Here’s what’s interesting about dementia, which my 86-year-old mom has had for some time, and is now in the advanced stages. You can ask her what she ate for breakfast 30 seconds before, and she doesn’t remember. But tell her that friends from the old neighborhoods, former Rockettes, and uncles, aunties, and cousins, are sending emails and posting on Facebook, calling and sending notes–and name those people–and she smiles and says “Oh yes!” She knows exactly who you’re talking about.
Today in the car I heard a Chopin piano piece that I’ve heard hundreds of times in ballet classes over the years, including with my mother in her studio. (A former Rockette, she owned a dance studio in our small New Jersey town, and taught tap, jazz, and ballet.) The Chopin piece is always played at the end of the class, when the girls leap across the floor in what is called “big jumps.” My mom is now in home hospice care, confined to her bed, and using a wheelchair. She can’t find the words to make a sentence.
But this morning when I called her, I hummed the tune of the Chopin, and just for a moment she remembered the feeling of flying across the floor, suspended in air, the freedom of that, the joy.
“Beautiful,” she said.
Registration for Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families (in Colorado) opens on February 23. We’ve attended many times and loved the experience. Two years ago, we went early and drove around Colorado–from Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, up to Estes and through Rocky Mountain National Park. Stunning! Last year, a girl Olivia met the first year we attended visited us in California and Olivia flew up to Oregon to visit her. Friendships made there, last. And not only for us. I’ve heard the same from other families.
Heritage Camp is a specific experience–different from traveling to birth country, absolutely, but, in my opinion, equally valid, equally identity-affirming. You walk in at registration and look around, and every family there feels like yours. A realization comes over you: “We’re not alone. We’re part of a great big beautiful group. And here we are together.” I’ve learned a lot from attending the workshops, especially those that include panels of youth and adults born in Latin America and adopted to the US. The speakers are candid, and the discussions, educational.
My kids love Heritage Camp, and maybe yours will too. Here’s the link.
I’m one adoptive mother among thousands, with a particular point of view. Today, I’m posting a blog by my friend, Lisa S., adoptive mother to a tween daughter born in Guatemala. For years, Lisa communicated with her daughter’s birth mom in Guatemala via an intermediary. Recently, that dynamic changed. Thanks, L, for sharing your thoughts.
Open Adoption is a Pandora Box
A few months ago, I was afforded the option of having regular contact with my adopted daughter’s biological mother rather than information traveling through a third party, once a year at best. I jumped on this opportunity enthusiastically, relieved that we would always know her whereabouts, and if my daughter chose to meet her one day, it will be possible.
My daughter took this new development in stride, and her curiosity waned quickly. I realized that I was far more interested in her biological mother than she was. This probably doesn’t surprise readers who are adoptive mothers. We are motivated to get information about our child’s birth family for multiple reasons, not the least being genetic health issues. But in reality, most of our children’s birth families in developing countries have never seen a doctor in their life and probably never will.
But fast forwarding 20-30 years when I may very well have left this world (I’m already 61), I can’t help but wonder what will happen when I am no longer alive and my daughter is an adult. As her birth mother ages, it will be harder for her to provide for herself and her family. Will my daughter feel that she has a moral obligation to help her biological mother and keep in contact? And how tragic will it be for the birth mother if my daughter decides that she doesn’t want contact?
When I first searched for the birth mother I had one thought in mind: I want to give my daughter the option to meet her birth mother one day if she so chooses. But this decision is accompanied by a plethora of complications. I have opened the Pandora box.
–By Lisa S.
In case you haven’t seen this February 8, 2015, NY Times piece by Stephanie Sinclair, Child, Bride, Mother, please take a look. The photo essay is part of a series about child brides around the world; in this case the focus is on Guatemala. It’s a story many of us know first-hand, or through friends. From the article:
“In Guatemala, the legal age of marriage is 14 with parental consent, but in Petén, in the northern part of the country, the law seems to be more of a suggestion. Underage brides are everywhere.”
Organizations do promote contraception in some larger villages and towns, but culturally, it is not always accepted or understood. In 2006, the Guttmacher Institute did a study of reproductive health in Guatemala, titled Induced Abortion and Unintended Pregnancy in Guatemala. The study states that 32% of pregnancies in Guatemala are unintended. Abortion is illegal in Guatemala, but the study found an estimated 65,000 abortions are performed annually, for an average of one abortion for every six live births. Complications from unsafe abortions are a leading cause of maternal death in Guatemala.
Thousands of poor young women in Guatemala have little control over their own lives. Basics we take for granted here–education, nutrition, healthcare, reproductive autonomy–are out of reach for them. And as this photo essay illustrates, even today, the cycle continues.
The NY Times ran a follow-up to the article about adoption from Korea, by a Times staffer who is adopted from Korea and returned to live there for a few years. Adoptees Sought Their Roots, and Readers Reacted was written by Marie Tae McDermott. Here’s an excerpt:
When a Times Magazine cover story appeared on the home page recently, it wasn’t the headline, “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea,” that startled me — it was the face of the adoptee Amy Ginther, who it turns out is someone I know. I saw Amy perform her one-woman show in Seoul, South Korea, and attended a communication workshop she led in New York.
Full disclosure: I am a Korean adoptee. I too returned to live in my birth country, where I became acquainted with the work of the adoptees profiled in the article. But unlike them, I did not stay.
The article struck a chord with New York Times readers, many of whom, like me, arrived with their own set of personal experiences as adoptees, parents of adoptees, birth mothers and impassioned observers. It became one of the most emailed articles, and by the time we stopped accepting comments, more than 1,200 had been submitted.
Maggie Jones, who wrote the article, has written extensively about adoption from the parents’ perspective. She is an adoptive parent herself. Now she sought to explore the issue from the perspective of the adult adoptee.
“It can be both delicate and, at times, polarizing among adoption experts, adoptive parents, adoptees, birth families,” Ms. Jones wrote in an email. “It gets at key public policy issues and also goes to the heart of what it means to be a family.”
Many adoptee readers did indeed take issue with aspects of the article.
Here’s my take on the two articles. There is no “one story.” There are as many stories as there are individuals involved. Definite “themes” repeat, and we them see in our own lives, in our own circles. For some. Not for all. Not all the time. In my own home, with two different children, each individual, I see divergent attitudes. Sometimes Olivia and Mateo are very interested in their birth stories and country, and sometimes not.
Moreover, the situation for many of our kids adopted from Guatemala is different from adults who were adopted as babies and children from Korea. The adults adopted from Korea were the first large “cohort” of children adopted internationally. The belief then was that adoption should be secret, birth family not talked about, and history ignored. Adoptive parents were told their children came as “blank slates,” and would adapt seamlessly to their new situation.
I once heard a talk by a 75+ year-old woman who was adopted as an infant somewhere on the East coast. The most telling sentence she uttered was this: “In those days, we didn’t say the word ‘asthma’ out loud. Do you think we ever talked about adoption?” Thankfully, since then, thinking about adoption has evolved. We talk, we talk, and we talk some more. We join online groups, read books, go to workshops and seminars and Heritage Camp, make birth-country trips. We encourage the conversation with our kids. And we need to.
Remember: As parents to children born in Guatemala, we are lucky to have access to identifying information about birth families. This crucial element allows our kids to answer questions about their identity. To give you an example: Last night, Mateo took out the photo album we made from his first visit with his birth mother, when Mateo was seven. We spent an hour studying every single image. Mateo pointed out how much he looks like his birth mom–down to the shape of their chins, the thickness of their eyebrows. I try to imagine if all that was a mystery for Mateo. If he had to imagine her face, her personality. The sound of her voice.
Twelve years into adoptive parenting, I hope I understand the very real sense of loss any person who is adopted feels. How can they not? Whatever the circumstances, regardless of where they end up, how can they not, on some level, in some place deep inside, not feel abandoned? As the adoptive mother to two children–happy, well-adjusted, terrific–I see the pain this sense of abandonment can bring. I witness it. I feel it.
I can’t “fix” that loss, but I can understand and acknowledge it. That’s a place to start. ~
On Sunday, Olivia and I attended our annual potluck for adoptive families with children born in Guatemala. Mateo wasn’t feeling well, so Tim stayed home with him while Olivia and I drove over the Richmond Bridge to the East Bay to join the group.
What Olivia probably would tell you about the day is that it solidified her belief that I must get an iPhone or GPS, because we wasted our usual half hour driving in circles, lost, with me freaking out. The reason we got lost is that I, yet again, relied on unreliable directions downloaded from the Internet. And a paper map. We only got there, finally, because I flagged down a truck driver in a gas station and asked for directions.
But what I’ll tell you is that some of the children in this group are now teenagers in high school, and their parents have been meeting since the kids were toddlers. What I’ll also tell you is that many of those kids consider one another “BFFs,” although they may meet just a few times a year. What I’ll also tell you is that the minute I met several members of the group, my gut told me: These folks are committed! To their children, to Guatemala, to the idea of learning all they can about adoption, at every stage and in every phase.
Finally, what I’ll tell you is that an “adoption group” is really about friendship. We listen and we talk. We laugh and we eat. Our annual potluck is not a big, special deal. Simply a bunch of adults sharing casseroles and stories at long tables in a recreation hall, delighted to watch our children run around or do crafts or hang out listening to the same iTune or YouTube video. We’re happy to be together.
I know I’m lucky to live in an area with an active adoption community. Believe me: It’s the main reason we can never move! If you’re reading this, and haven’t yet connected with a larger circle, I urge you to reach out. To do the research. To make the effort. To show up. To find your way there, somehow. ~
I admire adults like Jane Jeong Trenka, adopted from Korea, who have returned to Korea to try to change the laws stigmatizing single women who become mothers, and to lobby for adoption in-country. Her cause seems noble to me, and one that is to be supported.
However, cultural mores are slower to evolve, as shown in an article by the BBC. Here’s an excerpt:
“The problem is that adoption in Korea is taboo, so the gap left by the fall in foreign adoptions has not been filled by adoptive Korean parents. Those who do adopt sometimes do it in secret.
When Choi Hyunjin was adopted, her new, adoptive parents kept it secret even from their own close relatives.
The couple sit on their sofa in a high-rise apartment near Seoul and say with one voice: “We didn’t even dare tell our own parents because we knew they would disapprove. They would only say ‘Why are you bringing up other people’s children’?”
The taboo arises because the importance of blood-lines in Korea is ancient and deep-rooted. Korean Confucianism places great emphasis on ancestors…This means that orphans – who cannot explain their familial past – have a hard time of it.”
Find the article here: Taking on South Korea’s adoption taboo
Maggie Jones is the adoptive mother to one child born in Guatemala and another born in the US to mixed-race parents. She writes often and well on adoption issues. In this article in the NY Times, Why a Generation of Adoptees is Returning to Korea, Jones reports on the wave of adults born in Korea and adopted to the US and other countries, who have moved back to Korea.
I think it will be interesting to see how our Guatemalan-born children continue to respond to adoption issues as they grow older. Many of us maintain contact with birth families, visit Guatemala, live in diverse areas, and count among our friends many adoptive families. Yet with all this, our children still must endure profound loss–that of their (birth) mothers. Will there be an exodus to Guatemala by our children? If my children wanted to move to Guatemala, I would encourage them. (That is, if I haven’t moved there first.) In the years we’ve been in contact, some members of our kids’ birth families have migrated to the US. Will the reverse also be true?
Here’s the link to the Times article. If for some reason it doesn’t work, Google “Maggie Jones Korean adoptees return to Korea New York Times” and you will find it.