Thursday, December 31, 2009

Missing Sisters

Have you read Missing Sisters by Gregory Maguire?

I just ordered it. Let me know what you think if you've read it--I'll check in once I'm finished with it. And p.s. Happy New year!!

From Publishers Weekly

Affectionate humor and a particularly well-defined setting lend distinction to this touching novel set in 1968. Alice, a 12-year-old beset by hearing and speech impediments, lives in an orphanage run by nuns in upstate New York. After Sister Vincent de Paul, Alice's closest friend and supporter, is severely injured in a fire, no one explains to Alice that the sister has been sent for a long stay in a nursing home. Alice, worrying that Sister Vincent has died, makes a pact with God: until she knows that Sister Vincent will recover, she won't even consider an offer of adoption that has been extended to her--her first. A girl Alice despises gets her place, but Alice has a drama of her own, inadvertently learning that she may have a twin sister. With a mixture of cunning and courage, Alice finds her. Maguire, who spent some of his childhood in a Catholic children's home, avoids pat and obvious resolutions, and he conveys Alice's faith lightly but substantively. Characterizations of the Catholic environment are sharp and funny. Some poignant, genuinely suspenseful moments express, among other truths, the value of individuality. Ages 10-14.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.


From School Library Journal

Grade 5-7-A portrait of a 12-year-old handicapped girl, raised by a stern group of nuns, emerges from this ragged novel. Alice has spent her life in an orphanage, steeped in rigid religiousness and-because of her hearing and speech impediments-in confusion. When the one nun who is sensitive to Alice tragically vanishes from her life, the girl's isolation is compounded by grief. Then, through a fluke of mistaken identity, she discovers that she has an identical twin sister who does not suffer from disabilities and who has a loving, supportive adoptive family. As Alice struggles to find her place, the story struggles to deal with attitudes that seem dated and off-balance without really giving a sense of upstate New York in the 1960s. Supporting characters and issues are left dangling, although Alice, finally, is not; her sudden adoption in the last few pages is abrupt and unsettling. An imperfect book, but an unusual look at Catholic family values and at a troubled child.
Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Find My Family




Well, I've already blogged a bit about the TV show "Adoption Diaries" here, and I've Tivoed another show called "Adoption Story," (haven't watched it yet) and, oh, what's this? Yet another adoption-related television show? And this one is brought to us by one of the big networks? Yes, I speak of "Find my Family." (See photo, above.)

Have you seen this show? It presents almost-real-time searches and reunions, wherein adopted people get help from the show's "experts" to search for their biological parents, and birth parents get help to search for their long-lost offspring. It's another example of exploitative television, showing the anguish of the search and the bittersweet emotions of reunions after decades of separation. It tugs at our heartstrings, especially if we are people who have been intimately affected by adoption, and especially especially if we have conducted our own searches ourselves and are figuring out how to live in reunion.

The New York Times published this article about it on Monday. In the article, someone who works at an adoption advocacy website (and who mentions that she "supports efforts to allow adoptees and birth parents to exchange medical information," so I have to surmise that she is NOT in favor of full reunions) accurately observes that "anytime you film somebody in real time having an emotional breakdown, that is exploitative." I agree with her on that point.

However, others who were interviewed, including an advocate for birth mothers, see some potential benefits of airing the program; to wit, FirstMotherForum.com author Lorraine Dusky said "Maybe this will be heard by people who think it is unloyal somehow for a person to search out his or her roots, parents, family, when it is a most natural desire of consciousness." I see her point, but I still believe it's exploitative.

However, the most burning question for me about all this is WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? Never before in my life have I seen so much spotlighting on issues of adoption, especially on search and reunion. I totally agree that as homosapiens, we have a primal need to know our origins in order to feel completely human, and I also believe that we adoptees have a basic human right to the information that is ours. But why is all this suddenly coming into the limelight? We have lived in silence, anonymity, shame, and doubt ("Is this really the big deal it feels like? Why doesn't anyone else except my therapist think so?")

What has shifted in our culture that has begun to train the spotlight on all issues adoption? I don't think it's the mere fact that adoption is occurring more and more often in the United States, and I don't think that it's just because our society is now much more accepting of people being born in situations outside of marriage. It's something else.

What do you think it is? Please, I'd really love to know.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"I'll Stand by You" (?)




Did anyone watch "Glee" last night? In this latest episode, Finn, a high school football player whose cheerleader girlfriend is pregnant and has decided to make an adoption plan, admits to a friend that he's really sad that he'll never get to know his unborn daughter (the baby's actually another man's child, but he doesn't know that yet, so disregard that fact for now), and will never get to tell her he loves her. He also mourns the fact that she'll never know that he loved her and wondered about her and wanted to know her. The scene comes to a climax with him singing The Pretenders song, "I'll Stand by You" to a video of a sonogram of the baby that's playing on his computer.

"Glee" is a silly show. It's a sit-com with some musical theatre thrown in. I like it, sure, but it's pretty fluffy.

But.

But I have to say, watching Finn sing longingly to a little pulsing sonogrammed image of what he thinks is his unborn daughter about how much he cares for her, how he wants to support her throughout her life both caught me off guard and choked me up.

So many of us who were adopted under the closed adoption system fantasize about having been wanted and thought about and cared for in this way, and so many of us never get to know if it happened. The not knowing hardens us, leads us to think we weren't wanted, weren't ever cared for, weren't longed for or pined over. Maybe it's just a fantasy, like the musical theatre sequences in "Glee." But maybe, just maybe, somebody really wanted to "stand by" us, but just couldn't.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Belated Birth Father Visitation Post



I haven't posted for a month, and it's the first time I've neglected my blog like this. It feels awful, but I have been incredibly busy and sick, dear readers. So I hope you haven't given up on me. I just needed to attend to a few other things, like my new job that is kicking my butt, and these viruses that are kicking my immune system's butt.

ALSO.
Also, my birth dad came to visit me for the first time ever. Yep.
Yeah, that's him up there in the picture standing next to me. I'd love to hear from you whether you think we look alike. He claims I am a spitting image of him and the rest of the fam.

So, you might ask, was his visit a big event for me? Yes. Yes it was. Was I freaking out? Oh, just a bit. Why? It's hard to explain.

But that's what I want to write about because that's what everyone wants to know about this business of being an adult who was adopted as a newborn under the closed adoption system. What's it like to meet a parent you've never known, a parent who (at least claims he) never knew you existed, and to try to strike up a relationship with him? Especially when that parent is a 65 year old politically conservative male cattle rancher who runs a heavy equipment leasing business, and you are a youngish-middle-aged, super lefty female college professor and writer who has no business sense whatsoever? But there is some spark of recognition between us, and there's a drive to know one another, to understand what we mean to each other and what we have in common.

The real problem is that there's no map.
Francis and I are Lewis and Clark stuck in a canoe together with nothing to help us navigate but an overused spotting scope and some old inkpens.

One thing I learned about him during this visit is that he's a pretty quiet man. or maybe this quietness is a new thing--he's had some pretty serious health problems during the last year, and I can't help but wonder if they have changed him. He seems more forgetful, more reticent than the first time I met him (about a year ago), when he seemed gregarious, loquacious, forthcoming. Which one is the real him? I wonder if I'll ever know who he really is or who he has been all these years that I didn't have the chance to know him.

Another thing I learned about him during this visit is that he's really into geneaology, which would explain his interest in me. He even asked to see baby pictures of me! Too bad he asked for them when he was on his way to the airport to depart, but it's a start.

So, do you think we look alike? (Maybe just in my baby pics?)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Study

(Pictured: One of my brothers, his son, my son, and me)

Ok, my son's in the bathtub, so this is going to be quick:

I was just perusing my email inbox and found this article on a study in Adoptive Families Magazine. It's about how adoptees fare psychologically when compared to their non-adopted siblings.

Often, I find the articles in Adoptive Families frustrating, as they tend to wax Pollyanna about all things adoption. However, this study seems to have some solid research behind it, and frankly, it's a breath of fresh air after reading all those studies about how screwed up adoptees are. I'm tired of feeling screwed up.

What do you think about this study? How does it compare with your experience in the adoption constellation?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A New Low In Reality Television

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_peC6WpP5isE/SpbjxaobIsI/AAAAAAAABW8/xo54CaEy7eU/s320/103_Janelle%252C_baby%252C_Mimi.jpg
(this is a still from the one I'm watching right now.)

...or is it a documentary? I'm referring to the new television series "Adoption Diaries," an episode of which I am watching right now. I'm a bit flabbergasted by the show's goal to condense the entire length of a pregnancy, an adoption application process, and the placement of a baby with an adoptive family into one half-hour segment. It's so short, in fact, they throw in another segment of another adoption process just to make the program last a whole hour.

So one adoption isn't worth even one hour on television? What is the takeaway message from this show, then? It's all neat and tidy and wrap-up-able in thirty minutes?

They do show some of the uncertainty and sadness that the birthmothers feel, but the show definitely seems slanted toward the experience of the adopting family.

The whole thing seems really gross and exploitive to me. UGH.

This just in: I just watched a commercial about the show that comes on AFTER "Adoption Diaries" . It's called "The Locator," and it's about--you guessed it--a guy who helps family members reunite after they've been separated for decades by adoption and other such situations.
Unbelievable. Really, now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Basic Human Rights

What does original identity mean to you? Check out this Adoptee rights video on youtube; it's very moving. Footage from the July 2009 adoptee rights protest in Philadelphia.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Well, Here's One Way to Search I Never Thought About

A biological dad of a 19 year old girl, who was recently informed of his paternity, is searching for his lost daughter via...ebay! Check out his auction here.
What do you make of this approach??

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Social Networking, Adoption Style

Anyone out there checking out the adoption-themed social networking site, Adoption Voices? I recently joined, and would love to hear your opinions about it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Taxonomy and Adoption




Disclosure: I am a secret science geek. Every week, I look forward to the arrival of Tuesday for the sole reason that that is the day of the week when the New York Times "Science Times" section is published. I read it from cover to cover, which sometimes takes all week, if I'm particularly busy, but I carry it around in my purse, reading bits of it every chance I get. Ok, that's enough disclosure about my dorky habits for now.

Here's an article from the Science Times on Tuesday, August 11, 2009 that struck me as particularly pertinent to both adoption and poetry (another of my passions). Entitled "Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the Living World," the article argues that taxonomy is a dying practice. I must admit, I can't understand how it could possibly be a dying practice, because from my biased perspective as an adoptee and a poet, naming the world is central to existence.

Yet the article's author, Carol Kaesuk Yoon says that "we are, all of us abandoning taxonomy, the ordering and naming of life. We are...losing the ability to order and name and therefore losing a connection to and a place in the living world." Do you feel this is true? Please let me know what you think about her assertion.

But here's my thesis: naming the world leads to knowing the world, and knowing the world helps us know ourselves and our place in it. This is especially important for adoptees, who don't know their place in the world because of their displacement from one family into another, often at a very early, preverbal age. Naming is also important for the poetically inclined, because in my opinion, poetry is the act of renaming the world, and in naming it, we both renew it, and we come to understand it better as a shared, universal experience.

Carol Kesuk Yoon also mentions some recent scientific studies that have led "some researchers to hypothesize that there might be a specific part of the brain that is devoted to the doing of taxonomy." If this hypothesis is true, it would suggest that taxonomic tendencies are evolutionarily based, integral to our humanness. Conversely, she says, people whose brains are damaged in this taxonomic area are "completely at sea. Without the power to order and name life, a person simply does not know how to live in the world, howo to understand it..They are utterly lost, anchorless in a strange and confusing world. Because to order and name life is to have a sense of the world around, and as a result, what one's place is in it."

Sound familiar, adopted people? I would posit that this "anchorlessness" due to the inability to name the world is similar to the unmoored feelings some adoptees (including myself) have when they do not know their origins. What do you think?

I also think that this cellular need to know my origins, to understand my place in the world is what drove me to become a poet. It was a stopgap way to name the world, to name my life, until I could find my birth family.

As David Kirk, a social scientist who did research about losses in adoption, concluded the way we heal is understanding those losses. I believe that in order to understand those losses, we must first name them: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Do any of you readers out there have a similar (or opposite) opinion or experience to share?
Give us a shout!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reality?

Check out what Heather over at Production not Reproduction's got to say about a new "reality" show, Adoption stories.
She's a smart mama, that Heather.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Picture this: the first time you ever see your birth mother's face is when she was in a casket at the morgue.

So goes one of the true stories in Jean Strauss's beautiful documentary about middle-aged and older Americans searching for their birthparents called "For the Life of Me".
(She also wrote the fine adoption memoir, Beneath a Tall Tree, shown at right.)

It's heartwrenching and frank, and talks a lot about the toxicity of secrets.

Additionally, it made me wonder how the fact of my adoption will affect my son and his descendents? Anyone want to weigh in on this idea?--how one adoption in the family orchard affects the leaves and fruit that are borne thereafter?

The parting quote:

"For adoptees, the light at the end of the tunnel is illumination, and any school kid can tell you that all living things need light to survive."

Thoughts?

Plus, anyone want to fill me in on the protest in Philly on July 21st about adoptee rights to birth certificates?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Conference Tidbit

It's been a whole week since I returned from the adoption conference in Provincetown, and my life has been too busy to blog about it yet. But here's a little taste:

On Sunday, July 12, I got to meet the fabled adoption writer, Betty Jean Lifton (of Twice Born, Journey of the Adopted Self, and Lost And Found fame). She gave a great keynote address, and afterward, a friend of mine introduced me to her. I asked her about living in reunion--when it feels like you've finally arrived because you've found the sought-after person (in this case, my birth mother), but even though you've finally "arrived," you don't know where you are. (That's how it feels for me. I'm so happy to know Carol and to have her in my life, but I have a hard time connecting with her.)

When I asked Betty Jean Lifton what I should do about this, she asked me, "What do you want from your birth mother?"

I had to think quickly--I realized I don't really know what I want from my birthmom. I said "I want to know what happened!"

"Aaah!" Said BJL, "That's what all adoptees want--to go back in time to the 'then-and-there,' to the point of connection, to the point of conception, to the Navel of the World! But the birth mother doesn't want to go there, she wants to move on. She doesn't want to stay in that place; she wants to run away from it like it's a house on fire. She wants to be with you in the 'here-and-now.'"

Yes, I suppose that does create a conflict. And a bit of an impasse.

Thinking about it more, I realized that what I want from my birth mother is to know everything. To know her. And it seems so impossible.

On another note, BJL's reference to the "Navel of the World" stunned me. I have long had an obsession with the mythic idea of the navel of the world--I've written about it, researched how this notion is expressed in various cultures around the world, and, most importantly, have identified it as an important centerpiece in my understanding of myself as an adopted person.

I would love to post a few pieces of my writing here that refer to the navel of the world to show you what I mean, but alas, I am away from home and thus away from all my computer files. I'll post them later, when I return home.

Which brings me to my final point: I'm going on vacation--the kind where there are no computers (hard to believe such places exist anymore), so I'll be on hiatus from posting until August 1.

Catch you then!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'm off to Read at and Enjoy a Conference


The Adoption Resource Center and The Center for Family Connections is sponsoring a special conference in Provincetown, MA this weekend, and I'm lucky enough to be able to go! I even wiggled my way into giving a little reading of my adoption-related poems and essays, and I'm so excited. I'm looking forward to telling you all about it, but in the meantime, check it out via the link above; maybe you can drop in for part of it. I would especially recommend the performance, which is open to the public, btw, by actor, comedian, and writer Alison Larkin. I recently read her novel, The English American, and I loved it. I highly recommend it--it's written from an adoptee's perspective (she's an adult adoptee), and it chronicles her search and reunion experience with her birth families.

Here's the official blurb:

"When Pippa Dunn, adopted as an infant and raised terribly British, discovers that her birth parents are from the American South, she finds that “culture clash” has layers of meaning she’d never imagined. Meet The English American, a fabulously funny, deeply poignant debut novel that sprang from Larkin’s autobiographical one-woman show of the same name."

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Adoptees' Rights--Protest Coming Up Soon!!

Check out this adoptees' rights site!! I'm so excited--just found it. There is going to be a march/protest in Philadelphia on July 21st to demonstrate our rights to open records of our birth. The site tells you more. I hope you can attend--I can't; I'll be out of state, but I'll sure be there in spirit!!

What about you?


(More soon, I've been busy, busy, busy running a day camp for my six year old son and ten of his dude-friends. Man, do I feel old and tired!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Father's Day Post Script

Pictured here: my awesome dad, Bob, carrying my little son in an ad for Nike. (No not really--not the Nike part, I mean.)

I have known my dad, Bob, since I was three weeks old, and he has always been amazing to both my brothers and me. He is so excellent that I long ago dubbed him SuperBob, in celebration of his Super Dadly powers.

SuperBob has helped me out of sticky situations so many times, I can't remember them all. Some of them I wish I could forget, because I'm embarrassed to have gotten into them in the first place, but SuperBob was always there to show me how to pick up the pieces and go home. (Like the winter I decided to move to Flagstaff, Arizona to live with my boyfriend, and I packed up all my stuff in the back of a big old white pickup truck and the boyfriend and I drove all the way from northern California to northern Arizona. Correction: my boyfriend drove us all the way because, having been in a bad car accident less than a year before while attempting to drive home from Alaska, I was too scared to drive the humongous truck that was not only full of stuff, it had the stiffest clutch I've ever tried to engage. You can probably see this coming, but on we go: I had only been in Flagstaff a few days before I knew it wasn't going to work for me to stay there. Not a healthy relationship. I knew I had to get back home to California, but I was trapped--I couldn't drive that truck back across the desert by myself, no way, no how. So who came to my rescue? SuperBob, of course. He got on a flight to Flagstaff, picked me up, and drove me the 850 miles back to California in the big, white pickup truck, never once berating me or making me feel like a total loser for not looking before I leapt, or anything. He just treated me to dinner at the Sizzler in Barstow [that's about as good as it gets in Barstow, by the way], and hugged me while I cried about my broken relationship with the boyfriend.) SuperBob is a really good guy.

Fast forward a couple of decades to last summer, yes, less than a year ago, when I first met my birthfather, Francis. I contacted Francis via the good old US Postal Service in 2007. When he got he letter, he was shocked--he said he had no idea I existed, but in his hands, he held a long treatise from me, telling him about myself and my family, and a big 8-12" x 11" inkjet-printed color picture of me with my little son , smiling out at him from the abyss. He called me on the phone as soon as he got the letter, and said "I thought I had four children, but now I have five!!" He couldn't have been more welcoming, despite his claim of not knowing I roamed the Earth.(Someone's memory isn't serving him/her: my birthmother claims he knew...but anyway.)

A few weeks later, he sent pictures of himself and his family, and wouldn't you know it, in his high school graduation picture, he looks very, very much like SuperBob. What do you make of that?

So now I have two dads, one who has dealt with me and all my neediness and warts for 42 years, and one who I am just beginning to know.

And both of them are very kind men.

I feel lucky.

Happy Father's Day, Dad and Francis!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Poem A Day...



Why Wilderness?


Because the truth
about origins
is built on pillars

of dreams and lies,
and family is built
upon wooden planks

of blind hope, the way
a nest is built in its tree
of presumed potential.

Because a forest is the one
who teaches how to question,

a desert is the one
who embraces,

and a canyon is the one
who knows how to keep.

--Andrea Ross, 2001

A little poetry explication:

The ten years I spent searching for my birth parents coincided with the ten years I spent as a wilderness guide, living outdoors or in wild places most of the time. I'm working with this idea (and as you can see by the date on the poem, I've been working with it for quite awhile,) that this coincidence has a deeper meaning--that the need to search and the need to be in the wilderness are intertwined, and that they each inform the other in an important way. The wilderness was my "home base" while I did this scary, nebulous thing called searching for my origins. I found a lot of solace in wilderness, and the poem explores some of the reasons why.

Recently, my smart and lovely friend Tamar directed me to Gerald G. May's book, The Wisdom of Wilderness, in which he writes, " ...The primary meaning of wild is 'natural.' In turn, natural comes from the Latin nasci, meaning 'to be born.' Wilderness, then, is not only the nature you find outdoors. It can also refer to your own true Nature--the You that is closest to your birth. This inner wilderness is the untamed truth of who you really are."

Well, there you have it. Thanks, Gerald G. Mays; you've put elegantly into words what I've been inexpertly gnawing on for a decade.

I'm interested to hear from you, readers, about what wilderness does for you--are you scared of it? Do you love it? Do you feel at peace in it, or nervous? Do you avoid it, or are you drawn to it?
Does it feed you in a deep and synergistic way? If so, please try to tell us about it.
Thanks!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Go Ask Your Father



Father's Day's just around the corner...

Did any of you listen to This American Life last week? It featured a narrative told by Lennard Davis, author of Go Ask Your Father: One Man's Obsession to Find Himself, His Origins, and the Meaning of Life Through Genetic Testing, which will be published in 2009 by Random House.

Davis isn't an adopted person, a few years ago, after his father died, Davis's uncle told him that he (the uncle) was Davis's biological father.

The meat of the story is about Davis's quest to find out if his uncle's claim is true, and when it becomes clear that the man who raised him is definitely NOT his father, he says he feels "abandoned."

This is the part that caught my ear--feelings of abandonment run so rampant in me, and in many other adoptees, that I'm always trying to figure out how to come to terms with them, how to contextualize them in new ways to understand them better, and in doing so, to drive them away.

So Davis feels abandoned when he finds out his father is not his father, which highlights the fact that keeping secrets from people about their origins almost always leads to more pain than openly sharing the facts from the very beginning would have done.

(Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sharon and Bob--my parents--for telling me I was adopted from the minute you got me. I wish all adoptive parents had your strength and foresight.)

Anyway, so even though Davis is not an adopted person, he feels abandoned in the same way that many adopted people feel because his parents kept secrets from him about his biological origins.

The reason I bring this up is that so many non-adopted people have a hard time understanding adoptees' feelings of abandonment; they say things like "but you were chosen," or "you were raised by wonderful, loving parents, how could you feel abandoned?" So here you have it, nay-sayers: proof that feelings of abandonment arise from confusion about one's origins, no matter the circumstances.

I'm curious about what you readers think of the "abandonment issues" argument: your thoughts? Comments? Questions? Let's hear them!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Touched-By-Adoption Blogs

Hi there, everyone:
Are there any blogs by adoptees, birthparents, or adoptive parents that you read and would recommend? I'm always on the lookout for new ones--the ones I like are found on my "Blogs I like" list. I'd love to read your faves.
Please share!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Playing Hooky, Managing the Abyss

I haven't posted recently, and in trying to figure out why, I realized it was because I was just having too much danged fun to sit in front of my computer very much these last two weeks; I finished my teaching semester in mid-May, and I've been playing hooky from being an adult ever since; for fun I have gardened like crazy, mountain biked in the leafy spring woods, celebrated my birthday by surfing, buried my 5-year-old up to his neck in sand (his idea, not mine), decorated sand castles with clam shells and crab legs, went on a few dates with my husband, saw the Cezanne and Beyond exhibit at the Phila. Art Museum (gorgeous), sometimes spent three hours a day at the gym (!), went thrift shopping, and hosted my parents for a nice little visit. Generally, I have been packing all the fun that I should have been having during the past five months into the last two weeks. That's what summer is like for us teachers.

So, on to my latest thoughts about adoption.
Let's talk about Abyss Management, shall we? What is Abyss Management? It's the term that Dr. Joyce Pavao, adult adoptee, author of the excellent book The Family of Adoption, and founder of the Center for Family Connections, uses to describe the task adoptees are faced with post-reunion, which is to recognize and deal with the missing spaces in both places in one's life--the feelings of longing and loss we feel about both our adopted family and our birth family; for while reunion may engender feelings of wholeness, completion and healing in the adoptee (it certainly did for me), reunion also throws into stark relief the holes that remain--holes that really cannot be patched because they have existed for so long. One way I try to deal with these abysses is to think of myself--an adopted person--as being from two "countries," wherein one country is my birth family, and the other is my adopted family. Working to integrate these two countries is a lifelong process. I have been told it gets easier the longer you work on it.
Here's hoping.

Your thoughts? I'd love to hear them!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Adoption in the News

What do you make of the news stories about adoption reunions that appeared on NPR around Mothers Day?

In one, which aired on May 8, two days before Mother's Day, the adopted daughter calls her birth mom a "Mentor" as well as a mother. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And In this NPR story, which aired on Mother's Day, an adopted son and his birth mother describe their reunion after 20 years of separation.

And finally, consider all the buzz about "Raising Katie: What adopting a white girl taught one black family about race in the Obama era." See My American Melting Pot for commentary.

I think something's afoot with regard to adoption in the media; are we approaching the critical mass of attention required to become a mainstream, highly publicized topic of discussion? What do you think?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Word About Mother's Day

(Pictured left to right: My mom; me, 8 months pregnant with my son, and my grandmother)

Finally becoming a mother myself at age 36 helped me to better understand how much my mom has loved and cared for me ever since she received me from the adoption agency when I was three weeks old. I never understood, until I had my own child, the bonding that goes on between a mother and her baby during all those hours of holding, wiping spit-up, changing diapers, rocking, strolling, and nursing or bottle feeding. Doing all those things with my infant son birthed a new relationship between my mom and me.

So, Mom, Happy Mother's Day. I love you.

Then there's the birthmother issue. 2001 was the first year I had the opportunity to wish both my mothers (my mom and my birthmom) a Happy Mother's day. I had found my birthmother, Carol, and had exchanged emails, phone calls, letters and photographs with her, but I had not yet met her. I was elated that my birthmom was finally in my life: I could actually wish her a Happy Mother's Day, and it made me feel more whole to have access to her and the part of my personal history that accompanies her.

We have since met each other, visited on numerous occasions, and we have become a part of one another's lives. But to live in reunion is to navigate uncharted territory; we don't know who we are to each other. She is my mother, but she was unable to mother me; I am her daughter, but I am a stranger to her. When I reunited with Carol, I felt as if I had finally arrived at a place I had long yearned to be, but when I got there, I didn't know where I was. I'm curious to know whether other adoptees in reunion feel this way.

So now, when I go to the stationery store to select Mother's Day cards for my mom and my birthmom, I get a little stymied trying to find an appropriate one to send Carol. Mostly the cards wax poetic (albeit Hallmarkily) about all the things the mother has done for the child--all the boo-boos kissed, dinners cooked, long talks enjoyed in the middle of the night while snuggled up tight in bed. None of them, of course, says "Thanks for relinquishing me, I know it was an excruciating decision; Happy Mother's Day." I mean, really.

I usually end up making a card, or buying a card with no salutation inside and writing in my own sentiments. But my own sentiments are conflicted, so even doing that is difficult. I want to acknowledge Carol, to let her know she's important to me. I want to forgive her for giving me away, I want to absolve her of all the guilt she feels. I want to wipe it all away. I want her to be the person she would have grown up to be, had she not become an unwed teenaged mother in a society that condemned her. I wish all these things for her. And I also wish that my feelings of guilt, unworthiness, and confusion related to being adopted could be wiped clean. Finding Carol and building a relationship with her has helped to repair some of these wounds, but it has also opened up others. Becoming a mother myself has also helped bridge some gaps. But it's an ongoing process, a lifelong one, I suspect.

With that in mind, I wish a Happy Mother's Day to Sharon and Carol, and to all the brave adoptive- and birth-mothers in this confusing, wonderful world. Love to you all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Long Road Home


I just returned from wandering the desert for 4 days, searching for ancient ruins and petroglyphs.

On Friday, my friend Kim and I hiked for 9 hours straight, almost without stopping, trying to find some ruins we had sketchy directions to. It was quite an adventure: We had to get permission from a cranky woman to walk across her land into the canyon where the ruins were, then bushwhack our way downstream for several miles, then climb up pouroffs and cliffs of a side canyon for a couple more miles. At one point I was scritching on my belly over a big sandstone boulder on a cliff ledge, trying to avoid falling to my death. We finally turned around without finding the ruins, and got back to the trailhead well after dark, nauseated and headachy and dehydrated.

Why, you might ask, would any sane person do this to herself?

The short answer is: I'm obsessed with finding ruins, rock art, and any kind of artifact.

The long answer is: I think it has something to do with being adopted. Searching for ruins, pot shards, projectile points, ancient corncobs, granaries, pictographs and petroglyphs replicates "The Search"--for self, identity, ancestors, birthparents.

I talked to Kim about this obsesssion--she has it too, but she's not adopted. I asked her what it means to her to goat around the wilderness, searching for artifacts. She says she likes (and I mean really likes--we were both so stubbon about finding those hidden ruins, we almost ended up spending the night huddled under a rock ledge; we just couldn't admit defeat and turn toward home) it because it's a like a treasure hunt.

But I really think that for me it's something more than that. In searching for, finding, and trying to decipher rock art, a very hidden part of myself thinks I will learn something about that very hidden part of myself.

This whole process reminds me of a dream I once had in which I was digging around in my backyard, and I uncovered some human skulls. They had been embellished with decorative carvings and were very beautiful. They were the skulls of my long-lost ancestors, and finding them led me to a great epiphany in the dream--sadly, a non-verbal epiphany, but in retrospect, I realize that this dream was about finding my personal history, my true identity, very close to home--in my own backyard--that is to say, in myself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Giveaway Winner!

I must say, I am impressed. Your stories of peeing in the wilderness are very touching. Kim gets special recognition for writing a rhyming poem about peeing her pants, and Maggie gets an honorable mention for admitting she used to pee outside while wearing full colonial regalia.

All the responses are funny and/or heartwarming; I regret not having copies of the book to give to all of you for baring your, er, souls for all the blogosphere to see.

(If you haven't yet read the responses for the giveaway, I heartily encourage you to do so; they're fabulous. And you can always add one of your own. Everyone loves a good wilderness/pee story, right?)

So, the results are in: I wrote your names on pieces of paper, put them in a bowl, and had my husband draw a name, and the winner is: Heather! You, lucky dog, are the soon-to-be owner of a brand- spankin'-new copy of The Double-Daring Book for Girls. (Heather, email me at writerinres2004 at yahoo dot com and let me know what snail mail address you'd like me to send the book to.)

I'm off to the desert to backpack and rejuvenate (and pee in the wilderness). See you next week.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Double Dog Dare Ya--Book Giveaway


Ok, so once upon a time, I was a wilderness guide. I hiked up big mountains, paddled through whitewater, shinnied my way through sandstone caves, and slept under the stars a whole lot.

But one of the most useful things I learned how to do was pee outside without, um, getting myself all wet. There was a lot of trial and error, and I have to admit, I learned a few things the hard way.


But you don't have to make the same mistakes I did because in The Double-Daring Book for Girls, the newly-launched sequel to the wildly popular Daring Book for Girls by Miriam Peskowitz and Andrea Buchanan, you will find a little section about "going to the bathroom in the woods." I am extremely proud to say that little section was written based upon my techniques. Yes, folks, I provided wilderness bathroom methods consultation for this fine book. (You should have seen me giving a demonstration to the author at our local cafe. Well, maybe you did.)

There are lots of other super cool things in this book, most of them far less scatalogical, aimed at girls ages 7-14. To read an interview with Miriam Peskowitz, read this post at My American Meltingpot.


At any rate, I have a hot-off-the-presses copy of Double Daring to give away to someone who comments on this post with a good story about being (not necessarily peeing) in the wilderness. Comment by midnight on Friday, April 10 to be eligible.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Birth Mother's Point of View

This blog post portraying a birth mother's point of view is definitely a must-read, if you haven't seen it already. It's heartfelt, sincere, and very raw. Interestingly, many of this birth mother's points about her feelings of loss and anxiety related to relinquishing her baby correspond with what I perceive as the adoptee's feelings of loss and anxiety about having been relinquished--they certainly reflect mine.

Ironic that these groups of people (birth mothers and adoptees) who have been forcefully separated and hidden from each other via closed adoption, shame, etc., for so many years have such similar feelings about their experiences, despite our society's mandates for us to forget about one another and go on living our lives as if the other never existed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Whose Heritage do We claim?

A great-great-great uncle of my dad's signed the Declaration of Independence. There's even a little placard with his portrait and name on it embedded in the sidewalk of the historical district in Philadelphia. My great aunt Ruth, who lived to be 103, traveled the world when she was 22 in 1919, and was generally a super cool woman and a role model for me, was the family's heritage-keeper. That is to say, she kept records of the family's geneaology, photographs, accomplishments, etc.

I have always found this family's history very interesting, but also felt conflicted about it since it is the geneaology of my adoptive father's family, not my blood relations'. I have always felt uneasy about claiming his heritage because I was unsure I was entitled to it-- so much of the pride (and shame) of heritage in our society is based upon blood kinship, not adoptive kinship.

One day when I was in high school, I was called out of class by the guidance counselor to take a special test administered exclusively to descendants of the DAR to determine eligibility for a college scholarship. I had to ask the counselor what the DAR was, and when she told me it was the Daughters of the American Revolution, I remembered the great-great-great uncle, and figured it had something to do with him. Even then, when I was only 16 and had no idea what the DAR was all about, I had an inkling that I didn't technically qualify to even take this test, much less to receive the scholarship.

I didn't do well on the test, so I didn't advance to the next level of competition for the scholarship, but as it turns out, I wouldn't have been eligible for it anyway, as membership in the DAR is, as I suspected, based upon bloodlines.

Which brings me to the question I have been pondering: whose heritage do I claim? Do I claim the Scottish and Finnish ancestors I've heard about all my life from my adoptive parents, or do I claim the Norwegian and Swiss ancestors I've recently learned about from my newly found birthparents? Neither feels completely mine, yet I don't wish to eschew either of them because they both feel familiar and true. Who are my ancestors?

As adoptees, how do we reconcile our dual heritage?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You Were Only Waiting for This Moment to Arise

This has nothing to do with adoption, but I simply must share it because...well, read on:

Last night, my five-year-old son and I were sitting at the dinner table eating noodles, when suddenly he hopped to his feet and started doing what appeared to be his approximation of jumping jacks, which involve a lot of hopping and flailing of arms (in his kindergarten, he has an old-school gym teacher who tries to teach these little, totally uncoordinated people to do things such as squat thrusts, lunges, and jumping jacks).
I said, "Oh, are you showing me what you did in gym class today?"
"No, mommy, I'm dancing."
"Oh," I said, "What are you dancing to?"
"I'm dancing to 'Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night'" (also known as "Blackbird" by Paul McCartney).
Since it was quiet in the house, and he was singing to the song playing in his head (I guess) I suggested,
"Do you want me to sing it and you can dance to it?"
His eyes lighted up, "Yeah!!"
So I started to sing, and he performed this exquisite, spazzy (he's got fire in his soul, but no rhythm yet), and very heartfelt, spontaneous interpretive dance throughout the dining room while I warbled away:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,oh
You were only waiting for this moment to arise, oh
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.


And that, dear readers, is why I love being a parent.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

How do you Make a Child Your Own?

In Shelley Burtt's "Lives'" essay in the New York Times Magaine on Feb 15, 2008, she writes, "Your birth children aren't offered to someone else first. As contingent as their existence is on particular circumstances, once they're on their way, there's only one place they can end up. To be confronted, 10 years later, with the physical evidence that my son, this generous soul I loved so deeply, almost belonged to someone else, and almost was someone else, brought tears to my eyes and a knot to my stomach. Ryan was ours not only because we had wanted him but also because another American family had not. How do you make a child your own?"

There are a couple of things that struck me about this passage. First, let me say that I understand what Burtt is getting at. But, I take issue with her first sentence; if you're a birthmother, your birth children ARE offered to someone else first. Second, I think it's strange that after living with her son for almost a decade, she suddenly realizes that he had "almost belonged to someone else, and almost was someone else." She adopted him. Did she completely disregard the fact that he had birthparents and a point of origin before she came along? Why does it bring "tears to [her] eyes and a knot to [her] stomach" only that another American family had not adopted adopted him, not that he was taken away from his original family?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Moment of Truth

It finally happened. I finally told my son I'm adopted. Only in not so many words.

He loves to talk about when he was inside my belly, asking me thing such as "Mommy, did I kick you when I lived inside your belly?"
and I say "Yes"
and he says "and what did you say?"
and I say "Baby! What are you doing in there???!"
and he thinks that's incredibly funny and he laughs.

It's quite the comedy routine we have here.

So, like all things do, it changed: the other day, after a visit from my parents, he asked,
"Mommy, did you kick Grandma when you lived inside her belly?"

and I said, "No, I didn't live inside Grandma's belly."
and he said "WHAT?!"
and I said, "I lived inside grandma CAROL's belly instead."
and he said, "WHAT?!"
and I said, "Yes, I lived inside grandma Carol's belly, and when I came out, she decided I should live with Grandma and Grandpa."
and he said "Why?"

Ahh, the million dollar question. It always stops me cold. Why did she give me away? Oh, I know, I know. I really do. I get it. But how do I explain it to my five-year-old son? (And how do I explain it to my child-self?)

and I said, "because grandma Carol decided it would be a good idea if I lived with Grandma and Grandpa."

and he said, "oh." and was off to play with his Magic School bus. End of story. For now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How I Woke Up on Valentine's Day

"You're someone who I'm going to love for a long, long time," says a little person clad in footie pajamas, as he pads into my dark bedroom and curls up in bed next to me. "I love you too, sweetie," I say, putting my arm around his small torso and wondering if my husband has sent him in with a scripted conversation.

"I'm going to miss you when I grow up and move away," he says.
"I'll miss you too, sweetie. But you'll come to visit, right?" I ask.
"Yes, and I'll bring my children to visit you, Mommy." He says.
"Good," I say, drifting back to sleep. It's still early, I'm still tired, and I can barely stay awake, but I'm trying to memorize what he says so I can write it down later. By now I'm pretty sure this is a spontaneous conversation, not a proscribed Valentine's Day one. My husband is downstairs, awake, reading the paper, eating cereal, being the early riser of the family, and my five-year-old valentine is in bed with me telling me how much he loves me because that's just the way he is. Lucky me.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thumbsucker

One of the things that made me feel more connected to the world when I was a child was...a drum roll, please: sucking my thumb.

It was so great that I didn't give it up until I was nine years old. And by that time, boy were my teeth messed up. But I didn't care. Sucking my thumb was a kind of communion. I thought I could contact aliens while sucking my thumb--that's how tuned into the universe I felt when I was doing it. (I don't, however, know why I wanted to contact aliens, but whatever.)

I even told my best friend Robin about it. And 25 years later, when she had a thumbsucking baby of her own, she made me a special birthday card with a picture of her daughter sucking her thumb. The message read "calling all aliens to wish you a happy birthday!!" Now that's a good friend--one who remembers what you said about contacting aliens by sucking your thumb for all those years.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Writing Workshop in the Works!

OK, Folks, I'm trying again: I need at least five people to sign up for this class in order for it to run, and I'd really like it to run!

So, If you live in the Philadelphia area, please consider signing up--I'd love to meet you.

Voices of Adoption Writing Workshop

taught by Andrea Ross

Class meets three times: Sunday afternoons from 2-4 pm; February 22, March 1, and March 8

This course is for anyone touched by adoption who wishes to explore his or her stories through creative writing. In a relaxed and supportive environment, the instructor will guide students through writing prompts, sharing of work, giving and receiving of constructive feedback, and discussion of the writing process and adoption-related topics. This writing-intensive course will draw inspiration from various authors and will culminate in the production of an optional class anthology.

Course fee: $44, plus $5 materials fee payable to the instructor

Register through Mount Airy Learning Tree: (215) 843-6333, mtairylearningtree.org

More about Bellybuttons

This morning before he got dressed for school, my son snuggled up with me on the living room couch in his polarfleece jammies. The room was darkish and my husband was off in the kitchen eating breakfast, and my son and I had the most lovely, intimate conversation:

HIM, patting my belly: Mommy, was this my home before I was born?

ME: Yes, it was.

HIM: And you fed me through here? (unzips his jammies and points to his bellybutton).

ME: Yep.

HIM: I didn't have a mouth, so I needed to eat through my bellybutton.

ME: Well, you did have a mouth, but you ate through your bellybutton.

HIM: What would happen when salad tried to go through there? It would get stuck.

ME: Umm...

HIM: Or tomatoes? I hate tomatoes, so when a tomato went through there I spat it right out.

ME: Umm...

HIM: But mashed potatoes would fit through; they would just slide right into my bellybutton.

ME: I guess so...

HIM: I love you, mommy.

ME: I love you, too, sweetie. Now go change into your school clothes.

He's the best. And I know I've posted about bellybuttons before, but dang, this connection I have with my little son is so very rewarding.

I don't know why he's so obsessed with his bellybutton, but I know why I am, and I feel so very lucky to have been able to carry him in my body and give birth to him so that I can have conversations such as this one.

I'm just a little nervous about what other people are going to think when he starts telling them that he spits tomatoes out of his navel. Oh well. It won't be any worse than what they think when he tells them that before he was a boy, he was a fish (the results of my attempts to explain evolutionary biology to him), or when he tells them that after he dies he's going to turn into a plant (the results of my efforts to explain decomposition to him).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Finished Running

Well, I finished reading Ann Patchett's Run a few days ago. I really enjoyed it, but I did wonder what Ann Patchett's relationship to adoption is. In the interview with Patchett at the back of my book, she says nothing about adoption, but emphasizes that in all her books she writes about people who don't know each other being thrown together in a situation, which would definitely describe the setting of both Patchett's Bel Canto and the maternity home situation in her Patron Saint of Liars. Still, I can't help wondering what her fascination with adoption is...

Did anyone sleuth anything out about this?




Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Literature

I just started reading Ann Patchett's Run. It's about a white family who adopts two African-American boys after having one biological son. I am hooked, but I'm only on page 80 or so. Thus far, it's about the unplanned reunion with the boys' birthmother when they are 20 and 21 years old.

Have you read it? What do you think?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Who We Become

Check out this article in the New York Times. In it, the author Ellen Ullman ends by saying "Knowing every single ancestor...will never solve the deeper mystery, which of course is the dreadful question of who we become."

Is it always a dreadful question?
(Does she mean dreadful as in
in causing great dread, fear, or terror? Or does she mean dreadful as
. in inspiring awe or reverence?)

If she means the former, I disagree; if she means the latter, well ok then.

Moving on:

Yes, we humans all want to know who we are going to become as we grow into ourselves, and adoptees tend to be especially curious about this, as we often have been deprived of information about our ancestors.

I believe I'm a result of both nature and nurture: I'm very much like my adoptive parents in that I'm a college professor and so were they; my politics are very lefty and so are theirs. On the other hand, I have this obsessive need for wilderness and wide open spaces, and they're not exactly mountaineers. However, when I met my birthfather last summer, I saw in him what appears to be the origins of my outdoorsiness: we went hiking together and he pointed out to me various birds and plant species; he told me there's nowhere he'd rather be than outside; and he collects rocks (ask my husband how he feels about having moved my childhood rock collection from state to state for the last decade). I haven't found as much in common with my birthmother, which is sad to me. But I do kind of look like her. One thing I share with my birthmother is a deep sadness. I sense that her life, even her personality, was profoundly impacted by the circumstances surrounding my birth. I think she has been very hard on herself as a result of the shame of being an unwed mother in the 1960s, and of giving me up for adoption. She doesn't like to talk about it, but I got a lot of good information from the book The Girls Who Went Away, and I highly recommend that book to anyone who's interested in this topic.

So, what did you think of Ullman's article? What do you think about nature v. nurture? Have you read The Girls Who Went Away?