November 14, 2010

How Long Will It Take?

“Never, never, never, never give up.”
~ Sir Winston Churchill

A ground-breaking "Life...Adopted" conference was held in Oklahoma this weekend, spear-headed by an amazing woman and adoptee, Rhonda Noonan (Clinical Director of Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health). It has been such an honor to meet her and her team of clinicians. It wasn't your traditional adoption conference. The day-time keynote was Chaz Wesley, who is a grief & loss counselor.

We enjoyed an entire day of hearing first family & adoptee perspectives, reunited adoptees & first mothers, first fathers, advocates, and searching well as professionals, speaking about life-long issues in adoption. Previously unspoken words in adoption conferences in our great state were finally uttered, such as "disenfranchised grief", "truth in adoption", and "human rights issues" relating to adoptee access legislation passed in other states.

The American Adoption Congress was gracious to send Paul Schibblhute, a first father and adoptee access advocate to come lead a workshop on "Strategies for Legislative Change".

The amazingly talented and passionate Alison Larkin (author of "The English American") shared her heart & story that evening in "An Evening with Alison Larkin".
So many things she shared reminded me of my own emotional journey of adoption & reunion. When she talked about how having her updated family medical history saved her own son's life at birth, I teared up thinking about the birth of my premature baby and attempts in obtaining my family medical history.

For Oklahoma's first conference of this magnitude, it couldn't have been a greater success. It was filled with counselors, adoption professionals, and people touched by adoption themselves. Many adoptive parents as well.

Yet I sit here a little sad. My emotions and body are weary after being so busy and excited helping with this event, and my thoughts are scattered all over. I have to make this post short because, after being busy for the last three days and not spending that time (as normal) with my son, he needs me. Sure, he spent an entire weekend doing fun things with his Daddy, but because my son was born so early and spent so much of his first year in the NICU he deals with trust issues galore. He's exhausted and unregulated. I do this work as much for him as myself, but it is truly a catch-twenty two.

How many other adoptees and their families have dealt with similar struggles because of the same pre-verbal trauma suffered when separated from their mothers at birth ~ yet it goes unacknowledged their entire lives?

Chaz Wesley asked us to discuss hurtful "platitudes" we hear as adoptees & first families, even though adoption is based on profound, disenfranchised loss. Grief that is "celebrated" just doesn't make sense...and can never truly be processed.

Some of those platitudes we discussed were,
"Oh, you were better off..."
"What a gift!"
"At least you will know where (or how) your child is"
"You're adopted? How lucky you were a "chosen" child"
"Oh, adoption is such a loving (or brave, or wise, or courageous) choice!"

...and the list goes on and on.

As Alison so poignantly shared this adoptees, and sometimes even first mothers, we are terrified to love. Why take the risk of losing something so dear?

And what loss could be more profound than the loss of our own mother? But how can we risk being thought of as ungrateful or disloyal to the parents who who love and raised us, or God-forbid, risk abandonment again, if we dare think of or speak of those silent questions and sorrows we carry inside as adoptees?

Some of the sadness comes from the fact, no matter how "successful" this conference was, it is a shame that more people weren't there. Secrecy and shame is still very much dictating societal beliefs. "Adoption First Language" touted by the adoption industry disenfranchises people even more, because it serves the adoption business rather than those whose lives are profoundly affected every day.

I'm a little sad that none of my family was there. It meant so much, though, that my husband and also one of my very best friends was able to attend the evening performance. My friend lost her mother a couple of years ago and when Alison shared her description of seeing her first Mother for the very first time, and what it was like to finally "be able to reach over and touch her"...we both held our breath...that has been exactly what I have longed for my entire life.

It was heart-breaking to hear the hushed stories of adoptive parents who came up to us with pain in their eyes over the hurt their adopted child feels, and yet they have no idea how to help them. So thankful they were there and we could share excellent resources that will hopefully give them tools for real healing...

The one that is heaviest on my heart is the adoptive mother who told me the story of her 16 year old daughter who is now pregnant. She wants to keep her baby, but her mother is working with a crisis pregnancy adoption agency as we speak because she is convinced her daughter is not "capable" of raising this child. She said the counselor at the agency has met with her daughter one time and "has determined" that she is at an emotional level of a six year old in regards to dealing with this pregnancy decision. Since when could counseling offered by an adoption business be non-biased or not be considered a conflict of interest, I wondered?

It brought back memories of my own adoptive mother who had convinced me that if I were ever to become pregnant before marriage, that I should either abort or "place" my baby for I got older and was able to deal with my own adoption issues, I felt extremely violated and just the thought of losing my own flesh and blood (especially because of the encouragement of my own mother) infuriated me.

I wanted to warn her that no matter how many promises of "openness" she may hear, that "open adoption" is still not legally enforceable in our state; that adoption agencies sometimes fight "contested" adoptions, if the mother changes her mind about "placing"; and that even "open" adoptions sometimes find themselves closed, once the child gets old enough to start asking the harder questions. That adoption agencies will sometimes "reassure" prospective adoptive parents to feel comfortable with an open adoption because "eventually the 'birthmom' will move on".

One of our workshop presenters, Linda Kats, wrote a book about her family's experience ~ "Blended Hearts, Broken Promises."

Even in "open" adoptions the child's original birth certificate is sealed and an amended one is issued.

I encouraged this adoptive mother to research not just what the agency was recommending, but also authors such as Nancy Verrier, Sherrie Eldridge, and Betty Jean Lifton.

It saddened me that although adoptees and first mothers are becoming courageous enough to actually get up in front of an audience and share their stories without shaking like a leaf or breaking into tears...we still "fold" to the societal expectations of making sure we don't step on people's toes or appear ungrateful.

One adoptee who spoke reminded me so much of myself at the beginning of my journey. So as not to hurt or face possible perceived rejection from my adoptive family or my newly reunited first family, I gushed with gratitude about how grateful I was that they "made the right decision" and I was blessed with two wonderful families now...isn't that what we're conditioned to say from the "professionals"? Yet, inside, I was hurting and desperately needed to be allowed permission to truly process those emotions locked up inside.

Because of making sure we say the "right thing" (we're nervous), we don't get around to sharing what really needs to be said...the stories of how horrified first mothers are when they find out their agency-assigned "alias" name was used on their child's actual birth certificate...that birth-dates were often changed...that adoption agencies even today are not required by law to ensure EVERY adoptee has a factual original birth certificate...much less the right to obtain it unconditionally in adulthood.

No wonder this uphill-climb of adoption advocacy is so tiring...yet so worth it. To meet the one state legislator who attended the conference...the one book that is now read...the one adoptive parent who now has the resources to truly help their child...the one adoptee or first parent who can finally find validation...the one young adoption "professional" whose knowledge may be enlarged...

When will be able to look back at the failed experiment of sealed records in adoption history and rejoice that it has ended?

When will adoption law and practice be governed by ethical principles?

When will society understand the conflict of interest issues surrounding adoption and those affected are directly related to the economic principles of supply and demand in a business that disregards human rights?

It is a shame this is taking so long...


Jen said...

I had no idea you lived in Oklahoma. That's where I am. It sounded like the conference went well. I would have loved to of attended or been a part of it in some way. I am just now coming to terms with my adoption and the issues I have kept buried my entire life.I feel that this is all a part of the process. Is there a way I can keep up with conferences that are going on in our area? Please keep me posted. Thanks so much! :)

Samantha Franklin said...

I so wish I had known you were in OK! Please email me at and let's get together!

SW Rick said...

The conference was great! Even though, I got there late, I got to experience the whole adoption triad again in full force..Hearing Linda Kats, seeing faces, and visiting which I haven't seen in awhile, meeting Alison Larkin, and getting excited about the American Adoption Congress trying to get us ready to change the laws, what a good time! Also, at the Reg Day Booth, getting to meet the adoptees and a birth mom who had tried or thought about getting started in their search. I got to try and help them, even though no one gave me the o.k. (I'm sure you didn't mind.), gave me the feeling you get when you first get started on your own search. The performance Alison gave was awesome. To cap off the weekend, I got to see my blood brother, and visit with him. Somehow, during my reunion, with my birth family,the past 3 years, the things learned at the conference seem to tie things together.

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