Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Year

This past year was pretty full.

I had my first birthday with my (first) mom. Well, sort of. We spoke, and she sent me a birthday card and gifts. It was probably the first birthday I had that I looked forward to.

I got to meet my other three biological brothers and spend more time visiting with my mom.

I sent several letters to my biological father, only to have them go unanswered and the last one returned unopened.

Ignoring the problems getting my biological father to respond to my attempts at communication, and the current difficulties with my (adoptive) mom, it's been a good year. I'm hoping the next year is a bit less complicated, and more straightforwardly good.

I'm also hoping Shelly has some luck with her own search.

Thank you all for reading this year. See you in 2009.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

christmas with the family

i am going to write a screenplay. a holiday family type thing. i know, it's been done. done to death. but, as i have told many an anxiety-filled teen or friend at this time of year: it's everyone! it isn't your crazy family. it isn't that you are particularly bizarre as a unit. it's a cultural thing. it's a US thing. there is a reason that all the already-existing "fucked-up-family-christmas" movies are disturbingly popular among the masses. it is a universal US American experience. and i am going to write a screenplay about the absurdity of it all. fiction, of course.

so after another six days of fun-filled family festivities with the family i already have, i am sort of back to wondering: do i really want to risk taking on another one of these?!

the paperwork is done. just have to write a check. but i think i will wait until my dad is out of the hospital. again.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Adoption and Vacation

Adoption itself came up exactly once during my visit with my (adoptive) family in Ohio. Christmas Eve, my brother came over to the hotel with his wife and their son. This was just before we would go over to my dad's extended family Christmas gathering.

My nephew said, "Uncle Phil, I know you are adopted." And I replied "I know it, too. Indeed, I'm acutely aware of that fact." My nephew is eight years old, so he probably didn't understand the implication in my words. He said nothing else, as the television was on and he is easily distracted.

That was it. There was no follow-up from his mom, who was in the room at the time. But it told me that his parents must have discussed my adoption at some point. I have no idea what they might have said. Maybe I should have used it as an opportunity to broach the subject with my sister-in-law and, when he returned to the room, my brother. But I didn't. It was so out-of-the-blue, and none of the adults seem interested in talking about it at all. So that it was it.

Having been in New York visiting my in-laws for a day and a half, I've already talked quite a bit about adoption with them. They seem very interested in my experiences and my reunion.

I also had the chance to go to an adoption support group meeting down in the Village. It was of special interest because Betty Jean Lifton was supposed to be in attendance. (She wrote Journey of the Adopted Self, for those that are unfamiliar with the name. One of the books I highly recommend.)

It was a good group. It always seems to help me, not just to talk about my own things, but to hear others working through some of the same issues. The support and shared experiences in that setting (and others - such as the forum online) are very helpful for me, I have found.

Lifton participated in the group. It was nice, actually, to have her simply as a participant, rather than a speaker. She gave her reactions to some of the stories that others shared.

I also got to talk with her for several minutes after the meeting ended. It was a little odd to be sharing some of my story with such a well-known author and therapist. But it was a good kind of odd, you know? We exchanged e-mails (as she did with others in the group) and asked us to keep in touch.

The difference between my time in Ohio and my time in New York (even though I've been in NY for only a day and a half) is the difference between night and day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mostly a Good Day

I had a good Christmas. I talked to my (first) mom right away this morning. Then I spent the rest of the morning with my (adoptive) father and siblings. Good breakfast, and fun watching the kids (my niece and nephews) opening gifts. For a little bit, the family was together. And it was nice.

Then my wife and I, as well as my dad, went over to his parents house and visited with them a bit. (We had had Christmas with that part of the extended family the night before, so not too many people were over.) Then we went over to my brother's house and spent the afternoon and evening there. My sister came over, too. (My other brother did not.)

It was a lot of fun, really. But when we passed out gifts to the kids (these from my adoptive mom), there was a gift for my wife and I from my mom. I tried to ignore it. It was just an envelope, so I set it aside.

Then, while we were playing cards, she called. My brother talked to her for a bit, and then he tried to hand me the phone, but I shook my head "no." She talked to my sister, and then they hung up.

For me, it cast a bit of a pall over the rest of the evening. I didn't talk about it, and just got back to playing cards. Neither my brother nor my sister said anything to me. I was grateful for that. But I still found myself upset with her.

I am angry, and I don't know how to stop being angry with her. I don't think I want to cut her out of my life. That doesn't solve anything. It doesn't make me feel better thinking about it. But I also don't know how to stop being angry with her. I expected the hurt to fade. But her not being here, her choosing to be elsewhere today, continues to bother me whenever I think about her.

The trip has generally been positive. I haven't been thinking about her much during this week. But today, there were just enough reminders that it was hard to ignore it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Adoptee Rights Day

They are working hard on the Adoptee Rights Day in Philadelphia in July.

They have a new logo up and the page seems to be updated almost daily. (I keep seeing updates on Twitter and Facebook.)

Here's the new logo...


You can click on the logo to go straight to the site. Check it out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bad Attitude

I'm home. And by home, I mean far away from any place that I might reasonably be expected to call "home."

I'm in the city where I spent the majority of my under-age years. (For reasons best left for another time, I don't feel right calling it my "childhood.")

I've spent time with my father. Good time, actually. We've gone out to eat a couple of times and had nice (and relatively light) conversation.

And I talked with one of my brothers. But I was too tired after the flight yesterday to go visit him. I'm sure I'll see him this week.

Today, my wife and I went to my old college town and hung out with friends of mine from those days. We're still friends, but I met them in college. Indeed, in some ways, I think of them as my third family. Sometimes maybe even my best family. We've been through a lot together. And I feel most at home with them, I think. I don't see them nearly enough. And these visits make my trips back to where I grew up all the more meaningful.

And now part of me is wishing I could just leave.

I mean, I want to see my siblings, and visit with my dad some more. But I feel so out of sorts. I feel so disconnected from everyone. And I came wanting to find a way to make this enjoyable. But I feel like I've got a bad attitude about it all.

Part of me is surprised that I'm still upset with my mother for not being here. I guess this really was the last straw in some ways. To be this upset with her for this long... It has cast this whole trip in a negative light.

But I don't think it's right that, because I'm upset with her, that I should suffer or make others suffer. I'm trying to enjoy myself, to be present for those people that are around. But it's hard to feel part of a family when you aren't staying with family, when you are staying in a hotel, driving around visiting people. It's hard to feel those connections when it all feels like an afternoon visit.

I know I need an attitude transplant. Or I'm going to return home with a worse feeling than when I came. But I don't know how to set this aside. As much as I've enjoyed the first two days, I just don't know how I'm going to stand another five.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas (a week early)

My (first) mom and I had Christmas tonight (Thursday night). We had each sent the other a box of presents. We opened our respective gifts and then called each other.

I had gotten her a t-shirt from the school I teach at (their school mascot is a dragon, and she has been doing a lot of research on dragons in literature) and a dragon figure. (I don't want to over-do it with dragons, but both of these things were things I had been wanting to give her for a long time.) I also gave her a copy of the film Wall-E from Pixar, probably my favorite film of this year.

She gave me J. K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard and a digital picture frame. She loaded a memory card with pictures of our extended family. She also printed out a family tree that she had been constructing (inspired by questions I asked at the beginning of our reunion). I was blown away. I just sat there, looking at all this information and these pictures. I was on a family tree. I have dozens and dozens of blood relatives.

Then we talked on the phone for three hours (until our cell phones ran out of battery charge). It was so nice to talk and swap stories and reactions to gifts and everything else we could think of. There is something so healing about talking with her. It was good.

I mentioned my (adoptive) mom not being home for Christmas and wished I could be visiting her (my first mom). And part of me wanted to talk about it with her. But I stopped myself. I didn't want her to tell me that I should understand, as that would upset me. At the same time, I didn't want to upset her. I didn't want to tell her how negative I was feeling about my (adoptive) mom, and I especially did not want to dig up the past. If she didn't dismiss my feelings, then she might very well feel guilty for giving me up in the first place. Neither reaction would have made me feel better. So I thought I should keep it to myself at this point.

It was just a nice time. It did make me wish I could be there for Christmas, but I'm trying to stay positive about this trip. And I know I'll get to talk to her again soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

I sent a letter to my (adoptive) mother. It was rather short, but it briefly explained that I was upset that she didn't come home for Christmas. That I was upset that I wasn't a priority for her.

It was the kinder, gentler, and thus shorter version I sent.

But the day before, I wrote a much longer, more explicit, and more emotion-filled letter. I didn't send that one. Maybe I will, at some point, send a version of that letter. It lays out, in some detail, all the things that preceded this disappointment.

I really felt like I was writing a break-up letter. I don't think I've written that emotional of a letter in more than ten years. It's scary to have written it. And scarier still to send it. I just needed to say something.

Well, I needed to get it off my chest, which is why I wrote the longer letter. The shorter letter that I actually sent came from the need to say something.

You see, my mom had been calling me. I last spoke to her when she told me she wasn't coming home. And the different emotions I've been feeling make me nervous to talk to her. I'm afraid I might say things out of anger that I can't take back. Maybe I should say some of these things, but I want them to come from a calmer place, if I do.

Well, I hadn't been returning her calls. And she started sounding anxious on messages. Indeed, after I had mailed the letter, I got a call last night that sounded very worried, indeed.

So I called my sister, who I knew had been talking to our mom, and asked her to tell my mother that I was okay, and that I had sent a letter she should be getting soon.

But I didn't tell my sister anything. I'm trying to keep my siblings out of it. I don't want them to be mad at her. And I don't want them to be mad at me.

I don't think I can just walk away. I'm not sure I would want to, even if I could. But I don't really know how to move forward, either. I guess I'll see how she reacts to my letter. We'll see.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Adoptee Rights Demonstration

I know it's the dead of winter where I am. We just survived a blizzard. But July 21st is only just over seven months away.

That's when adoptees will gather in Philadelphia to once again demand equal rights. I hope I can go, but I'm not sure. Still, everyone reported a good time last year. And it is an important cause for everyone who supports adoptees.

If you want to follow developments of the protest, go to the website:

Adoptee Rights Demonstration

Help out, contribute, attend. For all adoptees.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Guilt Cards

I've been trying not to rant about my (adoptive) mom not being home for Christmas. I mean, as I pointed out, it's not exactly adoption related. Though, to be sure, it has its connections. But, in the past couple of days, I've gotten some Christmas cards, heavy on the guilt.

The first is from my mom's older sister. In it, she felt the need to tell me how wonderful my mom is for being their for their sister.

This tells me that my mom must have expressed guilt or concern about me being upset about her not being there. And her sister decided to rise to her defense. I couldn't help but think "if my mom's doing such a wonderful thing, why isn't my aunt going down to help out, too?" And the answer is obvious. She has family back home that needs her. That comes first. So as much as she might wish she could be there, she recognizes her own responsibilities. And that is what my own mother seems not to recognize. Far from making me feel better about this situation, it simply annoys me that she said something to my aunt, and my aunt decided to defend her to me, in a Christmas card for goodness sake.

Then yesterday, I got the card from my mom. In it, she justifies staying there because my aunt is sick. She thanks me for understanding and hopes that I'll forgive her.

Again, this is a Christmas card. A Christmas card. Who does this sort of thing in a Christmas card?

She assumes that I understand, which I don't. And she implies an apology. But I wonder what she's apologizing for? After all, she doesn't seem to be sorry. She doesn't think she's done anything wrong. She believes that she is doing the right thing. She may be sorry that I'm upset, but she isn't willing to do anything to make me not upset. She simply defends herself. Against a charge that I haven't made (except, perhaps, by my silence). That's not sorrow or remorse. She just wants me to not be upset. But she thinks I'm wrong to be upset.

The more this sort of thing goes on, the more certain that I become that she is wrong. That she doesn't even understand why she's wrong. The more she does this, the less inclined I am to try to find a way to forgiveness.

I hope she stops. I hope that she just lets it be for a little while. I need to come to grips with the fact that she doesn't prioritize me. I need to find a way to be okay with the fact that other people will always come first. Maybe I can find a way to do that. But not if she keeps this stuff up.

Families are hard. They're hard for many people (if not everyone). And I know they can be hard whether or not adoption is involved. I could just really do without this drama right now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Is there a history of...?"

I just had a warm-fuzzy moment I just had to share.

I've been having some back issues and had an appointment today with a physical therapist. He was asking me questions about the pain, and I answered them as carefully as possible. And then, at one point, he asked if there was a history of back pain in my family.


I had just exchanged a couple of e-mails with my (first) mom and she told me that she and two of her sisters had had back problems. So I knew the answer to his question!!!

It's these little moments that both make me feel more normal than I ever have and make me realize just how abnormal I felt before.

Mind you, I still have back pain. And that sucks. But it just felt so good to be able to answer that question without my usual song and dance that basically comes to "I don't know."

It's one of those moments so many people probably take for granted, and I finally get to enjoy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Choosing Your Tribe

I follow Suzanne Vega pretty closely. She is one of my favorite musicians. Yesterday, she posted an article on They New York Times' Measure for Measure blog. In it she talks about her background, her heritage, and its connection to her music.

Which Side Are You On?:

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was raised in a half-Puerto Rican family and spent five years in East Harlem as a young child. At some point, when I was about 9 years old, I learned that my birth father was actually English-Scottish-Irish. Or white, as we used to say in my old neighborhood. Actually, anybody looking at me could probably tell that this was the case, but I felt I was the last to know, partly because I was treated by my Puerto Rican abuelita and my aunt and uncle as one of their own. I was proud, and still am proud, to be a Vega.

She talks about music identifying which tribe we've chosen to belong to. (She gives examples such as "goth, emo, hippie, punk, folk, alternative".) In general, it's a fascinating post.

It gets especially interesting as she includes a recording a song demo, a song that has never before come out, that she hasn't played for audiences. Given her background, it is probably no surprise that the song resonated for me, especially the first verse and the chorus:

"Daddy Is White (By Suzanne Vega, 2007)"

I am an average white girl who comes from Upper Manhattan.
And I am totally white, but I was raised half Latin.
This caused me some problems among my friends and my foes,
Cause when you look into my face, it’s clear what everybody else knows:

My daddy is white.
So I must be white too.
When you look into the mirror, what
Comes looking back at you?

If your daddy is white,
You must be white too.
When you look into the mirror
what comes looking back at you?

If you click on the link for the post (above), you can listen to the song yourself.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Card

I think I'm going to send my father a Christmas card. I thought about including a picture, but maybe that's too much. I'm not going to write much, and I'm not going to try to make him feel guilty for not writing. I think I just want to let him know I'm not going anywhere. Just because I haven't pestered him these past few months, doesn't mean I've forgotten him. I don't know if this is too little or too much. I still intend to show up on his doorstep at some point (maybe this coming spring?) if he doesn't write me back. But I figured keeping open that line of communication would at least keep me on his mind. I'm hoping that repeated reminders will weigh on him to the point where he might be open to at least a brief conversation or some such.

That's me, the perpetual optimist. *sigh*

Monday, December 1, 2008

NaBloPoMo and Adoption Month Are Both Over

Well, National Adoption month is finally over. I'm hoping that the news stories lauding adoption will drop off a bit.

National Blog Posting Month is also over. And as a result, I don't have to push myself to post every day now. Not that it wasn't fun. But I don't always want to feel like I have to post. One thing I have learned, though, is that I need to post here. It's good for me to write some of this out.

So I may drop off from posting every day. But I'm going to keep posting regularly. At least once a week again. And I hope to post more frequently than that. Every day seems a bit much (especially since I have another blog I try to post to nearly every day). And I may not always have adoption stuff to talk about. But I figure I can do at least one day a week. More when possible.

I know I've made the once a week promise before. But I'm hoping that the last month of regular updates will help me get back on track. Thanks for reading these last thirty days. And we're not going anywhere.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Today is the last day of NaBloPoMo. (More on what that might mean for this blog tomorrow.) I figured I should end the month with a few words about my feelings about the institution of adoption.

Long-time readers of this blog already can guess the general tenor of those feelings. Over the last year and a half, I have become even more negative about adoption. I used to think of it as something of a necessary evil that was treated by some people as a positive thing.

I long believed that what was needed was education. People needed to understand that adoption causes issues for the children who are relinquished. That we, as a society, should not be recommending adoption, but rather finding ways to help children who go through adoption. Above all, I wanted pro-life people to quit advocating adoption as an alternative to abortion. Their comments indicated a complete lack of appreciation of how adoption affects children. I thought that if adoptees could find a voice, and speak to the issues that adoption raises, we might change our approach to this very complicated social arrangement.

Since starting my reunion, and finding other adoptees, I've begun to despair. I quickly realized that I was behind the times. Other adoptees have been speaking out and trying to educate for years. Others have been advocating for equal rights for adoptees. In a way, that realization was made possible by another symptom of my adoption. I was isolated as an adoptee. I knew no other adoptees. I had no one to talk to about adoption (in a non-threatening environment). So I didn't know what other adoptees thought about this.

Upon finding others, and finding that they had, at least some of them, been working on these issues for years, I became discouraged. For it seemed that society in general had little interest in hearing about what happens to adoptees. Indeed, a whole movement (pro-adoption and anti-adoptee) was in full swing to keep birth certificates sealed from adoptees and to continue encouraging unfettered adoptions.

Further, the resistance to changing adoption, to hearing about the problems, I have seen and heard from those I have talked to about adoption made me wonder if it is possible to really bring about the necessary changes in adoption. Society seems too firmly entrenched in its notion that adoption is an uncomplicatedly good thing

It has brought me back to wonder what we are trying to fix. As long as adoption is seen as a way to create families, rather than as a way to help children in need, we are going to have these problems. There is disincentive to talk about the problems facing adoptees, and little interest in correcting those problems. We continue to act as though adoption should be treated as "normal," when it is anything but.

(In saying that adoption isn't normal, I do not intend to cast aspersions on adopted families. But if we pretend it's normal, we overlook the real challenges that adoptees and their families face. It is not to diminish the value of those relationships. It is simply to point out that an adoptive family is going to differ in significant and important ways from a family formed through biology.)

In the end, I have begun to wonder whether it makes sense to even try to fix adoption. I have always admitted that something needs to be done for children in need of families. But adoption, and society's attitudes toward it, encourage some of the biggest problems. Adoptees can have abandonment issues. Their identity is stripped from them. They can suffer from divided loyalties. The resistance to seeing adoption in its correct light is great in our society. Maybe it would be better to do away with adoption and find other ways to help children in need.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conflict of Interest

An item from my Google Alert on adoption caught my eye tonight. A couple in Pennsylvania apparently had its adoption of an infant fall through at the last minute. They discovered that the agency lied to the child's parents about a felony record for the prospective adoptive mother and about the prospective father's lack of interest in adopting a child. Apparently, the motivation was to adopt the child to another couple who paid more.

By any account, a horrific story. An unethical agency. And a lack of interest in how the decision to relinquish might be affecting the parents. But pretty much par for the course in adoption. Nothing I felt compelled to write about.

Until I go to this bit...

Couple deny allegations that led birth parents to halt adoption:

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a policy, research and education organization, said it's essential that an agency work for both sides.

'Good, ethical practices entails serving everybody's needs and means acting purely transparently in all regards,' he said.

Mr. Pertman was concerned that people might look at this example and think that all adoptions work this way.

Perhaps I should give Pertman a pass on this. And I don't really care to tear him down personally. But his comments reveal a lack of ethical sophistication that seems rife throughout the adoption industry.

It is NOT "essential that an agency work for both sides." Indeed, it is unrealistic to think that an agency CAN work for both sides. It is called "conflict of interest," and it is a thorny ethical issue.

When my wife an I went to buy our house, we were informed of the rules governing real estate agents. Our agent would work for us. The seller would have an agent working for them. That would avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. When we wound up bidding on a house being sold by an agent who worked in the same company, our agent made it clear that she could not assist us in the bidding process to avoid any ethical pitfalls.

Our society understands conflict of interest when it comes to buying and selling houses. But when it comes to the adoption industry, the norm is still to believe that somehow social workers are better than normal human beings, and aren't subject to conflicts of interest. We get conflicts of interest in the law, in business, and in medicine. But when it comes to adoption, when it comes to the unmet demand for healthy infants, we don't recognize that a conflict of interest can arise and try to protect both the parents and the prospective adoptive parents from the conflict.

This is merely a symptom of the failure to recognize the very real ethical complexities posed by our adoption industry. Until we face up to those realities, we won't see real change. A case like this is awful, but Pertman's reaction to it isn't strong enough.

When human beings are subjected to conflicts of interest, we will see ethical lapses. It's only a matter of time. Instead of chastising agencies to rise above the inherent conflict of interest we've put them in, we need to develop a system where both sides have their separate representatives that can advise them and advocate for them.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Ronni (my wife) said something to me in the midst of this drama with my (adoptive) mom not being home for Christmas. She described (accurately, I think) my feelings about my family as that of grief.

I think why this comment struck me so much wasn't that it was accurate (which it was), but that I had thought I had dealt with this particular grief already.

It is perhaps a feeling that most people have to go through at some point in their lives, whether adopted or not. It is the realization that your parents aren't perfect, that they are simply human, with all the foibles that implies.

Everyone makes that discovery at different points. For me, it was early on when my (adoptive) parents divorced. I was seven years old. My parents did their best after that, but the various things that happened around that time revealed their feet of clay. Through much of my childhood, and even into my young adulthood, I grieved that loss.

Sometime in grad school, after I had moved out of state, I felt like I came fully to grips with that. My parents and I began forming relationships that seemed sturdy, still between parents and children, but also between adults. I had achieved a kind of peace with their imperfections and thought I had gotten over whatever grief I had felt.

The lesson of this month (and one of the lessons of my reunion, I think) is that that grief will always be there, ready to resurface. Maybe it will wax and wane for the rest of my life. Maybe it will come up when things set it off. I don't know. But I do know it was naive to think it was gone.

For me, the grief seems to be caused by the feeling that my parents aren't willing to put their children first. That something else (their differences, their new spouses, their careers, etc.) always seems to pull them away. It's not because I'm adopted; it's true about all of the kids (in my mind, at least). Maybe I notice it more? Maybe I'm more sensitive to it? I'm not sure.

They aren't going to change. I just have to decide if I can find the ability to live with it, to accept that's how they are. If so, I need to remember that. I need to not expect more from them than they are capable of.

It's a lesson I need to relearn, I suppose. Maybe one I will need to learn again and again over my life.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

It's Thanksgiving Day. The one holiday where Ronni (my wife) and I don't go anywhere or do anything. We don't visit anyone. (We did once or twice, but it's not our usual routine.) And I'm sitting here, thinking about what I'm thankful for as an adoptee.

It's a dangerous topic. How many times, as adoptees, are we told, explicitly or implicitly, that we should be grateful for our adoptive families. We shouldn't have be grateful for our adoptive families. Other children are not told to be grateful for their families. So why should we have to feel that way?

But today, in thinking about what I'm thankful for, I'm hoping I can avoid those pitfalls.

You see, normally, on this day, I am thankful for my (adoptive) family. Not because I think, as an adoptee, I should feel grateful. I just generally appreciate them. Right now, I'm having trouble, at least with my mom, feeling uncomplicatedly thankful. So I'm leaving that aside today and trying not to think about it.

One thing I am thankful for, as an adoptee, is the ability to search for, and the fact that I found, my first mom. Our relationship over the past year and a half has brought me such peace it's hard to describe.

I am also thankful for such a wonderful online community to empathize with and share stories. The people that read here, the people at AAAFC, the people on Facebook... There are so many good people out there, both adoptees and first mothers, that I do feel lucky to have met so many of you.

I'm thankful for the slowly changing attitudes in our society. For the adoptees willing to speak out. For the minds being changed. It's frustratingly slow. But it does seem to be happening. Open records legislation seems to be getting consideration. Even when it's imperfect. And today, I'm willing to be thankful for the changes, as slow and as imperfect as they are.

I won't be thankful for being an adoptee. But as an adoptee, I can find a few things to be thankful for. And that is something.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bittersweet Associations

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, is my annual baking day. For the last six or seven years, I've baked my grandma's Christmas cookies. Not living at home anymore, and not always sure I can get home, I wanted those cookies. Those cookies that I grew up on. So I got the recipe from my (adoptive) mom, and started making them. It is, for me, something of a spiritual ritual, reconnecting with my past and with my grandmother, who passed away over a decade ago. (If you want to see the cookies, I've got pictures at Over A Candle.

This year, it didn't feel the same. It felt almost like a chore.

The cookies are somewhat difficult to roll out, and very time intensive. And usually it is a joy to do it. Now admittedly, this year, my back seems to be acting up, so I was feeling a bit uncomfortable while I was baking, but that wasn't the real problem.

The real problem is that, with all the time to think, and with all the reminders of my (adoptive) mom present in the kitchen (because she made these cookies every year), it was hard not to think about her. And it just reminded me of how upset I am about that whole situation. I kept running through conversations with her. Some where I yelled. Some where I just was upset. And some where I felt resigned.

Maybe it was a mistake to bake the cookies. It's not as though I need the sugar. And it just seemed to put this whole situation with Christmas back in the front of my mind. They still taste good. But there is something a bit bitter about the whole thing.

I hadn't really thought this would be a problem when I woke up this morning. But the cookies are already done. And this is part of my holiday tradition, even if it is connected to some ambivalent feelings right now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I've posted a few times about the language we use to describe the parents involved in adoptions. But recently, I was reminded that not every person who was adopted likes to be called an "adoptee." Part of me understands that, and part of me doesn't. Or rather, maybe I sort of understand it, but disagree with their reasoning. I'm not sure.

I may very well be wrong about this, but I think those who object to the term "adoptee" do so because they think it turns adoption into a disability. They want to claim that adoption is not a life-time situation, it's an event that happens and is over. Calling oneself an "adoptee" sounds like it has become a life-time affliction.

Of course, my problem with this (if it indeed represents some people's thinking on the matter) is that adoption IS a life-time situation. It is not the whole of my existence, but it is a crucial part of who I have become. Children of divorce are always going to be children of divorce. It may not define them, but it is certain important in discussing their formative years (assuming that that is when the divorce took place). Likewise, adoptees will always be adopted persons. Any effects of the adoption are life-long.

While I am never in favor of perpetuating someone's status as victim (it continues to disempower them), the problem here is not that the term "adoptee" connotes victimhood. Certainly it's true that adoptees do not have a say in what happens to them. Adoption is visited upon them because of circumstances outside their control, and often before they can even fully understand what is happening to them. But the point isn't that we are victims. The point is that this event can have deep and lasting impacts on our development and our emotional well-being.

Those who would do away with the term... those who would have us believe that adoption is a localized event that is over once the decree is final, would cover up those lasting effects. They would have us ignore the very real, very important complexities of adoption. They wish to perpetuate the myth that adoption is a simple proposition with no impact on the children who are subjected to it.

Unless we acknowledge the potential harms of adoption, I don't know how we ever hope to address them. For that reason, and so many others, I will continue to identify myself as an "adoptee."

Monday, November 24, 2008

If Only Some People Get Hurt?

Does it matter that not all adoptees dislike adoption? Does it matter that not all adoptees feel negative about their adoption?

I ask because some people seem to think that if we count up all the adoptees who feel good about adoption and it turns out there are more of them than those who don't, that somehow that means adoption is a good thing.

If enough people get hurt by something, shouldn't we question whether it's a good thing? Shouldn't we question if it's really a positive force? Shouldn't we question whether it's a practice we should continue?

I think I understand what's really behind the argument. I think that people who are pro-adoption (whatever that really means) believe that those adoptees who feel hurt by their adoption weren't really hurt by adoption at all. They believe that something else is wrong with us. Either we had a bad experience. Or we have bad attitudes. Or some such. It couldn't be adoption that did any harm.

Why should that be?

Why is it so hard to believe that taking children from their parents might have an impact on them? Why is it so hard to believe that changing their identity and creating a fictional identity might create difficulties to be dealt with? And why is it so hard to believe that refusing to acknowledge any of the complications introduced by adoption might lead to additional complications?

I think that's the inherent problem with self-proclaimed adoption advocates and those they label anti-adoption trying to talk. There is little by way of middle ground. If you acknowledge the difficulties of adoption, how do you continue to advocate for it? In order to continue to be an advocate for adoption, you have to dismiss the experience of many adoptees.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What I Was Looking For

When I started the process of searching for my first mom, the social worker at the agency asked me what I expected to find. I thought, very briefly, and gave the only answer I could. I told her that I expected to find out that she, my mom, was dead. The social worker seemed taken aback and said that she would hope for a better outcome. I told her that was good, one of us should be optimistic.

I was not looking for a mother. That much I was clear on in my own mind.

Why wasn't I looking for a mother? I think at earlier points in my life I would have been. I had such an odd relationship with my family. I spent much of my young adulthood distancing myself from them and replacing them with friends from school (in terms of who I relied on). It would have made sense to try to find another mother at that point in my life.

But I think it would have been unfair to her, my (first) mom, and I think it would have been dangerous for me. If I had been looking for a mother, and she had rejected me, I think that would have been devastating.

And that probably goes a long way towards explaining why I hadn't set out looking for a mother, and my response to the social worker's question. I was protecting myself. I'm sure there was some loyalty questions at issue. I never wanted to hurt my (adoptive) family. Whatever my issues are, I haven't wanted to hurt them. But I also didn't want to set myself up for pain and disappointment. Adoption has held enough of that for me.

By the time I did search, I had largely accepted my family situation. I didn't have to be happy with it, but I had made a peace (of sorts) with it. (I say of sorts because in the last six months or so, some of that peace seems to be undone.) So I thought I had achieved a certain dispassionate approach to my search. I was just looking for answers to questions about my origins.

But what surprised me was that I did find a mother. Maybe it shouldn't have surprised me. But it did. Our relationship may have been awkward at first, but that was as much as both of us trying not to step on each other's toes as anything else. The connection, familiarity, and even synchronicity was there right away. This woman was my mother; there was no doubt about that at all.

So I have two mothers. They both mean the world to me. They can both hurt me profoundly. But they also can both make me happy and feel loved. (I think those go hand-in-hand.)

I didn't start looking for a mother. Because I didn't want to hurt the one that raised me. But also because I didn't want to get hurt. Mostly, I didn't want to get hurt. I wanted to believe that it didn't matter what I found. I don't think that was true. (Not just because of my relationship with my mother, but because of how much my father's apparent rejection seems to have upset me.)

So it doesn't matter what I was looking for. What I found was so much more than I ever dared hope. Whatever the ups and downs that have followed, I wouldn't trade this relationship for the world.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Richard Bach wrote, in Illusions, about family. "The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof."

I found Illusions in high school. And many of the quotes from the book stuck with me. This one was one of the important ones.

As someone who often felt out of place in my family growing up, I often let my mind wander to my first mom.

When I got to college, the quote took on a different meaning for me. I found a group of friends that became my family. That shared my highs and lows. People I had falling outs with, and still managed to find our way back together. Because we belonged together. We are family. In some ways, my third family I guess. In other ways, my most important family. These are the people that knew me the best. That may still know me the best. I still keep in touch with these people. They matter so very much to me.

Respect and joy in each other's life.

As an adoptee, I have sometimes struggled with this quote mightily. I grew up under a roof with people who did not always feel like family, even while I loved them, and they, me. But we lacked that essential bond of respect and joy, it seemed to me. (Or maybe, as a child, I just didn't see it. But I don't think that's it.)

I found it with my college friends. The people I most want to visit, and spend time with. The people I miss terribly when they aren't around.

But there is a bond of blood, too. It's undeniable. Perhaps more so now that I've found that family. That first family. They didn't grow up under the same roof as I did. But they were always with me. They always have been. For good or for bad, they have been with me.

There is the family that "chose" me. (I have problems with that. Big problems. But leave it for now.) There is the family that I chose. And there is the family that no one chose, but it's there nonetheless.

It goes back to what I told a dear friend of mine, long since departed from this earth: "Home is where, when you go there, they want to take you in."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Secret Selves

One of the things that has always struck me about myself is how much I try to accommodate myself to my circumstances.

I have been thinking recently about how I don't feel as though I'm really myself around my (adoptive) parents. I think I would feel better about my visits home if I could be more myself around them. The problem is, I have trouble articulating what that is. I don't know what I would have to do differently in order to feel as though I were being "myself."

One of the things that my reunion has done (in part, anyway) is to undo some of the damage done earlier on. I have long been unsure of who I am, as though I lacked a well-defined sense of self. (I may have talked about this before, but I keep thinking about these things in new ways.) Meeting my original family, getting to know them and where I came from, has settled some things in mind.

Even that is hard to express, but I think it's made me more aware of when I'm not being genuine, when I'm putting on an act for someone else's benefit. It's as though my reunion put me back in touch with a part of me that I had long hidden from anyone, so they couldn't hurt me. So they couldn't see who I was, decide they didn't like it, and leave me.


I know that probably sounds pathetic. But I don't care. That's how I felt for so many years. I don't feel that way anymore. Or at least, I don't feel as strongly that way. It's not really that my mom gave me some explicit knowledge of who I was. It's that meeting her, knowing her, having her in my life, freed me up to get back in touch with that part of myself that got put away so long ago.

The reason this seems to impact my family more than anyone else is that I still try to relate to them the way I always have. Those patterns of behavior are pretty well entrenched. Breaking them seems so threatening, even though the reason for them in the first place seems to be gone (mostly).

Still, this is a better problem to have than not feeling like I know who I am.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What to do?

I can't believe I'm still talking about this. I mean, if I'm sick of talking about it, I can only imagine how sick you are of reading about it. But it's what's on my mind. I can't help it.

My thoughts on Tuesday night kept slipping back to the singular notion that I don't want to go home over Christmas now. This isn't just the impulse to stay home and look my imagined wounds. I would hope that I'm not that petty. It's that I worry that sitting in my mom's empty apartment for a week will be so disheartening and disappointing that it might send me on such a downward spiral that would make it difficult to want to visit the next time.

The trouble is, how to explain this to my first mom. While she empathized with the situation, she offered (helpfully, she believed) that my family is going through some hard times and might need me there. But that's just it. They don't need me. My brother has never leaned on me in his life. While they might all enjoy seeing me, I don't think they will be upset if they don't. And if I do go, I won't see all that much of them.

But I don't want to tell her that. I don't want to make her feel guilty or anything. This particular problem with my family isn't because I'm adopted. Not really. I want a kind of closeness in my family that they just don't have with each other. This has long been a source of disappointment for me. My reunion just brings it all up again as I can't help but wonder if things might have been different.

But my current problems aren't really about whether to go visit my first mom instead of going to my adoptive family. It's about whether to visit them because it might just be too depressing to go now.

Initially, my loyalty kicked in, and I wanted to go because I ought to, for them. But I can't help but wonder who I'm going for. I asked my wife if any of them would be really upset if I didn't go. And she found it hard to find anyone who would be really upset. So if I'm not going for them, and I'm not sure I want to be there, who am I going for? Why am I going at all?

I don't know how to resolve this. But I hope I do. I want to write about something else. Anything else. But right now, it's hard to think about anything else.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


One of the struggles I've had in the last year or so is being told by others who my mother is. I keep hearing others (whether APs or others who think positively about adoption) say that mothers are the ones that are always there for you. Your mother is the one that picks you up when you fall, kisses your scrapes and bruises, and generally is there for emotional support.

I struggle mightily with that. If that's what a mother is, then did I really have one? My first mom relinquished me. And my second mom left when I was seven. (I know she didn't want to. My father sued for divorce and got custody. But she left nonetheless. And it's not as though my first mom WANTED to leave me either.) So by that wacky definition, I didn't have a mother because no one was there for me in that way.

But I have defended both of them, sometimes vehemently. Both of them loved me. Both of them wanted to be there for me. But circumstances wouldn't allow it.

And yesterday, when I talked to my mom (my adoptive mom) on the phone, it felt like another betrayal. I wanted my moms so much when I was younger. And I wanted them to make it better. And they didn't. They couldn't. And while I understand, sort of, it is an intellectual understanding. The emotional side of me, my gut, doesn't understand. It never did. And maybe it never fully will.

I assumed my mom had been calling me about my brother's loss. I had just found out in a message from my father. So that's what I assumed. When she told me that she wasn't coming back for Christmas, I was taken completely by surprise. Even more, she assumed that I had guessed that already.

What bothers me is that I didn't guess it. That after all this time, I still hoped that things might be different. That things might be better now. After all this time, I still had a shred of optimism left.

Do I still? Did that kill it? I don't know. I would have thought I was incapable of being disappointed anymore. But last night showed me that I'm not. At least I wasn't. Maybe I'm still not. I still want them to be something they can't be, that no one can be. I still want them to be perfect.

I guess that's something everyone wants from their mothers. I don't know how to stop hoping for that. And I don't know if it's good to stop. But it hurts so much every time I'm reminded that it isn't possible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I'm just devastated. I just talked to my mom, and she won't be home for Christmas. So my dad wasn't sure we were coming. And my mom won't be there. And now I'm going to be visiting an empty apartment.

So I'm feeling sorry for myself. And with some reason, I should add.

But I also feel guilty about it. Because I know my mom didn't do it on purpose.

And on top of that, my brother (one of my adopted brothers) and his girlfriend lost their baby. I just found out about it. He was born way too early and didn't make it. They are devastated. And I feel for them. And feeling sorry for myself feels so selfish right now.

I just hate all of this. I feel rotten for my brother. And I feel rotten for myself. It just hasn't been a good day.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Some adoptive parents seem so threatened by the idea that the first parents are real parents that their adoptees may love and even consider parents. They may say this outright. (I've seen adoptive parents say things like "I'm the real parent.") Or they may simply imply it with the language they use. (In some cases, the language they use, the "birth" qualifier for instance, may be used because that's what they've been told by adoption workers. But some continue to use it after the problems have been pointed out.)

The whole issue strikes me as strange, and perpetuates one of the most unfortunate myths of adoption: adoption is no different than having your own child. This isn't true, and we, as a society, need to get over it if adoption is allowed to continue. (And for me, that's a pretty big "if.")

Let's start simply. Parents can have more than one child. And, if they are to be believed, they can love more than one child. But if that's so, why can't adoptees love more than one mother or father? Loving one set of parents doesn't rule out loving another set. And, it seems to me, there is no reason to think that we shouldn't consider all of them real parents.

The only reason I can imagine for not accepting this is that, while it's normal for parents to have more than one child, it's not normal for children to have more than one set of parents.

But the only reason this counts against considering all of them real parents is because we are trying to make adoption fit our understanding of "normal." We want to believe adoption is a perfectly normal way to form a family, so we have to pick only one set of parents to call "real." The others are consigned to the trash heap.

But adoption isn't normal. And there are no good reasons to think the standard categories apply. In adoption, four parents conspire to bring a child to adulthood. You cannot eliminate the biological parents and still have a child. Adoption forces us to rethink the way we order the world. And thinking that the old rules apply, where there are two and only two parents (if ever such a rule really applied), ignores the basic fact of adoption.

(Many parallels occur to me regarding divorce and remarriage, incidentally, which also serve to undermine the standard "I only have two parents" paradigm. But I won't belabor the point anymore.)

Mostly, I find it offensive that people assume I couldn't love more than one mother or one father. I am able to love two parents. Why is it so hard to believe I could love three or four? Certainly my relationship with my first mom is no threat to the relationship with my adoptive mom.

But to hear some talk about it, I should have to choose one or the other. The only reason ever offered seems to be the implicit assumption that how I feel about one person must threaten how I feel about another.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

National Adoption Day

National Adoption Day has come and gone. There have been many stories about the joy felt by families across the country.

Of course, there are no stories (that I've seen) about the harm of adoption. No sense of what these children have lost.

We celebrate (and by "we," I mean "they") the positive. And hope that the children never talk about the negatives. Never talk about what was lost. Never wonder where they came from. Never think about the lies written on a piece of paper about who gave birth to them.

And when those children do speak up, they are expected to be grateful. If they hadn't been so luck to be abandoned by their parents, they might have wound up an abortion. That's what we are told.

Abortion. The great mallet to hit people over the head with that might raise doubts about the benefits of adoption. Never mind that they are separate issues. Since I could have been aborted (though, truly, I couldn't have been... my mom didn't even know about abortion), I am expected to be happy and thankful I was adopted. And I should be quiet, so as not to ruin it for everyone else.

I, for one, am glad that children who were in foster care have some permanency in their lives. In as much as National Adoption Day raises awareness of the needs that children have, I'm all for it. But that's not what gets talked about this day. We hear talk about "forever families" (whatever that means), and the happiness experienced by the new parents.

But we don't talk about the legal fictions that are created on this day. We don't talk about the wounds formed by adoption. These subjects are still taboo in our society. They might hurt someone's feelings, after all.


It's a day to celebrate lies and bury the truth. It's a sad day. But we don't hear about that. Those of us who live adoption every day are told to shut up, sit down, and be grateful. How can I celebrate that?

Saturday, November 15, 2008


It was a philosophy conference. People present papers they have previously written. Then the audience asks questions. The hope is that interesting dialogue will ensue. And, ultimately, we all learn a little something.

It was the last talk of the conference. I was intrigued by the title of the paper (which I won't share here - it was mundane enough, but I don't want to give out any identifying information). So I sat, waiting to see what would unfold.

The woman began. She was upfront that her experiences may very well have colored the way she views the world. And the way she views the world was the subject of her talk. So she wanted to begin by sharing a little something of her biography.

For reasons I cannot quite explain, my suspicions were already raised. Maybe because I knew that my own biography has so colored my view of the world, and that adoption was a big part of that lens. But still, I thought it a tenuous connection, so I tried to put it out of my mind. This wasn't my paper, wasn't my biography.

Then, as she began, she said the words that told me everything I needed to know. She mentioned, as the first thing out of her mouth, that she had two loving parents. And I knew. I knew she was adopted. Moments later, she confirmed it, as she said she had been adopted as an infant.

At that point, it seemed redundant. Of course she had been adopted. As I told this story to Ronni later, she said she wasn't surprised. That it seems, to her at least, that few people who aren't adoptees go out of their way to mention idyllic family lives.

In any event, though she never mentioned adoption the rest of the talk, I couldn't get it out of my mind. She was adopted. And part of me wanted to talk about it with her after the talk. But I decided not to. It hadn't been the point of her talk. And I also didn't know how she felt about adoption. If she had nothing but positive feelings about adoption, then it would be better to keep my mouth closed

So I said nothing. And I was distracted the entire talk. Adoption seems to follow me everywhere. And I am, once again, amazed at how much adoptees telegraph that they are adoptees.

Friday, November 14, 2008


People who have something to say sometimes get side-tracked. Maybe they get side-tracked because of they haven't really thought out what they want to say carefully enough. Sometimes they get side-tracked because of the reactions they receive from others.

As a teacher, I occasionally get questions from students during a lecture which send the discussion off on a tangent. Sometimes I let it. Sometimes it gets away from me. And sometimes I have to bring it back around to the topic at hand.

But for me, in talking about adoption, probably the fastest way to get me side-tracked is by telling me how I feel isn't how I should feel.

This is a common communication problem. Constructive communication skills are hard. They require patience and care. I'm not often very good at them. And I'm not alone in this.

I'm taking longer than usual to get to my point, but here it is. When I talk about adoption, when I explain how I feel about adoption, I'm not always looking for an argument. Sometimes, I'm just looking to be heard and acknowledged. I understand that I sometimes say things that may be hard to hear. But I try not to make my feelings general, and assert that all adoptees feel the way I do. But what I feel is real. It matters. And it has to do with adoption, and not with some mental defect that someone thinks I have.

My mom (my first mom) seems to have understood this. Whatever I have said about my feelings about my adoption, she hasn't contradicted me, she hasn't tried to tell me that it was for the best. She simply listened. She acknowledged that I feel that way. (She has gone further and echoed some of my sentiments in her own way.) And I, for my part, haven't tried to make her feel badly for having relinquished me. I'm not mad at her, and I don't want her to feel guilty about her decision, even while I don't like it at all that much. (This sort of cognitive dissonance exists on the other side, too, that while I love my adoptive parents, and I'm glad I have them in my life, I don't like adoption. It's crazy what this does to a person.)

I wonder, now and then, how differently conversations might have gone if I had just felt listened to. I don't expect everyone to feel this way. But the reactions from some people are so incredibly dismissive that it amounts to not listening at all. And when I don't feel listened to, I tend to become more reactionary and polarized, unable to listen to others in return. It's a nasty, vicious cycle.

I try to remind myself of that; I try not to fall into that cycle. I don't often succeed. And I console myself with the fact that they weren't listening to me anyway, so why should I try? But if I'm not going to try, then why bother speak at all? I try to believe that slow, calm repetition of salient points and observations will eventually get through, where snide and nasty won't. But it's hard to believe that in the face of being dismissed out of hand. Still... I try.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Family Values?

I'm going to step back from my own stuff tonight. There was another story about the horror that is Nebraska's safe-haven law. And I just had to get it off my chest.

I have serious problems with safe-haven laws in general. Those who are likely to use safe-haven laws are not the parents that are going to leave the infant in a dumpster. They are parents that would find another way if there weren't safe-haven laws. Further, they allow parents to walk away without leaving any information that might help the child down the road, and without even proving that they are, in fact, the parents.

But Nebraska's law is really a piece of work. It allows parents to drop off children of any ages. The law-makers were warned. And they didn't listen. The results were entirely predictable (indeed, were predicted):

Sure enough, 20 teenagers - six 17-year-olds, two 16-year-olds, six 15-year-olds, three 14-year-olds, three 13-year-olds - have been abandoned, along with eight children who were 11 or 12. Five of the children dropped off have been from out of state.*

Now Nebraska is changing the law to fix this nasty mistake (nasty even by safe-haven standards). And parents are dropping off kids while they still can.

And all I can do is sit here and wonder what sort of family values we have where we allow parents to walk away from their children? Where we care about life (ostensibly), but not about any of the things that make life livable? We don't care about identity or history. We don't care about food, clothing, or shelter. We just want to make sure the kids are alive. But we don't care about the quality of that life. We don't care about the harm that we do to them. We slap another set of parents over the wound, and pretend it's all better.

We create whole structures to take care of these kids in body. And we pretend that's all that matters. We ignore the spirit, the soul. We ignore the emotional harm that we permit. And we refuse to acknowledge it.

It's sad. It's sick. And if I could find someone to yell at right now, someone who deserves it, I would. Because I cannot imagine what it will take to make people really listen to the children, now all grown up, who have suffered because of some twisted sense of what they need.

* Neb. parents rush to leave kids before law changes

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Adoption Everywhere

It seems like every show I watch does an adoption story line (and I don't just watch soap operas). Nearly every week seems to bring another news story about adoption. (Those are the stories that just show up; not the stories that I go looking for.)

I don't know why. Am I just more sensitive to it? Is adoption just receiving more attention? I'm not sure.

But there are a number of examples of things that have been in my life for years (decades even!) that I am only now beginning to see adoption in. I'm sure in many cases that this is simply over-sensitivity.

And yet, I'm still struck by the themes that seem so relevant to adoption. Monday, as I was driving to my Search and Reunion support group, I heard a song I haven't heard in a long time. And I was struck by how much it resonated for me with adoption.

"Are We Ourselves" by The Fixx

Lost feelings return
So now maybe I can learn
To stop the world of a lie
This time around

Are we, are we, are we ourselves
Are we, are we, are we ourselves

Because seen through these eyes
We lead a double life
No one would know
So check it out
Stepping out
Here I go

Are we, are we, are we ourselves
Are we ourselves
And do we really know

Most spirit returns
Now maybe we learned
To stop this whirl of a lie
To this earth we are bound I ask you

Are we, are we, are we ourselves
Are we ourselves
And do we really know
Ooh do we know
Are we ourselves

When this song came out, it expressed for me something primal. I didn't know who I was. I wanted to know who I was. Lies and lost identity. I didn't connect it with adoption at the time, but that theme dominated so much of my life. And here it is in a song from my adolescence. A favorite song from that time. My mind knew, even if I didn't.

Lies and lost identity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Do I Do This?

Why did I tell myself that it would be a good idea to update two blogs every day for a month? More importantly, why did I think I should update my adoption blog every day for a month?

I do much more "navel-gazing" here that on my other blog. So why do that for a month?

One reason that I wanted to do this to myself is that I hadn't been processing any of this stuff over the last couple of months. My lack of posting here wasn't just that I was terribly busy. I was avoiding thinking about these issues much. Committing to a post a day forces me to think about adoption, and my issues with it. That doesn't mean that I want to only post about my own inner turmoil for a month. But writing here makes me think about it. And it makes me process. And in the end, that's good for my mental health. (At least, I hope so.)

I also recognize that short little essays on adoption don't do the topic justice. They provide hints of the deeper stuff going on below the surface. But adoption is complicated enough that it requires some discussion to start to unpack all the issues. I keep hoping I can find some way of getting at the underlying issues here. Not that I think there aren't good discussions of it out there (though far too few), but the more I think about it, the more complexities I see.

I don't know. Maybe it's not worth the effort. But I figure that if I'm getting some benefit from this, then it's a good thing. I hope it's helpful for others. And I'm always happy when I succeed in helping someone else understand. I guess my writing is usually for me, first and foremost. It's how I get understanding. When I start writing, I find out things about myself. It gives me clarity. And sometimes, peace of mind.

Adoption has been so much a part of me. For my entire life. It's not the whole of who I am. But understanding adoption is important for me in understanding myself. Hence this blog. And now, this month. I hope it's not a waste for anyone. But so far, I think it's been good for me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Adoption, or Not Adoption

Thinking about all the internal upheaval surrounding my family (adoptive) and going home for Christmas... I know that so much of this has little or nothing to do with adoption.

That's the real struggle in all of this... Trying to tease out what goes back to adoption, and what goes back to just being part of a family. And I realize much of my struggles with my family are due to just being part of the family.

I think that's why it gets so tricky talking about the negatives in adoption. People want to dismiss my perspective (sometimes) on the grounds that I had a negative experience. But I don't think of myself as having had a negative adoption experience. My adoptive parents love me. They certainly didn't make a big deal about my adoption. Indeed, the only thing I think they could have done better regarding the adoption is by being more open to talking about it.

But that doesn't mean I don't have issues with my family. I know that I do; it's just that it's not really traceable back to the adoption itself. (I suppose it's possible that some of these things wouldn't bother me if I were biologically related, but I have no real evidence for that.) If I talk about those issues, people can dismiss me just having had a bad experience. But I didn't.

I don't like adoption. But it's not because of my experiences growing up.

I think why some of these issues with my family have started to seem connected to adoption for me is that my reunion has brought a lot of these emotional issues to the surface. I'm revisiting feelings and reactions that I never really put to rest before, at least not permanently.

There is so much baggage to deal with. It would be a mistake to lay it all at the feet of adoption. But it would also be a mistake to think that adoption is somehow, for all of that, not complicated and without major problems.

It never ends. It just changes shape.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


When I called my dad to talk about the holidays, he said he wasn't even sure we were coming home. He may have still been upset had we not, but he didn't seem to expect it.

My mom hadn't been home when we visited the last holiday season. She was called away to help take care of her sister, who is suffering from a terminal illness. When I called her to talk about the holidays, she mentioned that she might have to go back to help her sister, but she didn't expect it to happen until after the new year.

Last night, I got a phone call that my mom is heading out of town to help her sister. She said she expected to be back before we come to visit.

But she expected that last year, too.

I know I'm being selfish. My aunt is dying. And she and my mom are very, very close.

But I feel like we sacrifice to come home. And I feel like that even more this year. And I just want her to make some time for me, to be there for Christmas.

I feel awful for feeling this way. But if she isn't there for Christmas, my disappointment will be crushing. And I don't feel good about that, because it will mean my aunt has gotten even worse.

I know it isn't right. But to find out that she might not be there after all... I just feel really upset, as though I'm not as important to her. And that just feels really selfish to me. But I don't know how to feel differently.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hard Choices

For various reasons, I had begun to think about going to spend Christmas with my biological family, rather than my adoptive family. I wanted to meet my biological grandmother (who turned 91 this year). And I wanted to meet my aunts and uncles. And a cousin who had been adopted and just reunited with my aunt.

There was a lot pulling me to visit. But it was pulling against thirty-plus years of living up to my adoptive family's expectations. Mind you, I wasn't sure they were expecting me to come home, but I thought maybe they were. And I didn't want to disappoint them.

A week ago or so, we had to make plans for our holiday travels. And I still had remained unresolved, hoping that a solution would present itself. None did. And I had to make a choice. So I took the path of least resistance. We're going to visit my adoptive family as usual.

Yesterday, I e-mailed my mom (my first mom) to tell her we weren't going to be able to come down this year. She didn't expect me to. But I had hoped. And I felt awful that I wasn't.

She e-mailed me back to reassure me that she completely understood, and she didn't want me to feel badly about it at all. She didn't expect me to come down and interrupt my traditions with my family.

But while I feel badly about possibly letting her down, I knew she wouldn't hold it against me. I feel badly because I WANT to go down. I feel badly because I want to be there, and I don't feel as though I am free to do what I want. I am still reacting liking a selfish three-year-old who wants everything his way.

This never seems to get easier. Just one hard choice after another.

Maybe next year.

Friday, November 7, 2008


In other on-line venues where I participate, there is a lot of polarization. (I'm looking at you, Yahoo! Answers.) I have become, over the last year, more anti-adoption than I ever was before. I have always struggled with adoption, and always thought it should be treated as much more complex issue than it is (at least in society at large).

Many (I won't say "all") adoptive parents react negatively to the suggestion that adoption is not simply a good thing. They believe that they are doing a good thing. And they don't want anyone bursting that bubble. Adoptees who view adoption with ambivalence (or worse) are often dismissed in such discussions.

For me, that's when the polarization really begins. I find myself becoming increasingly negative about adoption in reaction to the repeated assertions that it's a good thing, that I'm just a negative person.

There is much I could say about those conversations (and maybe I will), but one thing that winds up happening is that it begins to seem as though I don't like adoptive parents as a group.

That's a mistake. There are a number of adoptive parents that I have a great deal of respect and affection for. Not the least of whom are my own adoptive parents.

Though I don't like adoption, I don't think adoptive parents are bad just because they adopt. Indeed, while I may disagree with their decision, I respect their decision. My interest is only to make them more aware of the real impact that adoption can have on the children they have adopted. That they have a lot of work to do to help their adoptee through what can be a difficult process. And that they need to understand that process doesn't end just because the judge approves the adoption. It never ends. And that they need to understand there isn't some magical fix for the issues that come up. Adoptees will always be adoptees. And that carries with it many implications.

I suppose I do lose patience, sometimes. It seems that I am constantly fighting misconceptions and oversimplifications when it comes to adoption. At some point, I do wonder when it becomes the adoptive parents' responsibility to educate themselves about all of this.

But I see so little discussion of the problems inherent in adoption. Society still does not want to face up to this issue. Prospective adoptive parents are not likely to stumble upon such discussions. A recent book discussing how to adopt even suggested that it was up to the parents as to whether they tell the child that he or she is adopted! There is so little good information out there. So how much can I expect PAPs or APs to know?

And yet, it feels like a never-ending struggle. I can tell my story over and over again. And there are always new people wondering why I hate adoption. At some point, it gets tiresome.

I wish I knew a better way to get this information more widely disseminated.

age-regression photos

i joined an adoption writers website. i don't really know why i did that, just seemed like the thing to do. i haven't spent much time on the site, but in my very limited experience with it, it seems to be a lot of adoptive parents and PAPs. there was an entry by an adoptive mother on one of the discussion boards that absolutely stunned me. since i am too new (and not really a writer-- at least not yet) i decided that the right place to vent my reaction to the post would be here, on my own blog. i tend to be a bit abrasive at times, but even i know that i should probably not alienate the majority of members in my very first post on a strange new site.

the entry was about age-regressed photos for older adoptees. the woman was apparently devastated by her 4-year-old adopted daughter's sadness about not having her baby photos in the family album. rather than allowing this to be a part of the process of this child's self-understanding and affirming the truth of her life experience, this mother had a photo made of what her daughter *might* have looked like at age one. the 4-year-old was delighted, of course. she's four! not exactly old enough to understand the perpetuation of falsehoods and myths that continually surround the adoption experience. not old enough to comprehend that the creation of a false image can only serve to remove a child even further from her own reality. not old enough to know that encouraging the continued denial of the fact of adoption can and will serve to shame her and confuse her about her own story.

but this mother is old enough. old enough to understand that meeting a momentary need of a four-year-old who doesn't understand her situation by creating a tangible lie can not be part of the process of understanding that in her life story, bits are missing and will always be missing. this can be accepted, discussed, affirmed and honored, or it can be shrouded in shame, denial and lies.

when this child grows up and learns the details of her story, where is this photo going to fit? how will she feel about it? i am sickened by the whole idea. if any adoptive parents read this blog, please consider the degradation of real life experience that this photo-shopping option represents and don't jump on that band-wagon when it comes through town.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I was thinking about my "Curiosity" post from a few days ago. I really don't know what being an adoptee is like.

I mean, I know what it's like to be me.

But growing up, I didn't know anyone else who was an adoptee. (Or, if I knew someone, I didn't know that they were an adoptee.) So I never talked to another adoptee about what their experiences were like. So I don't know what about my experiences are unique to me, and what are common to other adoptees.

I have since met many wonderful adoptees on-line, and I have had some reassurance that my experiences aren't all due to something weird about me.

However, I still feel some uncertainty about my own views about adoption. I still feel isolated from others around me. They aren't adopted. And I don't feel certain about my own views of my experiences. Did adoption do this (whatever "this" is) to me? Or is something peculiar about my own psychology?

I think this is one of the real harms of adoption (one I hope has improved since my time): by encouraging adoptive parents not to talk about adoption, by keeping the secrets, adoptees don't talk about what's going on. And they don't talk to other adoptees. So they wind up feeling all alone.

Of course, I don't know if that's just my experience or not. *sigh*

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Mother

I said two days ago that I thought I could say why finding my mother was so important to me.

And looking over this blog, I realize that five months ago I said that I wasn't certain why finding my mother was more important to me than finding my father.

Which I suspect goes to show that I should think before I speak. Or perhaps it shows that my own thinking about adoption get so confused sometimes that I'm not certain of much of anything.

But I want to put my comment to the test and see if I can explain why finding her was important to me.

It is more than curiosity. Of course I was curious. (As I suggested yesterday, I cannot imagine NOT being curious.) But I know it was more than that.

Is it too simple to say that I was missing something?

I mean, of course I was missing something. I was missing my mother. I was with her for nine months. Then she was gone.

Does this mean that my (adoptive) family did something wrong? Was there something they could have done to make me not miss my mom?

I don't think so. I don't think they did anything wrong. And I don't think there is anything they could have done differently.

The more I think about it, as I sit here writing, the more I think maybe it is difficult to put into words what I was missing. Our mothers provide safety and security before we have language. Articulating the anxiety caused by being separated from one's mother is perhaps impossible. What words would suffice for the purpose?

My family certainly provided for me and gave me emotional support. But it doesn't change that I missed her. And I know that when I found her again, I didn't feel like an adult. I felt like a child. I felt like I regressed to a young age.

That feeling didn't last. But I still feel comfort when I hear from her. And I still miss her when I haven't seen her in a while. And I feel anxious (and something akin to homesickness) when we say goodbye after a visit.

Ugh. This isn't simple. It's not a reflection on my family. I just missed her. I still miss her, but at least now I can call or write her.

And for that, I am thankful.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Are adoptees simply more curious?

Well, some adoptees?

I've been told, by a few adoptees who don't want to search, that they know who they are and they were never interested in finding their biological parents. They are, they say, content.

The temptation is to say that they are in denial. They really do want to know, but because of loyalty or other issues, they've suppressed that desire. They are trying to be the good adoptee, who wouldn't do that to their adoptive parents.

Maybe that's true.

But I'm not fond of guessing what's in someone else's heart. If they claim they aren't interested, then I'll accept their word on it.

But it begs the question: why? Why aren't they more curious?

I mean, who wouldn't want to know where they came from? Maybe, for various reasons, some won't act on that. As both Shelly and I can attest to, it's not an easy thing to do, searching for your parents. But I always wanted to know, even when I wasn't doing anything about it. I couldn't help but wonder.

I always knew that there were things about me that must have come from my biological parents. Interests, traits, looks. Knowing something about them would fill in gaps in my own story. How could I not want to know?

But some people claim not to want to know. Not just that they wouldn't search because of fears or worries or loyalty. They claim to not want to know.

I can't understand that. Maybe it's not important that I understand it. But I am trying to understand the difference between adoptees who search and those who don't. And this lack of curiosity seems important to understanding this difference. But so far I'm at a loss.

If anyone has any light to shed on this, I'd be very interested.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I haven't thought about my biological father in a while.

Well, that's not completely true. Every time I come home from work and then check the mail, I wonder if he's finally come around and written me.

So far, nothing.

But what I meant was that I haven't done anything about contacting him myself. He sits on the back-burner of my life, always there, but never taking center-stage.

And that bothers me.

I think it says something about my attitude about my fathers. Maybe it even says something about how our society thinks about fathers. But mostly, I think it says something about me.

If pressed, I suspect I could say something about why finding my mother was so important to me. That need exists at an emotional level, but I think I could find some words.

When it comes to my father, I don't know what I want. A letter would be nice, I suppose. But is it important to me? If so, why don't I do something more about it? What about him matters to me?

Is all of this born from my distrust of men? Do I just not expect much from him, so it doesn't even occur to me hope for something from him?

I don't have answers to these questions. Independent of his own apparent rejection of me, I don't know what I think of him. I'm not always sure why I think of him.

He exists not as a positive presence in my life. He exists merely as an absence, a void. And confronting that void is frightening in some way. Whether because I'm afraid of what I will find or because I'm afraid I will find I don't care, I can't say.

And until I confront these issues, I don't think I will be able to say.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A PAP on House

I like the TV show House. A lot. It may be my favorite show on television at this point.

So I was distressed, a couple of weeks ago, when I saw that Dr. Lisa Cuddy, the chief of medicine at the hospital on the show, was going to become a single, adoptive parent. The previews for the episode that aired this past week (Tuesday, October 28th) made it clear that Cuddy was getting "her" baby. I was worried.

I just watched the episode from the 28th yesterday. (I teach Tuesday nights, and the week was busy. So I didn't get to watch the recording until then.) I almost didn't watch the show. The adoption stuff that's been happening on another TV show, Heroes, has annoyed me. I wasn't sure I could take it on House as well.

But I watched. And I couldn't help but wonder how adoptive parents might have viewed the episode. There was a lot I disliked. But in the end, I wasn't too bothered. I thought the show handled a lot of things in a rather complex way. But in the end, I think it portrayed Cuddy in a bad light.

That's not a complaint. If anything, I thought it showed some of the entitlement that seems too common among some PAPs.

For instance, the mother was in the hospital, sick. She was due to deliver in a few weeks, but Cuddy had admitted her (yes, the episode was rife with conflicts of interest). At one point, the mother looked sheepishly at Cuddy and asked if she, Cuddy, was mad at her. Cuddy replied, "If you done everything right in your life, I wouldn't be getting a baby."

Here they were showing some of the worst stereo-types of first mothers. (She had been a meth user.) Yet they were also putting some rather insensitive dialogue into the PAP's mouth. Probably both sides could complain. I, as the adoptee, was a little horrified at it all.

It gets worse, of course. The mother has to choose between risking her own life, or delivering the baby early, before it's ready. Cuddy, in a moment that makes the ethicist in me cringe, pleads with her not to deliver the baby, but to continue to risk her own life so that the child has a better chance to survive. Cuddy says, "You have the chance to break the cycle, to do something great for this baby."

Of course, she doesn't mention here that doing something great for the baby means relinquishing her (the baby) to Cuddy. There seems to be no sense that by abdicating responsibility for the child, in giving her away, that she is continuing the cycle of people not taking responsibility for their actions. To truly break the cycle would mean to parent, and work at meeting that obligation.

All told, three-fourths of the way through the episode, I was pretty upset by everything. I like Cuddy's character. So I'm predisposed to root for her. But this was too much. Any respect I had for her had probably melted away within the first ten minutes of the episode. And I just got more and more upset. The only reason I kept watching was because of the other things going on.

But then, right at the end, just before it happened, I realized where they were taking the story. The mother, who had earlier in the episode called herself a loser to explain why she was giving up her child, said she didn't want to be a loser. She wanted to parent. And Cuddy, in a moment of weakness, cravenly pleaded with her not to change her mind, "Becca, please don't do this."

Despite how upset I was with her, I could see Cuddy was shaken, and I found myself feeling a little sorry for her. But I was also cheering the mother's decision. It was going to be hard and a struggle. But she wanted to love her child and do right by her. And I thought, the writing staff of the show did right by us in the end.

It's an odd thing to see a happy ending on a story like that. And I know that it wasn't a happy ending for Cuddy. But it was such a refreshing change to see a more complicated side to adoption portrayed in mainstream media.

So I can keep watching House.

But I still wonder how other PAPs might have viewed that episode.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Who Would I Be?

I was asked, a while ago, by a first mother about my adoption. She wanted to know why I had said I would have preferred to be with my first mom. Wasn't I who I am today because of being raised by my adoptive parents? I thought I'd share my answer here...

Honestly, I can't know what I would be like, or who I would be, had I been raised by my first mom rather than my adoptive parents. I do love them, but would I not be me if they hadn't been around? I am very intelligent, which is something I got from my genes (this I know). I am very creative, which also came from my genes. I have low self-confidence which came from being abandoned as an infant (as well as other factors I can point to in my environment). So had I not been raised by the people who raised me, maybe I would have accomplished more in my life than I already have. But maybe not. I cannot know. No one can.

Whatever good things came out of my relinquishment (and I'm currently having trouble coming up with any), I don't think they outweigh the simple fact that I missed my mom. For 36 years, I missed her. Nothing can compensate for that. She loved me and would have supported me, but I didn't have that because she wasn't in my life. Did others love and support me? Yes. But they weren't her.

I am, today, a reasonably happy, well-adjusted, successful person. I do not want to minimize any of the help I have received in getting to this place from family and friends. But I am not who I am today because of adoption. I am who I am today IN SPITE of adoption. Adoption messes with people's heads. And I had much to overcome, and I lost much in losing my mother so young.

This answer, for me, is the essence of things. I cannot know that my life would be better had I not been adopted. I cannot know that it would have been worse, either.

But for all that, we don't seek out pain and suffering on the hope that things will be better, in the long run. The point, for me, is that adoption causes (for many, if not all) pain and suffering. That's to be avoided if at all possible.

In addition to the beginning of NaBloPoMo, this is the beginning of National Adoption Month. And that answer sums up what I would like everyone in our society to take away from this month. I am happy to raise awareness of adoption. But not to celebrate it. Not to romanticize it. But to give society a more realistic picture of what adoption really is.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Tomorrow begins National Blog Posting Month. I am doing it for the third year in a row on Over A Candle. But I want to recommit to this blog, so I'm going to try to post once a day here, as well.

I don't want to get in the way of Shelly's story as it moves forward, so I hope I don't dilute the impact of that. (I'm very much interested in seeing how it unfolds. And I wish her all the best in her journey.)

Still, I want to post more here, and I think this month is a good way to try to get back into it. Also, tomorrow begins National Adoption Month. As something I cannot get behind, I figure kvetching about adoption every day in November is a good antidote to the saccharine that will be oozing from the adoption industry.

So tomorrow should be the first day of thirty straight days of posts from me here. (I hope.) Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

search forms

i went to lutheran social services last friday and picked up the search forms. it was kind of weird. as i approached the counter i became acutely aware of the social tension around the request i was about to make. it occurred to me that in this very very busy social services office where people are bustling around all day with thousands of tasks-- tasks they perform every day, several times a day. i presume that adult adoptee searches are not their most frequent request. i suddenly felt a little bit awkward about asking. it's a little bit like coming out. except that i am rarely freaked out by telling another person that i am a lesbian. the only part that sucks is that occasionally the information evokes a kind of judgmental tension that is always silent and never very comfortable. that is what this felt like. because being adopted is the kind of thing that--like being gay-- in this society we tend to not talk about. i found myself worried a bit about how the receptionist would react. not necessarily outwardly, because-- like actually coming out-- the reaction that causes friction is almost always internal. i was concerned not even about what she would say to me but about what she would think of the request. especially in a place that arranges adoption placements, it seems the staff who deal with these situations would have a whole set of beliefs and opinions about adoption. here is a list of the things i thought she might be thinking:
* "can't these people just be grateful for what they have?"
* "why can't they leave the past behind them?"
* "this is why people don't want to place their children in adoptive homes."
* "don't they know how much work this is?"
* "we shouldn't even offer this service."
i actually felt as though i was pushing the limits of my own ethical rights by suggesting that i should seek my first family of origin. i felt like the dreaded lost child, who has come back to seek some answers to questions they would prefer to bury.

but whatever, i walked to the window and asked politely if i could please have the forms i need to complete to initiate a search. my paranoia was not helped by the fact that the woman spoke not a single word. she exhaled. she looked around for a few seconds. she reached for a folder and pulled out a set of forms. even when i took them from her hand and said "thank you" she didn't say anything. so now i am pretty sure she believes that people like me are the reason women choose abortion over adoption.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

No Promises

I can't promise I'm back for good. But I'm trying. NaBloPoMo is next month. Over A Candle (my main blog) should be hopping next month. I would like to do NaBloPoMo here, too. But I don't know if I can crank out an adoption post every day. And trying to run two blogs every day for a month seems a bit overwhelming giving how much work has picked up. So no promises. If I can do it, I will do it. But I'm also going to make a concerted effort here, even if it's not every day next month.

But if you're still checking this site (as I am, to see how Shelly's search is going), you're probably sick of my mea culpas, and just want to see some real posts.

So here goes...

Tonight I spoke at a workshop for couples considering adoption. The evening was a panel discussion with a first mom, two sets of adoptive parents, and me, the adoptee. I did this last year. Indeed, almost exactly to the day. I even posted about it: Coming Out.

But a lot has happened in a year. I've gone from feeling really ambivalent about adoption to feeling pretty negative about adoption. I almost didn't agree to speak this time, as I didn't want to endorse adoption, and I also didn't feel right about going to this meeting and lambasting adoption, as much as I may have wanted to.

But with some encouragement from my adoptee friends, I went ahead. It was both a good idea and a difficult experience.

The first mom spoke first. She was probably only about 22 or so. She had relinquished 10 months ago. As she spoke, for nearly 45 minutes, she repeatedly claimed that she had no regrets, that she knew it was the right thing to do.

Feeling very uncomfortable, I just sat there. When one of the attendees asked her how her daughter referred to her, the mother said that she just wanted to be known by her first name. She never wanted the recognition of "mother." I knew that was probably true. My own mom told me that a lot during our first few months of reunion. But at some point, for me, it was so clear that she was my mother. But I said nothing. It wasn't my turn.

But it was so hard to listen to the repeated refrain of adoption was just meant to be. I don't buy it. And it serves to diminish the (common, if not universal) adoptee experience of alienation. But I've talked about that before.

When my turn finally came, I tried to lay out, somewhat simply, my story. I emphasized the importance of having information and connections to my origins. I used the term "first mom" as much as I could to counteract the "birth mother" repetition. I tried to acknowledge the "out-of-place" feeling of adoptees while pointing out that it wasn't a question of not having enough love.

I wanted to communicate the real dangers of adoption for the adoptee without completely trashing adoption. I'm not sure I struck the right tone, though I hope so. In the end, as much as I don't like adoption, I still want to do what I can to improve how it's handled, and to try to provide a balanced perspective for educating couples.

I'm glad I did it. But I don't really feel any better about adoption after the experience.