Saturday, October 31, 2009
My mom told me about a blog carnival, where everyone blogs about the same topic, and I wanted to do that, too. The topic is special adoption pictures.
This is a picture of me and my favorite blankie. It's my favorite adoption picture because it's my favorite blankie since I was a baby. My mom brought the blanket to China to make me feel better since she knew everything was going to be different after I left the orphanage and I might be scared.
I don't remember that first day, but I think I must have been scared because I never saw American people before and I wasn't used to seeing other people around, just Mr, Gan, the director of the orphanage, and the nannies.
When I got home to America I sort of forgot about the special blankie, I just liked any blankie. But then when I was about 3 or 4, I saw this picture of me and the blankie in my scrapbook and I remembered! I ran to go find it and I haven't forgotten it since. It was special to me again, and I still love it. I sleep with it every night in my bed. It's special because it kind of tells me about when I was a baby, since I don't have anything from my birth parents but I have something from my forever mom.
Do you have anything special you had since you were a baby? If you do, please let me know!
Zoe (age 9 in 6 days!)
Friday, October 30, 2009
I was sitting in the intake room one morning when an anxious young woman came running in holding a tiny bundle. I could immediately tell that the baby was a newborn, and I asked our Chinese director to break the bad news to the woman that the baby was far too young for surgery. As she was given the news, the young lady burst into tears and began pleading and begging to have her child be seen. My friend came over to me and told me that I needed to go and speak with the woman in private, and so I did. She pulled back the blanket to reveal a tiny baby girl with severe cleft lip. The mother told me that her daughter was 28days old , and that their period of confinement was over in just 2 more days. As she was crying and talking, the mom kept kissing her baby's forehead, and she kept telling me again and again, "I love her....I love her so much."
But then she went on to tell me that her extended family would not accept her
daughter since she had been born with a cleft lip. They felt this tiny baby would bring shame to them all. With tears streaming down her face, she told me that her mother-in-law was coming to take the baby away from her in two days' time. The mom was begging me to heal her daughter, to make her daughter beautiful, so that she could keep the baby that she had carried inside of her for 9 months….the daughter she loved completely. When I explained that the baby could not safely be put under anesthesia at four weeks of age, she fell on her knees and was sobbing at my feet, pleading and crying and begging me to help her. Right now...even typing this story....it brings a pain to my chest that I cannot describe.
Amy writes that that visit changed everything for her in how she viewed birth parents in China. Those one-line explanations for abandonment -- one child policy, social preference for boys, medical needs -- were suddenly inadequate. They clearly hide incredibly complex family dynamics, heartbreaking decision-making, deeply personal stories of anguish, sacrifice and loss.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
One of the most amazing things to witness when we added Maya to our family was Zoe and Maya becoming sisters. I swear it was instantaneous! I know we always say that bonding and attachment is a process, not a moment, but with Zoe and Maya it really seemed to happen the moment they met.
I could actually see Maya scope out this new family and figure what her role in it would be (yes, some is innate personality, but some was trying to occupy a space that Zoe wasn't occupying). She would be the little sister. Her job was to be taken care of by the big sister. She also saw her job as cheering Zoe up when she was sad (and, oh, boy, did Zoe have her sad moments in China, meltdown after meltdown at having to share Mama with this new sister! But she never took it out on Maya (too busy taking it out on me!)). But mostly, her job was to lounge on a comfy couch and be fanned by a grape-peeling Zoe!
Zoe also scoped out her job in an instant. She was the big sister/little mother. Just like she told the social worker in a homestudy visit, her job was to take care of Maya in all ways except changing stinky diapers! She fed Maya, holding her bottle as I did, and feeding her noodles from her own chopsticks. She pushed Maya's stroller (when she wasn't sharing it, by squeezing her skinny body behind Maya in the single seat!), she put on her socks and shoes, and brushed her hair ALL the time! She herded Maya like a sheepdog with a single sheep. Zoe LOVED being the boss, and amazingly, Maya did too.
The pattern was set there in Nanning at the first meeting, and five years later, the pattern is the same. And Zoe and Maya are both truly OK with that (we discuss a lot that it's not Maya's job to make Zoe happy (seems like a lot of responsibility for a little girl) but Maya still feels it's her duty to cheer Zoe up when she's down). Maya still exercises her personal code of energy conservation -- not exerting any energy if she can get her sister to do it instead. Zoe still loves mothering and herding Maya (we've actually made it a verb -- "You're big-sissing Maya again!"). They are the closest sisters I've ever seen, happily sharing everything (except Mama -- still a lot of competition on that one), including a single bed (I put them to bed each night in their own beds and wake them up each morning in one bed!).
So that's why that scrapbook layout is one of my favorites -- it illustrates two strangers becoming sisters.
Zoe has been very impressed with Eden's blog (Eden is an 11-year-old China adoptee, and she blogs with her mom, Darlene Friedman, the author of Star of the Week, A Story of Love, Adoption and Brownies with Sprinkles), and told me the other day that she wants to start her own blog. I've suggested that she should post to my blog for awhile to see if she really wants the responsibility of her own blog. So expect to hear more from Zoe here!
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Some argue that these payments are a good thing – it prevents babies from being abandoned in unsafe conditions where they may become ill or die before they are found. They further argue that it is the One Child Policy that is inducing birth parents to give the child to the orphanage or an intermediary, not the cash payments. Some argue that it is reasonable for the orphanage to pay cash to finders to compensate them for their inconvenience and expense in bringing the child in.
But others argue that these cash payments to birth parents may be inducing them to relinquish children they might have otherwise raised – not all children born in violation of the One Child Policy are abandoned or relinquished, and what looks like very little money to us could in fact induce relinquishment in China. And, they argue, payments to intermediaries encourages those intermediaries to acquire children in improper and/or illegal ways. We’ve heard of finders for orphanages seeking out babies by contacting hospitals, doctors, midwives, and by seeking out pregnant women by word of mouth. As intermediaries systematically make it known that they are in the market for children, the quid pro quo aspects of intentionally paying money for children seems unmistakable. And there is always the concern that children will be kidnapped and turned over to an orphanage in exchange for a finder’s fee.
Since there are differing opinions, and offering my opinion wouldn't further the debate in any way, I want to focus on something I do know a little about -- the requirements of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption that might be relevant here. I've done some research, so to the extent that legal interpretations are "opinions," mine is an informed opinion!
Article 8 provides that sending and receiving countries shall take all appropriate measures to prevent improper financial or other gain in connection with an adoption and to deter all practices contrary to the objects of the Convention. One of the objects of the Convention, according to Article 1 is to ensure that safeguards are respected to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children.
In addition to that kind of fluff language, the Convention requires specific safeguards. Article 4 provides that before a child can be placed for international adoption, the sending country must:
First of all, the sending country has to make sure the child is adoptable. In China, this has been done by showing that the child was abandoned and the birth parents were searched for and not found. This wouldn’t be all that different from how it would work in the U.S. for an abandoned baby – a birth parent’s parental rights can be terminated on the grounds of abandonment, freeing a child for adoption.
a) have established that the child is adoptable;
c) have ensured that
(1) the persons, institutions and authorities whose consent is necessary for adoption, have been counselled as may be necessary and duly informed of the effects of their consent, in particular whether or not an adoption will result in the termination of the legal relationship between the child and his or her family of origin,
(2) such persons, institutions and authorities have given their consent freely, in the required legal form, and expressed or evidenced in writing,
(3) the consents have not been induced by payment or compensation of any kind.
But with the “incentive program” orphanages, abandonment isn’t what’s happening. The child was not abandoned at all – either the child was brought to the orphanage by the birth family or was given to an intermediary with the understanding that the intermediary would take the child to care for it or to take it to the orphanage. These are not acts of abandonment. In the U.S., if a person were to leave their child with a responsible adult, it wouldn’t be abandonment. Neither would relinquishing a child for adoption be abandonment. So it would seem China needs to prove the child is adoptable for some reason other than abandonment, and that reason would be a consented-to relinquishment.
The Hague Convention has some pretty stringent requirements for a consented-to relinquishment. The birth parents – “persons whose consent is necessary for an adoption” – have to be counseled appropriately and have to be duly informed of the effects of their consent, including the fact that their consent terminates their legal status as parents. Those consents have to be freely given, and must be in writing. And the consents cannot have been induced by payment or compensation of any kind.
The Hague Convention makes it the sending country’s duty to prove these points before a child can be adopted internationally. The Central Authority overseeing adoptions must complete at least a brief investigation into the motives of those placing the child up for adoption to satisfy this requirement. Thus, China would need to investigate each case where money changed hands to make sure that the child would have been abandoned or turned over to the orphanage even if money had not changed hands. If there is evidence of the birth parents receiving money to the extent that it may affect the decision to give consent, the Convention is violated if that adoption is approved.
If children are truly being abandoned, as we once thought was the exclusive way to place a child for adoption in China, these issues with the Hague Convention are not present. That’s probably why China maintains the fiction that this is what’s happening, going to the extent of making up abandonment stories for children in the orphanage (falsifying records is another violation of the Hague Convention, of course).
But China also seems to be moving toward another system for placing children for adoption, a typical system of birth parent relinquishment. But that system falls woefully short of the requirements of the Convention. Birth parents are not likely to be appropriately counseled by the intermediaries looking to find babies for the orphanages. We have no evidence that birth parents coming to the orphanage – or being approached by intermediaries – are consenting IN WRITING to the relinquishment and adoption. And we know that money is changing hands, and the burden is on the sending country to investigate and prove that the money is not what induced the consent. China has done no investigations, because it continues to claim that children in the orphanages are there because their birth parents abandoned them.
I think there is little doubt that China’s use of incentive programs converts the method of placement from abandonment to relinquishment. And those relinquishments are made in circumstances that clearly violate the Hague Convention on a number of fronts. They are not in writing, no counseling has been given to give assurance that relinquishments are voluntary, and there's no one investigating whether relinquishments are induced by money.
On the plus side, if families are already coming to orphanages to relinquish a child, it wouldn't take that much retooling for China to develop a relinquishment-based system that would benefit children in making the possibility of birth parent information and contact possible. First step, get the money out of it.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Zoe and Maya have each gone through stages where they're fascinated with, um, uh, my chestal area. You know, breasts. How many times have you been with your kids and suddenly you look down and there are two little hands right . . . THERE?! For a while there, I didn't think Zoe would ever potty-train, because when I asked her if she wanted to wear big girl panties like Mama, she asked, "And a BRA?!" It seemed there'd be no pottying in our house unless she had a matching set of lingerie!
The girls have often asked whether they'll have "breasts like Mama's" (I admit, I'm not sure if there's a tinge of envy or horror in the question -- though I am well-endowed, gravity has not been kind!). It's not just breasts, of course. It's looking at me, and wondering what their aging bodies will do. The difficulty of answering that question for adopted children struck me twice in two days this past week.
First, thanks to Facebook friends, I was reading a great story about a local all-Chinese-adoptee Girl Scout Troop:
[The Daisies] lined up eagerly beside the stairs to hear Mei Lin Saunders, a 15-year-old Girl Scout cadet from Carrollton, who had brought her old Brownie and Girl Scout vests festooned with pins and badges to show them how they, too, can progress through the ranks.And then I ran across this post at The Queen of Denial, thanks to Tonggu Mama's Sunday Linkage:
"What do you all have in common with Mei Lin?" Daisy Troop leader and mom Kimberly Powell asked the nearly two dozen girls. . . . "We're all Girl Scouts!" chirped one little voice, with the others murmuring agreement. The parents chuckled softly.
"Yes, and you're all adopted from China," Powell continued. This time the girls murmured "Ahh" and looked up at Mei Lin, who usually goes by the name Jamie, all the more intently. . . . They stared as if they couldn't get enough of her.
Mei Lin's mother, Susan Saunders, nodded, understanding what was going through all those little heads, as she looked proudly at her daughter. "They want to see what they will look like when they are grown up," whispered Saunders, watching from the kitchen.
No one ever really talks about how adoption screws with your future. I mostly talk about how my past was affected by being surrendered. Or if I do talk about the future, it’s to wonder about medical history and genetic stuff. But lately, as I’ve thought a lot about aging, I realized there are a lot of things I’m missing from my view of the future such as something as simple as knowing more than one generation of your DNA. And that is something I think far too many people take for granted.While it doesn't replace actual contact with and information about birth families, this is a place where adult role models of Asian heritage can be important. If you needed yet another reason to make sure your children know Asians of all ages, this is it. How else will my girls figure out that they're not likely -- for good or ill -- to have breasts like Mama's?!
You see a lot of yourself in your family. Where you came from, where you are, and where you will be. I know where I am, and a good chunk of where I came from, but there are no clues laid out for me as to where I might be headed in the future. Most people look at their parents, their grandparents, and can see patterns of aging. It’s not an exact science. It’s kind of a look into the future. It may not be exact, but it’s a glimpse, a preview.
As of today I’m twenty two years and some odd months old. I’m still young, still in my prime years. I don’t have wrinkles and my energy levels are high and my hips still slimmed by a fast metabolism. I don’t know what the future of my body, my face, my skin, bring. I watch my adoptive parents as they are getting older and wonder a lot about my natural family. I wonder if they’re young still or if they are getting closer to being senior citizens. I wonder if my mom has wrinkles or if her skin is still taut. If she is still healthy or if she has developed a disease. The kind of things I really need to know about my future, I can only get from her. She is really the missing link I need to chain my past and future to the present.
Monday, October 26, 2009
A fundamental principle of professional and ethical adoption practice is a commitment to preserving the full and true history and record of the adoption triad; including the birth family, the adoptee, and adoptive family.I've written before about the Natural Born Citizen Clause of the Constitution that purports to prevent foreign-born American citizens from becoming President of the United States. I've argued that our children can be President because the later passage of the Equal Protection Clause has already amended the Natural Born Citizen Clause out of the Constitution. So I consider the FACE Act to convey no benefit, with substantial costs to our children.
In an effort to allow children adopted internationally to be eligible to become US President, FACE diminishes the accurate and critical history of a child’s beginning and connection to birth country. Instead, FACE establishes an artificial history and nationality that severs the valuable and profoundly treasured reality of children adopted from one country and culture to another.
In the evolution of intercountry adoption practice over three generations, it has been firmly established that it must be a priority to preserve the culture and heritage of adoptees to their birth country and culture.
Even if I believed that failing to pass the Act would prevent foreign-born adopted children from becoming President, I would consider it a cost worth bearing, if the alternative is to create a fictitious history for the child that diminishes the connection to birth country and heritage. Talk about Destroying the Past!
Click here to read more and to contact your legislators if so motivated.
In conjunction with a Diwali celebration, President Obama signed an executive order that reestablished an advisory committee and a White House initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. The advisory committee was first established by President Clinton ten years ago, but was eliminated by President Bush in favour of a committee housed under the Department of Commerce that focused primarily on economic issues within the APIA community, ignoring other issues like healthcare, language and education.The post is by guest contributor Jenn from another great blog, Reappropriate, which is subtitled "Words of an Asian American Feminist." Gotta love it!
Asian Beauty Blog
Asian Beauty at Livejournal.com
I'm banking them for the future -- like when my girls turn 30 and I finally let them date!
In Louisiana, biting someone with your natural teeth is "simple assault," while biting someone with your false teeth is "aggravated assault."
In North Dakota, a man can't smoke a cigarette in front of a woman.
In Vermont, it is illegal to paint a horse.
But we're not alone -- from the New York Times, ridiculous rules in China:
All the students at Luolang Elementary School, a yellow-and-orange concrete structure off a winding mountain road in southern China, know the key rules: Do not run in the halls. Take your seat before the bell rings. Raise your hand to ask a question.Some of the Chinese rules seem a little less benign than the salute-all-cars rule, though. Barring male officials from hiring any female secretaries, for example. Or my personal favorite, "officials of a village in Chongqing Province forced unmarried women to pass a chastity test before receiving compensation for farmland appropriated by the government. They argued that only virgins deserved compensation." Sheesh.
And oh, yes: Salute every passing car on your way to and from school.
Education officials promoted the saluting edict to reduce traffic accidents and teach children courtesy. Critics, who have posted thousands of negative comments about the policy on China’s electronic bulletin boards, beg to differ. “This is just pitiful,” wrote one in a post last year. Only inept officials would burden children with such a requirement rather than install speed bumps, others insisted.
This is hardly the only nation where local bureaucrats sometimes run a bit too free. But in China, where many local officials are less than well trained and only the party can eject them from office, local governments’ dubious edicts are common enough that skewering them has become a favorite pastime of China’s Web users. Even the state-run media join in, although they rarely report who was behind the rules or suggest that they indicate a lack of competence to govern.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The bullying made me feel embarassed because when they were doing the "Chinese eyes" thing it was like people in America were making fun of Chinese people like they'd never seen them before.
My principal came to talk to all the third grade classes about it. He said that God created everyone in His own image, and He doesn't want people to make fun of it. He said if the bullying goes on it's a bad thing. And you shouldn't make fun of people just because they look different.
It made me feel good he did that, but it made me feel bad for the people who were doing it because it made them feel sorry. It made be feel good because it won't happen again and that the school thought it was a big problem that the principal had to talk about.
And if that ever happens to you, be part of the solution and not part of the problem. You be part of the solution by telling a teacher or a counselor if you see bullying or if you have been bullied. You be part of the problem if you bully people after you've been bullied. You be part of the problem if you're bullied and you keep it to yourself. If you don't tell someone, it won't stop for you or anyone else.
By Zoe, age 9 (in 12 more days!)
Then recently this blog, written by an adoptive father, surfaced, thanks to a link at O Solo Mama's blog:
An interesting item did come with all her "regular" paperwork, though. It was a letter that her birth father had left for her stating that he was a cold hearted man and she was a costly burden to the family...etc.... When my guide translated it for me, I read it and then promptly shredded it. My guide was shocked. When should I give it to her, I asked, her wedding day???? I felt afraid that if I left that paper around and she was to find it one day, all the positive messages I was giving her would have been diminished in a split second. To me, it doesn't really matter how my 2 girls
got to me. All I care about is that they did. I do speak well of the bio parents of each girl to hopefully keep their self-esteem afloat.
we also have the advantage of understanding our host culture’s worldview and their very deep superstitious beliefs. thus, we were not surprised that sterling was given to us with a jade luck charm - a buddhist charm meant to bring good luck, fortune and protection. we, however, know that this charm is associated with spiritual forces meant to keep people in bondage. thus, we smiled and accepted it as we should, and then later went to the park, broke it, and threw it into the pond, and prayed for our sterling that all spiritual bondage over him would be broken.I'm saddened by both acts of destruction, even if motivated by concern for the child. We have so little information about our children's lives before we met, so few mementos of their lives in their birth countries -- how could one destroy what little exists? These little bits and pieces are likely to be vitally important to our kids as they grow up, and we might well be destroying more than we know.
We might be unwittingly destroying additional information. That note from the birth father might actually be translated in a variety of ways. It might have been incompletely translated, and another translation might reveal more information. That's what happened with Zoe's note -- the translation I was given in China said the note only contained her date of birth. A recent translation revealed that it also included the time of birth, which might not seem much, but every bit of information is valuable to Zoe.
By destroying the note and the orphanage gift of a jade pendant, I believe the adoptive parents are also destroying their children's trust. Imagine what will happen when their children find out that their parents destroyed parts of their pasts. Could you forgive that breach of trust? I'm not sure I could.
Our kids' stories from birth are THEIR stories; we are merely custodians. We have a fiduciary duty -- a solemn duty based on trust -- to preserve those stories. Those bits and pieces might turn out to be valuable puzzle pieces that make clearer the mysterious picture of their pasts. They need these pieces to form and understand their identity.
We may have the discretion to decide when to share the whole story with our children, but not whether to preserve those stories. Keeping or destroying those pieces -- like deciding about eye surgery -- is not our decision, but the decision of our children as they become adults.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
OK, I picked at Halloween costumes in this post, so now you can pick at Maya's! I think she looks cute as a button in this picture from the kindergarten Halloween party, but I'll get you started --
-- how can you venerate piracy in light of what's happening off the coast of Somalia these days?
-- a sword? Do you customarily promote violence and warfare?
-- don't you know the history of piracy and consequent depravity in the U.S.?
There. Now do your worst! (Actually, this is all just a badly-disguised excuse to put up a cute picture!)
At one point, one of the girls said she'd ask if Jesus knows when she'll die. I said that of course Jesus would know the answer to that, but he might not want to share it. "But Jesus can't tell a lie," another girl responded (maybe Maya? Hard to keep track with three little voices coming from the back!). I'm trying to explain the difference between lying and not telling, and Zoe pipes up, "Yeah, sometimes Maya and I don't want people to know we're adopted, so we just don't tell them. But we don't say we're NOT adopted."
Well, that turned the topic to adoption, and I asked, "Would you have any questions for Jesus about adoption?" [I asked about adoption generally, not necessarily quesitons about their adoptions, and there'd already been comments from more than one girl that Jesus had children because we're his children and it's like he adopted us.] Well, the floodgates opened! Our little friend shot her hand up in the air and laid out her list without a moment's hesitation:
"I'd ask Jesus who my birth parents are and if they are still alive. I'd ask why they couldn't keep me and do they have any other kids. I kind of have a temper (she does?! She's a complete sweetheart!), so I'd ask Jesus if I had a temper when I was a baby."
And then Zoe interrupted with her list of questions:
"I'd ask what do my birth parents look like, and are they in Heaven. And were they too poor to keep me, or did they have too many kids (our friend was sure it was because they had too many children). And how could they stay up so late as 3:00 a.m. since that's when I was born (yeah, like a lot of people have a hard time staying awake during labor!) and did I cry a lot as a baby, like when I came out?"
Hmm, I was a little concerned about the temper/crying thing, juxtaposed with questions about their birth parents, because I was wondering if maybe they were both thinking that they'd been "bad babies," and that's why their birth parents didn't keep them. I said, "You know, the reasons birth parents can't keep their babies are big grown-up reasons. Babies can't do anything wrong to make their parents decide not to parent them." The girls both recognized that language -- our friend said, "That's in an adoption book I have at home!" And Zoe said, "Yeah, my life book says that -- babies can't do anything wrong, they're just goo-goo ga-ga babies!" I was pleased to see that both girls felt so confident on the issue.
It was interesting how both girls had in mind what they'd ask Jesus about their adoptions; they've already identified the crux of the matter, all those questions we adoptive parents have to answer, "I don't know." The things they so clearly want to know.
So there's another tool for adoption talk -- what would you ask someone all-seeing, all-knowing?
Friday, October 23, 2009
Be sure to check out the others listed there, and at the Awl, Your Halloween Costume: A Bigot.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
No surprise, punishing just those three boys didn't stop the teasing. And a new twist, kids have been doing the oh-so-charming schoolyard rhyme:
Chinese (do eye-pulling gesture)After a parent (thanks, Lisa!) called the new teasing to the counselor's attention, the school has come around to our way of thinking.
Japanese (touch your waist)
Dirty knees (think that's why Zoe is sensitive about her knees?)
Look at these (hands cupped at chest level)
Yesterday, Zoe's teacher read the class a story about bullying -- Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully (that probably wouldn't have been my first choice, since the resolution to the bullying was to invite the bully to play, which turned him nice). She then said that there was a problem at the school with bullying. Zoe said students in the class were looking at each other in real surprise, and she just sat there nodding -- she knew. Her teacher also gave the class homework, to answer three questions about bullying. Here are Zoe's answers:
1. What is a bully?Seems like a good start. I wonder if the homework sparked as much discussion in other students' homes as it did in ours?!
A bully is someone who hurts someone else and themselves by teasing them, making fun of them, by leaving out of playing, and hitting and pushing.
2. Who does a bully hurt?
A bully hurts someone who doesn't look like them and they hurt themselves because no one wants to be friends with a bully.
3. What do you do when you see someone being bullied?
I would go tell a grownup like a teacher or a counselor. I would also tell them to stop!
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
On Twitter, for example, lots of re-tweets to get the word out, prefaced by lots of "WTF?" and "OMG" comments:
WTF...?? RT @ulb: OMG @adoptiontalk Surgery to Westernize the eyes of an adoptedAsian child: http://twurl.nl/moynka #adoption #race #racism
On Facebook, someone (I have no idea who, but I do know that Wendy also posted it, and I am appreciative!) posted it last night and brought in over 100 hits in one hour.
And these two bloggers have posted their reactions (and be sure to read the interesting comments at their blogs):
At American Family, an important point -- that we make choices for our children every day that can cut them off from their identity as effectively as a scalpel can:
We all know those parents who say “I am not going to make my child learn Chinese now, when they are old enough they can make that decision on their own;” or “She can move to a city/neighborhood with more Asians when she grows up if that is important to her;” or any of the 10,o00 variations on that theme, how is that really so very different?And from an adult adoptee at Pound Puppy Legacy, after noting a feeling of hope that even adoptive parents are talking about this case with horror, an understandibly angry reaction in An Eye-Opening Look at the Power of an AP:
Let’s not kid ourselves here, choosing to learn Chinese/travel to China/participate in Asian American activities/be a member of the Asian American community when your parents have never prioritized your Chineseness might feel like you are making an obvious choice to reject your parents’ culture/parenting/community etc. It might be too hard or too late or too awkward to comfortably make that decision by the time you are an adult.
As a matter of fact, who can say how late is too late? My kids arealready thinking about this stuff now at ages 3 and 6.
It isn’t just a scalpel that can do that kind of damage to our children’s identity. The choices we make as parents — as WHITE parents who adopted Children of Color — that are impacting our child’s ability to make their own choices about his or her identity. Every minute of every day.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my Amother told me my birthday gift was going to take care of a problem. In my case, my "problem" was my nose. According to my Amother, it was too big... too ethnic. It had to be fixed. I had to be fixed. If I got fixed, more people would like me. If I got my face fixed, everything would be perfect.I shared the link to my blog post with the colleague (who, btw, is not a member of the adoption triad) who first told me about the article, and this is what she had to say:
As my stupid luck would have it, the plastic surgeon she chose for me was old (close to death/retirement) and not that great. As a result of that surgery, I have these annoying nodules I'd like to have removed, but won't because it's not anything I can afford to do... and quite honestly, I wouldn't want a plastic surgeons nose, anyway. My annoying nodules give me "character"... a quality many seem to like, once they get to know me. [Anyone see the irony in that statement?]
I read the comments and appreciate the concerns raised by the adoptive parents. This article was one of several originally published in the Hastings Center Report about parents consenting to medically unnecessary cosmetic procedures for their children. Some countries are considering banning such surgeries in persons under 18. While I think the westernizing of children’s eyes is particularly repugnant, the whole idea of parents seeking out cosmetic surgery to make their children “better” than “normal” bothers me greatly.I'm pleased that there are others who want to keep the conversation going. This issue is, of course, larger than this child and larger than unnecessary surgery, as appalling as that is. It's about the importance of identity, and what adoptive parents can and should do -- and should not do -- to foster positive racial identity in their children. And it's about adoption generally, and the absolute NEED for adoptive parents to unconditionally love and accept their children EXACTLY AS THEY ARE.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Canadian government has expressed formal concerns to China about claims that Chinese babies are being kidnapped and sold to orphanages for adoption in Canada and other western countries [as reported by Chinese newspapers and the L.A. Times], Canwest News Service has learned.
Canadian Embassy staff in Beijing have asked the chief of the China Centre of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) — the state agency that oversees China's international adoption program — to investigate.
"Chinese authorities are looking into this question," says Janet Nearing, the director of adoption services for the government of Nova Scotia, who says federal officials in Ottawa informed her that embassy staff have held meetings on the subject with Chinese officials.
"(CCAA's) director general has assured the embassy staff that the agency is looking into this matter," says Nearing. "He added that no children adopted by Canadians were (illegally obtained). I don't know what his source of information would be, but
that's the information we were given."
* * *
Reports of corruption in China's international adoption program first surfaced in 2005, but China said it was an isolated incident. New allegations this year prompted one Canadian parent — a mother in Nova Scotia who adopted a Chinese baby in 2006 — to go public this fall with fears that her daughter may not have been a legitimate orphan.
* * *
Nearing, who oversees all adoptions in Nova Scotia including those from overseas, calls this year's allegations "very troubling," and says they prompted her to ask Ottawa to look into the matter.
* * *
In the past, China has not responded kindly to questions about alleged corruption within its state-run adoption system.
When the Dutch government raised similar concerns in 2008, China warned the Dutch that ongoing questions would result in trade retaliation against Holland, according to government documents obtained by the Dutch adoption agency, World Children.
* * *
Nearing says Ottawa and other governments are virtually powerless to verify what Chinese authorities might tell them, calling the foreign-adoption program a matter of "trust" between countries.
She also says she has no way of telling parents who have adopted from China whether their child was abducted, trafficked, or legally obtained.
Despite such problems, Nearing says Canada should wait for more information before imposing a possible moratorium on adoptions from China.
Monday, October 19, 2009
The speaker was a proud father. To illustrate his comments about a piece of art that celebrated the wonders of modern medicine (and which he had just donated to a local hospital), he told a story about his adopted Asian daughter. He described her as a beautiful, happy child in whom he took much delight. Her life, he told the audience, had been improved dramatically by the miracle of modern medicine. When she joined her new Caucasian family, her eyes, like those of many people of Asian descent, lacked a fold in the upper eyelid, and that lack was problematic—in his view—because it made her eyes small and sleepy and caused them to shut completely when she smiled. A plastic surgeon himself, he knew she did not need to endure this hardship, so he arranged for her to have surgery to reshape her eyes. The procedure, he explained, was minimally invasive and maximally effective. His beautiful daughter now has big round eyes that stay open and shine even when she smiles.
* * *
[T]wo things separate this case from the run-of-the-mill medical case. First, no medical, psychological, or physical impairment triggered the need for a parental decision; the father chose the surgery based on his aesthetic preference. Second, the intervention itself permanently altered a feature that is to some people an integral aspect of identity. These points make a moral difference. Most parental decisions to treat a child medically or surgically are a response to a physical or psychological impairment, illness, or injury in the child. In those cases, some need of the child triggers the decision to intervene, and the parent is the best person to sort through the medically appropriate choices for the child. But when a parent modifies features of a child that have nothing to do with physical impairment but can be integral to identity, and bases that decision on his own needs or aesthetic preferences, he asserts physical control over the child's body in the same way that he might assert control over a piece of property that he can modify to his specifications.
* * *
The nature of the surgery makes the case especially troubling. For some people, the shape of the eye is an integral part of ethnicity, a component of identity. A change to it may, therefore, go deeper than the removal of a mole or the pinning of a child's ears. In choosing the surgery, the father took from his daughter the ability to make her own choice about her identity. His exercise of parental autonomy thus limited his daughter's potential autonomy in a critical way; it took away her right to make a decision central to her identity as an adult, a right that is, like others, central to an open future.
* * *
The fact that the father was a new adoptive parent makes his decision feel particularly egregious. Perhaps because adoption already involves an exchange, worries about ownership seem closer to the surface. As a result, the adoptive parent seems to have a stronger obligation to accept the child's individuality, especially if the adoption is cross-cultural or cross-racial.
A friend of mine tells of her mother's reaction to her adoption of a child from China -- out of the blue, her mother leans over and says in a confiding tone, "You know, you can get her eyes fixed." Her response -- "Her eyes aren't broken. There's nothing to fix." Good answer!
But this father? I don't have words strong enough to describe him. How horrific for his child. Not only has he made the choice to strip her of her identity, he's made an affirmative statement that her perfectly normal Asian features are broken, and need to be fixed. Yes, as the article notes, some Asian parents have this surgery performed on their Asian children, but the meaning is completely different when a white parent has his daughter's Asian eyes "fixed."
Sunday, October 18, 2009
If you're all for keeping it real when talking about adoption, you MUST vote for this woman's work. If you prefer a steady diet of rainbows and unicorns, red threads and ladybugs, vote for someone else. Here's why Dawn wants to win:
Now isn't that a refreshing campaign platform?! It's classic Dawn. Dawn is open -- open-minded, open-hearted -- and blogs openly and honestly about the ups and downs of an open, transracial adoption. She is open about her mistakes, about her emotions, about her opinions. She does not shy away from the hard issues in adoption, but shares the happy times, too. She gets what so many don't get -- that adoption is more complicated than the win-win narrative that society sells.
» Because I’m tired of the same old cultural ideas about adoption getting play ALL THE DANG TIME.
» Because adoption may be a miracle for the adoptive parents but it’s a whole lot more complicated for our kids, for our kids’ first parents and for the communities/ countries that lose those kids.
» Because if I won the $1000 grand prize I’d donate it to Ethica, who “advocates for national and international improvement of adoption practices, offering support, education and advocacy to all persons affected by adoption.” (per their mission statement)
So please vote for Dawn. And you can hit refresh, and vote again and again and again (the Bump says it's ok to do so!). Please pass the word -- time is running out! We have until 11:59pm EST Monday to vote for keeping it real.
His concerns about New Jersey adoptions would apply to the other 49 states, since they all use essentially the same process. Click here to read more. (hat tip to ulb on twitter for the link -- follow for more great stuff!)
Adoption is generally perceived as a positive thing — hope, love and new beginnings. We prefer not to dwell on the negatives that usually precede an adoption — anguish, anger and severing of family ties. . . . [T]his piece will focus on the [domestic] adoption process arising out of non-agency placements with potential adoptive parents who are not part of the child’s original family, commonly referred to as private placements or private adoptions.
* * *
It seems to me that a significant number of New Jersey adoptions, particularly private adoptions, are on shaky legal ground. A court’s termination of parental rights based primarily upon the Notice of Intention to Place and the report of the approved agency is considerably weaker than the “clear and convincing evidence” required to pass constitutional muster.
Birthparents should not have been expected to navigate these labyrinthine statutes without independent counsel. Without counsel, birthparents have virtually no way of knowing the long-term effect of their relinquishment and the post-adoption sealing of the court’s file, including the child’s original birth certificate.
The child is an indispensable party and requires independent counsel to protect his or her own fundamental rights and interests — including adult rights and interests — from being needlessly compromised.
Due process in adoption? Hardly.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
I've posted this video before, but since obsessive watching of it apparently makes one sound like a "real Chinese kid" when singing it, I thought I'd post it again!
My girls do watch it obsessively, and will perform "Ni Wa Wa" at the drop of a hat. So I wasn't surprised when Zoe started singing it in the car when we were giving our Chinese tutor a ride home.
One of the things the tutor was helping us with was picking out some Tang poems for Zoe to recite at the Chinese School speech contest. She nixed on Zoe had picked, and picked another because "everyone will know this one!"
And then when she heard Zoe singing "Ni Wa Wa," she exclaimed, "She must sing this for the speech contest -- she sounds just like a real Chinese kid!"
It reminded me of this video snippet, which I've also posted before:
Zoe, of course, was thrilled to sound like a "real Chinese kid." She loved every opportunity she had in China to distance herself from me so that she would be seen as a "real" Chinese girl. I never really had the heart to tell her that people in China knew immediately by the way she was dressed, how her hair was long and loose, and her behavior that she was overseas Chinese, even if they didn't figure her as adopted.
But hey, Miss Lucy says she sounds like a real Chinese kid -- she's happy. Never mind the multiple layers there . . . .
Friday, October 16, 2009
A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.One can easily infer his opinion of transracial adoption, don't you think?!
Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long. . . . Bardwell told the Daily Star of Hammond that he was not a racist. "I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house," Bardwell said. "My main concern is for the children."
Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.
"I don't do interracial marriages because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves," Bardwell said. "In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."
Of course, the JP's actions are completely unconstitutional, and the ACLU is requesting the Louisiana Judiciary Commission to remove him.
It's all so ugly, it even hurts to type it. I can only imagine how much it hurt Zoe to hear it. She was upset, but even worse, when I offered sympathy, she tried to make me feel better, saying, "I'm used to it." She's used to it, not because anyone has said that about her skin before, but because of the "Chinese eyes" incidents. How awful to be 8 years old and used to racial teasing and racial insults.
When kids make comments about race I don't automatically assume they've learned racism from their racist parents. But this one? The "mud" reference makes me think of white supremacists who call all non-whites "mud people." Am I overreacting? Maybe. But the "sneaking around" comment also seems too . . . I don't know the right word -- sophisticated?advanced? for a 6-year-old insulting an Asian-American.
Sneaky, sly, devious -- this part of the Asian-American stereotype exists, even with the prevalence of the "model minority" myths. But would a 6-year-old see Asian-Americans as sneaky? Has she been reading news accounts of Chinese spies? Watching Fu Manchu movies? Catching up on the justifications for internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II? Somehow I doubt it. So where does it come from at this age?!
I don't know what else to say. Enough intellectualizing.
My child claims to be "used to it." It just sucks.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
From the MadDuchess at the Disloyal Subject of the Red Queen, You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up: the story of a Chinese girl adopted by white parents who haven't told her she's adopted.
From Dawn at this woman's work, Our Adoption Story: if you've only started reading recently, a chance to get the back story on Madison's adoption, and their move to a very open adoption. You can also click here to vote for this woman's work in the best adoption blog category at the Bump, a well-deserved award!
Two stories from the Minneapollis StarTribune on international adoption: Burned By a Baby Broker (subject obvious) & Adoption Treaty Sets Up Double Standard in U.S., about how non-Hague-accredited agencies still operate.
From Cedar, On a Little Island in the Pacific: An Adoption Blog, "Abandonment:" A Disconnect in Adoption: exploring who is defining "abandonment," when the dominant voices in adoption are not those of birth mothers.
Red Faced and Smacked Down (scroll down to Oct. 1): Learning it's not advisable to troll for birth mothers in an online support group for pregnant teens (this is something you need to learn?!).
Yoon Seon at Seumnida: If I Was Different, Would You Have Kept Me? ("I don’t think the shame surrounding my adoption will ever really go away. Even knowing that there are thousands of other adoptees out there, I still feel ashamed… small… frustrated and angry, knowing that had I been kept by my birth mother… I would have been the cause for her life being ruined.")
First Modern Day Adoption Of Chinese Child: From 1980, Chinese child adopted by American couple, Chinese judge declares the child "China's gift of friendship to America." Ick. (hat tip to kantmakm at adopttalkcanada). UPDATE: Thanks to AmericanFamily for the link to the relief bill in Congress trying to straighten out the immigration status of that Chinese child.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
A few years ago when actress Angelina Jolie announced she’d be adopting a 6-month-old girl from Africa, I had mixed emotions. I’ve always thought Jolie was one of the flyest chicks in the Hollywood game, but interracial adoptions can be a tricky thing no matter how fly you are.
I’d heard the horror stories around Hollywood about the adopted black children of white movie stars becoming incredibly confused about their backgrounds. For instance, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey a few years ago; Tom Cruise said his interracial son, Conner, was not a color, so the family didn’t discuss race.
Nice sentiment, but in the real world Conner is considered black. If not Cruise, then
someone else will point that reality out to Connor with little hesitation. This is one major reason there has been such a hot national debate over interracial adoptions. The fear is that non-African-American parents won’t be able to raise black children with an understanding of who they are and what that means in mainstream society. Such an understanding is just as imperative as shelter and food if the child is to survive and thrive.
In recent pictures it's clear Angelina Jolie hasn’t taken the time to learn or understand the long and painful history of African-American women and hair. If she had I can’t imagine she would continue to allow Zahara to look like she has in the past few months. Photos of Zahara show the 4-year-old girl sporting hair that is wild and unstyled, uncombed and dry. Basically: a “hot mess.’’
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
First, she tried to vamp me out of making her do her homework -- smiling sweetly at me, she said, "You're a nice mama who cares about our feelings!" I respond, "Yes, I care about your feelings. I'm sorry you don't feel like doing your homework, but you need to do it anyway."
Next, she tries to distract me with the continuing soap opera that is Kindergarten. It seems that C., the little boy Maya likes, got in trouble for kissing another little girl in the class (I thought Maya would be the first kindergartner to get in trouble for kissing someone, since my fast girl managed to kiss all the boys in her preschool class last year). But Maya claims to be OK with C.'s attention to another girl since, she tells me, she has an "extra man. (her exact words!)" What?! There's another little boy, K., who Maya claims is her "extra man," because she plays with him when C. doesn't want to play with her. "Extra man?!" Where does she come up with this stuff????
Finally, after the fourth time I told her she could not write her Chinese characters upside down (meaning while MAYA was upside down -- since she had her book upside down with her, the characters would have actually been rightside up!), Maya says with supreme confidence, "You would never give us away, would you?"
Where in the world did that come from? As far as I know, neither of my kids has heard about adoption disruption.
So Maya succeeds in getting out of Chinese School homework -- for a moment, at least.
"You're right," I say. "I would never give you away. Even when I'm frustrated with you, I love you. We are a family forever. That's how adoption works. Adoption is permanent."
Maya says, "Like a permanent marker?"
Me: "Just like a permanent marker, smart girl! You know how I don't want you to write on things with a permanent marker because we can't erase it? The mark stays forever, and we can't ever get rid of it. We can't erase adoption, either. It stays forever."
"Now lets get your Chinese School homework finished."
No surprise, eh? If she does decide to write about her disruption experience, maybe a publisher will do a little marketing survey among adoptive parents and think twice before offering her a contract.
Monday, October 12, 2009
But I've been reading a bit about the numerous Orphan/Adoption Ministries at churches around the country and I've been thinking (always dangerous, I know!).
The justification for the Orphan Ministry is always James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
From an adoptee's perspective, a link to a previous post -- another story by Tai Dong Huai, the adult Chinese adoptee who writes fiction related to adoption (I posted her story, Backwards , last month). In Chinaman's Chance, her 13-year-old self thinks a Chinese woman her mother brought home might be her birth mother:
This is her , I think to myself. A billion-to-one shot, a near impossibility, yet here she stands. In our kitchen. As if hell just froze over.And thanks to Lori's link in the comments, scanning faces from a Chinese birth mother's perspective at Mortimer's Mom's blog:
"This is Mrs. Lim," my adoptive mom says. "Mrs. Lim, my daughter Leah."
Mrs. Lim's is as razor thin as I am. Her hair, like mine, is very dark brown, black by most light. My 13-year-old nose, uncustomarily long for an Asian girl, seems to be reflected in her middle-aged face.
* * *
I hear my mom on the front porch and I know my time with Mrs. Lim is almost through. My adoptive dad, were he here to give me advice in this situation, would probably say, "Go for it," or "Swing for the fences." So I do.
"Are you my mother?" I ask.
Mrs. Lim stares at me for a few long seconds, and I'm afraid at first that she doesn't understand. I'm sorry, I'm about to say. Stupid question. But she interrupts my thoughts as the front door opens.
"Your mother," she says, "just came in."
This afternoon, I was at Reno-Depot (Canadian home depot, except green) with Dumpling, picking out paint for her attic playroom.
There was an Asian couple also trying to select paint, and I could tell the lady wanted to talk to me but was too shy.
* * *
They did turn out to be Chinese, . . .Then he told me his wife was having a hard time because she didn't speak either languages, but also because in Montreal there are really a lot of white families with chinese girls, and it's very hard on her.
At first I thought he meant she was opposed to international adoptions or something, but the rest of their story brought me to my knees, right there in the paint department. They have a six year old daughter. But they also have a 3 year old daughter. They lived in Shanghai at the time of their 2nd daughter's birth and were unable to keep her. They had to give her to an orphanage. 6 months afterwards, their papers came to allow them to travel to Canada. After he told me this, he told his wife what he had told me and she began to weep openly, while caressing my daughter's face.
* * *
The part that was the most thought provoking to me is this: I read Lost Daughters of China, I've thought about my daughter's birth family often, but this had never occured to me before: some of these parents will emigrate. Some of them will come to Canada and the US. They are confronted with happy families caring for Chinese children and must wonder if their own daughters are here in North America, if they made it, if they have families now....
How is it that in this entire process, I have never once given the thought to these parents ever leaving China? Why did I assume they ALL stayed there? I realise that the numbers who do emigrate are low, and the chances of any reunification for ANY of the daughters of China are astronomically small, but that woman today, she is looking for her daughter in the faces of every tiny Chinese girl with white parents....
Wow! Even knowing how little chance there is that my children's birth parents will/have emigrate/d (which, by the way, I told Zoe), that encounter still gives me chills. And thanks to Lorraine's comment, we know that there is little to separate American birth mothers and Chinese birth mothers on this front (and I'm looking forward to your blog post on the topic, Lorraine!).
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The article concludes:
The problem is rooted in China's population controls, which limit most families to one child, two if they live in the countryside and the first is a girl. Each town has a family planning office, usually staffed by loyal Communist Party cadres who have broad powers to order abortions and sterilizations. People who have additional babies can be fined up to six times their annual income -- fines euphemistically called "social service expenditures," which are an important source of revenue for local government in rural areas.
In light of the sometimes-strained China-Taiwan relations, it's interesting to see the slant a Taiwanese newspaper puts on this news from China.
Some people blame international adoption itself, saying that the money involved creates the opportunity for abuse. With China there are obviously reasons to be extra careful -- the lack of freedom for a couple to found and raise a family, and the absence of a free press that might thoroughly investigate the whole question of "abandonment" of baby girls.
Since most of those adopted overseas go to the US, it is certainly an issue for the government there to investigate and put the heat on Beijing if necessary.
Friday, October 9, 2009
I wasn't completely surprised by the question. We hear often from adult adoptees about their scanning faces and wondering. But this is the first time Zoe had said anything that suggested she did that. I guess I would have thought of it more as something she'd do in China, but not here. Clearly, I was wrong about that.
So I responded, "It sounds like maybe you do that, look at Chinese people and wonder. . . ."
Zoe nodded, and said, "Especially if they're really Chinese. You know, like they don't really speak English."
Hmm, so she's thinking her birth family might have emigrated to America. She's said something like that before.
Well, another conversation peppered with many "I don't knows" from me. We talked a little about emigration, and why people might leave their country to go to another one, and the things that might prevent someone from doing that even if they really want to. And we talked about how hard it is for her to want to know her birth parents and to be wondering about them. And I told her that other adoptees wonder, just like she does, if people they see might be their birth parents (I wanted her to know she was normal!).
And then Zoe changed the subject: "Let's talk about ME!" she says (What have we been doing?!).
Me: "What about you?"
Zoe: "You know! How you MET me!"
Ah, yes, center-of-the-universe girl! That's what we're supposed to be talking about at our Chinese dinner -- the moment 2,920 days ago that we met each other for the first time!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
We have seen a number of parents in China on the verge of this desperation. We’ve also seen children who have obviously had some medical treatment as they are abandoned with surgical scars or needle marks from previous IVs. Obviously the parents tried to give the child the medical care they needed, but we have to wonder if they ran out of funds and so felt the desperation of having to leave them in the hopes they would get care.
This is the reason behind our Unity Fund, our medical treatment fund that helps poor, rural families who can’t afford medical treatment. We want families to stay together, and we love when we can “prevent an orphan” by providing the medical care needed so that the family doesn’t have to consider such a drastic decision.
God gave Adam dominion over all the creatures, and as evidence of that dominion, Adam was asked to name all the animals (and name Eve, too). This passage is frequently used by some religions to argue that women cannot be priests, and is often pointed to by feminists as proof of patriarchy – the pervasive culture of dominion of MAN over all creatures, including woman. Because the power of naming is dominion – control, authority, mastery.
I studied this passage from the Bible in college, both in theology classes and women studies classes (I was a member of the “Major of the Week Club” there for a while in college!). I’ve taught about the power of naming in my Women & the Law class and Feminist Jurisprudence seminar.
So what does this Biblical story have to tell us about naming in adoption? How about this? We name that which we wish to control. By naming, we assume a blank slate. We act like no identity exists until we name. Once the child is seen as a blank slate, it is easier to see the child as made for us, to have no purpose except to satisfy our needs. This is the significance of Adam naming the animals, and this is the danger in naming children born to us; it’s a bigger problem in naming children whose life began before we met.
There’s a softer side to naming as “dominion,” isn’t there? It's naming as claiming, about belonging instead of control, I think. For adoptive parents, naming the child is one of the first acts of claiming her as “your own.” Bestowing on the child a family name especially – naming her for your favorite aunt, using the traditional family name given to oldest sons – can be a mark of belonging. Sometimes not doing that seems odd (don’t you think it’s a little strange that the only children Angelina Jolie named after relatives are her biological children?!).
But the problem with naming as claiming is that it can seem like a rejection of all that came before, an erasure of the child’s pre-adoption identity and a rejection of birth culture and country, even a rejection of birth parents. For many adoptive children, that first name is the only link they have to their past, the only thing that they can claim as their own. Rejection of that first name is rejection of identity, isn't it? We're back to the blank slate, those animals we had no words for until Adam spoke their names.
Naming can also be a re-claiming. Feminist discussions of naming focus on reclaiming the power of naming, the power to define one’s own existence on one’s own terms. Giving a name to a condition or experience can make it real. Until women named the experience “sexual harassment,” for example, there was no language to talk about that icky thing your boss did to you at work and no way to claim any legal injury from it.
Some adoptees choose to reclaim their former names – the names given by birth parents, reflective of family, the names given by orphanage workers, reflective of home country and culture. I imagine that some adoptive parents might see this as rejection – but then perhaps the adoptive parents will be able to use that reaction to identify with the adoptee’s feeling that erasing a previous name amounted to rejection of what came before. Or if they believe their naming was a claiming and not a rejection, then they can simply see the adoptee’s action as reclaiming, not rejection.
All of this philosophical rambling actually went into my process of naming my children. I understood the power of naming in a theoretical sense, but the power of naming – the real POWER of it – became real to me when I named my children. Like many adoptive parents, I tried to strike a balance.
So my girls had a shared beginning, and they shared the surname Jin, a surname selected for all children there because the orphanage was near JinTiancum, the site of a famous peasant rebellion. Jin means gold.The girls from the orphanage during a certain period – when my oldest was there – are named Jin Something Ling. Then the director changed to a new naming convention – Jin Something Li – when my youngest was there. So my daughters were Jin YiLing and Jin BingLi. (And anyone reading from their orphanage can identify the orphanage immediately by knowing these names -- ah, a larger sisterhood).
I kept YiLing and BingLi as part of their new names. I wish I’d kept Jin, too, but at the time I didn’t know I’d have a second daughter, much less that she’d be from the same orphanage. I wish they had the name connection now, not just then, but I’d already dropped it for YiLing by the time BingLi entered our lives.
NAMES -- the topic of this month's blog carnival at Grown in My Heart. Go there to read other takes on the topic, and blog your own post about names and go there to link it. I've posted before about naming -- What's In a Name? and Naming (about "milk names" in China).