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 clich├ęs 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."

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