Adoptee rights

Adoptee Speakers; Fatigue is an Occupational Hazard. Impertinence Is Not.

In my public speeches, I often incorporate a photocopy of a memo written by the adoption agency to my parents, where the agency offered me at a discounted and negotiable rate since I am black and had/have special needs (AKA, a "failure to thrive" in adoption lingo). I share this sensitive information for the purpose of educating on the topic of the fragility of adoptees and the possible origins of a fragile sense of worth.  Inevitably, this tangible document asserting my monetary worth has crept into my subconscious, making it difficult to gauge my conceptual self worth.   Psychological studies, or a simple look at the correlation between American greed and US depression rates tell us that a genuine positive self-esteem cannot be obtained by outside goods or materialism, but self esteem can be damaged by external forces. I know this to be true by experience. Let me explain.

I recently fulfilled my contractual obligation to speak at a culture camp specifically for transracial adoptive families. Over two days, I gave the keynote speech, led my Transracial Adoption 101 workshop, and joined another well renown speaker on the topic of birthparent relationships. In a nutshell, I bled emotionally on stage, offering a behind the scenes, deeper look at Closure, sharing many truths typically reserved for a behind closed doors, confidential session in a therapists office. I enter in to these spaces willingly and excitedly as it is my desire to educate others for the sake of the spurning powerful and necessary conversations. My emotional weight lifting and vulnerability resulted in countless thanks from the participants for helping to expand their worldview. The weekend was fatiguing, but overall, it felt to be a wild success, a victory in the name of adoption education!  Well, not quite...

On the final day, I met with the director to settle up before heading back to the airport. To my surprise, I was not met with my payment, but rather a blank check that she dangled like a candy bribe in front of a misbehaving child and her cutting words; "I haven't made your check out yet, because you weren't available enough to the families during downtime. The families wanted more from you. I'd like to know what you think you're worth?" I felt immediately triggered for obvious reasons. Her words have proven to aid in the external demotion of my self worth.

There seems to be an expectation for us adoptees to either shell out our private, potentially traumatic life story whenever anyone asks, or to speak for free as a sort of restitution for having been given a "better life." In my case, there was an unknown and thus unmet expectation for me to be 100% available to all of the guests, foregoing sleep, rest or simple rejuvenation after a challenging educational session and a red-eye cross country flight.

Adoptee speakers - I understand the wearying drain of constantly needing to stave off  feelings of inferiority, or to spend time (as I have) justifying the plausibility of their claims, but please be careful with this. Intentionally placing ourselves in triggering environments for the sake of adoption reform shan't lead to a days of internal conversations and external retreat from the world. This is counter-productive. Together, we can demand that our vulnerable offerings are not only met with the agreed upon payment, but also kindness and an upstanding integrity. If this is not the case, reach out to your community for support. Adoptees learned at an early age that society views us as commodities, and that in some senses we were bought. Adoptee speakers, let's #FliptheScript and demand it be known that we are commodities no more.

 

Every Separation Is A Link

I recently consulted via Skype with a fellow adult adoptee who had recently gained her birth mother's contact information and was seeking my advice in deciding upon a method of contact that may feel the least intrusive to her birth mom. Before our scheduled consult, I re-read a bit of Simone Weil's work, and felt guided by her quote:

"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul."

Prior to contacting me this adoptee had already surveyed her husband, friends and other adoptees, in an effort to gauge and quantify the risks of choosing snail mail vs email, vs a phone call etc. to make this first contact.  She was working so hard in contemplating how she could tactfully and respectfully gain this precious (albeit basic and foundational) information.  She was working so hard trying to appease everyone else, and trying to preemptively ensure that her birthmother would feel comfortable in an inherently uncomfortable position.  During the course of our conversation, she coyly asked: "How do I explain how it is that I found her phone number?  I had to snoop (search angels, confidential intermediaries, agency contacts etc.) to find it!" My response:

Of course you had to sleuth! How else does an adoptee in a closed adoption gain this information?

It is only through the unfortunate separation of this adoptee and her birth family that she and I were able to be linked together. We shared a life-giving conversation that both honored others while she learned the value of honoring herself in weighing her personal thoughts of best practice in this unchartered territory. As Simone Weil states; “Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.”

Adoptees have a unique understanding of the fact that our rights are largely subject to varying circumstances, however we cannot deny the incredible pull we feel in needing to know our roots. There is no perfect way for even the most sycophant of adoptees to gain information that should've been made available years ago.

November Is National Adoption Month! Let's #FlipTheScript...

The Press Secretary released an official memo at the beginning of the month; A Presidential Proclamation - National Adoption Month 2014. In part it states:

During National Adoption Month, we honor those who have opened their hearts and their homes...Throughout November, we recognize the thousands of parents and kids who have expanded their families to welcome a new child or sibling, as well as the professionals who offer guidance, resources, and counseling every day.  Let us reaffirm our commitment to provide all children with every chance to reach their dreams and realize their highest aspirations.

It's exciting that November has become adoption's month to shine (every minority person, place or thing needs their "own" month)! Agencies and organizations center all efforts center around imploring citizens to locate and recognize those orphaned around the world (Note: not all adoptees are orphans), and a concerted effort is made by adoption attorneys to finalize as many adoptions as possible during this month.

But where are adoptees on the president's list of people to recognize? Are adoptees left out of the conversation (or a White House Memo) because now that we have been adopted we ought to provide endless unwavering, affectionate love? Are we expected to be dormant, mute, quiet and grateful that our adoption has helped to clean up society?

This month adoptees are banding together to "Flip The Script" as National Adoption Month has officially been met with 21st century hashtag activism (Thanks Mothermade for leading this charge). Who will hear our call? We would like to add our voices to the National Adoption Month platform in an effort to no longer serve as an inanimate highway for the betterment of society, but to contribute and create awareness that our voices matter, too.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdgZ2N44V0s[/embed]

President Obama, perhaps next year you'll include our voices, too?

https://twitter.com/AmandaTDA/status/529880525486714880

Adoptee Solidarity and Post Reunion Support

At the beginning of the month I spent a few days up in the mountains with adult adoptees after candidly speaking to a couple hundred adoptive parents. Our retreat included a meditation room, art, journaling and yoga supplies, food, wine, and a graffiti wall (of course). The emphasis on self-care and the sanctuary of having an adult adoptee only space helped me to not only regain my balance after speaking engagements, but it also helped to provide a blueprint through some of the muddy waters of adoptees in post reunion after a lifetime of secrecy and wonder. Before, during and after my recent visit with my birthmother I received texts, emails and calls from these incredible folks, acknowledging the plethora of emotions that I was feeling. The feeling of connectedness, being understood and uniquely known by others who have experienced similar trials is a long awaited gift. We may differ in our religion (or lack thereof), gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, body shape, hair color, clothing styles or any other segregating way that Americans like to section off and isolate members of society, but our adoptee status binds us together. My post-reunion sadness is palpable, but my community is strong.

Adoptee Solidarity
Adoptee Solidarity

Below are some sweet lines about the importance of having an adoptee support system from some of my adult adoptee friends:

"Being a transracial adoptee growing up was a bitter sweet experience. I always felt unique and special, but at times I yearned to connect with others that shared my experience. As an adult, having other adult adoptees in my life has given me the validation and support that I was lacking. It is without a doubt essential to my identity development and overall happiness." - Mariah Dixon

"What an amazing group of fellow adoptee activists at PACT camp with 98 families of adopted kids of color. I'm so grateful that these kids get to experience this great community but it's so bittersweet and painful too. We can't rest until women are given the support and resources they need to parent their children! Let's redefine birth justice to include birth mothers at the forefront of our movement." -Chinyere Oparah

"I always underestimate the power of coming together with other people who Get It. It's healing, beautiful, moving to spend time with other adoptees. So needed." - Susan Ito

"I appreciate the diversity in our community. So many different lived experiences with space for all of them." - Steve Kalb

"There was something really powerful about sitting in that lounge and just being with everyone's energy. There were times when we talked and times when we just sat and I needed all of that!" - Katie Wynen

"Being and sharing with other trans-racial adoptees is absolutely CRUCIAL to creating a counter-narrative to the negative and oppressive internalized messaging of not being perfect, good enough or less than on so many levels...race, family structure, birth order, gender identity and sexual orientation to name a few." -Amy Cipolla-Stickles