Monthly Archives: November 2012

Day Ten: Searchin’

Reactions to Searching If you’ve searched for or are thinking of searching for your natural family, what would you say to those who think your desire to search means you are unhappy in your adoptive family or had a bad childhood? If you don’t have a desire to search, what would you say to those who wonder why you have no interest in knowing where you come from?

I did search, and with the help of a search angel in North Carolina, I found my mother. (It helped very much that my non-ID info contained her birthday.)

What I said at the time to people who challenged me was “My adoptive parents are OK with it.” If they knew my a’parents, that usually shut’em up. But if they didn’t know me or my adoptive parents, I…well, it’s all in the video, although I wasn’t always so snide about it. Many people my age still believe happy adoptees don’t search, and searching is therefore evidence of bad parenting, but I’m glad it’s not an attitude I’ve encountered much lately. One gets tired of defending one’s parents.

When I’m asked about searching by someone who seems to genuinely want to know, I point them at this wonderful post by TAO.

My a’bro doesn’t want to search. Says he just isn’t interested. I don’t grill him about it, because that would be tacky and hurtful.

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Day Nine: N/A

Becoming a Parent. Did becoming a parent change your perception of adoption or being adopted? Or did it strengthen what you already believe or feel? If you are not a parent, has watching your extended families expand (e.g. having nieces or nephews) changed your views on adoption or did it strengthen your views? Looking forward to your own potential parenthood: do you want kids, what strengths or challenges do you see in the future for yourself in becoming a parent? How has being adopted affected your own parenting philosophy?

I didn’t parent. I didn’t even have sex until I was almost twenty for fear I would get pregnant and have the baby taken away (even though I didn’t particularly want a baby). For the rest of my fertile years, I chose to date men who were not daddy material. I even married such a man (we’re divorced now) after making it clear to him that I never wanted children. For one thing, I knew that, no matter what kind of “co-parenting” plans we might make beforehand, I would end up doing the bulk of the work of raising the child. For another, I remembered how unhappy my a’mom was with being a stay-at-home mom.

But I think there’s a reason hiding under those reasons: I didn’t trust myself to be a mother. I didn’t trust myself to love anything that much. I thought if I saw a face that looked like mine, I would disintegrate.

It was definitely the right choice, and it was at least partly adoption-related. Nothing about watching others raise children has made me sorry about that or made me feel differently about adoption.

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Day Eight: Fiction

Adoption in Fiction. Comment on how adoption is portrayed in fiction, either as a fiction reader or writer. Adoption in classic fiction often centers on the orphan experience, from Oliver Twist and Little Men, to orphan Jane Eyre living with her aunt and cousins. Today there’s the Twilight series and others that use adoption to explain “families” comprised of various vampires. Talk about other examples of adoption used as a plot device in fiction. What types of adoption stories or adopted characters have resonated with you? Or haven’t? Are the feelings and experiences described authentically, accurately? Discuss. As a writer, do you have a fictional adopted character? What issues is this character dealing with? What is their deepest secret or desire? If you have a desire to educate your readers about adoption, what do you want them to learn?

I love this topic. Because I never got too old to watch cartoons, I’ll be discussing that form of fiction. I once wrote a paper on adoptees in Disney movies, centering on Hercules and Tarzan. Of course neither of these characters in the movies are legal adoptees, but I think they comment on adoption and our attitudes about adoption.

Since it came out in the 1990s, Hercules reflects newer attitudes about adoption: his Twelve Labors are essentially presented as a “birth parent” search. And his adoptive parents don’t resent this, but encourage it.The only backward thing about the movie’s presentation of adoption is that his adoptive parents don’t tell Herc he’s adopted until he’s a teenager. At the end, when he should be going to Mount Olympos to join his true parents (because that’s been his aim all along), Herc decides to stay no earth with his adoptive parents and love interest instead. This is the kind of thing that annoys me not because it was wrong for the story, but because it always seems to happen. The adoptive parents always seem to “win” the battle of divided loyalties in fiction. Disney’s Jungle Book does have Mowgli go live among people at the end, but his natural parents aren’t part of the story, so nobody really “wins” this tug-of-war although Baloo, who likes to think of himself as Mowgli’s father loses (and then breaks into song for an upbeat ending).

Tarzan’s ape mother Kala is very like a human adoptive mother. In the beginning, she’s the type who deals with her adopted child by denying differences, as seen in the scene where she insists she and Tarzan are just alike because they both have two ears, a heart, and so forth. She even makes the mistake of encouraging his desire to be “the best ape ever.” Um, no, Kala, that can’t be. (And I’ve posted about that before, but I’m too lazy to go look it up.) By the end of the movie, she’s less insecure and has come to accept differences if not celebrate them, and her reward is that Tarzan doesn’t leave Africa to experience human society (WAT).

It’s worth noting that while Tarzan knows he doesn’t belong, he doesn’t know other humans exist. when he finds this out, he feels angry and betrayed like a late discovery adoptee, as he should. How cruel is it to let one’s child grow up believing he’s a freak of nature, entirely alone? It’s a different take on not telling a child he’s adopted…kind of like the celeb who said her adoptees knew they were adopted but not that this meant they had another mother. (In other words, they don’t know they’re adopted really. I also posted about this, you know the rest.)

Tarzan really resonated with me whereas Hercules somehow didn’t. Of course, Disney usually simply has a character lose a parent or parents simply to make us sympathize with him or her. It’s a cheap, cheesy ploy, and I wish they’d cut it out.

In Japan, where adoption isn’t as popular as in Western nations, adoptee-type characters in animated features are different. In Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, a girl is raised by wolves (or wolf-gods) after her parents literally fling her to them in hopes of not being eaten themselves: yikes. Not the way we generally portray a relinquishment in this country. Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers tells the story of three homeless people trying to return an abandoned baby to her mother. The “mother,” Sachiko, turns out to have stolen her from the hospital after miscarrying her own baby, a sort of illegal adoption after infertility. There’s a disturbing scene in which Sachiko, having lost all touch with reality, insists the baby drink from her breast, saying “We’ll never be close if you don’t” while the baby cries. It sums up my feelings about adoptive breastfeeding perfectly.

Of course neither of these characters is literally adopted either, but to me these stories feel like comments on adoption from a society that doesn’t celebrate or candy coat it.

One semi-animated film that annoys me a bit in its portrayal of an orphaned character is Hugo. (I don’t mean Hugo himself is a bad character.) Hugo is trying to build a mechanical man left in his father’s care because he’s sure it will have a message for him from his father…but no. This is handwaved away at the end when he gets a new family. Well, yay–but this moviegoer felt cheated. The movie just used the dead father as a device to explain why Hugo is so dead set on solving the mystery. I loved the movie in general, but I didn’t like his not getting that message from his dead father.

Most of the adoptee characters I’ve read in books are like Disney characters: their parents are killed off so we’ll sympathize with them, and the realities of how it feels to not have one’s parents around barely enter the story. Very few authors really deal with how it actually feels to be adopted.

As a writer, I’ve written one adopted character, one orphan, and one…kindasorta adopted character. (By that I mean she’s the institution of adoption that doesn’t exist in the setting I used, but she was taken from her mother and raised by others.) The adopted character is a child, and much of the story concerns her fantasies of natural parents. I did want to educate with that one; I wanted to put across how it feels to be an adopted child.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I orphaned the second character; it just kind of popped in there and wasn’t meant to educate at all. But the third character is in a tale/ghost story that is all about the bad things can happen when a person is denied her identity and the bad things that do happen in societies wherein women are essentially the property of their fathers or husbands. This character struggles with (literally) trying to become human, and fails. I wrote it as a warning.

I can’t help writing about people who are, as one reader put it, “on the outside looking in,” because I’ve always felt that way myself. (And now I don’t feel so bad about having written very short answers to some of these prompts. Whew!)

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November hurts.

Here it is: the One Good National Adoption Month Video.

You’re a brave man, Kevin Ost-Vollmers.

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Day Seven: “How We Got You”

Childhood Adoption Narratives. Describe the story your adoptive parents told you growing up. What age were you? What feelings and questions did you have about this “adoption narrative”? Was it a satisfying explanation for you? Explain. As an adult, whether or not you are in reunion, comment on how much of that story turned out to be true. Has your adoption narrative changed? What story, if any, do you share with friends, acquaintances? How to others react to your narrative? Are they curious, supportive, silencing?

It makes me sad to realize it, but I don’t remember much of my childhood narrative. I know the story “How We Got You” was written in my baby book by a’mom, but I no longer have it. They read it to me when I was young, and later I read it myself a few times. But I’m not one of those adoptees who grew up asking for “the story” over and over again. I didn’t talk about being adopted much at all. I do remember asking why I had been given up and being told it was because that my mother wasn’t married. That shut me up. Even as a very small child I knew women did not have babies without being married and not suffer a punishment.

And I remember asking what she was like and being told a very few things, mostly about her appearance. My a’parents didn’t tell me much because they didn’t know much. Around the time I was adopted, some social worker or another told my a’parents a few things about my mother and my background. As a’mom remembers it, they were not allowed to take notes. They weren’t even allowed to take a pen and paper into the room. When it was over, Mom ran out of the room, grabbed pen and paper, and wrote down everything she remembered. It all squared with the non-ID info I got decades later, and when I talked to my mother, she verified that the little scraps of information I had were true: her age, that she had long brown hair, that she attended college, that she was active in church youth groups, that her background was upper middle-class, and so forth. she also verified that everything else in my non-ID info was true.

I really don’t know when I was first told “How We Got You” or anything about my mother. I don’t remember ever not knowing I was adopted, either. My a’parents did know better than to simply tell me I was adopted once and never discuss it again, as some did back then.

I do remember imagining the baby supermarket when some well-meaning person told me I was “chosen.” And I remember once asking my parents how much I cost. Back then, their legal fees amounted to about two hundred bucks…plus another twenty for the clothes I had on when they brought me home.

I knew I had been born two months premature, that I lived for a month in a foster home, and what my “baby name” was. My parents incorporated it into my middle name, and did the same for my a’bro. Although I’m a feminist, one reason I hyphenated my surname when I married was so that my middle name would not disappear and be replaced by a maiden name. That middle name was my one connection with my past, and I wanted to keep it.

The story has changed only in that I now have a few more details. I have some photos of my mother and her family, and I know her name (but not my father’s). I know I have two half-sisters my mother, as of the time I found her ten or so years ago, had never told of my existence. She told me she hadn’t told them because she didn’t want them to think it was acceptable to have sex outside of marriage, which is, of course, the very opposite of “the moral of the story.” She was still ashamed of herself. She’d kept the secret all her life, and had told no one but her husband (she was dating him at the time she got pregnant by my father).

I don’t really tell the story unless people ask. Many people don’t. Many adoption conversations I’ve had consisted only of “I’m adopted” and “Oh.” In recent years, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve told the story most often to my students. To them I have to explain why I was given up, because our attitudes about out-of-wedlock birth are so different now. I have to explain what a Crittenton Home is (how I wish I could say “was”!). And I always talk about the amended birth certificate, because I think it’s wrong and because, if I don’t, students ask why I don’t know more about my origins. Many young people seem to think all adoptions are open, and that “open” means one’s OBC is retained.

Then they asked whether I’ve found her. Unlike previous generations, they expect adoptees to search. It’s people my age and older who keep the old version of the good adoptee alive in their heads. They ask how my adoptive parents felt about my search and how dare I not allow my mother her “privacy” and all that tired old crap.

I do have a favorite new detail that’s been added to my story, although I don’t generally tell it. It’s this: On my first birthday, my mother’s mother went down to the state Department of Welfare (or wherever the legal relinquishment had taken place) and tried to find out what had become of me. I’m glad someone did that. It did me a lot of good to know it.

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Day Six: Break Time

Taking a Break. Have you ever taken a break from adoption related things such as blogs, forums, or groups? If so, how did it help you (if at all) and why did you come back? If not, what is the biggest draw for sticking around for long periods of time without a break?

I have, and more than once. There are a few forums I’ve left outright, either because they changed hands, because my feelings were hurt, or for soopasekrit personal reasons I won’t be discussing. For instance, About.Com has or used to have three adoption forums, one for adult adoptees, one for adoptive parents, and one for first parents. IIRC, one was not to post on forums representing groups one didn’t belong to, and I loved that. (There are plenty of other forums where these groups can talk to each other; I liked having an adult adoptee-only space, and it’s insane how rare these are on the internet.) Then the moderator left. An adoptive parent took over all three forums and opened them all to all triad members. Suddenly I couldn’t say “It sucks not having my OBC” without hurting some adoptive parent’s feelings. Screw that; I left and haven’t been back.

I left one support group for adoptees and first mothers because once, when I had a particularly bad birthday, a first mother broke out the “I can see why she gave you up” line and I never posted there again. Yes, I was complaining. I may well have phrased something in a way that she found personally hurtful, I don’t know. But once that had been said, there was no way I could talk to or trust anyone in that forum again. I’ve never felt so hurt by anything anyone posted to me online. The way I remember it, no one really defended me, although people told me via private messages to ignore this person, or asked that I please not leave the forum. I don’t remember anyone defending me or calling her out in the forum itself, although I could certainly be wrong. The upshot was that I didn’t feel supported, and it ruined that forum for me.

In other cases I’ve taken a break from the internet adoption community/certain communities and come back, and I think this is pretty common. Sometimes I feel I just can’t take being an adoptee on the internet anymore. I just get worn out. Or I read something that makes me aware how little attitudes about adoption have changed, and I despair. I get hit over the head with the fact that attitudes haven’t changed much all the time, but once in awhile something is worded such that it really gets to me, and I have to back away because I feel like all my skin just got peeled off. It feels like self-preservation. This kind of hiatus helps me feel safe and calm down. When I return to the fray, I’m stronger and, hopefully, more rational.

But sometimes, and I can’t say what I mean by this, adoption just…recedes. It becomes a little less important in my life for awhile. It isn’t that other things come in to take its place or push it into the background; it just fades, and I devote my internet attention to other things. I’m not sure why this happens or what it means. In these cases, backing off for awhile doesn’t make me feel any better or worse. It doesn’t feel like it accomplishes anything; it just Is. It’s more like hibernation than self-defense, I guess.

I do tend to stick around for long periods with only occasional withdrawals/departures. The draw for staying, for me, is community. I don’t know many adopted people IRL. My a’bro doesn’t particularly want to talk about it, and a great deal of the non-adopted world thinks I’m nuts. People who don’t know how being adopted feels just plain don’t know how it feels, and many of them aren’t really willing to try. I’ve had other adoptees to talk to online for well over a decade now. It’s too big a part of my life to walk away from forever and completely, and I wouldn’t want to. But sometimes I need a break, whether or not I know why.

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Day Five: Blogosphere

Do you read blogs of other members of the “adoption triad”? If so, what do you learn from reading those blogs? When you disagree, what’s your preferred method of dealing with it (such as leaving a comment, writing a blog post about it, or ignoring it)?

I feel like I’m giving short superficial answers here, but…I don’t read as many blogs as I used to because I do most of my socializing with other adoptees on FB now. I used to read several adoptee blogs and a few first mother ones. (I almost never read blogs by adoptive parents.) I tend to use the internet to find adoption news these days rather than opinions. (But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t set up a decent blogroll one of these days, because there are some amazing adoptee blogs out there.)

And I get news from some adoptee blogs. Some adoptees are intrepid reporters, keeping the issues and news stories where I can see them and follow up. In the past, I learned about the different outcomes and attitudes various adoptees have–our different situations, different feelings, different places in our searches, and so forth. (We’re quite the kaleidoscope.) It’s hard for me to answer this because I don’t read many blogs now, and it’s hard for me to remember what I knew about adoptees before I started reading them. I do know I felt a lot more alone and a lot more reluctant to talk about adoption online or IRL. Now I let it enter a conversation whenever it seems appropriate instead of not mentioning it.

I don’t know many adoptees IRL. Blogs and internet forums were the only place I could talk about adoption. They’re still the only place I can talk about it with people who understand it from an adoptee perspective.

I don’t comment on blogs very often. For one thing, by the time I read a post, the thing I wanted to say has almost always been said. For another, I have a bad habit of not remembering where I posted. I’ve left comments on one blog I meant to leave on another. I do this a lot, maybe because I forget to subscribe to every thread I post on, and it’s mortifying. If I see something I don’t like on a blog, I’m more likely not to comment on it than I am to comment on a news story or editorial I don’t like. In the latter case, I feel I have to comment because I have the chance to educate people who aren’t already involved with adoption or who are otherwise unfamiliar with adult adoptee perspectives/adoption issues. I find it almost impossible to say nothing when people parrot “party lines” about adoption: there are sooooo many orphans, adoption costs too much, adopting overseas is the thing to do if you don’t like open adoptions, white people are perfectly capable of raising nonwhite children without educating themselves because all a child needs is love, et cetera.

And sometimes, obviously, I write a blog post about a story or blog post I don’t like. Many of my posts are responses to blog posts I don’t think much of…because I snark. I’m not half as good as many adoptees I know are at offering emotional support (or asking for it when I need it).

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