Sunday, December 7, 2014

This means war?!

Imbalance of Power

I haven't been here in a while. You know how it is.... life gets in the way. There are things like survival- trying to make ends meet as a self-employed artist. It's more than a full time job. Sometimes when in survival mode that's all you can deal with. That doesn't mean I don't think about adoption and how things are going in the adoption reform movement. Oh how I wish I could be more involved. I still share articles on Facebook and comment when I can. I still read and follow what's happening. Of course there's been much more of that recently because of National Adoption Awareness Month- that dreaded month that we write about, focus on and try to use to make a difference.

If you've read here before you may know that I'm not only a first mother who lost a daughter to the adoption machine but I'm also a late discovery step-parent adoptee and I'm very proud to be associated with the Lost Daughters. Although I think and write more from the first mother perspective, my sisters there have welcomed me with open arms. I'm so very proud of my adoptee sisters and the #flipthescript campaign and the Flip the Script video that has been the talk of #NAAM. If you haven't seen it yet you must check it out.

So what got me fired up and back on the blog? The push back on #flipthescript. I just read a gem of a post by an adoptive mother. To begin, she calls the post "the war on National Adoption Month". Really? We're at war? If an adoptee talks about her experience as an adult adoptee and it doesn't conform to the industry standard of adoption propaganda, apparently thems' fightin' words. If a person who was/is adopted, talks about what it was like for her to be adopted and how complex that experience is and was for her, she's waging a war. The simple act of telling her story means she's at war? That's a bit extreme isn't it? According to the industry and it's proponents- adoption is beautiful and don't you dare say anything to the contrary. Don't you know that? Because apparently, if you talk about your own personal experience, you're making some other folks mighty uncomfortable. So uncomfortable in fact that they see it as an attack.

Her first paragraph.... and I'll answer her here since it's not likely that my comments will make it past moderation on her blog.

"Adoptees are “flipping the script” during National Adoption Month, sharing the other, unattractive side of adoption. It’s their right. I’m not an adoptee and can’t speak for them, but part of me doesn’t like seeing this opportunity of beauty turned into something that’s looked down upon."

"I'm not an adoptee and can't speak for them" Isn't that the point of flipping the damned script?? Adoptive parents and the industry professionals have had the floor for decades. It's about time the other people who live and breath adoption- the adoptees and the natural mothers- have a say. No, you're not an adoptee so you have no idea what an adoptee feels about adoption. You have hearsay, you have anecdotes by others, you have stories you've heard, you have your experience with your child who is not yet an adult with adult views. There is no triad in adoption. There are 4 sides and only 2 of them have had the country's ear until now- the adoption industry and the adoptive parents.

"Why is it beautiful? Because I can separate what my children went through, their abuse, neglect, and trauma, from their adoption. What they went through before foster care, I would compare with hell, what they went through while visiting their bio parents while in foster care wasn’t much better, but now we see new lives, new people emerging. Beauty."

What you see as beauty, your adopted child may see differently. This is beautiful for you. Maybe you can separate it but can your child? This is your child's history. For one thing... why are you sharing such personal details of your child's history with the world? This is his story, his to share when he is ready. If he's ready at all, ever. It's not up to you. It's not your life. When he is an adult, his view of adoption may be vastly different than yours and that's ok.

"That’s why “flipping the script” on adoption day is so painful. The world is taking what is often a positive event and turning the tables, focusing on those who don’t feel it was a good thing for them."

No, they're focusing on the voices of adopted people, period. That's the point. Whether that person's story is happy, sad, angry, or a mix of all of those, the point of flip the script is to give them the opportunity to use their voice and be heard- be heard without being interrupted by the people in the equation who are the beneficiaries of a corrupt and unethical system.

"Those who are "flipping the script" aren't adoptees who are happy and content with their adoption experience, they're the ones who are angered, feel like something was done to them. The ones who feel they were ripped from their first family, from their country, are hurt by positive adoption language."

Every adoption begins with loss and pain no matter how you slice it or how much positive adoption language you want to throw at it. That PAL was developed by the adoption industry and put into place for a reason- to separate mothers from their babies. That is the sole function of the new words -  to describe what is a tragedy in more palatable terms. 

The "angry adoptee". This is the most common argument thrown at adoptees (and mothers of loss). "You're just angry and bitter". Damn straight I'm angry. Does that mean I'm an angry person? No. My life is just fine but that doesn't mean I shouldn't talk about the experiences I've had and how they've affected me. And, under the circumstances, anger is a perfectly normal reaction to experiences that were beyond our control. We take back our control now by using that anger in a positive and constructive way. 

ALL adoptees have been taken from their original families in one way or another, whether taken forcefully because of abuse or taken from a new mother through coercion or by the courts legally severing all connection with the family through sealed birth records. As an adoptive parent you feel adoption is beautiful. That's great for you but don't diminish or dismiss what adopted people have to say about their life experience. 

"The adoptees who aren't speaking out (and far outnumber those who are calling out adoption) are the ones who are satisfied in life, the ones who accept their adoptive family as their own, ones who've found their birth family and either have a good relationship with them or have decided to let it be."

And here I just have to say- IMO- you're wrong. The vast majority of adoptees I know who are speaking out, are simply trying to make a difference for future adoptees. They ARE satisfied in life. They just want people to understand that adoption is far more complex than what the industry wants the public to believe. They're trying to balance out the narrative so it can be understood that there is more to the story than the story of the happy adoptive parents and the well payed adoption professionals.

"I don't want to belittle anyones experience, after all, it's their own. I can't speak as an adoptee. Maybe there should be separate months, one for National Adoption Month and a month for adoptees to share their feelings, like an Adoptee Awareness Month."

You want to give adoptees a month to speak? How generous. Why should we separated? Haven't we had enough separation as it is??? Hasn't the mic been monopolized by the most powerful voices already? I also deal with this idea as a mother of loss. We have "Birthmother's Day" which I refuse to acknowledge. I celebrate my motherhood on Mother's Day along with all the other mothers. I was still a mother after my daughter was taken from me and I'm still an adoptee the other 11 months of the year. Don't tell me when I can speak.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Savior Complex

Savior Complex

Today I finished this latest piece in the Silent Voices series. Only a handful of people have seen it as I was working on it. I was told it was - creepy but effective and potentially offensive. I guess they're both right. I don't think I could've painted an image like this years ago. We all go through stages of development and healing when dealing with issues about adoption. At the beginning of the series I was painting as a catharsis. It was my own personal therapy. As the series progressed it became more about a statement on infant adoption in general.

When I started sketching for this piece I think I had Kathryn Joyce's book The Child Catchers in the back of my head. If you haven't read it, it's an important read. I highly recommend it.

Infant adoption is seen as such an idyllic institution. People love the idea of saving babies. Who wouldn't? And it gets better.... not only do they see adoption as saving little babies, they see it as saving the baby's mother from a life of shame and drudgery, limited opportunities and poverty. Of course religious folk are gonna jump all over that. They're encouraged by their pastors and consider it a mission. Some focus their mission here in the United States and some go overseas to bring babies back to what they consider to be a much superior country.

What does that say to the international adoptees when they grow up? Do they consider their lost culture to be inferior? And what are they saving the domestic adoptees from? In days past children of single mothers were considered bastards. People truly thought they were saving a child from the stigma of being illegitimate. That's not the case anymore so what is it? Some claim it's from a life of abuse or neglect. And they would know that how? Maybe if she had some support and the opportunity to raise her child she could be an excellent mother. 

Being young does not equal bad. Unmarried does not equal bad. Young and unmarried does not automatically equal abusive and neglectful.

The comments I see from people are the typical..... "well it's better than the baby ending up in a dumpster". If they take the baby away from his mother right away, they can save the child from certain death. Why is this the view? Is this a hold over from the old days of unwed pregnant girls being considered mentally unstable and neurotic? Exactly how does putting a ring on a finger suddenly make a woman mentally stable and capable of mothering?

So, in the process of saving the baby, the baby is traumatized. The baby grows up with a feeling of abandonment and no knowledge of her beginnings - in the case of closed adoption. And in the case of open adoption (we know that 80% of those close in the first couple of years) she has knowledge of her history but is still left with the feeling of abandonment. In both cases, in the majority of states, her birth records are sealed, hidden from her and she's treated as a second class citizen.

Now what happens to the mother who is saved from this burdened life of motherhood? She is left with a lifetime of grieving that can in some cases become debilitating. It can lead to a life of depression, anxiety and sometimes even suicide. 

The two people who are supposedly saved don't seem to be faring all that well. But... the infant adoption industry seems to do just fine when all this saving is going on. They're making some good money. The adoptive parents seem to be doing just fine. They're growing their family and scoring some religious points in the process. The industry loves to encourage this, it's good for their bottom line and the churches love to encourage this because it brings more followers which is good for their collection plate.

In the meantime, the babies and mothers are the ones sacrificed at the altar of greed.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I Could Breathe Again

I Could Breathe Again

I've been working on this painting all week. It's the next one in the Silent Voices series and is about the day I met my daughter for the first time.

Today is my daughter's 34th birthday and yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the first time we met face to face. We first reunited in 2002 but we didn't actually meet until 2003. It's hard to believe it's been so long. The memory of seeing her for the first time is so permanently etched in my brain. I think I held my breath for the entire flight to Ohio.

first hug

That night I wrote in my journal....

Well today has been many years in the making. I met my daughter for the first time. What a long day. I'ts been - up at 4:30 to get ready for the airport, 2 hour flight leaving at noon. Nothing can compare to the feeling of putting my arms around her for the first time. The relief was amazing - I could breathe again. When I got off the plane and made my way through the airport I thought I would faint! I couldn't breathe. I could hardly walk. I didn't see them up by the gates so I made it down to baggage claim. I spotted Josh first, then Cindy - oh my gosh - what a hug, and there were many more to come. Then I turned around and there she was - my Liz. She was just standing there smiling. I ran to her and then I just couldn't let go. We stood there for the longest time hugging and crying while Cindy ran around in circles shooting pictures and Sam handed us tissues. When I finally let go I couldn't take my eyes off her. Cindy was amazed at how much alike we look. She said we look like we belong together. Amy said we have some very similar expressions and mannerisms. 

So from the airport we went to get food. By this point the nerves had settled and we all got very hungry. Without knowing it I ordered Liz's favorite meal - meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. She said she had Cindy make it for her every birthday. Cindy cracked up when she heard my order.

The day we met really did feel like the first day I took a breath. It wasn't just the anxiety sitting on my chest and crushing me that day at the airport. When I finally put my arms around her it felt like I had been holding my breath for decades and at that moment I could finally take in air - as much as I wanted, expanding my lungs fully. I had been shallow breathing all that time and now I can take a deep, deep breath. 

Easter Sunday 2003

Do you remember the feeling when giving birth? - the hours of contractions, unrelenting pain and pressure, pushing and sweating, crowning, head pushes out and then shoulder and then finally the small body slips out and suddenly there's such a rush of relief. The agony is released and you go limp. The experience of meeting her was like birthing her a second time. The pressure had been building for decades, the emotion of waiting and wondering was constantly flowing in waves like the pain. The grief hitting like the tears released between contractions. And then all of a sudden - it's over. I could relax and look at her, touch her, talk to her.

It was the end of a phase and the beginning of a new one. It was the end of the unknown and the joyful beginning of a relationship. It was also the beginning of a new understanding of what was lost to both of us. Reunion brings with it a new set of  bags to carry. They're still the adoption bags but the weight has shifted a little. I could breathe again but the grief is still there. I don't think that ever goes away. Then there is the learning curve of how to fit into each other's lives. I think we've done pretty well. There are ups and downs, quiet times to get through, distance to deal with but I'm grateful.

I'm grateful I get to say Happy Birthday to her.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Ripple Effect

photo credit: tried to find the original artist who posted this but could only trace it back to deviant art. If anyone knows who created it please let me know.

It's a new year. It's 2014 and I reunited with my daughter in 2002. That's a pretty good amount of time. Much has happened since then. Reunion continues to be an interesting journey. Sometimes good, sometimes painful, sometimes ecstatically joyous, all the time better than the years before when I was left hanging in the limbo of not knowing anything. The good times are the visits, the phone calls, the Facebook messages that say "love you too momma" or "Happy Birthday momma" or "Happy Mother's Day momma". Those are the times cherished. The painful times are the silent times. Times when she can't talk to me. Times when I know she's going through something but she's too far away for me to know exactly what that is and too far for me to do anything to help her.

The effects of adoption don't stop with reunion, they just change. The ripple continues. Everything shifts from the "not knowing" pain to the "this is what I lost" pain to the "I'm so freaking pissed off at the adoption industry" pain to the "my daughter suffered because of the industry" pain to the "my other 2 children also lost because of the industry" pain which brings me back to the "I'm so freaking pissed off at the adoption industry" pain.

So now.... me and my mother are in therapy. The ripple continues. I've talked about it before. It's been a very long road with her but I do have to say..... things are improving. She's understanding me better. I'm understanding her better. We're a little more comfortable around each other. Things are relaxing. She's coming to grips with her history and why she reacted to my pregnancy the way she did and has even asked for forgiveness and I'm working on the "forgiving her" end of it. These are very good things. I know for many of my mothers of adoption loss friends, this is a road that couldn't be traveled for a variety of reasons - some reasons they could control and some they couldn't. There was a time I nearly divorced myself from my parents because of my daughter's adoption. At times I wondered why I didn't or thought maybe I should have. Now I'm glad I didn't walk away from my family.

I didn't walk away because I wanted my "raised" children to have grandparents. My grandparents were incredibly important to me. I adored them and the feeling was mutual. Of course it helped that I was the only grandchild for 7 years. Can you say spoiled? I wanted my children to have that experience and my parents HAVE been really wonderful grandparents. I couldn't deprive my children of their grandparents because of what I had been through with them. It wouldn't be fair to them. They've already lost enough in losing their sister and losing the mother I could've been to them if I hadn't been through the adoption experience- there's that ripple thing again - the effect adoption had on my mothering of my other children. And of course, my oldest daughter lost the experience of these grandparents. Yes, she had her adoptive grandparents but how would her life have been different had she been raised in her own tribe, with her original family? Huge "what if" ripple.

Ok, where was I.... reasons I'm glad I didn't walk away.... the other big reason was because I didn't want to lose my little sister. How would I see her again? I couldn't walk away from her. My sister is 7 years younger than me. When I got pregnant with my oldest child my sister was only 12 years old. When my parents found out about my pregnancy they said I was the one who had to tell her. So I did. Of course she reacted like any 12 year old would - she said ok and then asked me about something else. I don't remember what it was exactly but it was probably something like - what's for dinner? 12 year olds don't grasp what's happening in a situation like that. They're completely self-absorbed and that's ok because that's how they're supposed to be at that age. Even so.... I knew I couldn't walk away from her. We may have grown up feeling like we had separate lives because of the age difference. We may have fought like siblings do. We may not have had much in common when we were growing up but she's my sister.

When she grew up and became a mom herself she questioned why things happened the way they did. The ripple effect continues. It did have an effect on her. She's seen the tension between me and our mother. She's been there for the reunion, supported me, listened to me cry. And now she's here supporting me and our mother through therapy. I'm so glad I didn't walk away. She's my little sis and I can't imagine my life without her.

Fast forward to the present. It's the holidays and my children are visiting. My youngest daughter is a new mom. Her son will celebrate his very first birthday this weekend. We had some quiet time to talk a couple of nights ago. We talked about what it was like for her to be raised by me in the aftermath of her sister's adoption. At one point she said that after finding out about her sister being adopted out she decided she wanted to adopt. The first thing my heart felt was horror. How could she want to do something like that considering what I went through and what her sister has gone through. The ripple effect continues.

Then she explained. What she knew at the time as a teenager was that her sister wasn't with us and she was part of another family. Her sister couldn't be with us so she was glad someone was out there taking care of her for us. She wanted to be that someone for another child who couldn't be cared for by their own mother. That's understandable. My girl has a big heart. Then she got older and learned more. She saw the effect that adoption had on me. She learned more about how the industry works. She learned about the supply and demand end of the business. She learned about price lists and profits. She became a mother and then the pain of adoption became unfathomable. She hurt for me. The ripple effect continues.

I see the same pain in my son's eyes. I know he hurts for me too. When I first told him about his sister and what happened, he cried. My boy as a young teen, felt the pain. He was hurt by adoption. His sister was taken from him. He felt that loss and he saw the effect it had on me. Now as a father of two girls he can't fathom how people can take babies away from their parents in the name of adoption. The ripple effect continues.

I don't want my children to hurt for me. It's not supposed to be that way. I don't want to see pain in their eyes because of something done to me so many years ago. It hurts my heart to see my children in pain but the legacy of adoption continues. The ripple effect goes on and on.

It's not only parents losing children and children losing parents. Grandparents lose grandchildren. Children lose grandparents. Aunts lose nieces and nephews. Children lose their history. Siblings lose each other. Adult adoptees lose their voices and origins.

Infant adoption. It's not what the industry wants you to believe it to be. Pay attention to the ripple effect. There is no such thing as "normal" after adoption. You don't return to a normal life. There is no normal family life after adoption. Everyone in the family is affected. Every. Single. Person. Not just the adoptee. Not just the mother who lost a child. Not just the father who lost a child. It affects the grandparents. It affects the siblings. It affects the spouses of the people who lost their family member. It affects the children of the people who lost their family member. It affects the relationship between all of these people who lost someone to the adoption industry. It's an insidious industry and the ripple effect goes on for generations.