Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Absurd Dilemmas Caused by Secrets in Closed Adoptions

Jean Strauss, adoptee, author (Birthright & Beneath a Tall Tree) and filmmaker (Vital Records & ADOPTED: for the life of me), has this piece at the Huffington Post:
How angry would you be if the government had personal information about you -- but wouldn't let you see it? Many adult adoptees can relate to this experience -- forty states still withhold their original birth certificates from them. The secrets inherent in closed adoptions can create a lifetime of frustration and feelings of being second-class citizens -- and can also create absurd dilemmas.

Gay Ellen Brown is a 51-year-old Illinois adoptee who was raised in New Jersey. In 2009, she was diagnosed with several pre-cancerous breast lesions. After these were surgically removed, her doctor requested she have a BRCA DNA test to see if she carried the gene for breast and ovarian cancer. If she did carry the gene, it would guide many decisions about her future treatment and would be important for her children and grandchildren to know.

But Gay Ellen's insurance company refused to pay for the test, citing a company policy that only allowed coverage if there was a demonstrated family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Since Gay Ellen had no way of knowing her family's medical background, she could not prove the need for the genetic analysis. The BRCA test cost over $3,000, and Gay Ellen was unable to personally afford it.

"It's always in the back of my mind," she says. "Am I carrying this gene? I have three daughters and a granddaughter. What about them? The insurance company knows I'm adopted but it makes no difference."
I've mentioned before that I'm a big Jean Strauss fan -- I had to admit that I felt starstruck when I shared a ride with her from the train station to the hotel when I attended the American Adoption Congress convention! I can't wait to see the new documentary, ADOPTED: for the life of me (I missed the screening at both the AAC convention AND the St. John's conference, darn it!).  It has not yet been shown on my PBS station.  Click here to see when it airs on yours.

Stupid Questions, Smartass Answers

At Parent Dish, some answers I wish I could give to stupid adoption questions:
1. Are those your real children?
*No, they're robots from the planet Mergatroid who landed here overnight. Careful, they may zap you with their bacteria-building laser gun.
*Is that your real brain or a loaner from the moron store?

2. Where is their real mother?
*With your husband.
*Out on parole next month. I'll give her your address.

3. Are they orphans?
*Why yes, didn't you catch their cameos in "Annie?"

4. Are your children related?
*Yes, to your father.
*Yes, they're siblings. You know, like your parents.

5. What do they eat?
*Idiots who ask stupid questions.
*Oh, goodness. Am I supposed to feed them?

7. Can we touch their hair to see what it feels like?
*Sure, for $100.

9. Did they eat monkey (kid from Africa), rice (kid from China), borscht (kid from Russia), rice and beans (Central/South America)?
*Yes, because they're walking stereotypes of [insert nationality], just like you're a walking stereotype of an American idiot.

13. Why did you adopt them?
*Because I wanted to gray faster, like you!
*Angelina was busy and Madonna couldn't take the bad publicity.
*Somebody's gotta do the household chores and it's not gonna be me.
*I'm starting a home mail-order business. Free labor!
*It was between them and a Chia pet, and all my plants end up dying.

18. Do they know who their real parents are?
*Yes, the ringmaster and the bearded lady.
*Honestly, does anyone?
*No, do you?

22. What do they call you? Mom?
*They've already adopted the American practice of, "Hey, you."
*'Mom' seems to have that motherly ring to it, which is kind of cool being that I'm their mom.
*They call me mom for the same reason people call you dumb ass. It just fits.

27. Do they speak English?
*Only when they swear.
*Yes. You should try it sometime.

30: Do they still speak (Swahili, Chinese, Spanish, Russian)?
*Only at school. It gets them special ESL accommodations. We're trying to game the system.
*That and five other languages, all fluently.
*Yes, and they're teaching me several new ways to tell you to $#@! off!
Yes, I know all the reasons we shouldn't answer this way -- role-modeling for our kids, people don't intend to be hurtful, etc., but it is fun to imagine!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Heart and Sole

China adoptee and heart patient designs a Nike shoe:
Shelby's Nike Free Run+ 2 DB Women's Shoe has plenty of heart. That's because it comes from Shelby Lee, a 12 year old diagnosed with heart disease. After five surgeries to fix her heart, Shelby is now able to run, making this Nike Free Run+ a perfect tribute to her life story.

* * *

The sockliner of Shelby's shoe features a hand-drawn map, tracing her journey from an orphanage in China to her home in Oregon. Vibrant colors pop with her inspiring drawings along the lightweight midsole, and the turquoise upper reminds her of the sky. A broken heart with the word "China" is featured on the tongue of the left shoe, and a whole heart with "U.S.A." is on the tongue of the right shoe. Shelby added this design element to show that her broken heart has been fixed.

* * *

Doernbecher Children's Hospital has been helping heal children and families in the Oregon and Washington area since 1926. It's a national leader in research and education and offers a wide range of comprehensive pediatric care. The Doernbecher Freestyle program, a partnership between Nike and Doernbecher, allows a group of special patients who have triumphed over serious illnesses to design authentic Nike shoes.
Click here to see it!

Openness in Adoption and Adoptees' Attitudes Toward Birth Mothers

You're aware of the big Minnesota/Texas adoption study, right? It's a longitudinal research study that focuses on the consequences of variations in openness in adoption arrangements for all members of the adoptive kinship network: birthmothers, adoptive parents, and adopted children, and for the relationships within these family systems.  It involves a large sample, and has been following participants for over twenty years.  You can read a report of the results of a wave 2 study (wave 1 was when adoptees were in early/middle childhood, wave 2 involved adoptees at average age of 15.7) here: Many Faces of Openness in Adoption: Perspectives of Adopted Adolescents and Their Parents.  The study describes the different openness arrangements the adoptive families and birth mothers have, and also examines the attitudes and feelings about openness and adoption depending on the degree of openness.  I was particularly interested in attitudes toward birth families.  According to the study,
All adolescents were asked a general question, “How do you feel about your birth mother?”, regardless of whether they had contact. Responses about feelings toward birth mothers were coded separately for positive and negative affect, since positive and negative feelings can vary independently of each other. A 5-point scale was used, with 1 indicating no positive (or negative) affect or no feelings about her, 3 indicating moderate positive (or negative) affect, and 5 indicating strong positive (or negative) affect. Value 2 fell between 1 and 3, and value 4 fell between 3 and 5. Examples of positive affect included descriptions of adolescents’ feelings about their birth mother that used words such as love, happiness, excitement, interest, pride; examples of negative affect included words such as sadness, nervousness, anxiety, shame, anger.
According to the researchers, "Adopted adolescents’ positive feelings about their birth mothers varied significantly as a function of openness arrangements. . . . [T]he mean level of positive affect was significantly higher in the contact with meetings group than in the no contact or stopped contact groups. . . . Negative feelings about birth mothers did not vary as a function of openness arrangement."  Furthermore,
Adolescents having contact with meetings were asked how they felt after the meetings. Each adolescent’s interview response was coded for the predominant three descriptors. . . . Half of the responses were accounted for by two categories: “pleasure/happiness/contentment” and “anxious/apprehensive/concerned/nervous/tense/weird.” None of the adolescents reported feelings of fear, hatred, surprise, anger, or confusion about who their parents were. Twenty-seven adolescents (51.9 percent) reported a mixture of descriptors that seemed to include both positive and negative feelings after meetings. A typical combination was “nervous” and “very happy.” A total of 21 adolescents (40.4 percent) reported only positive feelings, 2 (3.8 percent) reported only negative feelings, and 2 (3.8 percent) said they did not remember how they felt. The latter two adolescents said they had only met their birth mother once.
The researchers conclude:
These data revealed that many adolescents’ meetings with birth relatives are an occasion for a mixture of feelings, especially pleasure intermingled with nervousness. However, it is especially noteworthy that no adolescents mentioned that meetings made them feel afraid, surprised, angry, or confused about who their parents were. This should be reassuring to prospective adoptive parents who mention concern about confusion as a reason for not having birth parent contact. Once again, we have found no evidence that contact is inherently harmful to children’s or adolescents’ well-being.
Reassuring, indeed. 

Intercountry Adoption, Child Laundering & the Hague

At the St. John's adoption conference I attended in October, Professor of Law David Smolin was one of the keynote speakers.  He talked about corruption in international adoption, asking a very important question -- is the problem one of a few bad actors or is there something systemic wrong with international adoption?

He concluded that the problem was systemic, that international adoptions went wrong even when well-intentioned, honest and reputable agencies sought to do ethical international adoptions.  The problem, he said, was money.  What the West sees as small amounts of money -- paid to birth parents, foreign "facilitators," orphanage directors, government officials -- are huge amounts of money in most sending countries.  With rich-nation demand for children and profit-seeking motives in sending countries, international adoption as currently practiced leads to child laundering, which "involves obtaining children illicitly through force, fraud, or financial inducement; providing false paperwork which identifies such illicitly obtained children as legally abandoned or relinquished 'orphans'; and offering or placing these socalled 'orphans' for adoption."

In this important law review article, CHILD LAUNDERING AND THE HAGUE CONVENTION ON INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION: THE FUTURE AND PAST OF INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION, Professor Smolin considers whether the Hague Convention can lead to needed reforms in international adoption.  He provides very interesting information about the negotiations leading up to the passage of the treaty; noting that the treaty negotiations happened against the backdrop of a report about adoption corruption by Hans Van Loon, Smolin says the U.S. position seemed less concerned about corruption:
The goals of the United States during the negotiations appeared somewhat distinct from that of Mr. van Loon. Thus, while Peter Pfund, the head delegate for the United States, acknowledged that the Hague Convention was created in the shadow of reports about child trafficking in the intercountry adoption system, these anti-trafficking concerns apparently were far less central to Mr. Pfund and the United States than they had been to Hans van Loon and other nations. Indeed, it seems likely that the United States was focused, as a receiving nation, on maintaining access to children for intercountry adoption, and on protecting the role of private agencies and individuals as independent participants in intercountry adoption.
The Hague Convention that resulted, then, had child laundering as a central concern, but approached it indirectly by leaving it to each country to implement enforcement through its Central Authority (the State Department for the U.S.).  It is not surprising, then, that Smolin concludes, "Seventeen years after the creation of the Hague Convention, the Convention thus far has failed to meet its goals."  He believes it is too early to declare the convention a complete failure, though, because the U.S., one of the largest players in international adoption, has only been a part of the Hague Convention for a very short time.

Professor Smolin suggests to following reforms to allow the Hague Convention to fulfill its promise of ethical international adoption free from corruption:
(1) Strict limitations on fees and donations related to intercountry adoption must be created and vigorously enforced by both sending and receiving countries. All financial aspects of intercountry adoption must be both limited and made fully transparent.

(2) Receiving nations must recognize that they cannot simply outsource their own responsibilities for intercountry adoption to sending nations, due to limited government capacities, lack of political will, and corruption issues in many sending countries. Thus, receiving nations must be willing to seriously investigate the critical steps occurring in sending countries, including especially the processes by which children are obtained and labeled as eligible for intercountry adoption.

* * *

(3) Specific cases of child laundering and child trafficking in the intercountry adoption system must be investigated in a manner analogous to an airplane crash. Such situations are tragic, but create opportunities to learn what has gone wrong, and what can be done to avert future disasters. The current tendency to
essentially privatize such wrongdoing as simply a problem for adoption triad members, without significant government investigation and involvement, must end.

(4) Hague receiving countries, including particularly the United States, must apply equally vigorous regulatory and investigative approaches to adoptions from both Hague and non-Hague countries. While intercountry adoptions from non-Hague countries may still be permissible, receiving countries should be equally vigilant with regard to all intercountry adoptions. Otherwise, even if the Convention eventually proves effective, a two-tier system will develop in which agencies are constantly opening up adoptions in non-Hague countries in order to escape increased safeguards. The current approach by the United States of only applying increased regulatory safeguards to adoptions from Hague countries seems nonsensical and should be discontinued.
This is an important article, and I recommend that you read it in its entirety.  There's a great compilation of corruption scandals affecting nation after nation after nation, consideration of the lessons to be learned from these scandals, helpful historical background on the Hague Convention, and analysis of whether recent declines in international adoption can be blamed on the Hague Convention (Smolin concludes not).

FYI, Professor Smolin in an adoptive parent.  You can read part of his story here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reconciling Islamic Kafalah & Western Adoption

Interesting article -- yes, the lead-off sounds like an adoption agency trolling for clients, but the issue is more complex than that -- about U.S. Muslims wanting to adopt but not wanting to violate Islamic law that prohibits Western-style adoption:

Helene Lauffer knew Muslim children — orphaned, displaced, neglected — needed homes in the United States. She knew American Muslim families wanted to take them in.

But Lauffer, associate executive director of Spence-Chapin, one of the oldest adoption agencies in the country, couldn't bring them together.

The problem was a gap between Western and Islamic law. Traditional, closed adoption violates Islamic jurisprudence, which stresses the importance of lineage. Instead, Islam has a guardianship system called kafalah that resembles foster care, yet has no exact counterpart in Western law.

* * *

However, Islamic scholars say the restrictions were actually meant to protect children, by ending abuses in pre-Islamic Arabic tribal society.

Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, said adoption in that period had more in common with slavery. Men would take in boys, then erase any tie between the child and his biological family. The goal was to gather as many fighters as possible as protection for the tribe. Orphans' property was often stolen in the process.

As a result, Muslims were barred from treating adopted and biological children as identical in naming or inheritance, unless the adoptee was breast-fed as a baby by the adoptive mother, creating a familial bond recognized under Islamic law.

* * *
Open adoption, which keeps contact between the adoptee and his biological family, is seen as one potential answer. In New South Wales, Australia, child welfare officials created an outreach program to Muslims emphasizing that Australian adoptions are open and adopted children can retain their birth names. The New South Wales program is the only well-known adoption campaign targeting a Muslim minority population in a Western country.

* * *

Catherine England, a Muslim who teaches in the Seattle area, adopted four children after she and her husband learned they could have no children of their own. One of her children is an orphan from Afghanistan. Two others are biological siblings.

"I felt that my understanding — and this is entirely my understanding — is that what is forbidden in Islam is closed adoption," said England, who converted to Islam more than three decades ago. She consulted a Muslim scholar who she said affirmed her view that open adoption was allowed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Open adoption makes lifesaving difference

From nola.com, another story of a bone-marrow transplant needed by an adoptee, a mixed-race adoptee who would have difficulty finding a non-related donor -- this one happily a better ending than most because an open adoption made access to biologically related donors possible:
Jeff and Roxanne Tully have something special to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving holiday: the chance for their daughter Madison to have a long, healthy life.

“We’re thankful that God sent us a cure,” Roxanne said.

That cure came from Madison’s biological sister, Jasmin Thomas, 18, of Metairie, who donated her bone marrow to Madison in August.

“Jasmin is a special love of our family,” Jeff said.

This story begins in the summer of 1994, three months after the Tullys were accepted into the Volunteers of America adoption program. The adoption coordinator called to tell them a young pregnant woman had looked at their questionnaire and wanted to meet them. It was an open adoption program, where the birth mother chooses the adoptive parents. The baby’s birth mother chose them, and they brought Madison home to Destrehan that July.

I wrote about the Tullys and their beautiful baby daughter when Madison was 9 weeks old. Jeff and Roxanne wanted to share their joy with the world and let people know about open adoption.

“Everyone keeps saying what a lucky little girl Madison is, but we’re the ones who are blessed,” Jeff said the day I first met them.

At that time, they had no idea what a blessing the open adoption would be 16 years later, when it would make a lifesaving difference for their family.
I've blogged before about adoptees and transplants here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

NYT: Betty Jean Lifton, Adoption Reformer, RIP

Betty Jean Lifton's death is finally noted in the New York Times:
Betty Jean Lifton, a writer, adoptee and adoption-reform advocate whose books — searing condemnations of the secrecy that traditionally shrouded adoption — became touchstones for adoptees throughout the world, died on Nov. 19 in Boston. She was 84 and lived in Cambridge, Mass.

* * *

Ms. Lifton, who lectured widely about the potential psychological effects of adoption, was best known for a nonfiction trilogy: “Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter” (McGraw Hill, 1975), in which she recounts her adulthood search for her birth mother; “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience” (Dial, 1979); and “Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness” (Basic Books, 1994).

* * *

When “Twice Born” was first published, there were few books about the adoptee experience. Adoption in general was a veiled topic, and adoptees — assuming they were told anything — rarely knew their given names, their birth parents’ identities or the precise circumstances of their adoptions.

As a result, generations of adoptees grew up with a void where their personal histories should be and, Ms. Lifton argued, with deep feelings of confusion, grief and loss.

“When I was born, society prophesied that I would bring disgrace to my mother, kill her reputation, destroy her chances for a good bourgeois life,” she wrote in “Twice Born.”

She added: “I say that society, by sealing birth records, by cutting adoptees off from their biological past, by keeping secrets from them, has made them into a separate breed, unreal even to themselves.”

* * *

She dedicated “Journey of the Adopted Self” to her two mothers, who, she wrote, “might have known and even liked each other in another life and another adoption system.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Funny

Maya learned a new Thanksgiving fact at school last week and was very excited to share it with us -- the Pilgrims had popcorn at the first Thanksgiving.

Zoe, with complete big sister superiority, told her, "That can't be right, Maya.  They didn't have microwaves back then!"

I Am Thankful, Reader Edition

Today, I am thankful for all the readers, new and old, near and far, who read and comment, whether you read faithfully every day or pop in only occasionally.  It really keeps me going to know that people are reading. This wordle is made from the location of the last 100 visitors, according to sitemeter!

It's our first Thanksgiving without Grandpa, but we're OK, spending the day at my brother's house, with family and good food.  As Grandpa would have said, "I feel sorry for anyone who isn't me today!"

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

The Faculty Lounge Talks Adoption Tax Credits

The Faculty Lounge is a law professor website that usually focuses on law school issues, but also talks general law at times.  A new post talks about the different treatment of domestic and international adoption for purposes of the adoption tax credit:
Over-simply stated, a tax credit is available for expenses related to an international adoption only if the adoption becomes final, but the same finality rule does not apply to expenses for a U.S. adoption.

What might be the policy reasons for this tax discrimination? Is it because significant tax revenue is at stake? According to U.S. State Department figures, the number of international adoptions has increased steadily. In 1999, there were 167,369. [gotta be a typo] In 2000, there were 18,477. In 2001, there were 19,237.  If there were a correlation between completed adoptions and failed adoptions, one could make a rough estimate of the number of taxpayers who could have benefitted from an adoption tax credit, but for the fact they could not or did not finalize their international adoption.

Alternately, is the different tax treatment of U.S. and international adoptions just one more example of attempts to influence social policy through the tax laws? Maybe, but I wonder whether tax credits factor significantly into a decision to adopt a U.S. citizen versus a non-U.S. citizen.
 What do you think?  Is the disparate tax treatment justified?  If you go to China to adopt, and while there the adoption falls through -- the child has unexpected issues the family felt it could not handle, or the child has died and the government offers a substitute referral the family isn't prepared to accept -- should the expenses be deductible?  If not, how is this different from a domestic adoption that falls through in the U.S.?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"No better women than our Chinese girls"

I found this China Daily article, about some Chinese men preferring to marry Western women, interesting:
"Chinese man fancies Western woman" was the title of the personal ad Li Lei posted online, in which he asked if any Western "ladies (in Beijing) are open to a long-term and serious relationship with a Chinese guy". And by "long-term and serious", Li meant marriage.

Marriages between Chinese men and Western women in China are noticeably fewer than vice versa, so why is Li taking the road less traveled?

After studying for a combined five years in the Netherlands and United Kingdom, the 30-year-old Beijinger discovered he preferred the personality of Western European women. He considers them more independent than their Chinese counterparts, less girlish and more straightforward.

Li puts extra emphasis on the last attribute.

"That's something I really love. If they want something, they just tell you," he says in British-accented English, his boyish face lighting up. "Although it is the nature of a woman to want somebody to figure them out, the key factor is the degree."
But even more interesting and amusing and sometimes disturbing are the reader comments to the article:
How can a Chinese man with a mind of his own live together with a Western woman whom is reputed to be very outward too? The like poles of a magnet will oppose when the ends are placed close together. The unlike poles will attract. Human relations are like magnets. If one is hard, the other should be soft, then living together is possible. Of course having the same interest is quite another thing to compatibility.

* * *

With China's one child policy, little emperors are more than little empresses. Perhaps because of this, Chinese men may have to seek foreign brides. However, in my mind there are no better women than our own Chinese girls. One would not need to worry too much about lifestyle changes, adjustments to accommodate foreign spouses and of course, having to tolerate the culture differences.

* * *

We can learn foreign cultures but not invite foreign culture into our lives unnecessarily. I look at the kids of mixed marriages. What will become of them when they do not look Chinese nor American (as the children in this article showed). Looks may not be important but will they call themselves Chinese and be proud Chinese. Because the mother is American, it is most likely these Children are inclined to think Americanism than Chinese. It would be okay if both the Chinese father and the American mother make it a point to raise these beautiful kids to be very Chinese. But judging from the English names, I do not see this happening in this family.

* * *

I am a happily married person (of course with a Chinese wife). If there is reincarnation and I have a second chance I would still look for a Chinese wife. Luckily mixed marriage between Chinese man and foreign ladies are few in between. No I am not racist nor anti mixed marriages but I would prefer a distinct and identifiable Chinese race.

* * *

China is for the Chinese. Foreign wives must be willing to be integrated into being Chinese.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's a wild ride -- the truth about adoption

From Parenting.com, a refreshingly frank article about adoption, and in particular adoption from foster care:
National Adoption Month is coming to a close. Each year, groups across the nation hope to find a way to encourage the adoption of the estimated 115,000 children in foster care. Those of us who have opened our hearts and homes to a foster child want to be encouraging as well.

At any given moment, you feel as though you are on a roller coaster of emotions experiencing the wildest ride in your life. Moments of joy are often punctuated by longer dark moments of frustration. We hold onto the bright moments hoping they won’t disappear and cling to our support group in the dark times.

The challenge is that most adoptive parents want to cover up all the pain a foster child has felt with a big hug and cookies. Some adoptive parents travel down the road of adopting a foster child because they want a child who will love them. A few believe if you change the child’s environment, clothing, and diet, he or she will be fine. If you believe these statements are true, you should think twice about adopting a foster child.

The truth is that when you adopt a foster child, especially an older one, it’s a very long road to healing – one that may never develop into the picture we often see of smiling faces on the families portrayed in the ads for National Adoption Month.
How about that?  An article for National Adoption Month that goes beyond the rah-rah cheerleading we're used to.  I can't help but think this approach wil be MUCH BETTER for adopted kids in the long run, since adoptive parents without adequate preparation who think it will all be rainbows and unicorns are NOT what hurting kids need.

Estate Planning & the Adoptive Family

This article in Forbes focuses on some issues adoptive families need to think about when estate planning;  yes, once a child is legally adopted, they are treated the same as biological children for inheritance purposes.  But what about the period before the adoption is final?  What about picking guardians who share your values about adoption, culture-keeping, openness?  Some good points here:
An adopted child only has rights to your estate once the adoption has been finalized. The length of time it takes to finalize an adoption depends on where the adoption was initiated as well as a host of other factors. This process can take anywhere from six months to several years to complete. In the event that you pass away before this process is complete, it is likely the child would not be entitled to any of your assets.

* * *

Caring for an adopted child may require you to put some extra thought into a number of provisions. If, for example, you adopted a child from another country and wish to expose the child to his home culture, your Will and Trust should reflect these desires.

When designating a guardian, it is important that he understand your family’s unique circumstances. You will want to choose a person who knows the details of your family’s adoption and is willing to maintain the lifestyle that you have chosen for your adopted child. It may be a good idea to provide the designated guardian with documentation that contains the details of your child’s adoption. Particularly in the case of an open adoption, it is important to establish a good relationship with the individuals outside your immediate family, such as the child’s birth parents, who will have a direct interest in your child’s life. In choosing a guardian, you will want to choose a person who is willing to maintain those ties.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kids of 'Quiet Migration' Come of Age

Interesting story of adult and children international adoptees, issues surrounding adoption loss, and search and reunion with birth parents:
As Jenna grew up she would learn that she had been given up for adoption in Seoul at the age of three.

What she didn't know was why.

Jenna, now 28, is one of thousands of inter-country adoptees in Canada, part of a global demographic that has been called the "quiet migration."

Between 1971 and 2001 in the United States, more than 265,000 children were adopted from abroad; in Canada, numbers have hovered around 20,000 per decade since the 1980s.

It is a demographic that is coming of age.

Many of these children, like Jenna, face unique issues of racial and cultural identity, and belonging. For inter-country adoptees, searching for resolution by finding a birth parent is daunting, if not impossible.

Lee Crawford, an art therapist and registered clinical counsellor, sees many adoptive families in her practice.

"Many of the psychological and emotional issues are the same for domestic and international adoptees: the loss of the biological family system," Crawford said. "But with international adoption we have an additional loss, of culture and country."

Even a child adopted at birth can grow up grieving for a country she has never known.
 It's hard to do justice to the article with a short excerpt.  It profiles Jenna, who searches and finds birth family in Korea; Kim, who isn't interested in returning to Korea, but who left racial isolation in New Zealand for more diversity in Vancouver; Anna, adoptive mom who facilitates birth parent searches abroad; 9-year-old twins adopted from Romania, Mikaela and Zoe, who reunited with their birth mom last summer. Go read the whole thing!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Helping Your Child Share Feelings

Came across this post today:
There are many reasons why children have limited emotional skills: a parent may think the child is too young to learn emotional language, the child may not like to share feelings or the parents themselves may not be gifted in this area. No matter the cause, you and your child can learn the steps to improve emotional expression. They are:

1.Teach her the primary feeling words: happy, sad, mad, scared. Write each feeling word on a piece of paper; for elementary age and younger, draw or paste a feeling face picture to the corresponding feeling word. Post the paper in an eye-catching spot in your home.

2.Help him learn which facial expression matches each feeling word. For example, on your face show him a smile and raised eyebrows to display happy feelings whereas a furrowed brow and tight mouth display mad feelings. Make it a game; take turns showing a feeling face. Allow the other person to guess which feeling face was demonstrated. To keep your child’s attention, keep score and award a small prize or treat to the winner.

3.Encourage your child to express her feelings. Include verbal and nonverbal forms of communication. Some nonverbal ways to share feelings include writing, painting or drawing. Many families have a special alone time to talk about feelings. In the beginning ask your child to complete a sentence, such as: Today I feel happy/sad/mad/scared because . . .

4.Ask your child to communicate his feelings in the moment. When you notice your child experiencing feelings ask, “How are you feeling?” If he is unsure point it out to him, ie: “I see your big smile, are you happy?”

5.Give positive reinforcement for sharing. Even if your child isn’t accurate at first, recognize his attempts with praise. Remember, just like any new skill, time and practice improves performance.
Good advice, and a great precursor to adoption talk. This is part of the vocabulary kids need to understand and process adoption.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Culture-Keeping: We're not alone

I was reminded the other day that those of us who have adopted from abroad are not alone in our worries about keeping our kids connected to their heritage.  I was talking to the father of one of Zoe's schoolmates.  The family is originally from Mexico -- dad, second generation and kids, therefore, third generation.  He was telling me that the reason his kids were attending Catholic school had more to do with culture-keeping than religion.  He bemoaned the fact that the family rarely visited Mexico, that his kids did not speak Spanish.  He said, "They've lost so much of their culture that I figured we could at least give them the religion of their heritage."

Interesting, hmm?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sheryl Crow Rejects Open Adoption

According to this gossip site, Sheryl Crow requested closed adoptions:
Sheryl Crow asked officials to keep the details of her adoption bids secret - because she didn't want her sons' biological mothers to see their kids in the press.

The All I Wanna Do hitmaker decided to adopt a child following the breakdown of her relationship with cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2006, and she welcomed little Wyatt into her life a year later (07). She went on to adopt a second son, Levi James, earlier this year (10).

And the star had one demand for adoption officials when they were filing her request for a child - she wanted her case to be closed to the public to save the boys' real parents any more heartache.

She tells the Guardian, "I said I would take whichever baby I was supposed to have. My philosophy was that souls find each other; you don't end up with the wrong child.

"(But I wanted a closed case). It would be extremely hard for a mother to watch the child she gave away... grow up in the magazines."
That's a new reason for rejecting open adoption;  what do you think?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Adoption as a Second Language

A roundtable discussion about adoption language with three writers who are also a birth mother, an adoptee and an adoptive parent, introduced as follows:
As writers, we have an intimate relationship with words; we feel their weight and recognize their significance on a daily basis. For those of us touched by adoption, this relationship becomes even more complex. Often, joining the adoption community means learning a new language; figuratively – as old words take on new meanings and others become suddenly insufficient, and literally – when adoption brings a foreign language to the family.

Vocabulary, phrasing, and naming become delicate matters that often require not only great sensitivity, but an abundance of creativity as well. We work together, within our own families, and inside the greater community, using words to educate and support one another. Communication is essential for adoption relationships to thrive, and while there are numerous tools at our disposal, words can be both the greatest and weakest of these.

I asked three fabulous She Writers to share some thoughts and memories from their own experiences with adoption. I picked and probed into some very personal issues, and all three women were generous in both their willingness to share, and the honesty with which they did so.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

As your adopted kids grow older . . .

A wonderful, terrific, important, helpful, must-read post from Christine at Welcome to my Brain, on something that adoptive parents learn as their children get older:
My children who joined our family through adoption are now 7, 11 and 14.

And as they grow, things are different.

My entire perspective has changed as I acknowledge and honor their individual needs. One of them may love talking about adoption one day and despise it the next. One may crave the contact we have with their first family and extended family, while another may want nothing to do with it (pick any random day and that changes again). One may talk about their home country with pride, while another is indifferent. Of course, none of these reactions mean they don't care. If anything, it means they have massive feelings for their history ... their family. It is beyond important to them.

* * *

So, I have had to wake up to a few things that were never even on my radar just a few years ago. For instance, I have one child whose stomach is turned by the word "orphan" or "orphanage." With good reason. Regardless of the status of this child's first parents, the word "orphan" sounds hopeless and awful and wrought with pain. It has been placed on them in the past, and continues to be connected to their people and their country. This child hates it. "Orphan Sunday?" Yeah. Not a positive thing for them. at. all. They see it as churches being cruel and calling children a name that is negative.

* * *

I am learning to give them space and have zero expectations on their feelings from minute to minute. It is theirs. I am not them. I have no right to tell them what to feel, how to feel it or when to feel differently.
So what has changed for you as your adopted children have left toddlerhood and reached school age, middle-school age, high-school age?  Have you been surprised by their attitudes toward adoption, birth family, birth culture?  If you have more than one adopted child, are their reactions and feelings different when it comes to adoption issues?  Go read what Christine has to say, comment there, and come back and start/join the discussion here!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Film Review: Little Sister

We can't wait to see this Chinese version of the Cinderella tale, Little SisterVariety gives it a prettty strong review:
A strikingly lensed fairy tale as magical as its picturesque design, "Little Sister" is the rare pic practically guaranteed to enchant tots and parents alike. Novice helmer Richard Bowen's [husband of Jenny Bowen of the China orphan charity Half the Sky; and you might know Bowen from the photography book Mei Mei, of children in China orphanages] previous career as d.p. on largely middling pics from the late '80s through the '90s can now be safely archived, judging by this richly told girl-power fantasy based on a classical Chinese "Cinderella" incarnation. If only Bowen had ditched the gratingly jejune English narration, all would be near-perfect. Still, what's onscreen is more than good enough for strong commercial prospects in both this multi-lingo format and a planned all-English dubbed version.

Most Western auds are unlikely to grasp initially that the pic's helmer is American, as Sinophile Bowen and his Chinese colleagues have taken enormous care to ensure a level of authenticity (shooting was largely done in Yunnan province) while allowing for plenty of fantasy elements to capture the imagination in exquisite ways. Co-producer Barbie Tung is a longtime key collaborator on Jackie Chan pics, and d.p. Wang Yu builds on the talent he displayed in such features as "Suzhou River" and "The Go Master."

The story is taken from the early Cinderella tale "Ye Xian," written in 768 A.D.; viewers' acquaintance with key elements, combined with unfamiliar twists, means "Little Sister" weds the comfort of the recognizable with the delights of the unexpected.

* * *

Aside from its sheer entertainment value, the pic pushes a strong feminist element that's especially timely given recent reports [recent reports?  what recent reports?] on female infanticide in China. The moral, that a proper balance allows us to become fulfilled, is easily embraceable by all cultures, furthering the likelihood that this child-friendly film is poised to conquer multiple territories. Whether kids will find the narration as infantilizing as many adults will is difficult to gauge; it's not just the words used but the irritating tone of wonderment in which they're delivered, despite narrator Brenda Song's honeyed voice.
 The reviewer obviously doesn't like the narration, but the fact that the film is narrated by Brenda Song is one of the attractions for my kids.  In case you've missed her, she's the infamously dim and self-centered London Tipton in Disney's Suite Life franchise, and she's Asian-American.  My kids are big fans (somewhat to my dismay! Some days I feel that if I hear another "Londonism" from one of them, I'll lose it . . . .).

I hope Variety is right about strong commercial prospects for this film -- I'm hoping for a distribution deal that will bring it to Fort Worth SOON!

Seoul Searching

An adoption article in an unusual venue, the Meetings Professionals International website:A trip to
Seoul changed Libby and David Gluck forever. The couple had planned the visit for years. They studied pictures, daydreamed and filled out enough paperwork to choke a super-sized recycling bin. But when you ask Libby what tourist sites she most looked forward to visiting, she admits she didn’t give it much thought.

Her lack of specificity can be forgiven. The 30-something couple didn’t visit Seoul as tourists—they went to pick up their adopted daughter.

Baby Georgina certainly isn’t the first infant adoptee to leave Indochina for a new home.

Prior to the trip, Libby—herself an adoptee—barely had time to think about diapers, formula and car seats, let alone Seoul’s sights. But after reflecting for a few moments, Libby recalled that she and her husband planned to spend time exploring Seoul’s neighborhoods, finding off-the-beaten-path restaurants that serve home-style soon tubu jjigae (tofu soup) and visiting some of Seoul’s famous flea markets.

In August, 800 members of the International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA) visited Seoul. The conference was a cultural exchange of sorts, with Korean adoptees from Australia, Europe, North America and Scandinavia meeting to share experiences, network with Korean nationals and make professional connections.

* * *

Dr. Kim Park-Nelson, a professor of multicultural studies at Minnesota State University and herself an adoptee, headed a symposium at the conference where the cultural, social, historical and political implications of Korean adoption were discussed. Park-Nelson says that conferences such as IKAA are important to the adoptee community, because as the number of transnational adoptions grows, more people struggle to find their identities.

“With adoption there’s always the question, ‘Who are you? Are you American or are you Korean? Are you white or are you Asian?’” Park-Nelson said.

For many IKAA conference attendees, visiting Seoul was a step toward discovering the answers.

* * *

The Glucks traveled to Seoul in late October, at the height of the fall foliage and mild weather, to pick up Georgina. They were able to extend their trip and explore the sights, sounds and smells of Seoul. The self-described foodies navigated their way around town and found specialty restaurants, unique neighborhoods and some locals who saw the Glucks as an opportunity to practice English.

Libby reflected on the trip upon her return. She was keenly aware that during her stay she was Korean and American, Asian and Caucasian, adoptee and adopter and, now, daughter and mom.

“It was very full circle that I traveled to Korea to pick up the baby,” she said. “I knew the emotions were going to flood in when we set foot in Korea. I felt like I was on a nice vacation but with a huge added bonus.”

She felt like an old soul in Seoul—just like her 800 counterparts at the IKAA conference.
Thanks to KAAN: the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network facebook page for the link.

Monday, November 15, 2010

10 Common Misconceptions About Adoption

Shannon, transracial adoptive mom who blogs at Peter's Cross Station, has a great post for National Adoption Awareness Month at BlogHer, 10 Common Misconceptions about Adoption.  I'm only giving her ten headings here -- go to to the article to read what she has to say debunking each one.
1. Birth mothers are all teenagers.

2. Open adoption is confusing to kids.

3. They hate girls in China.

4. Black babies are the latest trend among celebrities.

5. Adoptive parents are saintly for adopting.

6. Adopted kids are lucky.

7. Adoption costs a lot of money and only rich people can afford it.

8. There is a high level of risk that once adopted, a child will be given back to/taken back by biological family members.

9. Birth mothers are saintly for placing their children in adoption. OR Birth mothers are demons for getting pregnant unintentionally/being “unfit”/not loving their children enough to raise them.

10. Adoption is the opposite of abortion. As long as we have one, we don’t need the other.
Sometimes I feel that debunking these myths is a full-time job!  How many have you encountered?  How do you clear up the misconceptions?  If you haven't had to yet, Shannon gives you great ammunition for doing so.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Chinese Face

The other day, Maya and Zoe were chatting in the back seat while I was driving them to ballet.  Suddenly, I heard Maya say, "I don't like having a Chinese face."

I wasn't overly surprised;  Maya doesn't like being different and sees being Chinese as different.  When I asked why, she confirmed what I thought.  She felt "left out" at school because only she and one other girl in her class have "Chinese faces."

Zoe jumped in immediately to tell Maya how wonderful it is to be Chinese -- my girls are very different on this point!  Zoe loves being Chinese, loves being able to share with others all things Chinese (Zoe's adoption issues are different from Maya's, all about loss and grief and missing her birth family, while Maya professes to have no interest in her birth family, but doesn't like how transracial adoption makes her different). 

My contribution, then, had to be about Maya's feelings since Zoe was so insistent on the it's-wonderful-to-be-Chinese front. We talked about how normal it was to feel the way she does, and that it's OK to feel that way even when Zoe doesn't! I told her about other transracial adoptees who feel the way she does, and she was really fascinated to hear that -- mostly because it was different from how Zoe feels.

I explored whether anything in particular had happened at school to make her feel left out, and she said no.  I'm not surprised -- Maya is really popular in her class.  When I last visited during recess, Maya was mobbed by kids who wanted to play with her.  She was the undisputed leader in some game involving spies and kids pretending to be animals;  all the kids ran to her to seek approval for whatever animal and spy superpower they'd concocted!  There haven't been any more incidents with the little boy who said Maya couldn't sit next to him since she was Chinese.

The conversation kind of petered away, as they often do, redirected to the need to get to ballet class on time.  But I made a note that we needed to talk again, and that I had a book on the bookshelf that might be good to read.  This evening, I finally got around to pulling it out -- An American Face, about a little boy adopted from Korea who thought that when he received his American citizenship he'd also get his "American face."  He doesn't like his flat nose or slanted eyes or light brown skin.  The ultimate lesson in the book is one I love, that lots of different faces are "American."

Maya liked that the boy felt like she did, being the only one with an Asian face in his kindergarden class.  But she ultimately said that the boy was silly, because it doesn't matter that people look different, that they all have the same heart. It sounded like a rote lesson, not really something she internalized. so I reiterated that I understood how she felt about being different.  When we were in China for five months in 2007, my "American face" made me very different, and sometimes that made me feel very uncomfortable.  Maya's kind heart was quick to defend me -- "But I like your American face!"  That gave me the opportunity to tell her, feature by feature, from the little peak in her eyebrows to the point of her chin, how much I love her Chinese face!

I know this won't be our last conversation on this point -- it certainly wasn't our first.  But I'm always glad that my girls are willing to talk about their feelings.  And I'm glad I hoard all manner of books to open (or re-open) the door to such topics. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Race-Based Adoption Fees

Here's another issue that the public should be made aware of during National Adoption Awareness Month:
Joe and Becky Ketarkus said money was not a factor in how they approached adoption, but they said they were stunned to learn of a stratified fee system in which white children cost thousands of dollars more to adopt than black children.

"It made me furious that free-market economics would be applied to babies," said Joe Ketarkus.

Beth Hall, co-author of "Inside Transracial Adoption," said race-based adoption fees are "inherently racist and unethical" but common. Such a system has the unfortunate side effect of discouraging some families of color from adopting children because they find the system insulting, Hall said.
I've blogged more about the issue here. When did you first become aware of this stratified fee structure that values children according to their race?  What did you think about it?  Do you think it's an appropriate recognition of the reality of "hard-to-place" children?  Or does it reinforce racism?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chinese Projects

Yesterday after school the girls both had projects to finish.  Zoe had to finish her poster for Chinese School:
It's for the annual speech contest, so not only did she have to write it all in Chinese characters and pinyin, she has to "speak it" in Mandarin and then in English.  The first third of the poster is about her age, grade, level in Chinese School, and that she likes Science but doesn't like Math.  The middle third is about food and sports -- she likes rice, but not duck; she likes swimming, but not football.  The final third is about what she did on summer vacation.  She didn't want to write about Florida, she wanted to share all about Chinese Heritage Camp. 

Not to be outdone, Maya had to finish a cute Thanksgiving project for school.  The kids were given the outline of a turkey, and were to disguise the turkey so he would make it through Thanksgiving without being eaten!
Maya's idea was to turn him into a panda bear, since surely no one would be having roast panda for Thanksgiving dinner!  She tore up miniscule bits of white and black tissue paper and glued them on, so he'd look like he had fur. She gave him a sprig of bamboo from our backyard and a Chinese coin necklace (raiding my scrapbooking supplies to do so!).  In the accompanying description, Maya wrote: "I am NOT a turkey because turkeys do not have fur. I am NOT a turkey because turkeys are not black and white. I am NOT a turkey because turkeys do not eat bamboo.  I am NOT a turkey because turkeys are not from China!"

As you can see from their smiles, the girls are quite proud of their projects.  As you can tell from the fact that I'm posting about them, so am I!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The BIG 5-0!

Happy Birthday to MEEEE
Happy Birthday to MEEE
Happy Birthday dear MEE-EEEE
Happy Birthday to MEEE!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Adopting Out the Children of Illegal Immigrants

Remember the mother in Mississippi who lost custody of her child for a year after hospital workers discovered she was an illegal immigrant? Have you read about this new case? An undocumented immigrant from Guatemala had her parental rights terminated and her child adopted by another family when she was swept up in an immigration raid and jailed. The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's termination and order of adoption, and the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case yesterday.

Here are the facts from the Court of Appeals opinion:
The only evidence concerning the care of Child was the testimony of a parent educator with Parents as Teachers for Carthage R-9 Schools, Laura Davenport ("Ms.Davenport"), and what Respondents heard about Child from others. No evidence was obtained from Mother or any of her family members at the transfer of custody hearing or at the adoption hearing. We recount the following facts as they were presented to the trial court:

At the time Mother was arrested, Child was staying with Mother's brother ("Brother"). A few days after Mother's arrest, Brother gave Child to Mother's sister ("Sister") and brother-in-law. Unable to care for Child full-time, Sister sought babysitting services through Ms. Davenport, who referred Sister to Jennifer and Oswaldo Velazco ("the Velazco family"), local clergy of a Hispanic church in Carthage, Missouri.

It was at this point that Sister relied on the Velazco family to help provide childcare for Child. At first, the Velazco family would pick Child up in the morning and Sister would bring Child back home in the evening. This arrangement lasted for a few weeks, when it was decided that instead of shuffling Child back and forth, Child would stay with the Velazco family during the week and Sister would pick him up on Fridays for the weekend. As of September of 2007, Child was still living with Sister on the weekends.

In September of 2007, Ms. Davenport visited Mother at the St. Clair County Jail to see if Mother was willing to let Child be adopted. Mother responded that she did not want Child to be adopted. Yet, on September 24, 2007, the Velazco family contacted Respondents about adopting Child and started granting them visitations with Child. The Velazco family knew Respondents' brother and sister-in-law and they sought out Respondents as a potential adopting family. After ten days of visitation and one overnight visit, Child came to live with Respondents full-time on October 5, 2007.

On October 5, 2007, before the Velazco family informed Sister that Child would not be returned to her, Respondents filed their Petition to adopt Child and terminate Mother's parental rights ancillary to the adoption. The Summons and Petition for transfer of custody, termination of parental rights, and adoption was served on Mother on October 15, 2007, a mere three days before the transfer of custody hearing.

Respondents argue that because Mother was served and did not appear at the transfer of custody hearing, she waived her right to argue improper service. However, a closer review of the record demonstrates that the transfer of custody hearing was not scheduled until October 17, 2007 – two days after Mother was served with the Summons and Petition. Additionally, the caption on the Notice of Hearing indicates that only Joseph Hensley, Respondents’ attorney, and Jamey Garrity, the guardian ad litem ("GAL"), received notice of the transfer of custody hearing. Mother was not indicated in the caption and no attorney was noticed on her behalf. The body of the notice of hearing document tells the noticed parties to inform their clients. Thus, it is clear that Mother received no notice of the transfer of custody hearing.

Mother was not present or represented by counsel at the transfer of custody hearing on October 18, 2007; counsel was not appointed for her until December 3, 2007, almost two months after the custody of Child had been transferred to Respondents. Child was never in the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court. The court heard evidence from Respondents about their circumstances and how Child came to be a part of their lives.

During the hearing, Respondents presented a home study that had been completed to assess their fitness to serve as foster parents. The home study addressed Respondents' strengths and weaknesses, along with their backgrounds, which included concerns about S.M.'s criminal history and the involvement of M.M.'s brother, who M.M. claimed had sexually abused her as a child. The assessment made two recommendations before Respondents could be licensed foster parents: (1) create a safer home environment for children because Respondents lived in a basement apartment; and (2) further assessment from the Children's Division representatives regarding the presence of M.M.'s brother in her life. There is no evidence of compliance with either of these requirements in the record, other than M.M.'s verbal confirmation that "everything" was approved.

The GAL recommended transfer of custody, stating that "there was an emergency situation in that nobody had the ability to care for [Child] . . . so maybe with this transfer of custody [Respondents will] be able to take [Child] to the doctor or get him his needed shots or checkups." The court granted Respondents care and custody of Child pending further proceedings.

The adoption hearing was held on October 7, 2008. At that hearing, Respondents' counsel offered and the court admitted a letter he sent to Mother that was returned refused and M.M. testified that Respondents' attorney sent letters to Mother in jail. Additionally, a letter from the court advising Mother about her first appointment of counsel was also returned refused. The court later withdrew that appointment, and it was at this point that Respondents hired Aldo Dominguez ("Mr. Dominguez") to represent Mother in the termination of parental rights and adoption proceedings. Other than the two letters sent by Respondents, no effort was made to locate Mother or to ensure she had knowledge of the termination and adoption proceeding. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the GAL attempted to find Mother or her family.

The termination and adoption hearing lasted for a total of 106 minutes. A substantial portion of the hearing was devoted to Respondents' purported fitness as parents for Child and no evidence was presented on behalf of Mother other than a letter indicating:

"I have suffered too much by knowing nothing about my little one, asking God to take care of him for me and let me be reunited with him soon. Please, Mr. Dominguez, look for the means to send my son [Child] with my family in Guatemala. This is the telephone number of my sister in Guatemala, I spoke to her and she will welcome him in my country."

Mother was represented by counsel, who was paid for by Respondents, and she was not present. Additionally, there was no report or investigation into Mother's background to show why she was unfit to be a parent or why termination of parental rights was in Child's best interests. In fact, the court admits that "[n]ot much is known about [Mother] except what could be discovered through her plea agreement and the testimony of [Ms.]Davenport[.]"

The court found that Mother "abandoned" Child, as used in sections 453.040(7) and 211.447.2(2)(b), RSMo Cum. Supp. 2007, when she went to prison without making provisions for care of Child.[ fn. 10. It is undisputed that Mother left Child in the custody of her family. There is no evidence that she was given an opportunity to make further arrangements if her family was not able to care for Child.]

In addition, the court stated that Mother had no contact with Child nor attempted to communicate with him from the time she was arrested. The court had two letters from Mother in its file. One was a letter dated October 28, 2007, indicating that Mother did not want Child adopted. The other one was a letter sent to Respondents' attorney, according to the testimony of S.M., on September 16, 2008, indicating that Mother did not want Child adopted. No evidence was presented at trial to show whether Mother had contacted her family about Child or whether she was capable of providing support for Child while she was imprisoned. Additionally, nothing in the record indicates that Mother knew how to contact Child or where to find him once he was placed with Respondents – last she heard, Child was still being cared for by Sister.
Respondents asserted that their contact information was on the pleadings so Mother could find them; however, it was clear from the testimony at trial that Mother did not speak English. There was no clear evidence whether Mother had a translator available to interpret the documents for her or to help her understand the gravity of the situation.
When considering Mother's present circumstances, the court noted that Mother was unable to offer proof that she would be employable in Guatemala, had a home there, or had any way to care for Child, "leaving the court to believe that [Mother] would be unable to provide adequate food, clothing, or shelter to [Child] in her physical custody in the future." Moreover, the court stated that "[Mother's] lifestyle, that of smuggling herself into a country illegally and committing crimes in this country is not a lifestyle that can provide any stability for a child. A child cannot be educated in this way, always in hiding or on the run." There was no investigative report about Mother's ability to parent, and there was no evidence to indicate that Mother was an unfit parent. The only evidence presented on behalf of Mother was a letter from her, indicating that she had someone on stand-by ready and willing to take responsibility for Child until Mother was released from prison and deported to Guatemala. The court indicated, "[t]he only certainties in [Mother's] future is that she will remain incarcerated until next year, and that she will be deported thereafter." The court stated that "[Mother] appeared to put forth no effort to locate [Child] and, in fact, should have known where [Child] was."
The court granted Respondents' petition to adopt Child and terminated Mother's parental rights.
So what do you think?  Are you troubled by the termination of parental rights on these facts?  BTW, the required constitutional standard for termination of parental rights is "clear and convincing evidence."  Do you think we have that here?  Are you troubled by the fact that the mother is represented by counsel paid for by the adoptive parents?  Could there be a conflict of interest in that?  The mother ignored letters sent to her, didn't she?  Does that prove abandonment?  But where's the proof she got the letters?  What about the judge's "lifestyle" argument?  Do you think the adoptive parents are fit, based on the record presented?  That the biological mother is unfit, based on the record presented?  Do you think the fact that the mother is talking about taking an American citizen child to that backwater, Guatemala, is influencing the trial judge?  How much of this case is about race, class, nationalism and the illegal immigration debate in America?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A hunger, marrow-deep

In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month:

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. "

— Alex Haley, Roots

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Cole Babies

See what I mean about raising awareness?  There are these bits of adoption history in the U.S. we've never heard about.  I knew about Georgia Tann, but Katherine Cole is news to me:
Cyn Bird grabbed a torn piece of notebook paper to scribble the secrets spilling from her mother's mouth as she neared death: The mysterious Miami doctor named Katherine Cole who delivered and supposedly sold babies to couples. The phone call on Jan. 12, 1962, that a baby girl with sky blue eyes was available. The $2,500 cash price tag.

After 46 years, Bird had learned the stunning truth about her birth from her mother. Bird was adopted. Illegally.

"How do you wake up at my age and realize you have no idea who you really are?'' asks Bird, a New Jersey wife, mother and artist who discovered her adoption in March 2008, four months before her mother's death. "I am still trying to wrap my head around this.''

She turned to the Internet and found others like her. The people of this new community even had a name for themselves: Cole babies.

In what authorities call one of the most haunting, widespread cases of illegal adoptions in Florida history, Cole reportedly placed more than 1,000 babies, most without legal documentation, out of her two-story Southwest Eighth Street clinic from the 1930s to the 1960s. She died in 1981, leaving no records and without ever admitting the full scale of the shadowy operation that created three generations of Cole babies struggling to piece together their identities. For most, the discovery was triggered by a revelation and a birth certificate on which Cole listed the adoptive parents as the birth parents.
More than 1,000 babies illegally adopted.  Wow.

In Case You've Been Living in a Cave, Snowed In Without Newspapers, and Your Cable Was Knocked Out and Your Antenna Knocked Down, and You Just Had Your Internet Service Restored But You Can't Remember Your Facebook Password, Twitter is Over Capacity, Though You Can Finally Catch Up on Your Blog Reading, Here's the BIG News You Missed: November is Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Month, and we're asked everywhere to "celebrate" adoption.  I admit, I have a hard time with that. I acknowledge that, as an adoptive parent, I'm the only one in the adoption triad who didn't come to adoption through tragedy.  How can I "celebrate" the tragedy that made my children available for adoption?  But I can certainly accept a national adoption AWARENESS month, which happens to be the official name.  There are LOTS of things people need to be aware of when it comes to adoption.

I thought I'd go through Adoptive Families Magazine's 30 Ways to Celebrate National Adoption Month article, and suggest some ways that their ideas could be tweaked a bit to increase awareness, both inside your family and out:

2. Ask your library to display adoption books to commemorate National Adoption Awareness Month.

Here are some books to suggest -- books from the important perspective of adopted persons, and books that reveal a history of adoption that is often ignored:

The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka
Fugitive Visions by Jane Jeong Trenka
Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption
Orphan Train: Placing Out in America
Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States
The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler

5. Find out where your representatives at the state and national level stand on adoption issues. Write to them regarding your concerns.

You can click here to find out your state's position on adoptee access to original birth certificates.  Chances are, your state does not allow such access since only 6 states do.  The American Adoption Congress provides lots of online materials to help you inform legislators on this issue.

7. Create a scrapbook with your child. Talk about significant events as you record them together.

Make sure you include significant events -- such a BIRTH! -- that occurred before you and  your child met. Here's a link about adoption lifebooks to get your started.

9. Find an adult adoptee or a person of color—a coach, a teacher, or a babysitter—who can serve as a mentor for your child. Arrange for them to get together monthly.

If your area is not very diverse, you need to act intentionally to bring adults who share your child's race into their lives.  Pediatrician, dentist, eye doctor -- given a choice, choose the one who shares your child's race.  Getting to know adult adopted persons can be a great help in letting kids know someone older and wiser who can listen to their problems.

11. Spend some time celebrating your child’s heritage.

The internet is a wonderful place to find recipes, traditions, folklore, about your child's birth country.

13. Give an adoption talk at school.

Keep it real, keep it age-appropriate, and talk as much as  you can about how families can be different, and that's OK.

14. Pass along an adoption-related article to another adoptive parent or friend.

Here are a few I'd suggest:

The Lie We Love by E.J. Graff
The Baby Business:  Policy Proposals for Fairer Practice by E.J. Graff
Anatomy of an Adoption Crisis by E.J. Graff

I'd also suggest that  you share blog links -- especially adult adoptee and birth mother blogs -- with your adoptive parent friends.  It's so important for all adoptive parents to read from all perspectives, especially from those that might be different from their own.  Check out the links in the blog roll to your right.  Send your favorites via email, Facebook and/or Twitter to your friends.

20. NAT IONAL ADOPTION DAY! Courts across the country will finalize thousands of adoptions

These are adoptions from foster care.  If you are an attorney, consider volunteering.  Remember, courts are open to the public.  Feel free to visit your courthouse and watch the finalizations.  This can be a great experience for kids, especially if they were too young to remember their own, or if they are experiencing anxiety about how permanent their adoption is.  You can show them how the judge makes a family a family forever.  Click here to check for events in your area.

21. Develop a family ritual to show thanks for your family and the special way you’ve found one another AND 27. Together, light a candle in honor of your child’s birthparents. Turn off the lights and hold hands as you watch the flame.

I love family rituals, and combining 21 and 27 acknowledges that your child's birth family is part of your family.  For some suggestions of family rituals, check out Creating Ceremonies: Innovative Ways to Meet Adoption Challenges.

I also think rituals are extremely important when a child's birth parents are unknown.  Rituals can give them a concrete presence in a child's life.  My kids, for example, write notes to birth moms on Mother's Day, and burn the notes so that the smoke can carry good wishes to them in China. 

28. Make holiday crafts that incorporate designs from your child’s heritage.

Again, the internet is your friend here!

30. Make a donation in your child’s or birthmother’s name to an adoption-related charity or organization.

Tw of my favorites are family preservation funds;  after all, the only way to solve the orphan crisis is to prevent kids from being orphaned in the first place.  So check out:

The Unity Fund from Love Without Boundaries

The Family Preservation Initiative from Ethica

So get out there and do your part for adoption awareness -- awareness of ALL the issues in adoption, the good and bad, the happy and sad.  That's the awareness the public needs, that's the awareness you need to help your child.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Looking for you

From the Times of India, an article about the difficulties of searching for birth family in India:
Aarti would like to meet her birth mother. It can be a secret meeting without the birth mother's family involved, if that is what the birth mother wishes. Aarti only wants to meet her birth mother — no obligation..." These three short sentences say it all. Urgent, hesitant, hopeful and understanding, the message is almost apologetic.

It is on an adoption website and is one of a dozen such appeals on the Net from Indians who were adopted by foreigners. All of them are on a root search. This means adoptees looking for their biological mother. A few have photographs tacked on, perhaps in the hope that some family resemblance will jog memory somewhere. Others provide little details such as "the only recognizable difference I had was ear tags, extra skin near my earlobes, at birth", or "I have a brown birthmark on my right forearm, above my wrist". Many admit they are unsure about how old they are, as in "American doctors say I am about 33 years old."

Searching for one's biological parents is a complicated affair in India.

* * *

A new set of draft guidelines have been prepared by the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA). Even though provision for root search has been included in these guidelines, it's not certain whether things will ever improve. A contradiction within this draft will make it tough. While it accepts that the adopted child should be given "as much information as possible" by agencies, and that "in case of unwed mothers, the same shall be done after obtaining their willingness," the guidelines threaten to de-register any recognized agency that reveals "confidential information on the background of adoptees... to any outside agency or individual." Activists fear that heavy-duty confidentiality clauses in the root search programme will make it easier for suspect agencies to cover up information on trafficking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Big 1-0

One decade.  Double digits.  The BIG 1-0!  I can't believe my baby Zoe is 10 years old today! How could she have grown so much since I brought her home yesterday?!

 She's such a mix of little girl and little lady -- she loved the very-tween robe from my sister, with "Girls Rule" all over it, and loved just as much the schoolhouse furniture set for her doll house, which she still loves to play with.  She loved the silver hoop earrings from me and the stuffed big-eyed penguin from her sister. She loved the very-grownup art set from Mimi, with real artist's paints, and loved the minivan for her dollhouse dolls to tool around in. And you can see she still loves her Baby Joy, which she got on her second birthday, so Baby Joy needed to be in on the gift-opening since she apparently turned 8 today!

Zoe says being 10 feels just like being 9, but I have to admit it makes me feel old!  Zoe was really tickled when she was little and figured out I was 40 years older than her:  "When I'm 6 you'll be 46, and when I'm 7 you'll be 47, and when I'm 8 you'll be 48, and when I'm 9 you'll be 49, and when I'm 10 you'll be 40-10. . . ."  Yikes!  40-10 just sneaked up on me (I've got 5 more days). . . .

Turning 9 lead to lots of thought of birth family for Zoe, the perennial "Do you think they're thinking about me today?" question.  This year, she seems to be in a different phase.  My mentions of her birth parents have been ignored.  She's not biting at any of my overtures in that direction.  She's been changing to conversation to discussing her adoption instead. That's fine, but it doesn't prevent me from thinking of her birth mother today. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Talking Adoption to the First Grade

I was invited to talk about adoption to Maya's first grade class today.  Maya was really excited as we picked out some books to read and decided on what we wanted to say.  She loved being my helper as we explained adoption to her class! 

From an article at Adoptive Families Magazine, How I Explained Adoption to the First Grade, I stole the idea of bringing a doll to class, and from my friend LisaLew I stole the idea of having the class act out an adoption.

I started out asking the kids if they knew what adoption was.  Just about everyone in the class raised their hands, and I started pointing at a few.  The first was a little girl I knew was adopted from China, and she said, "Adoption is when a mom and dad want a baby and they go to another country to get it."  The next said, "When a lady isn't married and has a baby, she has to give it up for adoption." [Wonder where he heard that?!]  Maya said, "When birth parents have a baby and can't take care of it, they take it to an orphanage, and the orphanage looks for a forever family for the baby." 

So, they each had a little piece of the story of adoption, and I wanted to affirm what they knew and also deepen their understanding.  And part of a real understanding of adoption is realizing that there are birth parents who relinquish a child before a child is adopted into a new family.  So often the focus on adoption starts with the adoptive parents, especially for kids' understanding of adoption.

The kids have been talking about baptism and bringing in posters with baptism pictures (Maya did an adoption poster instead, and that's the photo above)  of them as tiny infants, so I talked to them as "baby experts," who knew a lot about babies.  Their confidence in their knowledge of all things baby was pretty funny! I pulled a baby doll out of my bag, and introduced them to "Baby Joy." I asked them what Baby Joy needed to grow up healthy and happy, and they had lots of ideas -- milk, baby food, diapers, clothes, shelter, lots of sleep (and the crib to do it in!), warmth, love, and being good Catholic school students, baptism!  I asked whose job it was to give babies these things, and they listed parents first, and then grandparents, aunts & uncles, etc.  So I asked what would happen if parents couldn't take care of a baby or provide the baby with what it needs.  The class immediately said adoption.

I had Maya choose two kids to be the baby's first parents, and they stepped up to the front of the room to hold Baby Joy.  The "mom" was the other little girl adopted from China.  We talked about some reasons why birth parents might not be able to take care of a baby -- too young, too poor, too sick.  Mom clearly didn't want to give up Baby Joy -- she said, "But if only one of the birth parents is sick, maybe a friend could help take care of the baby."  I agreed with her that sometimes all birth parents need is a little help, and said that sometimes there wasn't anyone who could or would help.  So she said goodbye to the baby, and handed her over to the two girls Maya picked to be the nannies at the orphanage.  It was actually quite poignant.

While the nannies took care of the baby, patting and rocking her, Maya picked two kids to be the adoptive parents and one kid to be the social worker.  We talked about the social worker's job, to find a good family for Baby Joy.  The adoptive parents had to be able to take care of the baby, and promise to love her and take care of her forever.  So the social worker asked the prospective adoptive parents:  "Do you have money?  Do you have a house? Do you promise to love the baby forever?"  They said yes, and I said they could go to the orphanage to get their baby.  As the new parents approached the nannies, it was so funny! The social worker swooped in and took the baby from the nanny and handed her to the adoptive mom! I thought it was amazing that, not having a real clue about what a social worker was, a first grader would feel she needed to be the one to hand over the baby!

After our little play, I read two of our favorite adoption books -- Over the Moon and the Best Single Mom in the World.  The kids were so quiet and attentive, I was amazed!  They like them, too!  I like them because they both mention birth moms, and I wanted to read the single mom one to talk about the other way our family is different. 

I asked the class if they noticed anything different about Maya and me.  By this time, Maya is plastered to my side, beaming at being the center of attention, and she put her cheek to mine -- just in case they couldn't figure out how we are different!  It's clear that we don't give children permission to point out racial differences, because the first responses were tentative -- Maya was from China, they said.  I explained that Maya was Chinese-American and I was Caucasian; gotta give them some vocabulary before they can identify difference.  We talked about whether families had to look alike, and whether you can love people who don't look like you. 

We then talked about how families are different.  Some have only moms, some have only dads, some have both moms and dads, and some have both moms and dads, but the moms and dads don't live together.  I then got to hear about every family arrangement in the class that didn't follow the mom-and-dad formula!  Yes, in case you wondered, your first grader WILL tell anyone who asks that mom and dad live together, but don't sleep in the same bed!  LOL!!!

All in all, I think I managed to explain adoption in an age-appropriate way to the first grade.  Baby Joy was a big hit, as was the role play.  Maya loved every minute of it, and the other little girl adopted from China was quite proud to announce she was adopted, too.  I think Maya is very lucky to have a teacher who is open to such discussion in the classroom.