Thursday, October 5, 2017

Your Story is Not My Story

I was reading this poignant Dear Adoption, If I Could post today written by a 17-year-old Colombian adoptee.  The feelings are raw; however, I could identify with all of them.  In the comments, there was one that stood out to me which was kind but explanatory of why a child might be given up . . . .the commenter, Cindy, writes, 

“Please know that so very many mothers and fathers wanted their children with all their heart and soul.  .  .. . circumstances or forces beyond their control often separated them from the children they loved and wanted. If a family is in severe poverty and no one aids them and there is no hope of help, a parent’s heart will find a way to keep their children alive . . even if it means letting them go to someplace or someone who can ensure they will be fed and cared for.  It’s no ‘choice’ but rather desperate circumstances . . . . . “

On the face of it, this comment seems perfectly true and appears to want to help the original writer to decrease their pain because a “choice” was not made – only circumstances prevented this child from being kept within the biological family.  However, as I read the comment, I couldn’t help but think about all the times when I or others I know have expressed pain at our predicament as adopted people, only to have a handy explanation served back.

But here’s the thing . . .

You don’t know what her/his family’s circumstances were . . . .so why are you trying to imply to someone that their family had to choose between starvation and keeping their flesh and blood?  This happens a lot when both adoptees and birth mothers get talking on the same Facebook thread. 

Example:  Adoptee posts about experience/pain/reunion story, and birth parent comments that she had no choice because of the culture/finances/parents/age/etc. 

This might sound harsh but, I don’t want to hear your explanations about my situation.  Your explanations do not necessarily apply to my situation.  You don’t know the whole story.  You weren’t there.  Your parents might have coerced you to relinquish and you wanted to keep your child with all your heart, but decided ultimately to relinquish.  Your best friend may have been living in near-identical circumstances and she decided to parent.  Your circumstances, story, ideas and values do not apply to me.  You are not my mother and you did not necessarily share my mother’s identical circumstances.

This adoptee who is from Colombia may have not been anywhere close to starvation.  It could have been an affair.  It could have been a family that did not value their offspring.  It could have been any number of situations.  But here is the thing: It doesn’t matter.  It does not change the feelings of inadequacy, the guilt, the loyalty conflicts, the pain.   After hearing an explanation that may or may not apply, I don’t suddenly feel happy that I am adopted.  No, not even close. It feels invalidating to receive explanations from people who are not part of your story, no matter how well-meaning. 

You might think you know my situation, my circumstances, because a social worker/family member/church member told you my story, but you weren’t there.  You didn’t live it and you have no idea what you are talking about.  Not all Baby Scoop era adoptees were given up because of the taboos of single parenthood.  Not all international adoptees were relinquished due to starvation.  Not all open adoptions in the U.S. stay open for the duration of the child-rearing years. 

You don’t know someone else’s story so please do not try to explain my story based on your story’s circumstances.

Adoption is never black-and-white.  Adoption is not a one-story-fits-all.  Listen.  Validate.




Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I LOVE ADOPTION!!


Recently, when talking to an adoptive parent and explaining a talk I will be doing in November about supporting adoptive families, the parent exclaimed loudly, “I LOVE ADOPTION!!”

It really took me off guard.  He was practically cheerleading me to go out there and promote adoption.  I think I burst his bubble when I then explained that my presentation comes from an adoptee viewpoint first. Dead silence.  With rare exceptions, most people are silent when I mention that I have a different view as an adoptee, or they look at me funny as if to say, “There is another view?”

Of course, this parent was not adopted.  And it’s his right to love adoption.   But his comment has weighed on me.  And whenever something weighs on me, I begin writing blogs about it in my sleep, so I decided to get out of bed and put my thoughts on paper (so to speak).

This may come as a shock to some, but I don’t love adoption. I am adopted and I don’t love adoption.  Some days I don’t even like adoption.  (oh no, here she goes, getting all angry about her “bad experience” . . . . .)

I want to explain why I don’t love adoption and why I love permanence for children instead.

If somebody LOVES adoption, by default, they are also implying that they love everything that led up to the reason that child needed to be adopted.    Not true, you say?  Well, at least consider that when you tell an adoptee you love adoption, that is what they may hear you saying.

I have a suspicion that when somebody loves adoption, it is because of the love and joy it brought to their lives, to their families lives and to their child. And that is noble.

However, I can guarantee you if you asked that adopted child, once they were old enough to reason this out, it is not adoption per se that they love.  They love being loved, having stability, being safe, having their needs met within a family.  This is what they love, not adoption.   

Adoption was the result of not being safe, not having stability, not having a family that wanted to parent (or couldn’t parent for whatever reason).  

Adoption gets too much credit. 

Adoptees can love their adoptive parents and still not love adoption.

When I was thinking about why exclaiming one loves adoption didn’t sit well with me, I had to think about what I loved instead.  I love permanence.  Permanence gives everything that children need (love, safety, stability, needs met), but does not require a legal relinquishment (sometimes), a long drawn out case file (sometimes), could potentially include adoption, but may not need to include adoption.

For example, when a child can grow up with a loving biological family, that is one example of permanence.  Or if that is not possible, the child grows up with a loving aunt, uncle, grandparent, adult sibling, etc. To me, that is better than adoption because the child has her family unit on some level, even if the first family (mom/dad) are not in tact. 

Then there are other forms of permanence such as an informal adoption (biological family raises child together without involving courts), guardianship and legal custody that can give a child a loving family without the need to relinquish, change a child’s name and sever all ties to the biological family and culture. 

Adoption by non-relatives should be the last resort.  Adoption by non-relatives implies that there was NOBODY AT ALL IN THAT CHILD’S BIOLOGICAL FAMILY who could successfully parent and that is heartbreaking to an adoptee. 

So, please understand I don’t love adoption and many days, I don’t like it one bit because it sets me apart from the majority of people who grew up in the families they were born to.  It makes me different than most people. Adoption makes me sad on many days.  One of the reasons, I recently shared with my husband is this:

If I could have back all the hours and hours I spent digging up bones and spent searching for my birth family, I could have learned an instrument, a language or gotten a master’s degree with that time.  I can never have that time back.  And I can never stop feeling the anguish from being a child and adult who was kept in the dark about their family (and continues to not know half of my parentage). 

I am not asking you to feel sorry for me; however, please understand why I do not love adoption. Adoption took away my original name and hid it from me.  Adoption took away any knowledge of my biological family growing up.  Adoption delayed my identity development.  Being adopted made me feel less than others when I reached an age to understand how much I lost and that those around me had it right at their fingertips.

I cannot and will not promote adoption as a way to save orphans (I strongly dislike the term orphan because of its negative connotation but that is another blog) when I know that most “orphans” have biological family living close by and are not in fact orphans at all.

So why even bother with all this adoption work if I just don’t love adoption?

Because people need education about adoption from an adoptee viewpoint – desperately.  We have become an adoption-loving country without understanding that when you announce you love adoption, you are also implying you love relinquishment, trauma, coercion, loss, secrets, discriminatory laws, etc. 

Maybe you don’t love adoption as much as you think you do. 

In any event, please be sensitive to the adoptees in your lives who may not love adoption as much as you do.  Of course, we love our families (whether birth or adoptive); however, I have never one time ever heard an adoptee exclaim, “I LOVE ADOPTION!”




Monday, September 4, 2017

To Tell or Not to Tell (About Being Adopted)

There was a discussion today on Facebook about situations in which adoptees or others within the adoption community come in contact with families who have revealed to them, but not their child, the child's adopted status.  In other words, the family believes that they have not arrived at the "correct" age for telling of this important information.

There are various viewpoints and approaches one can take when you become aware of this.  The two most common that come to mind are:

1.  You can choose to say nothing and mind your own business.
2.  You can choose to educate the family from your perspective.

#1 is the easy, conflict-avoidant way to be able to go on with your day and (hopefully) not be rehashing this in your head for another week or two.  It is politically correct to stay out of other people's business.  No risk involved.  Move on with your life.

#2 is more difficult, because you have to think of a way to approach the situation so that the family is able to hear you without becoming defensive.  Before you decide, consider this:

There may be really great reasons that the family has not told the child.  There may be serious emotional barriers, especially in an in-family situation that would cause the family to take the path of least resistance.  There are fears associated with telling a child they are adopted (will the child feel different, less loved, will they love us less?).  Every stage of development brings on new concerns when it comes to telling a child they are adopted.  Especially during the teen years, when identity is forming, waiting until this age can be risky.

I don't have the one-size-fits-all answer.  I don't have the magic age.  I can't tell you specifically what to do in your situation (if you need support, find an adoption-competent therapist).  However, I can tell you what I did.

Because I have both the view of being adopted and am also an adoptive parent, I thought about how my parents handled it (did I agree with their methods?  How did it make me feel?) and then I thought about how this approach would affect my daughter emotionally.

The #1 concern I had around the telling of the adoption story is that my daughter trust me to always tell her the truth.  So, with that being my goal, I knew that I had to always make decisions to meet this goal of truth-telling.  Our story has parts of it that are difficult to tell.  Like all adoption stories, if you get to the root of the reason there was an adoption in the first place, there is trauma, heartbreak and difficulties that led to the decision.

What my parents did:  The adoption agency where I was adopted from educated parents in 1965 to tell their children they were adopted.  I never felt unloved as it related to my being told I was adopted.  Because I was told at an age that I can not remember, I just accepted it as "the way things were".   However, I am fairly certain my parents had specific information on my birth family that they chose not to tell me.  (my birth name was listed on my adoption paperwork; however, I was not aware of this until my late 30s).  In the closed era, I would imagine most adoptive parents kept quiet about the details of their child's past.  My parents were no exception.

In weighing the approaches of my adoptive parents, I came to this conclusion:  I was thankful they told me very young I was adopted.  I was not happy that they withheld my birthname from me.

Because of my personality, I knew that nothing short of telling the truth was going to be something I could live with.  From my daughter's birth, I kept a journal with her story in it (since obviously when she was an infant, she couldn't read it or process a telling of the story yet).  I wanted to be sure I did not forget things that were important to write down.  I saved photos, mementos from the hospital . .. anything I thought she might want to see when she was old enough.

I must admit it saddens me when I learn of people who have never told their child they were adopted. . . . it grieves me when I hear of an adult who is still walking around never being told.  In my heart, I feel that it is one of the most deep betrayals that someone can bestow upon you.  I know there are people who will say that because their adoptive parents loved them so much, that this "not telling" is acceptable.  I disagree with that.  If you knew that your child had a history of a specific medical disease (because you learned the information from the birth family) and you did not reveal it to the doctor and use that information to help to diagnose and treat a condition in your child, that would be considered medical neglect.

Well, by not telling your adopted child they are adopted, is in my view, psychological and emotional neglect. It is a very important piece of your child's identity that they have a right to have.  It should never be withheld to assuage the fears and insecurities of adoptive parents.  I don't have the magic age and I don't have reassurances to give you that your child will take his adoption as no big deal, like I did mine . . . .but I will tell you that if you choose not to tell . . .there will be negative consequences to that child and to your relationship.

But . .. back to the original question.  Do you mind your business or do you attempt to educate?  I truly believe it depends on the relationship you have with the person confiding in you.  Are these complete strangers who are just dumping information on you?  I would probably just let it go.  Is this a family you are close to because of some club or group you are both members of?  I may attempt to educate.  The information is out there for people who want it.  The difficulty is breaking through the fears of the family who have not told.  One conversation may not change their minds.  A testimony from somebody who has been in the trenches may just make them feel guilt and dig in their heals.  We really can't control what other people do in their families.

One thing I have found quite interesting is how many people ask me if my husband and I have told our daughter the truth.  I used to get annoyed by this question, but now I see it as an opportunity to educate.  Yes, she knows the truth and I wouldn't have it any other way.




Saturday, August 5, 2017

Adoptee Rights Coalition Heading to Boston, MA



It's that time of year again for the Adoptee Rights Coalition to educate and encourage legislators to restore U.S. adopted citizens' access to their original birth certificates.  Did I say restore?  Yes!

At one time, original birth certificates were open and available to their rightful owners -- adopted people!  Mirah Riben wrote an excellent article outlining the issues here:

Adoptee Access to Birth Certificates Protects Their Parents' Privacy

Some of the issues we have the pleasure of discussing when working at the Adoptee Rights Coalition booth are as follows:

*educating that adopted U.S. born citizens have two birth certificates.  The amended (2nd) version is not put in place until after adoption finalization.  Meaning, that the original birth certificate (OBC) is available for a period of time prior to adoption finalization and is therefore not secret.  If an adoption is unsuccessful, then the original birth certificate is not sealed.  

*The above is true for step-parent adoptions as well.

Drawing the winner of the DNA kit - Chicago NCSL (2016)
* explaining how DNA testing is less private than restoring access to original birth certificates. Go here to read Gaye Sherman Tannenbaum's essay, The DNA Revolution, on how DNA is a game changer for OBC access.

* OBCs were not sealed to provide anonymity to first mothers.  It never existed and was not promised on any legal relinquishment document.


* Educating that abortion rates do not increase in states that allow restored access (in fact the reverse is true).

* Educating that not all U.S. states closed access -- Kansas and Alaska never closed at all.

Working the booth at the NCSL has been a life-altering experience for me.  Last year we met a legislator, adopted himself, who is passionate about changing the laws in his state.  We are hoping for those types of outcomes this year!


If you are attending the NCSL this year, please stop by Booth 640 and enter your business card for a chance to win an Ancestry DNA kit.

If you can donate to the cause, please go here.








Friday, June 23, 2017

Remembering Adoption Memoirist, Craig Steffen

(To be read at “The Annual Remembrance of Craig Steffen” 6/25/17)


Craig Steffen 
I had to talk myself into coming today because I didn’t feel like I truly belonged (it’s an adoptee thing).  As I wrestled with it in my mind, I realized, if I don’t share this story at Craig’s remembrance, there would be nobody to tell this story to as Craig and I did not have any mutual friends nor did we know each other’s families (which then led to the thought . . . post this at your blog!).

I knew Craig just barely a year, meeting him the summer of 2015 at The Bellbrook Library at a book signing.  A former co-worker of mine, an author herself, known as the City Skipper Gal, had interviewed Craig and written an article about Craig and posted it on my Facebook wall as she intuited correctly that Craig and I had a lot in common since we were both adopted and enjoyed writing.  The City Skipper Gal had seen my adoption-related blog posts come across her Facebook feed for many years and by 2015 she had also interviewed me for an anthology I edited and published that year titled, “The Adoptee Survival Guide:  Adoptees ShareTheir Wisdom and Tools”.  I signed and brought along a copy of my book to give to Craig as a gift because I somehow knew before meeting him that our meeting would be important.  My husband Mark had also come across an article about Craig and his book signing in the newspaper and got the message that Craig would become important in some way in our lives but he never mentioned seeing the article to me (until later), because I had already announced my intention to attend the book signing in Bellbrook. 


At the library, I listened to Craig speak but for the life of me, I cannot recall a single word he said. I was too excited that there was another adoptee that lived in my community who understood the issues and wasn’t afraid to put his story out there.  I introduced myself to Craig and (his wife) Cindy, introduced them to my daughter, and purchased Craig’s book, which he signed and I have right here with me today.  I took the book home and devoured every nugget of it, feeling like I knew Craig without actually knowing him.  

Most of my adoption-related colleagues were people I had connected with on-line and were spread out across the U.S. and some in other countries, very few who lived in Ohio, but none at that time who were adoption authors living in the Dayton community.  I realized quickly that Craig was not connected to this same group of adoption-related people and I immediately thought his book and his knowledge would be a perfect match for this adoption community that I had been so fortunate to become a part of.

When Craig and I met, he had recently submitted to speak at the American Adoption Conference but was not selected, which may have been a blessing in disguise, because the Congress has been in some turmoil as of late and many in the community have stopped attending its annual conferences.  Somehow, and I’m not sure how we came up with the idea, we both decided to submit our talks together to Montclair University/St. John’s biennial adoption conference, Myth and Reality in Adoption: Transforming Practice Through Lessons Learned held June of 2016.  What is unique about these particular universities is that they are progressive in their thinking about adoption – moving away from the “rainbows and unicorns” of the past and thinking more critically about the institution of adoption and how it affects those it claims to help:  adoptees. 

I learned Craig was an experienced pro at speaking at other types of conferences.  I was not.  I had never spoken at a conference.  I knew a bunch of people via anthologies and support groups within the adoption community and Craig did not.  So we decided that tog

ether, we could be a good sell for the conference.  We met for breakfast at the Golden Nugget Pancake House to discuss our topics.  Craig had come up with this (brilliant in my mind) topic on metanarratives in adoption that, until he explained this concept, had never really occurred to me before in the way he presented it.  My topic was on the adoptee voice.  We submitted our proposals and waited.  

It wasn't until early 2016 that we were notified we were accepted to speak.  We really hardly knew one another and so I told Craig that if Cindy wanted to come along to New Jersey, I completely understood.  My husband Mark assured me that he had no concerns about me going on a four day trip with a guy I barely knew (he's supportive and knew that this conference was very important to me).  As many of you know, I learned Craig does not fly.  So, he drove the whole way to New Jersey and I was his passenger.  Like I discovered the few times we met in 2015, during the trip, Craig was easy to talk to, a great listener, non-judgmental, kind and generous (He insisted a couple times to pay for my food).  A funny thing he shared with me post-conference on the return trip, was that he was trying to be gluten-free.  I asked him why he ate all that bread at the conference.  He replied, "I didn't want to be high maintenance."  I laughed.

Our rooms were located on  the Mt. Clair, New Jersey campus and it was under renovation.  We had to walk everywhere and we kept getting lost. The inside joke was I told Craig “he was gifted” every time we would get lost.  He may have thought it was a joke but I do believe Craig was gifted in many ways, but he was too humble to admit it.  The conference was an amazing experience.  Craig, myself and a few other adopted people we met sat up late into the wee hours talking about our searches for our birth parents and our reunion experiences.  One of those adoptees was adoptee blogger, Daniel Drennan, who had just returned to the U.S. after living in his home country, Lebanon.  His stories were fascinating.  When Craig dropped me back off at my house in Dayton, Ohio, in the wee hours of Sunday June 12th, 2016, I did not realize that would be the last time I would see him.
Article about Craig in Xenia Gazette

Earlier in 2016, I had invited Craig to be part of my search team as I am currently still seeking my biological father.  There are around 40 people in a secret Facebook group that brainstorm and seek information leading to the discovery of who this mystery man is.  One morning in February of 2016, Craig and I met at Panera Bread to go over the remaining details of the conference; however, our conversation diverged into my search.  He knew by then the many years of searching I had done, the many secrets being guarded in my birth family, the many roadblocks to my search. He knew I was in every DNA database awaiting a close match to set me on the path to my paternal birth family.  One of my searchers had recently found a good father candidate who had been an exchange student from Colombia that fit the name and description of my father and looked a lot like my son, Matthew.  I felt like this was the closest I had ever gotten to any answers but without scientific proof, it only meant more wondering.   Craig came up with the idea to anonymously send an Ancestry DNA kit to this potential sibling of mine living in Massachusetts.  He knew I was strapped for money at that time, so he paid for it, had it shipped to his house, repackaged it, mailed it to Massachusetts with the hopes that our target tester, who was a genealogy fan, would think that Ancestry sent her a free DNA kit.  It worked! A couple months later, in May of 2016, this tester, a very public blogger, posted her DNA results.  Sadly, she and I were not a match. 

Even today as I write this with tears in my eyes, I am thankful to Craig for helping me to be able to move on from that stuck place during the winter of 2016.  I needed that closure and he was willing to go the extra mile to do something kind for someone he really didn’t know very well.  He knew exactly how I felt not knowing who my father was and he also knew what a joy it was to develop a relationship with not only the man who created him, but his other paternal family members.  Craig's love for his birth family, among his many other passions, are described in his beautifully-written obituary.

Losing Craig means something personal to each and every person who loved him.   I had lots of ideas and plans for working with Craig in the adoption world in the future.  We had planned to submit to speak together at the Indiana Adoptee Network Conference that was held this year in Bloomington, IN.  I went alone in April, revised the talk we did in New Jersey, brought along his book, shared about him in my talk and it was very well received.  It still would have been preferable to have him there in the flesh.  I was so looking forward to introducing him to so many cool people in the adoption community.

He had so much to give to the future of adoption and his leaving us prematurely is a huge loss to the adoption community.  I am thankful that Craig was able to finish his memoir because I have no doubt that his words will live on in the hearts and minds of not only his friends and family, but in the hearts and minds of adopted people for generations to come.

If you have not read his memoir, I urge you to do so.  Craig was a unique human and I am eternally grateful that our paths crossed towards the end of his journey on earth. To his friends and family:  please accept my heartfelt sympathies for your loss and thank you for including me in Craig's Remembrance.

 "We Journey Forward Without Fear." -- Craig Steffen








Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dishing about our reunions, our birth father mysteries, books and more!

Pam Dixon Kroskie
Tuesday night, I was interviewed for my first podcast by Pam Kroskie, President of Indiana Adoptee Network.  In order to plan for the show, I had asked Pam what we would be talking about; however, she prefers to just go with whatever topics come up . . . .so I didn't plan for the talk other than having a copy of The Adoptee Survival Guide sitting next to me on the table. . .  .and the time flew by!

I first met Pam face-to-face last month during the inaugural adoption conference (go here for a post-conference update!).  It was a life changing event and I urge readers to consider going next year, April 20-21, 2018.

Join Pam and I as we discuss our reunions, secrets, our birth father searches, and how much we both love adoption books.

Thanks for listening!   Podcast Here


Monday, March 27, 2017

WHIO Reports on Adoption in the Miami Valley

WHIO Reports Taping 3.16.17
I was really excited to be included in the WHIO Reports segment called Adoption in the Miami Valley (Go here to see it).  Senator Bill Beagle, Adoptee Becky Drinnen and myself were all chosen for our involvement with Adoption Network Cleveland and their efforts to change a law that disallowed a group of adopted people access to their own records. The show was in response to the new law and to acknowledge the two-year anniversary of the opening of birth certificates and adoption files on March 20, 2017.  I am so pleased to have this story in the media and even more pleased that it was local to where I live and grew up.




The video  you see during the show is (above) from the documentary called An Adoptee Roared in Ohio by Jean Strauss that tells the story of Betsie Norris, Executive Director of Adoption Network Cleveland.  I urge you to watch the whole thing.  There is a twist in the story that we didn't have time to get into in the show; however, Betsie's dad, an attorney, was part of the group of adoptive parents and legislators who closed adoptees' birth certificates originally.  He later came on board to help Betsie change the law. Eventually Betsie sought Bill Beagle's help in sponsoring the bill.
Betsie Norris (middle), Jean Strauss (right) and me during Columbus celebration 3-19-15

I am pleased that the general public is becoming more educated on issues that affect adoptees. Those adoptees affected by the old law, born between 1964 and 1996, were unable to receive copies of their own original birth certificates; however, adoptees born in the years prior to 64 and after 96, were able to receive copies.  As Becky stated in the show, the original intent of the law was to protect the child and family's privacy from the general public.  Unfortunately, the law had the result of also keeping the original birth certificate out of reach for the adoptee once they became an adult.


Front page news-March 2015
It took two and a half decades to change this law.  An an Illinois-born adoptee, I personally was not affected by the Ohio law.  In fact, Becky Drinnen, an Ohio-born adoptee was not either as she was born prior to 1964.  However, growing up in the Miami Valley, I knew many, many adopted people who fell into that time frame and currently, even as middle aged adults, still have not ordered copies of their birth certificates and adoption files even after the law has changed.

Senator Bill Beagle stated close to 10,000 adoptees have ordered their birth certificates; however it is estimated there are 400,000 adoptees in the state of Ohio who were born during that previously closed time frame. Meaning, there are potentially 300,000 adopted people in the state of Ohio born between 1964 and 1996 who could order their birth certificates and adoption files and may not know it.  Do you know anyone who falls into this category?  If so, I hope you will share the link to the show with them.

Becky and I have been co-facilitating the Adoption Network Cleveland, Miami Valley support group for going on three years (beginning in June 2014).  We have never before had any local publicity for our group except word-of-mouth. The people who attend are always assured of the confidentiality of their stories and realize quickly, they are amongst others who "get it".    If you know anyone who can benefit from the support group, please tell them to like the Facebook page and check it monthly to see where we are meeting (our usual home is Wright Library in Oakwood, but they are currently remodeling, so there will be occasional changes in locale).  I also recommend you visit the home of Adoption Network Cleveland for more resources.

Our next meeting is in Vandalia while Wright Library is remodeling


My hope is that other closed states will follow suit with laws of their own providing equality to adopted citizens.

Hope to see you at a monthly meeting soon!