Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Look Back Over 2015

Can you believe it?  Another year is drawing to a close and like many of my friends and readers, I am looking back in amazement at 2015.  December in Ohio has been unusually warm and I have been loving it. (Not a fan of winter!).  My daughter received a bike for Christmas and was riding it around without a coat on Christmas Day!

Today, this New Year's Eve, I want to focus on the changes in the adoption community I have witnessed in 2015 because truly, it has been a momentous year in that regard.

March of 2015 was HUGE for adoptee rights when the state of Ohio opened up original birth certificates and adoption files to adopted adults who were born in the years 1964-1996. This new law finally righted a discriminatory three-tiered law withholding original birth certificates from some adoptees based on their years of birth.

I was excited that the Dayton Daily News had front page coverage of the law change and other articles in major cities around Ohio were also writing about the change in law.  What a whirlwind!

I attended the Law Event  in Columbus, Ohio and the ceremonial walking to Vital Stats as a large group of 400 plus adopted adults made the journey to request their original birth certificates.  Myself and two other adoptees I was rooming with joined the walk, even though the three of us already had our own original birth certificates (two were born pre-64 and being an Illinois adoptee, I have my OBC).
(left) Sen. Beagle (middle) Rep. Antonio, (right) Sen. Burke (adoptee receiving his OBC)

It was just such an amazing thing to be part of the wave of excitement as it built up to March 20, 2015.  That was the first time I was surrounded by so many adopted people in one location.

As weeks went by and we all returned home from Columbus, most of us (plus others who did not attend the event but who ordered their original birth certificates) were part of a private Facebook room, where day by day, we would witness the announcements that somebody else received their birth certificate in the mail. Pictures would be seen of the adopted person holding their original birth certificate and status updates included myriad reactions to learning previously unknown facts.  In the coming months, reunion photos would be posted, status updates of joy and tears and sometimes, deep sadness. Learning previously unknown facts about ones life (and for some who choose reunion) is an emotional roller coaster and unlike during the time of my own search and reunion, this time, I rode the wave with others who supported one another.

Paige and Becky (two adoptee authors) in Columbus, OH
Also leading up to March of 2015, a group of 30 adoptees (myself included) completed a year-long project, The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools. The purpose of this book project was to support other adoptees feel less alone and misunderstood as they navigate adoption landmines.  The book also tries to balance the "happy, happy, joy, joy" of adoption in recognizing the deep losses and struggles that adoptees face throughout their lives.

Each adoptee featured in the book contributed an essay, but this truly was more than just a book project -- it was a private space that many of us could bond together in a way where we felt understood. That is the beauty of the adoption community as I have experienced it.  Validation.

With the book came my first experience venturing into the publishing world, which was a bit intimidating, but ended up being a very positive experience for me (however, formatting is an adventure  I want never to repeat!). Overall, Indie Publishing through Create Space/Amazon was a positive process, user-friendly and one I highly recommend to others who have a "book in them."

I also want to announce that I am looking forward to the publishing of another book project I have contributed to with the working title, "It's Not About You" (a guide for adoptive parents) in addition to working in the coming year with an adoptee/journalist for her future book project currently untitled.

And speaking of exciting book projects, another biggie I took part in during 2015, with the book becoming available just in time for National Adoption Awareness Month in November, was Flip the Script.  This anthology features an impressive line-up of all adoptees who share essays, artwork and poetry.  Isn't the cover amazing?

If you are not familiar with #flipthescript, the hashtag refers to Adoptees taking back the narrative of adoption from those in the the media and elsewhere who have historically spoken on our behalf (sometimes referring to us as "adopted children") during National Adoption Month (November).  NAM 2014 marked a social media movement where adoptees used the hashtag #flipthescript on Twitter, Facebook, etc. to demonstrate that adoptees can and will speak for themselves about how we have lived and experienced adoption.  

If you truly want to be an adoptee advocate (and I hope all adoptive parents everywhere do!), then please consider purchasing adoptee authored anthologies.

2015 marked my continued involvement in being part of a movement of adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents coming together in the adoption community with common goals to educate and support others.   Being part of numerous adoption writing and/or support groups, it's always so amazing to hear common themes from all sides of the adoption triangle and know I am not alone in my struggles.

One project in particular I was honored to participate in during 2015, was the first annual Adoption Summit Experience 2015. You can learn more about all the presenters here. I especially recommend the video about the Betsie Norris Story by Jean Strauss which will explain how Betsie fought to open Ohio birth certificates for several decades.  My contribution to the Summit was a video which, if you missed it, you can watch here.

It was a real pleasure to meet others in the adoption community who also have made their life work around adoption education and advocacy.  I hope you can join us next November if you missed this year's event.  It is completely free and on-line!

One final thing I would like to touch on is the support group through Adoption Network Cleveland that I have had the pleasure of being involved in.  We have been going strong for a year and a half with a gradual increase in attendance and it's looking like we have finally found a permanent home.  If you live within driving distance of Dayton, Ohio, I hope you will join us the third Thursday of the month.

It's been such a blessing meeting others in the adoption triangle and hearing their life experiences in a confidential setting. I hope to see you there!

I wish everybody a happy, healthy and joyous 2016!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

When Are You Going to Get Over Being Adopted?

As National Adoption Month comes to a close, I want to address a very common question that most adoptee-activists/writers/artists endure:

"Why are you so obsessed with adoption or why haven't you gotten over your adoption yet?"

I can only answer for myself but I am certain others have felt the same pangs of misunderstanding every time they are asked these questions, which I suspect is often.

As I have stated on this blog and to people in my life, "adoption has colored and affected almost every aspect of myself from birth onward."

Adoption is not just a legal status that created a forever-family. It is an action taken upon me that changed the entire course of my life. There is no pre-adoption me that I have any conscience awareness of. Kristy Lee Unger (my alter identity) never had a chance to live or exist in this world as I became Kathryn Lynn Wetherill at age 11 months at the time of my adoption finalization.

This life-altering circumstance is always with me in everything I do. I never stop being adopted. As of right now, there is no legal mechanism that I am aware of that allows somebody to stop being adopted which means that I will always be adopted under the law until death. It's true that some adoptees do not identify with being adopted; however, there are many others who, when they are being honest with themselves and others, have felt different their whole lives or have avoided thinking or talking about their adoptions their entire lives until a major life change occurs (i.e. death of adoptive parents, birth of a biological child, adoption of a child, loss of a spouse, etc.).

I have no awareness of how it feels to NOT be adopted, to grow up with blood and to take for granted all the benefits of being raised by biological family. This is a fact of my life that I have chosen to face, to examine and to write about. Others may make a different choice; however, that in no way makes my choice wrong. It in no way implies there will be a day that I am suddenly and forever "over it". We all lived happily ever after occurs in fairy tales for a reason. Each of us is always learning, growing and changing over our lifetimes and to ask somebody when they are going to get over being adopted is frankly, hurtful.

I remember as a child in elementary school looking in awe at my neighbors who had four boys, all who looked alike. The first time I witnessed pregnancy and breast feeding was at this neighbor's house. I was amazed at nature in action--something that I would never witness my adoptive mother experience. These same neighbors all loved soccer. Their dad coached and I spent many hours in their backyard (which they turned into a soccer field) playing soccer. I always admired the cohesiveness of this family and noticed that they had something very important that my family never had -- a blood connection (evident by their likeness) and lots of extended family that spent time together.

During this same time period, back in fourth grade, some musicians came around to my school with an instrument demonstration. I had this overwhelming desire to play the violin and ran home after school to inform my mother of this. I was very fortunate that, much to my surprise, there was a violin in the closet that my mother pulled out that was my great grandfathers! I was also very fortunate that my parents supported my playing the violin, including paying for private lessons, and shuttling me to never-ending concerts (I played in two separate orchestras).

I can only imagine now how it would have been different for me when I was identified as a gifted musician in 5th grade, had I known my biological grandmother was a concert pianist. How would that have felt different to know that I come from a family of painters and musicians and to "know" without a doubt that this was a talent and gift that ran in my family?

I was fortunate that my adoptive mother also had been actively involved in both choir and orchestra. She always said to me that she was never as good as I was at the violin. My mom always told me that I never appreciated my musical talent. What did that even mean I often wondered? Should I feel bad that I had this natural gift? What would "appreciating my gift" actually look like? I see now looking back that my mother was right. I never could fully embrace my gifts as a child. Was this because of my adoption?

Since learning of the artistic and musical connection in my birth family, I have become actively involved in music ministry at my church and I have picked up my violin again. Coincidence? 

Knowing I am a descendant of other artists and musicians in my biological family has given me a sense of confidence and belonging that I never had before. It also has given me "permission" to explore these gifts further. Some could argue, it's age and maturity, and I'm not discounting those possibilities as well; however, I also sense the positive result of knowing where I come from being expressed in my life.

In addition, as every artist knows, our creativity comes from a deep place of emotion and experience. All artists create from this place and if we did "get over it" ("it" could be adoption, alcoholism, death of a loved one, sexual abuse, cancer, the list is endless), what would be left of the muse to tap into?

I was recently explaining my "obsession" to a friend in this way: because I grew up in closed adoption and was unable to access my adoption file and original birth certificate as an adult U.S. citizen, that I felt a sense of responsibility to other adopted people coming after me who will be in the same predicament. As a child and young adult, I felt powerless to act in any way against these inequities. As a mature adult, I not only can act, I feel I must act.

Adopted artists bring all of who we are to our creations, whether those creations are a beautiful painting, sonet or poem. Adoption can also influence other creative outlets such as volunteering as a search angel or an advocate to change discriminatory laws.  

Adoption is part of who I am.

So when you ask when we are going to get over it? The answer for me is: never

I will never get over what has colored who I am and that place where I create from.

If you were hoping for a different answer than the one I provided, I will send you on over to the Humanist Adoptee where she writes about how to get over being adopted.

I will close with this quote from Kara Albano, adoptee advocate and writer:

"Many people ask me my opinion on adoption, like I'm some expert because I have lived it. For some reason every person has the same question, "Do you like being adopted?" "How does it feel?" "Do you wish you weren't adopted?"

That's a long answer with a lot of contradictions and typically I don't go into it. I have my own thoughts and feelings but one thing I always say is, 'how can I hate something that is so much a part of me?'

. . . .so in the grand scheme of things, how can you hate or love something that has changed fate for so many? You can't. You just need to accept." -- from "The Road to my Truth" in The Adoptee Survival Guide.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Kristen Chenoweth Does Adoptee Community a Disservice By Her Recent Article on National Adoption Day

I have seen Kristen Chenoweth live at the Women of Faith tour in Columbus, Ohio.  I admire Kristen’s musical talents and abilities.    I respect that she loves her parents and that she believes that her adoption is the biggest blessing of all.

However, I just cannot bear that on National Adoption Day she thinks it is o.k. to refer to herself as “an adopted child," tell future adoptive parents that their child is a gift and that they were chosen to be their child’s parents.  I cannot bear that she describes herself as “chosen” in 2015 and tries to tell other adoptees how to feel.  She writes:

“And then, lastly as an adopted child I encourage other adoptees to remember what blessed lives we have. We weren't abandoned; we were chosen. We were given a chance. I'm not saying it's not hard or that it's easy for people to understand. But it really isn't for the world to understand; it's for the people who are involved.”
Not every adoptee had a blessed life because they were adopted. Plenty of people have blessed lives without adoption; however, telling people who were actually abandoned that they weren’t and trying to lend out your rose-colored glasses to the rest of us to buy into the chosen myth, is just tacky, and it does all adoptees a disservice.

It’s almost like she is saying, “Look! It worked out perfectly for me, so everybody be grateful!"

I wonder if she honestly believes the myths she is perpetuating or if she is just trying to get more press for herself on National Adoption Day.  I will go with my first thought, because I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt. And I have no doubt Kristen Chenoweth is completely and totally in the fog.  She assumes that her biological mother did the loving thing by placing her, but I have a strong suspicion she does not know that as fact.  I would venture to say that she doesn’t really want to know, because if she found out differently (say, that her mother had no maternal instinct and wanted to escape parenthood or that her mother dropped her off at the local Burger King), her entire worldview might turn upside down.  

Many women place out of love, but it is a myth to believe they all do.

This thinking outside of the script might cause Kristen to question her Christian faith or maybe even question God as to why her? She might have to quite possibly admit to herself that there may be something behind all the rainbows and skittles she is peddling. If she contemplated the bigger picture, she might feel pain at her newfound awareness and feel compelled to put her time and energy into righting the wrongs within the industry.

I would have felt more respect and admiration for her if she would have encouraged parents to adopt children from foster care instead of using her celebrity to hammer a few more nails into the #flipthescript movement.  

I do, however, appreciate Kristen’s closing comment:

“Whether we decide to become parents or simply volunteer our love and time, it's our job as a community to take care of our kids. On National Adoption Day, I hope you remember just that.”
Yes, it is our job to take care of our kids and one way we can do that is to critically examine the institution of adoption and how it currently treats children as both commodities and as extra special compared to regular-born people. We have an urgent need to increase education and awareness about the complexity that adoption creates in people's lives and  using clichés such as “chosen” and “gifts” to discuss a very complex topic like adoption is not only unhelpful, it is damaging.  

Another way we can take care of kids as a community is instead of promoting the private adoption industry, we could take all the billions of dollar being generated there and funnel it back into helping foster children.

My hope for Kristen Chenoweth is that next National Adoption Day, she will use her celebrity to encourage transparency and less greed in adoption.  I'm not holding my breath.

I have a feeling Kristen will always and forever be seen by me and many of her other adoptee fans as: 

“the adopted child who never grew up and thought critically about the institution of adoption."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What We Gain When Adoptees Tell Their Stories

I was searching through a notebook and came across these words.  I don't remember when I jotted them down, but I decided to put them in a meme and use this meme for National Adoption Month on my Facebook page.  Lots of people reacted to it.  Many people commented underneath it as to how they were still too afraid to share they own personal stories of adoption, reunion, loss and gain.

I started to look back on my own journey of adoption and how I have progressed from good kid ("well adjusted adoptee") who rarely got in trouble, to the "outspoken, angry, adoptee" I have transformed into.

Truth is, I'm not angry today.  It's the beginning of my weekend and I woke up inspired to write. However the misconception is alive and well that adoptees who "speak out" are viewed as angry, and ungrateful for all they have been given.  When really adoptees who speak out should be viewed as brave.

And while we are on that topic, here are some other common reactions adoptees receive when they discuss their true feelings, even in "safe adoptee spaces" (and sometimes the comment hurlers are other adoptees!)

*Well, you could have ended up in a dumpster
* You could have been aborted!
* At least you got parents who loved and wanted you!
* I wish I had been adopted
* Stop focusing on the negative and focus on the positive
* Stop living in the past!
* I'm sure you had a much better life as an adoptee
* My cousin's best friend's sister's niece doesn't feel that way!
* There are worse things in life than being adopted

I'm sure if you are adopted, you have been told all of these things and could make a full separate list.

What do all these comments have in common?


Let me share what one of my favorite bloggers has to say on the subject.  Darlene is not adopted but she totally gets adoptees! She even has the signature chameleon on this meme.

Moral of the story:

Until we make it safe for adoptees to speak, most will just swallow their pain.

So in an effort to #flipthescript, how about we make it a goal for the future, to make space for all adoptee viewpoints, even conflicting ones?  Why not bite on our tongues for a few minutes while an adoptee shares their truth with you.  How about refrain from commenting on what you have always believed to be true about adoption as an institution and listen to the person who has experienced it speaking to you?

What can we gain from encouraging adopees to share their stories and more importantly, what can we gain when we listen to adoptees tell their stories?

1.  Make it Safe for Adoptees to Speak

Do you wonder why adoptees aren't rising up in the millions to confront myths, stereotypes and to speak their truths?  Well, there is a lot working against adoptees who are only human and trying to maintain a family life, a career and the day-to-day responsibilities of just living.  Add some hypersensitive adoptive parents, a Facebook message from a new relative and then November ( National Adoption Month) comes along and pushes some of us over the edge.  Why?

When we turn on our T.V.'s during November, we hear adoptive parents, professionals and pro-adoption rhetoric everywhere!  We keep wondering to ourselves when an adoptee is going to speak on T.V. that does not use the party-line. (Listening to reporters talk about adoption for me is kind of like watching Fox News and expecting to get a well-rounded view of politics).

Why aren't adoptees everywhere speaking out during NAM and #flip the script?  The answer is a four letter word:   FEAR.

A better question would be, how can we support adoptees now and in the future to confront these fears in order to feel confidence in speaking out about their views on an institution and a legal process that has affected their lives?

We should be applauding those adoptees who feel the strength and resilience to stand up, be proud, speak clearly from the heart and who work toward changing faulty laws, silly stereotypes and ignorant myths about adopted people. (no, this is not me asking for a pat on the back).  What I am simply saying is, let's make it safe for adoptees to speak so we can learn how best to serve them in the future.

2. We can learn how to improve adoption as an institution, and improve training of those professionals who work in the field.

When I search through the adoption books on Amazon (something I do a lot), I come across all sorts of books about adoption -- books about baby boxes, tons of books written by adoptive parents on how to prepare themselves to adopt, books about the adoption process, books about how to adopt internationally and tons of kids adoption books. I have been noticing a trend of more adoptee memoirs but that may be because I am active in the adoptee community and will notice them on my newsfeeds; however, the majority of books on adoption are not written by adoptees or from an adoptee perspective.

My copy of the book arrived today!
I would like to see this change.  As I state in my essay for the newly released #flipthescript anthology, "Adoptees Are The True Experts On Adoption".  We have lived it.  We understand it from a perspective that others will never understand.  Adopted people should be given an equal platform to speak during any event related to adoption -- whether that be National Adoption Month or meetings with legislatures who makes laws that affect our lives every day.

Social workers, therapists, legislatures and lawyers work for us.  How can they better serve us if they do not enter into the conversation, attempt to begin to understand adoption from our view point, and recognize that current laws are harming the institution as a whole?

Let's just say we have a LOT of work to do; however, it begins with listening to adoptees tell their stories.

3. We can understand the inequality that adoptees face.

Let's not only appreciate the courage it takes to share honestly in an environment that is not friendly to adoptee voices who #flipthescript and in fact, shows disapproval when there is any sign of turning the party-line on it's back -- but let's try to understand ways in which adoptees are treated unequally to other citizens.

The book project that I led and edited, The Adoptee Survival Guide, would not exist if not for the reality that loss and inequality exists within adoption -- and to add insult to injury --  both are minimized constantly.

This blog would not exist if my adoption agency (via the law) was not holding my adoption records under lock and key, including, quite possibly, the name of my unknown father.   Vital Statistics, in the majority of the states in the U.S., are still withholding adoptees' original birth certificates via the law! This is the age of open adoption but most of us are still not "allowed" to know who gave birth to us?

It's really ludicrous if you think about it.  Rather than jumping to conclusions that are false, such as "birth parents were promised confidentiality" (false) or "Adoption as an institution would fall apart without secrets" (false), think about how we want the institution of adoption to be ethical and TRULY in the best interests of children.  Let's stop talking the talk and actually walk the walk.

4. Adoptee Stories Have Validity All By Themselves.

In the Adoptee Survival Guide, Amanda Woolsten states:

"If our voices serve only to meet the information needs of others, only others can determine if our voices have value.  In reality, when you do not have an 'adoptee lens' you cannot comprehensively and fairly appraise the value of an adoptee voice.. . .

Adoptees  I want you to know that it's okay to write just for you.  It's okay to write something that requires the lens of an adopted person to truly understand and to digest what you write has value even if it doesn't contain mental health advice, reunion insight, or parenting tips others find useful.. . 

Other adoptees find your perspective useful. . . .

Adoptees, the families and friends that love us, we need an adoption where all will say that what adoptees write. . . . is adoptee writing and that's why it has value."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Introducing a First-of-its-kind On-line Adoption Summit for National Adoption Awareness Month #flipthescript #NAM

Tuesday October 20, 2015 (Los Alamos, NM) 

Question: What do you get when you bring together adult adoptees with parents by birth and adoption to talk about their relinquishment and adoption experiences, family building practices and views on needed legislative reform? 
Answer: Usually an assortment of passionate opinions, raw emotions, misunderstandings and "unfriending" on Facebook.
But something different is coming during November, National Adoption Month, this year. Adoptee and former foster parent LeAnne Parsons has teamed up with birth/first mother Ashley Mitchell to
assemble an impressive collaboration of speakers for a free online seminar called "Come Climb With Us: the 2015 Adoption Summit Experience."
"Our goal is to create an opportunity for anyone, anywhere who is interested in adoption to lean in and listen to conversations from different perspectives," says Parsons, creator of the event. "Every presenter volunteers their time and energy to make adoption better in some way. These are people who have transformed their relinquishment and adoption challenges into action for positive change. This event is a first of its kind."
Much like a conference held at a brick-and-mortar location, the virtual Summit will take place online November 10-12 with topics and speakers scheduled on different days. The list of presenters includes radio show hosts, authors, bloggers, support group leaders, non-profit directors, activists and healers, with special opportunities for live Q&A with presenters. Admission to the event is free and those interested in participating must register at

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Barriers to Adoptees getting Medical History and Proper Medical Treatment

To help focus attention on the importance of family history, the Surgeon General, in cooperation with other agencies with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has launched a national public health campaign, called the Surgeon General's Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history. -- Surgeon General

This is a topic that has been renewed for me as I was recently interviewed by a news reporter. She genuinely wanted to understand how she could engage her readers in understanding how adoptees could get their medical history and records.  Today I want to discuss the barriers to achieving this.

1.   Lack of Oral History

The best way to determine what diseases and conditions run in your family is to speak to your family members.  That seems obvious to most people; however, adopted people in the U.S. may not have that luxury.  Why you ask?

All states in the U.S. amend and seal (with the exception of 2 states that do not seal) adopted people’s original birth certificates – without a mother’s name, adoptees cannot access their birth families nor the health history of their ancestors. This is true even for “open” adoption and stepparent adoption. 

Adoption agencies routinely deny adopted people any knowledge of their early lives.  Many of us were in foster care before placed with our families and the people we stayed with are unknown to us (due to the closed adoption files), so we cannot ask our family members including foster families (as we don’t know who they are) about our early narrative or our medical issues as a baby.

A minority of U.S. states have opened birth certificates to U.S. adoptees; however, that is only upon adulthood.  Parents need a medical history of their child at the time the child is growing up in order to best treat and determine courses of action for that child's best interests.

If you do not know who your biological family is, you cannot speak to them to gather an oral history of what diseases run in the family and what symptoms to look out for.  Even if you know your biological mother, many adoptees have no knowledge of who their fathers are, so half of their medical history is missing.

Most adoptees have nobody to ask about their birth and the circumstances surrounding it. It’s a classified and highly guarded secret by adoption agencies and adoption attorneys (who cannot release anything due to attorney/client privilege). 

This is all easily accessible by the general population living in a biological family.

"It's confusing, disheartening and people who possess their medical information hold in their hands something that I would liken to gold."  -- Julie G., adoptee
2.  Lack of Written History

Adoption files in the U.S. are confidential and protected by law from adoptees and adoptive parents (even in “open” adoption) which means that even if social workers collect accurate medical history, there is no guarantee that information will be passed on to adoptive families.  Incorrect information or more often, important facts about a child’s health history, (mental illness, addiction, etc. running in family) may not get communicated to the adoptive parents.  Everything rests on the information being communicated from birth families via the social worker to adoptive families.  

Not all U.S. adoptions are arranged by an adoption agency, where trained social workers can ask the right questions.  If a family uses a private attorney, it will be up to the families to work out the details together. Families of children adopted internationally, more times than not, have no family history to work with.

Some adoptees will try to order their mother’s hospital records (in relation to their births), but most hospitals will not release them or give a story that they “were lost in a fire or a flood”. (this is a running joke in the adoptee community).  With HIPPA, this has become more difficult.  Obviously, you have to know your mother’s name to access public records.

Other adoptees, once they are either in reunion, or have found their birth parents deceased, will ask family members for a health history (the most reliable way to access health history) or if there is nobody to ask, will order death certificates to learn causes of death or research on to learn their ancestors’ age and cause of death.

Adoption agencies are complicit in this problem for NOT passing along future health updates to the parties of the adoptions they arranged or revealing histories that may cause an adoptive parent to potentially not want to adopt. 

3.  Inability to educate health providers

Genetic testing is very expensive and out of reach for most people.  Family history is the best indicator of how to prevent, treat or predict serious disease in families.  Adoptees are at a disadvantage every time they make a trip to the doctor’s office.  The first question asked is, “What is your family history?”  Most of us have to write, “UNKNOWN”.  

This makes it difficult for our doctors to make a  preventative treatment plan.  In addition, many of us have spent a lot of extra money on tests because we do NOT know if a particular disease runs in our family.  I have spoken to adoptees who were refused inclusion in health studies and refused medication because of their lack of access to medical history.

Alcoholism, bipolar disorder, melanoma, seizures, diabetes, etc. can appear in family members of the adoptee all without their knowledge and ability to prevent and protect themselves with screening or lifestyle changes.

"Being adopted generally results in extra procedures and expensive and extensive testing outside wellness checks, in addition to missing or minimizing symptoms." -- Leanne Parsons, adoptee
“There are hundreds of diseases for which genetic markers have been identified and thousands more which are known to be familial but for which genetic markers have not been identified. Each test (a small group of related markers) costs hundreds to thousands of dollars - which will NOT be covered by insurance because there is no "known" family medical history of the condition. So the adoptee is left paying thousands of dollars for a few of the hundreds of possible tests. What about all those conditions where no genetic markers have been identified? Only family medical history can alert you to those." -- Gaye Tannenbaum, adoptee
Knowledge is power.

photo credit:
4.  Inability to protect our children and future descendants

If we ourselves cannot access our own medical history, then how are we supposed to protect those whom we love?  During pregnancy, many adoptees are terrified that they may pass down an unknown genetic disorder to their children.  I remember being scared to death every time I opened my copy of "What to Expect When You Are Expecting" during my pregnancy with my son, Matt.

It's truly a crapshoot and we feel helpless to protect those whose lives depend on our knowledge.

"Q: You already know you have the condition. How will family medical history help?

A: In some cases, treatment will depend on whether you have the inherited type or the non-inherited type. There may not be an identified marker so DNA testing won't help. This is Carol Barbieri's story when her son was diagnosed with Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome."

-- Gaye Tannenbaum, adoptee

In a Dayton Daily News article, Steve Kelly speaks of the barriers he went through in attempting to help his daughter after the loss of his first child.
"Shaken by the stillbirth of his daughter Cecilia, Steve Kelly asked a court to release his birth records to help determine whether he had a genetic condition that caused his wife Jennifer’s first pregnancy to end at 21 weeks. After a second daughter began having seizures at age six months, Kelly again sought the court’s intervention.Again, a Montgomery County Probate Court judge denied his request, saying state law restricted Kelly, who was adopted in 1975, from viewing his birth and adoption records. Kelly told lawmakers he and his wife met with genetic counselors after Cecilia was stillborn.
Kelly then took his frustration to the Ohio Statehouse, where he testified in 2013 before a Senate committee on a bill that Ohio Gov. John Kasich would sign that December, making Ohio one of 12 states to open all birth certificates to adoptees. 'Unfortunately, every response that I gave resulted in a giant question mark being placed next to my name,' he said. 'That was not only humiliating, but extremely frustrating, as I felt that I had potentially betrayed my own daughter and had maybe been a contributing factor to her terminal genetic disorder.'"Cecilia died of a chromosomal abnormality known as Turner syndrome. Following the testimony of Kelly and others exasperated that the state had put off-limits the most elemental information about their lives — ethnicity, ancestry and medical history — the Ohio General Assembly cracked the embargo preventing about 400,000 adoptees from accessing their birth records." 
(Reporter: Chris Stewart, Dayton Daily News, full article here.)
National Family History Day
Each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about their family's health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Common Traits of Adoptees

Have you ever wondered what makes adoptees tick?  Well, wonder no longer!  I hope to answer some of your curiosities today.  In an effort to reach both adoptees who may think they are alone in addition to my other aspiration to educate those of you who are still ascribing to traditional myths about adopted people, today is the day you can learn the inside scoop!

"Traditionally, American culture has communicated
to adopted children that aside from the fact that they
are “chosen children,” their lives and experiences are
just like that of those who are raised by their birth
parents (Silverstein & Kaplan, 1998;Wegar, 1997). In
more recent years, however, theorists, activists, and
adoptees themselves have contested this perspective
and argued that the experience of being an adopted
person is unique and worthy of attention
(Brodzinsky, Smith & Brodzinsky, 1998; Rosenberg,
1992; Wegar, 1997). -- Unique Issues of Adult Adoptees
by Jennifer Carizey

I don't personally identify with every item on this list; however, enough adopted people I know have brought particular items to my attention, so I believe each trait below should be considered.  I may comment under the ones I personally identify with and sometimes quote other adoptees or experts.

Misunderstood -- I put this item at the top of the list because it is the one I most identify with. Even as someone perfectly comfortable talking about adoption, being adopted, being an adoptive parent and having a full community of support, being misunderstood is at the top of the list for these reasons:

1.  People assume if you have anything negative to say about adoption, you are anti-adoption. Many people are also still mystified even in the age of open adoption, why we feel any need to search for our roots.

2.  People assume you are an "angry adoptee" or "had a bad experience" if you are involved in the adoptee rights community and are not happy-happy-joy-joy about adoption or do not feel the need to actively advocate for increasing adoptions.

3.  People assume that your life is open to their judgment and examination simply because they are curious about you and why you are adopted.

4.  People associate being adopted with "orphans", "unwanted children" and "almost aborted".  I have lost count of the times I have been mind-blasted with odd assumptions about my personal life by someone who barely knows me, but knows my adoption status.

It's no surprise that adoptees as a class are misunderstood, with the media hype, religion/politics/society waxing and waning on where they stand on adoption, abortion being unfairly mixed into adoption, and the expectation that we remain loyal to adoptive parents' wishes and wants, even as adults.

Delayed Grief -- In this interview at Lost Daughters, Corie Skolnick, therapist/author, describes what she learned from adoptees about their delayed grief, in addition to her observations that adoptees are very resilient and creative.

Incohesive sense of self/identity - I find that this lack of knowing and missing narrative of my life is what has affected me the most negatively as I became an adult.  It still negatively affects me to this day.

"Early adulthood is regarded
as the life cycle stage in which people evaluate the
characteristics and values they have inherited from
their families of origin and decide which aspects to
maintain and which to discard (Urdang, 2002).
This can be a unique struggle for an adoptee.
One issue that is thought to interfere with an
adoptee’s development of a coherent sense of self is
the lack of others with similar physical characteristics."
(Lifton, 1979). 

Hyper-Independence - Many adoptees I know (myself included) are a party of one.  They are the only ones they know they can count on to do it, say it, fix it and/or deal with it.  We don't like to be vulnerable to ask for help from others and/or we don't want to feel let down when others don't follow through/leave/disappoint us.

Co-Dependent - putting others feelings before  oneself (and not taking care of oneself properly) is a full time job for many adoptees.  This can show up as people-pleasing.

My first therapist identified co-dependence in me during my very first therapy appointment.  I had never heard of it and read the book, "Co-Dependent No More" by Melody Beattie -- a life-changing book for me.  My theory on why many adoptees are co-dependent is this:

Many of us were placed in our families to make our adoptive parents' dreams of having a family come true.  If our parents did not fully accept us for the people we were (and not the people they wished us to be), it resulted in co-dependence.  Obviously, if our parents had substance abuse issues or other addictions, these dynamics could also lead to co-dependence; however, I believe the simple act of being adopted, can put one at risk for co-dependence.

Sensitivity - Sensitive to rejection, sensitive to other people's feelings because we know how it feels to be on the outside.  We may be the first to befriend the picked-on or left out person, because we understand how it feels to be on the outside. Reunion sometimes increases these feelings as many adoptees recognize we weren't wholly part of the adoptive family and now we are also on the outside of the birth family as well.  Of course, some adoptees fit in famously with one or both of their families; however, it's unusual to hear an adoptee say they feel fully complete in both families.

Constant Expectation of Rejection - One family left already -- what is stopping another one from leaving?

"I think we Adoptees have trouble making
and sustaining relationships. We share a
vulnerability to the stresses and strains of
everyday interactions, have real difficulty
forming ties and connections. We need
security and dependency, but try to escape
from it. We seem to need freedom. We
don’t trust people." (Lifton, 1979, p. 65)

Hyper-vigilance - Wondering when the other shoe is going to drop
. Is the sky falling because something good is happening in my life?  Hyper-vigilance is common in survivors of trauma and make no mistake, when your mother relinquishes you, it is a trauma, plain and simple. Another way it was described by one adoptee is this:  "unfounded sense of impending doom.".  For more on trauma go here.
Over-achieving - I need to work harder, be smarter, more successful, more (fill in the blank) in order to be loved.
Question Everything
Separation Anxiety - Fear that when someone leaves, they are never coming back.

Distrust of authorities - I have always distrusted authorities despite being raised by a mother who believed anything an authority said.  When government/religious/social/family groups conspire to keep your entire existence a secret or your true identity is always the elephant in the room, it does something to your faith and trust in anyone who has control over your life.

And others that were shared with me:

*  Not feeling like we fit in with our families or friends

"The confusion that results from an adoptee’s feeling
of “differentness” has been coined “genealogical
bewilderment” and refers not only to a physical dissimilarity
but also to a sense of not being with “one’s
own kind”" (Lifton, 1979, p. 47). 

*  Lack of physical connection to family

*  Hypersensitive to conflict

*  Running away when things get hard

*  Heightened anxiety (but being unaware of anxiety)

*  Feeling never good enough

*  inability to handle big changes in life

*  Feeling as though we have to be grateful for being saved

*  Feeling you could be easily replaced

*  Fear of abandonment

*  It's better to leave than be left

*  Not sure what to do with their lives

*  Difficulty making decisions

*  feeling flawed, lacking in self-confidence and trust

"The quality of the attachment that develops
between the adoptee and the adoptive parents is a
critical factor in the repair of the primary loss."
(Brodzinsky, et. al, 1998; Rosenberg, 1992)

And now for the positive traits of adopted people.  I posed the question, "tell me about the positive things you received from adoption" to the authors of The Adoptee Survival Guide.  Here are some of their responses:

* empathetic, compassionate, will see things through

* sensitive to others' feelings and will play peacemaker

* dislike injustices in the world; protective of others and possessions; competive -- Daryn Watson

* "I know that love is thicker than blood. Blood doesn't make you family.  Therefore, I can love people like family." -- Kara Albano

* very adaptable

* highly creative

* we don't take relatives or genealogy for granted

* embracing possibilities of self-invention and embracing that we can self-determine without being influenced by family history

* independent, self-reliant and happy to be alone

* resilient

* take nothing for granted; photo-junkie (documentation!), drive to connect

* finding others like us on this journey who love to write about adoption

* "Ultimately, it helped me to seek and find God in the most profound way and see how He was seeking me. And it helped me to see God's grace in the midst of a lot of evil and to know how much I am loved by him." -- Julie G.

Paige Adams Strickland wrote a really great blog post called The Benefits of Being an Adoptee.  I urge you to read it and to also buy her memoir for more insight into life as an adoptee.

"It has made me a sympathetic, empathetic pragmatist with overtones of possible optimism. It has made me acutely aware of the fragility and in some senses nonsense of human constructs and the power they exert over people because our need to belong, to fit in, to know our place in context is, an overriding drive no matter our race, colour, creed, sex or religion." -- Lucy Sheen


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Using Your Strengths to Overcome Difficult Circumstances

My husband and I were chatting this morning over coffee, reliving in a sense, the search for my birth father.  He reminded me of how far we have come from knowing nothing to knowing so much information, including a psychic vision he received involving a few letters in the alphabet.  We were trying to decipher how this vision fit in with the stories we have gathered from the people who knew my family 5 decades ago.  We relived the psychic vision he had around 2005 about my birth mother's family before I even knew who she was.  (Mark knew ahead of time that my mother lived in the NW part of the U.S., including identifying the state of her residence and that she had a very unique name.)

One thing is clear to my husband -- he stated that, "you and I are strong people".  Not really understanding where he was going with this line of thinking, I probed him further.

"What do you mean exactly?"

"Well, I am a man of faith and all of these situations and experiences we have lived (sometimes endured) have a purpose. All will be revealed in its own timing.  I believe you will find your father when the time is right and then you will have the ending you need for your book."

(I have to admit I'm a little shocked any time my husband makes declarative statements such as these!).

"My book?  I'll be writing a memoir?"

"Yes, eventually".

My husband freaks me out on a regular basis with his predictions. Why?  Because he is always right (although he is humble enough to deny being always right).  One thing I have learned about my husband -- when he says it, it almost always comes to pass.

I started thinking about how maybe I really am a strong person and then I began to ponder exactly what it means to "be strong" exactly.



the state or quality of being physically or mentally strong
the ability to withstand or exert great force, stress, or pressure;

something that is regarded as being beneficial or a source of power: their chief strength is technology

Amy Morin, a psychotherapist who studies strength on a global level, states in her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do that there are three components to strength:

Thoughts - identifying irrational thoughts and replacing them with more realistic thoughts.
Behaviors - Behaving in a positive manner despite the circumstances.
Emotions - Controlling your emotions so your emotions don't control you.

In case you are wondering what those 13 things are, I'm going to flip them around from "don'ts" to "dos":

1.  Gratitude
2.  Own your power
3.  Be willing to face change
4.  Focus on what you can control
5.  Please yourself and know that you can't please everybody
6.  Willing to take calculated risks
7.  Forward-looking
8.  Learn from mistakes
9.  Happy for other people's successes
10.  Will keep trying
11.  Enjoy alone time
12.  Earn their success (no sense of entitlement)
13.  Know it takes time to succeed

I admitted to Mark my recent visit to an adoptee author book reading last week was because I felt this unexplainable pull to just go, even when my evening got complicated and I was a bit late.  I had a deep, inner knowing that for some unknown-to-me reason, I needed to be there to meet this adoptee who I had never known or heard of before.  I also felt compelled to take the author a copy of The Adoptee Survival Guide anthology.  I have never done this before, but I listened to my intuition.  

Mark replied that he had that same feeling Friday when he was being pulled to go to the car auction with our adult son, Matt, but there was another side pulling him to the hospital as his brother was having surgery.  He reconciled the conflict using a deep inner knowing telling him his brother would be mad at him if he was sitting in a waiting room for no reason and didn't get on with his day.  He went to the auction and felt a sense of peace about his decision.  I asked him what the decision making process was like for him exactly and he responded, "You just gotta go with it."

So, what does this have to do with strength and/or "being strong"?  And how can we use our strengths in processing and accepting information we learn during our adoptee search and reunion journey?

1.  Strength: Trust your intuition and be brave enough to act on it.

Like the examples above, sometimes you just know something but can't explain why.  Sometimes you feel this overwhelming pull to go someplace or talk to somebody and if you think too long and hard about it, fear might stop you from acting on your gut.  Strong people trust and believe in themselves and what they know to be true.  Even if 15 others around you are telling you differently, a person of strength will trust in their own instincts over others (of course, that is not to say that others cannot provide valuable insight--a topic for another blog).

People will sometimes think you are wacky or flaky for believing what you believe, but no matter. What matters is what you know to be true.  Sometimes these "knowings" have no rhyme or reason to you at the time they are happening.  Only in hindsight can you see where this situation was leading.

I don't know about you, but I don't have time to waste trying to explain to everyone around me why I believe what I believe or know what I know -- I just know it.  I just believe it.  And I act on it.  That is strength.

2.  Strength:  Know and Believe that all things will work together for your good.

I am a church-going woman. Jesus taught Christians to believe all things work together for our good; however, other religious traditions have a similar tenet.  This part of strength is similar to intuition, but in real life, it looks more like faith and hope.

"Yeah, right, Lynn, a tsunami or tornado is going to work together for my good -- even when I'm dead."  I admit, this line of thinking may have some limitations; however, there is so much truth within it.

However, remember working for your good, does not necessarily mean you will be happy about the result.  Nobody goes into marriage hoping to divorce one day, but sometimes divorce can be a blessing.  Nobody is hoping to get a cancer diagnosis; however, in difficult and painful situations, we grow and can be a blessing to others.

I recently read about a local author who published a book called, Parkinsons as a Spiritual Journey.  I I read the author's story in my local paper last night with deep interest because the author, Joseph Reitz, said something that really struck me.  As his doctor was revealing his diagnoses of Parkinsons Disease (after Mr. Reitz had been suffering with tremors in his arm for 2 years), Mr. Reitz felt devastated but at the same time heard this voice in his head that said,

"Everyone has something".

Mr. Reitz was quoted as saying, "It was like a gift of grace and it took the fear right out of me."

Mr. Reitz journeyed through his disease looking for ways to hope, manage, accept and help others who were walking the same journey as him.  A psychotherapist read a few of his stories and encouraged him to keep writing his stories and stated these stories could help his other patients.   He turned his stories into a book, bringing hope to others with the same diagnosis.

3.  Strength:  Knowing when to ask for help

A few times I have openly acknowledged during conversations with people that I have had counseling.  I always laugh inside when their faces give away their surprise that I would admit this out loud.  I have had people confess to me that they would never tell a stranger their innermost thoughts.  Others have looked at me with a perplexed face, not saying what I suspect is really on their minds:  we got a crazy one here!

It is not weakness to admit when you need help.   Back in the mid-90's, Mark and I lost a baby during the second trimester of my pregnancy and we were devastated. We could not lean on each other as we were both grieving.  So I decided to find a therapist to help me work through my grief.

When our car breaks down, we find a mechanic. Well, when our hearts are breaking down, therapy can be good.  When our emotions get too far out of hand, it is good to seek therapy or talk to a friend or loved one.

Weak people will not ask for help, mainly because it makes them feel (or in their minds) look weaker.

If you get your DNA tested, but you don't have the foggiest clue how to interpret the information, ask others who understand genetic genealogy.  If you are an adoptee and others around you do not understand what you are feeling, seek out a support group.

Strong people know where their limits lie and will reach out for help.  Be strong and ask for help!

4.  Strength:  Seeing the good in the bad

A large part of the conversation with my husband this morning centered around the pain I experienced during my reunion with my maternal family.

Through our discussions, I realized that my reunion fell apart (partly) because I asked too many questions about my father and who he was.   This "need to know" of mine threatened my mother as she had no intention of sharing that information with me (unbeknownst to me) and I had no intention of accepting that as the final word on the matter.  It is painful to accept that a relationship I fantasized about my whole life, ended too soon, albeit silently, over the truth about my conception.

As I relived the dark feelings this morning, other thoughts began to occur to me.  I was really, really blessed to meet my mother at all.  I was blessed to be able to stay in her home, look at her face and have many conversations with her -- something so many adopted people never had as their mother was deceased by the time they learned who their mothers were or learned they were adopted.  I was blessed. I was blessed to find out who she was when others still have unanswered questions about their mothers.

It is easy some days to feel sorry for myself when I log into DNA Detectives and read stories of searchers (adopted and non-adopted alike) who right off the bat get a first cousin match upon taking their very first DNA test, and I'm 2 and a half years into genetic genealogy (in all the databases) and have nothing closer than a 4th cousin match to my father (I am not alone in this category).

Lately, though, I have realized that I wouldn't have learned as much as I have about genetic genealogy over the last several years and met the amazing people I had met if I had instantly gotten access to my paternal line like so many others. I am learning and growing through this journey, whether I would choose that path or not.  It is what it is!

There is a silver lining in every hurt, every rejection, every disappointment.  Sometimes it can take years to recognize it, but it's there.

It takes strength to see it and keep moving forward.

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Adoption in the United States is seen as a cure-all for many of society's problems and as the political climate has changed significantl...