the same rate (proportional to our demographics) as Caucasian’s? Are there other reasons that I’ve overlooked?

Can I call you Maya?

I have a deep desire to connect with my long lost birth sister. This desire does not have anything to do with the measure of contentedness with my {adoptive} family. These things are separate.

I’d almost forgotten how bleak, frustrating and out of control those years I spent searching for my birth family felt. I’d been largely silent, choosing not to share my struggles and woes with the world – only now (through the documentary) have the main plot points and tempered emotions been shown. Closure depicts some of the thoughts I was willing to vocalize on camera, but certainly did not catch the moments of despair and the times I toyed with the idea of giving up forever. The unseen moments usually showed up in the form of anger and rage behind closed doors – Bryan often being caught up in trying to help settle me down didn’t have the opportunity to grab the videocamera (thank goodness!).

The feelings of bleakness, injustice and unfairness are creeping back as years of searching, writing unanswered letters, sending photos to somewhere, probably landing in someone’s file cabinet collecting dust, has led me nowhere. I’ve gained no ground, and know the same two facts that I’ve known all along – she was adopted to a family in Pennsylvania, and is about 20 months older than me. The fantasizing, catastrophizing, wondering and questioning continues, combined with the understanding that people have a right to their own privacy which seems to paralyze me at times. I don’t know the ethics behind attempting to find someone who may or may not want to be found. I did it once (showing up unannounced at the front door of my birth moms house), and although it certainly wasn’t the kindest of introductions, time healed some of the wounds…other wounds may never heal. The unplanned and intrusive meeting between my birthmother and I was not all for naught. Hard? Yes, but necessary. Ethical? That’s debatable.

In the meantime, while I’m seemingly stuck not gaining any ground in my search for her, I think I’ll give her a name. I’ll call her Maya – in honor of Maya Angelou: someone whom I hold in high esteem but will likely never meet. Yes, Maya it is. “Maya,” I don’t know you, but I hold you in high regards as I know you’ve been through a lot. But, sadly, I doubt we’ll ever meet.