Tag Archives: transracial adoption

a certain slant of adoption

Scribble black backgroundHello folks! It’s Sunday morning, the skies are gray in my lovely locale. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the weekend, despite the clouds. It couldn’t have come sooner.

Today, I wanted to talk about adoption…well, duh. I have something more specific in mind. For the past 7 years, I’ve actively searched for and read blogs, books, scholarly research, adoptee group sites, birthmother sites, and adoptive parent sites seeking connection, knowledge, resources, and validation. There are as many views on adoption out there as the colors of the rainbow. As an international and transracial adoptee, my own perspective on adoption has evolved. I don’t think it uncommon for our views to change as we experience personal growth and for lack of a better term, mature. Adoptees have strong inclinations regarding adoption rooted in their own life experiences, and multiple factors shape those attitudes. I’ve spoken with adult adoptees who are not terribly interested in connecting to their cultural roots or birth heritage, nor searching for their birthfamilies. Perhaps there’s a glint of interest, but there is not yet a compelling enough reason or desire to follow it. There are other adoptees who speak strongly against international adoption and for reasons that are quite justified. International adoption has a jaded history, and there are countless adoptees who were adopted illegally, through unethical adoption practices – in some cases both the agency and adoptive parents were plainly aware of the falsification of information. These deplorable practices still occur around the world. There is evidence, and though the U.S. attempts to keep the public aware of these dark practices, they continue.

I have several friends who are adoptive parents and have adopted children internationally from China, India, Africa, Ethiopia, and Russia. They also have very strong opinions and attitudes about international adoption. Sometimes – maybe even frequently – my friends and I do not see eye to eye; nevertheless we remain friends. I strongly believe in family preservation and the support of services to keep children with their biological families. As an adopted person, I cannot see past that. And yet, we live in a world where adoption is still thriving, although in decline internationally. I feel conflicted at times because I have my own very strong attitudes about adoption and yet I am supportive of my friends and other adoptive parents, and that will not change. I am for the welfare of children whether adopted or not.

What I particularly struggle with across the landscape of adoption is judgment and how we judge one another based on our attitudes and opinions towards international adoption. I know that I am judged by others for what I believe and support. I don’t necesarrily like being judged; the word ‘judge’ itself is so harsh. And yet I also judge – it’s inevitable. We all do because it’s human nature. I have no control over what others think and say, but I can temper my own thoughts, words, and actions. I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions related to my own adoption/identity and international adoption in general, from curiosity and awe, to self-loathing and anger, to grief and loss and depression, to acceptance. Like so many adoptees, ignorance makes me angry. It’s complex. There’s a lot of ignorance surrounding international and transracial adoption – adoptive parents experience it, too, and people can say some really dumb things. Sometimes I laugh it off, and other times I get angry and vent to a trusted friend or another adoptee who gets it. There is healing and validation in sharing our experiences.

And what about birthmothers? Of all involved in the adoption ‘triangle,’ their voices and stories are the least heard. And yet, I am certain that they have also experienced trauma, separation, grief and loss, and judgment. We know that women throughout the world have been forced to ‘give up’ their children through coercion for generations (Australia, Brazil, etc). And their children were later adopted by families/individuals from other countries. Societies often judge unwed, single pregnant women who are then stigmatized and left with few options.

What to make of all of this? I will be judged by what I say and do. That’s life, and I can accept that, as painful as it may be. There are a lot of adoptees and other folks out there with some very strong voices and opinions about how things should be. What I won’t accept is bullying by others who believe that everyone should share the same attitude and carry out the same actions. That’s just unacceptable. Adoptees do not all share the same points of view. Similarly, adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthmothers have vastly different experiences. Sometimes what we see on the outside is not what’s on the inside. I realize that we may not always agree, but we can certainly respect one another and our own personal and matchless journeys. We can look for ways to inform others who have not walked in our shoes. I’m speaking as one adoptee to another – I hope to support you wherever you are in life and wherever life takes you. I do believe that collectively, we can make a difference.

out of the fog

shutterstock_449362561A recent post written by another adoptee caught my attention the other day. The author’s name is Kumar, and he blogs at A Stroll Through My Mind. Kumar was adopted from Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, India. In this particular post, he discusses a book, Daughter of the Ganges, written by author/adoptee, Asha Miro. Miro chronicles her travels back to India to uncover her native roots. She visits India on two separate occasions, the second eight years after the first. What struck me as I read Kumar’s post was his comparison of the two trips and how the impetus of Miro’s journey seems to change over time. He reflects, “Her first [trip] feels naive, innocent and very good natured. She, as I would do myself, trusts that others have her best interest at heart and ends up receiving information that is not wholly accurate.” I have not read Miro’s books, but could certainly relate to the naivety in which Miro sets out to uncover her roots and the receipt of inaccurate information. Kumar shares that he similarly trusted that others had his best interest at heart, as did I when I first began this blog and the initial search for my birthfamily in Taiwan. I trusted my adoptive parents and the information they provided to me only to find out that the information was hugely inaccurate. Unfortunately, I will probably never know where the lines got crossed. Miro’s second journey to India is quite different. Kumar says, “She pushes people for information, gets the necessary help and is able to create some amazing connections.” Adoptees are constantly pushing others for information. It often doesn’t come easily.

I set out to find my own native roots anxious to investigate the unknowns and find answers. I held no ill feelings towards my adoptive parents for withholding what they knew about my adoption, although I had a right to know. Finding and reunifying with my birthfamily has been one of the most significant events in my life, one that I continue to ponder. That my sisters and family never forgot me and wanted to reunite is beyond wonder. As I have researched international adoption and read the stories of many other adoptees and birth mothers, I have lost the naivety I once possessed regarding adoption. Although I gather that many adoptive parents approach international adoption with the best of intentions and for a multitude of reasons, the very nature of international adoption is complex and rooted in loss, which is oft misunderstood or minimized. The loss of a culture and language, the loss of parents/caregivers, the loss of everything familiar is no small thing, and this grief and loss cannot be understated nor underestimated. Most internationally adopted children eventually adapt and assimilate, yet for some of us, the unknowns continue to be painful reminders that our pasts are not quite whole.

I know that my adoptive parents loved me, and despite the challenges in our family, I loved my parents. It was not easy growing up in my adoptive family, and I was often conflicted by their expectations and anger, primarily my adoptive mother’s, and my own insecurities. I’ve come to terms with who I am as a transracially adopted person, although there are days when my drive for perfection and neurosis drives even me crazy. I’m no longer the naive, “good natured” adoptee that I once was, which is actually freeing. I can’t help but be a little cynical and sarcastic. With age and maturity, I’ve come to a new knowledge, perspective, and understanding – in other words, like many other adult adoptees, I’ve come “out of the fog.”

I have many friends who have adopted children internationally, and it’s ironic that I somehow end up inadvertently in the company of others connected to adoption in some way…One of the psychiatrists I worked with at the state hospital had children adopted from Ethiopia and I want to say Guatemala, and my co-worker, also a social worker, was adopted from Brazil. On the long plane ride to the adoption initiative conference in NJ, I happened to sit next to a woman who had an adopted daughter from China. She wanted to know about my experiences and how I managed. Her daughter is a second year college student going through her own set of challenges. Go figure.

I find it difficult to discuss international adoption as the only alternative. I know far too many adoptees around the world whose stories are not characterized by the “forever family” rhetoric and whose adoptions occurred as a result of unethical adoption practices (that’s another story). Search and reunion becomes extremely difficult as you can well imagine because of falsified information or lack of information. But no matter, adoptees are resilient. I think it’s in our genes. We awaken, we learn, we evolve, we transform, and we become. Sometimes it’s a lonely, misunderstood road, but we keep going…And we wish our voices to be heard by those in the industry who would otherwise hope for us to be grateful that we were adopted.

another new year

geetanjal-khanna-88899Hello 2016! I say this every new year, but really, where did the time go? Now that Christmas 2015 has come and gone, I’m a little sad that I was so caught up in my busy life, primarily the new job, that I didn’t take enough time to relax and enjoy the holiday season. Everything seemed like a chore. Wow, that’s pathetic. Family and friends are too precious. I’m trying to accept that work is work. I continually strive to better myself professionally and am constantly looking for learning opportunities to do so. It’s both a virtue and a vice, but perhaps more so a vice. I miss having the time to indulge my creative self…blogging, improvising, coffee with a friend, movies, the symphony. You know, a slower mental pace and flexibility of life and schedule. I guess in many ways, though, I kind of asked for it by going back to school and beginning a new career in a profession where the burnout rate is high.

What are you hoping for in 2016? Personally, 2016 promises to be a year of big changes. My niece in Taiwan is soon to be married! How I would love to be there to see my family. In 2012, I reunited with my birthfamily in Taipei and have wanted to go back each year since. One day, I will return, maybe even in 2016.

Our daughter will be going to college in the Fall. She’s been accepted into 4 different universities, so we’re ecstatic that she has options. We’ll hear from 2 other colleges in the spring. I have moments of grief knowing she’ll be gone soon. She’s our only child. Tears are sure to be shed. Life is certainly going to be different when she’s in college. I have mixed feelings about how much less time I have with her now that I’m working full-time. The energy put into work often renders me emotionally depleted. Isn’t that every working mom’s dilemma? She’s a teen and yes, very independent, yet it’s our last year at home with her before she leaves the nest 😦 That time can never be recaptured. On the other hand, it’s exciting that she’s entering a new stage in her life sure to be full of new adventures and paths to increased learning and growth. We couldn’t be more proud of her.

On the professional front, I’m submitting a proposal to the Adoption Initiative’s 9th Biennial Adoption Conference. The theme this year is Myth and Reality in Adoption: Transforming Practice Through Lessons Learned. My master’s thesis investigated how international and transracial adoptees manage experiences of racism and racial discrimination. It also focused on strategies adoptees proposed to better equip adoptive parents and adoption professionals to help international/transracial adoptees manage identity issues and racism/racial discrimination. I’ve never attended an adoption conference and am really looking forward to it. I plan to attend the conference whether my proposal is accepted or not and am excited about traveling to the East coast.

Finally, I hope this year to be one where I focus more on spending time with friends and on taking better care of myself. For the last 2 years, I’ve been rather isolative. It seems that the older I get, the more difficult it is to stay connected with friends.

To all my family, friends, fellow adoptees and followers far and near, I wish you good cheer, good health and a new year full of personal and spiritual growth. Oh yeah, be sure to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

international adoptee research study

In my last post, I mentioned that adoptees in the U.S. adopted through international adoption are often subjected to racism and discrimination. It’s a subject that interests me greatly because I know how damaging the effects of racism and discrimination are. I chose to investigate this subject for my master’s thesis in social work.

Over the past two months, I’ve sent letters and announcements to numerous adoption agencies, primarily in Arizona, but also California and Oregon. I have contacted adult adoptee groups on social media platforms and reached out to friends who may know of families with adopted children. I continue to search for adoptees 18+ years of age who were adopted from another country to the U.S. by parents of a different race/ethnicity to participate in the study. Participation includes an in-person interview. In the interview, I talk with adoptees about their background, experiences with family, peers, and their community. We discuss incidents that the adoptee has experienced related to racism, racial discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping. My hope is to interview at least ten adoptees for my study. So far, I’ve conducted five interviews. The interviews are about 1.5-2 hours in length and are conducted in a location that ensures privacy, i.e, a study room at a local library. Participants are informed that the interviews are confidential and no identifying information will be revealed in the study.

How international and transracial adoptees personally cope with racism and discrimination is not an area that is well understood in the literature. It is hoped that this research will produce data that will inform the development of interventions for international adoptees and their families that will provide tools to manage the effects of racism and discrimination. I hope that the study will also prompt further investigation into this particular area. If you know of an adoptee or are an adoptee who resides in Arizona and might be interested in participating in this study, please pass along the above information. I can be contacted privately at mcnguyen@asu.edu if you’d like to know more about the study or would like to schedule an interview. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

I believe that this is such an important issue for adoptive families and adoptees. It’s my belief that adoptive families and adoptees who are better equipped to face racism and discrimination will be happier and healthier. Thank you.

 

international adoptees needed for research study

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Hello everyone! I hope that you are staying cool during these hot summer days. We have officially hit triple digit weather here in Arizona! I have written recently that I’m working on a master’s thesis. I’m currently looking for volunteers to participate in this research study.

The purpose of the study is to examine the ways in which international and transracial adoptees experience racism, prejudice, racial discrimination and/or stereotyping and to identify patterns of coping. To explore these issues, interviews with international adoptees will be conducted. Results from the study will highlight the unique experiences of internationally adopted persons and provide a deeper understanding of how adoptees cope with racial derogation and discrimination. In-person interviews with adoptees will be approximately 1.5-2 hours.

To participate in this study, individuals should:

  • Be at least 18 years of age or older
  • Be adopted from another country to the U.S. by parents of a different race/ethnicity
  • Currently reside in Metro Phoenix, Arizona

All interviews will be conducted in a location that ensures privacy and confidentiality.

By participating in this study you will be contributing to the work of understanding how international and transracial adoptees manage racism and discrimination in their lives and how these issues impact the development of adoptees’ identity. The study will help to inform social workers and other healthcare professionals what types of support services would most benefit international and transracial adoptees and their families.

If you are interested in participating or would like more information about the study, please contact me. The link below contains a formal announcement including my contact information. Please feel free to distribute the announcement to any persons you think might have an interest in participating in the study. Thank you!

This research is conducted under the direction of:

Cecilia Ayón, MSW, PhD

Associate Professor

School of Social Work

College of Public Programs

Arizona State University

Click on the link below for the announcement and my contact information:

Study_Announcement_2014

 

at the heart of adoption

Heart_ExtraSmallI’ve been interning since August at an adoption and foster care agency that specializes in placing children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned with foster and adoptive families. It’s been interesting. I think what I’m gaining the most at this time is a broadening perspective on adoption. In the past, I’ve been primarily concerned with inter-country and transracial adoption, especially adoption from Asian countries. At the agency, I’m learning about the foster care system and families who want to either foster or adopt children under the care of child protective services (CPS), otherwise known as the foster care system. It’s a very different institution than that of international adoption in many ways. However, in other ways, it’s similar. The similarities between international adoption and the adoption of a child  through CPS are primarily that children have been traumatized and need permanency and adoptive parents need education and support.

It’s been interesting, too, at the agency to encounter different views on adoption. For instance, some have difficulty comprehending why people would adopt outside of the U.S. when there are so many children here in foster care who need loving families. I don’t share that same attitude, however, the number of children in foster care in the U.S. is tragically high. In Arizona alone, one of the highest-ranking states of children in foster care, there are approximately 15,000 children in out-of-home care. On the other hand, it was estimated in 2005 by  UNICEF that there were over 132,000,000 children identified as orphans, children who had lost one or both parents, globally (sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean). UNICEF statistics do not include abandonment or sold and/or trafficked children, and I’m sure that number has increased over the years. According to data released in 2003, an estimated 8,000,000 boys and girls worldwide lived in institutionalized care (http://www.orphanhopeintl.org/facts-statistics/). Alternately, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are about 123,000 orphans in America (http://www.orphancoalition.org/new/foster-care.php). The U.S. population is around 317,023,906 (U.S. Census Bureau). Any way you shake it, the number of orphans and children in out-of-home care world-wide is staggering. It’s an enormous issue of social and political concern.

Within child welfare circles, we often hear the phraseology, “in the best interest of the child.” But what does that mean exactly? Essentially it means that the health and safety of the child physically, emotionally and psychologically come first and foremost. I say that because I think that there are misconceptions about adoption. It is a way to expand families and is an option for couples who have experienced infertility, but, more than anything else, adoption should be for the child, not the adoptive parents. In other words, the motivation for those seeking to adopt should be to care for a child who has, through no fault of his or her own, come into adoption due to the circumstances of abandonment, relinquishment or maltreatment. That is and should be at the heart of adoption.

Adoption is often an exciting endeavor for families, yet there are many risk factors to consider beforehand. Most adopted children have experienced trauma and may have difficulties with bonding and attachment and/or problems with behavior and emotions. It’s a fact. As an adoptive parent, are you prepared to handle such challenges long-term? Are you willing to go above and beyond BEFORE the adoption to educate yourself on issues of race and culture if your adopted child is of a different race and ethnicity? How will you handle rejection, bonding and attachment difficulties, caring for a child with a physical and/or psychological disability? What tools and strategies will you equip yourself with  to help your adopted child face racism and discrimination, and how will you as a family respond? What opportunities will you seek to help your adopted child stay connected to his or her birth culture, and how will you respond to your adopted child’s curiosity about his or her birth family? How will you foster open communication with your child so that he or she feels comfortable approaching you about such issues? Most adoptive parents I talk with are unprepared for the task of raising a child adopted internationally, or taken by surprise by some of the challenges they’ve experienced, and some parents I’ve spoken to who have adopted children through CPS express similar sentiments. Parenting in and of itself is obviously a difficult task, but parenting an adopted child has special challenges. Proactive is always better than reactive.

November is National Adoption Month. Adoption provides permanency, love and stability for children who have been orphaned, relinquished or abused. But, what is disturbing is the naivete surrounding adoption and the lack of substantial support for adoptive parents post-adoption, at least for those families who have adopted children internationally. I’m happy that stricter policies have been put into place for inter-country adoption to ensure ethical practices by adoption agencies. But so much more could and should be done to educate adoptive families pre-adoption and support families post-adoption. It is my hope that positive changes will continue to be made legislatively for international adoption and that adoptive parents will proactively seek education and support both pre- and post- adoption.

the invisible red thread

Shumin_Vivian2Over the last couple of years, it seems that there have been a number of film documentaries made on inter-country/transracial adoption. But many people in Arizona do not have the opportunity to see such films, which are typically introduced at film festivals and then screened via special engagements. Earlier this year, we were able to host a screening of Somewhere Between by Linda Knowlton Goldstein through Tugg. We had a super turn out and even sold out of tickets. I received much positive feedback after the event from friends and adoptive families.

In 11 days, we will host another film screening on adoption in Chandler. This event is called, “Honoring One’s Cultural Roots.” We’ll screen the film documentary, The Invisible Red Thread, from director Maureen Marovitch, although this event will be slightly different, as the movie is shorter (approx. 55 minutes), and we’ve invited psychotherapist Stephanie Withrow to speak after the movie. Stephanie has a private practice inTempe, AZ and works with adoptive families. She and her husband, Doug, have adopted 3 girls from China. In addition, another friend and colleague, Dalena Watson, LPC, FAMI, MT-BC, has helped to coordinate the event. She and her husband, Dustin, have 2 adopted children from China and Korea. If you live in the Phoenix-Metro area, I hope that you’ll be able to join us. You can find all the details at the link above entitled, The Invisible Red Thread- An AZ Premier. The film is recommended for kids 11 and older. Reservations and pre-payment are required, so be sure to reserve your seats. You can actually pre-pay for the screening by clicking on the Paypal button located on the right sidebar of this site. If you cannot attend the event but would like to contribute to the cost of bringing the film to Chandler, you can make a donation by clicking on the same button. For more about the movie, see the official website by following this link.

Come out and meet other adoptees and adoptive families who live in the valley!

Stephanie and her family

Stephanie and her family

post-adoption services

adoption

I’ve been meeting with a couple of colleagues who both have adopted children from China. One also has an adopted son from Korea. Both of my colleagues are licensed professional counselors, and one specializes in working with families with adopted children. Their own children are in middle childhood. We’ve been discussing and making plans to develop adoption programming for adoptive parents in our area targeting the Fall for some kind of event. Interestingly, in fiscal year 2012, Arizona had an estimated 105 adoptions from abroad (U.S. Department of State). We’ve also talked about our own individual stories and experiences in adoption, me obviously from an adoptee’s perspective, and my colleagues from the perspective of adoptive parents. We all agree that adoption is a fundamental, life-altering event for all triad members that can lead to both great joy and tremendous pain. I believe that most agencies do a great job of connecting families with children who need a family. However, not many prepare families for the unexpected issues that arise post-adoption—an adopted child not wanting to be touched or showing signs of reactive attachment disorder (RAD), or experiencing sensory issues, and how to cope with such issues.

My colleagues have spoken about the challenges of raising their own adopted children and how the effects of institutionalization and maternal separation have impacted them emotionally, psychologically and physically. Like many other adoptive parents, they feel that there is a lack of meaningful support and post-adoption services following adoption and that risk factors are not always properly understood or disclosed by adoption service providers to adoptive families. One of my colleagues talked of all the pictures of happy smiling adoptable Korean children displayed on the walls of her adoption agency. She felt that this elicited a picture that everything is wonderful and happy in adoption, a somewhat misleading picture. My other colleague felt that her agency did discuss the risk factors of international adoption, however, very often adoptive parents are so excited about adopting that they tune these issues out only later to discover the very complex nature of raising an internationally adopted child.

After our meeting the other day, my colleagues and I came to an agreement that we all had very different goals for developing adoption programming. We decided that before planning any big event, we should proceed with developing a post-adoption needs survey for adoptive parents to assess what the needs are, something already in the works. What do adoptive parents need? What kinds of services and programming would be most helpful? We also talked about hosting another screening of a film documentary, possibly The Invisible Red Thread, or Wo Ai Ni Mommy  (I Love You Mommy) on transracial adoption, an event that would require a little less planning, yet provide a forum for discussion and interaction. The needs surveys would also be available for families to complete. In January, we held a screening for the documentary, Somewhere Between, in Phoenix. Many adoptive families attended, but, unfortunately, some were unable to because the screening sold out. I am cautiously optimistic that another such screening would draw a crowd of adoptees and adoptive families. What I found exciting about our Somewhere Between screening was meeting adoptive families and adoptees in Arizona and building a sense of community.

If you live in Arizona, I would love to hear from you about a forthcoming screening of either The Invisible Red Thread or Wo Ai Ni Mommy (which was aired on PBS in 2010 as part of a documentary series on transracial adoption). Let me know what your thoughts are regarding post-adoption services, support groups, community building or anything else on international adoption. If you aren’t in Arizona, still please feel free to comment. You can comment on this post, or reach me directly by email at mjnguyen7@cox.net.