|Lorraine at 2016 conference of Alliance for the Study|
of Adoption and Culture in Minneapolis
Thanks to Penny Needham for photo
At a panel on Adoption and Social Engineering--it could have said Adoption as Social Engineering--Kori Graves of the State University of New York at Albany--spoke of how black families were carelessly, but systematically, denied the pathway to adopt black children in the past, and the movement to have white families adopt transracially began. That adoption might be better regulated with an eye to reducing the actual number of adoptions came out at another session. Overall it was refreshing to walk away knowing the conference did not present adoption as this warm and fuzzy concept that was a wonderful answer to parents who could not have "their own" children, or who adopted because "there are so many babies that need to be adopted."
As for the conference, having me there as the first night keynote speaker was a signal that attitudes had changed since I attended the 2007 ASAC gathering in Pittsburgh. There I had felt like an outlier. I ate several meals alone. However this year--with attendance from a huge number of adoptees--many if not most who had been adopted transracially--the attitude was a shift away from that previous chill I felt as a natural mother amidst the pro-adoption crowd to a rich understanding of how any adoption involves pain--of the adoptee, and the birth/biological mother.
Minnesota is home to many Korean adoptees, due to the influence of Holt International and Lutheran Family Services--which fed a lot of Korean children into the area--and many of those adoptees are academics themselves and they were well represented at the conference. A general awareness that they were possibly unnecessarily adopted--due to the eagerness of the agencies involved and the unfortunate social policy of South Korea--pervaded the conference. Any social-welfare money in South Korea went to orphanages rather than helping families recover from the devastating effect of the Korean War, which did leave a great many children without parents. Due to the dire poverty initially many did need homes out of country in the Fifties and Sixties, but when it was time to shift the policy, the government stayed the course and the number of out-of-country adoptions, instead of shrinking, continued to rise.
|An extraordinary book--|
the pages weep with exquisite prose
Some parents who took their children to an orphanage, where they would get food and an education, intended to claim them at a later date, say, when the harvest was over. But often parents found that their children had been sent away and adopted in one of several countries: the United States, Sweden, Norway, France, Italy, Belgium. This displacement of children from Korea, which had the effect of bolstering the economy of South Korea, is one of the great tragedies of that era.
One speaker, Liz Raleigh from Carlton College, wryly noted that anything that calls for more restrictions and safeguards in intercountry adoption, such as the Hague Convention, is considered "anti-adoption," a comment that I particularly welcomed as we at FMF of course are considered anti-adoption. We are against promoting adoption, we wish adoption could be replaced with permanent guardianship without ever changing a birth certificate, and we find that far too many unnecessary adoptions take place. If that makes us anti-adoption, so be it.
|Jean Strauss' search and reunion|
as well as a guide for others
I thought a great deal about what to say to the group. At the last conference, I was clueless that the audience was mostly adoptive parents who are academics. I was asked to read a section of Birthmark, in a session along with Jean Strauss and Emily Hipchen, both adoptees with excellent memoirs, both shown here. I read the last chapter of my 1979 book, which is a letter to my as yet unknown daughter, telling her that my whole family knew about her, my mother especially wanted to meet her, ending with: "...remember that we are all hoping and praying and waiting for you." (Note to self: Know your audience.)
|The scene of her first meeting with|
her first mother captures the essence
of that terrifying, exhilarating moment
Now I wasn't overrun with adoptive mothers dying to talk to me this time--and most of them were academics, which I am not--and so many had professional connections. Due to the location this year--downtown Marriott Crowne Plaza--we had access to a lobby area that everyone passed through on the way to the sessions. Chairs and couches there made it amenable for a quick stop, or coffee and a bagel in the morning, and thus, a place to chat. I ended up talking amiably with adoptive mothers/academics and of course, adoptees. The large percentage of adoptees at the conference had changed the overall dynamic. Penelope Needham, Minnesota AAC Representative and an executive board member of the Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform, provided a bright smiling face and friend to come across during the three days. And a few readers of First Mother Forum were there, and I met them afterward. That was a boon!
My talk would be mostly old news here. The subject, suggested by ASAC executive committee member Marianne Novy, was Reunion--Before and After, which of course comes right out of Hole In My Heart. I began by saying that being there as a speaker at such a conference was the last place in the world I ever wanted to be--having my expertise stemming from the fact that I had given up a child for adoption. "You wouldn't wish this on your sisters, your friends, your daughters...and if your daughter is adopted, she is seven times more likely than the non-adopted population to give up a child like me." That got their attention.
I did lay out in detail how horrific it is to give up a child, what the era of shame was like, and how those adoptees dealing with searches needed to understand the fears and feelings of the mothers they might be finding today. I may publish what I wrote here, however the talk took on its own language as I only took notes to the podium. Take a written script and you are likely to read it, which is not the way to enthrall an audience.
As for the use of the term "birth mother," it was lingua franca. A few used "first mother," but
the move to change the language to one more comfortable to natural mothers has not reached academia in any great measure. The younger mothers have not heard anything else, and not only do not mind the term, they were unfamiliar with anything else. I ended up saying at a session that I prefer biological mother when referring to me.
The last keynote session was watching clips of a film-in-progress by Deann Borshay Liem, who is known for her 2000 heart-breaking work, First Person Plural. It's been on PBS twice and a sharp-eyed reader found that it can be streamed for three days for $4.99. First Person Plural is a wonderfully warm and poignant movie about the filmmaker finding her mother in Korea. The eventual film that will result from the lengthy rough-cut clips we saw at the conference, about the background of the adoptee diaspora and the experience of many Korean adoptees in many countries, will be as excellent, and emotional, for those of us in the trenches of adoption. There were not many dry eyes in the audience when the clips were shown. Many were outright weeping. The finished product will win awards--or should. It was nice to hear from Deann that her film editor is a birth mother, and that she gained a lot of insight from her. It was the perfect ending to a welcoming and informative conference.--lorraine
for film: https://www.newday.com/film/first-person-plural
TO READ Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists
Essays compiled by the Vance Twins
Anyone considering adoption--especially from another country--should read this book of essays by intercountry adoptees. I cannot praise it enough.
BE A SUPPORTER OF FIRST MOTHER FORUM. Order from Amazon--anything at all!--through the portals here and we get pennies! It's our tip jar. Click on any title or book jacket. MORE BOOKS:
Ten Thousand Sorrows
By Elizabeth Kim
It is very very sad, beginning in Korea, with the author's vivid memories. But it is beautifully written.
Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents
By Jean Strauss
A classic for many adoptees in search and reunion. Jean's honesty may be hard to confront for some natural mothers, but it will help you understand your child at reunion.
Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption
By Emily Hipchen
Anger, compassion, vivid. Emily's account of her finding her family and a longing for unconditional love. Emily,who is at the University of West Georgia, is on the executive committee of ASAC.
The Language of Blood
By Jane Jeong Trenka (for some reason I can't get the photo of the jacket today; it comes up as the little blue and white square, darn it.)
Just amazing. The author has returned to South Korea and is instrumental in trying to change social policy there. Trenka is the president of the organization TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea).
Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
By Lorraine Dusky
My memoir, obviously.