Posts Tagged ‘adoption from China’

“Twin Sisters” on PBS

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Twin Sisters, a PBS documentary about identical twin girls abandoned in a cardboard box in China and adopted to families in Norway and the United States, will be available for viewing until November 19 by clicking on this link. If you’ve ever doubted the power of DNA, this film will convince you we are who are from the moment we’re born, wherever we grow up. Our essence is hard-wired.

While viewing the movie, I thought about my children’s biological families. We searched for and found them in Guatemala, and every visit, I witness my children’s joy and ease at being among relatives who look, move, and laugh the same way my kids do. My children sense they belong on a blood level, and it shows. The girls in Twin Sisters behave the same way: whether running toward each other for a hug, holding hands, or brushing their hair, the twins “know” each other. That kind of familiarity, especially among children, can’t be faked.

Watching the film also confirmed for me how vital community is for adoptive families. Not everyone can find a biological sibling or parent. But we can all reach out to the adoptive family in our town, our school, our sports team, our place of worship. The longer I’m an adoptive parent, the more convinced I am that connection is key to the well-being of our kids, and us as parents, too. We need to be around families like ours. Our children need to be around others who share their specific experience.

The two sets of adoptive parents in Twin Sisters have given their girls a great gift: a relationship with each other. I hope the filmmaker plans a sequel. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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“Somewhere Between”

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Meanwhile, back in California, 15 parents in our adoption group gathered on Saturday for a screening of Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary about four teen girls adopted from China, Somewhere Between. I wrote about the movie last June, with a link to the YouTube trailer.

Somewhere Between was far more powerful and provocative than I expected, based on the lukewarm review by Jeannette Catsoulis I’d read in the New York Times. Although now that I think about it, Catsoulis made similar critical observations about Craig Juntunen’s new documentary, Stuck. Do I detect a pattern? In any case, from the NY Times:

Shining a relentlessly rosy light on international adoption and the policies that enable it, “Somewhere Between” presents an effortlessly moving but superficial profile of four bright Chinese girls and their adoptive American families.

Inspired by her own adoption of a Chinese infant, the director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, chooses a soft-focus approach that never digs very deeply into each teenager’s situation. All four appear to have loving surrogate families, but we barely hear from them, and their motives for the adoption remain veiled. Similarly, though China’s one-child policy is blamed for the surge in availability of baby girls after 1979, the truth is more complicated and would have made for a more nuanced and enlightening narrative.

In the lively discussion that followed the screening, our group did not see a “relentlessly rosy light” shining on international adoption. Quite the opposite. We saw adopted teenagers grappling with the same questions, pain, and conflict about identity we’ve witnessed in our own kids. True, these young women are, as Catsoulis writes, “articulate and impressively well-adjusted subjects”—and kudos to them for being fabulous—but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t challenging. In a poignant scene early in the film, one of the girls touches her pierced ears, saying that she remembers her birth mother piercing her ears, and those holes are the only evidence she has that her birth mother exists. Later, a girl sobs as she describes her need to excel at everything as a way of compensating for being abandoned. Finally, toward the movie’s end, after meeting one teen’s birth family, when everyone else in her family is crying, the young woman doesn’t cry at all. It’s as though her emotions overwhelm her, leaving her unable to react.

What we saw were well-adjusted girls who, every day of their lives, cope with issues of abandonment, racial identity, belonging, and isolation. In other words, the same issues many adoptive families and children face.

On a side note: The cohesion and unity of the Chinese adoptive community made a big impression on us. After the screening, we vowed to do our best to keep our Guatemalan adoptive community active and together, and to dedicate ourselves to creating resources for our children where none may exist.

Somewhere Between is a film I need to watch several times, in order to learn every lesson it can teach. I encourage you to attend a screening of the movie or buy or rent it on DVD. If you watch with a group, allot adequate time to discuss. If not for the call of family obligations, our group might still be talking.

 

Image credit: Courtesy Linda Goldstein Knowlton

 

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Book review: “Home is a Roof Over a Pig,” by Aminta Arrington. About moving to the land of your child’s birth

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

 

Like many other adoptive parents with children born in another country, I harbor a fantasy of someday packing up our family and moving to the land of my children’s birth. In this dream scenario, my husband and I rent a house, enroll the kids in school, and get jobs to pay the bills. Once situated, we learn the language, shop in the local market, experience traditional holidays, and eat authentic food. We transcend the rank of tourist, and become regulars in the neighborhood. More important, so do our children.

Writer and adoptive mother Aminta Arrington has done exactly this, and her newly published memoir, Home is a Roof Over a Pig (Overlook Press), brings to life her family’s story.

The book opens with Aminta and her husband, Chris, as parents in a blended family: two teenage sons from Chris’s first marriage, and three young children together, including their middle child, Grace, a preschooler whom they adopted from China three years earlier. When Chris retires from his 26-year military career, Aminta, who studied in Japan and holds a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins, gets the couple hired as teachers of English at Taishan Medical College in the province of Shandong, south of Beijing.

As Chris observes after he, Aminta, and their three youngest children settle into their new, small apartment, “It’s China out there. We are in the real China.” Almost everything in the family’s life and world is different, from the alphabet (there is none; they use characters), to child-rearing (for starters, a one-child policy), to philosophies of education (a single textbook, on which is based the dreaded “test”), to politics (a changing economy, where Mao remains an influence). But after the expected shaky start (which really isn’t that shaky, considering), Aminta, Chris, and their children adjust remarkably well. Before long, everyone speaks, reads, and writes Chinese. Six years later, the family lives in Beijing.

Aminta Arrington is the best kind of guide to a foreign country: curious, open-minded, and observant. She befriends several of her students, who reveal their thoughts on Chinese attitudes and mindsets while participating in her informal, after-school salons. Arrington is also a gifted linguist, fascinated with the Chinese language. Among her many lucid explanations of the origins and meanings of pictographs, she relates that the title of her book comes from the Chinese character meaning “home,” rendered as a roof over a pig.

As an adoptive mother, I was inspired by Arrington’s wholehearted embrace of Chinese culture, and the efforts she made to connect her daughter Grace with the foster family who cared for her as an infant. Readers who wonder about this experience will revel in Arrington’s report of the entire village welcoming Grace, including the “Eldest Brother” who had been her special companion. Although Aminta and Chris decide not to visit the orphanage who placed Grace—the couple objects to the obligatory “donation”—Aminta is able to establish that the official version of her daughter’s birth story—the “finding location” and the identity of the person who found her—is  actually false. Aminta sums up her reaction with these words:

“I did not have the facts surrounding her birth or her finding to give to my daughter. And ultimately, I could not give her the culture or the life she left behind. But I could give her something else. A whole village who remembered her. A knowledge that she was not just Chinese, and not just from somewhere in the Jiangxi province, but from a certain place. Not words on a map but a real place alive with the faces of those who lived there and loved her. I could give her relationships.”

Isn’t that we all hope for our children?

Home is a Roof Over a Pig is a must-read for adoptive parents with children born in China. It will also appeal to anyone interested in contemporary China, its educational system, language, and culture. Armchair travelers will delight in Arrington’s vivid depictions of daily life in China and trips to destinations well-known and off the beaten track. Arrington’s story is engaging from beginning to end. I recommend it.

To learn more about Aminta Arrington, including how to order her book, visit amintaarrington.com.

 

 

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Coming this fall: “Somewhere Between,” a documentary focusing on 4 girls born in China and adopted to families in the US.

Friday, June 8th, 2012

I learn so much about adoption from people who are themselves adopted. That’s why I plan to see this new documentary by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Somewhere Between, as soon as it is released this fall. Below is a description written by Linda Goldstein Knowlton and posted on the film’s website, and a link to the documentary trailer on YouTube.

“My daughter’s name is Ruby. She is five. When my husband and I adopted her from China we had no idea what lay ahead. In an instant, we became a family. I began to think about Ruby’s future and started to wonder how her coming of age would differ from mine.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN tells the intimate stories of four teenaged girls. They live in different parts of the US, in different kinds of families and are united by one thing: all four were adopted from China, because all four had birth parents who could not keep them, due to personal circumstances colliding with China’s ‘One Child Policy’. These strong young women allow us to grasp what it is like to come-of-age in today’s America as trans-racial adoptees. At the same time, we see them as typical American teenagers doing what teenagers everywhere do…struggling to make sense of their lives.

Through these young women, and their explorations of who they are, we ourselves pause to consider who we areboth as individuals and as a nation of immigrants. Identity, racism, and gender…these far-reaching issues are explored in the documentary. And with great honesty and courage, these four girls open their hearts to experience love, compassion, and self-acceptance.

What’s it like to grow up as a minority today – and what is it like when your family is part of the majority? How does the changing face of the American family affect us all? How do we fulfill our own destinies? Four determined teenaged girls help us find those answers in SOMEWHERE BETWEEN.”

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NY Times article on adoption from China and why I believe all adoptions should be open.

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The Sunday, September 18 New York Times ran this article, For Adoptive Parents, Questions Without Answers. An excerpt:

On Aug. 5, this newspaper published a front-page article from China that contained chilling news for many adoptive parents: government officials in Hunan Province, in southern China, had seized babies from their parents and sold them into what the article called “a lucrative black market in children.”

The news, the latest in a slow trickle of reports describing child abduction and trafficking in China, swept through the tight communities of families — many of them in the New York area — who have adopted children from China. For some, it raised a nightmarish question: What if my child had been taken forcibly from her parents?

The details of the story felt familiar to me. As an adoptive parent to children from Guatemala, I also wondered whether or not the adoptions of my children were legitimate. The longer I parented my children, the more deeply I understood the loss endured by their birth mothers. What if those women had been coerced to relinquish their children? Or worse, what if my children had been kidnapped?

How can any adoptive parent not ask the same questions? If one follows newspaper articles, blogs, books, and TV reports, one would believe every birth mother was coerced, and every child kidnapped. What if that described our situation, too?

So I searched for my children’s birth mothers, to hear in their own words the reasons why they gave up their children. Now I don’t have to wonder. I know. My kids don’t have to wonder, either; they’re young, but they’re old enough to understand hardship, and tough decisions, and what it means to feel like you have no other options. At the same time, my kids know they are loved. How? Their birth mothers told them so.

The birth mothers of my children don’t have to wonder, either. “Ana” and “Juana” have seen their children, and touched them. Held them on their laps. Ana and Juana know their babies are alive and healthy, and loved–not only by them, but by me, too. Our family circle is enlarged. At the center, there is no mystery.

The situation in China reinforces my belief that all adoptions should be open–that is, birth mothers and adoptive parents should be allowed contact, and encouraged to communicate. Questions can be answered. Fears can be put to rest.

On a recent trip to Guatemala, I asked our “searcher” how many cases of coercion or kidnapping she had discovered during her interviews with thousands of Guatemalan birth mothers. Her answer: zero.

Wouldn’t adoptive parents like to hear that information from their children’s birth mothers, themselves? That, for reasons of their own, their Guatemalan mothers relinquished their children, not without pain, but with free will? By definition, adoption involves great loss. What it doesn’t need is silence.

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Melissa Fay Greene article in February 2011 Good Housekeeping

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This month’s February issue of Good Housekeeping includes an article by Melissa Fay Greene that left me almost gasping. Never before have I read an article in a mainstream publication that addresses so honestly the challenges faced by some adoptive families.  Greene wrote ”Love Medicine” in response to the case of the Russian boy who was “sent back” to Moscow by his overwhelmed adoptive mother, Torry Hansen.  In the article, Greene profiles two sets of adoptive parents whose children exhibited similar attachment issues and violence. But the adoptive parents in Greene’s article sought help and fought through to better outcomes. Their families remain intact.

Greene begins “Love Medicine” by explaining:

In the universal condemnation of [adoptive mother Torry] Hansen, one population remained mostly quiet. Adoptive and foster parents of neglected, abused, or traumatized children …

Greene goes on to say:

Adoption literature brims with upbeat slogans… Roughly two million adopted children living in American households prove there’s truth in those phrases. But “A Match Made in Heaven” fails to capture the commitment and resilience demanded of adoptive parents, and the courage traumatized children need to attach to new caregivers.

Here I will add that Guatemala was often held up as the gold standard of foster care, but those of us who adopted from Guatemala know that foster and orphanage situations varied widely. Greene writes:

For infants, there really are only two continents: the land of well-being, and the land of lack.

***

[W]hat if, on top of physical or neurological damage, love, kindess, and delight don’t envelop the baby? If she is fed from a bottle that is propped against the bars of a crib, or lies in soiled diapers for long hours; if no one burbles baby talk to her and no one rejoices when she rolls over and no one comes when she cries, the baby stops reaching out. As the infant withdraws and shuts down, her brain fails to develop key pathways, the elemental approaches to love. Love is a duet, not a solo.

Greene outlines ways in which the two adoptive families in “Love Medicine” coped. “Theraplay’ saved one family whose children from Ethiopia struggled. The other family, with a daughter from China, reached out to fellow adoptive parents and their own parenting abilities (the father is a mental health clinician). As the article stresses, there is hope for families who are struggling, and for parents who wonder if they can get through another day. Imagine what life is like for your child: new faces, new food, new smells, new clothes, new language. Even for children who haven’t suffered neglect, everything familiar has disappeared. As the families in Greene’s profile demonstrate, the key is love and commitment. Get help. Don’t give up.

Greene concludes:

[E]very year, a fraction of adoptive parents will be unnerved by a new child’s issues. Finding a way to love a traumatized child, and helping that child learn to love, takes years, say battle-weary parents. Those parents who survive and thrive often say that it was the hardest and most satisfying work of their lifetimes, and that it unlocked the door to their greatest treasures: their own beloved children.

In my opinion, this article should be required reading for every adoptive parent and every person who is considering adoption. But you’ll have to buy it on the newsstand; I couldn’t find a link on the Good Housekeeping website. Sorry~!

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NY Times article and State Department announcement about adoption from Brazil

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

A fascinating article about assisted reproduction ran in Sunday’s New York Times. Melanie Thernstrom and her husband, Michael, formed their family by using the services of an egg donor and two surrogates. Their two children, Violet and Kieran, were born five days apart. The Thernstroms call them “twiblings.”

Much has been said and written about the article, but most interesting to me is what Ms. Thernstrom writes about adoption. She and her husband considered adopting–after four failed rounds of IVF– but felt the process was too expensive and unpredictable.

I had friends who spent all of their money trying to adopt, only to have things fall through again and again — birth mothers who changed their minds, foreign programs that were discontinued. I researched adoption in China but discovered that the criteria excluded us. When Michael’s parents adopted his sister in the 1970s, there was an abundance of babies in the United States in need of homes, but the widespread use of birth control and abortion, among other factors, has caused the supply of infants available for adoption in the subsequent three decades to plummet to a fraction of what it was then. Knowing that, I was still taken aback by how discouraging one adoption agency was about our prospects for “competing” against other couples. “Most birth mothers do prefer younger women,” the woman informed me. “But you’ll get a letter from your doctor, certifying you are in excellent health for the social worker anyway.”

“Right,” I said, thinking about the arthritic condition that caused the chronic pain I had been struggling with for many years.

This is not the first time I’ve heard or read about prospective parents discouraged from adopting because the process takes too long, is unpredictable, and can be expensive.  Not to mention the lifetime of intrusive questions adoptive parents often endure from observers–”Have you met her ‘real’ mother?” “Are they ‘really’ brother and sister?” ”What do you know about her health history?”–and the challenges that may accompany children who have endured the rigors of institutional or foster care for extended periods.  

Adoption is not for everyone. We know that. But wouldn’t it be nice if the “system” didn’t discourage prospective adoptive parents at every turn? Yesterday, I posted a perfect example of this. Families of the Guatemala900 have been waiting four years for their children, who are housed in orphanages. Upon hearing such stories, who can blame someone for deciding adoption is too big a risk? (more…)

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Borders Reading in Fairfield, CT

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Yesterday, my sister Deanna and I drove from her home near Boston to the Borders Bookstore in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I did a Mamalita reading last evening. A big thank you to Borders store manager, Craig Kennedy, shown above, and his fantastic staff, as well as to everyone who attended.

The prize for farthest distance driven goes to the women from my building on Christopher Street, in Greenwich Village, NYC, where we lived during our early twenties. Heidi, Laura, Lisa, and Jenny: Thank you for making the evening so special. Afterwards, the group treated Deanna and me to a lovely dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. We spent the hours laughing and catching up on our lives since the last time we’ve been together–a trip to New York in 2004, soon after Olivia first arrived in the U.S. 

Here I am with Janet Brogan, my sister Patrice’s college roommate, who also happens to be an adoptive mom. Janet suggested I read at the Borders in Fairfield and I’m so grateful she did: it was great to see her again, meet her book group friends in the audience (a few adoptive moms to daughters from China), and to spend some time in the warm atmosphere of the Borders Books in Fairfield.

Tonight, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m., I’m reading at the Beverly Public Library in Beverly, Massachusetts, and on Sunday, at 6 p.m., at the Borders Bookstore on Boylston Street in Boston. I’m loving my time spent on the East coast.

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November is National Adoption Awareness Month

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Happy National Adoption Awareness Month! When Seal Press decided to publish my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, in November, I was thrilled. While writing the book, my hope was that our experience could contribute in some small way to the dialogue surrounding adoption. What better time to publish than in the month dedicated to the subject? As it turns out, the book was released in mid-October… Close enough!  

On November 1, the U.S. State Department held a briefing on international adoption-related issues with Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs. Ambassador Jacobs answered questions regarding the implementation of the Hague Treaty; adoptions from Ethiopia, Haiti, Nepal, and other countries; as well as the currrent situation in Guatemala. 

The entire briefing is worth reading and watching.  Ambassador Jacobs’ comments regarding Guatemala, quoted below, reiterate the State Department’s commitment to resolving the unfinished cases (the “Guatemala900″) that date from the Hague Treaty shutdown, in December 2007. I join the many Americans who are still hoping for resolution for those families soon.

Regarding adoptions in Guatemala, Ambassador Susan Jacobs said:

“In terms of the [Guatemalan] pilot project, every time we asked for details about it, there weren’t any. So it turned out there really wasn’t a pilot project to which – in which we could participate. And in looking at the procedures and regulations that had been put in place, not very much had changed since adoptions had been shut down. So we are trying to work with the Guatemalan Government to help them set in place proper regulations and procedures, and at the same time, close the cases that are in the pipeline. There are hundreds of cases that need to be resolved, so we’ve asked them to focus on that.”

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Another PBS documentary about adoption, “Off and Running”

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

PBS’s award-winning non-fiction showcase, Point of View, will broadcast another documentary about adoption, tonight, Tuesday, September 7 at 10 p.m. Titled Off and Running, the film was directed by Nicole Opper. Please note: some PBS affiliates are screening the show at a later date. Check your local listings for air time by clicking on this link and typing in your zip code.( http://www.pbs.org/pov/tvschedule/)

How exciting and wonderful that the subject of adoption is receiving so much attention on public television! I’m glad I support my local affiliate, KQED, with a membership. 

Here’s the PBS synopsis:

Off and Running tells the story of Brooklyn teenager Avery, a track star with a bright future. She is the adopted African-American child of white Jewish lesbians. Her older brother is black and Puerto Rican and her younger brother is Korean. Though it may not look typical, Avery’s household is like most American homes — until Avery writes to her birth mother and the response throws her into crisis. She struggles over her “true” identity, the circumstances of her adoption and her estrangement from black culture. Just when it seems as if her life is unraveling, Avery decides to pick up the pieces and make sense of her identity, with inspiring results.”  (more…)

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