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. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Adoption Discussion on CNN (sparked by Sandra Bullock's recent adoption)

Fellow adoption activist and transracial adoptee (+overall awesome woman) Lisa Marie Rollins was featured on a discussion about transracial adoption and "why it's controversial."
Don Lemon begins the show asking this question, in light of the sometimes non-positive reactions people are having to celebrity Sandra Bullock's recent adoption of a Black American child. He obviously finds those reactions surprising, thinks it's odd that people aren't simply praising Sandra for "saving" the Black child from a lifetime of foster care.

It's amazing to me the profound ignorance of so many people in the mainstream about these issues. It shows how much adoption is shown from only one side, that so often we fail to recognize the powerful forces behind why those kids are in foster care in the first place, and also fail to validate any feelings from an adoptee that are not "grateful."

In her blog post about the show, Lisa points out that CNN was confusing transracial adoption with two white parents with mixed-race bio kids with mixed parentage. Big difference. However, you can still see Ms. Walsh's exoticizing of her mixed kids, saying that they were a "welcome racial curiosity" in their white communities.

Overall, I'm proud of CNN for giving voice to a transracial adoptee--it happens so rarely! And I'm proud of Lisa for being so eloquent and saying what needed to be said!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Today is Birthmother's Day

Today, the day before Mother's Day, is considered by many in the adoption world to be Birthmother's Day. It makes sense--the birth mother came before the adoptive mother. She is the first mother. Mainstream society rarely recognizes the birth mother post-adoption (especially in closed adoptions), as though her role is complete after the child is placed. Not true.  

An amazing birth mother I know recently wrote about the complex feelings she experiences on Mother's Day (see Three Roots Adoption).  

Earlier this week when picking out a card to send to my birthmother, I realized many of the cards, in their attempt to be universal and yet specific, didn't apply. They said things like, "all those years when you changed my diapers, drove me to school" or "remember when you used to tell me never to give up?" What I needed, and what I eventually found, was something that simply said, "Thank you for being my mother." For giving me life.

Mom offered to drop off the mail that day, and before I could protest she grabbed the pink envelope from my hand and put it in the stack with others. She said, "Is that for Patti? For Mother's Day?" I nodded. "Good," she said.

We've come a long way.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Graduated, and Wrote a Hair-Race-Adoption Book!

That's right. After three heart-wrenching, joyous, challenging years at the University of Pittsburgh, I am officially a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction writing.

My thesis is the longer, more personal version of this blog: a memoir tentatively called Growing Roots: A Story of Adoption, Heredity, and Hair. I wrote and rewrote and added to and cut and revised this manuscript several times, and I know it's not completely finished yet. But, I have a full draft. It's 226 pages. I'm ready for an agent or publishing house to love it and buy it, preferably for a million dollars! Just kidding. Honestly, publishing was never the main goal of this project. Mostly it was to write through unresolved issues of my own adoption, circumstances of which caused great turmoil and identity confusion. It is the story of why adoption is flawed in this country, why an atmosphere of SECRETS is not healthy. It is also a story of triumph. Yes, it is.