Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Facts Remain

Yesterday we left home early to drive to Macon GA and pick up my paintings from the Silent Voices exhibit at the 567 Center for Renewal. It's a 4 hour drive each way so I knew it was going to be a long day but I was excited to get there and hear about how the show went after the opening. I was only there for one night so Beth was there for me interacting with the public during the month of the show.

Artists have a job. Sometimes that job description is about beauty- sharing nature, bringing it indoors for us to enjoy and sometimes that job is about telling truths, provoking thought and emotion, waking people up, educating or making a statement about a particular societal problem. When you put paintings out there that tell a story - a painful, uncomfortable story - it can bring a huge range of responses so I was not at all surprised by the reactions to my work.

There were other first mothers who saw the show and were deeply affected. There were many tears as people related to the poetry and the images. Some of those who were just as deeply touched were coming from completely different experiences, some not even related to adoption at all but were still about loss in a big way.

Some people were curious about the meaning behind the paintings and wanted to learn more and some people were looking from an artistic standpoint.

To me the most interesting reactions were the ones from people reacting with anger. One person in particular was so upset by the images that he called it "crap" and didn't understand how that "shit" could be exhibited.

There was also a group of people very insulted and offended by my work. New City Church shares space in the building with the art center where the show was held. They were so offended in fact that they forced the art center to remove 3 of my paintings every weekend before their services and then they were displayed again afterwards. They censored my show every week in February. That's how uncomfortable the truth is to some people. Which pieces couldn't they handle? Of course the 3 in this post. Every week these paintings had to go into hiding.

Funny how these 3 were the most obvious about the corruption of the adoption industry. I could pour my heart out in the other pieces about the personal price that first mothers AND adoptees pay because of adoption but don't let anyone see anything negative about the industry or any religious connection to it. Do you think I touched a nerve? Do you think there might be more than a couple of adoptive parents in the church? Yes and yes.

It's certainly not my intention to go around insulting and offending people. Anyone who knows me, knows that. My intention is to share my personal story because it's also the story of millions of others like me and most of the general public doesn't know about this part of history. It's the truth for them and it's my truth. My other intention is to make people aware of the other truth- the one about the corruption in adoption. I wasn't merely sharing my opinion. I was stating facts in picture form. What's on those canvases is a visual representation of the facts.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but hiding the facts, being insulted by facts, being offended by facts, doesn't change a thing. The facts remain.

Adoption is a supply and demand business making $$$billions$$$ for an industry.

I was a little disappointed in the turn out for the opening reception last month but after hearing about the reactions of people since then I'd say I did my job. The work made more people aware and no matter what their reaction was it made them think about it.

I want to say a giant thank you to Beth Smith for curating the show and being there to answer questions and be my voice for the duration of the exhibit. She was not only my voice for the rest of the month but she was also able to add to the show with her own voice as an adoptee. Thank you a million times over for being so strong and taking the leap with me.

So now, I'll continue to add more pieces to the Silent Voices collection and hopefully someday another curator will take the leap.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Well at least.....

Recently I was talking with someone about adoption and the different types of adoptees- adoptee-lite (step-parent adoptee like me), LDA or late discovery adoptee (like me) and of course adoptees who have always known they were adopted.

Anyway, we were having this discussion and I shared about someone I know who found out quite late in life that he was adopted. I felt that what was done to him was wrong. I understand what kind of upheaval that can create in a person's life. When hearing about the adoptee's situation this person's first reaction was to jump to the conclusion that the adoptee was just playing the "poor me" card. Apparently he just needed to choose a more positive outlook on life- look at the bright side- at least he didn't have major medical issues that were compounded by a hidden genetic history. At least he had adoptive parents..... at least.... at least......

I said that I thought this attitude was very dismissive of what the adoptee had been through. I expected more compassion from someone who knows me and knows what adoption does to people. The response was to actually say that he refused to give compassion when a positive outlook could be chosen. It was a refusal to put himself in another person's shoes. It was a refusal to even try to understand the feelings of another.

I'm sorry but that's not being positive or having an optimistic outlook, that's being condescending and dismissive of another person's story and the impact that story has on a life. I understand the importance of having a positive outlook. Choosing to use the pain of my own experience in a positive way is what's gotten me through the last 36 years of living with adoption. I get that! What I don't get are the assumptions- assuming the adoptee is using the experience to play "poor me", assuming the adoptee doesn't have a positive outlook, assuming that the adoptee is wallowing. He doesn't know the adoptee, has never had any contact with him whatsoever but was willing to assume that the adoptee just hadn't chosen the correct attitude.

This is no different than people assuming that first mothers and adoptees are all bitter and angry and should just get over themselves and quit talking about it. If you dare talk about the negative side of adoption you're just wallowing in misery and must have a terrible life. If we would just choose to be positive then of course the industry will fall in line and fix itself. Sure it will.

Isn't it possible to be positive and compassionate at the same time???

Does choosing to have a positive outlook mean that you're no longer allowed to express pain and anger? When you've been hurt, traumatized, had an awful thing happen to you, you will experience sadness and pain. What happens to those feeling then? They get bottled up, shoved down deep to eat away at you from the inside and who knows what kind of havoc that's causing your body. Have you every heard someone say they need a good cry? A cry can be good for you. It's releasing, it's cathartic, you feel better afterwards. What you don't need in that moment is someone telling you that you just need an attitude adjustment. The more positive feelings will happen after you let go of the crap that's built up.

Yes, we can choose to be positive. We can choose to be grateful for what we have and that's hugely important!! AND it's important to recognize the hurt that someone might be going through and empathize with them. Don't dismiss them as just having a poor attitude. Do some people wallow and spend their lives in misery when they can make another choice? Yes. Just don't assume that everyone who expresses pain is doing that.

Brene' Brown said "Rarely does an empathic response begin with- at least" Watch this short video from Brown about empathy and sympathy.

The discussion I had left me feeling sad and disappointed that this person didn't even want to understand what I was trying to say about empathy. I not only felt my friend was being dismissed but I was also dismissed as not having the proper attitude. Living with adoption is not a one time event. It's effects can be felt every single day of your life. You can choose to be positive in how you deal with it day to day and be a happy, productive member of society and there will still be days when it gets you down. Those are the days when a little understanding can get you through.

I think I'm coming to the conclusion that fear is at the bottom of this. People don't want to stand in another's shoes and empathize because that means feeling something painful themselves. It's much easier to wave it away and just say they need to be positive. What they don't realize though is what a huge, POSITIVE impact genuine empathy has for a person who is in pain.

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's all about awareness

Well it's done. The opening of Silent Voices happened and I survived it. Of course I was a nervous wreck for a little while but still I was pleased with how everything turned out.

This was the gallery space before the reception. I was thrilled with how well everything came together. The paintings fit the space beautifully and hanging didn't take very long at all. The poetry worked along side the artwork.

There was a lot going on in Macon Friday night so the turn out for the reception was not what I had hoped it would be. The people who did come were genuinely interested in the story behind the work, they took the time to read about each piece and asked me questions about the adoption industry. Several people were shocked by what they learned.

I spent quite a bit of time with one couple who were curious about the topic because friends of theirs were considering adopting. They had gone to agency websites and were appalled at the prices they saw there. They wanted to know what was behind it so they got an earful and a new understanding of the industry.

There were two points I wanted to get across with the exhibit. 1. Explain what the BSE was and how pregnant women were treated. 2. How and why the industry has morphed into what it is today. Maybe I only got to speak to a handful of people but if those few learned something about the other side of adoption then it was a success and well worth doing the show. It's all about awareness.

These 2 pieces were the last ones I painted. I couldn't get a good picture because of where they were hanging- there was a post in the way. These are called Adoption Situation, referring to the listings on adoption agency websites where babies are listed along with a price.

Scared and alone she reached out.
Come with us they said.
I’m in a situation.
We’ll take good care of you they said.
I can’t afford a baby.
We know people who can they said.
I don’t know what to do.
We’ll help you make a “plan” they said.
My family doesn’t understand.
We do. We can take care of that situation they said.
I don’t know if I can do this.
You’ll be brave and selfless they said.
This looks like a nice couple.
The couple in the brochure is better than you they said.
I’ll miss my baby.
You love him so much you’ll let someone else raise him they said.
I want time with my baby first.
But they need to bond with him they said.
I can’t do this. I want my baby back.
Too late, the check has been cashed they said.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

It's really getting personal

Hi ya'll. Last year I talked about doing an exhibit with my Silent Voices series in Macon GA in April of '16. (Yikes, it's been that long since writing here!) Well, turns out it was on the schedule for February! So...... this week I'm delivering 15 canvases to the 567 Center for Renewal in downtown Macon. For the folks who might be in the area, the opening reception is Friday the 5th at 6pm.

Because the exhibition is happening sooner than I had planned I'm not able to add all the pieces I had hoped to- namely the ones with the stories shared by you. I hope to continue working on and adding to this series as time goes on so I do still plan on adding your stories as another element to the show. For now I'm doing well to finish painting the last canvas along with doing the other bits and pieces required for such an event.

Here you can see bits and pieces of 4 of the canvases. 15 of these 48x36 paintings take up some space in my house!

So why am I doing this? This isn't a selling show. I do portrait commissions, teach art classes and paint landscapes that sell through galleries. What's the point of borrowing a vehicle and hauling these things to another state and then a few weeks later going back to pick them up again. The point is the heart. It's a labor of love. The point is opening minds. The point is having a voice when for the majority of time mother's voices are not only overlooked but intentionally shut down- and sometimes not in a very nice way. We're just bitter and angry old ladies after all.

For the most part though, I think people just don't know. They don't understand what infant adoption means because they've been so filled with the industry propaganda of rainbows and unicorns- adoption is beautiful don't you know? I saw a meme on Facebook today that struck me as appropriate when thinking about doing this exhibit....

The timing for that was perfect. Yesterday I was having a mini panic attack at the thought of putting these paintings out there. They are very personal and I've never shared them anywhere except here where I'm not face to face with anyone. It's easy to share on the internet. It's harder when you're looking a stranger in the eye and having to explain what the work means. I've been working on these canvases for a few years because I have to do these in between the projects that pay the bills so doing this show is a big deal for me. It's the culmination of a lot of time, tears, thought and therapy.

Another bit of timing that was perfect..... remember I said these canvases take up a lot of space? In the process of preparing I had to move things around the studio and office. The earlier canvases have been stored in front of a bookcase in my office for quite a while. Well, you know how the domino effect works. Once I moved them out of the way I had to clean out the bookcase- because I could. While I was sorting things I came across an old notebook. Only the first page had been written on.

It said....
"My roommate Lanny and I went to the drugstore down the street and bought a pregnancy test. My heart was pounding, she was trying to be supportive but all I could feel was the screaming fear pulsing in my veins. The only words going through my head were- can't be, can't be, can't be, can't be happening to me. I'm just stressed, that's why I'm late. Other little voice saying- but you've never been late before. The 'can't be' chanting continued in my head all the way back to the apartment, the hot Ft. Lauderdale sun beating me down block after block."

I have no idea when or why I wrote that. Maybe it was the very beginning of the notion that sharing would be a good idea. It just seemed to me to be the voice of my 19 year old self showing up just in time to remind me to keep going, to put on my big girl panties and deal with sharing these paintings- in person.

See you in Georgia.

Friday, April 24, 2015

An opportunity to be heard

A while ago I asked mothers of adoption loss if they would like to be included in this painting. I added their names and the birthdays of their lost children. Since then I've done a number of other paintings, written narrative poetry to go with the pieces and did a book called Silent Voices.

Now I have a wonderful opportunity to continue this series of work about adoption and share it with the public in an upcoming exhibit at the 567 Center for Renewal art center in Macon GA. The exhibit will be in April 2016. My plan for the exhibit includes 14 large paintings (13 of them are done, the birthday candle painting will be included), a series of collages and a display of boxes. My plan for the collage work is to include handwritten stories from other natural mothers and also have some sheets of paper that are blank so people visiting the exhibit can add their own voices to the display.

My dear mom friends out there.... would you be willing to add your voice to this exhibit? This is a chance to have our voices heard. Showing at an art center with an exhibit that focuses solely on adoption loss from the mother's point of view is a rare thing indeed. I'd love to include as many of you as possible. Let's share our stories. Too many people have no idea what infant adoption does to the original family.

If you would like to participate, let me know in the comments. You can leave your story in the comments too and I'll write it out on paper but I would love to have your hand, your touch on that paper and then I'll make it part of the collage. You don't have to write a long thing- a paragraph or two would be perfect. You could write about any aspect of adoption. How did losing a child to adoption impact your life? How has it affected the rest of your family? What were the circumstances around the adoption? Were you able to hold your baby before relinquishing? Was it a closed or open adoption? Did you have to keep the adoption secret? These are just a few ideas.....

We can get in touch through email or you can message me on FB and thank you, thank you, thank you! I hope you'll consider adding your words. It would make the exhibit so much more powerful!

Saturday, March 21, 2015



Hand print ghosts in blue and green
fingers curl around colors
brows furrowed in concentration
making pictures never to be seen
watercolor strokes
tulips and bees
orange suns and lollipop trees
 adorn the fridge
footsteps pitter patter
paint splatters
childhood goes on in another universe
locked away from the dreaming heart

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Speaking for us again

You know..... I see articles like this and I go through such a range of emotions. I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to punch somebody, I want to laugh, I just smh. Once again an adopter is speaking for us. Once again an adopter thinks she knows what we think, what we feel and what she thinks we should do - such as "move on" from our grief.

First of all, I wish they would stop calling us "birthmothers". They are mothers, I am a mother. Period. She writes of a mother's experience after giving birth....

"They may feel a surge of connection to him, as well as pride, sadness, and grief."

May feel? Ya think? Yeah, maybe she'll be sad that she's losing her first born child. Maybe, just maybe, she'll feel connected to this little person she just grew in her womb. The child she shares cells with, a child who carries her DNA, a child she's nurtured and loved within her body for the last 9 months. It's utterly baffling to me how people can make such statements. 

"Adoptive parents who experienced the grief of infertility may use that experience to empathize with their baby’s birth mother. One mother told her child’s birth mother at the delivery, “I am sorry you are going through so much pain. I wish I could go through labor for you.”

I've talked about this before and some people may not like what I have to say but.... gonna say it anyway. When grieving infertility the grief is real, it hurts, I get that and I'm not trying to minimize it but it's grieving what could have been- what will not happen. It's grieving an imaginary child, the child that will never be. When a mother is grieving the loss of her baby to adoption she is grieving the loss of an actual child- a living, breathing human being. They are both grief, they are both real but they are completely different. I don't know what it feels like to feel the grief of the infertile and I won't pretend to. An adopter who is infertile has no idea the level of grief a mother deals with. She can't grasp what it is to carry a child and feel that child kicking and moving within. She can't grasp the sacred connection a mother has to her own flesh and blood. She can try to empathize but she will never know. I appreciate an effort to empathize but not when she still feels entitled to take the baby from his mother.

"I wish I could go through labor for you"?  She says she cares so much about the mother that she wishes she could go through the labor for her. BS! If she cared so much about the mother she would ask that mother what she could do for her to clear whatever obstacles are in the way of that mother taking care of her own baby! But of course that won't happen. That would interfere with her being able to take that child from the mother. She says things like this so she can show concern but still she thinks she's entitled to take the baby home and raise him as her own.

"Following a period of emotional chaos and grief, most birth mothers reach a level of acceptance in their lives. As your child’s birth mother becomes more at peace with her decision, she may gain renewed energy for her current life, and more clarity about her role as a birth parent and her relationship to you."

Reach a level of acceptance? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. How does she know what most mothers do? Mothers don't reach acceptance, they learn to hide the grief, they learn to hold in the tears and let them go when no one is watching, they learn to function so they can go to work everyday. In an open adoption they learn to cover up and keep silent so the adopters don't see it and decide she shouldn't have contact with her child anymore. She learns to be the good girl so she can, if she's lucky, stay in the adopters good graces because they hold all the power.

"While each contact may reawaken some of her feelings of loss, most birth mothers report that these contacts help them to move on from the sadness and be more productive in their lives."

The loss isn't reawakened, it's always awake. Every minute of every day for the rest of a mother's life. That doesn't mean a mother doesn't have a productive and fulfilling life, even a happy one. It just means that the loss is always with her. The lost child is not replaced with the birth of more children or a fabulous career or anything else the mother might do. There is no getting around that and reunion doesn't fix it. You don't just "move on" from the loss of a child. 

And why do they feel the need to tell us to move on? Did they just move on from the loss of their fertility? Did they say- "well it wasn't meant to be that I have children so maybe I should focus on volunteering or fostering children"? No. They jump through hoops, pay a lot of money to the industry, have business cards made that they can hand out to pregnant women who aren't wearing wedding rings, hire people to design slick full color brochures advertising themselves as better than mothers who are poor, in a bad situation or are just unsure of themselves, place ads on Craigslist and use crowd funding to get other people to help them buy a baby. 

Adopters, please stop. Stop telling us to move on. Stop telling other adopters how to help mothers leave their children.