Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Meeting my son

This will probably be my shortest post.

I should in bed right now as our plane leaves in 9 hours. At this time tomorrow I will be in a hotel room in Guatemala City trying to fall asleep. I will meet my son for the first time on Friday morning. There just aren't words to express my emotions right now. For those of you who have experienced this already, you understand exactly. I'm hoping when I return I'll be able to explain it to others.

We will return on Monday, sad and exhausted, but happy to know that the next time we make this journey it will be to bring our son home for good.

Happy Turkey Day to everyone. Cliche as it may be - take a minute to count your blessings. I'm definitely counting mine.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Blowin' smoke

It’s nice to see so many new faces dropping by to comment on my sad attempt to share my thoughts. It’s truly appreciated. Feel free to drop by the place anytime. New faces and new ideas always welcome.

For those who have been following along in the comments section (and I know you have…. you never know when there’s going to be a quiz)… you may have seen an interesting comment that seemed out of place. I’m not going to give shout outs to the writer; there’s no need. I just thought I’d provide a bit of insight as to my obvious faux pas… or was it?

Jumping around the blogosphere as I’m apt to do rather than work, I come along various pages. I read one, follow a link on a comment, find an interesting article… and two hours later I’m on a completely new topic leaving comments. Anyone else do that? Yeah, just me… right.

Obviously my blog is focused on all things adoption right now because that’s where my brain is at. I’m sure eventually I’ll get to ranting about my nut job family and my sorry ass job. Until then, it’s adoption. I’ve spent HOURS reading blogs, newspaper articles, e-zines, and peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject. I can’t get enough information. I try desperately to glean as much knowledge from as many different places so that I can make informed decisions. I’d like to think other parents are doing the same thing. (Although given the constant tragic comedy I witness at WallyWorld on a near daily basis, I’m guessing not….)

One of the hardest things for me to read is the blog of a first mothers / birthmother / woman who relinquished her child for adoption. Whatever their title, these are generally painful stories. Hubby can’t figure out why on earth I would want to read them. I’m usually angry and in a funk for awhile after I share what I’ve read. I remind him that I can’t learn a damn thing if I surround myself with like-minded people. What good is it for us all to sit around blowing smoke up each other’s hoo-has? Preaching to the choir is an exercise in futility. And so, I return to my painful reading.

My personal opinion is that the majority of the stories I read are of women who are obviously angry. When I read their stories, I’m try to place myself in their shoes and I find myself understanding way they would feel the way they do. Regardless of my opinions though, it’s their story and they’re free to tell it as they see fit. I can’t tell them how to feel. Not my place; not my right.

For several months, I’ve dropped by a particular blog every once in awhile. The writer relinquished her daughter for adoption many years ago. Her daughter is now an adult and, by mother’s report, appears to be doing well. They are building a relationship after all these years. It’s obvious that this writer does not have many positive thoughts about adoption nor her daughter’s adoptive parents.

Ironically, I found this blog on an adoptive mother’s list of “must reads.” The writer posts comments on the adoptive mother’s blog on a regular basis. She shares her viewpoints and even comments on other comments. Great! Dialogue!

I set this stage to explain that during these many months I have read numerous posts by her and read the comments left by her readers. I admit that I disagree with most of her posts and generally all of the comments. However, they’ve given me much food for thought. My views have been challenged. It’s altered a few of my views and reaffirmed others. All in all, a satisfactory process – give and take.

A few days ago, I found myself on her blog and read a post I didn’t understand. I tried very hard to follow the logic but I just couldn’t make the connections. So, I sat down and composed a very brief but highly cautious (and what I thought was sensitive) comment requesting further information. I’d seen posts from other people – including adoptive parents – and it appeared that the writer was more than willing to share her views. Imagine my surprise when I dropped by later on that day to find my comment deleted with a chastisement that I needed to learn how to post a sensitive comment and if I could learn that, then my questions would be considered. Wha- at? I was shocked. What on earth could I have done wrong? I thought about my comment, my question, the words I’d used… I couldn’t figure it out. So I decided to post again. This time I explained that I truly meant no offense and that I was really just trying to understand the process better. I apologized for having offended if I had, but also included that I’d been reading for a while and did not understand where I’d gone wrong. I knew the comment would be deleted but she’d left no email address on the blog by which I could contact her privately. Sadly, I decided this was just a blog that I wouldn’t frequent in the future. Obviously, it wasn’t the place for me and I’d offended the writer. C’est la vie.

Later that day, I received an email from the writer as I have left my email address for private contact (my choice entirely, I realize). The writer is kind enough to share a few suggestions on how to find answers for my inquisitive mind. However, she explains to me that I’ve stumbled across the wrong blog. Her blog is not intended for the purpose I’m attempting to use it. It’s not for adoptive parents at all. She can’t help me find the answers I’m looking for.

At first I was okay with that. Mistaken identify, that’s all. I’d walked into a bar to order a drink but didn’t realize it was members only. I get it. No offense. I’ll just move my business to another bar... mea culpa.

But herein lies the rub…….. if I was bringing my questions to the wrong blog, that’s fine. But why was I chastised for not framing my question correctly? (I hadn’t been sensitive and needed to learn how to ask a question correctly, remember?). I even noticed when I’d dropped back by and found my comment deleted, that another adoptive parent’s question was posted AND answered. I was confused… where was the difference? How was her question better worded than mine? How was it more sensitive? If the blog wasn’t for adoptive parents to ask questions, then why was that one answered?

And then it hit me…. it became glaringly obvious….

I’d asked the wrong question.

It wasn’t that I phrased it wrong. It was the question itself. As long as I made sure not to ask any questions that hurt or challenged the writer’s ideas, then my questions would be okay. But if my question even hinted that I didn’t agree with her thoughts or questioned her logic, my questions weren’t welcome.

That, my friends, is completely okay. That’s what blogs are for. Their authors choose what is posted and who comments. Freedom of the press instantaneously! But do me a favor … if ya don’t like my comment, just delete it. Don’t blow smoke up my hoo-ha and tell me it’s one thing when it’s another. And do us all a favor and be honest with yourself.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Paper thoughts

I read a post over on Third Mom’s blog ( and it made me want to comment. She referenced a paper written by an obviously brilliant individual. Without researching the author’s background, I’m guessing by her name that she might have personal experience with the world of international adoption. She makes many points in her paper and I just had to add my $3.50. (two cents is NEVER enough for me)

I will begin by saying that I do not hold a Ph.D. I do not have unfettered access to thousands of peer-reviewed journals. Alas, my days of extensive research are through. Two degrees under my belt and I am finished. (BS in Psychology and Master’s in Public Health, if you’re truly interested. Neither of which is of any consequence to this post.) I do have an opinion, go figure, so I thought I would share it here. It’s nothing but conjecture and my first thoughts on the subject. I’m more than willing to do further research if folks provide the citations!

It would be difficult for anyone to argue that international adoption exists solely to find homes for parentless children.

I’m not sure who would honestly argue this point. People adopt children internationally for a myriad of reasons. I think many adoptive parents go through a series of thoughts and feelings on their decision to adopt, internationally or domestically. These feelings may change during the adoption process or may gradually evolve over time, far after their children are grown adults. I have to admit that this statement makes me immediately ask the question, Does the author wish to make the argument that international adoption exists solely to find children for childless adults?

I will speak only about Guatemala because that is where my son was born.
The current fertility rate in Guatemala is 3.82 children per female of childbearing age. In the US, it’s 2.09. The infant mortality rate in Guatemala is 3.1%. In the US, it’s .6%. (That’s point six… as in just a little over ½ a percent). There is no current viable governmental social services system in that country. This means the bulk of the social services provided for those who need it are through faith-based and/or private institutions. Some adoption agencies provide humanitarian aid in the region, not just for those children that are being adopted. My point is that the high fertility rate in Guatemala does not exist because it is number three on the list in regard to number of international adoptions (behind China and Russia). The fertility rate has been high for centuries. Agrarian cultures, countries with large Roman Catholic populations, countries in which women have little control over their lives (including educational opportunities and reproductive rights) all tend to have higher fertility rates. Guatemala’s high fertility rate and high poverty rate are not due to international adoption. Ceasing international adoption will not lower either rate and it will contribute to the deaths of children and the future poverty of those who survive. Some share that opinion, including Guatemalans. Some don’t. And that’s okay.

Motivation to adopt internationally had shifted from child-focused to parent focused.

References are made throughout the paper to adoption being “parent-centered.” This is not the first time I’ve encountered such a statement. I am currently in the midst of an international adoption. I cannot seem to figure out what about this process is centered on me. Honestly, each step of the process has been centered on rules made by various governmental agencies (both foreign and domestic), adoption agencies, social workers, judges, lawyers, court staff, notaries, doctors, post office clerks, the list goes on and on. I’m not sure at what point any of this has been centered on me. MY wishes, feelings, and thoughts have largely been ignored. It’s been a constant parade of demands and requirements of others and largely out of my control. I’m not arguing whether or not my needs are superior to the needs of my child. I’m simply stating that I don’t see how the process is centered on me.

Of interest, the author refers to a study where parents stated their motivation to adopt from Korea rather than domestically included “shorter waiting periods” and “an interest in international adoption.” She then draws the conclusion that this “reflects the parent-centered motivations.” Why? Perhaps the parents were thinking of their child when they stated they wanted a shorter waiting period. The sooner the completion of the adoption, the sooner the child is permanently placed with the family. Bonding behaviors begin immediately and environmental influences are very strong. Language development also begins within months of birth. I’m no language expert but additional difficulties with the transition from one language to anther would be exacerbated the older the child is at the time of placement. Perhaps the motivation was to bring the child home and establish bonds early. I have no problem understanding a child will have difficulty being separated from his first mother. But is it selfish to not want additional attachments with foster mothers, orphanage workers, etc. to also have to be broken? I would think it would be highly child-centered to think this way. As for an interest in international adoption, why is this inherently parent centered? I would argue I’m thinking about the future best interest of my child - to remain in a stable home. It may be, quite possibly, the only home he has any conscious memory of in his entire life. More on that later.

Transracial adoptive parents, in general, not just those with Asian children, tend to be publicly acknowledged for their selflessness and courage in taking on the challenge of raising children of color…..

Ummmm – No? Again, speaking only from my personal frame of reference, this has not been the case. I get dumb ass comments like “Couldn’t you just have one of you own ?” or “There are so many kids in orphanages here. Why go somewhere else and bring one back?” Truly, I’ve gotten ZERO pats on the back for “taking on the challenge.” People who are positive about the adoption simply say things like “That’s great!” or “Congratulations.” Pretty much the same things they’ve said to my pregnant colleagues.

Ironically, when I read the blogs of most adoptive parents, I find there is an overwhelming need to feel normal and “just like everybody else.” I admit I think this is naïve on our part. How could I think people aren’t going to look a bit surprised to hear “we have a son” when they’ve been around me for the previous nine months and I’ve obviously not been pregnant? How could I think there won’t be questions when my café au lait colored son walks toward me saying “mama” and my pale bluish-white Irish skinned self picks him up? I’m not stupid. But, I wanted to be a mother AND there were kids in other countries that needed someone to fulfill this role because the first one they had no longer had the ability to do so. Why not bring us together?

I feel like I have to throw something in about the “why not adopt domestically?” I won’t even get into the fact that I trust the legal system in the US as far as I can….. nope, not even that much.[ Did I mention hubby is on the path to becoming a lawyer? Lucky me, huh?] Here’s the cut and dry for me. International adoptions are final. Period. No I changed my mind. No I got my life together now. No I made a mistake. No I won the lottery. Domestic adoptions just don’t have the case law to back them. More and more, family courts and family law attorneys are permitted to sever adoptive family ties if anyone from the first family lodges a complaint. LET ME BE CLEAR: I am interested in what is best for a child. Once a decision has been made and a child has been placed, I do not feel it is in the best interest of the child to reverse an adoption because one or more of the parties have now changed their mind. I just don’t. I do believe that there are first mothers who should have been given more support in order to parent their children. I don’t, however, feel that the way to rectify that mistake is to reverse an adoption decision once it’s been made. I just don’t. And that is a post all to itself….. and I digress….. back to the paper….

Economic necessity is one of the dominant factors in relinquishment…….. The neocolonialism inherent in that exchange is striking.

Say again? Adoptive parents are acquiring the resources of the child’s native country. I’d say that indigenous children are not seen as a resource in Guatemala. They are viewed, in large part, as a burden. They are expendable and at the mercy of the government which requires the poor to work, in servitude, for nearly a third of the year. Their families can’t afford to feed, clothe or educate them. It’s not fair and this system obviously needs to change. However, it’s a change that MUST come from within. The Guatemalan people will have to make these changes for themselves. Outside help makes it worse. (For the record, the last time the US got “involved” in Guatemala specifically, it overthrew the only democratically elected government in the nation’s history and start 30+ years on civil war. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous people were slaughtered in their own country. Obviously, I’d prefer if the US kept out of Guatemala. It’s done quite enough, thank you.) In my case, I will give my son a chance at a better life – an education, health care, food, clothes. If he so chooses to return to his native country, he will do so much better prepared than his first family could have ever prepared him. I agree that it’s not fair this is the case. Maybe he will be an instrument for change. It appears that many of the leaders of Latin American were educated in the US. Coincidence?

The author goes on to quote an adoptee who wonders why “the supporters of international adoption are quiet about the children who are left behind.” SAYS WHO? Many parents of internationally adopted children are very vocal about adoption. They learn much about their children’s birth country and try to incorporate aspects of that culture into their children’s lives. They also tend to be the most generous supporters of orphanages and humanitarian aid to the country from which they adopt. On a more personal note, I MUST address the reference to children who are “neglected, abandoned and abused” and the idea that parents whishing to adopt should take on a personal responsibility to these children. BULLSHIT. Stop passing the buck. Abused, neglected and abandoned children are EVERYONE’S responsibility. The idea that a parent whishing to adopt a child should not want a healthy child, both physically and emotionally, is total crap. When was the last time you heard a pregnant woman say, “Gee, we were really hoping for a girl with Down’s Syndrome. We got stuck with normal chromosomal counts.” How often do you hear parents of a toddler say “Damn. We were hoping he’d have ADHD like his older brother. Now he just won’t get what it’s like to have a disability.” GOOD GRIEF. It’s a totally human response to want a healthy child. Adoptive parents are no different. So to suddenly find it selfish on the part of adoptive parents to want young, healthy children in their lives where they can provide health care and a positive, safe, loving environment from as early an age as possible just makes no sense to me. Again, wasn’t the point to act “in the best interest of the child?” How is this wish “parent-centered?” Truly, I’m at a loss.

And I just have no add my own little tidbit on culture. Again, completely from my personal frame of reference. I have two step-sons. (I refer to them as my sons; however for clarity I make the “step” distinction here.) They live in Germany with their biological mother. Both boys speak German and only a few phrases of English. Officially they are both German and American citizens. They hold passports in both countries. Their mother is German; their father, an American. They were 4 and 3 months, respectively, when they returned to Germany with their mother. They are now 15 and 12. Now, having NEVER lived in the US that they remember, they both talk about being Americans. They walk around like something from the latest Cash Money Records video. K-Fed’s got nothing on these two pale faced Germans who can’t speak a word of English, but are great at phonetically rapping IN ENGLISH… (with a few German words thrown in because ‘they sound better’.) They couldn’t give a rat’s ass about German culture. Don’t care; aren’t interested. When I visit them and want to learn about their language, their culture, etc., they are thoroughly annoyed with me. It’s not just because they are children either. Their German family can’t tell me anything about their history or traditions. They can’t explain any of the various holidays. I just hear “I don’t know. It’s a day off.”

My point is that just because you look a certain way doesn’t mean that you have ties to a particular culture. Sorry, it doesn’t. There are many people who cut ties with their racial / cultural / ethnic communities, for one reason or another, and choose to join a new one. It happens every day. I think it’s fabulous. People should be where they feel they belong. I can assure you that I may “look” the part of the good Southern belle but I’m physically ill on a daily basis at the horrific racist drivel said in my presence. But it’s okay, right? Because “I’m one of ‘them.’” I must be ….. I LOOK this way. If my son wants to learn about Guatemalan culture I will give him ample opportunities. I will share and learn and experience as much as I can to pass along to him. But if he ends up wanting to adopt the cultural traditions of the Aborigines in the Australian outback, don’t blame me. Some people just aren’t interested in their own culture.

So if you’re still reading, I’m impressed. I tend to be long winded when I get going. But hey, doesn’t that make up for the space between posts??

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Jumping into the deep end

I have noticed over time that I consistently read the following phrases on blogs:

“You misunderstood what I meant.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“You can’t understand tone from my words.”

“I’m sorry if you took it that way.”

Nonverbal communication. It’s the gold standard when relating to people. I can write a sentence on a piece of paper and ask 20 people to read it. I’ll get 20 different intonations, facial expressions, speaking styles, and body stances. Some people will use their hands as they speak. Others will look directly at me, or at the ground, or at the piece of paper. Unless I give them directions… a screenplay if you will… they have no idea what message I wish for them to convey or the message I intend for the listener to receive. One better, even if I give explicit instructions as to how to deliver the message, I can’t govern how the receiver will receive it. I can try to explain. I can mean one thing and have the receiver gain something completely different. That’s language.

I begin this post with those thoughts to begin writing a very difficult post. It’s been “brewing in my head” for weeks but I couldn’t figure out how to begin. No matter how hard I tried, the words sounded cold and harsh. I couldn’t find a way to ask the questions I wanted to ask without worrying I would hurt someone in the process. I thought if perhaps I tried to write my post from both points of view, that I might come to a better understanding. The truth is, I can’t see the other point of view. I honestly have tried. I continue reading blog after blog but I never seem to come to an “A-ha” moment where I see the light. After much contemplation I realized that it wasn’t possible for me to see it at this point. The truth is the hard questions aren’t always the easy ones to hear. There’s no way I can possibly grow if I don’t ask the questions in my mind. So here goes….

I spend a great deal of time reading the blogs of women who no longer have their children in their custody due to adoption. Call them firstmothers. Call them birthmothers. Call them mothers. As I don’t want to use the wrong term, for this discussion I will refer to this group as “writers” because I only know them through their writings. Most of the writers’ blogs are very angry and the writers obviously feel a great deal of pain, anguish, and sorrow. I have found very few who have a positive outlook on the adoption process as a whole. Adoptive mothers are portrayed as evil, heartless women who have “stolen their children.” The writers are “victims” who have been lied to, duped and mislead. Adoptive mothers “don‘t get it.” The writers explain that they have been marginalized by society, including adoptive mothers as “dirty,” “sluts” and “inferior.” They point to adoptive mother blogs that ignore their pain or, even worse, attack them on websites through posts or comments. Very little energy is spent exploring any of the positive aspects of adoption.

Obviously, I also spend a lot of time reading the blogs of women who have or are in the process of adopting. I’ll call them AMs for lack of better term. Some are adopting from another country; some domestically. Some have fostered their children prior to adopting them through a state foster care system. There are transracial adoptions. Some are queer families; some are single people who wish to be parents. Some have open adoptions where there is a relationship in some form between multiple families. The AMs often write of the experiences that brought them to adoption. These stories are generally filled with pain, too. There is generally discussion of how “hard” the path to motherhood has been. There will be posts about how “unfair” things have been as the “crack whore down the street” just “had another one.” AMs write about their grand plans to spoil their children. As long as they love the children, nothing else matters. The outside world should not view their family any different from any other family. Questions about the adoption are seen as insulting. For the most part, “adoption” is over once the actual process is complete. Very little energy is spent exploring any of the negative aspects of adoption.

I'm willing to concede I have absolutely NO experience in the feelings of the first group. I am not a writer. I have ONLY experience in the AM group, as this is what I am. I am struck with the notion that neither one of these groups has a monopoly on pain. But I have the overhwleming feeling that it really doesn't matter which group one is a part of. Shouldn't it be completely about the child ? If so, then I pose my first of several questions surrouding adoption:

IF the absolute bottom line is “what is in the best interest of the child,” why is there a need for the adoptive family, including the adopted child, to bear a responsibility for any pain/anguish/sorrow/guilt/[insert experience here] that the writer feels?

Let me try to explain my confusion:
A writer states that her life has been taken from her. The adoption that occurred shattered her self esteem and has been the root of many of her problems in life. The world needs to understand that she deserves to know her child and be a part of that child’s life. There is a genetic bond that cannot be broken. AMs do not have a right to the writer’s child. AMs don’t have the right to interfere with a reunion between the writer and said child.

Okay – but is this not the burden of the writer to bear? Why does the adoptive family, including the adopted child, now have to change their lives and accommodate a possible stranger because this reunion will help the writer ease her condition? Is this in the best interest of the child?

At this point, I feel the need to throw out clarifications. Maybe they’re needed; maybe not. I am not referring to an adult adoptee that seeks a reunion with their first family. I feel adults should have the right to make these decisions. I feel genuinely sorry for adoptees from “back in the day” that have no access to this information or were lied to about their adoptions. I am also willing to concede that this still occurs today. I'd like to think that it occurs less often now, but I could be wrong. (Sorry, I don't see how the two pale faces from Idaho can lie to their daughter from Beijing and convince her that she was born to them. Call me kooky.)

I also understand that a blog is for many people, myself included, a kind of journal where their thoughts and feelings are shared. Often times it may appear that writers only think about adoption and nothing else. A reader should keep in mind that the blog is but one outlet for the writer. In real life, the writer is no different than anyone else, so to speak. The writer could be your co-worker, your teacher, your mail lady…. your mom. Who knows? The point is that the writer is putting her feelings out there to see. They are her words to be heard. As a reader, I try to keep this in perspective.

Having said this, I still feel confused. I often find myself reading, “They just don’t get it,” referring to adoptive mothers. I get the overwhelming feeling that unless AMs recognize that adoption is a terrible thing and allow the writer to be a part of her child’s life, no matter what, that AMs will never “get it.”

I don’t follow the logic. I can think of several examples to illustrate my point but I fear using any of them for fear of angering readers even further. I’ll stick to the here-and-now.

Here’s my current take on the matter: If my responsibility is to ensure the best interest of a child and said child has been entrusted to my care, then I must and will make all decisions for said child. This includes the foods he eats, the clothes he wears, the activities in which he engages and the people with whom he interacts. This includes all people at all times. It is not my responsibility to foster a relationship between him and his first family. If he seeks such a relationship in the future, then I will do what I can to support such a relationship. I will assist him to the best of my ability and provide him what information I have in my possession. That is my plan at this time. It is what I feel is in his best interest.

I can’t stress enough that I genuinely feel for the writers I read. Their pain is obvious. Many of their stories are horrific and heartbreaking. I can’t begin to imagine what their experiences have been. I can understand where such angry and vitriol comes from when I read of how many of these adoptions came to be. I can “see” many scared, lonely young women who were given no other option during their pregnancies. They were abused, used and tossed to the side. There is absolutely nothing positive that can be said regarding the way they were treated. For many this pattern of treatment has continued throughout their lives. I am truly sorry for that. I, for my part, have tried to be a good steward of resources and helped the women I have encountered in my life who have found themselves in the same situation. Some I have been able to help; some I have not. Some refused to be helped. Each of these women has made the choices in their lives that lead them to the place where they were then and are now. Some are in better places now; some are in worse.

Having said all of that, I still do not understand how an AM can make things better by encouraging a relationship between the child in her care and a writer if she does not think it is in the best interest of the child. Regardless of what the writer needs or wants or thinks, the child is not in the writer’s care. The AM has been given the responsibility of that child. For better or worse.

The truth is that I have very few readers. I don’t think any of them are writers – first mothers, birthmothers, mother of children who have been adopted by another person. I’m hoping a few might drop by and say hi….. give me their opinions, their wrath…. Truly, I’m hoping so. There’s no way in the world I’m going to learn a darn thing if I’m not willing to stick my neck out. Someone very dear to me once said, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.” I truly do want some answers. I may not like them but I’m wiling to listen.