Monday, December 27, 2010

Moms Living Clean Documentary

Filmmaker Sheila Ganz is putting together a documentary about mothers trying to get clean from substance abuse in order to keep their kids--specifically at a rehab facility called Center Point Inc in California that support recovery while providing childcare (so the women don't have to be separated from their kids as they recover--a stressor which no doubt would make recovery even harder and is always tough on kids.) I saw a portion of the film at a conference last year--it's quite moving. Ganz notes that we need more programs like Center Point so that children of women trying to get clean don't get automatically placed into foster care. Ganz still needs funds in order to complete the film--please help support! Here's the Web site with more info on how to help.


Moms Living Clean - trailer from Sheila Ganz on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas and Donor Clinic Kids

Kids conceived via anonymous sperm donation were the subject of a study earlier this year by the Institute for American Values cited in this New York Times opinion article. The study found that donor kids had much of what we call "genealogical bewilderment" that adopted kids have, even worse, as well as other issues about accidentally marrying a sibling and concerns over the way they were brought into the world. I find it hard to believe that generally their reactions are more severe than adopted kids', as often they at least know one of their biological parents, right?

Confession: That little conservative twitch within me finds the whole donor thing a little weird and colonizer-like, and maybe unfair--to deliberately force parental anonymity. But I'm embarrassingly unknowledgeable on the donor subject and am reluctant to say much about it until I find out more and--even better--talk to a donor-conceived person in real life. Anyone have suggestions for books to read? I've only come across a few books meant for toddlers or YAs.

A donor conceived person's comment on a support group forum:
"I want to find [my father], but...it's just hard. The ***** banks don't see my situation as equivalent to an adoption, or a bum, runaway dad. This man gave me my life; he's a part of me, whether he intended for that to happen or not. Humans are not machines; we are emotional, we are needy, we have desires and curiosity. There's a veil over so much of who I am. How could he--and the bank--think nothing would come from all of this?"

With the holidays coming up, I'm pondering the conception of that famous guy Jesus. Christians believe his was a sort of anonymous father; Mary's hymen was still intact at his birth. Parentage was so important at that time--what tribe you descended from, etc. Surely Mary fed him the "you are special" line that all adoptees get. No doubt kids on the playground gave him heck about his shady origins. And saying that God was his father? Classic adoptee fantasizing. (My bio father was Michael Jordan or Tupac for a long time, and my mother Marilyn Monroe.) Maybe he always knew that God was his father and had no issue or struggle with not knowing the face of a human father whose blood formed his genes. Perhaps it shouldn't be such a shock that Jesus rejected familial--bio or no--ties as an adult, in favor of a worldview in which God is our "father" and everyone is family in the Spirit. 

When you don't know your roots, it's hard. And there are moments when you really do see everyone as potential family. At least I did. But we're not all Jesus. Our lives--no matter how we're conceived--are better when we have the chance to know our roots.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Biological Fathers

In conversations about adoption we don't hear enough from biological fathers. It's true that the responsibility for a pregnancy lies more with the mother in a physical sense (she has to carry the child in her body!), but I don't necessarily agree with the viewpoint that pregnancy is a something a woman has a "right" to control totally. I don't want to parse words or gray areas here--I realize the issue is complex and varies case by case. My point is that I wish we as a society--in cases of adoption specifically--would give men more of a say.

Of course, I'm biased. My adoption agency did not contact my biological father for his permission for my relinquishment like they were supposed to back in 1981. And so he never knew about me. One of my cousins told me shortly after our reunion that it's a shame, because the family might have wanted to keep me. Several of my cousins grew up together like siblings as their parents shared caretaker responsibilities. Apparently my father used to pretend that his niece was his daughter when they were in public because they look alike and he'd always wanted a daughter.

Ok, I didn't mean for this to turn into my memoir. Originally I wanted to highlight this case in Ohio in which a bio father asserted his parental rights after the mother had relinquished his son to an adoptive family. The adoption agency did not follow the rules of gaining paternal consent. Once the man discovered he was the father, he spent nearly 3 years fighting to gain custody of his son. In September the court ruled that the son be granted to his bio father. The adopters initially defied the order to return him, the supreme court granted the temporary stay, then a few weeks ago the courts again ruled that the boy be given to his father. 

What angers me is that everyone's all upset that the kid has to be ripped away from "the only family he's ever known" and given to a man whom they claim doesn't deserve him because he didn't call the adopters to check up on the child and therefore he never actually cared (nevermind that he began fighting for custody immediately after finding out that he was the child's father.)

Please. Yes it's sad that the kid has to go through an uprooting, but it's not the father's fault. The adoption did not follow acceptable practices in contacting the father and gaining consent. And just because the process was flawed, that doesn't dilute the fact that the man is the child's father, period.

The adoptive family, of course, has a Facebook page decrying the "unfairness" of the court's ruling, gaining the sympathy of 6,000 fans.

I'm with the father on this one, and--for once--with the courts. Fathers should be given a choice before a child becomes a ward of the state. I suspect more of them would step up to the plate than we think.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rod Stewart is a Bio Father

Recently reunited with a daughter who had been given up for adoption (he had her as a teenager, when he was "stone broke" and "didn't have a pot to piss in").

It appears that the daughter waited until her adoptive parents passed away before reuniting with her famous father.

YouTube video of Stewart's interview with Joy Behar here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Report on Problems with International Adoptions from Vietnam and What Critics Say

In September the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism released a report called "The Baby Business," which detailed many cases of fraudulent international adoption practices from various countries, with particular attention to Vietnam. The report uncovers cases where mothers went to the hospital to have their baby, then were told they had to pay enormous hospital fees to obtain their child and next thing they knew their child was gone. Or women who were told their children would be taken to orphanages for temporary care while they recovered from "medical conditions" and never returned.

The U.S. document cited in the article below.
Disturbing Cases of Fraudulent International Adoption

Child trafficking (for example, stealing children and selling them to adoption agencies) is nothing new. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in '93 set requirements to prevent such activity, which the U.S. has implemented since '08. But we still adopt from many countries that are not part of The Hague plan, which means we ought to pay special attention to adoption practices in those countries.

First of all, we definitely don't want abused and unwanted children to stay in their homes--a stable home for them is the highest priority, even if it means launching them to another country. If doing away with international adoption isn't the answer (and I don't think it is), is more government regulation the key? How can we implement it?It's important to note that it's not just the adoptees and birth families that get screwed when international adoption doesn't follow best practices: adoptive parents get charged astronomical fees and rarely receive adequate information or the education and support for adopting.

Experts respond and give their advice here. Mostly they say more regulation by feds isn't gonna cut it. They vote for more transparency overall, and more education and support for adoptive parents. More accountability for agencies.

Yet, while we improve these inter-country adoption practices, let us continue to hope for a world in which adoption--international or domestic--isn't necessary.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Hair

Just found this amazing blog called "Curly Nikki," created by a psychotherapist and natural-hair diva. She is incredibly dedicated to hair and finding good products and practices for transitioning to and maintaining natural hair. Check out her 2010 Winter Hair Regimen, which includes twice-monthly wash/conditioning and then clip-setting the hair for twist styles. (This concept of "stretching" the hair after a wash to prep it for a style is new to me--I need to try it!)

Sadly, I haven't been keeping up with my playing with hair projects, nor have I been experimenting with styles or new products. (Though I did reintroduce princess-leia puffs the other day.) And lately, as winter settles in, I've noticed that my hair is asking for more moisture. Whatever I've been using as a leave-in conditioner isn't quite cutting it. I'm not sure what I expect from a hair product before I use it--I still feel like I haven't quite reached my best hair potential--but I know when it's not working. The frizz factor sets in after a wash. If I don't blow-dry the roots immediately after, they stay wet and pressed to my head while the rest frizzes into the wind. Chunks of it continue to matte near the roots. I seem to be at a stopping point with length--does that mean it's just the length my hair's meant to be, or is breakage happening without my notice?

My hair is about 15 different textures depending on where it sits on my head, which probably means I should be using more than one product on it (I'm not.)

It's time to kick it in gear! Which is why I was grateful today when a new friend brought me a bag of hair goodies--products she'd bought for her natural hair transition that haven't worked for her. (How many friendship seeds have been planted by random hair conversations in my life? I can think of at least 4.) Here are the goodie bag products that I'll begin testing soon--my hope is that by breaking it down by ingredient I'll figure out which exact oils/minerals work best for my hair:

  • Creme of Nature leave-in conditioner. Featuring lemongrass and rosemary.
  • Mizani hairdress. Shea and cocoa butter.
  • Garnier "Survivor" putty. Cactus extract. 
  • Surf Head texturizing paste. Mainstream chemical stuff + beeswax. 
  • She also turned me on to KinkyCurly's Knot Today leave-in detangler and Curling Custard gel, which I've started to use. It's gooey! Horsetail, chamomile, nettle, aloe, marshmallow, agave nectar, mango, lemongrass. As for effectiveness, the jury's still out.


Right now I use, at varying frequency:

  • Dark and Lovely Peppermint Shampoo. Though it contains tea tree oil, the sodium lauryl sulfate is too harsh and usually leaves my hair with a "stripped" feeling.
  • Palmer's hair milk with olive oil and vitamin E. Doesn't do much. Doesn't hurt, but doesn't seem to help the dry-curl either.
  • Curls quenched curls moisturizer. This spray works great, especially after a shampoo, for keeping my hair smoothed and moisturized. White tea extract, corn starch, pomegranate seed, wheat germ, bean tree, chamomile extract, "amino acids." 
  • Curls curlicious curls shampoo. Mainstream chemicals + silk amino acids, carrot seed, sage leaf, horse chestnut. Works well--though not without the conditioner--and smells great. 
  • Curls curl ecstasy hair tea conditioner. Aloe, mango butter, shea butter, green tea, chamomile, ho shu wu extract, soy protein. The tea might be what really makes these Curls brand products work. I remember when my "hair father" Alphonzo gave me Paul Mitchell Tea Tree cleanser/conditioner, and I was born again. It treated my over-processed hair so well that, along with Alphonzo's help, I gained the courage to go natural.
  • DevaCurl No-poo cleanser and One Condition conditioner. Chamomile, mint, peppermint rosemary, hops, grape seed, wheat amino acids, oat aa, soy aa.
  • Deva Heaven in Hair deep moisture treatment. Doesn't work as well as the other Deva products--includes more butters than oils. No grape seed or amino acids. 
  • Carrot oil. Alone it doesn't do much but make my scalp smell like V-8 Splash.

There it is. Curly Nikki has inspired me to pay heed to hair as I should. I hereby pledge to keep up on my hair experimenting and will report back with product updates in the coming months. An addition to my New Year's resolution list!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Absurdity of Closed Adoptions

Check out powerhouse adoption advocate Jean Strauss's article in the Huffington Post detailing the absurdity of closed adoptions. (Absurd sums it up perfectly.) It focuses on a case in my homestate Illinois: an adopted woman found pre-cancerous breast lesions and her doctor told her to get BRCA DNA tests to see if she carries the gene for breast/ovarian cancer. Her insurance company refused to pay for it because she couldn't prove family medical history. A judge refused to release her records, stating that he'd only do so if she had Stage IV cancer. Outrageous, right? Emphasis on rage. Luckily Illinois is opening records next November, but still--time might be of the essence for this woman, and it's not fair that she must wait.

Please visit the article and add comments. The more the media and legislators see that this is an important issue for many citizens--not just the thousands of adoptees whose physical and emotional health are affected--the more likely changes will be made in the 40 U.S. states that continue to seal birth certificates.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

PostSecrets from inside the Adoption Triad

I swear my roommate finds as many (if not more) references to adoption in media/movies/news than I do.

A Post Secret, one of many I've seen from an adoptee, adoptive parent, birth mom:


But then a rebuttal from another secret-poster:
Birthmoms,

Please oh please don't believe all adopted kids feel this way. I need you...Please look for us. I'm looking for you.



Postsecret seems a perfect fit for sending your secret, scary, confusing feelings about adoption--the things you're too scared to say aloud--as they are anonymous. It's congruent with the culture of closed adoption itself, what with all the name changing and grief and secrets. But when I read a Postsecret from someone touched by adoption it makes me sad because I fear that person is alone with his/her feelings and may not have any other way to explore them. That's a very isolating place to be.

Zara Phillips Again

Check out this video showcasing the creative advocacy work by talented adoptee Ms. Phillips (her music video with DMC at the end). The American edition of her book is coming out early next year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Remember Betty Jean Lifton

Last Friday the adoption world lost a longtime friend and advocate, Betty Jean Lifton. She wrote Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter in 1975, which detailed her experience growing up adopted in an era that enforced extreme secrecy when it came to adoption. It was one of the first major books published about the adoptee's emotional experience. It also admonished the practices of closed adoption at a time when nobody wanted to hear it. She wrote many other books about adoption, dealing with grief, searching, and more. But not only did she write important books, but they were good books of high literary quality too. I admire her as a writer as well as an open records advocate. She also helped countless folks as an adoption therapist.

She will be missed by many.

Find the full obit from the New York Times here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

National Adoption Month and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

It's November and National Adoption Month, when adoption gets more attention in the media and adoption agencies around the country increase their advertising (and partly why I haven't posted as much this month--everybody else is doing my work right now!)

Take a commercial from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption from their "I'm Just a Kid" campaign. It's true that you don't hear much from DT about the problems of foster care or the complications of, for example, cross-racial or cross-cultural adoption, but there's one thing you've got to hand it to them for: they keep their ads focused on the kids. Because THAT is what adoption should be about. (No "here's how you can complete your family while rescuing someone" bent.) You don't see a lot of adoptive parents or huge smiling families in their commercials. This one shows all different kinds of kids at all ages and mostly Black who are waiting for homes. An accurate portrayal, from what I know.

Some adoption people out there are gonna hate on me for being so kind to the Dave Thomas Foundation, but I think it's valuable to take a moment and recognize the good of what's happening out there too.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sesame Street I Love My Hair

"Don't need a trip to the beauty shop, 'cause I love what I've got on top...I love my hair, I love my hair," sings the new little Muppet girl.

White adoptive father of an African-born girl and Sesame Street writer Joey Mazzarino co-created this song and character in response to his daughter who one day declared: "I want my hair long and blond like Barbie or a princess." (AP)



The Youtube video quickly gained more than a million hits.

Mazzarino didn't realize that by exploring this he was entering into a long history of discussion and debate about AA women's hair.

I too have a Dad who didn't understand why his little curly headed girl cried for long, straight blond hair. In fact, I first heard about this story from my father, who got choked up reading an article about it. That darn blond beauty standard is so embedded! Hard to pinpoint where or how it enters the conscience. It has a lot to do with images, advertisements, television, etc., I think. (I've written an essay on this very topic, which will be published in an anthology called Other Tongues later this year.)

As always happens, viewer comments on the video and others produced in response are filled with fightin words. People get very defensive about hair. Girls who relax their hair do not like to be accused of trying to be White, of being mired in a slavery past. It's just hair, they say, and they've got a point. At the same time though, I think it's important to confront it and provide positive images of Black women with natural hair, especially for adopted Black girls who won't see reflections of themselves in their parents or perhaps even in their surrounding community.

Kudos to this proactive dad!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reconsider Columbus Day

Here's an ad from reconsidercolumbusday.org, which urges citizens to take into consideration ALL of Columbus's deeds, including how he opened up the way for the transatlantic slave trade. It also proposes that we honor, instead, the indigenous peoples who were here long before Columbus.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chicago Naturals Meet-Up Oct. 9

Here's the e-mail announcement:


After much anticipation, Black Girl with Long Hair is back with its Fall meetup for Chicago Naturals, Saturday, October 9, 2010 from 11 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Murphy Hill Gallery (3333 W. Arthington St., Chicago)!

The meetup features a haircare discussion, product swap & vending and will be followed by an afterparty at Tantrum Lounge (1023 S. State St.) from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Meetup entrance fee is $3. The afterparty is FREE!




Sadly, I can't be there. But if you're in Chicago next weekend, you should go and tell me all about it. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Troy Polamalu's Hair




Troy Polamalu has the best hair in the NFL, hands down. I'm not even sure exactly how he crams it all under his football helmet. He has said publicly that he embraces his hair as an expression of his Samoan heritage, and he hasn't cut it since a coach forced him to back in 2000. What I wonder is, exactly which products does he use? It looks so healthy!




The latest new about his hair came last month, when Proctor and Gamble insured it for a million dollars. I mean, look at those curls...how could they not?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing for Liberty and Justice: Jordan Miles

Strangely, although I've mentioned the Jordan Miles case several times on the blog, I haven't dedicated an entire post to the trajectory of the case. Here goes.

Jordan Miles is the Pittsburgh kid who was so brutally beaten by 3 White officers that his face looked like this:




He was unarmed, walking from his house to his grandmother's down the street, when the officers in plainclothes attacked him. Later the police claimed they had thought he might be armed and on drugs. He was neither.

It seems his only crime was being Black and outside at night.

This case has garnered much local and national press, because Jordan Miles happens to be a straight-laced honors student at one of Pittsburgh's most prestigious arts academies. There are no ambiguities here: police were the criminals that night.

The city has largely ignored the issue. The policemen involved are on a temporary suspension during which they are being paid more than they make on duty. (Nice punishment, huh?) The Feds have stepped in, but still nothing has happened.

Sadly, this kind of thing isn't all that rare. Most people know this. As a recovering country bumpkin, I am still baffled when I hear of it, especially when it happens less than 5 miles from my house. So this weekend I attended a rally/march to demand justice for Jordan. And I've chosen "writing against injustice" as a central theme for the two writing classes I'm teaching this term. My students will read about the case (in a media packet I've put together--you may read/download below) and write about it.

These are but small things. Tiny steps to conquer an issue that seems too big. But together with others fighting for peace, may we scale the mountain.


May a better day come.
JordanMiles_MediaPacket

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lorrie Moore's novel A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore's most recent novel has an adoption theme. It's not necessarily the main theme but rather is presented as a synecdoche of the whole story. The main character is Tassie Keltjin, a Midwestern country girl newly arrived at college, who embraces learning, literature, and intellectual snobbery while navigating that push-and-pull relationship with her roots and shifting identity typical of her age. When she takes a job as a nanny for a 40-something white couple who are adopting a biracial baby girl, she's given a new identity to try on as well as an outsider-yet-insider vantage point on the adoption.

Tassie accompanies the adoptive mom to meetings with social workers, a foster family, and a birth mother (note: this would never happen in real life!), observing the complex gains and losses of the situation. She seems to be the only one who sees the birth mother's pain. Tessie cares for the baby every day, takes her shopping and on walks in the park, gets the questioning looks from strangers wondering what a white chick is doing toting around a brown baby. She feels wounded when someone yells "nigger!" at the child. She babysits while eavesdropping on the a-mom's discussions with the few people of color in town about raising brown children in a white world.

A lot of things in this story rang true for me. A car keeps driving by the house. Tessie notices the a-mom's fear about it is not fear of the racists she thinks herself so vehemently opposed to but rather "the gone-missing birth father...she imagined it might be he who was driving past, having somehow found out Mary-Emma's new address." Fear of the birth parent returning, and in this case an even scarier prospect: the black male birth parent. Moore brilliantly describes that sort of silent, bubbling prejudice against difference (an adopted kid, a biracial kid) that can exist in the rural Midwest. It's the kind that everybody knows about but nobody talks about. The kind that, "like mold, grows in secret, dark places."

Overall, I think Moore deals with the adoption in a nuanced way, creating believable characters that are all deeply flawed but doing their best. That is often the conclusion I come to in adoption stories--it's full of fathers and mothers and children who are flawed and hurting but doing their best in a situation of loss.

The little adopted girl grieves her losses and bonds with the new people around her, though it is not without complications. Her life is shifting and changing constantly, much like the life of her country bumpkin nanny whose world is expanding at lightening speed.

From a literary standpoint, there are, of course, shortcomings--some events were device-y and had a tagged-on feeling, and the ending seemed rushed--but Moore gained so many points with the adoption stuff and her beautiful language that I still give it a thumbs-up, especially for people interested in adoption or Midwest culture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Program to Keep Ethiopian Adoptees in their Home Country Instead of Overseas



Ethiopia is becoming the nation of choice for international adoptions. Part of the reason is that they've had fairly lenient rules about the adoption process, and therefore adopters can get kids quicker. Another reason is that they have an overwhelming number of orphans (something like 5 million).

Well, here's some good news: The Ethiopian government, faith-based U.S. charity the Buckner Foundation, and Ethiopia's Bright Hope Church are teaming up on an experimental project to help orphans thrive in their home countries rather than be put up for adoption overseas. It's a program that provides two meals per day + education to hundreds of Bantu orphans. Read about it here. (Thanks to Lisa Marie for the link.)

I'm a bit surprised about the Buckner Foundation, as they seem to support international adoption and provide transnational adoption services. Perhaps this is a new experiment for them--we need to let them know it's a good thing!

It's encouraging to see the growth of a program like this that recognizes the importance of a child staying close to his/her home culture and family if at all possible, making international adoption a last resort. (The usual disclaimer: That's not to say international adoption is always "bad," or that many kids have benefited from it, but we know that cross-culture/cross-race adoptions must be treated with care. We have to consider what will be most beneficial and least traumatic for the kid.) A program like this will have a lasting positive impact on Ethiopia and its economy and its working population, moreso than a temporary fix of permanently sending the kids abroad.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

POV Adoption Documentaries on PBS

Check out PBS's Point of View series on adoption, part of a national public awareness campaign to examine issues facing adoptees and families who choose to adopt. The next one, In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, will air Sept. 14. You can also watch them online. (See link to trailer below.)

Spread the word!

Also, they are featuring the film Off and Running, which I posted about here back in February.


Watch the full episode. See more POV.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies Events

Talks
Elizabeth Samuels, law professor at the University of Baltimore, is speaking on the history of closed records in the U.S. (Get the attention of legislators for this one!)
When: Thursday, September 30, 12:30 pm
Location: University of Pittsburgh Law School 


Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Korean TRA and activist/poet/professor, "Toward Truth and Reconciliation: Overseas Korean Adoptee and Unwed Mother Advocacy," with
Eleana Kim, from University of Rochester, "The Dry Eye of Adoption Politics: Testimony, Social Justice, and Representation Among Transnational Korean Adoptees"
When: Friday, October 15, noon
Location: University of Pittsburgh Posvar Hall

Poetry Reading
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
When: Friday, October 15, 4 pm
Location: University of Pittsburgh, Cathedral of Learning 2nd floor

Film Showing
First Person Plural, A documentary by and about a Korean-American adoptee
(NYTimes review
here)
When: Thursday, October 14, 7:30 pm
Location: University of Pittsburgh Posvar Hall
                                                                                

Thursday, September 9, 2010

You Only Have One Mother!

I'm writing this from Lincoln Memorial hospital in Springfield, Il., where Mom is recovering from post-radiation surgery to remove cancerous tumors. Thankfully, the director of the writing center was very understanding about my leaving town and my teaching duties mid-week even though the semester just started. As I spoke with her on the phone, trying to figure out how I could rearrange appointments and/or get someone to cover for me, she said, "Go. Just go."
Her next words threw me for a loop:

"You only have one mother! Right?"

Um...well, not exactly.

"Y-yes," I cringed and said, to keep things simple and move it along. Her question kept creeping into my thoughts during the 9-hour drive to Illinois. I do have two mothers--my birth mother, who gave me life and relinquished me into foster care/adoption, and my adoptive mom, who raised me. I wondered whether my birth mother has ever had major surgery, and I was sad that I didn't even know the answer. I wondered whether I would jump in my car and drive 9 hours if my b-mom were having surgery. I think I probably would, if I knew she wanted me there--but sadly, it would take more consideration. I'm just not as close to her, and sometimes I feel that our relationship is strained. I always try to recognize and validate her role in my life, but truthfully I am much closer to my a-mom. We've had many more years to work on getting along and growing a lasting connection.

I wish it didn't have to be this way. I think the relationship is difficult for my birth mother. How could it not be? At its root is heartbreak, loss, a relationship established and terminated almost immediately post-birth and restarted 25 years later. This is the nature of adoption.

As I watch Mom's painful recovery from a surgery not unlike a Cesarean birth, I think of the pain my birth mother must've experienced when she gave me up. Someday my birth mother and I may be closer, I hope. I have always thought of her and loved her from afar, and she has said it was the same for her. Perhaps all that thinking and loving an absence can make it hard to bring a relationship to the "reality" realm, the in-touch/in-person world. It may take a few more years before both of us are ready to drop everything and meet the other in the hospital.

So, the answer is "no," a simple "no." I don't only have one mother. They are different, they have occupied different spaces in my life. But in the end, my love for them is the same.

Quran Burning

Why is it that extremists get the most attention?

Take this Petacostal minister in Florida who wants to institute an annual Quran-burning event to mark the anniversary of 9/11. I'm not sure what his goal is: to scare people away? To incite hate? To get attention from President Obama? Because it sure won't display the love of Jesus. And why is it that the media insists on giving this guy so much attention? I agree with Hillary Clinton's remarks:
It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention, but that's the world we live in right now.
This in the midst of the whole debate about the mosque-building on Ground Zero, which is a ridiculous debate to begin with in a country that allows freedom of religion.

Meanwhile on 9/11 this year, East Liberty Presby in Pittsburgh will be hosting an interfaith prayer for peace. People from various faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Baha'i) plan to gather to walk the labyrinth together and contemplate how to live in peace. Will that get the attention of any news outlets? Doubt it.

Fear and divisiveness are loud. Hope and peace are much quieter.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Cost of Speaking Out

Several happenings today had me thinking about the cost of speaking up, speaking out against touchy subjects such as race and adoption. Society likes to see things in binaries--right/wrong, black/white.

Take adoption, for example, especially transracial. The rhetoric of adoption in the media is often one of praise for and celebration with adoptive parents. We don't like to consider, for example, the sadness behind Sandra Bullock's adoption of a Black American child. We want to celebrate with her, call her a hero. I get that. Smiles are easier and more fun than sad faces. And I'm not knocking Bullock for her decision to adopt--there are many things about this situation that make it "better than" other situations (in some ways it might be less disruptive as taking a child from a foreign country, and it's true that a forever family is a better choice than forever foster care). But it doesn't take away from the fact that her adoption reflects a lot of things that are wrong with our society. Why there are so many minority children in foster care in the first place, how our society values Black motherhood. Racism. It's there, folks. We're still working on it. And a child that is torn from its natural parents is sad, okay? That sadness doesn't have to take away from the joy of an adoptive family, but it needs to be there. We need to make space for it.

Whitney Teal, in her article Sandra Bullock, Transracial Adoption, and the Worship of White Motherhood, dared to be critical of media and society's viewpoint of adoption, mentioning Sandra Bullock's adoption as an example of wider issues. Oh the backlash! People got defensive, said Teal was borrowing trouble, making a mountain out of a molehill. One commenter said:

"This as just another issue to pull the race card out for yet another unnecessary debate. Racism would more than likely not be such an issue IF Racism wasn't made Into an Issue at any and every scenario."

In other words, shut up/quit bitching about racism because you are the one making it exist in the first place.

Another: "[this article] pissed me off. It comes off like a speech subtly AGAINST interracial adoptions, which just sounds racist in itself. It also comes off like the author is demonizing Bullock for having the audacity to adopt an African-American baby."

Teal responded to commenters, trying to explain that she was NOT being personal but was angry at the circumstances that bring black children into the child welfare system and about how whiteness is valued above other races in our society.

It sucks to talk about this stuff. It sucks to realize your own privilege, or to feel like you're being attacked because you are part of the dominant group. I know how it feels to be viewed negatively because of your race--I've had it on both sides. That's why it's so important to have compassion when talking about these things. But we still need to talk about them.

Almost every time I post about adoption, pushing against the mainstream viewpoint, I get at least one angry comment from a reader accusing me of being harsh or ungrateful or ignorant. Most of the time I view these as, to use Obama's rhetoric, "teachable moments." And opportunities to articulate my stances even better. But sometimes constantly defending your viewpoints is just exhausting...It's exhausting to try to prove to someone who says racism doesn't exist is wrong. It's exhausting to explain why seeing a White family adopt a Black child is complicated (not bad necessarily, but complicated.) It's exhausting to constantly explain why there should be full access to birth certificates for adoptees.

Especially when it happens with someone close to you, as happened to me today. Someone whom I'm close to, who is smart and whom I respect tremendously (and who is a person of color). It made me tired. And sad. To think that I don't explain my views well enough, day-to-day. To recognize how much of an outlier I really am sometimes.

I start to wonder, am a really just making mountains out of molehills?

Today I interviewed a professor at Pitt, who has organized artists and is curating an exhibit on Cuban racism at the Mattress Factory Museum called Queloides (keloids, which refer to scars--literal and metaphorical).


Apparently racism has increased tenfold since the collapse of socialist economy in the 90s, and artists have been using visual art as a means of speaking out. The exhibit first ran in Cuba earlier this year. Almost immediately after the exhibit opened, the professor was banned from his native Cuba. He's gotten plenty of other criticism too, for speaking out. People have said these issues don't exist. They tell him to shut up.

But he won't.

I suppose that means I shouldn't, either.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hair Straightener--The Mall Kiosk Man Attacks!

Here I am walking through the mall when a little man approaches me and says,

"Honey, I love your hair. Do you ever straighten it?"

Not much, I say, thinking he has the most unoriginal pick-up line ever.

"Because it takes too long?" he asks. Now I see what he's up to.

Well, yes, and because straightening too much is unhealthy. And (gasp) I like my curls.

Then he grabs my arm and hustles me off to his little kiosk, where he shows me his "revolutionary" flat-iron-curling-iron-blow-dryer, made by the Italian company Amika. He says it actually makes the hair healthier. He asks if he can straighten a hunk of my hair. I tell him I don't have that much time. He says he can do my whole head in ten minutes. Yeah, right. He said that once I see the amazing work of the flat iron, I will fork over $200 for the thing and will want to straighten my "crazy" hair every day. There it is: the stereotype that curls = bad/crazy/unruly and straight = pretty/tame/professional.

I have to admit that straightening my hair can be fun. And unfortunately, at times I play to the straight = professional thing when I wear straight hair to an interview or first day of work or the first day of a class I'm teaching. But by Day 2 I'm back to curls. I definitely won't do it every day.

I turn to the little man, who is holding his little iron and looking hopefully at my hair.

No, thank you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Peoria, IL, Police Given a "Pass" on Racial Profiling?

I'm a little confused by this Peoria Journal Star article, which describes how the NAACP is giving South Peoria police a "pass" on racial profiling. What does that even mean?

The NAACP president acknowledges that crime has gotten out of hand in certain areas and that it's important the organization "work with the police to help resolve the problems." Um, isn't that what they're supposed to be doing anyway? What's between the lines here is the history of racial tension in this Central Illinois area, the issues that have brought the area to NAACP attention in the first place. Obviously the police feel as though their ability to do their job has been hindered by the organization's policing. But I still find it odd that they would describe their "working together" that way, especially using loaded words like "pass." And, at least it appears to me, without clearly defining what exactly they mean by "giving a pass." 

Hopefully the police will get it right. It's probably crucial for the NAACP to give recognition to them when they do.

Here's my favorite reader comment, a reminder that there's still work to be done:
"I have one thing to say to the NAACP. If you don't like the Profiling. Don't Fit the Profile. If you're innocent, you won't have trouble." 
Really what s/he means is that if you're innocent-looking, you won't have trouble.  Good luck, Peoria. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Facing Race Conference in Chicago in September

Check out the Applied Research Center's conference on racial justice and other issues: "Facing Race serves as a focal point for organizations and individuals committed to crafting innovative strategies and successful models for changing policy and shaping culture to advance racial justice." (arc.org)

The conference is in Chicago this year, which is home(ish) for me. Van Jones will be there, among other big names. Wish I could go!

You can win a free trip to the conference by writing the best headline. Enter the contest here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Jordan Miles Case Continues

As we await justice for Jordan Miles (the kid who was brutally beaten by police when walking to his grandmother's house seven months ago), the Pittsburgh police officers under investigation are earning some good money from the city.

As reported by the City Paper, the police officers, who have been placed on leave from the force, have been receiving inordinately large paychecks. Larger paychecks than they get when actually working. Paychecks that include overtime, costing the city nearly $100,000 of taxpayer money.

I don't understand why these cops haven't been dismissed. Some people are even insisting they do jail time for their crime. They beat up an unarmed teenager. They lied about saying the kid had a Mountain Dew bottle that they mistook for a weapon.

It's tough to look at the kid's face post-beating, but here it is.



The city needs to crack down on these police officers and send a message that this kind of senseless brutality from the people who are supposed to protect us won't be tolerated.

You can get involved with the Justice for Jordan Miles campaign and the newly formed Alliance for Police Brutality here.

Color Blind: A Memoir by Precious Williams

It's a new memoir about an African girl growing up the fostercare system in Britian.

My friend and fellow adoption advocate Kate interviews the author on her blog, where she dispels the notion that Britian is "racism-free." (I hate when people from other countries say to me "America has such issues with race--we don't have that" Please!) She articulates the connection between colonialism and transracial adoption:
"In Britain we tend to pride ourselves on being happily multicultural – I think my books asks some questions about whether that is really true. Trans-racial fostering and colonialism are closely intertwined. Many of the African parents who felt giving their children to white strangers would ensure the child had an advantage absorbed this idea while growing up under colonial rule themselves, back in Africa."
Check out the full interview here

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Racial Profiling Legislation

Check out this Colorlines Video showing interviews with Black men in Brooklyn:






Nothing new, right?

So what can we do about it? In clicking around the Colorlines site, I found a link to this Rights Working Group organization, which spearheads campaigns against profiling.

Also, there is an End to Racial Profiling Act in the House, though I'm having a hard time figuring out whether the issue has been tabled or not. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on 6/17/10 regarding racial profiling in law enforcement. (The link to documentation is dead, however.) If it's been pushed aside, then what we need to do now is contact our representatives and tell them to revisit the issue. Writing to representatives really does make a difference--I'm often surprised by the number representatives in PA, IL, and NY who respond when I write to them about adoption legislation. (Good news to come on the PA adoption bill, by the way.) So find your rep here, and write away!



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Muslim Woman Denied Foster Parent License Because of Pork-Free Home

A Muslim woman in Baltimore was denied her fostercare license because she does not allow pork in her home. She is Black, a mother of five, married, and a former foster kid herself. She passed screenings and 50 hours of training. The agency is, of course, denying that anti-Muslim bias had anything to do with their decision to deny her, stating that she just seemed "inflexible" during interviews.

I first heard this story on The Daily Show, and I kept hoping it was a joke. In their parody "Pork or Parents" below, they ask 4 foster kids whether they'd prefer A.) their group-home situation with lots of pork, or B.) a stable foster parent home. (Notice they are all Black. Notice they are not laughing.) You can guess their response.  

This is outrageous. The woman lives in a decent neighborhood, she can relate to foster kids in a way many foster parents cannot, she wants to open her home to kids who don't have one. We need more foster parents everywhere in this country. There's a trend I've noticed even with the small agency I work with--the good foster homes that are willing to take any child for any length of time eventually end up with 12+ kids in their home. The need is that bad. 

Let's get our priorities straight.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Black Hair Blog

Check out this awesome and beauty-licious blog called "Black Girl with Long Hair: Celebrating the Dopeness of Natural Hair," which features haircare tips and styles from naturals around the world.

It's based out of Chicago, where the writers have started sponsoring meet-ups where folks can congregate and celebrate...HAIR. I love it. Celebrating natural/ethnic hair always feels like a type of protest for me, as for many of us it's tangled up in issues of race, femininity, beauty, self-esteem, and identity. Celebration of this hair is celebration of being a Black woman, of not conforming to the straight-hair beauty norm of yore. It is freedom.

Just because...Here is my hair, free and natural, at a writing workshop that celebrates/nurtures minority writers (I always have my hands in my hair when I'm writing for some reason):



Next time I'm in Chicago I am calling Tara, my birth cousin--whose hair is just like mine--and we are gonna check out one of those meet-ups. I'll be calling you too, Ronni!

Now, if I could figure out how to get Pitt to sponsor bringing this author to campus...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tough Economy = More Poverty = More Adoptions?

This NYTimes article from late last year examines the number of adoptions in our current tough economy. NY Agencies had expected an influx of children placed for adoption, thinking that higher poverty rates are often correlated with higher birth rates (I find this logic problematic--more on that later) and more relinquishments due to financial strain. But it didn't happen. Rates actually decreased.

Some speculate that birth mothers are going through private, non-agency channels with individual couples, because often they'll receive more $ for medical expenses, etc. (But then again, I'm thinking, maybe there are fewer adoptive families able to pay high prices for private adoption.)

One expert's guess: Maybe moms are just trying to keep their babies...single motherhood is becoming much more accepted anyway.

It's anybody's guess. It goes to show that you can't predict these things, and that there is never just one single factor involved in complex human decisions and transactions in regard to family, unexpected pregnancies, and adoption. Maybe it's sad news for hopeful adoptive parents, that there may be fewer children on the market. But, I'd say it's a good thing that there aren't more kids being put up for adoption. Hopefully struggling mothers are getting more help, and children can stay in their families. This is, after all, the best outcome.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Community Action Against Violence

Yesterday I attended a gathering/protest in Garfield sponsored by a faith-and-social-justice organization called Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network. Garfield is a mostly minority neighborhood that has been plagued by violence for I don't know how long--too long. At the protest, people from the community--young and old--shared testimonies of what it used to be like growing up in the neighborhood, what it's like now, and what they hope it can be one day. Several mothers talked about losing sons to street violence. (Leaving how many wives without husbands and children without fathers?)

Then came a call to action directed toward the police force (2 officers were in the audience), asking for more police presence in the neighborhood.

At first I was skeptical. More cops does not always equal more safety. We all know stories of police misusing their power in minority communities--consider Jordan Miles, a Pittsburgh honor student brutally beaten by police while walking home, or Oscar Grant, an unarmed Black man shot by BART police in Oakland last year. Reminders why Connie Rice's work against police violence is so important. She once told Sun Magazine, "to create a movement, you have to have alliances." And at this meeting I began to see a community building an alliance with police.

Neighbors stood up and requested specifics--"two security cameras installed at key points in the neighborhood," "at least 3 K-9s patrolling with officers," "more officers walking the streets" and therefore engaging with, and being part of, the community instead of simply marshaling from afar. I realized these tangible, specific, and not unreasonable requests, given in a compassionate manner, are what really had the potential to affect change. And the hope behind each voice. The officer responded to each request, saying that they had secured security cameras and they're working on getting more K-9s. Speakers acknowledged that it's not the police force's fault, but more the city's fault for not providing enough funding to hire more cops.

At the end, the police officer said he had heard, he had listened, and the police will not ignore or forget them. He asked that the community give them time to work toward these goals. Perhaps the police won't forget them, but will the city continue to do so? I hope not.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Help Stop an Ineffective Adoption Bill in PA Today

Here's a letter from the Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights regarding two bills going through PA legislation right now:

Dear Advocates,

As you may have known, there were two bills in the Health and Human
Services Committee that seek to change the portion of adoption law
that governs an Adult Adoptee's access to identifying information.

HB 1968 is the BAD bill (not full Original Birth Certificate access). HB 1978 is the GOOD, equal rights, bill (full access).

Unfortunately, despite all of our outpouring of support for HB 1978,
it is still sitting in the HHS Committee.  HB 1968, on the other hand,
has made its way out of committee and is now before the PA House of
Representatives for consideration.

It is of utmost importance that HB 1968 be defeated.  HB 1968 not only
does not change the current law much at all; it actually makes it
worse.  Worse even yet, should HB 1968 pass, we worry that legislators
(1) will believe that the law is improved when it isn't and (2) won't
want to re-address this issue and portion of law, and will leave HB
1978 to die in committee.



Basically, this other bill, which may appear to legislators to be a compromise that pleases people on both sides of the argument, may make things worse for adoptees. If you can spare a minute, please contact the primary sponsor of the bill,  Representative Sonney at csonney@pahousegop.com. Your support really does make a difference--look at what we were able to do in Illinois with HB 5428! I get my birth certificate November 2011!

You can join the PA Adoptee Rights group or keep up with legislation info at 
www.adopteerightspa.org.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vaseline's Skin-Lightening Cream

The Web is in uproar over Vaseline's New Skin-Lightening cream marketed in India and in a Facebook app that allows users to lighten their skin in profile photos.

When I was in China a few summers ago, I blogged about this strange "skin-lightening" rhetoric I noticed on creams that appeared to be simply sunscreens or "complexion balance" products. I knew it was connected to class-based attitudes valuing white-collar jobs that don't require outdoor labor, but I couldn't figure out if people realized the racial connotations too (usually people denied it or acted confused when I asked.)

Well, apparently in India there's the same rhetoric in advertising, and some people DO recognize the racism behind it. This Vaseline Men line is the first of its kind marketed exclusively for men--skin-lightening creams have been around for decades for women--no surprise there. In this article, one man says that this whole thing perpetuates a "I want to be fairer craze" that's sweeping India.

The cream's product description claims to even skin tone and remove "dark spots" caused by too much sun exposure. Okay, I like that terminology better. It's a less offensive way to think about it, and I hope that's the real reason why men are using it, not to "lighten" their natural skin tone.

But still.

It's a good sign, in my opinion, that people are upset about it. No matter the manufacturer's actual intentions, AWARENESS is the first step to racial sensitivity. It's necessary if we are to ever move forward.

Some dude comments on the product's Facebook page: "from the outlook of a European american guy seeing an ad for Indian men to lighten their skin to become like white men; i find this racist and a bit offensive. being white does not make you look good. i find this borderline NAZI thinking and that needs to stop."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Biracial Hair Blog Post on Naturallycurly.com



I've started a hair blog on NaturallyCurly.com. And right now, if you start a new one through this link, you'll be entered to win a HerCut curly hair product giveaway. Check out the link and tagline below.

Biracial Hair: "Like many multiracial curlies, I've experienced salon horror: a terrible razor cut, a Dorothy Hammil cut turned mushroom-shaped puffball. Finally, I've learned better care practices for my hair, and that the best cut is the not-so-often cut!"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cancer and My Adoptive Mother

I haven't posted as often as usual the past month, partly because I've been dividing my time between PA and my parents' home in IL. My mother has endometrial cancer. Though we've caught it pretty early (Stage I and II), it's still scary.

A few things Mom's said have made me think about our family situation, how we are not related by blood. Her cancer is the same cancer that afflicted both her mother and her grandmother. "Well, at least it stops here," Mom said to me. "This cancer stops with me."

(It reminds me of author Cheri Register, whose adoption book I read a few months ago. She suffers from chronic health problems, which was a major factor in her decision to adopt.)

Also, anytime a woman has a hysterectomy, hospital protocol is to offer counseling services for coping with the loss of the possibility of bearing children. But, as Mom pointed out, she had to grieve that loss 30 years ago, when she and my father realized they could not have kids the traditional way.

Mom is in good spirits, ready to get the treatments and surgery over with. She even laughs when she says: "My woman parts have grown nothing but cancer, so I just want them out!"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Witnessing an Adoption

Today I witnessed an adoption finalization, at the courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. It was the last step of the adoption of F and T, brother and sister ages 15 and 16. I met them as foster kids last year at the adoption agency where I serve as a mentor. The two were taken in by a family last November, and now, after months of molding their lives together and lots of paperwork, it is official. In many ways, the whole thing reminded me of a marriage ceremony. The kids were given a new last name. The lawyer asked the adoptive parents questions affirming their commitment, such as:

  • Do you understand that this child can inherit from you, and you from the child?
  • Do you promise to provide for the child's needs?
  • Do you promise to love and nurture the child?
It was a happy day. The kids had been waiting for a home for a long time. It can be tough to place teenagers--many people prefer younger kids. And just one as opposed to a pair. But I know these kids will light up their parents' lives--they are incredible, smart, and strong. 

It was not my first adoption finalization, but of course I don't remember my own, which took place when I was six months old. But I have asked my parents about it and have recreated the moment many times in my mind. I know it was every bit as meaningful and touching as what I witnessed today. The making of a family.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Blah Girls on Adoption

Silly cartoon girls make fun of celebrity adoption.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Church Is a Diverse Place

This is one of the reasons why I love my church. Its slogan is this: "...inviting all to join our diverse, inclusive family of faith, transcending boundaries of race, class, ability, culture, age, gender and sexual identity to become one in Christ."

When I first moved to Pittsburgh, I wanted to find a church that was diverse (what that meant to me at the time was a place where both Black folks and White folks attended--something I'd never experienced and felt a need for.) As often happens, God exceeded my request. The congregation at East Liberty Presby is not only diverse in race, but also in class, sexual orientation, age, and more. It's not just White and Black people going up to the altar--there are Asian people, gay people, old people, young people, handicapped people, mentally challenged people, PhD students, former Catholics-Methodists-Baptists, families, single moms, adopted kids, and more.

And tough topics about racism and sexism are not avoided. The president and CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, is coming to worship June 6. We just finished a movie/discussion series entitled "Race: The Power of an Illusion."

Now, of course this church is not perfect--as I've noticed with organizations with so many different people together, sometimes it's hard to satisfy everyone...some voices are heard more than others, some groups are represented more than others (I wish there could be more people my age).  But its diversity is unique, and I believe it's what Jesus would approve of. This is what I find beautiful.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

TV Show Glee: Adoption Theme

Have you noticed the adoption themes cropping up in Glee? I've only caught a handful of episodes, but after watching the last two and observing the delicate and authentic way a complicated adoption story was portrayed, I am committed to catching up with the show.

The two most recent episodes featured Rachel's story as an adopted daughter of two gay men. Apparently the birth mother, Shelby, was a surrogate mother for the men (I wasn't sure if that meant one of the fathers was a bio father? Doesn't appear so.) Rachel's boyfriend asks her about her deepest dream, the one that keeps her awake at night.

"What's missing?" he asks.

"My mother," she says.

Rachel imagines her mother as a famous broadway star (how very typical!) Quickly she locates Shelby, who had secretly found her first. The two look eerily alike, and both are talented singers--and thus a few moments of musing on genetics and inheritability.



Quickly, though, the excitement dissipates. Both mother and daughter realize they had unrealistic expectations for reunion (though moreso the mother, I thought). Shelby realizes that Rachel doesn't need a mother, that it's too late for her to be there for Rachel in the way she wants to be, and then decides they should go their separate ways. She basically rejects Rachel again. Before they part, Rachel asks if they can sing a song together. They do, thus fulfilling Rachel's lifelong dream to sing with her mother.

I don't think Rachel's feelings of rejection were explored much. The adoptive fathers were not present--I'd like to have seen their reactions to Rachel's quest. The search process was truncated to fit among several other story lines in a 45-minute show. But overall I was impressed with the depth of issues that were explored in this adoption story, and that they were not oversimplified or sugar-coated to meet the typical mainstream POV.  Nice job, Glee.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ronni Goes Natural

My friend Ronni is now what hair enthusiasts call a "transitioning diva"! Slowly but surely, she's growin' her roots out.

Here she is before, hair all-processed.

Here she is rockin' the kinks.



I love these curls--aren't they cute? I mean, she's beautiful any way she does her hair, but she been wanting to be free from the creamy crack and live chemical-free for a while now.  Go girl!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

RUN, a Transracial-Adoption-Themed Novel

Run by Ann Patchett

Two Black brothers, Tip and Teddy, are adopted by Boston's White mayor Bernard Doyle twenty years ago. The adoptive mother dies four years later, and for much of their lives the boys are grieving the loss of this red-haired woman, perhaps more than thinking about their biological mother who had surrendered them before that.

Then one wintery night, an accident and chance encounter with a woman who has secretly been part of their entire lives makes them consider their adoption in a new way.

Overall I found this tale deftly written, with plot twists and surprises that made it nearly impossible for me to put it down. Of course, I read very carefully to see how the race-adoption themes were dealt with by this White author who may or may not have a personal connection with adoption (I couldn't find much in initial research).

I was pleased to see that Patchett writes a refreshingly nuanced view of adoption and race, without--as Mixed Race America author points out here--dwelling on either topic heavy-handedly. Readers get a clear sense of Tip and Teddy's characters, and see that they are aware of how adoption and race play into their lives but yet do not feel defined by them. Sure, one could say that maybe Patchett didn't go deeply enough into all the issues, but there were those moments that reminded me that she knew what she was doing. When discussing whether to bring home the girl whose mother had gotten into an accident, Doyle says, "I don't think they'd let us walk out of [the hospital] with a random little girl." Tip replies, "Not a random little white girl, but a random little black girl? I don't think anyone's going to stop us at the door."

I like the uniqueness of this story as it is centered on male perspectives. As I've discussed numerous times, the adoption world--academic writings, memoirs, social work, support groups, conferences--is overwhelmingly populated, at least visibly, with women. Here it's an adoptive father who is shocked and protective when considering the possibility of a birth mother suddenly showing up. Here are two adopted sons, who react very differently to their adoption and the emotions surrounding their abandonment.

Teddy discusses wonderment about their mother.

"I'm not interested," Tip replies.

The birth mother is given a large presence in the novel, though her voice is one that only readers hear--the other characters don't. For that, it is sad, and maybe left something to be desired--I haven't decided yet. It's something all too common with adoption: those many things left unsaid, misunderstood.

I don't intend this blog post to be a complete spoiler, so I'll stop here. But for those interested in adoption, or even those who just love a good book with socially relevant themes and lyrical language, I highly recommend reading Run. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May is Mixed Experience History Month

It's Mixed Experience History Month over on Heidi Durrow's blog. Each day she writes short profiles of important mixed folks in history--Bob Marley, Edith Maude Eaton, and more. I just love all the work Heidi does carving out a place for multiracial identities. Hard to do in our bifurcated society that prefers to see people as one thing or another--not both. Check it out!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Embryo Mix-Up Baby

You've probably heard about the fertility clinic mixup, where a woman accidentally ended up carrying another couple's (The Morell's) embryo. The woman, Carolyn Savage, carried the child full term, then gave it to its biological parents. Unbeknownst to her, she became a surrogate mother! The Today Show featured the Savages while Carolyn was pregnant, and then the happy bio parents with seven-month-old Logan Morell last week.




On the show the Morell's talk about how grateful they are to Mrs. Savage for carrying their baby full term. They are calling him their "miracle baby," and they've written a book about the experience. They are on good terms, it appears, with the Savages, and they keep them up to date on Logan's progress. They even visit at Christmastime.

But, when the Morell's appeared on the Today Show last week, the Savages were not there. They said they were not yet prepared to talk about the events, that they had been much more difficult than anticipated. Of course, I'm thinking, it just make sense. Carolyn bonded with that baby for nine months. She had to relinquish him right away, just as though she were a birth mother giving up her child for adoption. This woman's decision situation was just as harrowing as a birth mother's. She had to decide between either aborting the child or giving birth and then giving it up, and she had originally WANTED to get pregnant in the first place.

At least the Morell's are acknowledging Mrs. Savage's sacrifice, and treating her as a mother who should be part of her child's life. I hope that adoptive parents see this and recognize the importance and sacrifice of their child's birth mother.

Women Who Love Too Much

Sometimes you read a book that changes your life. I’m going to get a little more personal than usual on this post, in hopes that it will reach a woman who needs to read this. The book is called Women Who Love Too Much. With a copyright of 1985, it might seem ancient, but I believe its message remains powerfully relevant.


Author and psychologist Robin Norwood describes women who love to much:  when being in love always means being in pain. When you are inexplicably drawn to destructive men, abusers, alcoholics, or emotionally  unavailable men, men who cannot possibly love you fully. You believe that the yearning-knot feeling in your stomach while in the throes of a bad relationship is love. What it really is: sickness. Often it goes back to childhood, similar to Frued’s “repetition compulsion,” an unconscious need to repeat the dysfunction of her home life or relationship with her father in adulthood because it remained unresolved.

Norwood says a key component in the “loving too much” disease is that there must have been a strong atmosphere of denial going on in the childhood home.

How does this relate to adoption? For me, and maybe for other adoptees, the perceived instability of being an adopted member of the family might magnify a child’s reaction to dysfunction. Though it's getting better, I often here stories of denial still playing a part in adoption—whether it be denial about the dysfunction in the home or denial of the adoption as a whole (the adoptive parents’ denial that the child’s feelings of insecurity or fear of abandonment is real, that the child’s desire to know about familial roots is authentic, or maybe that the child’s race—if different from her parents’—matters at all.)

As the daughter of a sexual abuse victim, and placed in a family because that abuse prevented my parents from having kids, I somehow took on an unconscious desire to “fix” my father’s melancholy. If only I were good enough, he wouldn’t be sad anymore, and I could get the emotional nurturing that I needed. (And I would secure my place in a stable home and not be abandoned again.)

Notice the motivation behind the actions? It’s not selfless, sweet martyrdom. It’s fear for self, which fuels desire for control. Unhealthy cycles, that unless we become aware of and work hard to change, can actually control us. Lead us into unhealthy relationships where we will suffer the same as we had long ago, where we will continue to replicate that unresolved situation and try to gain control over it. And, unfortunately, where we can hurt others as well. We must learn that we can’t change another person or help him heal—he must do it on his own. A big part of my understanding of this came when the past few years as I witnessed my father finally heal, through intensive therapy, support groups, writing, etc. I had nothing to do with it.

It’s fascinating how the subconscious works. Maybe no one ever blatantly tells you that you have been "abandoned"—they couch it in friendlier terms: your mother loved you so much that she gave you up, your mother put you in a better home where you could have both a mommy and a daddy. But somehow as an adult you find yourself taking breakups particularly hard, and you might discover that somehow you have a deep fear of abandonment.

Knowledge is power. I believe this truism holds particular weight when it comes to the unconscious, and things that have been imprinted on us in childhood before we could be conscious of them. It also applies to adoption--note that essential knowledge is often withheld from adoptees (biological roots, original birth certificates). But, if Norwood is right, there are too many women out there--adopted or not--who love too much. If you can identify, I urge you to read this book. It might make all the difference.