Showing posts with label Searching for Birth Parents. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Searching for Birth Parents. Show all posts

Monday, September 23, 2013

He Called Her "Real Mom"

I'd love to know your opinion on this one.

The other day Wenxin and I were talking, and I'm not even sure how it came up. I think I was telling him that I bet his foster mother would be so proud of him.

And then he asked.

"What about the other one?"

"The other what?" I replied.

"The other mom. You know . . . my REAL mom." (emphasis mine)

"Oh, I see. I bet your first mom would be so proud of you, too."

We talked for another minute or two, and as he ran out the door to go play, I said with a wink, "Hey Wenxin, don't forget. I'm REAL, too."

Big grin, and he was off.

So here's the question. He's 10 years old and adopted for three years now. Is it important for me to teach him what most people consider to be appropriate adoption language? Should he call her his first mom or his birth mom instead of his real mom? Does it really matter?

My gut tells me he should be able to call all the mothers in his life whatever seems appropriate to him -- because it's his story. My gut says I should follow his lead on this one. But he is only ten and is still making sense of his own history. On this issue, does he need guidance from me? Specifically, does he need me to choose his words?

I'm not concerned about my place in his life. I know this kid loves me. I also know I'm his third mom. I'm OK with this. And I think I can live with him calling her his real mom.

But since it's not what's normally done in the adoption world, I'm wondering if I'm missing something here?

I also have a real fear that some adoptive parent will correct him. It could happen, you know, cause calling the birth mom the real mom. . . those are fightin' words in a lot of places.

I'm also pretty sure he'll call her whatever I ask him to call her. He's sweet and obedient. And he believes what I say about things. If I say he should call her his first mom or his birth mom, then I'm pretty sure that's what he'll do -- for now, anyway. But do I want to make that decision for him?

So what do you think? What would you do in my place?

Waiting for all of your words of wisdom.

If you are an adult adoptee, please let your voice be heard on this one.

Sharing today over at Emily's place.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 23: A Movie I Recommend

This feature length documentary is available on streaming Netflix or at Amazon.

While not specifically about older child adoption, this film paints a picture of what it's like to grow up as an international adoptee, always living somewhere between your birth culture and your adopted culture. It gives a rare glimpse of international adoption through the adoptee's eyes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 17: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part I

Tara's Family
There is only one group of people who can tell us, from experience, what it's like to grow up adopted. We must develop the habit of listening to the stories of adult adoptees.

Please don't think that just because you've known one adult adoptee in your life that you've got the whole picture. Each story is unique. We need to develop the habit of lowering our defenses and listening because only adult adoptees can help us see adoption through an adopted person's eyes.

Today, I interview Tara Bradford about growing up as an international adoptee. Tara has a unique perspective as she is a transracial adoptee, a mom by both birth and adoption, and an orphan care advocate. 

Welcome, Tara, to Death by Great Wall. Tell us a little about your story.

We know that all stories of adoption begin with loss, and mine began with my relinquishment by my Korean birth family, resulting in my adoption by a Caucasian family in the US. The family I came into had a son two years older than me. 

Unfortunately, the loss did not end there.

Within a year of my adoption, the couple separated. There was much pain in my childhood from experiencing the effects of what divorce can do in a family, especially as an unattached adoptee. I was close to my mother and grandparents, but did not have a good relationship with my adoptive father. Years of emotional pain culminated in him telling me he had not wanted to adopt me, but did it only to save his marriage. As a result, at the age of 21, I legally dissolved my relationship with him and had my mom’s third husband named as my legal father. 

The challenge of being a transracial adoptee in a small town --population 800 -- with no other minorities but myself, coupled with what I was experiencing through the divorce created a lot of insecurity, identity confusion, and fear of being rejected. I’ve since reached out to my mom’s first husband and told him I forgive him and have been on a healing journey from my circumstances for the last 13 years.

Was being adopted a positive thing or a negative thing in your life?

It is both. I realize that because of the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment, I could have ended up in conditions that might have taken my life down a very different and negative path had I stayed in Korea. The positive part of being adopted is that despite the circumstances of my adoption, it brought me here to the US where I met my husband and have a very blessed life.

The negative part of adoption is also the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment. It caused me to grow up without my birth family. I experienced further abandonment with the divorce of my adoptive parents and the eventual dissolution of my relationship with my adoptive father. The effects of others' choices on my life dug deeply into my heart and soul, and the road to healing has been long.

What was it like growing up in a family with people who didn't look like you? Did you have any Asian friends or role models?

It was very difficult growing up as a transracial adoptee. My racial background was not something we discussed intentionally. My childhood was challenging because I knew I was different, and I was trying to understand where I fit in since everyone at school was white, and everyone else in my family was as well. I began to think that in order to fit in, I had to look and act white. I remember dreaming about getting my eyelids fixed so I would have folds in them and could look more like the white people around me.

I didn’t know any other Asians and only came into contact with them when we would visit a Chinese restaurant at which point I would feel terribly uncomfortable and embarrassed. I really wish my parents had been more intentional about teaching me the history of my racial background and helping me understand how to feel comfortable with my racial identity within a white culture.

What was your parents' attitude toward your birth family and birth culture? How did that affect you?

We never talked about it. I would like to believe that they respected my birth culture, and I guess I honestly can’t say how they felt about my birth family as again, it wasn’t a topic of conversation that we engaged in.

In looking back at my childhood, I can see how that was very disempowering to me as a transracial adoptee. Not understanding my birth culture or how one exists within the American culture as a transracial adoptee created a huge chasm in my life. The lack of knowledge of my birth family coupled with my ignorance of my birth culture caused me to experience a deep identity problem.

Have you ever gone back to your birth country?

I have never gone back to Korea. I hope to do so soon and have been talking with my husband about when that will be.

If you could meet your birth mother today, what would you like to ask her?

If I met my birth mother, I would want to know the circumstances of my relinquishment. There is a constant gnawing inside of me that beckons the question, “Why?” It’s as if I have a chapter of my story that has been torn from the book leaving blanks that can’t be filled in. Even though I’m at peace with not knowing, there is a sense of wonderment about my birth family.

Friends, Tara's honest, vulnerable answers brought tears to my eyes. She's given us a lot to think about. If you have a question you'd like to ask Tara, please leave a comment, and I'm sure Tara will be glad to respond. You can also hear more from Tara on her blog, Smore Stories.

Tomorrow, I'll ask Tara about how her own adoption affects the way she parents her adopted children. See you then!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Respectful Conversation about Adoption

Courtesy of Bangert & Dahlquist

Adoption assumptions and adoption myths can kill respectful conversation, and often, they're just plain hurtful.

Don't assume. Ask sincerely. Have respect. 

That's pretty good advice for discussing just about anything, but it's especially true for a topic as emotionally loaded as adoption.

Have you ever felt misunderstood or hurt by someone's assumptions about your adoption? Would love to hear from adopted adults, first moms, and adoptive parents on this one.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An-Ya and Her Diary: A Book Review

Dear Diary,
I have a new mother and a father. I call my father Daddy. I call my mother Wanna. I call her that in secret because she Wanna be my mommy. She can't. They mean nothing to me. I know their names, I know how many papers they signed to make me their daughter, but those papers mean nothing. I don't have anything else to say about them right now. 

These words from the opening pages of An-Ya and Her Diary, a young adult novel by Diane Rene Christian, stopped me cold. An-Ya, an eleven-year-old girl, recently adopted from China, calls her new mother Wanna? At the time, it was more than my adoptive mama heart could bear so I turned off my Kindle and didn't return to An-Ya's story for about three months. 

Recently, however, something prompted me to revisit An-Ya, and I'm glad I did.

Eleven-year-old An-Ya is one of China's abandoned babies. She was found in a box along with a blank book.  Printed on the first page of the book was her name, An-Ya. For years, An-Ya fantasizes about the day her birth parents will return to the orphanage for her and her diary, now her most precious possession. She keeps the diary blank, waiting for the day she can fill it with her story's happy ending.

But An-Ya's birth parents never come.

Instead, eleven-year-old An-Ya is adopted by American parents. She is their second child. Her younger sister, three-year-old Ellie, was adopted from China as a baby. The presence of Ellie in An-Ya's story provides a great contrast, showing how older child adoption is, indeed, very different from infant adoption.

Once in America, An-Ya begins to record her journey in her diary, and the words she writes paint a real life picture of international older child adoption. We watch An-Ya's family struggle. We cheer them on. And the unique value for adoptive parents like me, is that the story is told from An-Ya's perspective

An-Ya and Her Diary is a real jewel, and in my opinion, a must-read for any parent considering an older child adoption. Because adoption looks very different when viewed through the eyes of the adopted child.

Diane Rene Christian, an adoptive mother herself, resists the urge to neatly tie up all the loose ends in An-Ya's story, and the book closes with An-Ya and her family very much still in process. But they've all come a long way, and as I turn the last electronic page, I am convinced that An-Ya is going to be OK. I'm pretty sure she's even warming up to Wanna.

At this time, Amazon Prime members may borrow An-Ya and Her Diary free on Kindle. And in the future, I hope to review An-Ya and Her Diary: Reader and Parent Guide, a collaborative work by a group of professional adult adoptees. 

Monday, February 4, 2013


I was 32 and at a business conference in Colorado. Someone at the reception desk handed me a message that Nancy returned my call. I picked up the receiver of the payphone nearby and tried calling her again.


“Hello, Nancy? This is Jill.”

“Oh, yes, Jill. I’ve found your file and will be happy to send it to you if you give me a number where I can FAX it. Remember, all the identifying information will be marked out. Only the non-identifying information will be readable. But you can get an idea of your story.

“Um. There is something else I should tell you,” said Nancy.

My heart was beating in my ears. What did she need to say?

“There is a fairly recent note. You have two sisters, and they tried to contact you through the agency about a year ago. They wanted you to know that your birthmother has passed away.”

I just stood there at the pay phone and really wanted to sit down. The life-long pang of loss took on another dimension.

“Oh,” I said. “Thank you for telling me. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of half-sisters. And, she died? I am kind of prepared for that. When I was searching for her, I had a mysterious impression that I didn’t have a lot of time to find her.”

I gave Nancy the FAX number of a nearby Kinko’s where about 20 pages of the most personal of personal information was going to be printed out for the wandering eyes of the Kinko’s employees. My best friend and I rushed over to the Kinko’s to retrieve the FAX.

We then drove up into some nearby Colorado hills, parked the car, got out and sat on some rocks overlooking the valley where a town was nestled.  After five years of on-and-off searching for my birthmother, I slowly read aloud the story of how my life began and the sacrificial choice my birthmother made.

            Like a tide rising, there was a gradual filling in of the numerous blanks in my life. My records were sealed by the state, and even my wonderful parents had scant details to tell me about myself.

There I sat, reading for the first time that my birthmother was a nurse and had served in the Air Force for two years where she met my birth father, a fighter pilot. When she became pregnant with me, she struggled not knowing what to do. The social worker wrote a detailed account of what transpired just before I was born.

Interestingly, nothing was mentioned about my parents. I suppose that’s in another dusty file box at the agency. Mom and Dad got me when I was 16 days old. Sixteen months later, my brother, their biological child, was born. What can I say? Mom and Dad were the best parents I could’ve gotten. They aren’t perfect, but they are perfect for me. I'm so thankful for how my parents were able to rescue me from what could have been. Their encouragement, strength and security in themselves helped me embark on the search to find the missing pieces of my beginnings.

Growing up, the pang in my soul from all the unknowns in my story caused a continual ache. The ache didn’t keep me from making friends, playing an instrument, doing well in school or traveling the world. The ache was something I lived with. The pang was an emotional chronic pain similar to what physical chronic pain can be. It’s always there, but one keeps moving and doesn’t know what life would be like if the chronic pain was gone.

Sometimes  the pang was in the forefront of my thoughts. During holidays, when our whole family was together – Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts and uncles, second cousins – I felt the pang more intensely. Physically, I blended into my immediate family quite well. But when the line of the family circle was drawn larger to include aunts, uncles and cousins, I felt a disconnect in a way that was unexplainable during my first 27 years. My extended family were so accepting and warm toward me that they would forget my biological heritage was not the same as theirs. I have two heritages — one is biological and the other is the family culture that raised me. Both heritages have formed who I am… and I'm so grateful for what each contributes.

During my twenties, I learned that the pang in my soul was tied to a great loss and that my fear of being left was connected to the first minutes of my life when my birth mother, Lois, would not even hold me for fear she could not relinquish me to a better situation. I also learned that I believed a lie from the darkest of places. This was the lie -- My existence deserved rejection. If I hadn’t been born, I would not have been rejected.

Because of God’s undeserved love toward me, I also learned He had chosen me before anything existed. That He is always near me and would never leave or forget me. A passage in the Bible brought me comfort, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible,
 I would not forget you!”

Wherever I went, I met adoptees and we shared our unique stories and feelings. Their perspectives about their birthparents and how the loss played out in their lives helped me realize I wasn’t crazy. The loneliness began to diminish.

When my search came to an end that day on the hill in Colorado, I was driven to find and meet my half sisters and other family members. Within a few days, the non-identifying information brought me into contact with Beth, Kristin, my cousins, aunts and uncles. They were patient with my questions and each helped me to understand Lois a little better. That is a story for another blog post.

Probably because Lois had passed away, I felt a need to find my birthfather. With help from my half sister, Beth, I tracked him down. He was quite put out that I found him. Eventually, we met. Let’s say that I would be okay if that was the last time I saw him.
            For me, I can say that the pang in my soul has healed into a scar and is no longer an open wound. The dam in my heart that held the loss, fear, anger, grief, loneliness and want of answers is broken. At first, the flood waters were so overwhelming that I dealt with a lot of anxiety. Moving through those waters was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and I could not have done it alone. My community of family, friends and God Himself brought me through. I became able to accept the love my parents had given me.

One thing I’d like adoptive parents to know is that there are many things I’d love for them to know! There is a book entitled, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge. I highly recommend this book. Every adoptee is different in how each responds to being adopted. This is a wonderful introductory guide to begin to put words to what an adoptee is experiencing whether or not he or she shows it.

 Adoption is a glorious and wonderful event, but intermingled with the good is profound sadness due to the loss of being abandoned. Those feelings are often overwhelming and confusing. Adoptive parents need to be prepared, equipped, loving and strong to provide a safe place for their child to unfold – in their time – the loss so they can receive and appreciate their parents’ love.


Jill, a married mom of a three-year-old, has a degree in PR-Journalism from Auburn University and a M.A. in Christian Thought from Reformed Theological Seminary. She works for a mission organization and enjoys writing when time allows. Jill and her husband are also considering adoption to complete their family.

Monday, January 14, 2013

There Can Never Be Too Much Love

Today I welcome Susan Perry to Death by Great Wall. Susan is the first blogger in a series of Monday posts by adult adoptees that I'm calling On Being Adopted. I hope you'll read Susan's story. If it speaks to you, please share it on Facebook and Twitter. 

I was a 52-year-old adult at the time, but as an adoptee, my hands were shaking and my heart was pounding as I picked up the phone to return a call from the woman who had given birth to me. Several weeks before, I had sent her a compassionate and carefully-worded letter by certified mail, expressing my openness to exchanging information with her, and accompanied by a brief, easy-to-understand medical questionnaire that my daughter, a physician, had prepared.

My original mother had already returned the questionnaire along with a brief, rather terse note -- "Please do not try to contact me again. I've thought about you often and in my heart I love you, but I have no desire to meet." I already knew from my agency's "non-identifying" information that my original mother had another daughter -- five years old -- when I was relinquished. Her note to me also added, "My daughter does not know about you. Please don't cause problems."

So it came as a shock to me when I returned home from doing errands to hear her voice on the answering machine: "This is Mrs. xxxxx. Please call me back. I would really like to talk with you."

What did she want? Was she calling to yell at me for sending my letter and disturbing her peace? In many ways, as a product of the closed adoption system, I had been conditioned to accept that my own history was none of my business, and my agency had told me that my original mother was "an angry woman, tough to reach." Would she be willing to tell me more about my own beginnings? It didn't seem likely.

Before picking up the phone, I jotted down some questions, knowing that this might well be the only opportunity I would ever have to connect with her.

Our conversation was brief and tentative, but it lifted a great weight from my shoulders. Her tone was soft and conciliatory. We both agreed that "adoption is very hard." I assured her that my adoptive parents had been loving people who had provided me with a warm and stable home. She told me once again that "she loved me in her heart." But she had health problems, she said, and she didn't feel comfortable enough to meet, or to plan any further contact.

I was disappointed in one way, because I would have liked to have had the opportunity to get to know her better. Yet the conversation was so helpful and liberating for me, all the same. My original mother, the woman who nobody ever mentioned or talked about, was not a ghost -- she was real, a human being just trying to forge her way through life the best she can. She wasn't a monster; she wasn't a saint, just another human being on the journey of life. What in the world was the point in keeping her identity a secret from me for all these years? As a child, I was left to wonder whether there was something terribly wrong with her, or me, since no one ever mentioned her existence, much less her name.

As a young adult, I thought about her in more tangible terms, of course, especially when I had my own children. But I didn't feel comfortable enough in my own skin then to circumvent all the societal barriers and attempt contact. And I was so afraid of hurting the feelings of my now-deceased adoptive parents, whom I loved deeply. Sadly, I never did talk with them openly about how adoption has affected me, and yet in just about every other area, I shared a close and meaningful relationship with them.

I used to think that because I loved my parents so much, I had to love adoption too, or at least keep my conflicted feelings to myself. Now I can say confidently that an adoptee's feelings for her original family in no way diminish her love for her adoptive family.Too many adoptive parents, I feel, are still conditioned to believe that if they love the child enough, the identity of the original parents well never be relevant or important.

What I would like adoptive parents to know is that the adopted person has two families, recognized or not, and battles about which is more important are non-productive and can be corrosive to the adoptee's soul. As a grown adoptee, my message is simple: love is and should be expansive, and there can never be too much.

Susan Perry is a happily married mother of two and grandmother of six.  She is also an adult adoptee who is passionate about adoption reform. You can find her blogging at Family Ties.

Shared at Growing Slower's Tuesday Baby Link-up.

Monday, November 19, 2012

China Adoption Myths Busted

There are a lot of myths surrounding China adoption. A while back I wrote a post called How Did You Get a Boy From China? to address the myth that all Chinese children available for adoption are girls.

Today I happened on two more myth busting articles.

Valentina's Happily Ever After - debunks the common misconception that Chinese people don't adopt domestically, and that if they do, they never choose girls. Valentina found her forever family in her own birth country, China.

Long Journey Home - tells the story of a boy adopted from China by American parents. As a college student, he returns to China where he searches for and finds his birth family, something most of us assume our adopted Chinese kids will never be able to do. All those unanswered questions? This kids was able to get some answers, straight from the mouths of his birth parents. Grab a box of tissues, and read his amazing journey.

While these stories aren't yet typical of China adoption, they do lead me to believe that times are changing. We need to stay informed, so that in the area of adoption, we aren't operating under old assumptions, still believing myths that were busted a long time ago.

Have you entered to win the Red Thread Sisters Raffle? You still have 3 more days. Winner to be announced on Friday!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Should Adoptive Parents Search for Birth Parents?

Wenxin, meeting his "new" family at the airport, back in 2010

Tuesday I wrote about adoption loss -- specifically, an adopted child's loss of personal history.  I talked about the loss of medical history and the loss of his or her original family tree. 

Today, I want to ask some questions.

What's our role as adoptive parents in helping recover our children's missing histories?  Should we search for their birth families, or is searching a decision that should be left to them when they're older?  If we decide to search, when do we share the information we find with our child? 

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.  I'm hoping to hear the perspective of adoptive parents, adult adoptees and first moms.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adoption Loss - Personal History

Wenxin, with the only dad he's ever known 

One of the losses inherent in so many adoptions is a loss of personal history.  The truth of what happened in a child's life up to a certain point simply vanishes.

Recently, two seemingly insignificant moments drove this truth home to me.

First, Wenxin got sick.

Mike travels internationally.  It seems to be an unspoken law of nature that everything falls apart when Dad's away.  During Mike's last overseas trip, Wenxin came down with a fever and a bad headache.  When Wenxin's temperature rose to almost 105 degrees Fahrenheit, I took him to Urgent Care.

The doctor thought he might have the flu.  She began to ask me questions about his medical history.  All I know of his medical history before we adopted him in 2010 is the scanty information in his adoption file.  And who knows if that's even accurate?

The doctor made an interesting statement.  "If he tests positively for the flu, I'll prescribe Tamiflu for him.  Generally, we aren't giving Tamiflu to kids this year.  But since we don't really know his medical history -- for example, we don't know if he had problems with wheezing as a baby -- we'll err on the side of caution and give him the medicine."

Most moms are experts on their kids' medical histories.    Most moms remember if their kids ever had breathing treatments for wheezing, or were prone to ear infections or had food allergies.  I don't know any of those things about my son.  I'm only an expert on the last year and a half.

Wenxin has lost a chunk of his medical history.

The second incident occurred when Nathan brought home an ancestry assignment from school:  Trace your family tree back to an immigrant or a Native American.

I couldn't help but wonder, "How would Wenxin do this project?"

I guess he could just write his name on the poster and turn it in.  He is, afterall, an immigrant.  Maybe it would just be an easy A.

Or, he could, of course, trace our family history since he has been permanently adopted into our family.  Our family tree has become his.  He has been grafted in.

But the issue isn't really "how to do the project."  The assignment itself drives home an uncomfortable truth:  Wenxin's original family history is a blank.  We don't know the names of his birth parents.  We don't even know for sure where he was born or on what date.  That is a loss unique to adoption and very common with kids adopted from China.

Recently I've been reading about DNA testing on some adoption message boards.  There's a company called 23andme that will analyze youre DNA and send you a report containing info about your ancestral origins and your health.  23andme will also let you know if any of your relatives have submitted their DNA.  You have the opportunity to anonymously ask them if they'd like to establish contact.  As the database of kids adopted from China grows, in the future our children may have the chance to connect with distant cousins and maybe even siblings.

It got me thinking.  I wonder if future scientific developments will help our kids fill in pieces of their missing histories.  I think it's likely.  While I don't plan to do anything now, I'll be watching.  When Wenxin is old enough to weigh in with his thoughts and desires, he may choose to let science give back some of the history he's lost.  We'll see.

Special Note:  This week, Death by Great Wall, is getting a design makeover.  If everything goes according to schedule (do makeovers ever go according to schedule?) we should have the reveal by the end of the week.  Be sure to drop by and check out our new look!