Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I have a whole theory/hypothesis about the relationship between the Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River as a metaphor for the institution of closed adoption. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.
I applied for this grant, and I'd really like to get it. I'd like to know that someone believes in my writing and my quest for identity enough to fund it, even just to throw a little bit of cash at it. So, wish me luck?
I always have a hard time with applications that are about me. (I'm great writing grants for things that have nothing to do with myself.) Something about tooting my own horn is excruciatingly difficult for me, and I end up moaning "I'm not worthy!" (a la Wayne and Garth) and crawling back under the covers for days. Luckily, if my husband's within earshot of this moaning, he might say "You are worthy! You're so worthy!" But sometimes he drops the ball and says "Your application looks pretty good." Like today. (Sorry, honey, but it stings.)
Can I just say, "pretty good" applications do not usually win the prize?
Anyone have any opinions about adoptees and self-confidence? Especially you adoptive moms out there? I sure wish I could shed this garment of underconfidence (like underwear--just take 'em off?) and get on with it.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
After three days spent visiting friends in Sacramento and Davis, I am in a wintry whiteout in intermountain Northern California at my parents' place.
My husband and son and I just came in for a lunch break from fort-building, cross-country skiing, and sledding. There's just about nothing better than the joy and excitement of a five-year-old playing in the snow.
Except maybe visiting with lovely close friends whom I've known since I was three, and since first grade, and since 7th grade, and since grad school, and since my son was born...
My parents just left to drive three hours to Chico so that my mom can receive her chemotherapy, and they're going to try to make it back tonight because another big snow storm is forecast for tomorrow and the next day. I really hope they make it back in time for Christmas. I wish they hadn't had to go at all. But she's got to beat that cancer.
My brother from Florida is due to arrive here with his husband at any minute, and my other brother is coming with his family in a few days; I can't wait for the house to be full of family--all kinds of family. Adoption is one of the things in this world that expands the meaning of family, as do marriage and friendship.
Happy Birthday to Carol, my birthmom, who turned 60 yesterday!
It's so comforting to have all these people around me, my big, extended, blended, complicated family. I love you all.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
I take the subtext of this list to be "Things That Dissuade People from Adopting," since from what I have read, Adoptive Families is extremely concerned with making everyone's experience with adoption seem very positive, and they want people to adopt. If this is indeed the subtext, I am kind of appalled by #3, All Adoptees Search.
Does the fact that some adoptees search for their biological origins dissuade people from adopting? If so, why? I understand that the prospect of an adoptee searching may threaten the adoptive parents' sense of parenthood, but shouldn't Adoptive Families, as an advocate for, well, adoptive families, which I assume includes adopted people as well as those who adopt them, support adopted peoples' interest in searching? And, come to think of it, shouldn't they disabuse adoptive parents of the notion that their parenthood is in question if their adopted child searches?
What is going on here? Please read the article (hyperlinked above) and let me know what you think.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I decided it would be a good idea to find out about my medical history, something that I had never thought about before, so I wrote to the adoption agency that handled my adoption, and received my "non-identifying" information--information about my birthparents and their families that is vague enough that I wouldn't be able to track them down. There was nothing about arthritis in it. But I did learn that my birth mom liked to swim, and my birthdad liked to sing. (More on that later.)
Eventually, after 8 years of being sick and going on and off various medications, I had accumulated enough damage in my joints from inflammation to indicate that I have a kind of inflammatory arthritis called spondylitis. It is chronic, uncurable, very painful, and in some cases, very debilitating. I am lucky to have a somewhat mild form of it, but I would be lying if I said it hadn't completely changed, and sometimes ruled, my life. I have had it for 22 years now, and I'm very tired of it, but I'm also very accustomed to it. I can also say that it is the reason I became a ranger, a wilderness guide, a search and rescue worker, a mountain biker, a backpacker and a climber.
During the initial months and years of being sick, when I didn't know what it was and I was very scared, I decided to try to exercise/exorcise it out of my body. I bought a mountain bike and started riding it up the humongous hill to my college campus at UC Santa Cruz every day. At first, I sweated and pedaled as hard as I could, while going so slow that flies actually landed on me and other people, who were riding Schwinn 3-speeds, passed me handily. Eventually, though, I worked myself into shape, and gained some confidence, and in turn felt I had some power, some control over the then-mysterious disease that was kicking my butt on a 24/7 basis. My goal was to kick its butt in return, which didn't really happen, since the disease never left my body, but I became very strong and began to identify myself as a rugged, outdoor gal. Which was sort of cool.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with being adopted? Well, I think that adopted people are probably more prone to chronic illness than other people. Why? Because we feel vulnerable and susceptible. It has been proven that adoptees have more psychological disease than the average person, so it makes sense to me that our sensitivity would cross over to the physical realm as well.
I have two brothers; one is adopted and the other is not. My adopted brother has a chronic illness, too. He's diabetic. My other brother is as healthy as a horse.
Now, I know a sample group of three people does not a scientific study make, but I am very curious about this.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I look forward to your input.
Monday, November 17, 2008
We had five participants, some of whom were adult adoptees, some of whom were adoptive parents, and one who was an adoptive uncle. Everyone did some great writing and sharing, and it felt really good for me to be in a roomful of people touched by adoption. It can be very lonely to be an adopted person, so being in that room was extremely comforting for me--it was very nice to not have to explain myself in the way I usually do when speaking about adoption. There was a level of understanding, of knowing, that is rare for me to find.
It kind of reminded me of when I was pregnant with my son, walking down the street all humongous and feeling very much on display and very guarded--people I didn't even know said the weirdest things to me when I was pregnant, such as "They're still letting you out of the house?" I know. Anyway, whenever I would pass by another pregnant woman thumping her way down the sidewalk, I'd shoot her a knowing glance, as if to say "can you believe the craziness of this situation?" And she'd smile back at me, seeming to know exactly what I meant with my look.
Even more similar was the feeling I got in my prenatal yoga class where once a week I got to be in a room full of pregnant women and nobody else, and I felt such a kinship with these women who were like me in this very obvious way, but who otherwise were strangers to me. So this workshop was a bit like a prenatal yoga class: a gathering of strangers to meditate on a particular kind of sameness in each of us. It was wonderful.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Not so fast, everyone. One thing I really appreciate about the blogs I've been reading by adoptive moms and birthmoms is that they seem to deeply understand the complexity of the adoption situation--for everyone involved. I'm not sure I can say the same for some others who have commented on my blog postings.
I get that everyone has her/his own vulnerable feelings, that everyone feels alienated in some way at some time, and that many can identify with the "broken chain" metaphor in some way; however, I maintain that these feelings are DIFFERENT for people who are adopted. And our experience needs to be heard and understood and validated.
I imagine that people who have commented that the way I feel is a common to many people, that people who are not adoptees feel that way too, are just trying to help--they see me hurting and want to fix it. I appreciate their interest in making me feel better, but it doesn't help me--or any other adoptee who feels this loss--to invalidate my feelings. They are real. This is my reality. I am tired of being made to feel like a whiner for saying things like "I feel loss because when I was born, my mother gave me away and I never got to know anything about her or why she did that."
It is a big deal, folks. It really is. Everyone who is touched by adoption experiences a profound loss. And it's time that was recognized by others. I was fortunate to be adopted by a loving family when I was a baby. I wasn't abused by my parents, and I didn't grow up in an orphanage. But I was not "saved," as Fang put it in his post: ("Someone is waiting for you to save his or her life as yours was saved.") Adoption is not about salvation. And an adoptee's feelings of loss and alienation are different than other feelings of loss and alienation. Everyone is entitled to their feelings.
I know the World Series is over, so baseball metaphors are probably passe, but I must say that the people of this country really stepped up to the plate yesterday.
I can't think of the last time I actually felt proud to be an American, but today I am. Thanks, everyone, who helped vote Barack Obama into office.
I might add that my 5-year-old son freaked me out the other day when he said that in his kindergarten class's mock election, he voted for John McCain. "Why did you vote for John McCain?" I asked, thinking, "Dude! We have an Obama sign in our front yard! We talk about him every day!" But he said, "Because I can't say 'Barack Obama' very well." Hmm, OK.
Yesterday, we convinced him to go into the voting booth with my husband instead of riding his bike outside the polling place while daddy voted. I'm pretty sure he pressed the button for Obama.
It's a good day.
Voices of Adoption
This one-day workshop is for anyone touched by adoption who wishes to explore her or his stories through creative writing. In a relaxed and supportive environment, the instructors will guide students through writing prompts, sharing of work, giving and receiving of constructive feedback, and discussion of the and adoption-related topics.
WHERE: Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 3rd Floor Community Room,
To RSVP for Voices of Adoption, contact Andrea Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Ross, M.A., was adopted in Colorado in the late 1960s. She has a Master's degree in creative writing, and has been teaching creative writing courses for all ages since 1992 through California Poets in the Schools and the University of California. A former wilderness guide, Andrea is especially interested in writing about the intersections between adoption, literature, and the environment. Since moving to Philadelphia recently, she has taught writing at La Salle University and The Morris Arboretum.
Betsy Self Elijah, M.F.A., was born in South Korea and adopted by a Caucasian family in the 1970s. With an MFA in Creative Writing: Memoir and , Betsy serves as nonfiction editor for Quay, a literary journal, and has taught personal narrative writing workshops in the Philadelphia public school system, Free Library of Philadelphia, Asian Arts Initiative, Pan African Studies Community Education Program at Temple University, and Mt. Airy Learning Tree. Betsy works as a Reading and Writing Specialist for Community College of Philadelphia and as a freelance writer for the Chestnut Hill Local.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Often, while bathing or dressing my young son, anytime I catch a glimpse of his bellybutton’s curved, labyrinthine contours, I am compelled to touch his navel and tell him “This is where you were connected to me before you were born.” It’s a comfort and an inspiration to do this; his bellybutton is evidence that he is mine and I am his: we share the singular connection I have longed for over many years. I have been thinking about the idea of the navel of the world—a concept that exists in many cultures: the Hopi Sipapu, the Greek Omphalos; it is human nature to connect our existence with the earth’s—to create the cosmology of where we came from, to ground and connect ourselves with that which came before us and that which is larger than ourselves.
In this country, kinship is defined by biological relatedness, while in other cultures, genetic inheritance is not the main focus of kinship. Perhaps in those cultures, adoption is a non-issue; a child can belong to everyone, to everything, including the granite domes, basalt cliffs, and winding whitewater of the landscape. Perhaps one could belong to the earth; yet, here, because of the secrecy surrounding my birth and the circumstances under which I was relinquished, because my birth certificate—our culture’s signifier of belonging, heritage and kinship—was amended after my birth, and a second document replaced it while the first one was sealed in a envelope and hidden in an inaccessible vault, because of this early secrecy and scrambling of my personal information, I have not felt that grounding, that rootedness, that sense of belonging.
Despite the fact that if I wanted to, I could now put my hand on my birthmother’s belly, touch her navel and remind myself, “this is where I came from, this is who I was connected to before I was born,” a long-ingrained feeling of disconnection persists.
Monday, October 27, 2008
What do you think?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
In the meantime I want to touch upon a few things. I have gotten such a strong response from people (both via the blog and in person) about my reticence to adopt a child myself, that I think the topic deserves some more time here. On Thursday night at my knitting group, while we all knotted away on our various projects, my friend Meredith said something that has really stuck with me: when I was trying to explain to her how I think it would be too hard for me to be the mother of an adopted child because I have all my own pain about being adopted to deal with, she said "but don't you think that most of the time, the way we feel about things before they happen is completely different than the way we feel about them once they've happened?" (At least I think that's what she said; it's a hard idea to recap.) Anyway, she has a point. For me, things almost always turn out differently than I expect them to, especially emotionally. So does that mean that I should go ahead and adopt a child? I don't know.
One friend of mine who is an adoptive parent is currently dealing with her 9-year-old daughter's occasional statements of "I don't want to be adopted!" The thought of trying to someday deftly handle those sentiments from my own adopted child stops me in my tracks. My immediate response would be to say, "I don't want to be adopted either!" Making your child not be adopted is not something anyone can undo, even our parents, supreme protectors from all boogeymen real and imagined. And adoption can really be a boogeyman, a shadow, an apparition that follows us around, no matter how hard we try to shake it or ignore it. The specter is still there.
Some would argue that my adoptee status qualifies me to empathize with and deeply understand the pain of an adopted child, so I would be a good choice to be an adoptive parent. but there's a part of me that thinks that exposing myself to that specter of pain would be my undoing.
But who knows, it might be the thing that makes me feel whole. The stakes are high, and I don't yet know how to make this decision.
I was so glad to hear from Dawn, an adoptive mom, that she appreciated my need to have children who are biologically realated to me. I also really respect her opinion that adoption has its positive and negative aspects; it's not perfect. I concur.
Finally, I want to say that Maria's comment that fundamentally, we're all broken links, and that each moment in our life "is an effort to connect to [our] broken parts" is well-taken. I agree that as humans, we all feel alienated in some way, whether we're adopted or not. Sometimes our feelings of alienation become our strongest points of connection with each other. That's why I'm glad that so many who are not touched by adoption are reading this blog anyway; it's another way to forge a bond.
Thanks, everyone, for reading.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
However, let me say that this list is in no way exhaustive, nor is it representative of everyone's experience with adoption. For example, most of these books are by or about white women. That's because I'm a white woman who was adopted into a white family and I have been looking for books that reflect my experience. So there's almost nothing about the transracial or transnational adoption experience in this list. Please feel free to add a comment with your recommendations in these or other areas I've missed; I'm always looking for the next good book to huddle under the covers with.
The Mistress' Daughter, A.M. Homes
Beneath a Tall Tree, Jean Strauss
Mother Me, Zara Phillips
All My Mothers and Fathers, Michael Blumenthal
Swimming up the Sun, Nicole J. Burton
Twice Born, Betty Jean Lifton
Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found, Sarah Saffian
Giving up Simone, Jan L. Waldron
The Girls Who Went Away, Ann Fessler
Books about Reunion:
Lost & Found, Betty Jean Lifton
BirthBond, Judith S. Gediman and Linda P. Brown
Adoption Reunions, Michelle McColm
Psychology Books about Adoption:
The Family of Adoption, Joyce Maguire Pavao
Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, Sherrie Eldridge
Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, David Brodzinsky, Marshall D Schechter, and Robin Marantz Henig
Journey of the Adopted Self, Betty Jean Lifton
Fiction and Poetry about Adoption:
Ghost at Heart's Edge, edited by Susan Ito and Tina Cervin
An Adoptee's Dreams, Penny Callan Partridge
Then She Found Me, Elinor Lipman
Friday, October 17, 2008
I had hoped to be the mother of two, so when our son was two years old, we started trying to conceive again, thinking that once again, it might take awhile, but having faith that it would happen eventually. The short version of this story is that my son is now five-and-a-half years old, and it hasn't happened.
The long version is that we did end up looking into the gaping maw of infertility treatment, jumping down its throat, and eventually getting chewed up and spit out by way of 4 medicated intrauterine inseminations; 2 in-vitro fertilizations; an early miscarriage; a second mortgage on our house; and untold stress on my marriage, my son, and my psyche.
Throughout the grueling process of infertility treatments, my husband and I frequently visited the idea of adopting a child instead of continuing to try to conceive one. My husband has two adopted siblings, so he grew up in a family of adoption, and feels very comfortable with the idea of us adopting. For me, the issue is not quite so cut-and-dried.
This is the part that gets very difficult for me to explain. Since origins and sense of belonging are very important and raw issues for me, part of my reluctance to adopt stems from the feeling I have of being the broken link of a chain. The idea of me (an adoptee) adopting another person conjures up an image of one broken chain link trying to connect to another broken chain link. It just doesn't make sense to me. What I have found is that this description doesn't make sense to other people. Often I get a very quizzical look from those I tell about it. This has long frustrated me. But recently, I had two breakthrough experiences about it:
Last fall, I went to a conference about adoption with the intent of learning about the adoption process--we were investigating starting the adoption process. I went to a talk by Zara Phillips, author of Mother Me: An Adopted Woman's Journey to Motherhood, and without identifying myself as an adoptee, I asked her what she thought about adoptees adopting children. She said "I don't know of any adoptees who have adopted; we tend to want children who are genetically related to us." It was so gratifying to me to finally hear another adoptee's view on this issue. I no longer felt like I was crazy for wanting children who were biologically my own.
Next, another adoptee in the audience contributed his point of view, which was that he felt very strongly that he wanted an adopted child, and in fact, he had recently adopted a little girl. He also said he hoped that when the time came, his daughter would also adopt. Obviously, this is an emotionally charged topic. People have strong opinions about this one, and they're hard to sway.
Later, when I read B.J. Lifton's Twice Born, I saw my broken link sentiments expressed by another adoptee for the first time; she writes "I was like a link from a chain that had been allowed to break..." Yes. That's how I've felt, and both sadly and thankfully, I'm not the only one who feels this way.
I departed from that adoption conference pretty sure I would be unable to adopt. Yet my husband and I are still grappling with the idea that our family will remain a family of three, when we would really like it to grow to four. Nothing is set in stone: maybe I'll find a way to forge that chain link back together into a stronger whole.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
In one section of the book, her school-age son, whom she has not yet told that she is adopted, approaches her with a class assignment to create a family tree. He wants her to help him with her side of the family tree. She resists, wondering "Does the adopted person go on the tree she was placed on biologically or the tree onto which she was transplanted? Who's to say?"
I have been wondering how to explain to my five-year-old son that I am adopted. He knows he has three grandmas, and he thinks that's awesome--the more adults who love him and get on the floor with him to play Thomas the Tank Engine, the merrier. But he doesn't know why he has an extra grandma, and he hasn't asked, so I haven't told him. I want to, but I don't know if he's developmentally ready. How does one know these things?
My parents told me I was adopted from the moment they got me, and I thank them for that; I am so grateful that there was never a time I didn't know I was adopted, and more importantly, that there was never a time when I suddenly found out I was adopted, which I think would be incredibly difficult to deal with.
The time is soon coming when I will explain to my son the intricacies of what Betty Jean Lifton calls her family "arboretum." I love the idea of a family arboretum rather than a family tree (or, as I have heard suggested for adoptees, a "family orchard"), partly because I love arboreta, especially the arboretum near my house, which boasts not only lots of cool trees and plants that make me very happy, but also a garden railway, which makes my son very happy. Also, sometimes I get to teach creative writing classes there, and that also pleases me greatly.
I look forward to describing the adoptee's arboretum metaphor to my son, when the time is right. I thought it might happen a few months ago, when we were eating dinner one night several weeks before getting on plane to visit my birth father for the first time, and I said "We're going to visit _____ when we go on vacation!"
"Who's _____?" he replied.
"Well, that's a very good question," I said.
And I took a deep breath, preparing to tell him that Mommy has two dads, one is Grandpa Bob, and the other is this man we're going to meet in a few weeks, etc., etc., but before I could get a word out, my son asked "Can I have dessert?" and with that we had moved on to another subject, entirely eliding my personal arboretum. I took his response to mean that he wasn't ready/ it wasn't time, but who knows? I could have probably just hauled off and told him, and he would have said, "OK, Mommy,"--he is, after all, one of the most flexible children I've ever met, the kind of kid who rolls with whatever comes his way, and I really appreciate that about him.
So I have to surmise that my reluctance to spell it all out for him is really about me, not about him, dangit. I'm afraid that when I tell him I have two dads and two moms, he'll wonder which one is the "real" dad and the "real" mom, and then he'll wonder why didn't I grow up with the parents to whom I was born. I'm worried that this information will cause him to wonder if he's likely to be given to another set of parents, and I'm worried that I won't be able to dispell that notion, no matter how hard I try.
So the issue is really still mine--all this stuff probably won't bother him, but it bothers me. After all these years, I am totally freaked out that he will ask me, "why did your original parents give you up?" and I'll be flattened because I still wonder that myself, even though intellectually I know that the 18-year-0ld girl who was my birth mom could not keep me, could not parent me alone, didn't have support from her family do do so, was shamed by society for getting pregnant out of wedlock, etc. There are so many reasons she couldn't keep me, but there is the part of me, the part I call the "Baby Self" who will never understand or accept why she was given away. And I don't want my son to see that part of me because I think it would scare him. It certainly scares me. But when the time comes, I'm going to call upon the strength of the oaks and cedars and redbuds, and all the other trees I love-- to explain to him my arboretum, and then we'll build a swing hanging from one of the tree's branches, and we'll play and play on it.
Back in 1996 when I was searching, this website didn't exist, so it was interesting to see how the program was described on its website. One of the terms used on the website particularly intrigued me: it described the person being searched for as "the sought-after." The air of mystery and the inclusivenes of this phrase piqued my imagination. In a sense, the sought-after could be anyone; obviously in this case, it refers to someone touched by adoption: a birth parent, a child who was adopted, or any member of their families.
However, for me this term also conjures up the sense of longing for connection and belonging that I and many other adopted people feel as a result of the way that closed adoption obscures our origins. In the end, The Sought-After becomes more than a euphemism for the birth parent or birth child we seek; The Sought-After is also the elusive self we are trying to find and trying to become as we grow into ourselves as people touched by adoption.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Welcome to The Sought-After, my blog about being adopted, and about my experiences with search and reunion my birth families. I've had adoption on the brain for ever so long, and have been writing about it in secret, during the interstitial scraps of time between being a mom and being an English professor and learning how to do plaster repair on the walls of my century-old house, and, well, you get the idea.
I have been closeted about writing about being an adopted person mostly because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings: I love and respect my parents and my brothers, who have been very supportive about my search to find my birth parents, but I'm scared of hurting them by writing about my experiences of alienation and longing; I love and respect my birth parents and my newly found half-siblings, and don't want to hurt their feelings either. I also worry that writing about my experiences as an adoptee might offend other adoptive parents and birth parents who read this blog, so I am scared to do it.
But do it I shall, because I find the perspective of the adult adoptee strangely scarce out there in the current discourse about adoption. Adoption is a huge, important topic in our society and in our world right now, with so many parents choosing to adopt domestically or internationally these days; I am thankful that the adoption process in the United States now includes educating adoptive parents about issues adopted babies and children may face with with regards to attachment, grief, identity, and abandonment, just to name a few.
Don't get me wrong; I am not "anti-adoption." My parents are loving and kind, and they raised me well. But being adopted made me different; it made me feel different and it made me act different, and it took me a long time to figure out why because I was born at a time (in the late 1960s) when educating parents about the special needs and circumstances of the adopted psyche was not the norm.
So I'm here to tell the story of my journey as an adopted girl who really needed to know where she came from. I'll write about my search and reunion with my birth families, my thoughts about contemporary adoption, and my reactions to adoption literature. I'll do this in hopes of shining light on the secrets of adoption, especially closed adoption, to diminish the power that those secrets wield against adopted people and those who love us. I hope to generate discussion that will help us all feel more whole and more understanding of each other.
Thanks for reading, and tell me what you think!