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  • Love is Not a Pie
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  • I'm both an adoptive mother (via foster care) and a reunited adult adoptee. Follow my unique perspective on adoption, foster care, adoption-reunions, and family preservation on my blog "Love is Not a Pie."
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    • Last updated August 22, 2011
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Sea Glass & Other Fragments

Published: Apr 15, 2014 8:18:35 AM
  • Mar 10, 2014 5:10:00 PM
    Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
    In the past year, as a result of several factors (the publication of Kathryn Joyce's book The ChildCatchers, the Reuters rehoming scandal, and media attention to several heartbreaking cases of adoptee abuse or death at the hands of an adoptive parent), the issue of abuse and maltreatment of adoptees within adoptive families has been receiving an increased amount of attention, both inside and outside of the adoption community. Adult adoptees and others have also been drawing attention lately to less extreme but more widespread instances of microagression against adoptees, such as those illustrated at the tumbler account Sh**ty things adoptive families say to adoptees.

    From my point of view, this increased awareness and attention is a very good thing. Until recently, the occurrence of abuse within adoptive families was adoption's dirty little secret obscured by a cultural tendency to believe only good things about adoptive parents. Among my acquaintances are adoptees who attempted to report abuse as children only to be dismissed and disbelieved by people who could not believe that the adoptive parents (perceived as good, selfless, and rescuing) could be capable of abuse. It may seem to some people that the current level of attention to adoptee maltreatment is overkill, but when an issue has long been kept in the dark it is natural and right for it to receive extra scrutiny when it at last comes to light.

    But, not surprisingly, with the increased attention has come the backlash, primarily from adoptive and prospective adoptive parents. We are being reminded with increasing regularity that "abuse happens in biological families, too" and "some people are just horrible people who would be bad parents in any circumstances." We are reminded that lots of people, not just adoptees, have troubled relationships with their families. We are accused of giving a pass to biological parents and of always focusing on the negative in adoption.

    To this I say, just stop. Please.

    First of all, such critics are raising awareness of something of which we are already perfectly aware. Because biological families are the norm and adoptive families the non-normative exception, every single one of us, adopted or not, almost certainly knows more non-adopted people than adopted ones. We all know of people who were abused by biological parents. We all know people who have crappy, dysfunctional relationships with family members who are related to them by blood. We know that plenty of non-adoptive people have also had sh**ty things said to them by family members. No one who is working to raise awareness about maltreatment of adoptees within adoptive families is unaware of or denying any of this. In fact, in some cases, the very people who are raising awareness about adoptee abuse are the same people who are on the ground working to improve conditions and outcomes for all children.

    It is a fallacy to assume that raising awareness about one kind of abuse or maltreatment denies the existence of other kinds of abuse. Those who have been speaking out in recent years about sexual abuse by members of the clergy, for example, are not implying that only clergy members commit abuse or that all clergy members commit abuse. Rather, they are raising awareness about one kind of abuse that occurred within a particular purview and was long kept in the dark. They are also examining the factors that are unique to this particular context of abuse and that need to be explored with an understanding of the context, such as the systemic cover-ups that occurred within the church itself.

    Similarly, child abuse may happen in non-adoptive contexts, too, but it is still important--essential even--to look at the specifics of abuse and maltreatment as they occur within the adoptive context. In many cases, maltreatment in adoptive cases can be linked specifically to adoption-related causes, such as lack of parental preparation for the behaviors displayed by trauma-affected children or lack of bonding and attachment linked to the child's attachment disruption from the original family or to genetic dissimilarities (in temperament, etc.) between the child and the parent. (Dissimilarities can obviously occur in biological families, too, but are more likely in adoptive families. Additionally, if the parent has been falsely led to believe that the adoptee is a "blank slate," that too can be an aggravating factor.) Though it didn't happen in my family, I've heard many adoptees express that they were treated very differently from non-adopted siblings in the family, sometimes to the extent that the adoptee was abused and the biological child was not.

    Adoptive families are also different from biological families in that they are legal entities created by way of human institutions. Because humans created the adoption institution, we are called to look at it more closely when its flaws come to light. We need to look at adoption-specific factors such as home studies and post-adoption support (or lack thereof). We need to be asking what can be done to fix what is broken, and we can't do that without first acknowledging the problems.

    We also need to look at adoptee abuse within the context of the prevailing "better life" mythology of adoption. Many expectant mothers have been told they are selfish to consider parenting themselves rather than allowing their child to experience the better quality of life that adoption supposedly provides. Criticisms of the current adoption system are often countered with the argument that adoption combats abuse and neglect by getting children out of bad situations, without any acknowledgment that abuse and neglect happen in adoptive families as well. Furthermore, many adoptees hear throughout their lives that they are "lucky" and that they should feel grateful for the wonderful life that adoption has supposedly provided. When it turns out that for some adoptees the promised "better life" is actually something much, much worse, that is a story that deserves our attention. 

    It's also important to acknowledged that adoptees who are mistreated in the adoptive family have been doubly harmed, first by the many losses associated with the separation from the original family and secondly by the maltreatment in the adoptive home. The biological parent who suffers the loss of a child to adoption only to later learn that the child ended up in an abusive home is also doubly affected. These stories deserve to be heard, and, until recently, there has not been a place for them in adoption discussions. It is not the job of people who have suffered as a direct result of adoption to make adoptive and prospective adoptive parents feel better by "focusing on the positive."

    Finally, before I close I'd like to look in more detail at one particular accusation that has been put forth against those of us writing, speaking, tweeting, etc., to raise awareness of adoptee abuse and maltreatment, which is that by shining the light on adoptive parents who abuse we are "giving a pass" to biological parents and thus contributing to the number of children who end up in foster care. In addition to the fallacy that raising awareness about one issue is the equivalent of ignoring another, as I discussed above, this accusation includes another problematic assumption: all or most children in the child-welfare system are there as a result of abuse or maltreatment at the hands of a biological parent. I want to emphasize that if even one child has ended up in the system as a result of biological parent abuse, that is one child too many. I am not giving a pass to any abusive parent, biological or otherwise. But it is important to acknowledge that the reasons why children end up in state care are many and complex. Yes, some end up in care as a result of abusive or incompetent biological parents. Some end up there because of the actions of a step-parent or live-in partner of the biological parent; others as the result of factors such as the parent's failure to provide sufficient food or adequate housing (in other words, because of poverty); still others as the result of "discriminatory practices in society (reports of abuse and neglect) or within the child welfare system (investigations, substantiations, placements, permanency outcomes)"that result in racial and ethnic disproportionality in foster care and foster-adoption. 

    All instances of child abuse and neglect deserve our attention and outrage, but we do not serve children by oversimplifying complex realities. We need to be looking at child welfare with a wide lens and with full cognizance of the various (and at times differing) factors that affect biological and adoptive families. 
  • Mar 8, 2014 1:00:00 PM
    Image courtesy of sippakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Today is International Women's Day. This afternoon I will be delivering a speech as part of Women's Voices Worldwide's Celebration of Speech event. The following is the transcript of my speech.

    ----------

    I was born into secrecy, shame, and silence. The year was 1966. My mother was an unmarried teen who had been kicked out of high school and made to turn in her National Honor Society pin two weeks before graduation because her pregnancy was beginning to show. She was not allowed to hold me in the hospital. She was not allowed to name me. She left the hospital with empty arms -- and stretch marks. A short time later, she wore white gloves to the courthouse to sign the papers that said she was relinquishing me to adoption of her own free will. A choice is not really a choice if there is no other option.

    She was told she would move on and forget. She didn’t.

    I myself fared relatively well in that I ended up in a good adoptive family, with parents who loved me and raised me well, although I have also struggled throughout my life with various psychological and emotional issues that I now understand as rooted in the loss of my original family and with the challenges of growing up in a non-genetic family.

    On December 10, 1948, almost two decades before my birth, the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Allow me to read article number 25 to you now. Bear in mind that this was 1948 so the masculine pronoun is used, but it is intended to apply to both men and women.
    • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
    • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
    In 1966 my young mother was told she was not worthy to parent me because she was unmarried, and her lack of financial resources was used as evidence of her lack of capability. No one saw this as a violation of human rights, hers or mine. 

    I want to emphasize that this is not an anti-adoption speech. I acknowledge that adoption can be a positive thing in the right circumstance, and in fact I myself am an adoptive mother by way of older-child foster care adoption. I am not “anti-adoption” any more than a person who speaks out about sweatshops, child labor, and other problems in the garment industry is anti-clothing or a person who raises awareness about mistreatment of immigrant workers or overuse of toxic pesticides in agriculture is anti-agriculture. What I am is pro-social-justice. Pro-reform. Pro-human-rights -- including the basic right of parents to raise their own children when they want to do so. One woman’s motherhood must not come at the expense of another woman’s basic human rights. 

    When women of any age are unable to raise their own children because of socioeconomic factors, I view that as a human rights violation and a societal failure.

    When women of any age face the agonizing choice to let others raise their children because they don't trust that they themselves can keep their children with them and also keep them safe as a result of domestic violence, I consider that a to be human rights violation and a societal failure.

    When women are unable to heal from the traumas of their own early lives by way of adequate access to mental health and other services and instead acquire addictions and other destructive behaviors that prevent them from effectively parenting their own children, that too is a human rights violation and a societal failure.

    Many years have passed since 1966 and some things have changed and some haven't. Rates of adoption and teen pregnancy have both dropped significantly, but teen mothers still face tremendous stigma and cultural shaming. Many young expectant mothers still experience familial, religious, or societal coercion to relinquish children whom they might otherwise, with adequate support, choose to parent. And we still live in a society that does not truly support parents or value the work of mothering, regardless of age.

    In many ways, the world is not so different from that of 1966. But for me, one significant thing has changed.

    I was born into secrecy and silence -- the powerless, voiceless child of a mother who had not much more voice than I did. But I am not voiceless now, and I will not be silent regarding the rights of mothers and children.
  • Feb 12, 2014 4:51:00 PM

    I occasionally run across a comment on the Internet that goes something like this:

    It's important to remember that the adoptees who write and speak out about problems in adoption are a certain type of adoptee. They don't represent the typical adoptee in the general  population who is perfectly happy with having been adopted and for that very reason is less likely to speak up. I know plenty of adoptees who are just fine with adoption as it is. These folks in the vocal minority don't speak for them. 


    Image courtesy of sippakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Ah yes, the "vocal minority" dismissal. It's a slippery one for sure, in part because there's an element of truth to it. I completely agree that no one adoptee or group of adoptees speaks for all of us (and neither, I should add, does any one non-adoptee who knows a few adopted people). On the other hand, the assumption that all of the less vocal adoptees are quiet because they are fine is problematic. Here are some other types of adoptees in the quiet group:

    1) The early-phase adoptee who does not yet acknowledge adoption issues

    Adoption processing is a lifelong journey, and many adoptees go through multiple phases during their lives. The adoptee who insists that he or she is "just fine" at age 20 may tell a completely different story at age 40 or 60 or 93. (See 93 Years Old & Still Wondering "WHO AM I?")

    According to Adoption-Reconstruction Phase Theory, in the first phase of adoption processing "there is no overt acknowledgment of adoption issues." But that can change with time.

    As Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston acknowledges in the article linked above, "Theories and models don't describe everyone, but they're important to learn as a basis of understanding people and the challenges that they face." Amanda also writes, "The five phases resonated with me personally and were meaningful to every adult adoptee that I shared them with." They certainly resonate with me. Do they resonate with every single adoptee? Not likely. But it is important to remember that many of us who are now part of the so-called "vocal minority" were once textbook phase-one adoptees.

     2) The loyal adoptee

    The other part of phase one in Adoption-Reconstruction Phase Theory is this: "The adoptee has a sense of obligation and gratitude toward the adoptive parents." Here's an illustration:
    The facilitator handed out small slips of paper. On each, a quote from a young transracial teenaged adoptee. Their voices were being heard one by one, out loud and anonymously. It was moving, powerful. As some parent said, “It was as though these children were in the room.” 
    Then, the facilitator asked, “How many of you know what adoption loyalty is?” Sadly, only five hands floated upward. Here, parents were hearing for the first time, things their children most likely would never feel comfortable telling them. Out of loyalty and love, these children and I have kept these feelings and thoughts to ourselves. I never wanted to hurt my mother or father with the worries and confusion of being so racially different from them. -- MotherMade
    The tremendous silencing power of adoption loyalty should not be underestimated. It kept me silent for years, and it silences many others still.

    3) The adoptee who fears criticism, rejection, exclusion, etc.
    Adoptees that speak out about their experience have often been met with a wall of criticism, accusing them of ingratitude against the families that have "saved" them from their abandoned state. -- Tuey Mac

    Tremendous courage is required for an adoptee to speak openly. -- Deanna Doss Shrodes
    For many adoptees, it's not a simple matter to find one's voice. Personally, when I encounter the vocal-minority dismissal I often think, Do you have any idea what I've had to climb over to get to this place? It took courage and time for me to get to the point of speaking and writing things that contradicted the adoption-positive narrative that I knew was expected of me. As I see it, the amazing thing isn't that only some adoptees speak out; the amazing thing is that any of us do at all, given how much pressure many of us experience (from the time we are born) to fulfill someone else's vision of what our lives should be and represent.

    I suspect that every adoptee who speaks out publicly has been contacted privately by an adoptee who says something along the lines of "Thank you for saying what I can't yet say." I know it has happened to me, and I've heard other adoptee writers mention this as well. And then there are all those adoptees who show up in adoptee-only forums saying thing like "I'm so glad to have found this space where I can speak openly to people who understand. I can't talk about these things at all to the non-adopted people in my life." There are many reasons for silence that have nothing to do with being "just fine."

    4) The "Adoption Doesn't Define Me" adoptee

    There are adoptees who simply don't want "adoptedness" to be a major part of what others see in them. These are the adopted people who sometimes say things like "Adoption doesn't define me" or "I was adopted" (in contrast to "I am adopted"). And you know what, this is a perfectly acceptable choice. All of us, adopted or not, have complex multi-part identities, and we all make choices everyday about which parts to emphasize and share with the world and which parts to keep private.

    When I was younger, I tended to downplay the significance of adoptedness in my life, dismissing the subject as quickly as possible whenever it came up in conversation by saying something like "Being adopted is just part of my life; it's all I've ever known but I don't really think about it much. It's no big deal." Looking back on that time in my life from my current vantage point, I can see that adoptedness was a powerful influence, but my desire to be perceived as "like others" was so strong that I couldn't admit this even to myself, let alone to others.

    For me, this was another one of those things that changed over time, but for other adoptees the desire to remain "unmarked" remains strong. And I don't judge them for that at all. We pay a price for going public. Adoption activism and "vocalism" can overshadow other parts of one's identity. Not everyone wants that.

    5) The burned-out activist adoptee
    I will preface this by saying that I had promised myself I would give myself a long break from writing about adoption, for psychological-becoming-physical health reasons; the past 10 years have taken their toll, and I need to take a step back. -- Daniel Ibn Zayd 
    Few people would accuse longtime activist Daniel Ibn Zayd of being silent on adoptee issues, and in fact his self-imposed respite turned out to be short-lived. But his comment about the psychological and physical toll of adoption activism is noteworthy. It's brutal out here. Daniel is not the first vocal adoptee I've encountered expressing a need to take a step back for reasons of self-care and self-preservation. Some retreat temporarily, as Daniel did; others leave the field forever.

    [Added February 13, 2014: Please click here to read Daniel's response.]

    So there you have it. I've listed five types of silent (or relatively silent) adoptees, albeit with some overlap between the categories. Others can probably add to the list. The point is this: adoptee silence has multiple forms and causes. Please do not use that silence to dismiss or belittle the voice of those who do speak out. 
  • Jan 27, 2014 2:00:00 PM
    I am SUPER excited to announce the publication of a new book to which I had the honor of contributing a chapter! Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Ageedited by Laura Dennis, is an anthology that gives voice to the wide experiences of adoptees and those who love them, examining the emotional, psychological, and logistical effects of adoption reunion. In connection with the launch of this book, I am participating in an interview project that paired contributors with one another. I had the great pleasure of being matched with Jessie Wagoner Voiers, who blogs at Then I Laughed. Jessie is an adult adoptee in reunion and also a mother to six children (one through an open domestic adoption and five by way of marriage).

    Please read my interview of Jessie below and then leave a comment for a chance to win a free e-book version of Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age. The winner will be selected using the good, old-fashioned method of drawing from a hat and will be announced here on Friday (February 14, 2014).

    Rebecca: There are lots of similarities in our stories, but one difference that jumped out at me in your anthology piece is that you reached the point of realizing that you needed to meet your birth family at an earlier age than I did. What do you think were some of the factors that contributed to the timing of your search? What do you view as some of the advantages of having had your birth mother in your life from the age of 15 rather than later?

    Jessie Wagoner Voiers
    Jessie: One of the biggest factors that contributed to the timing of my search was the desire to know who I looked like.  My younger sister was 8 when I was 15 and she physically looked so much like our mom and dad while I had no idea who I looked like.  I really wanted to be able to make that connection.  I was also tired of trying to fill in the blanks to questions I didn’t have answers for.  My parents had always tried to answer questions for me but they didn’t have many answers either.  I wanted to know my medical history, I wanted to know the story behind my adoption.  I just hated the unknowns so much!  I knew my parents would be supportive so I figured why wait! 

    The biggest advantage of having my birth mom in my life from the age of 15 is that we have been able to share so many important events together.  She attended my high school and college graduations, we participated in each other’s weddings, she is Grandma Hottie to my kids.  I can’t imagine not sharing those things with her.  I’m so thankful that we have been back together for so long! 

    R: Your adoptive mom was very supportive of and involved in your reconnection with your birth mother.  Do you think she has served as a model for you in some ways in terms of your sons adoption?

    J: Yes, my mom served as a great model for me in terms of my son’s adoption.  I find myself encouraging him the same way my mom encouraged me in regards to being adopted.  I will always encourage him to ask questions and I will help him find answers.  Most of all my mom taught me how loved I was by my birth family and adoptive family, my hope is that my son knows how loved and wanted he is by all of his family members. 

    R: I really liked the point you made in your recent blog post about the movie Elf that adoption reunions can be both challenging AND successful. I especially liked this sentence: "Reunions involve acknowledging loss, forming relationships, navigating the differences in families, and lots of communication." What are some of the ways that your reunion has differed from either your own pre-reunion impressions of what reunion would be like or from how reunions are often portrayed or perceived by others.

    J: Reunions are so frequently portrayed in movies and other media as these perfect reunions where everyone loves each other and is already bonded and things are just rainbows and sunshine.  I do feel like my adoption reunion is successful but that is only because everyone involved has worked hard at making it a success.  All relationships take communication and team work and adoption reunion relationships are not an exception to that.  Prior to my reunion I thought “Oh we will meet, my birth mom will be so thrilled to see me, we will all be happy and stay in contact and it will be just fine.”  What I didn’t take into consideration is that while yes my birth mom was happy to see me it also meant coming face to face with a very difficult period in her life, it meant she had to work through things that she might not have been ready for, it meant that she had to explain me to her boyfriend and other people in her life.  While she did all those things amazingly well it was a lot of work for her, a lot of emotional work.  It is important to me that people acknowledge that adoption begins from a place of loss and when those reunions occur they begin from a place of loss.  It is our choice how we move forward.  If you are willing to do the work and build those relationships I think that feeling of loss can change and be very rewarding.    

    R: As adoptees, adoptive moms, and members of families created by marriage (my husband became a dad to my bio daughter as you have become a mom to your bonus five) , you and I both have complex family situations. Complexity can be a source of richness but it can also add challenges to family life. What are some of the ways that you have handled complexity, within your family and/or in interaction with others?

    J: Oh complexity!  Saying my life is complex is such a strength based way to say crazy!!! I’m kidding, kind of!  Our family is complex and challenging from time to time.  My mom taught me early on how important laughter is and I fall back on that so often.  When things seem to be particularly challenging I go back to finding the humor in the situation.  There are many days that I think we only get through the rough patches because we are a family that laughs.  I’ve also accepted that there is no such thing as a “traditional” or “normal” family anymore.  Our family, like many families, looks different.  I have made the decision to not try to explain our family to anyone anymore.  We know what our relationships mean to each other, we understand our family and our bonds, our strengths and weaknesses, and that is what matters most.  If we don’t fit the mold that other people have in their minds,  that is their problem not ours.  I think we are pretty fortunate to be different, or complex, or even challenging.  I can’t imagine our family being anything other than unique!  

    Please also visit Jessie's blog to read my answers to her interview questions. 
  • Jan 21, 2014 5:22:00 PM
    Confession: I am one of those White liberals who wishes the world were colorblind. But it isn't. And neither am I.

    I wasn't colorblind as a child in the 1970s in White, White Maine when I saw her down the aisle from me in that department store. There she was, a girl like me--same age, same size--but with brown skin! I could hardly contain my excitement. I wanted to meet her, to know her. I wanted to ask her about her brown skin! I ran to my mother and exclaimed in a loud voice, "Mommy, Mommy, there's a brown girl over there!" My mother was horrified. "Hush!" she whispered in a harsh tone. "We don't talk about that." Later, in the car, she explained to me that the girl wasn't brown, she was Black. I argued with her. She must have seen wrong. I had seen a girl with skin that was clearly brown, not black. But my mother explained that the correct word was "Black." Also, I shouldn't talk about it. Skin color was not something to be discussed.

    Surachai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    When my own daughter was in kindergarten she was as apt to pick up a brown crayon as a lighter, pinkish one to color in the skin of the princesses in her coloring book. Unlike me, she attended school with children of different races. She swam with kids of different skin color at the YMCA and sang with them at the community music school. She regularly saw people of color in stores, restaurants, etc. But she wasn't colorblind either. An observant, scientific kind of kid, she eventually noticed that people with darker skin also often had curly hair. When she wondered aloud about this pattern in the kindergarten class, the (White) teacher responded by calling a meeting with me to discuss the problem with my child. Once again the message was clear: we don't talk about race. Good white people are colorblind. Or at least we pretend to be.

    As adult I have come to understand, primarily by listening to and reading the words of adult transracial adopoptees, that White people need to enter the conversation about race, but we need to do so in a particular way: as followers rather than leaders. I cannot guide this conversation myself, nor should I look to other White people, including the well-meaning shushers such as my mother and my daughter's teacher, as my guides.

    I start by acknowledging my own discomfort and ineptitude: my sheltered White upbringing did not in any way prepare me for honest, open discussions of race. I start by acknowledging that when I open my mouth (or put my fingers to the keyboard) to say anything about race, I may say something "wrong" ("Mommy, Mommy, look at the brown girl!") or give offence--and my lack of intent in doing so does not absolve me of responsibility. I need to be willing to be educated by people of color, to really hear them when they tell me how my words or actions affect them. My entry point is the many conversations about race and racism that are already happening, directed by people of color. I start by listening.

    And I invite you to join me. Yesterday's conversation among transracial adoptees at Lost Daughters is a great place to start. If you haven't already read the post, I urge you to do so.
  • Jan 18, 2014 4:54:00 PM
    When I first started blogging one of the first posts I wrote was called “My Birth Mother Doesn’t Like the Term Birth Mother,” in which I explored the different ways my mother and I held that term. I’ve shifted significantly in my position since then. There is still a part of me that likes “birth mother,” simply because it was the word that I first learned for her. It is the word that stands for all that she was to me in the years when I could only guess at who she was. Simply put, “birth mother” was the word that kept me tethered to her through all those years of separation.

    These days, I usually use “original mother” or “first mother” in my writing when I want to specify which mother I am referring to, but I think of her as my mother, unqualified. I am comfortable with duality. I have two mothers and two fathers. One mother and father are my parents because they raised me; the other mother and father are my parents even though they didn't. It’s a position that’s hard for some people to understand, but it’s my reality and I am fiercely protective of it. It has taken me many years to get here, but I stand solidly on this ground now. I get to define what family means to me.

    I haven’t thrown the word “birth mother” out of my vocabulary entirely. I may use it, for example, when conversing with someone (mother or adoptee) who uses it as the preferred term in her own adoptive situation. Or I may use it, initially, in a conversation with someone outside the adoption community, starting with the word that is most likely to be familiar to my listener before shifting to the words that more accurately reflect my own position.

    And yet, though I have shifted away from using the term “birth mother” myself, I still get triggered when I encounter a certain situation online: a mother of loss to adoption admonishing an adoptee for using the term “birth mother,” or, in some cases, any qualifying term. “She is your mother and nothing less,” she says. “You shouldn't call her anything but that.” The insistence on mother unqualified in all situations is problematic for me because it prioritizes the mother’s experience over the adoptee’s. To my mind, it reveals a lack of understanding of the adoptee’s struggles and the complexity of his or her experience.

    I may be OK with mother unqualified now, but there was a time when I needed the qualifier for my own survival. Does that seem an exaggeration? My wording may seem extreme, but the analogy of fighting for survival reflects an important aspect of my inner reality, of my adoptee experience. The mother who gave birth to me may have remained my mother by way of her own experience; she did not forget me or cease to feel the emotions of motherhood. But my experience was different. I emerged into consciousness using the word “mother” for someone else, a woman who was present and mothering. The other mother, the one for whom I was given the word “birth mother,” was absent. Mother present. Mother absent. This combination of presence and absence makes for a complex emotional reality, and it is the adoptee who faces the daunting task of making sense of it all. At an earlier stage of my processing I used the word “birth mother,” but it wasn’t wielded as a weapon to wound my mother and keep her in the position of “less than.” Rather, I clung to it as a life buoy to keep myself afloat in the swirling maelstrom of adoptedness.

    When I first reunited with my mother, I was in a different place than I am now. I was in still in my loyalty phase and therefore gravitated toward language that prioritized an adoptive definition of family over biological. But I was also processing, as I have been my whole life, the distinction between presence and absence. To have applied the word I used for the one who had been present to the one who had been absent would have been as nonsensical to me as calling a dog a cat. They were simply two completely different things in my experience.

    Part of what is different now is that my original mother is now a full presence in my life. She has been such for almost two decades. As is often the case, two seemingly contradictory things are true. On the one hand, I have come to understand that she was always my mother and that we have always been bonded to each other—even during our years of separation, even when I didn’t understand that bond or have the words to name it. The woman who gave birth to me and experienced me as a hole in her heart throughout the many years that followed doesn't need to “earn” the title of mother. In one sense, it is simply what she is and has always been. Period.

    And yet, I can also say that she has earned it. She has done so by being present for me in multiple ways throughout the past two decades. Of all of my parents, she is the only one who has been willing and able to walk into the fire of adoption processing with me. She is the one who has accompanied me on this journey of words, even when I wrote things that I know must have been painful for her. She is the parent who has been my sounding board through many long conversations, especially in recent years, as I delved deeper and deeper into adoption processing in search of myself. To the extent that she is a “birth mother” she is really a “birth-times-two mother” for, in a sense, she has been present at both of my births. The first was the literal birth of my infancy. The second was the figurative one, in which, with her in the role of midwife, I was born into my true self: the adult me who can now stand here in my strength and claim her, mother unqualified. 



  • Jan 8, 2014 5:19:00 PM
    We've almost all had the experience of walking into a room of tense people and immediately feeling our own bodies tense, or of finding someone else's joy or laughter contagious. But how far does inner connectedness extend?

    When my then-foster-now-adopted daughter first moved in with us, I experienced several months of intense anxiety. In some ways, my stress was understandable; our family was undergoing a dramatic transition. In other ways, my reaction seemed disproportionate. I sometimes found myself wondering in those day if the emotions I was experiencing in my body were truly all my own. Was it really my fear, or hers? Was her active trauma triggering some kind of mirror response in me, reactivating my own old trauma?

    I am not the only mother emotionally "linked" to this child. Her other mother, the biological one, has reported feelings of connectedness with her even when they were apart. During the years when they were separated, there were times when Erica (the mom) would experience heightened concern. Something would tell her that Ashley was struggling. She would call Ashley's social worker and find out that, sure enough, Ashley was in crisis. Mere coincidence? Maybe, or maybe not.

    In an essay from his book Life Itself: A Memoir (reprinted in Salon), Roger Ebert tells the following story:
    In this life I have already been declared dead. It wasn't so bad. After the first ruptured artery, the doctors thought I was finished. My wife, Chaz, said she sensed that I was still alive and was communicating to her that I wasn't finished yet. She said our hearts were beating in unison, although my heartbeat couldn't be discovered. She told the doctors I was alive, they did what doctors do, and here I am, alive. 
    Do I believe her? Absolutely. I believe her literally — not symbolically, figuratively or spiritually. I believe she was actually aware of my call and that she sensed my heartbeat. I believe she did it in the real, physical world I have described, the one that I share with my wristwatch. I see no reason why such communication could not take place. I’m not talking about telepathy, psychic phenomenon or a miracle. The only miracle is that she was there when it happened, as she was for many long days and nights. I'm talking about her standing there and knowing something. Haven't many of us experienced that? Come on, haven't you?
    Yes, I have. And though I understand that we need to be cautious about assuming cause and effect simply because two things coincide, I'm also aware of how little we, as human beings at this point in history, know with absolute certainty about the workings of this world we live in. Despite all the scientific gains of recent centuries, we are still but in the infancy of human knowledge. Are we really the distinct entities that we think we are, or are we connected in ways that we don't yet fully understand? As human knowledge increases in the years to come, it seems entirely possible that we may discover that we are not as separate as we once believed.

    This post is one of a series of posts on the subject of connection. To read the full series, please click here


    Image courtesy of Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Dec 11, 2013 5:55:00 PM
    Techquanimity
    I am delighted to feature the following guest post by Joyce Genet of Techquanimity. Joyce left a comment on this blog recently that got me thinking, so I invited her to expand on the comment. The following post on mindful use of Facebook is the result. I hope you will enjoy her post and will check out her website as well. You can also connect with her on twitter and, of course, Facebook.

    There I was. I'd sit down "for a minute" to check Facebook. Miles of scrolling and 1,500 clicks later I’d realize it had been hours. My eyes would be tired, my butt sore, and I’d hardly remember what I read. No wonder some people want to stay away from Facebook. 

    That was me as a social media newbie. I've gotten a lot better since then. Ironically, checking regularly allows me to spend less total time because I'm not tempted to read everything new. So, that's an improvement, but after reading Rebecca Hawkes recent post Connected, Part One I commented that "surfing, tweeting, posting, commenting, and instagramming intentionally and with a mindful attitude can be a wonderful way to connect with friends and family near or far and to meet new friends.

    Arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Intentionally and with a mindful attitude. I may waste less time on Facebook, but am I really reading, posting, and commenting intentionally and with a mindful attitude? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Sometimes just sort of. So as an experiment I've decided to kick it up a notch. 

    There is a tradition in Buddhism called Metta Meditation. It is the sending of Loving Kindness to all beings by wishing them safety, wellness, and peace. We meditatively repeat phrases such as: May you be safeMay you be happy and healthy, and May you dwell in peace while mentally focusing on various people or groups.  Usually it begins with ourselves, and spreads outward to benefactors and loved ones, to those who are neutral, then to difficult people in our lives, and eventually to everyone -- all beings, in all directions.

    My intent is to practice Metta Meditation while checking Facebook.  I'll set my meditation timer, center myself, and consciously and meditatively go through my Facebook newsfeed. With each post I'll call up visions of that friend and wish them safety, wellness and peace. I will pay attention to sensations and reactions within myself and wish myself safety, wellness and peace. When my mind wanders, I will gently bring it back to the post at hand. I will "like" when I honestly like; I will comment when the comment is kind and from the heart; I will "share" when it feels important to share.  And when the meditation timer chimes, I will close Facebook.

    *****

    Renjith Krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    I didn’t really think it was going to be a big deal, but WOW. I lived up to my intentions and was shocked by how different the experience felt. As I read each post I concentrated on the profile picture. Often their family members -- children, spouses, pets -- also popped into my head. I found myself smiling and nodding. One post simply said, “I love you, ____  _____.”  I didn't know the person named, but sent them Loving Kindness anyway. Intellectually I already knew you don't have to know someone personally to wish them well, but this made me feel it in my heart. I could love them without knowing them. Someone else shared some great news, but also that she was afraid it wasn't real or was some kind of mistake. Her excitement, relief, and underlying fear and worry brought tears to my eyes. I could feel it all through her post. It was almost magical. It was wonderful and real. Now I want to always always always check Facebook this way.

    Will I? Certainly not every time. I've already quickly checked a couple posts and didn't set a timer and didn't take time with each and every friend's post, but the feeling of connecting with each person individually and on a personal level carried over.  Some posts seemed to ask for more of a connection, so I slowed down, sent them Loving Kindness and felt the connection deeply. I plan to make Facebook Metta a regular practice and write about this again on my blog at www.techquanimity.com. If you decide to try this, I’d love to hear about your experiences as well. And feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Metta meditation.

    This post is one of a series of posts on the subject of connection. To read the full series, please click here
  • Dec 1, 2013 2:54:00 PM
    A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security 
    -- Albert Einstein
    Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Something to think about: 
    If we lived in a culture that emphasized interdependence rather than independence, how would we act toward each other on a daily basis? If human beings could somehow free ourselves from the delusion of separateness that Einstein references above, what kind of world would we create? 

    I live in a time and culture that primarily emphasizes separateness rather than connectedness. "Success" is generally defined in terms of individual accomplishments. "Identity" is my identity. It is individual.

    But I have had moments of breaking free of that "prison." Here's one that stands out in my memory. I was at a local fair with my family, standing in line to buy fried dough or some other unhealthy fair food item. Standing nearby was a young man I whom I classified by the stereotype "skater dude." Glancing at him, my initial experience was one of separateness and (I'm embarrassed to admit) disdain. His ill-fitting clothing, his slouching posture, the way his hair hung across his eyes -- it all stimulated a kind of inner recoiling in me. But the next moment something shifted in me. It occurred to me that if I had been born into his body, his family, his life, I would be him. Not just like him the ways that all humans are like one another, but him, exactly as he was in that moment. The separation disappeared and I experienced connectedness in a profound way. For a few moments, I experienced the two of us not as separate individuals, but as the exact same "person" in two separate bodies. And then in the next moment, glancing around at all the fair attendees in the area, I felt my awareness of connectedness extend to all. Briefly, I experienced humanity as one being, rather than many. It wasn't a thought so much as a feeling. And it felt, true -- a glimpse beyond the illusion of separateness.

    Now, I can't say that I have lived my life in a dramatically different way since that moment. Nor can I claim that the sensation of connectedness has stayed with me with the same intensity. But it has stayed with me. 

    I'm aware that some readers may consider me loopy for expressing myself in this way. Others may view this post as an example of misguided let's-all-hold-hands-and-sing-kumbaya idealism. But that's okay.

    I am simply sitting today with this question:
    How would I live my life and how would I treat others if that sensation of connectedness was with me all the time as profoundly as it was in that brief moment at the fair? 

    This post is one of a series of posts on the subject of connection. To read the full series, please click here

  • Nov 24, 2013 8:32:00 PM
    Is the Internet changing our brains?

    In his 1998 book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, author Leonard Shlain explored the historic changes that took place as written language evolved and spread across the globe, accompanied by a shift from cultures oriented toward goddess-worship and feminine values toward more patriarchal, male-dominated societies. His theory was that writing stimulated left-brain thinking, causing a collective shift away from the more holistic, right-brain modes.

    In the last year of his life, following a diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, Leonard Shlain struggled to complete a (not yet published) book called Leonardo's Brain, on the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci. During the same time period his daughter, filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, was at work on the documentary film Connected. Their collaborative conclusion is that the Internet may be changing our brains again and that we may be on the cusp of yet another historic shift. (I don't want to give away any more than that. Watch the film to learn more about how our brains may be changing and what this might mean for our world.)

    The film is complex and though-provoking, and it is one of several things that have been on my mind lately as I think about the ways that we are all connected and interdependent. In the words of Tiffany Shlain: "For centuries we've been declaring independence, and perhaps it's time to finally declare our interdependence."



    This post is one of a series of posts on the subject of connection. To read the full series, please click here
  • Nov 19, 2013 7:03:00 PM
    Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Last month I wrote a post at the Lost Daughters that was inspired by an experience I had while reading the memoir Taking Down the Wall. The book's author is the adoptee Christine Murphy, a virtual friend of mine whom I "met" through facebook. My Lost Daughters post (on the subject of adoptee anger) generated not only a lot of comments at at the original post but also three responses by first mothers at the blogs helloooo, i'm bleeding, here!, One Option Means No Choice, and Letters to Ms. Feverfew. I was thrilled with the responses!

    **********

    A couple of weeks ago a Ted Talk video called "The Dangers of a Single Story" was posted on the adopted ones blog, a blog I read regularly. The blogger had posted the same video 4 times previously and I had probably seen every single one of the posts, but I had never taken the time to watch the video. I finally watched and I'm so glad I did. It was 18 minutes very well spent! The content of the talk was still on my mind when another of my online friends, blogger Laura Dennis, posted on her blog on November 11, writing on the subject of the treatment of women in Serbia. (Do you have a preconception about that? Laura's post may surprise you.) I mentioned the Single Story video to Laura; she watched it and was in turn inspired to mention the video in her next blog post, about the movie Slaughter Nick for President. As she said to me on twitter earlier today, "It [the Single Story talk] helped me form my opinions/premise about this movie's importance."


    **********

    Last week, the comment section of an old blog post of mine experienced a renewed period of activity. Several members members of the online adoption community joined the conversation, and one, Lynn Grubb of No Apologies for Being Me (yet another of my online adoptee friends), went so far as to write a response on her own blog. The collaborative power of the Internet strikes again!


    **********

    And then there was this (virtual) conversation which I participated in for Brain,Child magazine, at the invitation of Dawn Friedman, yet another online friend.


    **********

    These are just a few of the many ways that my online creative life has been intertwined with the thoughts and creations of others in the last month. You maybe thinking: This woman spends way too much time on the Internet! And you are probably right. Certainly there are times when the Internet is like a bad boyfriend, one who seems far less committed to the relationship than I am. There are those days when I click and click, without really finding what I am after. And what am I seeking? Connection? Inspiration? A sense of purpose? Wouldn't I be better served by shutting off the computer and turning my attention to the carbon-based lifeforms who are closest to me in real space? Am I cheating on real life with cyber life? Is online community created at the expense of face-to-face community?

    Yes and no. Absolutely, the family members and friends who share my life most directly must remain my top priority. The are times when it is absolutely essential that I shut down the machine and turn my attention elsewhere. Human beings need more than mental stimulation; we also need touch, voices, facial expressions, etc. But in this post, I am primarily focused on the benefits of online connectedness, rather than on the drawbacks of "too much time online." As is so often the case, it is not all one thing or the other; the benefits and the drawbacks coexist. Today, I am feeling thankful for the collaboration and dialogue made possible by the Internet. Today, I send up a shout-out of appreciation for all of those mentioned above, as well as the many, many others who engage with me as part of big (at times global) conversations on adoption reform and other matters. It is exciting to be a part of it all!


    This post is one of a series of posts on the subject of connection. To read the full series, please click here
  • Oct 23, 2013 11:30:00 AM
    I know how to tie a bowline knot.
    So does the father who didn't raise me.
    But because he didn't teach me I tie mine upside down.
    Or he does.

    I only know we approach from opposite directions
    And end up with the same knot.

    I often wonder,
    Have I lived an entirely different life
    Or the exact same life
    Upside down?

    bowline
    Credit: woodleywonderworks

  • Oct 21, 2013 3:51:00 PM
    The mother who raised me taught me to shop for bargains the way our distant ancestors taught their daughters to search for the best nuts and berries.

    She also taught me to gather sea glass.

    Years later, when I met the mother who didn't raise, she too was a bargain gatherer. I watched her move along the racks of the thrift stores rubbing fabric between her practiced fingers, a habit learned from her mother and grandmother, reflective of the family's history in the fabric industry. My first mother shops by touch.

    It's a piece of my lost heritage, a habit I didn't acquire. But we both know to run our fingers along the edge of each piece of sea glass checking for soft roundedness. Pieces with sharp edges need more time in the sea.

    ****

    Before I met the father who didn't raise me I gathered fragments of him. Each tidbit of information was a berry dropped with a plunk into my nearly empty bucket.

    For years he hid from me, not wanting to be found.
    But I am the daughter of patient mothers.
    I am the daughter of finders.

    "What changed?" I asked him when he allowed himself to be found at last.

    "I was ready," he answered.

    I understood.

    Timing is everything in the art of being found.

    Photo credit: Maureen of Tidal Gems
  • Oct 19, 2013 9:38:00 PM
    "The art of losing isn’t hard to master." So wrote the poet Elizabeth Bishop in her poem "One Art."

    I have been practicing the art of losing since the day I was born. I lost my first mother on that day and would not find her again for almost thirty years. As an adoptee, my birth loss was particularly acute, but all of us, truly, enter the world in a moment of loss. The womb is our first lost home. We can never return.

    After that, a million other losses, all leading toward the day we leave behind what remains. If there is one thing we are here on this earth to do, it is to practice the art of losing.
    Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
    of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
    The Buddhist path of non-attachment? 

    Can I claim to be a master?
    I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
    next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
    If there was one thing about the childhood me that drove my adoptive mother up the wall, it was my tendency to lose things. My bathing suit for swim team. My retainer. The worst offense: the child-sized antique ring that had been my grandmother's. A pretty sapphire. I took it off while getting ready to help paint a fence with my girl scout troop, and it was never seen again.

    Does frequency equal mastery?
    —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
    I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
    the art of losing’s not too hard to master
    though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
    In graduate school I briefly dated, and was dumped by, one of the other graduate students with whom I shared an office. After the break up, I posted a copy of this poem above my desk, trusting he would see it and feel the sting of my wit. (I should perhaps have titled this blog post "When English Majors Do Passive Aggressive.")

    That loss, as it turned out, was indeed minor league stuff compared to other losses that lay ahead of me. My divorce from my oldest daughter's father may now be something I can look back on with perspective, seeing all the ways that it propelled me toward something better in the long run, but at the time, it felt like a death.

    And the losses that, inevitably, lie ahead of me in the future ... I don't even want to contemplate.

    The art of losing isn't hard to master?

    I can't say I agree. There is perhaps no other art that I will ever practice so much with so little to show for my efforts.

    Victor Habbick, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Sep 28, 2013 1:30:00 PM
    The following is basically a reformulation of things I shared on facebook during the past week.

    (c) 123RF Stock Photos
    The best phrase I can think of to describe what I observed in the adoptee and first parent community as the news broke of Veronica's transfer is "mass reactivated trauma." The cumulative effect as the news spread through social media Monday night was stunning. It was as though people throughout the adoption community were falling to their knees wailing. Or as Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy wrote of the "collective consciousness of sadness," quoting Star Wars: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

    There is a reason why so many adoptees and first parents reacted with strong emotion to the Veronica news. And it wasn't in our heads. It was in our bodies. We were experiencing our own old separation trauma reactivated by current events.

    The following quote, though not specifically about the Veronica situation or even adoption separation, aptly captures what I saw happening to myself and others.
    Then our baby Sara died at birth. The trauma of losing Sara with no warning brought me to my knees ... and changed my life forever. During the past decade, I thought I'd taken care of recovering from this loss with therapy and support groups and my work. But when the TWA jet blew up in the sky in July 1996 and people died in a shocking tragedy, I was retraumatized. I couldn't stop watching the news, craving more gory details than necessary and unable to concentrate on much else. I realized it was my old trauma activated by something beyond my control "out there." -- Dee Paddock
    Meanwhile, as some of us reeled in shock, others were celebrating and saying things like "We won!" It wasn't long before some began to attack those of us who were expressing grief and shock. We were called "loons" and "nuts" and told to seek therapy. We heard the usual dismissals of adoptee pain ("Not all adoptees feel that way," etc., etc.) and were accused of projecting our own issues onto Veronica, who, we were informed, was perfectly happy to be back with Matt and Melanie Capobianco. 

    It is true that I cannot know for certain how Veronica will process her separation from her biological father. I do know, however, that a smiling exterior is not necessarily an indication that all is well:
    Dr. Bruce Perry is a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine who is studying the impact childhood trauma has on the emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social and physical functioning of children. He has studied child survivors of the Waco disaster and has found that traumatized children can be sitting calmly in a group, talking about something benign like the weather, yet still be in a hyper-aroused physiological state. Although they appear outwardly calm, their resting heart rate may be as high as 140 - 160 beats per minute. They may experience the rush of adrenaline and a hyper-vigilant, heart-racing, breath-racing reaction of "fight, flight, freeze" in response to non-threatening situations at almost any time. -- Dee Paddock
    If you look through my childhood albums you will find plenty of smiling photographs. I appeared happy, and, in truth, I was so, much of the time. But does that mean that I was entirely okay or that the separation from my original family didn't affect me? No. I also experienced night terrors and other symptoms of trauma that would play out in various ways through out my childhood and into my adult years.

    This week I have been reliving my own separation all over again. I've been caught up in the reactive experience entirely, to the point of having difficulty concentrating on anything else. I found that I needed to give voice to what was happening--to myself and to others--and I did so by way of the poem I posted at Lost Daughters.

    But now that I've said what I needed to say, I'm shifting to self-care. After I publish this post, I'm planning to step away from the Internet for a while this weekend. I'm going to take my dog for a long walk, focus on my daughter's upcoming birthday, and do some traumatic-energy-releasing exercises (a la Peter Levine's Somatic Experiencing). 

    I send out love to all who have been experiencing big emotions this week. May we all find some measure of relief and inner peace. 
  • Sep 20, 2013 11:00:00 AM
    My senior year in high school I rode the bus to school on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. But not on Tuesdays. On that one day of the week, my friend Michelle was allowed to drive her parents' car to school. She'd pick up me and a couple of our other friends (both of whom were named Jen), and we'd head over to the local greasy spoon for breakfast before driving to school.

    One morning as we waited for our check to arrive we began distractedly creating a pile from various things from the table, while simultaneously continuing to be engrossed in our conversation. We started with the large, metal-topped sugar container and then added knives and forks, packets of jam, etc., until we had created a "sculpture" of sorts in the center of our table. We pronounced it a work of art and decided it needed a title. Someone suggested "What It Feels Like To Be a Woman," and we all laughed.

    The joke was twofold. On the one hand, we were playing with the idea of art and what it means for something to be a work of art. If you pile a bunch of things on a table and give it a fancy name, does that qualify? The other part of the joke is that we were teenagers, on the cusp of womanhood but not fully in it. We were sitting in this restaurant drinking coffee and calculating the tip, but the experience of doing such things on our own, without grownups, still had a hint of novelty about it. We hadn't named our creation "What It Feels Like To Be a Teenage Girl" or "What It Feels Like to Become a Woman." We'd dubbed it "What It Feels Like To Be a Woman"—and what, really, did we know of that?!

    Looking back on it now, I think we knew more than we realized.

    What lay in store for us four? One of the Jens would enter womanhood early and leave it abruptly. She grew up fast, becoming a mother at a young age, and then, tragically, died early of breast cancer. The other three of us followed the more gradual route of college, marriage, and kids. I've lost touch with Michelle, but I know that the other Jen and myself have experienced joy and success, but also challenges and loss. Tremendous loss. Because life's like that.

    I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman. I'm watching my almost-teenage daughters move toward womanhood while bumping against various cultural notions of femininity, beauty, sexuality, and the like. Meanwhile, my mother is at a different stage of life, railing against the long-term effects of the wage gap, as well as her diminished employability as an older woman in the job market. And me? I'm in the middle, wrestling with the societal myth of the Good Mother and struggling to find that elusive balance between work, family, and self, with limited success.

    A cluttered pile of restaurantware as a metaphor for womanhood? To be honest, it doesn't seem that far off.

    Fast forward approximately 30 years from the day of the What It Feels Like To Be a Woman sculpture and you'll find me sitting at restaurant table again, with three different female friends. This time, we are four adult women who met, over a decade earlier, at a maternity exercise class that we all took when we were pregnant for the first time. We are an eclectic group—diverse in ages, interests, and personalities—but we are bonded by our shared experience of passing through the various stages of motherhood together. We haven't done a great job of staying in touch. When our children were younger, we got together regularly, but then life got in the way. We got busy. We grew apart. This get-together in the restaurant is actually the first time we've all seen each other in years.

    In the years since we all did the grapevine together with large, round bellies, we've had our share of hard knocks. Between the four of us, we've dealt with divorce, job loss, and ill and aging parents, among other challenges. One of us even had her entire house destroyed by a tornado! So what do we do when we get together? We put it all out on the table. We pile it up, piece by piece, until the collective thing that emerges begins to take on a coherent shape that could almost be called beautiful.

    Beauty is eye of the beholder, as they say. I am a woman who was born at a particular time in history—an age marked by materialism, sexism, and a whole range of other isms. I am a product of both privilege and oppression. I am a friend of women. I accept my life for what it is, while at the same time working toward something better … for myself, for my daughters, for all of us. And I am still doing what I have always done—sitting at the table with other women, contributing my portion of stuff to the pile, and calling it art. I have yet to come up with a better strategy, and I suspect I never will.

    Image courtesy of criminalatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Sep 6, 2013 3:59:00 PM
    The current Open Adoption Bloggers prompt is as follows:
    Write about open adoption and school.
    Grant Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    My answer to this one will be concise. The main thing I want to share is that I have frequent conversations with Erica (my daughter's biological mother) about our daughter's academic life. Erica is able to provide me with important insights because her learning style is similar to that of our daughter. If our adoption lacked the level of openness that makes our conversations possible, I firmly believe that I would be less effective at guiding and supporting my daughter in school.

    Erica's potential to be a resource in this way wasn't something I consciously considered when I started down the path of open adoption, but it has definitely been one of the benefits. 


    For more responses to this prompt, please click here and then scroll down to the comment section.

  • Sep 4, 2013 4:25:00 PM
    My father is at the helm. I am standing just to the port side of him. We are motoring along the coast of Maine, and on the shore that we are passing is the town where he and my mother grew up. Their story, and mine, began in the usual way: boy meets girl. But sometime after that, our tale veered from the usual course.


    In a different scenario, the town we are passing now might have been my first home. Instead, I was raised in a different town further up the coast, by different parents than the two with whom I began my life.

    I first visited my original parents' hometown in the early 1990s. I was not yet in reunion with either of my first parents, but I had acquired some information about my history, including the name of this town. I pulled off the highway and drove around, feeling like an interloper. Here was a place that was intimately connected somehow to my own history -- my very existence -- and yet I was not connected to it in any practical way. I was a stranger in an unfamiliar town. But if I were to pull over, if I were to dare to enter a store or a restaurant or chat with someone on the street, I might end up interacting with someone related to me or with someone who knew my original family. I didn't dare. I had no way of knowing yet what, if anything, my face might reveal of me in this town, and I perceived myself as breaking the rules. I understood that I was in violation of an unwritten contract -- one I had never agreed to be a party to but whose stipulations I knew all too well. I half expected to be pulled over at any moment by the adoption police.

    If I was an adoption scofflaw then, I am a full-out criminal now. I have burned the contract. I claim what is mine.

    I have been in reunion with my original mother for 18 years now, and though this newer reunion with my father is still young, we have developed a surprising close relationship in the time we have known each other -- just over a year.

    Here we stand now, beside each other with our matching feet and our shared love of the ocean. Later, I will take the helm and he will gently guide and instruct guide me as I get the feel for this particular helm and learn to interpret this particular GPS. When he tells me I am doing a good job, I will beam with pride like a little child. For two days we will travel up the coast, the two of us switching on and off at the helm. On the third day, joined by his girlfriend and their dog, we will pass an idyllic day relaxing in a scenic cove. And then I will return home, still basking in the afterglow of reconnection, my cup full, nature and nurture aligning in me -- for now at least -- with a surprising and unfamiliar precision.
  • Aug 20, 2013 4:04:00 PM
    I am an adoptive mother who has chosen to have a very open relationship with my daughter's biological family. The relationship is one that enriches my life in countless ways. In fact, I have come to consider my daughter's other mother one of my closest friends. But I often tell people that as much as the relationship benefits me, my primary reason for building and sustaining it is the benefit to my daughter.

    But how do I know openness benefits my daughter?

    The short answer is that I don't. I cannot know this with certainty.

    I could point you to things I've read on the advantages of openness to the adopted child. I can report on my observations of the changes in her behavior and outward expressions of emotion—how she seemed to become happier and more emotionally balanced as we increased contact with her original family. I can compare her to other adopted children I know of who have less openness and seem to be doing less well. I could even tell you what she says, but I can't tell you if what she says is an accurate expression of how she truly feels (though I have certainly tried to create an environment in which true expression is possible), nor can I be certain that what she says now will match what she will say years from now as an adult looking back with a more mature understanding.

    imagerymajestic FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Some day she will tell her story—perhaps in a public manner as I do, or perhaps in a more private fashion, to a friend over coffee or to spouse. Her story may align with mine, or it may be completely different. She might grow up to have a completely different interpretation of these years than I do. And that's her right.

    As a parent, I do what many parents before me have done. I take in the information that is available to me and combine it with a dash of intuition. I try to make the best possible choices to help my children thrive. And then I hope for the best.

    But only my daughter can say, in the end, whether or not I hit the mark. Some day she will, and I hope that people will listen, whatever her story turns out to be.
  • Aug 17, 2013 9:44:00 PM
    I haven't been blogging much lately, but I've been keeping busy in the world beyond my computer. (Yes, it does exist!)

    I've already shared here about the day Erica was forced to make a quick departure from her apartment as a result of a domestic violence incident on the part of her ex-partner. What I didn't share at the time, for safety reasons, was where she went that day. Now that she's no longer here I can tell you that the undisclosed location where she and her sons were hiding out was my house. Yes, that's right. We took open adoption to a whole new level. Two moms under one roof!

    What was it like having Erica and her sons here? It was actually quite wonderful. Hectic. Sometimes loud. (Her boys are 4 and 1-plus.) But mostly wonderful. They've moved out now, and I miss them. So does Ashley, of course, but she's also looking forward to visiting Erica and the boys in their new apartment next week. And we are helping her cope as we always do, mostly by listening to whatever is up for her.

    On the adoptee side of the equation, things are good in Reunionville these days. My mother was here recently for a week that included my birthday, and my brother and his wife were also here for my big day. This year's celebration was especially significant because it was the first birthday that I have ever spent with my first mother. And if that wasn't enough excitement for any adoptee to handle in and of itself, I also saw my first father on that day! We all (by which I mean me, my first mom, my brother and his wife, my husband, our daughters, Erica, Erica's wonderful new boyfriend, and her sons) attended an outdoor musical event where my father and his catering partner were running a food concession. And it was by the ocean. Have I ever mentioned how much I love the ocean?


    My adoptive parents weren't physically present, but I did have a nice phone conversation with them. During a break between bands, I slipped away from the crowd with my cell phone to call and thank them for their card and gift. After a moment of scrambling to get together, they sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone, as they do every year, slightly off pace with one another. They are cute, these parents of mine. I smiled. I had wondered if it would seem like an intrusion, pulling the adoptive family into this day of significance with my original family, but it didn't feel that way to me in that moment. Standing on the edge of the field looking out over the water, cell phone in hand, my adoptive parents in my ear and my biological ones somewhere in the crowd at my back, I felt ... peaceful.

    Later my first mom bought me a lobster roll for dinner. And that was pretty awesome. Because, you know, lobster roll! But it wasn't the best part of the day. Just getting to be with her, as well as with so many other people I love, was the best part.
  • Jul 23, 2013 7:56:00 PM
    A few months ago, my daughter's other mother brought a roomful of people to their feet when she spoke the following words as part of speech she was giving at an event sponsored by the organization MotherWoman -- a speech in which she touched on various challenges that she had overcome in her life, including domestic violence: "I am no longer in any abusive relationships." (See video below.)



    Her words, in the moment, were completely true. 

    But, unfortunately, an event beyond her control loomed in the future.

    A few weeks ago, her ex-partner showed up at her home, and in a moment of anger, plunged Erica and her two sons back into the world of domestic violence.

    As some of you already know, Erica and I have a close relationship. I love her dearly and very much want her and her sons to be safe. I was, in fact, one of the women who showed up at her apartment the next day to help her throw all of her belongings into trash bags in order to make a quick exit to safety. She is now in hiding. 

    For safety reasons, she has decided to move to a new area. She has found a new job and a new apartment but needs funds to relocate. MotherWoman has started a fundraising campaign to help her do this. Please consider making a contribution. Click here for more information
  • Jul 12, 2013 5:41:00 PM
    So, I have this pair of shoes. Very nice shoes. Top quality. In fact, it's hard to imagine a better pair.

    Except, they don't quite fit.

    You may say that having a pair of shoes that doesn't quite fit is better than having a damaged pair or having no shoes at all. You may point out that lots of other people have shoes that don't quite fit.

    I won't dispute that.

    But I still have this pair of shoes that don't quite fit.

    Image: artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Jun 16, 2013 7:21:00 PM
    Open Adoption Roundtable #49: The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. 
    The current prompt: Write about adoption and your father.

    Last year on Father's Day, I responded to an Open Adoption Roundtable prompt by writing a blog post in the form of a letter to the father I had never met. A few days later, I mailed that post to my birth father, along with an additional letter further explaining my reasons for contacting him. It was not my first time reaching out to him. I had made an earlier attempt, approximately five years earlier, to which he did not respond. In this second attempt I was much clearer in my wording. I made a direct request. I said that I very much wanted to meet him at least once.
    I didn't know if I would get a yes. I didn't know if he would respond at all. And I certainly didn't expect that I would get anything beyond the one meeting, if I managed to get him to agree to even that much. 
    Imagine my surprise to find myself a year later having developed an actual relationship with the man responsible for half of my genetic makeup. We had a first phone call, a first meeting, a second meeting, and then we just kept going. We live about two hours apart and have managed to see each other a number of times throughout the year. At our most recent visit he attended my daughter's soccer game, watched my other daughter perform in a play, and helped my husband install an air conditioner. It was a day most remarkable for its ordinariness, made extraordinary only be the fact of our not having known each other at all a year earlier. 
    It has been a thrilling and at times difficult year. In the fall I struggled with depression and emotional regression. For a time I pulled inward, avoiding friends and community members and even church. But then I felt myself coming right again. I noticed that I felt more balanced knowing the parts of my history that had long been hidden from me. I recognized how much I liked knowing my father, and seeing the parts of myself that are reflected in him. 
    Of course, we are still a bit upside down and inside out, and probably always will be. You are not supposed to meet your father as an adult. There is an awkwardness to adoption reunion. My father and I acknowledged this when we spoke on the phone this morning. We are both still adjusting. 
    And yet I have been surprised to discover this year how much I am still his daughter, and he my father, in spite of decades of separation and the complete legal severing of our relationship. According to the old rules of the closed adoption system, we were never supposed to meet. According to beliefs long cherished and still held by many, we are not supposed to mean anything to each other. And yet here we are, he in his sixties and I in my forties, stumbling toward normal the best that we can. Given the alternative, I happily embrace this second-chance relationship for what it is. I stand in stunned appreciation, actually, for the amazing feat we have accomplished: transforming absence into presence.

    For other responses to this prompt, please visit openadoptionbloggers.com.
  • Jun 6, 2013 11:00:00 AM
    It's my aunt's birthday today. I'm so glad adoption reunion brought us into each other's lives. Here's something I wrote earlier this week about our first meeting:
    Her hair was a color similar to mine and cropped into an almost identical style. We were dressed in the same colors. We stared at each other all evening long. In my face, she saw my mother as well as aspects of my father's family. She noticed that I turned my hand a certain way when talking, a gesture I share with my mother. It was the first time I had experienced that kind of recognition, and something that had long been off-kilter in me clicked into its proper alignment as I saw myself reflected in her eyes.
    Click here to read the rest of the post at BlogHer.

    nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Jun 1, 2013 11:00:00 AM
    I have struggled all my life to be fully present. As a child, I was frequently identified by others as "spacey," "a daydreamer," and "off in her own world." I moved into adulthood as a reader and a writer. I tend to live in my head, ignoring -- or attempting to ignore -- the body.

    sixninepixels at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    I say "attempting to ignore" because, truth be told, the body refuses to be ignored. For as long as I can remember, I have dealt with chronic pain -- a condition that I share with many of my fellow adoptees, as well as with countless other sufferers. In my case, the pain is a slippery one, moving around my body, settling in one spot for a while and then moving on to another. My neck and shoulders are its most common residence, but it has also been known migrate down to my lower back or into my hip, knee, or even my ankle.

    I've used a variety of techniques over the years to manage the pain: medication, yoga, massage, chiropractic care, etc. All have been effective to varying degrees, but pain management, I've found, is an ongoing process. Sometimes I manage well; other times, not so well.

    The tool that seems to be most effective for me is something called Somatic Experiencing®. Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing® is a body-awareness technique that operates on the assumption that humans (unlike animals in the wild) tend to hold onto traumatic energy in the body. Rather than completing the full fight, flight, or freeze response, we often get stuck mid-process. Somatic Experiencing® employs a variety of guided visualization exercises to help the sufferer release the traumatic energy and move forward. 

    In the past I have worked with a therapist trained in Somatic Experiencing®, and I found the techniques to be very effective. But therapy is expensive, and the therapist's office was not ideally located for me. As a result, I stopped going once I was beyond the crisis point. I got to "good enough," and called it good enough.

    In the last year or so, I've slipped into a phase of managing my pain less effectively than I have at times in the past. Part of this has to do with caffeine. I seem to be highly sensitive to caffeine and do better when using less of it, but I have a tendency to slip into bad habits in this area. The other factor is that I simply hadn't been doing the work. Rather, I had been relying on analgesics -- using them more and more frequently and at higher and higher doses, while simultaneously finding them to be less and less effective. Something had to change.


    So I've cut back on caffeine and I've returned to Somatic Experiencing®, this time as a self-guided process using Maggie Phillips and Peter A. Levine's book and audio Freedom from Pain. Additionally, I've been supplementing with Jon Kabat-Zinn's audio Meditation for Pain Relief.

    I'm finding the two approaches to be complementary, as both pull my attention to the inner sensations of body and breath and draw on the healing potential of the mind-body connection. The results are promising. I've already cut down my use of pain medication to next to nothing, and I'm also finding that I feel more comfortable and confident overall.

    Time will tell if these results are long-lasting, but in this moment I am feeling good. And as Kabat-Zinn and others have noted, "this moment" is all we really ever have.
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