ADOPTED and DONOR CONCEIVED ADULTS NEEDED!
This research aims to reveal the social and biological aspects of family, as well as the effects of closed, open, and anonymous adoption and third party reproduction practices, by drawing from the unique experiences of adopted and donor-conceived people. The project is designed and conducted by an adopted person who has a commitment to evolving best practice and policy in adoption and third party reproduction. (Read more about me and my research here.)
Olive's transition to the big city has been weighing on the hearts and minds of her loved ones. "How's Olive?," our friends, family, and colleagues regularly want to know. So, a quick update on her adjustment must be blog-worthy. In short, Olive is a champ. But, she misses her therapy dog duties--a day filled with purpose, friendly faces and lots of pats, treats from the office next door, and (too much) time in the car. She misses trotting in Forest Park or along any number of trails in wild Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Here in NYC, morning visits to Central Park are good enough, once in a while she gets out of the city for some fresh air and quiet, and she spends most of her time in our apartment, spooning her cat. Needless to say, we both hope to see you in 2016!
Just in case an old friend, a curious colleague, or a former client decides to come around my website to check in, I figured it'd be useful to type an update considering that, at least in my life, 2015 zipped by with the lion's share of change.
A year ago, I was ringing in the new year during a snowstorm in the backcountry of Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Northern Cascades. On that trip, I skied dozens of fresh tracks while setting a broad intention to shake it up and pursue some personal and professional challenges in the year to come.
Today, I'm writing this from the other side of the country in the Green Mountains of Vermont, taking a break from my new, wild home in NYC, and grounding myself before the second and final semester of my current studies. As you can infer, change was bold last year, and there's more around the corner.
I've applied to a dozen PhD programs in sociology departments around the country and I expect messages of acceptance or rejection (hopefully more of the former than the latter...does that go without saying?) to arrive in February and March. In the meantime, I'm conducting interviews for my current research, prepping a paper for a conference, looking forward to a meditation retreat in Massachusetts, training to hike down and up the Grand Canyon in the spring, and expecting to graduate in May. Our whereabouts for the second half of 2016 depend on whether or not I get an offer from a sociology program and whether or not it's how I decide to spend the next 5++ years of my life. So, there are extra question marks to life these days, maybe more than I'm comfortable with. It's exciting but disruptive, and I will be relieved to have some clarity and direction.
All this to say: three cheers for 2016! I'm leaning into the challenges of this chosen adventure, finding more questions than answers in my current work, and understanding more about myself through this uncomfortable process, which is probably the whole point, after all. And while so much of my surroundings and just as many of my thoughts are unclear, I'd like to share the small handful of things I know (and because list-making is extremely comforting to me):
This is a quick post to share a short(ish) list of my top reading recommendations for the perinatal time. I've been asked for suggestions more than usual lately, so I took it as a sign to put something up here. My resource-sharing bias is toward the postpartum period, because I've observed an information gap here (compared to the plethora of pregnancy and childbirth material accessible to parents-to-be). Also, it can be tough to find neutral, fact-based resources about the early days of parenting.
Here are my top 4 choices, you can see a more complete stack of recommendations in the photo. If you have a favorite perinatal read that I didn't include here, please say so! I'd love to hear about it.
The Complete Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger covers all the bases. Kitzinger offers up to date information, supporting parents-to-be to make empowered decisions about what's right for them through pregnancy and childbirth.
Fathering Right from the Start: Straight Talk About Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond by Jack Heinowitz is an excellent guide and supportive resource for dads, encouraging meaningful participation in parenting.
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, available in paperback and as an instructional DVD (I prefer the DVD). This is a wonderful resource for understanding infants in the fourth trimester, with tangible, gentle infant soothing methods to empower new parents.
The Fourth Trimester by Susan Brink. If I were pressed to recommend one "must read," this would be it. Brink is a science journalist who skillfully writes about infants in the fourth trimester. Without value judgments or anecdotal advice, she provides all the scientifically-based information we need to successfully care for newborns. This book is for everyone in the village: parents, aunts, uncles, friends, grandparents, and on.
I encourage my clients to choose resources wisely (especially those of the online variety--be careful, be selective!) and read only that which is necessary to help empower decision-making--it's so important to find your personal balance, gathering just enough (not too much, not too little) information. Lastly and most importantly: stay flexible, leverage your supports, and trust yourself through the process!
I've recently had the opportunity to connect with a few of the folks at Open Adoption & Family Services. A resource on the West Coast for 30 years, OA&FS has been a pioneer of open adoption, offering comprehensive training and lifelong support for adoptive and biological families. They are one of few non-religious adoption agencies in our country, and they identify as pro-choice, which allows them to provide comprehensive support to women through pregnancy termination, parenting, or adoption. Additionally, I appreciate OA&FS' commitment to helping families navigate the complex lifelong relationships created by adoption, with the understanding this helps adoptees "integrate the multiple facets of their identity." This progressive model isn't widely utilized in adoption, but it is a paragon that should help inform adoption reform around the world.
One of OA&FS' newest programs is Origins Therapy. This resource is offered to anyone in our community impacted by adoption or assisted reproductive technologies. Here's what they have to say about it:
We know how to make open adoptions work, and we’re bringing our uniquely specialized skill set to address these new therapeutic needs brought on by the complexities of building a family in the 21st century. We have learned that as children witness the important people in their lives come together and cultivate a mutually supportive relationship, they are able to integrate the many facets of their identity. While we believe children have a right to know the truth about their origins ... we also understand that sharing the truth can be daunting or scary for adoptive and intended parents, donors and extended family. We are here to support those who are discovering their own story, those considering sharing their story with their child, and those who are seeking support in their relationships as they relate to adoption and assisted reproductive technology.
This is my wrinkled, coffee-stained, well-loved copy of The Pregnancy & Postpartum Anxiety Workbook by Pamela S. Wiegartz, Ph.D. and Kevin L. Gyoerkoe, Psy.D. It's definitely a resource worth sharing.
Postpartum depression has become a part of the vernacular in many communities, thanks in large part to advocacy efforts emphasizing routine screening and increased training in health care settings. Online and/or phone support networks, such as Baby Blues Connection (local to Portland, OR), Postpartum Support International, and Postpartum Progress, are increasingly common. Because of this work, more families are receiving appropriate support and postpartum outcomes are improving.
On the heels of this success, we are working to broaden the mainstream conversation to include pregnancy/postpartum anxiety. Though it is a mouthful, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) is the most encompassing term to capture the diverse mental health issues in pregnancy and postpartum. (You can find a detailed symptom list here.)
I use The Pregnancy & Postpartum Anxiety Workbook weekly, if not daily, in my therapy practice. Full of accessible descriptions and effective skill-building activities, it addresses an array of anxiety-related topics including generalized worry, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and posttraumatic stress. Furthermore, the book includes helpful chapters about men and postpartum depression, supporting a partner who suffers from a PMAD, and relapse prevention following recovery.
Find a copy here or at your own favorite bookstore, I highly recommend it!
I'm preparing for my final conference of the season, and my second presentation this spring. Last week (after an inspiring weekend in NYC with the Adoption Initiative at St. John's University) I had the honor of offering a presentation titled "Against the Grain: Critical Discourse and Grassroots Organizing in Adoption" at Portland State University's Community Social Work Conference. Next week, it's on to Postpartum Support International's annual conference to reconnect with this wonderful, kind, and insightful community of perinatal mental health providers; and this year adoption is on the agenda: my colleague Beth Bassett and I will present "The Impact of Adoption on Motherhood for Adoptees, Birth Mothers, and Adoptive Mothers." For post-conference learning purposes, I've been honing my list of adoption-related resources. I struggle to keep resource lists because there's so much out there, so, my disclaimer is: this list is not exhaustive. If you have additional suggestions, I'd love to hear them. These are many of my favorite progressive, thoughtful, and nuanced adoption-specific resources.
FAVORITE ADOPTEE BLOGS
· A Birth Project
· Ethnically Incorrect Daughter
· Harlow’s Monkey
· The Adopted Life
· John Raible Online
· May I Have a Word?
· Sunshine Girl on a Rainy Day
· The Declassified Adoptee
· Lost Daughters
· Coloring Out
FAVORITE BIRTH/FIRST PARENT BLOGS
· First Mother Forum
· Amstel Life
· Birth Mom Buds
· A Birth Mother Voice
· Musings of the Lame
OTHER FAVORITE BLOGS
· Anti-Racist Parent
· Paradigm Shift
· Foreigner in Buckeye Nation
· Gazillion Voices (online) Magazine
· The Adoption Constellation (print) Magazine
· Somewhere Between
· Approved for Adoption
· Struggle for Identity: Issues in Transracial Adoption & A Conversation 10 Years Later
· The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
· The Adoption Constellation by Michael Phillip Grand
· Birthright by Jean Strauss
· Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption edited by Oparah, Shin, Trenka
· The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce
· The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka
· Parenting As Adoptees edited by Chau and Vollmers
· Inside Transracial Adoption by Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg
· Adoption Initiative, St. John’s University [adoptioninitiative.org]
· Adoption History Project, U of Oregon [pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/]
· Adoption Mosaic [adoptionmosaic.org]
· Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative [adoptionpolicyandreform.com]
· American Adoption Congress [americanadoptioncongress.org]
· Child Welfare Information Gateway [childwelfare.gov]
· Concerned United Birthparents, Inc [cubirthparents.org]
· Donaldson Institute [adoptioninstitute.org]
· Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link [goal.or.kr/]
· Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support [openadoptioninsight.org]
· Ko’Root [koroot.org]
· Land of Gazillion Adoptees [landofgazillionadoptees.com]
· North American Council on Adoptable Children [nacac.org]
· Training in Adoption Competence, C.A.S.E. [adoptionsupport.org]
· Pact [pactadopt.org]
· Pavao Consulting [pavaoconsulting.com]
It's that time of year! My schedule is full again this conference season, and the learning-fun began in San Francisco earlier this month at the 35th annual American Adoption Congress International Conference.
Since adoption-related conferences influence me on personal and professional levels, I feel particularly "full" when they're over. My experience with AAC was no exception, and I left this conference with many new friends and colleagues in the national adoption community. I was moved by the profound sense of community present at this conference--it was evident the majority of conference attendees (predominately first/original/birth mothers and adopted people) have long-term affiliation with the organization.
It is impossible for me to sufficiently summarize the depth of content within this packed 4-day event, but I will share a few highlights and include some relevant resources worth exploring. Among the greatest take-aways from this weekend was the wisdom shared by first/original/birth mothers. The AAC has a strong history of supporting and being led in their advocacy efforts by first/original/birth mothers. Typically marginalized and often excluded from our conversations in adoption, it was powerful to participate alongside and learn from this incredible, large gathering of first/original/birth parents. I had the privilege of meeting a few folks who have deeply impacted my own adoption-related journey: Jean Strauss, filmmaker and author of the first book I read about adoption (Birthright); Michael Grand, who wrote The Adoption Constellation; and Leslie Pate Mackinnon, whose heartrending experience as a birth mother I read about years ago in The Girls Who Went Away. In addition, I was blown away by keynote speakers Dr. John Raible and Lisa Marie Rollins. They are among the leaders in the transracial/transcultural adoptee community and I am incredibly grateful for their groundbreaking work and powerful influence at AAC this year. On a final summary note, the rapidly growing fields of third party reproduction and assisted reproductive technology (ART) had a strong presence at the conference. Between workshops led by adults conceived by anonymous sperm donation and many conversations exploring the intersectionality of adoption and ARTs, it is evident our collective efforts toward policy reform and community building are aligned.
I left the AAC conference motivated to continue this important work focused on shifting the dominant paradigm of adoption and improving the experiences of those of us who are affected by adoption. Surrounded at AAC by hundreds of people in the adoption constellation working in solidarity toward these goals, I was inspired and left with a renewed sense of hope and peace; and I'm looking forward to next year.
March 22-28 is World Doula Week.
As a trained birth and postpartum doula, I've had the incredible privilege of supporting families throughout the birth process and in postpartum transition. Though I no longer attend births or offer in-home doula care, the nature of my psychotherapy practice supporting families in the perinatal period allows for fluid integration of my doula skill set. In fact, it is because of my interests in adoption transitions, reproductive health, and perinatal mental health that I became a doula. In the therapeutic context, I have been able to offer my clients additional support around birth preparation, infant care, and postpartum planning and recovery. Anticipating needs and creating a plan of support is risk-reduction, so doulas can be a wonderful supplement for families coping with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Doulas are well-situated to meet the needs of each individual holistically. Our focus in the context of doula care is to trust our clients in making the best reproductive health decisions for themselves and to support them without judgment along the way. We also aim to work collaboratively with all other care providers (in any setting) so every family may have successful, well-supported, and empowering experiences.
In this work, I have come to know a phenomenal community of Full Spectrum Doulas. FSDs strive to "bring the doula model of care to people across the full spectrum of pregnancy experiences, including abortion, adoption, surrogacy, miscarriage and stillbirth." Each family's experience with pregnancy and fertility is unique; and full spectrum doulas understand that pregnancy loss, abortion and adoption are a part of the pregnancy/fertility spectrum, too. I am so grateful for their advocacy and for the presence of a full spectrum collective, Calyx Doulas, in the Portland area. Given our robust local doula community, there are too many to capture in this short blog post, but here's a snapshot of additional resources if you're looking for doula care: ABC Postpartum Doula Service, Cascadia Birth Services, Renaissance Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals, CAPPA, DONA. Also, Birthingway College of Midwifery has an accessible Labor Doula Program for families that meet certain income guidelines. If none of these work for you, ask around! It's important you find a good fit for you and your unique needs, and you know better than anyone who is best suited to support you along the way.
To all my radical doula-sisters who create and hold space for comfort, pain, complexity, joy, loss, triumph, uncertainty, surrender, and love, I wish you a restful and magnificent World Doula Week. And to all the parents and families who bravely let me in, who share with vulnerability, who trust the care they have chosen, who are experts, individuals, nurturers, courageous wellness-seekers, survivors, and so much more, I thank you for everything you have taught me.
This was originally published in The Adoption Constellation's Winter 2014 Issue 10.
The recently released film Philomena, based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, has earned widespread acclaim and multiple award nominations. It’s been inspiring and hopeful to watch an adoption-related film receive a mainstream viewership; and it has prompted rich conversation both within and outside adoption communities.
Philomena is the poignant story of a woman’s search for her son who was taken from her in the 1950s and sold for adoption by the Irish nuns of Sean Ross Abbey. While never explicitly stated as such, I worry about one woman’s story giving the impression this was a tragic isolated incident, the result of harsh judgment by a single group of nuns. This couldn’t be further from the truth, nor is this a matter of history long-since resolved.
The baby-scoop era (1940s-70s) was a time of pervasive coercion in adoption, and not just in Ireland. Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away is a stunning, unforgettable look into the time between World War II and Roe v. Wade in the United States, during which a million and a half women placed their children for adoption. Religion, poverty, social stigma, and limited contraception access resulted in generations of women and their children separated by adoption practices that perpetuated the dichotomy of the “haves” and the “have-nots” when it came to worthiness of raising children. Workers within adoption were seen as benevolent rescuers of otherwise ill-fated children. The shame associated with these pregnancies and adoptions was overarching and facilitated pervasive, damaging secrecy amongst biological mothers and adoptive families. Moreover, the industry was (and is) financially oriented; and couples struggling with infertility were positioned vulnerably in their own urgency to have a child. These dynamics continue to impact families today, many who do not have access to adoption records and encounter massive barriers—social, psychological and systemic—that prevent them from gaining basic information or pursuing reunion with their biological families. Furthermore, adoption of present day is deeply influenced by this history—it is among the roots of adoption and we mustn’t assume it resolved.
While adoption ethics have improved since mid-century, we have many miles to go. The landscape may have changed, but economics, race, privilege and power remain intimately connected to our beliefs about who is/isn’t a worthy parent; and those judgments, of course, influence adoption and its participants. Furthermore, adoption is a global issue. While I cannot speak with authority on the intricacies of adoption-related matters in each part of the world, I am in solidarity with my fellow activists worldwide.
In South Korea, where severe prejudice against single mothers often prevents them from raising their own children, activists are promoting family preservation by increasing access to sex education, improving supportive resources, and addressing intolerance toward unwed mothers. Additionally, they strive to eliminate the use of baby boxes (see #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes #BabyBox), which the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child finds in violation of children’s rights. Mobilizing around these issues is fundamentally about dismantling the reductive, uninformed belief children are simply saved by baby boxes and/or adoption without lifelong consequences. In support of this work’s crucial goals centered on family preservation and adoption ethics, we must join by challenging the prominent idea that good intentions are enough. It’s essential we engage a deeper understanding of both historical and current root issues impacting family separation.
Advocates are organizing from the Philippines, to Guatemala, Ethiopia, in the U.S. and on. Adoption is an intersectional issue that includes poverty, religious influence, war, colonialism and economics—we cannot talk of one without the others. Philomena’s single story brought this reality to the big screen, and I urge us to consider its broader relevance to our own adoption stories and adoption practices around the world.
You can learn more about activist efforts in South Korea by visiting KoRoot.