Tag Archives: Adoption

extraordinarily ordinary life

I’ve been a little under the weather this week and have been out of the office, lazing around watching Netflix and drinking hot tea. There is much value in slowing down, although I don’t recommend getting sick in order to do so. When you do get that down time, you sometimes realize how fast life is going and that you’ve been rather spinning.  In those moments, I try to slow down and look for things that bring comfort. So, this morning, I tuned into the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast. Wow, so soul-inspiring. The song list included: 1) John Denver: “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” 2) Tom Adams: “In Darkness,” 3) Sharon Van Etten: “Come Back Kid,” 4: SOAK: “Everybody Loves You,” 5: Miya Folick: “THingaming,” 6) Jason Lytle: “Color of Dirt,” 7) J.S. Ondara: “American Dream.” I loved all of the songs, but the song that stood out to me this morning was John Denver’s, “Poems, Prayers and Promises.” Talk about a song that just hits you right in the middle of the heart.

Poems, Prayers and Promises” resonated with me deeply. Maybe it has to do with getting older, but lately, I’ve given much thought to the days of old, reflecting on raising my daughter, going to graduate school, and even further back to high school and college. Reminiscing about easier times. When my daughter was growing up, I taught piano to mostly young kids, but a few adults, so I could be home with her. I felt pressure to get a full-time job to supplement our household income, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It was a slower life back then, characterized primarily by being a mom, my most favorite role ever. My daughter is now in college, and I’m working full-time, trying to achieve clinical licensure. The chapters related to raising a family have closed, and new ones have opened. I’m not particularly enjoying the new chapters as much as the older ones.

I guess it’s taken me this long to realize that after all of the graduate school, student loans, ambition, and achievements, I’m pretty tired. And more importantly, I realize that it was primarily to gain a sense of self worth and significance. After a lifetime of feeling invisible, one desires nothing more than to be seen and heard. Adoptee stuff.

What I’m learning is that life is so much more valuable than achieving. It’s about enjoying every minute of it and letting go of *!@# that brings you down. I wish that I could impress that upon my daughter, who is just starting her life as a grown up. She is doing so well, despite many challenges in her beautiful, young life. Motherhood taught me a lot about life and love and ease. I guess that’s why I miss it so much, not that I don’t continue to mother, it’s just different now. This is what I know: Hold the people and things you love the most close to your heart everyday. That is why I need to get back to Taiwan. To see my birth family. Yes, there is something to be said and learned from achieving and making a difference. But, life is short, and you cannot go back. Do what makes you happy, and don’t let naysayers dissuade you. Surround yourself with others who support you and your dreams because God knows, life is not always easy. I wish that someone had told me these things when I was a young woman.

So, I’ll continue marching on toward achieving clinical licensure, and we’ll see what lanes open up. I truly hope that it has not all been in vain, as things that are most valuable do not come by way of a diploma or a degree or clinical hours. There are moments in time I wish I could redo; nevertheless, life is precious. Your life is precious. Every single minute of it.

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

attachment and attachment styles

In this post, I’ll discuss attachment and attachment styles, including adult attachment styles. This will be a very broad discussion of attachment because it’s such a complex subject!

We know that children who are in foster care and/or have been adopted experience disruption in primary attachment relationships due to relinquishment, abuse, neglect, multiple placements, etc. The separation of a child from his/her first or natural mother is the most significant disruption. The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton-Verrier is a great resource for learning more about the significance of this initial disruption in an adoptee’s life.

Attachment can be described as “a reciprocal process by which an emotional connection develops between an infant and his/her primary caregiver.”2 It influences the child’s physical, neurological, cognitive and psychological development and becomes the basis for development of basic trust or mistrust.” It shapes how the child will learn and relate to the world and others. In other words, attachment is the give and take relationship between the child and parent primary caregiver. It is critical to a child’s healthy behavioral, social, emotional and neurological development. Healthy attachment teaches a child to trust and to form healthy relationships throughout his/her life.

I will not discuss attachment theory fully, as there are a plethora of textbooks and articles written specifically on that. Suffice it to say that key researchers include John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main, and Vera Fahlberg. Bowlby believed that a child’s healthy psychological development was dependent upon a safe and functional relationship with a parent or caregiver. Bowlby theorized that attachment begins in infancy via a bond between the child and the most present, attentive caregiver. This first relationship forms the basis of the internal working models for the child, influencing his or her thoughts, feelings, and expectations with regard to future relationships. Mary Main developed the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), which is widely recognized as the tool for assessing adult attachment. And Vera Fahlberg is a doctor who formalized the arousal-relaxation cycle, the positive interaction cycle and claiming behaviors in the early 1990s. She wrote A Child’s Journey through Placement, which is a standard training textbook for child welfare workers. Many others have stepped forward and contributed to attachment theory over the years.

In my last post, Healing Childhood TraumaI discussed the arousal-relaxation cycle and how it influences the attachment process in the infant’s first year of life. In a nutshell, an infant expresses a need through crying, fussing, or otherwise raging, which causes her stress response system to become aroused. Her caregiver meets the need, and the infant relaxes. The child’s parasympathetic nervous system helps calm her body once the distress has passed. This dance between infant and caregiver occurs multiple times throughout the first year of life. The signs and symptoms of attachment problems develop as a result of the way a child’s parent/caregiver behaves toward her, environmental factors, and her own particular psychological traits. If a child’s caregiver is unresponsive toward her needs or inconsistent in meeting her needs, she will be at risk for attachment problems. Unattached children have difficulty relating normally to others. For example, it’s common for foster and adoptive parents to report that their child is manipulative, lacks a conscience, or is unable to show genuine affection, when these behaviors are very likely the result of insecure attachment and significant trauma. It’s important to recognize this so that the child is not punished repeatedly for bad behavior, but rather the most appropriate interventions and parenting strategies are sought and learned by the parents. The child does not have it in his wheelhouse to respond in behaviorally/emotionally appropriate ways because brain wiring and neurochemistry have been greatly altered by trauma. Essential areas in the brain that control executive function, common sense, emotional control, etc. are underdeveloped and must be healed in order for change to occur. And this takes time…I’ll say more about trauma and attachment sensitive parenting strategies in another post.

Attachment Styles

Mary Ainsworth pioneered an experiment called the Strange Situation Test. This test was developed and is used to examine the pattern of attachment between a child and the mother or caregiver. The results of the experiment were categorized into four specific types of attachment: Secure, Insecure/Avoidant, Insecure/Ambivalent, and Insecure/Disorganized. Parenting styles are associated with each of these types of attachment. The Insecure/Avoidant and Insecure/Ambivalent attachment styles are interchangeable with or otherwise known as the Anxious/Avoidant and Anxious/Ambivalent attachment styles.

Secure Attachment

Children with a Secure attachment style have a caregiver who consistently responds to them when upset. The infant cries and learns to trust that a caregiver will be available to respond to her needs. Children secure in their attachment go on to have healthy social functioning, have fewer behavioral problems at school, and can become competent leaders within their peer group. They grow up into adults who trust that they are worthy of receiving love, are able to give love/care/nurture, negotiate their needs, and remain autonomous.

Insecure Avoidant Attachment

In Ainsworth’s studies of mothers and infants, observations showed that when some infants became distressed, their bids for comfort were rejected by their mothers. The mothers of these babies were also uncomfortable with close bodily contact. The behaviors exhibited by these infants were later categorized as Insecure/avoidant. Avoidant children do not have caregivers who consistently respond to their needs. When activation of their attachment system leads to painful rejection, infants may develop a strategy where their attachment systems are activated as little as possible.2 These are infants who learn not to cry when they have a need. Avoidant infants and adults appear to suppress activation of their attachment systems, or in other words, have trouble seeking care.

In laboratory studies of babies separated from their mothers, observations revealed that some babies did not seek the mother for comfort or even interaction upon her return as most infants do2. These infants rather actively avoided the mother and became focused on toy play. Avoidant children learn to turn defensively toward self-soothing behaviors, e.g., a play activity, due to past painful rejection when expressing a need.

Evidence demonstrates that avoidant children tend to mask negative affect and replace feelings of sadness with a smile.2 These children often avoid adult eye contact, thus precluding any comfort or reassurance an adult might offer. Although avoidant children may feel and display sadness, they may do so only when there is no child-adult eye contact or when an adult is not present.

Data shows that individuals with an avoidant or Dismissive Adult Attachment style  have trouble seeking or receiving care and giving care. For example, they may fail to share their concerns with others, and may, in fact, withdraw from others as they become more anxious. A number of other studies report that avoidant adults are less likely than secure adults to seek support in response to stress.

Insecure Ambivalent Attachment

Ainsworth observed that mothers of Insecure/Ambivalent infants were inconsistent in providing care. Sometimes these caregivers were loving and responsive, but only when they could manage, not in response to the infant’s signals. An infant whose mother is sometimes responsive, but at other times, preoccupied or overwhelmed, may develop a strategy to stay near the mother at all times.2 The infant cannot count on her mother to monitor her needs. She may cling and vigilantly monitor her mother’s availability in case some need arises. The infant/child takes on a disproportionate share of the burden in maintaining the connection. As a result, hyperactivation of the attachment system occurs.2 These infants/children may show extreme distress on separation and difficulty in calming upon reunion. They may display angry, resistant behavior toward the parent. The negative emotionality of the ambivalent child may be exaggerated and chronic, as the child recognizes that to relax and allow herself to be soothed by the presence of the attachment figure is risky – she may very well lose contact with the inconsistently available caregiver.2 The child may have trouble maintaining boundaries between another person’s distress and his own. Furthermore, the child may feel that the only way to gain care is by sending exaggerated signals of need.

This hyperactivation in adults with an ambivalent or Entangled Adult Attachment style manifests as an insatiability for closeness to others.2 These adults may have a desire to merge with a significant other. They portray themselves in relationships as ‘preoccupied’ and may be particularly upset by relationship breakups. The heightened desire for closeness reflects an impairment of the attachment system. Ambivalent adults may expect others to fill all their needs; thus, they have difficulty negotiating needs and remaining autonomous. They may be codependent or threatened by another’s desire for autonomy. Obviously, this behavior can lead to ambivalence and resentment in both the individual and the significant others in his life.

Insecure/Disorganized Attachment

Children with an Insecure/Disorganized Attachment style have had experiences of maternal/caregiver behavior that is so frightening or unpredictable that they are incapable of developing an organized, strategic response to it.2 Their attachment systems are behaviorally disorganized. The child has no pattern for how to relate to her caregiver. She may behave erratically with toys and might prefer a stranger over her caregiver. These infants may demonstrate a high-pitched cry and/or shriek.

Children with a disorganized attachment style may have the most severe difficulties related to seeking care. Frightening behavior by a caregiver activates simultaneous competing tendencies: to flee to the parent as a safe haven, and to flee from the parent in response to alarm. In this paradoxical situation, there is no organized behavioral strategy available.2 The infant/child is in a terrible position, as neither proximity-seeking nor proximity-avoiding is a solution, and the resulting behavioral responses become freezing, disorientation, and/or disorganization. The adult with a disorganized, or Unresolved Adult Attachment style, has difficulty giving and receiving care/love/nurture, negotiating needs, and remaining autonomous.

In Summary

It’s important to know that these attachment styles are fluid. You may see features of yourself in each of the attachment styles, or may notice that you lean toward one attachment style with one person, e.g., your spouse, and a different attachment style with another, e.g., your mother. This is normal, the point really is to notice and gain awareness.

None of us has a perfect attachment style. Learning and understanding which style I lean toward has given me incredible insight into why I behave as I do and why some of my relationships are more difficult than others. As a younger adult, I was often told that I seemed aloof, that other’s did not feel connected to me, and that I lacked facial expression. Can you guess what my attachment style is?

Upon reflection, I recognized that I did not have a strong attachment, if any at all, to any one person during infancy, as I was in an orphanage for the first four months of my life. My relationship with my adoptive parents was not emotionally close. They provided for all of my physical needs, but I did not feel connected to either of my parents. I loved them, but I had great difficulty expressing my needs and showing affection. My adoptive parents were ill-equipped to nurture a strong attachment. They did the best they could with the knowledge they had, which was pretty minimal. This insight has empowered me to be more intentional in how I interact with certain others in my life. It’s also helped me to understand how important it is for fost/adoptive parents to understand attachment, and furthermore, to get appropriate training and education. I hope that this very brief overview of attachment and attachment styles is of benefit to you and gives you some insight into your own particular style.

                                                                                                                                               

1 The Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children (ATTACh). Retrieved from http://www.attach.org/about-us/attach-accepted-definitions/.

2 Cassidy, J. (2001). Truth, lies, and intimacy: An attachment perspective. Attachment & Human Development, 3(2), 121-155.

Featured Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

healing childhood trauma

Hello everyone. In this post, I wanted to talk about childhood trauma. To heal childhood trauma, it’s important to understand how trauma affects a child’s development. So, that’s where we’ll begin. If you have not yet read my last post on adoption and preverbal trauma, you can check it out here. Today, I’ll present a very brief overview of brain neurosequential development and how trauma affects this process. I am a trainer and educator to fost/adoptive parents on complex developmental trauma, attachment, and TBRI®.

First, let’s talk about childhood trauma. You can go to this link to learn more about adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, and the impact of negative experiences on an individual’s lifelong health and wellness. We know that children in foster care and children in orphanages have suffered trauma, and their ACE scores are high. The very fact that they are in such institutions is a trauma. Children in foster care typically come into care due to neglect, physical/sexual/emotional abuse, domestic violence between parents. Kids in foster care and kids who have been adopted experience separation, loss, and grief, feelings of abandonment, instability, and have often not been provided with the kind of sensory diet that promotes healthy development. Additionally, many kids in foster care have experienced multiple placements. Prolonged exposure to one or more of these factors can lead to complex developmental trauma, which psychologist Bessel van der Kolk describes as “the experience of multiple, chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature (italics and bold added).” Complex trauma impairs social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Dr. Karyn Purvis, Developmental Psychologist and Co-founder of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®), described six early risk factors that influence the way children from difficult backgrounds think, trust, and connect with others: 1) Difficult pregnancy – the birth mother has experienced medical problems, drugs/alcohol, crisis, or other trauma. Persistent and high levels of stress throughout pregnancy affect the infant in-utero. Stress response chemicals in an infant’s brain can remain for up to a month after the mother gives birth.  2) Difficult birth – a difficult and traumatic birth is risky for lots of reasons, including perinatal hypoxia, which can lead to mild neurological insult. 3) Early hospitalization – children who experience early hospitalizations often experience painful touch rather than nurturing, comforting touch in the first days of life. 4) Abuse – the brains of children from abusive backgrounds have been trained to be hypervigilant, or always on guard, to the environment around them. 5) Neglect – children from neglectful backgrounds, e.g., orphanages, often suffer from the most severe behavioral problems and brain deficits. The message they have learned is you don’t exist. 6) Trauma – this may include witnessing an extreme event, like a natural disaster or 9/11, or any number of traumas in the child’s life. A child’s developmental trajectory will change as a result of trauma.

brain 2

As you probably already know, different parts of the brain have different functions. Author and psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Siegel, says the brain is like a two-story house. Emotional reactivity, motivation, attachment, and the “fight, flight, or freeze” response are regulated in the downstairs brain. This is where the brain stem and limbic system are located. I’m not going to discuss all of the structures in the brain, but will highlight the areas that pertain to this discussion. The limbic system is involved in emotions and motivations related to survival, including emotions that are pleasurable, e.g., eating and sex. The upstairs brain regulates executive functioning, thinking, planning, control over emotion and body. It’s where the cerebral cortex or “grey matter” is located.

When you experience a strong emotion such as fear or stress, your downstairs brain sounds an alarm, and a stress response is activated. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response. This causes certain physiological responses to occur in your body. Think back on a time when you felt frightened or stressed. Your heart and respiration rates increased, your pupils likely dilated, and the blood flow to your muscles increased in preparation to fight or flee. This is a survival response. Other parts of your brain are off-line when your stress response is activated. In other words, thinking clearly or executing a well-defined plan become much more difficult when your stress response system is activated.

Now let’s talk about brain neurosequential development. The brain develops sequentially from the bottom to the top and inside-out from the brain stem to the cortex. Our downstairs brain comes much more developed at birth than our upstairs brain. Each part of our brain develops at different times beginning in-utero and continuing to adulthood (the brain is fully developed around 25-years of age). An infant’s brain stem is the most developed region of her brain. When distressed, she needs a responsive caregiver to help her regulate. She has a need and expresses it through crying, fussing, or raging. The need is gratified when a caregiver changes her soiled diaper, feeds her, provides movement, skin-to-skin contact, speech, and warmth. The parasympathetic nervous system helps to put on the brakes and calm the body once the distress has passed. All of these actions serve a very important purpose – to teach the infant how to self-regulate. We refer to this dance as the arousal-relaxation cycle.

Arousal-Relaxation+Cycle.jpgWhen abuse and neglect occur, it interrupts the arousal-relaxation cycle, and consequently, affects the attachment cycle. This leads to serious problems in the development of personality, which has long-lasting effects into adulthood. When the cycle is not completed and repeated, difficulties may occur in very critical areas, including social/behavioral development, cognitive development, emotional development, cause and effect thinking, conscience development, reciprocal relationships, parenting, and accepting responsibility. Furthermore, positive or negative experiences that occur during critical or sensitive periods of brain development alter the development in that particular area, which cascades and alters other areas of the brain. When children experience repetitive activation of the stress response system, their baseline of state of arousal is altered. The child lives in an aroused, hypervigilant state, ill-prepared to learn from social, emotional and other life experiences. She is living in the minute and may not fully appreciate the consequences of her actions. Her brain stem has “muscled up” in fight, fright or freeze mode, as any part of the brain that we use most often is the part most developed. Her ability to control her emotions and body and behave in ways we consider age appropriate may be severely compromised.

As a side note, two Yale pediatricians, Provence and Lipton, found that if caregivers did not meet the needs of infants quickly, they stopped crying within a period of 30-60 days. The infant learns that no one comes. She has lost her voice. Despite the absence of crying, the baby may still be hungry, scared, soiled, or in pain. Additionally, she is likely to have high levels of cortisol, or stress hormones, released in her brain, though outwardly she may appear to be calm and not at all distressed.

Infants and young children need to feel safe. They use attachments with their caregivers as models for future relationships. Caregivers are a secure base from which infants can explore their physical and social worlds. As you can well imagine, children who have histories of abuse or neglect very often have not experienced felt safety or secure attachment. This sets them up for attachment difficulties with foster and adoptive parents and difficulties in relationships with others.

There are numerous theories and therapy approaches directed at parenting and healing children who have experienced trauma, including abuse, neglect, grief and loss. I will delve into this in later posts, but a good resource is Attachment Theory in Practice: Building Connections Between Children and Parents edited by Karen Doyle Buckwalter and Debbie Reed. There is a chapter at the end of the book called The Voice of the Adoptee written by adoptees Faith Friedlander, Clinical VP and co-founder of Kids and Families Together, and Melanie Chung-Sherman, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and psychotherapist. Finally, an attachment-based professional/parenting resource that includes adoptee voices!

We know that traditional parenting does not work with kids who have experienced trauma. With deep fear comes a desperate need for deep control. It’s a survival strategy, as these kids do not know to do anything better. The way they think, feel, learn, process the senses, and interact with peers has been profoundly altered due to trauma. Their stress systems stay on, and the smallest thing or a transition can cause a meltdown. They fight or flee. They have lost their voice. Timeouts, spankings, and lectures are not effective and may further traumatize the child. There is hope. Parents must become healers and help repair their child’s brain by creating the proper environment for change. The brain can adapt and new behaviors can be taught and learned. In the next few posts, I’ll offer more resources. Stay tuned for an overview on attachment and attachment styles in my next post.


Featured Photo by Carlo Navarro on Unsplash

Keck, G.C., & Kupeckty, R.M. (2009). Parenting the hurt child. Colorado: Navpress.

Perry, B. (2005). Maltreatment and the developing child: How early childhood experiences shapes child and culture. Retreived from http://www.lfcc.on.ca/mccain/perry.pdf.

Provence, S., & Lupton, R. C. (1962). Infants in institutions. New York: International Universities Press.

Purvis, K. and Cross, D. (July 2013). The healing power of “giving voice.” Retrieved from http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/files/large/f7bb17e8fba418b

 

elevate adoptee voices

photos-by-lanty-597554-unsplashSince last November, I’ve had the privilege of connecting to many other adult international adoptees around the U.S. via a podcast I hosted called Global Adoptee Talk. Some participated in my podcast and others did not. Nevertheless, just to hear and share stories was incredibly validating, and I appreciate the supportive community that we’re a part of. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my podcast before it even had a real chance to get off the ground due to increasing demands at work and the lack of time and energy I had to keep up with editing/interviewing. I am always inspired, grieved, saddened, angered, and motivated by the many adoptees stories I hear – motivated primarily to elevate adoptee voices in whatever shape or form that may take. It’s always important to be mindful of the fact that though an adoptee may have had a positive adoption experience, there is still undoubtedly loss, trauma, and frequently a longing to connect to his/her cultural roots. That may mean searching for one’s birthparents or birth family or traveling to one’s country of origin, learning the language, and/or connecting to other’s who have similar backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t go away – it may ebb and flow across the span of an adoptee’s life, but it’s a part of our makeup, it’s part of our DNA and hard-wired into our brains, literally. I don’t have time to go into how separation from birth mother is trauma, but suffice it to say, there is research that supports it. Acknowledging that adoptees have a vital role in the future of how adoption occurs and are given a voice is crucial.

I work in foster care and adoption, and it’s not always easy as an adopted person. Whenever there is an adoption, it’s very difficult for me to celebrate knowing that first there was loss – loss for the first mother and child. When reunification occurs with the child and birth family, my heart makes a little leap, as reunifications are rarer. When they do occur, it is a celebration.

Despite the challenges of working in foster care and adoption, I have the opportunity to work with some resource or foster families that get it to the extent possible in their circumstances- the trauma, the loss, the necessity of keeping birth connections in the child’s life. Families are trained in TBRI, and we talk about loss, trauma, and attachment from the very first clinical interview. I don’t want to villainize every foster/adoptive family out there, as I know some foster/adoptive parents who attempt to understand the loss and trauma adoptees experience. Even so, I dare say that it’s difficult to grasp the magnitude of what being in foster care or being adopted means if you have not experienced it first hand. I observe things through the lens of an adopted person, not as an adoptive parent or case manager or supervisor, and my thoughts and opinions sometimes differ from those I work with. This work gives me an opportunity to educate foster/resource/adoptive parents. Not every family who comes through gets approved to continue the process for multiple reasons, and that’s a good thing.

All in all, I’m sad to let go of my podcast, but I have hopes of one day picking it back up, as time allows. I miss that connection to other adoptees. There are plenty of super podcasts out there. Right now, I’m digging a couple of podcasts related to intuitive eating, health, and nutrition. One is called Food Heaven, and the other is Food Psych. Two of my favorite adoptee podcasts are Adoptees On and Adapted. The Rambler was also a favorite, but the show closed earlier this year. All of these podcasts are available on iTunes – listen in – it’s totally worth it.

I sure learned a lot while producing my podcast and am super grateful for those international/transracial adoptees that I had the opportunity to connect with. Adoptee voices are truly making their way to the forefront of discussions on adoption, as they should. Let us continue to build a strong and vibrant community, inclusive and respectful of all adoptees and their unique stories.

by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

Past episodes of Global Adoptee Talk are available on iTunes

 

adoptee book review

old-books-436498_1280Just wanted to thank Andrew Adams, an adoptee from S. Korea, for reading my book and providing a review! Andrew and I connected via social media on a facebook page he created, #adopteesfromasia. Andrew lived in Indiana, but recently moved and is working in S. Korea! Read his review below, and if you haven’t purchased your copy of Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity, click here.


Finished the book in 5 hours! From start to finish, Marijane Huang’s story pulls you in for a roller coaster of emotions. I laughed, cried, and sometimes even both at the same time! Beyond Two Worlds is a beautifully written memoir about a very real, and relatable human being in search of answers – only to find new questions at every turn. The short, succinct chapters are packed with memories and orchestrated in a way that weave her childhood recollections with today’s introspection. And at the same time, we get to know the author and her family and friends more and more throughout the book. For example, at times in the book, I was upset with her mother’s behavior, and other times, I was 100% sympathetic. More importantly, Marijane illustrates each person in her life so well, it makes us want to know more about them, ask them questions, and just give them a hug. This is the kind of person we find out that Marijane is – a curious, inquisitive, and loving individual who reflects herself so well in writing that we end up feeling the exact same way. As an adoptee from Asia myself, I can relate with many parts of the book. In fact, all of the questions that Marijane presents, most adoptees have asked. Those questions are tied to deep level insecurities, abandonment, and hope. But this book is for anyone. The hope and persistence will inspire you to keep going, especially when you are ready to give up. Feeling alone and heartbroken? This book shows us that there are people in the world waiting to meet us. And for myself, Beyond Two Worlds, makes me proud to be who I am today knowing that I can embrace every part of me unapologetically and that there will always be more questions, more to learn about ourselves.

what I’ve learned about writing a book

Letters and fountain penI have always loved the written word. From sounding out those very first simple sentences in elementary school – remember, “see jane run?” – to finishing the complete Nancy Drew mystery series as a kid, I have loved to read and always will. Thank God for bifocals and 60 watt light bulbs (if you’re over 45, you’ll get what I mean). I never dreamed of writing a book, but it’s an accomplishment that I’m now proud of, and I’m happy to pass along my experience of writing a first book – from the creative process to self-publishing. I’m going to start by sharing 7 tips on writing a book. As the saying goes, live and learn! I would certainly approach the whole process very differently, so here goes…

  1. Determine what your intent is in writing your book. If your primary goal is to make money, you may be sadly disappointed (unless you’re like E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey – no I haven’t read any of her books). I knew that writing a memoir about my adoption journey would likely not appeal to the general public – it’s an extremely narrow category; however, I felt strongly that I had a story to share and a passion for telling it. So if you have a burning desire to share a personal story or journey that changed your life or the lives of others, then do it! I think that many adoptees want to tell their stories, and it’s important to do so. International adoption is complex, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, and we need to share our stories and provide greater education to the public regarding the untruths and misperceptions. My book will not be a bestseller, and I’m okay with that. It’s tough marketing and selling a book that is targeted at such a small audience, but I’m still glad I wrote it. What I’m saying is be realistic about the outcomes in so writing your book.
  2. Figure out your target audience. This is extremely important. For example, is your book a self-help book? Who do you want to read and buy your book? How will it appeal to that particular audience? How can you broaden your target audience? I hoped that other adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoption professionals would want to read and buy my book, and of course, friends. I had also hoped that a wider audience would show interest in my book because of its universal message of searching for identity and for one’s roots. Alas, it has been very difficult to garner greater interest in my book, I believe primarily because the scope of it is considered narrow and doesn’t quite have the appeal retailers are seeking. That being said, it also takes time and creativity to sell your work, so patience and hard work are necessary. I’ll get to that later.
  3. Get a good team of editors. It’s imperative, especially if you’ve never written a book, to hire a team of professional editors. There are different types of editors: content editors, copy/line editors, proofreaders. So let’s start with the content editor. I’m a social worker, so I’ll use the analogy of macro to micro. A content editor will take a look at your work from a macro-level or “big picture” point of view. He/she will evaluate the pulse of your story and make sure the manuscript is well-written. Is the theme/plot of the story well-developed and organized? Is the story-telling paced appropriately and are the characters and plot believable? Are there any contradictions, factual errors, inconsistencies or discrepancies? Is the story attention-grabbing? You get the idea. The content editor will make suggestions to re-write, move, delete, or add sections to your story. His/her work is more subjective than the other forms of editing and involves a lot of thought and decision-making. A copy or line editor will look at your work at a micro-level. She/he will get down to the nitty-gritty and evaluate grammar, syntax, sentence structure, accurate word choices, verb tense, capitalization, spelling, spacing, missed and repeated words, paragraph and sentence length. He may suggest reorganizing chapter titles, subheadings, etc. As a side note, use Microsoft word when writing your manuscript so that editors can track changes, and you can review comments and make changes in the document. You can also hire a proofreader. Proofreading is a really good idea because sometimes even editors miss things. Proofreading occurs right before your manuscript goes to print. A proofreader will go through your formatted manuscript and focus on finding any overlooked misspellings, typographic errors, accuracy of page numbers, table of contents, and any formatting issues. Like I said, it’s easy to overlook errors. Bottom line – Get yourself a team of editors. The editor I hired was fantastic – she was/is a content editor. She was supportive, made loads of suggestions and had that big picture mentality as she evaluated my work. If I were to write my book all over again, I would have spent the extra money to hire a copy editor and maybe even a proofreader, but we were trying to save money.  It takes a lot of time and effort to scour through an entire manuscript looking for errors and proofing it. Both a professional copy editor and proofreader give you added assurance that your manuscript is ready for print free of errors. Do not skip out on this important step!
  4. Research publishers. I chose to self-publish my book for many reasons. There are loads of articles out there on self publishing vs. traditional publishing. Self-publishing has become increasingly popular because it’s so much more accessible than traditional publishing, and royalties are supposedly higher, but the jury is still out on that. Some of the reasons why I chose self-publishing include, 1) I had complete creative control over the content and design of my book, plus the copyright. 2) Timeline – there were no deadlines, and self-publishing is much quicker to market than traditional publishing. 3) I had no intention of getting and paying for a literary agent. I recommend doing your research on self-publishers; there are many out there, and they all offer and do relatively the same thing. Look at the fine print and make sure you’re getting exactly what they tell you you’re supposed to get with the package you purchase. And, look for a self-publishing company that allows you to hold all rights (copyright) to your book. I selected AuthorHouse based on my editor’s recommendation; however, I ran into several problems with this publisher, which I won’t get into in this post. You could have a completely different experience with them. A self-publishing company will offer multiple services depending on the package you purchase, e.g. editing, copy editing, cover design, print, marketing/promo materials, multiple editions of your book (e-book, softcover/hardcover), etc. Self-publishing companies will likely pressure you into buying more stuff on top of what you’ve already bought once your book is off to print, e.g., exclusive book tours, exclusive marketing – features in prestigious magazines, promises of turning your book into a movie, exclusive this and that. These extras all sound amazing, and you will be made to feel as though you’re something special – these extras are available for thousands of dollars more, however, and there is no guarantee that any of those platforms will sell more of your books, so be careful.
  5. You need a budget. It’s very exciting to write a book and get it published, and as I mentioned previously, self-publishing allows you to do that within your own timeframe, and you can get it to market quicker than traditional publishing. However, be prepared to put down thousands of dollars if you decide to use a self-publishing company. I purchased a mid-range package from AuthorHouse, and with the cost of a consulting editor (not from AuthorHouse) and purchasing books to sell from AuthorHouse, I spent well over $5K, which is pretty good for self-publishing. I bought 100 copies (softcover) of my book from AuthorHouse because the profit margin in sales on Amazon and B&N online is laughably low compared to selling my book at retail price ($13.99/ softcover) myself. There is no guarantee that you will recover the money you spend on your self-published book. Marketing and promoting your book yourself is crucial. I’ll get to that momentarily.
  6. Don’t rush the creative process. When you have a story to tell, or an event in your life occurs that’s exciting, you want to share it quickly with those around you. In writing, the creative process takes time. My mistake was rushing this process, primarily because I was so excited to get it out. Writing has always come very naturally to me, so the process of writing did not take long. In fact, when I finally decided to write a book, the words came very organically. There were many revisions and additions along the way, thanks to the help of my editor; however, I wish that I had taken more care and time to write my story. I was not working when I first started writing. I had a lot of time to play around with thoughts and words. Then the process was interrupted – we moved from Arizona to California, the holidays arrived, I began searching for a job, I got a full-time job. My hope was to complete the first draft before we moved – that was very unrealistic. I was still working on the manuscript when we moved during the holidays. I also signed on with AuthorHouse before year’s end because they had a special running. Unfortunately, once I signed on with AuthorHouse they pressured me into completing the manuscript, even though there were really no deadlines. At that point, I had several more chapters to write. They called me incessantly at first until I finally told them my manuscript would take “x” amount of weeks to complete. They again began calling asking about the manuscript once that period was up. By that time, both my editor and I were feeling pressured to get the manuscript ready for print – the end result was, unfortunately, not the desired outcome I’d hoped for. Nevertheless, it’s been a learning experience all around, and next time I write a book, I’ll have that much more knowledge. I suggest not signing onto a publisher until your manuscript is completed, even if they’re offering some reduced price packages that appear advantageous. Take your time in writing your story.
  7. Marketing your book. It is up to you to sell your book should you self-publish (either by way of a self-publishing company like AuthorHouse or other online format). Another option is to hire suitable professionals to assist you with marketing and selling your book, but that will cost more money. It’s difficult to get print distribution in bookstores and libraries when you self-publish. This is where traditional publishing has an edge, as that is essentially their model of business and what they do. Be prepared to work hard at marketing your book should you self-publish, and don’t get discouraged if you’re turned down by bookstores. There are other ways to get your book out there: word of mouth, personal website, author events/book release parties at venues other than bookstores, and network, network, network. It’s extremely helpful to get as many reviews as you can about your book (positive ones, of course) and display those in your book if possible and on your website. You can always add reviews to your website once your book has been published. Finally, be patient. I’ve been told it can take up to 2 years or longer to recover the costs of self-publishing and building an audience for your book. And in the end, you will feel more empowered by having written your book!

The process of writing a book and getting it published is all part of a very steep learning curve. The tips I’ve included here just scratch the surface, but I think are basics for anyone who wishes to write a book. I do have hopes of writing more books, but still have much to do in selling the one just published! I hope these tips are helpful to you. Feel free to reach out, and I’d be happy to share more. In my next post, I’ll be discussing my own creative process in writing Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Stay tuned!

To read an excerpt from Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity, click here.

To purchase, click here.

vegas family reunion

Hey folks! I’ve waited long enough to share some very exciting news. In four days, my family and I are heading to Las Vegas to meet my birth family! My sisters, my niece, and brother-n-law are coming to the U.S. In fact, they are touring Alaska even now and will then head to Vegas for a brief visit. I haven’t written about our reunion because one of my sisters has had some health challenges and wasn’t sure if she could make the trip. I have prayed for her constantly and am so happy that she is well enough to travel so far away. I think that it’s just hitting me that I’m really going to see them again in a few short days. My family and I had planned to take a trip to Taiwan this fall but will not be able to after all, to my great disappointment. However, I’m hoping to be able to go back to Taiwan sometime next year – we’ll see.

So much has happened since our reunion in Taiwan in 2012 when I met my birth family for the first time since my adoption. I can’t wait to catch up with my sisters! My Mandarin, sadly, has not improved. I do hope that one day I’ll be able to speak the language, or at least manage it somewhat. School has taken over my life. It has been a challenge and I cannot wait to graduate in 2015. I often wonder if going back to school will be worth all the trouble. I do hope so. In any case, I plan to enjoy the summer while it lasts, especially the reunion with my sisters and family in Vegas. I’ll keep you posted on our adventure.

the photo of my birth mother

I finally framed the picture of my birth mother, which was given to me by my sisters in Taiwan. It was one of the first things they gave me at the airport once I arrived in Taipei. It’s a 5×7 black and white photo. My sisters laminated the picture to prevent any damage.

I used to think that my birth mother looked so solemn. She’s wearing a black mandarin collared jacket or shirt. Her hair is short and neat in the style of older women. Her eyes are a little downturned at the outer corners. I thought upon first seeing the picture that she appeared sad. She is not quite smiling, and I often wonder what my birth mother was thinking when the photo was taken. Oddly enough, I never asked my sisters how old she was at the time. I think that I was so overwhelmed with joy to have her picture and to see what she looked like that the thought didn’t cross my mind. My guess would be that she was somewhere in her fifties. My sisters told me that I look very much like our mother in her younger years. Unfortunately, there are no photos left of her when she was a young woman.

It’s a really odd feeling knowing that I was born to two people who I will never have an opportunity to meet. The story of why and how I was placed for adoption is a very sad one. Yet my sisters believe that my adoptive parents were angels and are very happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to be raised in a more affluent, stable environment. I understand why it happened the way it did. There are many privileges that I have received because I grew up in the U.S. in a middle class white family. My adoptive parents loved me very much, but there were many challenges, especially when I was a teenager. My parents were ill-prepared to parent an adoptee with identity issues.

I am happy that my sisters and family wanted to reunify. They have very big and generous hearts. The picture of my birth mother is now sitting in a place where I see it every morning. Framed, she appears happier, if only in my imagination, and it makes me smile.