assumptions & why i educate and write

Those of us within the adoption community know there are plenty of adoption-focused blogs. And like this one, some are written by individuals who were adopted.

Over the years, I've regularly heard assumptions made about adoptee blog authors, especially if the authors push for adoption reform, discuss the complicated macro issues of adoption, question unethical practices, or put words to the grief, loss, and other complexities that come hand-in-hand with adoption.

These assumptions about adopted folks aren't pretty, and they are far from fair.

It often happens like this. An adoptee writes a blog post -- one that gives voice to a complexity, to a deep pain, or to an insight or perspective of the imperfect system.

This leaves some readers uncomfortable or angry, or perhaps they just plain disagree. Maybe they don't want to think that their own adopted children will ever feel the same pain or discomfort, or maybe they don't want to believe that the very system that gave them their children comes with grief or with questionable practices. Or maybe the reader is an adoptee who feels protective and loyal to adoption because it gave her new parents or because she's only known her own experience and no one else's.

And then in their disagreement or discomfort, some readers react with assumptions... as if believing these assumptions will negate the message of the blog post.

She's just angry she was adopted.
He hasn't come to terms with his adoption.
Obviously she's not thankful she was adopted.
If only he'd focus on the blessings of adoption.
She is consumed with adoption and doesn't care about anything else.

It's maddening when I hear adoptee voices being discounted or silenced because of these assumptions.

It's frustrating that I feel l the need to say that I'm not in this field because I'm angry or because I don't like my adoptive parents (hi dad and mom!) or because I had a terrible childhood as an adoptee.

Devoting my professional life to adoption education is more than about me and my own experiences.

When my years as an adoption agency social worker started nearly a decade ago, I was quickly intrigued by what I learned about the lifelong implications for those around me. Reading adoption literature, attending conferences, listening to experts in the field, and having conversations with countless adoptees, adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and birth/first parents, I yearned to learn as much as I possibly could.

This professional role challenged me.

It forced me to look past and beyond my own experiences and roles as an adopted person (and adoptive mother) so that I could listen to others who though in the same roles, may have processed things differently or have had vastly different experiences.

I educate about adoption because I hear from parents that they need support and information. I educate because I feel strongly that social workers and agencies who help connect parents and children through adoption have an ethical obligation to provide education and support throughout the lifetime. 

I write because adoption is not a universal experience and because many still rely on anecdotal stories or the media to shape their perceptions of adoptees and adoption. I write because I hope people will consider a different perspective. I write because adopted person perspectives are sorely lacking in conversations about adoption. I write about adoption to offer a multi-dimensional perspective that challenges the perceived adoption voices of naivety, bliss, or anger. I write because little to nothing is black and white in adoption.

I write because we're all in this together, and we all still have learning to do.

please reconsider that t-shirt

This isn't a fashion blog (wouldn't that be fun!), but let's talk about clothing. And I'm sure you're wondering how this topic could possibly relate to adoption, but I promise it does.

I remember the first time I saw one. The lady was confidently wearing it and toting her transracially adopted child in her arms. And then I saw another one sported by a mom who was holding the hand of an unknowing toddler with black hair and dark brown eyes.

One Less Orphan was screen-printed on the first mama's shirt. Just ADOPT!  said the second mother's tee.

With the same cotton fabric but with different texts and graphics, similar t-shirts say:

Save the children! (with a graphic of the country of China)
Orphan No More
147 Million Orphans
Expecting... (and then a graphic of Ethiopia... or China... or Korea...)
Adopt Ethiopia!
147,000,000 orphans... minus 1!
Change One Life

or a t-shirt that gives statistics of third world countries and then the words, Adopt One!

Before I write any further, I realize that the people who make and wear these pieces (or dress their kids in them) are likely coming from a place of love. They mean no harm. In fact, they are likely compassionate and creative and want to care for children just like you and I do.

But when I see these t-shirts, I cringe, recognizing the incredible amount of attention they put on adopted children. Just walk a day in the life of a transracially adopted child, and you'll see he already gets copious amounts of attention given the mismatched appearance he has with his parent(s).

Then add the presence of one of the t-shirts, pushing him into the spotlight further and without his consent, and it screams, "THIS KID WAS AN ORPHAN!" It makes the child, even if unintentionally, the poster child for international adoption or for orphan care. Yes, the child instantly becomes an advertisement for adoption.

Beyond the issue of elevating the child as an ambassador for international adoption, these t-shirts connote far more than the actual words and graphics. Strangers and others start seeing the child as a service project. Or view the first grader as a charity case rather than a boy who likes Legos like his friends. Or perhaps others will believe the child is continually in need of saving or rescuing, given that the a-parents wear these t-shirts again and again and again. Some will fail to see the child as any other child but rather first as an orphan in need of pity.

And what comments and conversations do these t-shirts evoke?

Oh, you're child is so lucky to have been adopted.
That poor, poor child. He's so fortunate.

And to think she would have grown up in an orphanage without you.
You're such an angel for adopting!
She was once so helpless and now she has you!
Thank goodness she could come to America.
I sure hope he grows up to know how lucky he is and what you went through to adopt him.

You can imagine how these comments and ensuing conversations might be internalized by the adopted child and how they may affect identity formation. That, however, could be a whole other blog post.

I understand that these shirts are worn proudly to raise awareness or to celebrate adoption and/or children. I recognize that proceeds for some of these shirts are used to feed and shelter vulnerable children, but could we think of other ways to accomplish these same goals -- perhaps ones that do not dehumanize adopted children into numbers or charity cases in their presence? What an unnecessary and tremendous burden to put on adopted children, reducing them and their personal stories to pity, propaganda, and statistics.

I've surely stepped on some toes, but I urge you to consider what you might not have already.


To keep up with this conversation and more, find me on Facebook and Twitter.

on telling people I was adopted

There never seems to be the right time to tell someone that I was adopted.

I'm not the person who needs to scream it from the rooftops or someone who wants to hide my adopted person status. It's a part of my identity that just is. I'm not embarrassed about it or regularly sad about it. I've navigated the implications of being an adopted person. I take pride in owning my story and using it for good.  

But there are times when I (probably like many adopted persons) feel the need to offer up the information. That by not telling someone, it may contribute to some confusion down the road. Or that by not telling someone, the other person may think I'm hiding it from him or her. Or that by not telling someone, I'm asking for a series of other questions that will eventually just lead to me having to later tell the person that I was adopted.


For instance... As a child, when people would see a photo of my nuclear family, you can imagine the questions. Or when someone comments on my good English. Or when someone assumes I got a particular gene from my mom or dad and asks me about it. Or when I tell people I'm traveling to Korea and they ask if I'm going back for a family reunion or to see grandparents. Or when I'm part of a conversation about disease running in people's family, and I am unable to contribute. Or when someone asks if I look just like my siblings.


When these conversations happen, I sometimes feel some need to reply, "Actually, I was adopted." Hoping that it will clear up confusion or assumptions or will explain this or that.

But let me tell you, even as an adult, it can be an awkward conversation to have with someone. I make the statement, and then it's the reaction of the other person that heads us down an all too familiar road.

Oh! I'm so very sorry.
Wow, and you turned out just great!
My cousin's girlfriend's nephew's wife's neighbor was adopted too!
Have you met your real mom and dad? 
I bet you feel so lucky!
I bet that's why you decided to adopt your kids--how wonderful!
Do you know Charlie--he's my adoptee friend who lives in California.
That must really stink.
I  just can't imagine someone giving up their kid.
Oh, that's just heartbreaking!
Moms in China can't keep their babies, but I think they're beautiful.
Oh, I always WISHED that I was adopted--you're parents actually CHOSE you!
I've just always wanted to adopt!

You get the point. 

Do you see that to tell someone that I was adopted, it gets intimate really fast? So even if I don't mind telling someone about who I am, it's not entirely a piece of cake having to manage other people's reactions to my adopted person status. I find myself consoling them (Oh, it's okay I was adopted. I'm just fine.), educating them (Actually not all adoptees know each other--believe it or not, there are millions of us), calling them out on their ignorance (It's more complicated than you think), and more.

So next time someone tells you that they were adopted, realize that it is chocked full of complexities.

Know that adopted people aren't freak shows or celebrities or service projects or someone to feel sorry for. Know that all adopted persons are at different places in their understanding of what it means to be adopted. Know that adopted people have multiple families and worlds to navigate. Know that adoption is usually a response to a crisis or tragedy. Know that the adopted person may or may not want to go into full details of their life story just because you're curious--especially if you're a COMPLETE STRANGER (I'm talking to you, Target cashier!). Know that there is more to me than the sole fact I was adopted.

Just know that adopted persons are typical people too.


To keep up with this conversation and more, find me on Facebook and Twitter.



awareness. but at whose expense?

A recent photo essay, "Things said to or about my adopted daughters..." has been making the Internet rounds, and I've had a handful of friends ask what I think about it.

Kim, mother to two Chinese-born daughters, compiled questions and comments she and her daughters have heard regarding the make-up of their family. They include comments about race, loss of first/birth family, adoption, medical needs, and more. The photos (posted on Kim's public facebook page) show her daughters holding a whiteboard with each question/comment written. Countless media outlets have also published the photos.

Some adoptive parents are applauding her efforts. Yes! People need to realize that these comments are rude, uncalled for, and very real to our families. Some adoptive parents have appreciated the powerful images that highlight the hurtful comments made to adopted children and their families and are posting the links to the photos in order to raise awareness and in hopes of preventing others from making the same comments or asking the same questions.

It's easy to see that these photos are a powerful illustration of how words hurt, and as a child of Caucasian parents, I heard some of these same comments and questions. I can understand this mom's motivation in wanting to get the word out. There is no doubt that these photos will bring about teachable moments.

Though Kim states that she asked the daughters if they were up for these photos and reports that the girls were all for it, I look into the eyes of Kim's daughters and see themso very publicly displayed.

Even if the girls were asked for their consent, can they fully realize the implications of these photos? Is it true that any children of these ages may just be doing what feels right in the moment and may be pleasing their parents or just going along with the flow? Do the girls know that these photos are being seen around the world?

No kid can understand the virtual highways of the world wide web. Heck, many adults don't realize the implications of uploading their photos to social media.

I just wonder.

Could these very same photos be used somehow to tease these girls (and other children)?

Will the girls tomorrow or two weeks from now or four years from now want these photos deleted?

Will the girls realize that there is no way to "delete" photos that have been posted on countless websites and that they will be stored in Google Images forever?

What are your thoughts?

Smart mom who is raising awareness of the ignorance and rudeness?

Or misguided mom who is raising awareness... but at her daughters' expense?


To keep up with this conversation and more, find me on Facebook and Twitter.

it's time.

I never set out to work in adoption. And I certainly never set out to have an adoption blog. 

After years spent in various other social work gigs, one would easily say my next job -- working for an adoption agency -- would be a most natural fit. Or that it was like coming full circle for me. Or the happiest job on the planet. 

Even I thought it would be the easiest most wonderful job. 

But it didn't take long to realize the complexities. 

Oh, the complexities.

Layers upon layers of macro and micro level issues. Vulnerable children. Multiple countries, languages, and governments. Money exchanged. Many hands involved. Crisis situations. Third and first world countries. Those with power and those powerless. Those who desperately want to be parents. Others in desperate situations. People with good intentions. The reality that good intentions aren't always enough. The language we use to talk about adoption. The fact that adoption agencies are still businesses. The lack of post-adoption resources. The truth that sometimes helping really hurts. The truth that sometimes we all need some help... 

Oh, the complexities.

I do know that complex things are sometimes good. 
And that complex things are sometimes bad. 
And that some complex things, well... they just are

So after resigning from my agency position 1.5 years ago, it's time. 

I don't know it all, and I have a lot to learn... but I do know a bit, and it's time.

It's time to take this very small corner of the Internet to write about adoption and post-adoption. 

Because these complexities are worth talking about, and even more importantly, they are worth fixing and bettering when possible.


To keep up with this conversation and more, find me on Facebook and Twitter.