Funny Mommy

I am having a new relationship with humor.  I would like to believe I always had a sense of humor.  I am forever faithful to Ellen Degeneres and her TV show.  Since so many other people watch her, I believe I am in good humor company.  But now, I am also loving Key and Peele and Hari Kondabolu.  The whole Korean SNL ‘scandal’ is still brewing in my head all these weeks later.  I get fixated on things I don’t understand.  This usually means when I am feeling inconsonant with those who I feel are part of my community, my cohort, my allies.  The immediate first check is to figure out what is wrong with me? Too insecure to blame the entire group of “others”, I am still wondering what went askew.

Thank you, Key and Peele, you relieved me of my stress.  What timely coincidence that the week after all that went on over there in Korea, TIME magazine’s cover had these guys on and they wrote a brilliant piece on humor.  Rather, they encouraged “Make Fun of Everything”.  They wrote, “To not make fun of something is, we believe, itself a form of bullying. When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn’t he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection? Or don’t possess the mental faculties to recognize the nuances of satire? A group that’s excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation.”

It’s the last sentence that rang loudest for me.  Forever feeling like an outsider here in America and in Korea, the last thing I wanted was to find out my very temperament predestined me to being excluded from laughing too.  Grown ups are terrible at laughing.  We get embarrassed, red faced and try our damnedest to muffle it.  But hang around kids and they seem completely incapable of muffling anything.  They laugh at the same thing over and over again.  Bathroom sounds can get a group of 9 year old boys in peals for nearly an hour! Something happens, perhaps when the greater community around them, their peer group, begins to influence behavior, and all of that stops.  Humor becomes compartmentalized just like everything else.  As an adoptee, I think we have a bit of wickedness in our humor.  Besides the obvious misunderstandings of our names and faces, we can be pretty snarky about our birth families and our adoptive families. I wish we could share some of that humor out there too.  I don’t believe us to be “hothouse flowers”, but our self-reflection can go so far deep that it can get really dark in there.

I can’t honestly tell you how my laughter sounds.  However, whenever I am with my Umma, I listen hard for her laughter.  We have similar voices but only when speaking Korean.  So laughter is hard to come by when our senses of humor are bound by language, both literally and culturally.  Thank goodness for the kids, their antics drew her out and I have discovered that she has a lovely soft ring to her laugh.  Time and life has taken the deep belly snorting laugh, but she laughs.

So I am doing my best to laugh more, to find things funny and take in the fickleness of humor.  It must be working because I think I got the best Mother’s Day gift.  My dear husband decided to give me my own Mother’s Day a week early so I won’t need to share it with the other mothers of the family and lose myself.  He asked the boys what they love about me, how nice and embarrassing right?  My G just loved that I am always there for him….good diplomatic answer.  He quickly chimed in though when his big brother did the hard work of finding a great compliment.  P said, “I think Mommy is funny.”  WHAT?  I stand by my conclusion that my children are THE source of unconditional love. That one sentence is my proof.  My children think I am funny.  Laugh out loud, giggling, snickering, whispering, all of it.  They get my sarcasm, which can be pretty sharp at times and I am beginning to get a taste of my own medicine…and still they love.  I get the eye roll and quivering lip with tears emerging when I have gone too far and still each day ends with, ‘I love you more.”  They say women will fall for a guy who makes them laugh over many other external factors.  This woman has fallen for the two emerging men who laugh at her.

To my Mothers, to your Mothers, near and far…Happy Mother’s Day!  May it be filled with laughter!

Codeswitch, Part I

Code-switching – the practice of shifting the languages you use or the way you express yourself in your conversations. www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch

Anyone who enters the adoption community or has gone through the adoption process quickly learns that our constellation has words all unto ourselves.  To hear an adoptee talk about her mother, we automatically know she is talking about her adoptive mother, no distinction needs to be made among us.  What’s interesting is that those who go through the adoption process are taught that a birthmother made an “adoption plan” while we adoptees say, “when she gave me up for adoption.” We learned that adoptive parents don’t like using the word “abandoned” so they are encouraged to tell their child, “you were put in a place to be found.”  We, adoptees know, we were abandoned and if not abandoned, we opt for alternate words to describe the severing of our connection to our family of origin.  There are so many ways that we have made “nice” with the concept of adoption so that those who benefit from it feel nice too.  What I think we have managed to do is code switch.

To be equitable, I do notice the adoptee community writing/speaking in code as well to describe how passionately angry they feel about adoption.  There are those of us who use “trafficking” and “kidnapping” in interesting ways to describe their adoption narrative.  While I do not disparage one’s own interpretation of their own story, I find these words speak the code of the adopted in a different way than I do. Code?  Accurate?  Truth?  My verdict is unclear. The effect is clear.

As more adoptees come forward saying not so nice things about adoption, it sort of feels like we are at a critical state of new understandings.  I am gratified that there are adoptive parents who are beginning the struggle to understand that adoption is complicated, sometimes amazing, alternatively painful and at its best, transformative.  The idea that we are “transforming” the discussion of race, identity and adoption has been at the core of many adult adoptee organizations starting way back in 1996!

Transforming is taking a lot longer than I anticipated from when I was an idealistic 20something.  One reason may be because the messaging is transforming on both sides.  As more adoptees demand a change in the way adoption is conducted, talked about and discussed, there is another side code switching to make adoption sound urgent, necessary and in peril of going extinct. I should clarify….international adoption.  Frankly, it’s driving me crazy.  Imminently, our legislators are seeking ways to pass the CHIFF legislation and their code is amazingly effective.   It makes me wonder what is wrong with my brain that I seem to read their words in a completely different way than what I see.  Right now, there are groups in the US who are in near hysterics about the “orphan crisis” in the world, mobilizing people to believe they must adopt, adoption is the only solution.

Every time this happens, I call upon my friends and colleagues who are adopted and it does feel like we are reading another language.  We don’t agree universally on every issue, but I appreciate the passionate civility we dialogue.  Our code has always been with the intention to have the adopted as the center of our focus.  It is clear and trusted.  I asked for help and I got it.

Melanie Chung-Sherman, my co-author, lives in a place that I swear speaks a different English at times.  Her “Blessings” sign-off at the end of every email causes me to chuckle and I look to her to help me better understand the language religion plays in the adoption world.  Living in a more secular, rather less evangelical, area has be me blind to the codeswitch.  She agreed to write with me and help clarify from her perspective the code switching that happens in the world of “saving the orphan” movement that I struggle with.  So, here is our list of how the code is switching in our heads.  I am hoping it drives you equally mad!  I am hoping when you read the CHIFF legislation and future media pieces on adoption that you may begin to see the code for yourself.

  • child advocates– code for those in support of perpetuating and increasing the number of foreign born children being adopted to White American couples.  If you read the list of supporters of the CHIFF legislation, the list of adoptee organizations and organizations internationally recognized as working for preserving children in their country/family of origin is glaringly light.
  • children in families first – code for children from third world countries into the homes of privileged, American couples
  • growing up in a family is a child’s basic human right – code switch for “growing up in an adoptive family in America”; perpetuation of international adoption
  • international adoption as a solution – code for international adoption is THE solution
  • best practices – code for ways to primarily advance the process and promotion of international adoption
  • orphan – a complex code word steeped in biblical meaning that has been simplified that has categorized  and subsequently emotionally petitioned the adoption community into action on behalf of children in need who may or may not be legally available for adoption. It does not diminish the fact that there are children without direct care, but is overly referenced for all children who appear in need and lacking a road to Christian salvation by Western standards. At one time this terminology was antiquated, but was revived at the height of the evangelical adoption movement.
  • rescue –to save a child in need by means of international adoption in a Westernized home (“being called to adopt”) and many times not critically considering the long-term implications for that child and first family, alternatives to permanency in-country or the possible reasons and/or methods in which a child was referred for international adoption originally. Taking on the theological salvation narrative and attempting to vertically apply to the child while overlooking the fact that adoption is about permanently building a family, not rescuing someone.
  • resources can be reallocated to achieve more timely, effective, nurturing, and permanent familial solutions for children living without families–code for taking existing federal funds already benchmarked to promote family permanency in-country and reallocating them to ensure international adoption policy, practice, and placement is securely funded.
  • shall lead the development and implementation of policies that will ensure the timely provision of appropriate, protective, and permanent family care for children living without families – policy codeswitch that will engender the least restrictive, fastest, and Western-centric measures to ensure international adoptive placement while deconstructing and maneuvering around current international and federal accountability standards in an effort to boost numbers of adoptions.

 And for the ultimate codeswitch, when we read that a piece of legislation is in keeping with the core American belief that families are the best protection for children, this really means, regardless of global cultural considerations, which include the impact of poverty, gender and social class bias, diverse social norms, as well as a country’s sovereignty, Americans still know what is best. Thus, it is only in an American family that a child can truly flourish.

______________________

Codeswitch, part II, A vs. A

I have been planning a vacation to California with my Korean family, Sun-Ohk and Won-Chan.  They have decided to come to the mainland of the USA for the first time.   We have agreed to meet them there.  One hiccup, they neither speak nor read English.  So I have taken on the herculean task of creating a fun filled week for two families.  I am a terrible vacation planner.  My brain does not work with any amount of glee looking at hotels, air flights, activities, car rentals etc.  I had to get a friend to walk me through it and seeing the sheer joy she had in helping me, I know I did not miss a calling of any sort.

Itinerary complete and sent to Korea, the first question back is, “can we go to Las Vegas?”  I had to laugh as all I could respond in baby Hangul was – “9 hours driving, too far, USA is very big.  Sorry.” Lots of apologetic emoticons later, we are sticking to my plan, thank you very much!

I write this all to say that perspective is everything.  If you come from a country that can take one afternoon to travel from one end to the other, a trip to another state should not be so bad.  Right?  So, if you are adopted into a family where you felt understood, saved, happy, full of love and resources, it stands to reason, you might have a very different perspective than from an adoptee who felt isolated, misunderstood, kidnapped or abandoned.  I often find that being adopted is never enough of a unifier for our community to stand firm in solidarity.  Even the idea of “giving voice to the adoptee” is not “giving A voice to the adoptee.”  Unfortunately, so much of where we grew up, how we grew up, events that triggered our epigenes along with time, place and age of adoption can challenge us to realize that we cannot always stand with our brothers and sisters in adoption.

Since working on the “codeswitch, part I” piece, I have learned of a couple of adoptee run organizations who have come out in support of the CHIFF legislation being pushed through Congress, and my gut reaction was not pretty.  I called people up to find out, in earnest, how they came to this decision.  In my almost panic, I had feelings of betrayal, shock, disappointment.  And then, I hit pause. Who the hell am I to judge?  To me, there are certain issues that are no brainers and I really was thinking that the company I kept in this crazy mixed up world of adoptees was on my side.  And if they weren’t, they had enough respect for our common sense of humanity that we could talk about it.  I am not prone to public hyperbole when it comes to speaking in support or against issues or perspectives.  I like doing it in person, one on one.  Adding the human factor makes things easier to come to some understanding.

In coming to a very different decision about how they feel about a piece of legislation, I fear the chance for dialogue is over.  Instead, it has now become adoptee vs. adoptee.  Now there is no room to talk about the issues and how to change them.

It is amazing how adoptees are used in a pawn-like manner.  Adoptive parent groups, adoption trade organizations will come out in favor or against something, but the minute an adoptee or adoptee organization comes out in favor, radio silence for the other groups.  An adoptee run group supports something and now no holds barred, it’s a go.

I wish we adoptees knew our power.  We keep demanding a seat at the table, but the reality is our table is set but the only ones with dance cards are the ones in support of international adoption continuing status quo.  Whenever one person stands up in support of adoption, they get lots of air play.  If there are adoptees who come against it, they are looked at as rogue, dissenting, angry and not given time unless they create it themselves via facebook or change.org. With great power comes great responsibility.

So, here’s the rub.  I am so glad that groups of adoptees are getting acknowledged.  I am proud of their hard work in empowering themselves and others.  I just wish we could play a little nicer WITH each other.  No one is being asked to be THE voice for adoptees, but the responsibility for those of us who do get the odd chance to be heard, I wish we could accept that we have the power to influence more complexity and diversity into the adoption discussion.  This rarely gets played out in public.  It would be nice to be the three dimensional people we are and help the public see we can disagree and change the course of how international adoptions are conducted and perceived all at once.

Brave

This post will take a bit to read…please be patient

“Show me how big your brave is…” – Sara Bareilles

In recent weeks, the adoption community has been tackling some tough questions – the validity of the adoptive family unit, the rights of birth (first) parents, the role of government in the way we Americans declare family and of course, the role of adopted people as the agents for change.  You can spend hours on the internet reading articles about what happened to Baby Veronica, the supreme court case and ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act).  I stand firm only one thing.  We, the observers, know only a small percentage of the story.  I am left more with curious questions.  I am curious about Veronica’s birthmother and how she came to her decisions.  I am curious how Veronica’s (adoptive) parents will explain away her birthfather and all he did to parent her.  I am even more curious how the initial promise of an open adoption will now be put into place and enacted.  Who is really doing anything for Veronica?  For many, if not most, of the adoptee community, the transfer was a sad day.  For some of us, we wondered aloud…notwithstanding the time, the signature, the legal relinquishment, Veronica has a family who wants to parent her.  Veronica was not taken from her family of origin due to abuse or neglect.  She has birthfamily who wants to raise her as their own.  Is the decree on a piece of paper versus the decree of a parent who is biologically related sacrosanct?  I wonder how Veronica will make sense of her story when she googles her name later on in life.  I don’t have an answer, but for any of us who have worked through a contested adoption, the lines become awfully blurry.  When people say that every child belongs in a family, I can’t help but get an uneasy feeling that we are never talking about the same definition of family.

Take a listen to this podcast, I think you will agree, there are no straight lines – http://www.radiolab.org/story/295210-adoptive-couple-v-baby-girl/

Then there was the Reuters article on “re-homing” internationally adopted children to families found on the internet because their new first families were not able to parent them.  I think you would have to be dead to not have a reaction of disgust that human beings can do this to other human beings.  It feels like the idea of finding families for children has been relegated to the equivalent of a swap meet.  The words “trafficking” and “commodification” are rampant when thinking about this article.  As an adoptee who cringes whenever I read those words, never owning such labels as mine, I can’t deny those words ring slightly true here. And yet part of me is also thinking, how many domestically adopted children has this happened to, how many children who have been living with their biological families have been passed around to extended family members and been treated with such depravity?  While we are casting stones, are we looking at those casting too?  While we are waiting for others to change the system, is it enough for the adoptee community to just be angry and scream for change or scream for the banning of international adoption?

I like to always cloak myself as just another adoptee, but truth be told, I have some crazy connections.  There are adoptees in the field, in our community, who have been sounding the alarms for at least 10 years while simultaneously working with the very families who think about or do what the Reuters article mentioned.  To name just a few of my friends – Melanie Chung-Sherman, Dr. Judy Eckerle, Susan Branco-Alvarado, Jackie Skalnik.  I name them for anyone reading this post to get to know their names.  Why?  Because they are busy doing the work and are brilliant too in their construction of ideas and programs to help these vulnerable children.  Our community has been so effective in supporting and propping up the angry voices we have neglected the voices of the helpers, those vested in one interest – the child who grows up to be one of us and needs a “family” of his or her own.  So I shout out the names of my peers who are effecting change one family at a time in hopes that more people will call upon them and make them even busier.

There are other connections too that kept me dumbfoundingly silent these last few weeks.  Sometimes knowledge paralyzes.  As the Reuters article was blowing up Facebook, there were wheels turning to figure out how to address the issue of adoptive parents abandoning their children to the nether.  What I saw was the systematic mobilization of groups that support the perpetuation of adoption come out with their one page press releases in outrage and taking no ownership of responsibility.  Our system of international adoption remains as child-like as the way we see adoptees.  Why are the parents and parent groups the ones penning words in response?…

I ask BECAUSE…there is CHIFF (children in families first).  While the timing was interesting, this was not in response to the Reuters article.  Oh no, that would mean our government actually CAN move swiftly.  Still, I believe, more outrage is due in response to this interesting solution to the worlds’ orphan problem.  More outrage and more action!  Spend any time with a group of adoptee therapists and workers in adoption and your eyes will roll with the mundane questions we keep asking – where is the money going to come from to staff this and effect the changes, who will be the accrediting body to oversea the ethical implementation of this new program, why are only groups and legislators who are doing the adopting the only ones supporting and why are the child protection/development organizations silent? We are a suspicious lot but annoyingly persistent in our pursuit for an ethical, transparent program to address the needs of vulnerable children.  It is proposals like CHIFF that make me understand why we must declare our position on being pro or anti.  Any nuance is lost on our legislative representatives.

I have taken a long time to respond to all of the goings on in our adoption community lately.  Frankly, I was just too overwhelmed.  I am just one person, one adoptee, one social worker and like many of my other friends, carry the stories, heartaches and pain of dozens of other adoptees in the work we do as our “job.”  But then I realized, I have 99 people who read my words on my blog.  If I subtract about a dozen of my “followers” because you are my dear friends and love me and are already in the trenches with me, that still leaves a decent number of readers out there.  If I could get just one of you to think about adoption differently and speak up, write a letter, make a phone call, I will never be only one.  For the next time you read an article about adoption, think of me – a person who was adopted over the age of 5, who had her story changed in order to be adopted, who had multiple placements without a name or face to recall and who wants to find wholeness and fulfillment just like you, I hope your thoughts have been altered.  How big is your brave?!

While the government is shut down and many of our representatives are not able to respond to our emails and calls, I ask you to compose your letter or script to be sent in shutting  down CHIFF.  Why?  Please read the most comprehensive analysis of CHIFF out there.  With permission from the writers (who are adoptees), Kerry and Niels of Pound Pup Legacy, I have also added their post below.  Check out the Stop CHIFF page on Facebook too.

But first, here is the list of legislators who are in support of CHIFF who need to hear from all of us:

Senators
Roy Blunt* (R)
Mary Landrieu* (D)
Richard Burr (R)
Kirsten Gillbrand (D)
James Inhofe (R)
Eddie Berniece Johnson (D)
Mark Kirk (R)
Amy Klobuchar (D)
Claire McCaskill (D)
Patrick Murphy (D)
Jeanne Shaheen (D)
Elizabeth Warren (D)
Roger Wicker (D)

Representatives
Michele Bachman* (R)
Kay Granger* (R)
Karen Bass (D)
Suzanne Bonamici (D)
Trent Franks (R)
Steve Israel (D)
Albio Sires (D)

From Pound Pup Legacy:

Late last week, Senator Mary Landrieu launched the latest initiative of the adoption lobby in congress, with the introduction of The Children In Families First Act of 2013.

The bill is intended to counteract the decline in inter-country since 2004, a trend that has many prospective adopters worried and cuts heavily into the revenues of  adoption service providers.

The inter-country adoption lobby has been in full blown panic over this decline for several years now.

Already in 2009, a legislative attempt was made to curb the downward trend by means of the Families for Orphans Act. This effort failed miserably, but now the adoption lobby has regrouped with new blood and fresh money.

Children in Families First (CHIFF) is a much more powerful lobby group than the Families for Orphans Coalition ever was.

The backbone of both groups is the same, centered around adoption advocacy organization Kidsave International and the two trade associations of adoption service providers: Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and National Council for Adoption (NCFA), augmented by the treacherously named adopters group Equality for Adopted Children (EACH).

Gone are Buckner InternationalInstitute for Orphan Advocacy – which was never really more than a (now defunct) website owned by America World Adoption Association -, North American Resource Center for Child Welfare (NARCCW)Weaving Families Adoption Ministry (dissolved in 2009, after having operated for little over two years) and Jane Aronson‘s celebrity adoption vehicle Worldwide Orphan Foundation.

The current incarnation of the the inter-country adoption legislation lobby group has added several heavy-weights: American Academy of Adoption AttorneysBoth Ends Burning Center for Adoption Policy (CAP)Christian Alliance for OrphansCongressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and the Saddleback Church.

The inclusion of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is especially important. CCAI, as a coalition of members of congress, has access to legislators, even K street can only dream of. This enmeshment of special interests and legislature is unprecedented. Never before have members of congress so publicly embraced the interests of an industry and its clients.

With the backup of CCAI, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, and the money from adoption zealot Craig M. Juntunen, founder of Both Ends Burning, The Children In Families First Act of 2013, actually has a chance of being enacted.

Before we dig into the details of this legislative effort to revitalize international placement of children, let’s first look at the underlying assumption, the decline of inter-country adoption.

When we compile the statistics over the time frame 2004 – 2012, we can create a chart like this:


Based on this time-range, we can indeed see that inter-country adoption has declined from almost 23,000 children in 2004, to a number just shy of 9,000 in 2012. A very different picture emerges when we choose a different time range. A graph for inter-country adoptions from 1990 to 2012 looks like this:


It is not without reason, Mark Twain spoke about “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Using statistics, and especially the graphical representation thereof, we can make things look very differently from what they really are.

The common thesis that inter-country adoption has been in decline is a ruse. Inter-country adoption is returning to normal levels after extreme growth between 1992 and 2004. What we are facing is not a decline, but a market correction after an adoption bubble.

That bubble was mainly caused by three factors:

  • the fall of the iron curtain and subsequent adoptions from Russia,
  • the backlash of the one-child policy in China,
  • the rise of corrupt adoption practices in Guatemala.

Adoptions from these three countries almost entirely explain, both the enormous growth of inter-country adoption between 1990 and 2004, and its decline since 2004.

In 1990, inter-country adoption from China was virtually non-existent, with only 29 Chinese children adopted in the United States. That number rose quickly in the early 1990s and reached its peak in 2005, with 7,903 Chinese children being adopted in the United States. Russian adoptions only started in 1992, and peaked in 2004, with 5,862 Russian children adopted in the US. Guatemalan adoptions were already somewhat developed in 1990. That year 257 children from Guatemala were placed with American adopters.

In 1990, the total number of children adopted from China, Russia and Guatemala was 286. In 2004, the number of children adopted from those three countries had risen to 16,164. This is an increase of 15,878. The total increase of inter-country adoption in that time-frame is 15,898. So it is safe to say that the rise of inter-country adoption between 1990 and 2004 can entirely be contributed to these three countries.

In 2012 the total number of children adopted from China, Russia and Guatemala was 3,452 (mostly from China). This is a decrease of 12,712 since 2004. The total decrease of inter-country adoption between 2004 and 2012 was 14,323. Again these numbers are in the same ball-park.

Any other explanation than the burst of the bubble of adoptions from China, Russia and Guatemala, for the decrease of inter-country adoption since 2004 is bogus, or to speak with Mark Twain, a damned lie.

The lobby-group Children in Families First (CHIFF), created to promote the The Children In Families First Act of 2013, are damned liars. The worst of their lies is that they claim the entire initiative is not about increasing the number of inter-country adoptions in the United States. In the FAQ section of their website, the following is listed:

Q. Isn’t this bill really just a way to increase the number of children available for international adoption?

CHIFF is about one and only one thing: aligning United States foreign policy and programming with the undisputed, scientifically proven fact that children need loving, protective families to thrive. It therefore embraces every pathway to a permanent family and works to ensure that all options are being used to their fullest capacity in every country where there are children in need.  To meet the needs of the MILLIONS of children outside of family care, governments all over the world will need to increase their efforts to preserve and reunify families; provide more direct support to kinship, and encourage domestic adoption as an important way to ensure families for children.  At the same time, they will also need to put in place laws and systems that allow for international adoption as it is a necessary and appropriate way to meet the needs of children who cannot find homes domestically.  The sad reality is that number of children internationally adopted by US Citizens is not declining because of a lack of need.  It is declining because international adoption has wrongly been forced off the table of appropriate permanency options for children.  CHIFF would change that.

It must be said, this is a clever statement, in an Orwellian sense of  the word “clever”. There is no downright denial of the fact that the bill is just an attempt to increase the number of inter-country adoptions, but it tries to frame the issue in a different light. Of course it can’t be done without adding further lies.

Let’s start with the phrase: the undisputed, scientifically proven fact that children need loving, protective families to thrive.

The text of the bill itself is even more explicit, stating:

Science now proves conclusively that children suffer immediate, lasting, and in many cases irreversible damage from time spent living in institutions or outside of families, including reduced brain activity, reduced IQ, smaller brain size, and inability to form emotional bonds with others.

While we won’t dispute that intensive contact with adult care givers is of the utmost importance to the brain development of infants, there is no scientific consensus that living in institutions or outside families is damaging to all children.

In fact, an article published in Scientific American in 2009, under the title Orphanages Rival Foster Homes for Quality Child Care, refutes the stereotype that children fail to thrive in orphanages, and in fact receive care just as good as they would in foster care or through adoption. The research leading to this result had, unlike many other studies about developmental delays of orphans, not taken place in the dark and run-down children’s homes of post-communist Eastern Europe, but in countries like Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania, where care was given to children in more community-based orphanages.

The adoption-centric agenda of the bill reveals itself in how children are confounded with infants. After all, most adopters have primarily interest in obtaining infants, and shy away from adopting children over the age of five. There is proof that infants that are not held and are not being socially engaged, indeed suffer all sorts of developmental problems, both emotional and cognitive. However, there is no proof that brain development of children above the age of five is seriously harmed by institutional care.

Most of the children, the MILLIONS of children, mentioned in the FAQ answer, are not infants, and with that, of little interest to the adoption community. Their numbers are only included to inflate the statistics, and make the problem look worse than it really is.

This brings us to the following lie: the MILLIONS of orphans mentioned. In a one page leaflet of Children in Families First, the following statement is made:

Every day, all over the world, more children find themselves living without  families – on the streets, in orphanages, in refugee camps. By some estimates, there are now 200 million orphans in the world.

Of course, like all the Pinocchio emulating efforts of the CHIFF group, it is not a complete lie. There is certainly some estimate that there are now 200 million orphans in the world. We could make up a figure out of whole cloth that there are now 3 billion orphans in the world and that too would be “some estimate”.

The figure of 200 million, however, is based upon, and an inflation of a figure of 143 million orphans, mentioned in the report Children on the Brink, which UNICEF published in 2004. To reach this number, UNICEF used a very broad definition of the word orphan: a child who has lost one or both parents through death. While it is sad so many children lost one or both parents, it doesn’t warrant the claim these children actually go without parental care. Ironically, if children that have one living parent, get adopted abroad by a single parents, they suddenly don’t count as orphans anymore, while they move from one single parent household to another.

The number of 143 million is already inappropriate to use in the context of this bill; inflating the number and speaking of “more children find themselves living without families” is most disingenuous. Not only are many of those 143 million children not living without families, their number is likely not to be growing.

When UNICEF published their report, the Second Congo War had just formally ended with a estimated death toll between 2.5 million an 5,4 million. Despite ongoing turmoil and devastation around the world, there is no conflict of that scale at the moment. It is therefore more likely that we will see a decrease of the number of orphans than that we will see an increase.

The third big lie in that one answer in CHIFF’s FAQ is the following statement:

The sad reality is that number of children internationally adopted by US Citizens is not declining because of a lack of need.  It is declining because international adoption has wrongly been forced off the table of appropriate permanency options for children.

Since the reason behind the decline in inter-country adoption has already been discussed earlier, we have to question the motive for CHIFF’s claim that international adoption has wrongly been forced off the table of appropriate permanency options for children.

The background for the statement can be found in the closure of Guatemala for inter-country adoptions, back in 2008. For many years, the adoption programs from Guatemala were known to be deeply corrupt. Already in 2001, Canada ended the adoption of Guatemalan children for that reason. The Netherlands followed a year later, and France ended adoption from Guatemala in 2004.

While all receiving countries in the world were ending adoptions from Guatemala, or reducing the numbers to single digits, the export of children to the United States grew almost three-fold.

The ease of adoption from Guatemala was seen as a sign of a deep problem in the rest of the world, but it was seen as a boon in the United States. Prospective adopters loved the programs, despite the steep price, and adoption agencies loved the programs, because of the steep price.

In the end, Guatemala ended inter-country adoption in 2008, under pressure of UNICEF. Prospective adopters were furious about this decision, and so was the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), a trade association of adoption service providers. UNICEF was blamed for putting the rights of children above the desires of adopters. Of course it wasn’t phrased in such politically incorrect terms, but it actually boiled down to that.

UNICEF, as an international organization, uses an international philosophy of child protection. The United States, always in search for exceptionalism – it is the only country in the world that doesn’t use the metric system – has its own philosophy of child protection, rooted in the notion of permanency.

Angered by UNICEF’s role in the closure of the adoption programs from Guatemala, and frustrated by the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t accept the American approach to child protection, CHIFF aims to realign the foreign policies of the United States, independent of UNICEF.

In a message point document, CHIFF makes the following statement:

The U.S. Government has effectively relinquished its policy role on international child welfare to UNICEF.

We need to retake control of U.S. foreign policy on this critical issue and lead the way in shifting the world’s focus on to the importance of family for all children.

According to CHIFF, it is time to take unilateral action in foreign policy. We all know how that worked out last time such an approach was attempted.

The permanency agenda effectively reduces the child placement options to only two options, reunification with biological parents or adoption. This becomes clear when we carefully read the definition of permanency as given in the bill:

The term ‘‘appropriate, protective, and permanent family care’’ means a nurturing, lifelong, commitment to a child by an adult, or adults with parental roles and responsibilities that:

  • provides physical and emotional support;
  • provides the child with a sense of belonging; and
  • generally involves full legal recognition of the child’s status as child of the parents and of the parents’ rights and responsibilities regarding the child.

The phrase “full legal recognition of the child’s status as child of the parents and of the parents’ rights and responsibilities regarding the child”,rules out any form of foster care, guardianship, or institutional care.

It is all the more hypocritical of CHIFF to demand other countries in this world to end these child placement options, while the United States itself has one of the largest foster care systems in the world and has thousands of children placed in residential treatment centers.

It all makes sense when we read this bill for what it is, a duplicitous attempt to increase inter-country adoption, to the benefit of prospective adopters and adoption service providers. In that context, the notion of permanency makes perfect sense, because it blocks all other child placement solutions other than adoption.

In that context too, it makes perfect sense to disregard all systemic problems faced in the field of adoption.This issue is tackled in the same FAQ on CHIFF’s website as follows:

Q. International adoption has so many problems and so much fraud. Don’t we have to fix that before we increase the numbers?

It’s really important, when thinking about international adoption, or any humanitarian program, not to lose perspective and get misled because a few tragic cases go badly.  We all grieve those cases.  But we don’t shut down hospitals because a hospital’s error causes harm to a patient.  We don’t shut down the banking system because a bank gets robbed.  Instead, we work to ensure that there are laws in place that protect against errors and crime and prosecute wrongdoers.  In this vein, CHIFF includes important elements that will help us be sure that we get it right for birth parents, adoptive parents and most importantly children in the international adoption system. Most notably, CHIFF better enables both the State Department and USAID to do the necessary work to identify unparented children, determine what is in their best interest and help them to get it, whether it’s family reunification, kinship, domestic or international adoption.

It is also important to understand that there are children in the world for whom international adoption is not only the best option, but the only option for a permanent family. In almost every country in the world, older children, children in larger sibling groups and with special medical needs, domestic options are very limited.  When international adoption is eliminated as an option, these children spend a lifetime in an institution, or worse, are left to fend for themselves.

Interestingly enough the question itself – which, as is usual in FAQ’s, is phrased by CHIFF itself, not by some outside questioner – hints to the  fact that the bill is indeed about increasing the number of inter-country adoptions, and not some other lofty goal CHIFF insists on working towards.

The answer to this question comes right out of the play book of adoption propagandists. Every systemic problem in Adoptionland is always aregrettable incident and always limited to a few tragic cases.

The realities of Adoptionland are that every country that exports more than a few hundred children each year for adoption, is faced with serious corruption. Do we really have to list the multiple trafficking cases in BulgariaCambodiaChinaEl SalvadorEthiopiaGuatemalaIndia,Liberia,  MexicoNepalRomaniaRussiaSamoaSouth KoreaUkraine, and Vietnam, to make it clear that child trafficking for the purpose of adoption is a systemic problem, or should we treat the long list of Child trafficking cases all as isolated incidents?

The comparisons in the FAQ answer to the medical field and the banking system are either erroneous, or make absolutely no sense. Hospitals are shut down when errors are systemic.

Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital is set to close down soon after failing a federal inspection. The action comes after a new round of questions about care, including one in which a woman writhed on the floor of the emergency room lobby for 45 minutes before dying of a perforated bowel. No one stepped in to help her. The Willowbrook hospital, once known as King/Drew, has been plagued by allegations of poor treatment almost since its inception 35 years ago. Scroll down for the latest coverage plus The Times’ 2004 series on King/Drew.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-kingdrew-gallery,0,5651209.storygallery

Renaissance Hospital in Terrell had its license terminated and its doors shuttered Tuesday following the results of an investigation of massive safety failures that led to at least two deaths.

http://www.wfaa.com/news/health/renaissance-hospital-terrell-state-nursing-investigation-190907101.html

On March 23 a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a surprise inspection of the hospital near Ashland. Its conclusion was there is, “Immediate jeopardy to the health and safety of patients.” There are no patients at St. Catherine, and after state action last week, it cannot take in new patients.

http://wnep.com/2012/04/04/federal-inspection-local-hospital-put-patients-at-risk/

The banking system, doesn’t get shut down because a bank gets robbed – a most absurd comparison, since banks are not guilty when being robbed. More prudently, a bank doesn’t even get shut down when it is entirely corrupt and should be closed, since most members of congress receive huge donations from those very banks. In that sense the banking system receives similar protection from congress as the adoption system. Both can continue their corrupt practices even when systemic abuse and corruption has been demonstrated, because it suits members of congress to maintain the status quo.

Unlike the answer to the FAQ question claims, the bill contains nothing to prevent corruption. In fact, it makes it easier. By  collecting data toindentify unparented children in foreign countries, the bill makes it easier for child traffickers to find victims for their crimes. It may also make it easier for pedophiles to book their next holiday destination.

The most flagrant dishonesty is reserved for the final paragraph of the FAQ answer. It claims that the bill helps older children, sibling groups and children with special needs. These three categories of children are notoriously unwanted by adopters and no speeding up of the adoption process is going to change that. In fact, the only reason that children from these categories are adopted to some degree these days, is because it is very hard to adopt infants.

Also, by redirecting funds form USAID to facilitate inter-country adoption, as the bill aims for, less money will go toward older children, sibling groups and children with special needs. Exactly the most vulnerable children in the world stand the most to lose when this monstrosity of a bill gets enacted.

Finally, we’d like to address one of the most egregious parts of the CHIFF bill, which reads as follows:

All options for providing appropriate, protective, and permanent family care to children living without families must be considered concurrently and permanent solutions must be put in place as quickly as possible. Solutions include family preservation and reunification, kinship care, guardianship, domestic and intercountry adoption, and other culturally-acceptable forms of care that will result in appropriate, protective, and  permanent family care.

Preference should be given to options that optimize child best interests, which generally means options which provide children with fully protected legal status and parents with full legal status as parents, including full parental rights and responsibilities. The principle of subsidiarity, which gives preference to in-country solutions, should be implemented within the context of a concurrent planning strategy, exploring in- and out-of-country options simultaneously. If an in-country placement serving the child’s best interest and providing appropriate, protective, and permanent care is not quickly available, and such an international home is available, the child should be placed in that international home without delay.

Let’s forget the lofty words kinship care, guardianship, and other culturally-acceptable forms of care, we already established that appropriate, protective, and  permanent family care, requires parental rights. With that, the only real options are family preservation/reunification and adoption.

The passage is about concurrent planning, a strategy already in use in the American foster care system. The Child Welfare Information Gateway gives the following definition:

Concurrent planning is an approach that seeks to eliminate delays in attaining permanent families for children and youth in foster care. Effective implementation requires comprehensive and early assessment. It involves identifying and working toward a child’s primary permanency goal (such as reunification with the birth family) while simultaneously identifying and working on a secondary goal (such as guardianship with a relative). This practice can shorten the time to achieve permanency if efforts toward the primary goal prove unsuccessful because progress has already been made toward the secondary goal.

On the surface, it sounds reasonable to explore all options simultaneously, but it can easily lead to fast-tracked adoptions with only pro-forma investigations into family preservation/reunification. Concurrent planning only works if the agencies involved have no bias towards the chosen option. This is not the case in many foreign countries, where adoption agencies run orphanages, or donate large amounts of money to orphanages. Family preservation/reunification costs money, while inter-country adoption makes money and keeps customers happy. In such situations, concurrent planning is only a ploy to fast-track inter-country adoption.

For all the reasons outlined in this article, Pound Pup Legacy started an action to stop this bill. On our website we will add further analysis of this bill, and report on any developments in congress to advance its enactment. We also created a  Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/StopCHIFF to raise more awareness about the terrible Children In Families First Act of 2013.

Resolving my resolutions

Resolutions are hard.  I am terrible at keeping them.  This blog has been a resolution of sorts.  Clearly, I have already fallen off the wagon!

I have been collecting scraps of paper again scribbling things down that have happened in the past year, that would be 2012.  While baking, putting up and taking down the tree, trying to put in exercise into my 2013 regiment, dealing with the flu or whatever bug the kids have been passing back and forth to each other, I am always thinking.  My lens is still adoption. Adoption is never casual in my life.  I can’t simply say I am adopted or that I work in adoption and let it be.  There is always something personal that comes up.  There is rarely something personal about being a tax attorney, a hedge fund guy, a doctor, in the same gut kicking way it can be for me as an adoptee who works in adoption.

In my reflecting, I got to meet more adoptees than I have in a very long time.  Introverted by nature, meeting new people and doing small talk is not a natural occurrence.  I have really enjoyed meeting this new group of adoptees.  They are in the collective of being a generation behind me.  They remind me of how unique our experiences are and I love that they are optimistic enough to choose to work in this field, challenge and change the language.  I am most impressed by their connection to Korea, some lived there for years, some are anxious to live there.  I like this new role I am finding myself in, the role of teacher and mentor.  Always mothering and yet with the added excitement of passing along my 20 years of life working in adoption.  Inspired and looking forward to inspiring.

While my reading and educating these days are limited to Time Magazine, Newsweek, NPR, Melanie Klein and Winnicott, I am loyal to KoreAm magazine too.  Aside from the beautiful eye candy of Korean and Korean American men on the cover, I have been impressed by the magazine’s continual coverage of issues facing adoptees – from the twins who are homeless in Washington, DC, to featuring an adoptee with world renowned chefs, to a story on an adoptee who is involved in activism for issues in Korea.  Thank you KoreAm for your inclusion of adoptees in just about every issue!

2012 brought an awareness of other areas of activism that I have often felt too overwhelmed to think about.  The issues of deportation, citizenship, wrongful death of adopted children and suicide among the adoptee community.  I thank the few but vocal adoptees who have pushed to get these stories out.  I am grateful for the APRC (Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative) for wanting to shed brighter lights on these issues.  I have been challenged to be more inclusive and realize that I need to get my head out of my ass and think more about those who have really struggled.  Is it just because of adoption?  Is adoption THE symptom?  If these children and adults were not adopted, would it have changed things?  Are we looking at victims or part of the solution? Food for more thought.

2012 brought some personal victories and has fueled new passion.  I have been thinking of the now decades I have been in the adoption community and realize only now I am not alone.  My friend Martha (and mom of two adopted kids) and I have become a presenting duo!  And our blog – alliesandagitators.com – has been really fun to write.  To find an ally is like finding a part of you in someone else.  She has stood up for me, stood with me and made me feel less crazy.  I have been asked to write for other blogs.  I have been told by dear friends that I need to stop feeling like I need to prove and sit in the place of knowing.  I have been asked to write more and so, I am resolved to do just that.

While the lens is adoption, I am finding my eyes diverting.  After meeting with the head of advocacy for the SOS Children’s Villages, I realized that at every turn when adoption is discussed, we never complete the conversation about where homeless, orphaned, abused/neglected children should be?  To often the children’s issues get diverted to the grown ups in the situation – parental rights, women’s issues, institutional policies, politics.  I am drawn to the SOS Children’s Villages construct because it focuses on child and family with the basic caveat that children belong in families.  But they take it one step further to ensure continuity for children and while adoption is not off the table, it is not the central apparatus to create family.  The first page of their booklet has the word CARE.  I think this is my new favorite word.  I had been asked to review statements on adoption for this organization.  I am resolved to finish those statements and I am looking forward to a change in direction where adoption is not the only lens I see my life through.

Legitimacy

I love blue eyes.  I love hazel eyes.  I even love brown eyes.  But mine are so dark, you can’t even see the pupil.  I became aware of this during 8th grade science class when we had to watch how light effects our pupils, my partner couldn’t see anything.  No change was visible.  Yet another reason I didn’t love my eyes.  We always want what we don’t have.

If you asked me who I wanted to marry when I was a senior in high school, he was tall, blonde and blue eyed.  I wanted that sort of American look and a slim percentage of a chance my child will have light eyes and wavy hair.  Never in a million years could you have convinced me that I would ever fall in love, let alone marry, a Korean man.  Ok, for those who know him, his hair is uncannily curly! But alas, my boys have straight dark hair and the darkest of eyes.  I adore that about them now…but back then, they were but a glimmer in the darkest recesses of my mind’s eye.

Fast forward to my life as a post-adoption social worker organizing workshops for adoptive parents.  I was growing weary of the panels of adoptees coming to share their stories.  I loved the stories and so did the audience.  It seems a room full of adopted parents are ravenous for our stories and even more ravenous for our accolades afterwards that they are doing just the right thing because they can check off their list all the things our parents didn’t do for us way back when.  In wanting some focus, I thought of themes adoptees could come, speak and share about.  Dating and relationships was just such a topic and I knew it was by far the most personal of personal.  I wanted to do this for many reason, notwithstanding the many times I have had to field such ridiculous comments like – We are Jewish, it is important she find a nice Jewish boy, but she keeps bringing home those other Latino boys from across the tracks.  Yes.  you read correctly.  Finding adoptees willing to share such a personal experiences as how and whom they found to love was a huge ask.  But find I did and I think I was more changed than anyone.

I know I am showing my age with what I write here.  I hope I am.  There was a panelist, an Asian adoptee, who shared her experiences of dating Asian men.  She was married to a Caucasian man.  I rightfully guessed that the bone of contention in those past relationships was her being adopted.  It usually was and it usually was the demise of the relationship as no good Asian boy would date, let alone think about marrying, an adoptee.  One guy’s mother accused her of trying to gain legitimacy as an Asian person through her son.  That statement struck me dumb for a minute.

By the time this panel came into my life, I had already gone through the heartache of dating a few Korean boys whose mothers refused to let me in their homes because of my being adopted.  And, I was already married to that wavy haired, dark eyed Korean man.  Our very long courtship was over and the main sticking point of my adoption status was water under the bridge.  After all, I was self sufficient, went to a good college, had a couple of degrees after my name and was taller than my father-in-law. I kid.  I seemed to have found one of the few guys who really had no worry that his parents would come around to accepting me.

Honestly, it was never lost on me that my relationship was a mixed raced relationship of sorts.  Everything I learned about being Korean was either from a book or my year in Korea.  Even now, I work diligently to maintain my Korean and bring things into my home that is Korean.  The consequences of my shortsightedness as far as being a Korean daughter-in-law took quite a few more years of misunderstandings, confusion, tears and wrinkled foreheads of wonder.  Tales of Korean Mothers-In-Law are infamous.  Just look at the blog – Kimchi Mamas – there is a whole section just on Mothers-In-Law!  While I was frustrated that I wasn’t cut a little more slack for not having been raised in a Korean home, it never dawned on me that my Korean identity was legitimized by having a Korean husband.  I was not more Korean because of whom I married.  If that was the case, I missed that “How-To” book.

I always knew I was Korean.  The whole world knew it too.  It is that very part of me that caused such derision growing up. Instead, being married to a Korean man has forced me to be far more vigilant in how I identify myself so I don’t lose the hyphenated aspect of my identity.  The American and Adopted part of me are equally essential to determine what box to put me in.

What my truth really was back then was this…  As an adolescent girl wanting so desperately to fit in, I believed an All American blonde haired, blue eyed boy would legitimize ME as an American.  He would make my Korean face disappear.  No one would look at me strangely and wonder if I spoke English, if I was American enough.  He would be my proof that I belonged here.  How youthfully superficial is that?  I see that now.  I can also now see my very Korean looking sister and her tall, fair complected, light haired husband and only see love.  I love hearing my nephew declare that he looks more Korean than his sister.  And I can now see that I found love in the form of a person who looks just like me, legitimately.

Translation

Several months ago, it was suggested to me that I get my blog translated into Korean.  The main reason being that perhaps my words might help Koreans in Korea normalize and understand the complications of international adoption from a personal perspective from someone who is “older”.  No offense taken, it was a compliment to me that this adoptee felt I could be of any help to others beyond the English speaking/reading community.

Finding a good translator was the challenge.  The art of taking someone’s words and putting them into decipherable terms in another language is hard.  Taking those same words and making sure that the sender’s meaning, intent, emotion is understood as well…well, that’s a gift.  Even for those who are truly bilingual, there is always a default language – the one they count money with, tell time with and curse!

I have written about Kay in other posts.  Kay and I traveled to Korea together on a motherland trip with a group of adoptive families.  She was also training another translator/tour guide too, so I got to see her wearing multiple hats.  But it was one quiet “free afternoon” when the families went out to Itaewon to shop that I got to really see her mastery.  She agreed to meet with my Umma and me.  I had not used a translator for our reunion.  I had been living in Korea for 9 months already and my Korean was babyish but workable.  Actually, other than the basic of information, there was no need for a translator.  We just wanted to be in each other’s company.  She just wanted to hold my hand and sit very very close to me.

This motherland trip was the first of several I have been on, but the first since I met my birthmother.  Kay agreed to translate for me so that I could be more free to ask questions and have a real conversation.  At this point, I had learned alot about Kay and her family circumstances.  She emotionally connected to Umma as a fellow mother who lost her children through divorce and was separated from them for a long stretch of time.  She is Catholic as is my Umma.  The two women connected.  Kay gave us the freedom to be honest and weepy.  She was more than a translator, she was a friend who had only the purest of intentions – to get our words right.  She never told me that I could not, should not say something.  She didn’t sugarcoat or leave anything out for misunderstanding.  What more, her translating was so fluid it was as if we were all speaking the same language.  I have always been grateful for that day.  It allowed me to see my Umma as a person and as a mother.  I attribute that afternoon as one reason I chose to stay connected to Umma.  She became a real entity in my life, not just a reunion, not just an event.

I have been asked time and again who is writing the Korean by the native Korean speakers in my life.  All have been impressed and in awe of what they are reading.  I wanted to write this post in English first so that no one would mistaken me for the writing.  And I wanted to explain what an adoptee has to go through to get her words just right.  When it came time to find said  blog translator, Kay was the first person I thought of, but she doesn’t live close to me.  After going around my local area to seek friends who might be willing, I realized Kay was really the only one.  Thank goodness for technology.  Kay happily said yes.  And thus, all the Korean on this blog is the genius of Kay and the computer.

I have been in the room for several meetings where adoptees are either meeting birthfamily members for the first time or reviewing their adoption files.  Bearing witness to such events is mindblowing and heartwrenching.  Watching bad translations happening is infuriating!  I never perport to speaking Korean well, but I know a good snowjob.  In any language it is demoralizing.  I understand why adoptees are so furious with agency social workers.  Adoptee after adoptee has shared the moment they sit there waiting on every word that is said and frantically looking at the face of the social worker to find all the words that are not said.  Those moments are never the right moments to put forth manners, decorum, culture as barriers to the selective translating process.  I have seen adoptees confused at what they hear because certain aspects of the story were not translated.  Is my birthmother dead, alive, mentally ill, committed suicide, doesn’t want to see me, forgot about me, denying I exist?  Is my birthdate accurate, estimated, made up, based on the Lunar Calendar?  For many of us, we are simultaneously grappling with the discovery of misinformation, inaccurate information AND birth family all at the same time.  There is no other comparable situation in my world that comes close to this level of overwhelm.  In one sitting, I was told my birthmother was not dead, alive, just got out of the hospital, may be dying and searching for me for 21 years, AND my name was changed as was my birthdate.  Just say that sentence outloud, it is just too much.

We seek transparency, perhaps we might start with translating transparency first.

Fast forward to present day.  I have a dear friend who is in reunion with her birthmother and family.  Her birthmother was supposed to come for a visit, but it is not happening.  The circumstances around this change in plans is not the issue so much as the dark abyss my friend has had to navigate trying to get any morsel of information about her birthmother.  The translations caused panic and worry and more questions.  My friend was even willing to go to local markets to find a Korean person.  Imagine having to go to a total stranger and asking them to help you during such an intimate exchange?  I don’t offer up my translating abilities to anyone, but in this situation, I tried.  After one phone call to her birthsister, panic dissipated enough for rational thought to enter and plans have now been made.  Being a part of this process for my friend was the greatest gift to both of us.  I never felt so wonderful as to be able to relay with accuracy my friends concern and then in turn call my friend to let her know how things were really going on over there.  The Korean was not beautiful, not at all what Kay would have done, but it was enough to be more accurate than all the other translations.

One thing that international adoptees lament over is the loss of language and the ability to speak their birth language.  For some, it is near impossible to learn so heavy the emotional barriers to accessing that part of their linguistic brain.  While being able to speak Korean is not always the blessing I hoped it would be, I try my damndest to keep up with it.  Even so, I have limits and I am grateful to have someone like Kay in my life who I trust to make my English words make sense.

In the news

As an adopted person, I have heard my fair share of how people use the word “adopt” or “adopted” to suite their fancy in the most egregious ways.  Is there no other way to define the acquisition of things like dolls, antiques, laws, roads and the like without using the word “adoption”?  Every time I hear the word not related to children and families I find myself irritated.

Actually, today, I am eating my words.  I saw an article linked on Huffington Post titled “Controversy Alert: Is Bobbi Kristina Dating Her Adopted Brother?”  Aside from the admission that I am an entertainment gawker and a fan of HuffPo as my source for all things entertainment, I admit this pissed me off.  This fiction made the national circulation?  “Unofficially adopted”?  And highlighting the tag word “incestuous”?  I am trying to make sense of this as I am sure there are a ton of young girls and boys reading this article and maybe some of them are adopted and wondering, what the hell?  What is this reporter’s definition of adoption?

What is ticking me off more than anything is that this story gets posted and seen by millions only to confuse the public yet again about what adoption really is about.  And yet where are the mass eyeballs and outrage of the case of Paul and Paula Dunham of St. Cloud, MN, a story passed around among my adoptee friends but not read anywhere else?  So, I am passing this along again for those of you who have not seen it.  The idea that this continues to exist in the adoption world is far scarier and worrisome.  This is worth my time to think about, I hope you do too:

http://www.sctimes.com/article/20120212/NEWS/102120002/Failure-protect-Big-family-s-issues-escape-scrutiny?nclick_check=1.

Adoptee Professional…Professional Adoptee

When I first came in contact with the adoptee community, I had just returned from my year in Korea and I was red hot mad.  I found that fire in my gut that began to question just how great was this whole being adopted thing?  The small but cumulative injustices I witnessed overseas forced me to figure out how much of me was Korean and how much of me was not.  Was I anti-American?  Was I anti-Korean?  My saving grace was meeting another Korean adoptee who was just starting a small organization called Also-Known-As.  Hollee said so eloquently, “you know, I am Hollee McGinnis also-known-as Yi Hwa-Young.”  That simple sentence was the beginning of my new quest – to find out who I was also-known-as.  I began the speaking circuit.  I spoke to anyone who would listen – adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, adoption agencies, Korean Americans.  In speaking and putting words to all my thoughts, I began to sit with more assurance  and dared to aspire to change people’s perceptions about the realities, challenges and triumphs of being adopted.  I decided to go back to school to get some meat behind my burgeoning identity as a professional adoptee.

I went to graduate school at one of the oldest schools of social work.  It’s reputation for vast internships and long history and the ivy league name attracts alot of do-gooders.  Most of the internships were in the area of families and children, foster care and adoption.  “Concurrent Planning” was the buzz word of that time.  I thought I would get AN EDUCATION and be able to find a community of like-minded others and learn how to critically think about the real issues.  I did get the chance to think and learned that every person comes from a system called family. Still, I felt a little jipped.  I found myself offended a lot of the time, in a position of teaching, challenging and became more frustrated.  From the paternalistic sense that with this degree I would be better able to make decisions for a mother and her child to the notion that it was sufficient that we merely acknowledge that race matters, I found myself constantly incredulous that I was in the right room.  I think the pinnacle for me was when an African American professor telling me that I could not use the word “transracial” in defining my adoption; that term was exclusively applied to a black child adopted into a white family.  I did not do well in that class.

I will concede though, graduating from that school opened doors and to the Korean people, it’s a big enough deal for me to be welcomed into their fray.  What I was frustrated about was that I was left hugely in debt and with the realization that adoption is not really understood by anyone, least of all my fellow social workers.  That got reaffirmed for me working in the field of adoption on a policy level, agency level and in post-adoption.  I have written about the crazy stuff that I have heard in this community already, so no need to go there again.

What has me more settled is that there are more and more adopted people choosing this profession as their own.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that one has to walk the walk in order to do good work.  You don’t need to have been a drug addict to be a good addictions counselor.  But I would like to see more adoptees who are living breathing examples of peace in the making to come forward.  I think if there were more than one adoptee on the board of directors of an adoption agency or organization perhaps the services we so desparately need will actually get funding.  Perhaps the mentality that “adoption is for children” will change to “adoption is about us.”  Perhaps the investment in adoption won’t always be about promoting and propagating adoption but creating networks and supports for every leg of the journey.

I no longer feel like the professional adoptee but the professional who is an adoptee.  The placement of these words makes all the difference.  The hard work has begun to pay off whereby the A-word is lower on my credentials and among my peers, it is a given not the exception.  And with my “list buddies” it is the compass that sets things right.