#flipthescript 3: Who is Best Placed to Talk about the Experience of Adoption?

See my last two #flipthescript posts for background on the phenomenon of the groundswell of adoptee voices emerging above the din during  National Adoption Awareness Month.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

As we close out November, I’m turning this space over to adoptees. You may not agree with everything that is said in these #flipthescript posts. You may even find parts of these posts hard to read. But I believe there is value in listening, in being willing to see a viewpoint different from your own.

transracial adoptee lucy sheenToday’s #flipthescripter is Lucy Sheen. Made in Hong Kong and exported to the UK as a transracial adoptee, Lucy (nee
周麗端, Chau Lai-Tuenis) a dyslexic actor, published writer, filmmaker, trainer and transracial adoptee advocate.  She blogs and  loves Dim sum, Yorkshire puddings and tea.

Though Lucy speaks as a transracial adoptee, her experiences may be applicable, as well, to any transfamilied adoptee (which accounts for a vast majority of adoptees).

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What does Adoption Week in the UK mean to me, a transracial adoptee? Frankly, until this year, very little. For starters it’s just a week – wow, an entire week, we really pushed the boat out on this one didn’t we (read with a hint of sarcasm).

Across the pond our US cousins devote an entire month. “Ah, well,” I hear you say, “the US is a bigger country so it’s only natural they would devote more time.”

Big or small, adoption deserves more than just a paltry week or a month. It’s like asking me as a British East Asian to join in celebrations to mark the end of the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860). Or as a British East Asian Artist to support the odious and hideous theatre and media practice of Yellowface.

As an adoptee I’ve always felt (until this year) that I was being asked to join and celebrate a series of decisions and an extreme intervention that culturally, linguistically and racially displaced me. An act that stripped me of my true identity, that imprisoned me into a society and culture that made it abundantly clear they were not interested me or people who looked like me. The decisions surrounding my transracial adoption have had a life-long effect. The true legacy of adoption is the gift that keeps on giving. Its bequest goes far beyond the initial court orders. It is not something that can be camouflaged (for long). And it is not something that many in society want to hear about.

So what’s changed?

#flipthescript – that’s what has changed. The positive power of social media has taken hold, empowered, connected and united adoptees the world over to stand up and have their say.

After all who is best placed to talk of the experience of adoption?
An academic, a theorist, a psychologist, a therapist, a childcare expert, a social worker?

Or would it make more common sense to tap into the knowledge, experience and unique insight that an adult adoptee has?

For me it’s a no-brainer, but here in the UK, unless you’re a trained social worker it’s very difficult to get onto such platforms or into the institutions and organisations that would benefit from hearing directly from the horse’s mouth. Of course there are always ways of getting around such administrative stumbling blocks and dead ends, but then the will has to be there, doesn’t it? Said institutions, organisations and not-for-profits have to value the words and experience of the adult adoptee. In my humble opinion not  enough organisations even think about the adoptee beyond the childhood years. Then there are those adoptees for whom, I think the pain and trauma of actually accepting and taking on board what adoption truly means instead  “wage war” with the adoptees who speak out.

So this year seeing the hashtag #flipthescript on twitter, facebook, google+, attached to videos, pictures and blogs was uplifting. I leave you with the film that Bryan Tucker made for the book Dear Wonderful You . . .

Each and every one of the authors is testament that as adoptees, they #flipthescript each day, every time they write, they speak, they breathe.

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Lucy Sheen contributed a chapter to the first volume of Adoption Therapy. I highly recommend this book to adoptive parents, psychotherapists, and adoption professionals (and I wrote the foreword to it).

Other post in this series:

#flipthescript 2: Whose Script? Whose Voice?

See my last post, #flipthescript 1, for background on the phenomenon of the groundswell of adoptee voices emerging above the din during  National Adoption Awareness Month.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

As we close out November, I’m turning this space over to adoptees. You may not agree with everything that is said in these #flipthescript posts. You may even find parts of these posts hard to read. But I believe there is value in listening, in being willing to see a viewpoint different from your own.

jodi haywood, adoptee rightsToday’s #flipthescripter is Jodi Haywood.  Jodi is an international adoptee raised in a mostly-closed “relative adoption,” and a former delivery-truck-driver-turned-full-time author. When she’s not writing, researching, or studying adoption psychology, she’s training for marathons or just hanging out with her family.

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I’m sitting here listening to some music for inspiration: Extreme’s “III Sides To Every Story.” Not a coincidence.

According to adoption literature, there are three sides to the adoption “triad” — the adoptee, the birth or natural mother, and the adoptive mother or parents. The majority of adoption propaganda, however, is in favor of the  adoptive parents, suggesting an imbalance of power. Advertisements show a smiling, beautiful, successful couple receiving the baby they’ve longed for, prayed for, and yes, in my view, paid for.

You won’t see what’s behind the photo: the fear and anxiety inside the tiny baby’s still-developing brain, wondering what happened to the mother who nurtured her for nine months, not understanding the relationship has been severed at the roots, or that these strangers expect to have the same relationship with her.

You won’t see the confusion in her young mind as she begins to understand that most mothers don’t give their babies up for adoption, most children don’t come to their families through an agency, and asking her friends where their parents “got” them can lead to humiliation and possibly the end of a friendship.

You won’t see her shame as she realizes the other side of having been “chosen” — that somebody else rejected or abandoned her first, leading her to wonder who will abandon her next. If she will ever be good enough for anyone to keep.

You won’t see the betrayal she feels if she doesn’t discover she’s adopted until she’s a teenager. Or in her 20s, or 30s, or maybe not until after her adoptive parents are dead and she is left to take her anger out on ghosts.

Maybe the advertisement shows the couple adopting a toddler, who has not only formed an attachment to her mother – and extended family – but is old enough to remember them and, once the photo is taken and the smiling masks come off, stubbornly refuses to call these strangers Mom or Dad.

If you only hear the adopters’ side, you’ll hear that she is their child, she is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. The nice couple who adopted me when I was 3 said the very same things.

To a psychiatrist.

On my sixth birthday.

They took me to a psychiatrist because I wasn’t “bonding” with them. Because I often “switched off” and went into a “fantasy world” where they could not reach me. They were concerned that I “lacked empathy” and seemed restless, alternately flitting from one thing to another and concentrating on something so deeply that nothing and no one could get through to me.

They insisted it had nothing to do with my adoption or the family upheaval that led to it, even when the doctors suggested there might be a connection — very advanced thinking for that era.

They refused to allow me further visits with any psychiatrist or professional who tried to link my social anxieties or behavioral problems to growing up in an adoptive home.

They tried to force me to hold the mask in place and cooperate with their script: that I was fine, I was happy, I did not suffer from being adopted, I was grateful to them for taking me in when nobody else wanted me.

A year ago I read my mother’s script. My own mother, who had wanted to keep me, who asked the nice couple – who had begun adoption proceedings without her consent – to please return me to her. To consider some kind of shared custody arrangement, since my own father’s sister sought to adopt me.

By the time I’d discovered my mother’ side of the story, my adopting aunt — who had become my adoptive mother — was deceased and no longer writing any more of my script.

The smiling face drawn on the palm of the hand does not tell every side of the story. Like the tragic/comic theater masks, the back of the hand may be crying. Unfortunately, this is the side of adoption very few people see, or want to see.

The sight of an upraised hand, poised to strike, is a threatening gesture to those of us who have been “touched by adoption” in an abusive way. To us, celebrating adoption may mean celebrating abuse. Celebrating family separation, secrets, sealed birth records, and lies. Celebrating the lies and pretenses we have been forced to perpetuate.

Just because not every adoptee feels this way, doesn’t mean every adoptee doesn’t. And for those of us who do…

This is our side of the story. Our scripts, read in our voices.

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In addition to writing several young-adult novels, Jodi contributed to the Adoption Therapy anthology and the soon-to-be-published Adoptee Survival Guide, and is currently working on her chapter of the Adoption Therapy 2 project.

Other post in this series:

#flipthescript 1: Why Are Adoptees Doing It?

Have you seen the #flipthescript movement taking place during National Adoption Awareness Month? Conversations in Adoption World have historically been dominated by adoption professionals and adoptive parents. But increasingly since the 1970s, the voices of birth parents and of adult adoptees are being heard. Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston of The Declassified Adoptee explains further via video clip in the announcement for the new book for adopted and fostered youth, Dear Wonderful You.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

For several days as we close out November,  I’m turning this space over to adoptees. You may not agree with everything that is said in these #flipthescript posts. You may even find parts of these posts hard to read. But I believe there is value in listening, in being willing to see a viewpoint different from your own.

Today’s #flipthescripter is Tracy Hammond, an adoptee rights activist and a “baby scoop” era adoptee. She is a part-time metal-smith and jewelry artist. She is widely known for the broken heart adoption pendant she created and sells on Etsy (the Kay Jeweler debacle originally joined us) — that’s her work in the image above for this series.  Tracy writes about her experience being an adoptee on her blog at Adoptee Path.

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When I think back on my childhood I can never remember once being asked how I felt about adoption, or being an adoptee. My adoptive parents never discussed my first family when I was growing up. They were the pink elephant in my adoptive parent’s home.  Only once when I was an adult did my adoptive mother ever mention my birth parents — and that was to tell me their ages. She claimed that was all she knew and the subject was never brought up again.

The only comments I got were people asking if I would someday look for my biological relatives, and telling me how lucky I was to be adopted because I could have ended up in an orphanage.

adoptee meets dead birthmotherTracy with her birth parents at their first meeting.

As an adult, when I speak out about my own opinions and experiences on adoption, I find people are not listening to me. This is why #FlipTheScript is so important to National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM). You rarely hear from people who have lived the adoption experience.  By its very nature, adoption should be centered on “the best interest of the child.”

Yet others speak for us. This carries on even after we grow into adults. When the narrative of adoption excludes the chief stakeholder — the adoptee — the system is broken.  If adoption is about finding homes for children who need them, shouldn’t we then consider that adoptees need to be the strongest voice in the narrative of NAAM?  These are our very lives and well-being that NAAM is supposed to be about. But more often than not, it’s the adoptive parents’ voices, or adoption professionals being heard.

The exclusion of the adoptee voice is nothing new. But adoptees stepping forward and saying we need to #FlipTheScript is new. Why do our voices need to heard? Because only someone who has lived as an adoptee can understand adoption’s effects on forming who we are. When we are ignored, the lessons we have learned the hard way are not heard. When our voices are marginalized, we aren’t able to effect positive change.

Our society has a completely outdated viewpoint of adoption. Old narratives and misconceptions are still being rehashed during NAAM when we should instead be moving forward. Here are a few to start with.

Gratitude: It saddens me that adopted children are still being told “how lucky they are” because it implies they need to be grateful to be adopted. It’s something done to them that they have no control over. I can recall my Grandmother and Great Aunt telling me I needed to behave better than my non-adopted cousins because I needed to show my gratitude for even being in their home since I wasn’t a “blood relative.”

I know this archaic mentality still exists because we see a variation of the narrative each NAAM.  The complexity of losing your first family and being told you need to show gratitude to your adopters all at the same time is incredibly difficult and wrong for anyone to hear, let alone a child. The harmful psychological effect this has on children cannot be overstated.

Gotcha Day: Mine was called “My Special Day” and all it did was point out the months that separated my birthday and the day my adoptive parents brought me home. That “celebration” ripped open my wounds yearly. I spent decades wondering where I was and what was happening to me during the in-between time.

For many adoptees, birthdays are not happy or joyful, because our births were not a joyful time. For many of us it marks the first, last, and only time we saw our mothers. Losing your first family is not something that should be celebrated. For each family formed through adoption, another one is ripped apart. For me this is real, tangible pain that never goes away.

Adoptive parents who want to have a celebration can celebrate being a family on some day unrelated to a birthday, homecoming, or adoption finalization.  That is the humane and considerate thing to do. Burdening a child with the complex emotions that result from celebrating their losing their first family is a practice that should be abolished.

Many adoptive parents might cite that their child seems to have no ill effects from the celebration, but having lived it I can tell you that I wasn’t able to accurately verbalize my emotions on being adopted. I felt as though I needed to walk on egg shells and appear as if none of this bothered me, or that I never thought about my first family, my loss, and my pain. My adoptive parents did not listen, and they wanted things to go smoothly. Denial was their method to deal with this.

Adoptive Parents are Angels or Super Heroes: Another narrative we see each year during NAAM is that adoptive parents are somehow better than other parents, that such a selfless act of adoption was to “save that poor orphan.”

This is a major misconception since infant adoption makes up the majority of adoptions in this country each year. In my opinion adoptive parents are not angels, super heroes, nor angelic super heroes. They are individuals who have the ability and resources and drive to adopt a child. They want a child, and they get a child. We gloss over the commodification of children that happens with the way we do adoption.  I know exactly how much I cost to adopt, and it turns my stomach to know this.

Through posts like this one in 2014, I am hopeful that NAAM 2015 will take a more adoptee-centric focus. We have a lot to say and through our collective experiences we can help effect the changes that are desperately needed.

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Tracy Hammond will be a contributor to the second volume of Adoption Therapy. The first vlume of Adoption Therapy, edited by adoption publishing mogul Laura Dennis, is available on Amazon. I highly recommend this book (and I wrote the foreword to it).

Other posts in this series:

Open adoption parenting & mindful living