Rest On a Bed Of Flowers, Sandy Bell.

One week ago I recieved a call from my aunt, who was at the hospital, listening to Sandy take his last breath. Her call came after Sandy had complained for a few days of chest pain, and having a hard time breathing. Sandy died at the young age of 61. He died having known that he had a daughter for just 10 years.

My mom, my husband and I flew down to Chattanooga, Tennessee to mourn with the community. The wake, viewing, funeral and memorial services were emotional and powerful. I heard from so many of you, recounting the stories of ways that Sandy impacted you as he rode around town with a big smile, emanating a kind spirit and a bundle of flowers in his hand. The photo series below captures only a handful of the incredible tributes and stories.

Thank you Chattanooga for loving Sandy so well. Leah and Eddie Bridges, thank you for being the glue of the downtown community - I treasure knowing that he had such beautiful friends.

“I was honestly struck when I saw you smile; you look so much like him.. and like him, your spirit just radiates sunshine somehow; light that I so desperately needed came in the form of that same smile a few years ago. I will never be able to adequately put into words how much his kindness meant to me then and now.”

-Brittany

After living so many years not knowing for whom I resembled, it now feels like I’m giving a gift when I smile - the gift of keeping Sandy’s spirit alive.

The Problem With Saying You’ll Adopt After You Have Biological Kids

After growing up with seven siblings who were adopted into the family and one sibling who was biologically connected to my parents, I recognize that society places a higher value on children born biologically than those who are adopted.

“I want to adopt, but I’m going to have biological kids first.” Have you heard anyone say that? Or have you said it? It’s a common phrase that people say without putting much thought into. But as an adoptee myself, the idea of “biological first” carries a great deal of weight – and even pain.

When people say “I’m going to have bio kids first,” it prioritizes having “your own” – as though adoption is a good and charitable thing to do, but it’s just not the same as having biological kids.

For five years, I worked with hundreds of couples hoping to grow their family through adoption. The initial conversations included explanations of their motivation to adopt, for which I heard a similar story almost every time. They talked about their painful journey to my office, which included unsuccessful IVF bouts followed by the heartbreaking decision to move forward with adoption. The tearful statements were often followed up by an eager admittance that they hoped to be one of the lucky couples that gets pregnant right after adopting a child. I never had the courage to tell them that this is an old wives’ tale.

Through these experiences, as well as growing up with seven siblings who were adopted into the family and one sibling who was biologically connected to my parents, I recognize that society places a higher value on children born biologically than those who are adopted.

Click to read my full article at Role Reboot.

New Initiative: “Project Search & Reunion”

As the Director of Post-Adoption at Amara I am tasked with supporting individuals as they navigate the complexities of their adoption stories whether they are young children or 95 years old. For most of the 20th century best practices included closed adoptions, which meant ensuring no contact between birthparents and the adoptive family after an adoption takes place. Nowadays, we recognize the importance of transparency and the benefits of a child knowing about their birth family and ideally being in each other’s lives.

Amara files from the 1950s

Upon beginning my tenure at Amara I found a large number of neglected files full of search and reunion requests from adoptees and birth families. While disheartening, this problem is not rare – especially for child welfare organizations with a long history. Typical staff turnover and 900 finalized adoptions in the almost 100 years of Amara’s history have resulted in some files being overlooked. And though this may be common, we consider it to be unacceptable. So, in March 2018, we launched Project Search & Reunion. The goal of this project is to audit 3,100 of our own adoption files between the years of 1950 and 2000 to ensure that adoptees and birth families receive the information and support they requested, especially in regard to searching.  

This project is unprecedented, as far as we are aware. We are pushing back against the status quo for adoptees and their families in terms of what information they’ve been “allowed” to see and share. We hope this project helps fuel a change in the way adoptions are addressed in the United States. Adoption files often sit dormant behind locked doors as Sealed Records laws prevent adoptees from seeing their own file. However, we firmly believe that all individuals have a fundamental right to access information about their biological origins. And we are committed to providing as much access to Amara adoptees as we can legally provide.

We are already learning quite a bit about adoption practices from the past. For example, we learned that in the 1950s, we conducted IQ tests on children as young as 8-months old to determine if they’d be a good match for an adoptive family. We have read about the women who were “sent away” to be housed in Florence Crittenton Homes to hide their pregnancies from their community. And we have seen, in our own files, instances where adoptees were not told that they are of Native American ancestry. Each of these revelations is alarming.

Sandra* was one of the first people Amara reached out to as part of Project Search and Reunion. Amara called Sandra in March 2018 to share that her birth mother had requested to meet her in 2004, but that, unfortunately, we had not shared this information with her at that time. We also shared that her birth mother has since passed away. To my surprise, Sandra was quite understanding, stating; “I don’t think I would’ve been able to follow through with meeting my birthmother at that time because I love my [adoptive] parents too much and this would’ve hurt them.” We are supporting Sandra as she grapples with the nuanced feelings of guilt about wanting to uncover her personal story while not wanting to “betray” her adoptive parents. This is a common dilemma for adopted people who grew up in an era where secrecy in adoption was prevalent.

Through beginning to share about Project Search and Reunion, the response has been astounding. One individual who was adopted through Amara wrote to us stating:

“…about 14 years ago, I contacted Medina (Amara) and received a letter with non-identifying information** from my file, however, I am so excited at the potential for more info. My biggest over the top wish? A picture of me as a newborn. Second biggest wish – names of the people who cared for me the two weeks from birth to placement. #nomoresecrets #adoption #myadoptedheart #adoptionhealing #itsmybirthright”

We are honored and privileged to conduct this momentous work. We are unsure of our timeline, and can only surmise what lies within those files, but we are committed to full transparency. Righting our organization’s historical wrongs is a humbling process, and we hope this offers a blueprint for the future of openness and access to adoptee records!

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*Names have been changed for confidentiality.

**Non-Identifying Information – Agencies are legally allowed to provide adoptees with non-identifying information which includes very basic details about the birth family members. By definition, non-identifying information cannot lead to or disclose a birth parent’s identity — it does not include the parent’s name, birth date, address or phone number.

Adoptee Mentorship Program - Now accepting applications (Seattle-area)

2019 Recruitment flyer.png

On my first day of work at Amara (two years ago), I was greeted by an Excel spreadsheet: A program outline created by Davon, a 12-year-old adoptee. The document was entitled TSSP, which stood for “The Stay Strong Project,” and it was a proposal for a new mentorship program for Amara adoptees, many of whom were in foster care. Davon’s detailed outline included columns for the “who, what, where, when and why” of his program, and he emphasized a core value of his vision: “Mentors should not be therapists. They are role models who desire to have fun!”

I was inspired by his thoroughness and thoughtfulness, and having spoken to hundreds of adoptees over the years, knew his idea fit within the national conversation adoptees are having, about connecting to fellow adoptees in order to strengthen the adoptee identity.  

The program has been in existence for two years and we are now accepting applications from both youth adoptees and adult adoptees for the 2019 season! Slots are limited.